Award to UA, Others Marks Morrill Act 150th Anniversary
The Morrill Land-Grant Act of 1862 provided federal land to the states to establish public universities and agriculture education programs.

Jennifer Fitzenberger
July 2, 2012

The World Food Prize Foundation has awarded its Borlaug Medallion to the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities, an organization that includes the University of Arizona.

Nationwide, there are 106 land-grant universities, including at least one in every state. The UA was the first land-grant university in Arizona. Diné College on the Navajo Nation and Tohono O'odham Community College on the Tohono O'odham Nation were designated as land-grant institutions in 1994.

The award was presented on June 26 during a ceremony in Washington D.C. celebrating the 150th anniversary of the Morrill Land-Grant Act of 1862.

Written by Sen. Justin Smith Morrill of Vermont and signed into law on July 2, 1862 by President Abraham Lincoln, the legislation provided grants of federal lands to the states for the establishment of public universities and agricultural education programs nationwide and led to the democratization of higher education. 

"For the first time, higher education would not be limited to the wealthy and political elite. In addition, the U.S. created the foundation for a national system to specifically drive knowledge creation and the extension of this knowledge into the economy," said Shane Burgess, dean and vice provost, UA College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

"Taken all together the creation of the land grant universities has been an essential component of U.S. economic prosperity and sustainability."

Although Arizona was still a territory when the act was signed, in 1864 its First Territorial Legislature authorized a University of Arizona and wrote its constitution. Further legislation 21 years later actually secured the land-grants and formally established the University.

"The Morrill Act gave Arizona its first university in 1885. It may have been the most significant legislation ever signed by a U.S. president in support of the nation's education," said Eugene G. Sander, president emeritus of the UA. 

"Land-grant institutions have played a critical role in inspiring multiple generations to attain the highest levels of education and scientific research; fostering the most prolific era of agricultural production ever recorded in human history; and providing a model for emulation around the world as we endeavor to eliminate the scourge of hunger from the face of the earth," said Amb. Kenneth M. Quinn, president of the World Food Prize. 

The World Food Prize is the foremost international award recognizing the achievements of individuals who have advanced human development by improving the quality, quantity or availability of food in the world.  

John S. Niederhauser, an internationally renowned scientist and adjunct professor of pathology in the UA College of Agriculture from 1985-2005, was awarded the World Food Prize in 1990 for his leadership in developing potato varieties resistant to disease and fostering international cooperation to improve the world's food supply and alleviate hunger and malnutrition. Known as "Mr. Potato," his work impacted agricultural production in more than 60 countries.

The Borlaug Medallion honors those organizations and heads of state who would not ordinarily be eligible for the World Food Prize, but who have made an especially noteworthy contribution to improving the world's food supply and ensuring adequate nutrition for the world.

In the past it has only been presented to King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand; the Sasakawa Family and its Nippon Foundation of Japan; and Kofi Annan for his leadership of the United Nations.

Quinn noted that Norman Borlaug – the "Father of the Green Revolution," Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and founder of the World Food Prize – was himself a land-grant university graduate and did his scientific and service work at land-grant universities.  

The UA College of Agriculture and Life Sciences' many contributions include the development of the S-1 cultivar of Pima cotton that led to the rebirth of the long-staple cotton industry; decoding the rice and corn genomes as a foundation for improving cereal crops worldwide; designing cooling systems for desert dairy cattle to maintain and improve yields while reducing water and electricity costs; and developing a comprehensive cotton integrated pest management program adopted statewide that has reduced pesticide applications to a 33-year low while saving $333 million and improving cotton yield and quality.

Quinn presented the Borlaug Medallion to Scott Angle, chairman of the APLU Board on Agriculture Assembly and Dean of the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

"APLU should be extremely proud of its stewardship of the universities across our country, and of the critical work and research that continues to occur at institutions across America," Quinn said. "We continue to make great strides in science and agriculture, and we are committed to working with you to inspire future generations to take on the complex issues that we face around the globe."


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Shane Burgess

College of Agriculture and Life Sciences