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Following in a Giant's Footsteps

A Lead by Example donation creates the Norman Borlaug Endowed Research Scholars Program to foster the next generation of agricultural pioneers.

Following in a Giant's Footsteps

A Lead by Example donation creates the Norman Borlaug Endowed Research Scholars Program to foster the next generation of agricultural pioneers.

Texas A&M's new Borlaug Scholars Program will develop the next generation of agricultural research trailblazers. The program is named for Dr. Norman Borlaug, father of the Green Revolution.

As father of the Green Revolution and the 1970 Nobel Laureate, Dr. Norman Borlaug was at the forefront of the agricultural paradigm shift to address world hunger. Now, through the creation of the Norman Borlaug Endowed Research Scholars Program (NBERS), Texas A&M University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences is focusing on developing the next generation of agricultural research trailblazers.

A top priority of Dean Patrick Stover, NBERS was established in 2019 through a $1 million matching fund from Cactus Feeders, a beef and pork producer located in the South and Midwest. The gift was one of the largest contributions to the college during the Lead by Example campaign. “In the 50th anniversary year of Dr. Borlaug’s Nobel Prize, Cactus Feeders was pleased to make the lead gift to establish the Borlaug Scholars Program,” said Dr. Michael Engler, Cactus Feeders’ chairman of the board. “We’d like to thank Dr. Stover for recognizing Dr. Borlaug’s deep connection to Texas A&M and its mission of educating future generations of agriculturalists to nourish the world.”

Food for All

Borlaug’s groundbreaking work began in 1944, when he was profoundly shaken after witnessing depleted soils, diseased crops and low yields in Mexico. The situation was so dire that farmers were unable to grow food to feed themselves. In a letter to his wife, Borlaug wrote, “These places I’ve seen have clubbed my mind, they are so poor and depressing. I don’t know what we can do to help these people, but we’ve got to do something.”

The solution came in the form of a grain of wheat. As a geneticist and plant pathologist with Mexico’s Cooperative Wheat Research and Production Program, Borlaug identified a tropical grain variety that was high-yielding, short-strawed and disease-resistant. He put the new strains into extensive production to help ease hunger in Mexico, Pakistan and India. Eventually, his efforts extended into Central and South America, the Near and Middle East, and Africa.

The pragmatic researcher joined Texas A&M’s faculty in 1984 as Distinguished Professor of International Agriculture. In 2006, the university honored his achievements by naming the Norman Borlaug Institute for International Agriculture, which today remains focused on continuing and expanding his legacy by playing a key role in fighting world hunger.

More than ever before, today's agricultural researchers have to consider food's role in maintaining human health and the environmental consequences of agricultural and economic sustainability.

A New Focus on Food Quality

Today’s researchers face very different challenges, which include food’s role in maintaining human health and the environmental consequences of agricultural and economic sustainability. “To achieve these goals, we need strong scientific evidence to support all decision makers, from consumers to legislators,” Stover said. “It is especially challenging to collect the strong scientific evidence that connects food and health throughout the life cycle, as food and nutrient needs vary among individuals and change as we age.”

This emerging shift, which is exacerbated by the explosive increase in chronic diseases among Americans, is forcing researchers to increasingly address food quality. “Consumer preferences for food are driven by many factors, including taste, price, convenience, and nutrition and health,” Stover said. “While health is not yet the primary concern of all consumers, people are now much more aware of the rise in metabolic disease and its connection to food.”

However, conflicting information about the connection between food and health confuses many in the general public. Stover believes programs like NBERS can prepare researchers to undertake studies that mitigate this confusion. “Agriculture and food production is driven by consumer demand, and producers will respond to changes in this demand,” he said. “Consumers want to be empowered with knowledge to make the best decisions, but it is difficult to sort out fact from fiction. There are many agendas and philosophies that place a wedge between producers and consumers, which is why we need to bridge the producer-consumer divide with sound scientific information.”

To that end, NBERS will place Texas A&M at the forefront of preparing the next generation of scientists to make crucial agricultural research breakthroughs. “We need to attract the most talented individuals to agriculture, food and nutrition research to be successful,” Stover concluded. “With the Borlaug legacy, and the history, leadership and excellence of Texas A&M AgriLife, Texas A&M will further elevate its global reputation for providing solutions to nourish the world for generations to come.”

Pat Fox '80 utilized matching funds from Cactus Feeders to create an undergraduate scholarship for the Borlaug Scholars Program. (Photo by Cooper Neill)

Utilize Matching Funds Today

Patrick Fox ’80 knows a good deal when he sees one. When Cactus Feeders made matching funds available to support the Norman Borlaug Endowed Research Scholars Program, he was ready to sign on the dotted line.

Through a $50,000 matching gift from his family’s foundation, the retired Dallas businessman created the Fox Family Foundation Norman Borlaug Endowed Undergraduate Scholarship. “Our family foundation primarily makes donations to education, underprivileged students and nature conservation,” Fox said. “We were interested in supporting this program because it will actively engage undergraduate students in research science, the importance of which has been underscored during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Ultimately, the college hopes to raise $3 million for the program during the next five years. Donors can support NBERS by creating an undergraduate research scholarship with a $50,000 gift to be matched for a total endowment of $100,000, or by establishing a graduate research fellowship with a $125,000 gift to be matched for a total endowment of $250,000.

These scholarships and fellowships will support promising full-time undergraduate and graduate students in agriculture and life sciences who are interested in research careers. “Students are the lifeblood of research,” Stover said. “They bring fresh ideas, enthusiasm and a sense of purpose to the university. But they need to find out early in their education if research is their passion, and this program will give them a head start in finding their career path in life.”

To support NBERS, contact Allyson Tjoelker '02, assistant vice president for development, at (979) 458-7929 or by submitting a message through the form below.