Indiana farmer and well-known “Ag-vocate” Brian Scott, who does a lot of work with trying to bring the farmer and consumers together on topics of debate, once shared his collection of the most Game-Changing people in agriculture. Reading and reviewing the list makes me wonder what and who comes next? Will have something to do with water, seed, soil, livestock, equipment, etc…
I kind of get emotional and a bit choked up when I see the old farm pics and think about how far we have collectively come in such a short period of time. It’s amazing what we can accomplish when we work together towards a common goal. Great stuff!!!
1. Norman Borlaug – Nobel Peace Prize laureate and founder of the World Food Prize, Dr. Norman Borgaug is often called the father of the Green Revolution. By breeding varieties of wheat able to withstand disease and support high yields, Dr. Borlaug was instrumental in bringing Mexico into an era of self-sufficiency from one of subsistence. Hardier crops and new farming methods spread to other parts of the world like Asia through the efforts of Borlaug and those like him spurring a great leap in the productivity of agriculture across the globe.
2. Gregor Mendel – Experiments in crossing different varieties of pea plants in the 1800’s carried out by Gregor Mendel, are the foundation of modern genetics. Thanks to the efforts of Mendel, farmers, researchers, geneticists, and plant breeders gained a much greater understanding of how the physiological and genetic properties of parent organisms are expressed in their offspring. Even today in the age of crop biotechnology the fundamentals of Mendel’s findings are still at work. Crossing varieties to obtain the best-performing hybrid seed is a key step in reaping a great harvest. The potential of a well-bred seed can be extremely high, and with skill and some luck, a farmer hopes each year to achieve that potential.
3. George Washington Carver – Peanut butter is often the first agricultural product that comes to mind when people think of George Washington Carver, but the man is responsible for much more. Born into slavery during the Civil War, Carver became the first black student to attend Iowa State, honing his botany skills. From there he went on to teach at the famed Tuskegee Institute, heading its agricultural programs — encouraging farmers to not only to diversify their crops but taking the idea further by touting all the potential uses of those crops beyond raw material for food. While Carver was a great agricultural pioneer, maybe his real legacy was the success he achieved given his circumstance at birth in such a tumultuous time in American history.
4. John Deere – John Deere isn’t only the name of arguably the most recognizable agricultural equipment manufacturer on the planet. John Deere is the name of the man who 175 years ago produced a plow allowing settlers of the Great Plains to more easily till the tough, sticky soils they encountered. Deere, a blacksmith by trade, formed a polished steel blade that could tackle sticky soils without the constant cleaning required by cast-iron plows of the day. The success of that first plow is evident in the advances and massive success of the multinational company so well known today.
5. Temple Grandin – Dr. Temple Grandin is likely the most respected name in animal husbandry. Her love of animals has brought her to the forefront of animal welfare practices in agriculture. Dr. Grandin’s approach to designing beef cattle slaughter plants follows her philosophy of respecting livestock while they live, and giving them a humane, painless death when the time comes. Temple Grandin’s continued success has made her well-known outside agriculture. Being autistic herself, she has been outspoken about managing her autism while showing others how to change their way of thinking to be able to accomplish any goal. In 2010, Time featured Dr. Grandin as one of their 100 Most Influential People.
6. Gebisa Ejeta – Born and educated in Ethiopia, Ejeta furthered his education in the states by earning his Masters and Ph.D. in Plant Breeding and Genetics from Purdue University where he works today. It has been said that his work with sorghum has fed and saved millions of lives in his homeland. Some of his most noted work stems from developing drought and striga resistant varieties of sorghum. Striga is a parasitic weed that plagues sorghum crops on African farms. His research earned Dr. Ejeta an appointment as Board Member for International Food and Agriculture Development by President Obama, and a national medal of honor awarded by the president of Ethiopia.
7. Eli Whitney – Eli Whitney is widely known as the 1794 inventor of the cotton gin. Gins turned the laborious task of separating cotton fiber by hand from the cotton plant into a mechanical process. Whitney’s cotton gin greatly improved cotton industry productivity, and the invention’s effects are still felt today as cotton remains one of the world’s most important crops. Eli Whitney also claims fame from championing the use of interchangeable parts. First used by Whitney to produce standardized parts for firearms that could be assembled by workers less skilled than accomplished gunsmiths, the idea of making such parts has obviously spread to nearly all forms of modern manufacturing including agricultural equipment.
8. Joseph Glidden – Not unlike Thomas Edison and the light bulb or John Deere and the plow, Joseph Glidden improved the design of an existing product in such a way that it changed the history of agriculture and a nation. By creating barbed wire that was strong, long-lasting and affordable, Glidden offered homesteaders of the Great Plains a better option to protect their land, crops, and livestock from damage and injury. Bulky wooden fences requiring much labor and material were the norm before barbed wire became practical. History explains the effect Joseph Glidden’s wire had on American agriculture in a short period of time. “Without the alternative offered by cheap and portable barbed wire, few farmers would have attempted to homestead of the Great Plains, since they could not have afforded to protect their farms from grazing herds of cattle and sheep. Barbed wire also brought a speed end to the era of the open-range cattle industry.”
9. Cyrus McCormick – McCormick’s mechanical reaper, patented in 1834, changed the grain industry in much the same way as Eli Whitney’s cotton gin altered cotton production. No more would farm laborers need to cut plants by hand before threshing the grain. Imagine what a revolution that must have been going from walking fields with a scythe to cutting with a horse-drawn machine. Many years later the processes of harvesting and threshing would be combined into a single machine known today of course as a combine.
10. Hiram Moore – Credit for the combine goes to one Hiram Moore. Once more, an entrepreneurial individual increased farm productivity while reducing manual labor — this time by having taken two previous history-altering devices and meshing them together in one piece of mechanical efficiency. Early combines were pull-type with self-propelled versions arriving on the scene in 1887 and patented by George Stockton Berry.
What About Ethanol? – In 1808, Nicolas-Théodore de Saussure determined ethanol’s chemical formula, and ethanol’s first use was to power an engine in 1826. Ethanol also was used as a lighting fuel in the 1850s, but its use curtailed when it was taxed as liquor to help pay for the Civil War. Ethanol use as a fuel continued after the tax was repealed, and in 1876, Nicolaus Otto, the inventor of the modern four-cycle internal combustion engine, used ethanol to power an early engine, and in 1908 Henry Ford used ethanol to fuel his Model T. The first ethanol blended with gasoline for use as an octane booster occurred in the 1920s and 1930s, and was in high demand during World War II because of fuel shortages. But after the fuel couldn’t compete with the low cost and availability of petroleum, and ethanol faded from the public eye. Later the rise in oil prices spurred renewed interest.