Plant research by Nebraskan Henry Beachell has saved millions of people around the world from starvation.
Born in Waverly, Nebraska, Beachell and his family moved to a corn and wheat farm in western Nebraska. In 1930 he earned an agronomy degree from the University of Nebraska. After graduate study in Kansas, Beachell worked for the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Texas. There, he created nine rice varieties, which eventually accounted for more than 90 percent of the U.S. long-grain rice production.
Beachell has been called the most important person in rice improvement in the world. In 1963 he was working for the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines when he crossed a short, stiff-strawed rice variety from Taiwan with a teller, pest-resistant variety from Indonesia. The result was later dubbed “miracle rice” because it grew so well. As farmers planted this variety, yields doubled, nutrition improved in many Asian countries, and people no longer went hungry.
Beachell has received many international awards, including the 1996 World Food Prize. He lived until he was well into his 90s and continued to consult with Rice-Tec, the only commercial hybrid rice-breeding program in the U.S.
Henry Beachell died at the age of 100 in 2006. After his death, Kenneth Quinn, president of the World Food Prize Foundation, said, “The greatness of his achievements and the warmth of his person leave all of us profoundly sad.”
Written by Claudia Reinhardt and Bill Ganzel, the Ganzel Group. First written and published in 2003.