Major Monsanto food grain research effort

by Josh Sosland
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ST. LOUIS — Monsanto Co. on March 25 announced a $10 million grant to establish Monsanto’s Beachell-Borlaug International Scholars Program. The program will seek to identify and support young scientists working to improve, through plant breeding techniques, research and production in rice and wheat.

Monsanto said the program was aimed at helping reverse a trend in recent years of food grain yields rising at a pace slower than world population growth.

The program will be administered by Texas AgriLife Research, an agency of the Texas A&M University system, for the next five years. The program is named for Henry Beachell and Norman Borlaug, pioneers in plant breading and research in rice and wheat, respectively.

Elaborating on the rationale for the scholarships, Monsanto noted that rice and wheat are widely viewed as the most important staple crops in developing countries, providing necessary calories to sustain billions of people every day. In many of the world’s poorest countries, the two grains are a key source of food. Production of wheat in 2008 totaled more than 680 million tonnes and outturn of rice was 440 million.

"Yet, yields of rice and wheat have grown on a compound annul growth rate of approximately 0.8% over the past decade while the population has grown on a compound annual rate of about 1.25 %," Monsanto said. "Accelerating yield growth will help reduce hunger by helping produce more food on the same number of acres."

Applications for scholarships will be reviewed by an independent panel chaired by Ed Runge, a professor and Billie B. Turner Chair in Production Agronomy (emeritus) at Texas A&M, College Station, Texas.

Monsanto noted that its announcement of the program coincided with the 95th birthday of Dr. Borlaug on March 25. The first year’s winners will be announced Oct. 15 to coincide with the World Food Prize in Des Moines, Iowa.

"This is a welcome investment by the private sector in an era of increasing food insecurity and decreasing numbers of graduate students in plant breeding," said Thomas A. Lumpkin, director generation, International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT). "We hope others will follow suit with additional funding and look forward to hosting scholars funded by the program at our center."

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