Recently I bought a fascinating new book, fresh from the publisher. The title is "Our Daily Bread; The Essential Norman Borlaug," written by Dr. Noel Vietmeyer from Virginia.
Dr. Borlaug (1914-2009) was a famous plant scientist who received the Nobel Prize for Peace, the Presidential Medal for Peace and the Congressional Gold Medal. He received these honors for his work in developing improved varieties of wheat, corn and rice that were adopted through out the world.
Borlaug's work is given credit for saving hundreds of millions of lives in this world through improved yields of these important crops. It is a classic example of what technology can do to improve crop yields when farmers are given a chance to use these improvements.
As Noel Vietmeyer says in this biography, Dr. Borlaug should be a household name. It is the story of how one man saved millions of lives.
While his experiments were slow by today's standards, they were the kind used for many years to improve our food supply. He used plant breeding and selection, cross-pollinating using the best plants, along with demonstrations on what fertilizers can do for yields.
Borlaug overcame many problems. Some groups didn't like his approach to developing new varieties. Government officials in countries such as India and Pakistan didn't want their seed varieties to be replaced by Borlaug's even though he had evidence of the increased yields.
He donated his seeds from his improved varieties to other countries. They were made available at prices local farmers in other countries could afford, with some help from their governments. Yield improvements were dramatic when compared with varieties planted for many years.
Some opposition, not unlike the kind that agriculture experiences today, surfaced from those who didn't like change. They accused Borlaug of increasing yields and putting farmers out of work because they weren't needed. They also said he wanted big farms to replace the smaller ones.
Borlaug pointed out that more food produced by his seeds improved the diets of people. They were better fed and able to get other employment. Larger farms allowed more efficient equipment to be used, keeping food prices low. More people were able to buy better food.
Sometimes it is hard to understand the opposition that we see to today's modern farming. Groups that like to use the term "factory farming" or "industrial" farming in negative ways portray an ugly but false picture of family farming today. Or the several wealthy animal rights activist groups that want to destroy animal agriculture and change all our diets to vegetarian.
Other groups don't want change and would like us to go back 50 or 75 years. What all these groups are doing is encouraging hunger in this country and down the road. When we read about population increases and the need for a nearly double food supply by 2050, it is hard to understand where these groups come from.
What we need are more Norman Borlaugs with the goal of helping humanity. If our grandchildren are going to have enough to eat, they will be essential.
Noel Vietmeyer, author of this biography, worked with Borlaug at the National Academy of Sciences for 20 years. Much of the information came from recordings of conversations with Borlaug and are a remarkable history of his work. It can be purchased by contacting www.bracingbooks.com.
Parker is retired from Ohio State University and an independent agricultural writer.