By all accounts, Norman Borlaug was a hardworking and humble man. When the phone call came to tell him that he had won the 1970 Nobel Peace Prize, he was working in the wheat fields. His wife, Margaret, had to deliver the news to him. Borlaug is credited with saving a billion lives.

March 25 is the 100th anniversary of Borlaug’s birthday. It is also National Ag Day.

“He had all these awards – the Congressional Gold Medal, the Nobel Peace Prize, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the National Medal of Science. Yet, in all my time visiting with him, he never mentioned one. Even up to his death he was still promoting agricultural science,” says Ronald Phillips, Regents Professor at the University of Minnesota.

The Iowa-born man earned the nickname “Father of the Green Revolution.” The term commonly refers to changes in agricultural practices that increased food production from the 1950s forward.

After earning his PhD, Borlaug began doing research and training new scientists in Mexico. One of the first problems Borlaug addressed in Mexico was stem rust, which was killing wheat crops. Despite the poor state of his workstation, he slept and worked there, depending on the support of the local farmers who would loan equipment and help as needed. Borlaug faced criticism for his work at times, but he forged ahead with his breeding plans.

To solve other problems with wheat, Borlaug and his associates developed Mexican semi-dwarf varieties, which had multiple benefits. The shorter wheat produced stronger stalks and two to three times more grain than standard varieties. These new varieties greatly changed the picture of wheat production in Mexico. By 1963, 95 percent of the wheat grown in the country came from Borlaug’s breeding programs. The wheat harvest that year was six times larger than the harvest in 1944, when Borlaug arrived in Mexico.