This month, take a plant pathologist to lunch


Most of us know to thank a farmer for what we eat. But we might be less likely to pay tribute to plant pathologists for their contribution to what’s on our table.

That’s a shame because plant pathology has had an enormous effect on our food supply, and one of the leading forces in that effort is right in our own back yard. The University of Minnesota’s Plant Pathology Department, located on the

St. Paul campus, will mark its centennial this month, and there’s much to celebrate.

The department was formed in 1907 in response to a 1904 epidemic of wheat stem rust. At that time, 70 percent of all Minnesota cropland was devoted to wheat and small grains, so the epidemic was devastating to the state’s economy, including not only farmers but also grain milling and rail transport operations.

The new department quickly became recognized locally, nationally and internationally for its research on controlling plant diseases. And some of the department’s leading lights were residents of St. Anthony Park and Falcon Heights, including Edward Freeman and Elvin Stakman.

Over the years, many other influential faculty members have called this area home, including Neil Anderson, Clyde Christensen, Carl Eide and Richard Zeyen.

Currently, the list of local residents who work in the Plant Pathology Department includes Ruth Dill-Macky, Dirk Hoffmeister, Benham Lockhart, Thor Kommendahl and Neven Young.

Plant Pathology’s alumni have been honored for their work in creating high-yield, disease-resistant plants as part of an effort to alleviate world hunger and rural poverty and to protect the genetic resources on which modern crop plants depend.

Perhaps the department’s most famous alum is Norman Borlaug, who won the 1970 Nobel Peace Prize and was recently honored with a Congressional Gold Medal.

Borlaug and other alumni and friends will gather on September 19 and 20 on the St. Paul campus to celebrate the department’s centennial. September 19 events will be at the Continuing Education and Conference Center, and the September 20 sessions, which include a reception and tour of departmental facilities, will be held at the Cargill Building (Microbial and Plant Genomics).

The public is invited to all events. Reservations are requested at 612-625-8200. For more information about the centennial celebration and the Department of Plant Pathology, visit