7-foot statue of Iowan Norman Borlaug unveiled at U.S. Capitol

Source: By Joseph Morton / World-Herald staff writer • Posted: Wednesday, March 26, 2014

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7-foot statue of Iowan Norman Borlaug unveiled at U.S. Capitol
 WASHINGTON — He was the Iowa farm boy who grew up to change the world with a single grain of wheat, the agricultural scientist who sparked a revolution credited with saving a billion people from starvation.

National and Iowa officials on Tuesday unveiled a 7-foot-tall bronze statue of Norman Borlaug that will honor his remarkable contributions and represent his home state in the U.S. Capitol.

Those speaking at the unveiling ceremony quoted Borlaug’s own words that “food is the moral right of all who are born into this world” and hailed the man called the father of the Green Revolution as a pioneering yet humble genius who set the stage for other scientists to follow.

Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad said Borlaug, who died in 2009, is a fitting representative for a state that continues to embrace its role in providing food to the world.

“Our agricultural heritage has blossomed into a thriving bioscience industry,” Branstad said.

In breeding new high-yield wheat varieties, Borlaug paved the way for substantial increases in grain production to provide for an exploding global population. His work earned him the Nobel Peace Prize, Congressional Gold Medal and Presidential Medal of Freedom.

He has served as an inspiration to young farmers, particularly those in Iowa. A scattering of FFA jackets could be seen sprinkled among the suits in Tuesday’s audience.

Four girls from Borlaug’s old FFA chapter in his hometown of Cresco, Iowa, made the trip to Washington for the ceremony and talked about following in Borlaug’s footsteps.

“He was an Iowa farm boy, and we’re all Iowa farm girls,” said Kaytlan Langreck, 18. “In a way, we’re kind of like him and hopefully we can make a difference like he did.”

Iowa Farm Bureau President Craig Hill said all farmers have a natural desire to produce more, but Borlaug connected them to a grander mission of using their productive soils and technology to feed the world.

“Borlaug came along and he said, ‘Let’s learn new techniques, new designs, new methods, and then let’s share it with the world so everyone benefits from this,’ ” Hill said. “And he literally took it himself to the farmers around the world, which is really unique, unselfish.”

Tuesday’s ceremony fell on National Agriculture Day and what would have been Borlaug’s 100th birthday. Republican and Democratic congressional leaders were among those attending.

The entire Iowa congressional delegation showed up and talked about the bipartisan process of getting Borlaug honored with the statue.

Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, said he looks forward to pointing out the statue to young people and recalling when he met Borlaug years ago.

“I will tell them I looked in his eyes and I saw the light in them and the intellect, the character, saw the humility in his demeanor, the determination and the wisdom that he carried within him,” King said.

Rep. Tom Latham, R-Iowa, noted Borlaug’s passion for sharing his discoveries with everyone else.

“He didn’t do anything for fame or fortune,” Latham said. “It was all about feeding a hungry world and making sure that those children, no matter where they were, were not starving.”

The artist, Benjamin Victor, depicted Borlaug with rolled-up shirt sleeves, the wind rustling the pages of his notebook and the wheat around him.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, a former Iowa governor, pointed out that Borlaug is shown looking to the horizon.

“That’s the Norman Borlaug I knew,” Vilsack said. “He was always looking forward, always looking ahead.”

Each state is allotted a pair of statues in the U.S. Capitol. Borlaug will join Samuel Kirkwood, governor of Iowa during the Civil War, and take the place of James Harlan, a U.S. senator and interior secretary from the 19th century.

The Harlan statue has been moved to Iowa Wesleyan College in his hometown of Mount Pleasant.
About two dozen of Borlaug’s relatives attended Tuesday’s ceremony.

“He was very humble,” son Bill Borlaug said. “I’m not sure he would think that he should be here, but we’re very honored that he is.”