BEACHELL WINS WORLD FOOD PRIZE

Writer: Steve Hill, (979) 845-2895, newsteam@agnews2.tamu.edu
Contact: Dr. Ed Runge, (979) 845-3041

COLLEGE STATION — For helping develop “miracle rice” that alleviated malnutrition and poverty, a retired Texas Agricultural Experiment Station researcher has received the prestigious World Food Prize.

Dr. Henry (Hank) Beachell of Pearland, who spotted and improved a rice variety used as a genetic base for most of today’s rice varieties, was given the award in Des Moines on Oct. 18. His role in promoting the variety led others to dub him the person most responsible for the “Green Revolution” in rice.

“Hank Beachell is the single most important individual in rice improvement in the world,” said Dr. Ed Runge, professor and head of the soil and crop sciences department of Texas A&M University.

Beachell shared the award with Dr. Gurdev Singh Khush, who began working with Beachell at the International Rice Research Institute in 1967 and continued as the organization’s rice breeder after Beachell retired from the institute.

Beachell was a joint employee of the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the experiment station — part of the Texas A&M University System — and worked at the Beaumont station from 1932 until 1963. While there, he created and helped introduce nine rice varieties which eventually accounted for more than 90 percent of U.S. long-grain rice production.

During that time, he also took part in research and teaching tours of rice production areas in India, Central America and South America.

After retiring from the Beaumont station in 1963, he accepted a position at the rice institute in the Philippines. That same year, while going went through the institute’s experimental plots seeking a sturdy rice plant that would respond well to fertilizer and mature early, he helped select the rice that eventually became the IR8 rice variety.

After further development, IR8 was released in 1966 and set yield records ranging from 6 to 8 tons of grain per hectare on experimental fields in several Asian countries, more than doubling previous yields.

Over the next two decades, Beachell traveled widely to promote that variety and others resulting from the institute’s work. He also continued research to improve the rice, including making it more resistant to pests and adaptable to various growing conditions as well as cooking and taste preferences.

Meanwhile, Khush had joined the institute’s research staff and built on Beachell’s work. Their work was a primary factor in a doubling of world rice production since that time, with the institute’s varieties being planted in approximately 70 percent of the world’s rice fields.

With lower rice costs due to higher yields, nutrition has improved in most Asian countries and Asian rice farmers have gained more income.

In supporting material for Beachell’s nomination, agronomy professor emeritus M.H. Meu of Seoul National University in Korea praised him for having “keen eyes to identify elite breeding material” and being an excellent international cooperator.

Meu said leading breeders — including himself — throughout the world were “encouraged and inspired” by Beachell during his stay in the Phillipines and Indonesia.

Now 90, Beachell still consults for the rice industry through Rice-Tec, an Alvin company that is the only commercial hybrid rice breeding program in the United States.

“His direct contributions to rice improvement may even be surpassed in the future by the impact he has had on coworkers and students,” Runge said. “He has impressed on young rice breeders that they can also do this through dedication, innovation and interaction with other scientists in a team approach, even if they possess simple facilities and limited resources.

“His contributions permit the world’s expanding population to feed itself and have led to longer, more fulfilling, healthful lives for hundreds of millions of people. They are beyond quantification.”

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