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OP-ED: WHY EVERY MARCH 25 SHOULD BE BORLAUG AG DAY
by Ambassador Ken Quinn, President World Food Prize

What do Danica Patrick, Arturo Toscanini, Francesco de Medici, the Grand Duke of Tuscany and Elton John all have in common? All were born on March 25. Not exactly the A list of historic celebrities.

Today's date also marked the founding of Venice in 421 and the discovery of Saturn's largest moon in 1655. Again, not major milestones in world history.

March 25 did make one run at establishing itself as a date to remember. Beginning in the 11th century, it was the first day of the New Year in many English-speaking parts of the world. That lasted until 1752. At that time, much of the world adopted the new Gregorian calendar heralded by Pope Gregory that established Jan. 1 as the universal date to begin the new year, relegating March 25 to the relative obscurity of just marking the spring equinox.

In 2014, March 25 will again take on enormous significance for all Iowans as we observe the 100th anniversary of the birth of Iowa's greatest hero and the world's greatest agricultural scientist, Norman E. Borlaug. To mark the Borlaug centennial milestone, as announced by Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad and the Iowa congressional delegation, we will unveil a statue of Borlaug in the U.S. Capitol, reflecting his status as Iowa's and America's greatest agricultural scientist.

As magnificent as Toscanini's music was, or as impressive as Venice's architecture and canals are, they cannot rival the amazing agricultural miracles that Norman Borlaug brought to fruition as he led the single greatest period of food production and hunger reduction in human history as "Father of the Green Revolution."

It was my privilege to work with Norm, as he wanted everyone to call him, for a decade, building the World Food Prize that he created, and which is headquartered in Des Moines, into what he dreamed it might one day become - the "Nobel Prize for Food and Agriculture."

Norm was always far ahead of everyone else in foreseeing problems we would face and working diligently to solve them. In the 1940s when he went to Mexico as part of America's first-ever program to take our agricultural know-how abroad, he worked in the most remote places with the poorest farmers to help them break free of the bonds of subsistence agriculture. The result? His "miracle wheat," developed over 20 years of shuttle breeding, allowed farmers to have surpluses for the first time ever and transformed Mexico from a wheat importer to a wheat exporter.

Next, as India and Pakistan faced devastating food shortages and imminent mass starvation, Norman Borlaug again came forward. Relying on the grit he learned on the wrestling mat at Cresco High School and at the University of Minnesota, he persuaded the farmers and political leaders in both countries to adopt his new seeds and new approach to agriculture, and in the process saved hundreds of millions of lives.

But Norm saw that this was only a temporary victory. Understanding the dynamics of population expansion, he knew that the 1.7 billion people who were on the face of the Earth when he was born in 1914 would grow to number more than 7 billion by the time his 100th birthday rolled around, with an estimated 9 billion or more by 2050.

Speaking at the World Food Prize symposium in 2004, Norm explained that what the world confronted was the need to produce as much grain in the next 50 years as human beings had cultivated in total over the past 11,000 years. The World Food Prize seeks to recognize and inspire the breakthrough achievements needed to accomplish what Norm described and what I consider the greatest challenge in all human history.

To remind us of this critical human endeavor, we need dates during the year to commemorate our heroes and focus us on the challenge before us. We have one each Oct. 16, which is celebrated as World Food Day around the globe during harvest time.

And each spring, America holds National Ag Day during the last week of March. This year, by happy coincidence, it is being celebrated today, March 25, Borlaug's 100th birth anniversary.

Wouldn't it be most fitting as a tribute to America's and the world's greatest agricultural scientist, the man who has saved more lives than any other person who has ever lived, if we declared March 25 to be forever Norman E. Borlaug National Ag Day in America? It would be a great tribute to Norm, and March 25 could again proudly hold its head high as a day of historic significance.


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