Skip to main content

Why is Norman Borlaug getting one of America's top honors?


He's not a household name, but Norman Borlaug saved lives. By some estimates he saved one billion people from starvation.

The University of Minnesota graduate was an agricultural scientist who developed high-yield varieties of wheat and introduced them to countries around the world that were plagued by hunger during the Twentieth Century.

The Pioneer Press reports Borlaug, who died in 2009, will be honored by his native state of Iowa when his likeness is sent to the U.S. Capitol to be part of the Statuary Hall collection later this month.

Every state has two of its most memorable residents memorialized with statues at the Capitol. Later this month Iowa will send one of Borlaug to Washington. Borlaug's statue depicts him in a field of wheat with his notebook. The Pioneer Press says it was made of bronze by South Dakota artist Benjamin Victor.

After growing up in Iowa, Borlaug earned undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral degrees from the U of M, finishing in 1942. Increasing the world's food supply then became his life's work.

He teamed with scientists around the world to develop types of wheat that were tailored for lands where famine was rampant, such as India and Pakistan. In 1970 he was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize.

Unlike some scholars, Borlaug apparently had a reputation for getting his hands dirty. His Nobel biography from 1970 reads in part: "A vigorous man who can perform prodigies of manual labor in the fields, he brings to his work the body and competitive spirit of the trained athlete, which indeed he was in his high school and college days."

Indeed, Borlaug was a wrestler for the Golden Gophers while on campus. After his death a tribute published by the university included this observation: "Plant breeders are unlikely celebrities, but in many developing countries, Borlaug is a hero."

In addition to the Nobel Prize, Borlaug was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal in 2007. The Norman Borlaug Heritage Foundation says he also received more than 50 honorary degrees.

When it arrives in Washington his statue will replace one installed more than century ago of Sen. James Harlan. Harlan will travel back to the hawkeye state to take a place at Iowa Wesleyan College, where he once served as president, the Pioneer Press says.

The dedication of Borlaug's statue is set for March 25, which is the centennial of his birth.

Next Up

D'Angelo Russell

D'Lo's late takeover helps Timberwolves win double-OT thriller

Russell caught fire to help the Timberwolves get back to .500.

Gopher Football

Gophers suffocate Badgers, reclaim Paul Bunyan's Axe

Minnesota picked up its first home win over the Badgers since 2003.

Meeker County Sheriff's Office

Boy, 6, run over after falling off trailer in Meeker Co. tree farm accident

He was airlifted to Hennepin County Medical Center with internal injuries.

Target store

Target unveils deals for 2-day 'Cyber Monday' event

The promotion kicks off Sunday, November 28.

Screen Shot 2021-11-27 at 9.59.30 AM

Edina police warn of recent burglary trend targeting garages and vehicles

The Edina Police Department is increasing patrols in affected neighborhoods in response to the trend.

Screen Shot 2021-11-27 at 9.03.06 AM

Charges: Man shot Uber Eats driver making a delivery in Cottage Grove

Otis Donnell Shipp was charged with second-degree attempted murder after turning himself in on Wednesday.

Screen Shot 2021-11-27 at 7.36.14 AM

Waterfront hotel in Duluth sustains damage in kitchen fire

Authorities estimate the damage at around $75,000.

Screen Shot 2021-11-27 at 7.15.18 AM

Large groups of thieves target 2 Twin Cities Best Buys on Black Friday

It bears similarities to the flash-mob style thefts seen recently in California.

Karl-Anthony Towns

Timberwolves' winning streak snapped at five games

The Wolves' bid for their longest winning streak since 2014 came up short.

Screen Shot 2020-08-14 at 6.45.53 PM

Teen arrested over fatal shooting of 5-year-old boy in Brooklyn Park

Police say the teen was filming a social media video while handling a gun.

Joe Biden

President Biden coming to Minnesota to promote Bipartisan Infrastructure Law

Tuesday's trip follows passage of the $1.2 trillion Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal.