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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Former ARS Scientist Wins World Food Prize / October 28, 1996 / News from the USDA Agricultural Research Service

Former ARS Scientist Wins World Food Prize

By Sandy Miller Hays
October 28, 1996

WASHINGTON, Oct. 28--Plant breeder Henry Monroe Beachell of Alvin, Texas, who spent 32 years developing new rice varieties for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, has been named a joint winner of the 1996 World Food Prize. Beachell shares this year's $200,000 cash award with rice breeder Gurdev Singh Khush of Los Banos in the Philippines.

The World Food Prize is given annually in recognition of those who have advanced human development by improving the quality, quantity or availability of the world's food supply. The award program was established in 1990 by Iowa businessman John Ruan and is administered by Iowa State University's College of Agriculture at Ames, Iowa.

Beachell is being honored for his lifetime achievements in rice breeding with USDA's Agricultural Research Service and the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines. Khush is head of the IRRI rice breeding program. Rice varieties and genetic lines developed at IRRI under the direction of Beachell and Khush are estimated to have more than doubled the world's rice production over the last three decades.

Beachell worked for ARS from 1931 to 1963, based at the Texas A&M University Research and Extension Center at Beaumont, Texas. During his years with ARS, Beachell created and helped introduce nine rice varieties that together eventually accounted for more than 90 percent of long-grain rice grown in the United States during the 1960s.

After retiring from ARS, Beachell worked for IRRI from 1963 to 1982. Now 90, Beachell is a rice breeder and consultant to RiceTec, Inc., of Alvin, Texas, which develops commercial hybrid rice varieties.

Beachell's most significant achievement at IRRI was development of IR8, a stiff-strawed, semi-dwarf hybrid rice plant from a cross between a short, stiff-strawed variety from Taiwan and a taller, pest-resistant variety from Indonesia.

Prior to the release of IR8 in 1966, Asian farmers harvested 800 to 1,600 pounds of rice per acre with traditional rice plants. Farmers who switched to IR8 typically were able to double their yields.

During his 19 years with IRRI, Beachell was a professional mentor to Khush, who joined IRRI in 1967 from the University of California-Davis. In 1976, Khush introduced a rice variety dubbed IR36, a genetic successor to IR8 now grown on approximately 2.7 million acres worldwide. IR36 offers the high yields of IR8, but matures earlier and has better resistance to insects, diseases and environmental stresses.

A native of Waverly, Nebraska, Beachell received his undergraduate degree from the University of Nebraska and a graduate degree from Kansas State University. In 1972, he was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Nebraska.

In 1987, Beachell and Khush were the first agricultural scientists to receive Japan's most distinguished scientific honor, the Japan Prize. Another former ARS scientist, retired entomologist Edward F. Knipling of Arlington, Va., won the Japan Prize in 1995 and the World Food Prize in 1992.

Iowa State University's College of Agriculture annually invites more than 4,000 institutions and organizations to nominate candidates for the World Food Prize. Since its inception, the World Food Prize has been awarded to 12 individuals, including Beachell and Khush. The first recipient was M.S. Swaminathan, who introduced high-yielding grains to Indian farmers.

Contact: Edward B. Knipling, Acting Administrator, Agricultural Research Service, USDA, Washington, DC. Telephone: (202) 720-3656.

Last Modified: 4/18/2014
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