UNL Plant Breeder Chosen for Board of International Rice Research Institute

UNL Plant Breeder Chosen for Board of International Rice Research Institute

May 8, 2009

P. Stephen Baenziger has long strived in his career to do something to help feed the world. With his appointment to an international center that researches one of the world's most important food staples, he has realized a dream.
Stephen Baenziger
P. Stephen Baenziger
Baenziger, a professor in the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Department of Agronomy and Horticulture, has been selected as a member of the board of trustees of the prestigious International Rice Research Institute. Currently only one person from the United States sits on the 15-member board.

"It's a huge opportunity," Baenziger said. "This appointment is a dream come true for me."

IRRI, established in 1960 and headquartered in the Philippines, is the largest nonprofit agricultural research center in Asia. Its mission is to reduce world hunger, improve the health of rice farmers and consumers, and work for environmentally sustainable rice production.

IRRI is one of two international agricultural centers focused on research into the world's three most important food crops. IRRI focuses solely on rice while the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center focuses on wheat and corn.

"These centers have had an impact on billions of people who are alive today because of the research the centers have done," Baenziger said.

Research in rice is important because it is the predominant food for much of the world, particularly in south Asia, Baenziger said. While Baenziger's research at UNL focuses on wheat, barley and triticale, he believes IRRI was interested in him for his expertise in plant breeding and genetics, which he honed while in UNL's Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

Baenziger is the primary small grains breeder at UNL, where he has worked since 1986. He graduated magna cum laude from Harvard University in biochemical sciences and got his master's and Ph.D. from Purdue University in plant breeding and genetics in corn.

Baenziger was shocked when he got an e-mail earlier this year letting him know he was being considered for the board. "Even to be considered that you might be worthy was unbelievable," he said.

Baenziger's three-year term begins in January. It will require attending two weeklong meetings a year.

"I got into agriculture because I was interested in feeding people, and I have an interest in international agriculture," he said, adding his hope as a member of the board is to help people who survive on a rice-based diet.

Not only is the appointment an honor for Baenziger, it is a feather in the cap of UNL, he said.

"If someone asks about the quality of faculty that the University of Nebraska has, you could say that when the board of trustees of the largest international rice research group in the world was looking for another member, it came to Nebraska."

Lori McGinnis
IANR News Service