Purdue News

November 23, 2004

Presentation and seminar honors agronomy inventor, historian

Fred Patterson

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - Fred Patterson spent 36 years as a Purdue University agronomist who helped increase U.S. farm income by more than $3 billion, and retirement didn't alter his habit of arriving early at his Lilly Hall office or his avocation of winning recognition for colleagues.

On Dec. 2 co-workers, former students and longtime friends will honor Patterson's giving spirit and many achievements with a ceremony and seminar taking place in recognition of an endowed chair being named for him. The Indiana Crop Improvement Association, Lilly Endowment and Combs Estate Trust are funding The Fred L. Patterson Chair in Agronomy, which will be held by a researcher in translational plant genomics, which will involve moving research from the lab to real-world applications. The first researcher to hold the Patterson chair has not yet been selected.

"Fred embodies the teamwork so essential to successful research, and his part in developing more than 50 varieties of wheat, oat and barley is proof of his forward thinking," said Randy Woodson, dean of Purdue Agriculture. "He taught and mentored students from all over the world who have gone on to lead the way in crop breeding and genetics."

One of those students, Herb Ohm, was a graduate student and research assistant under Patterson, who he has known for 36 years. Ohm, now an agronomy distinguished professor, continues Patterson's work and still calls him with questions.

"Fred is unusually talented in identifying important research objectives," Ohm said. "He is highly effective as a mentor and in articulating important science to students and to general audiences. He always has made time for people. He always embraced new research and development in genetics and applied new knowledge to crop improvement.

"As I ventured into new areas and embarked on biotechnology, he was my biggest supporter."

The 88-year-old Patterson said that he did the work because he enjoyed it and not for any honors.

"I didn't like anything better, and we were dedicated to developing new small-grain varieties for farmers," said the emeritus professor who retired in 1986. "I'm appreciative that they are naming a chair for me. But the importance is that this funding will encourage more crop research to help people."

When Gebisa Ejeta was a Purdue graduate student in the mid-1970s, he came to know Patterson. Ejeta, now an agronomy professor, learned even more during the two years he and the senior researcher served on the faculty together. That interaction continued over the first 17 years of Patterson's retirement because Patterson kept his old schedule, including arriving about 6:30 a.m., starting the morning coffee pot for the department, writing research papers, and mentoring colleagues and students. More recently the elder scientist took on a new task writing a monthly column and an annual newsletter on the department's history, Ejeta said.

Patterson made some of that history, as well.

"He was a pioneer in interdisciplinary research, bringing people together from different disciplines - entomology, agronomy, plant pathology," said Ejeta, a member of the committee searching for a researcher to fill the Patterson chair. "He kept a low profile even though he deserved great credit for all his achievements, including the development of many varieties of small grains for Indiana and beyond.

"Fred always encouraged younger faculty and sought credit for others. Many of the awards that faculty members in our department won were the result of Fred writing the nominations for them."

Patterson was born near Reynolds, Neb., and taught in a rural elementary school for five years before earning his agronomy degree with high distinction from the University of Nebraska in 1942. He earned his master's degree in plant breeding from Kansas State University in 1947 and his doctorate in plant breeding with plant pathology and botany minors from the University of Wisconsin three years later.

He joined Purdue's staff in 1950, becoming a full professor in 1956. From 1962 to 1965, he was assistant dean of the graduate school, and from 1966 to 1986 he was the assistant head of the agronomy department.

Patterson is credited with participating in the development of 27 commercially viable wheat varieties, five barley varieties and 20 oat varieties. Planted on approximately 300 million acres in the eastern United States, including Indiana, experts estimated the wheat strains alone increased U.S. farm income by $3.4 billion.

The Patterson chair is intended to encourage and increase similar research that can make the transition from the lab to the public. Funding for the Patterson chair faculty position includes $1.355 million from the Lilly Foundation, $500,000 from the Indiana Crop Improvement Association and $150,000 from the Nancy Hoffman Combs estate.

The Lilly grant is part of a program called the Initiative to Recruit and Retain Intellectual Capital for Indiana Higher Education Institutions. Purdue has used that money to create the Faculty Endowment Challenge, whereby funding from the foundation will be combined with grants from other donors to establish endowed faculty positions to enhance research.

The Indiana Crop Improvement Association Inc. provides services that enable growers, conditioners and distributors to provide high-quality plant products worldwide. The association's offices are located in Lafayette, Ind., and under state law it handles seed certification and promotes use of good seed.

Combs, who lived in Williamsburg, Va., left 912 acres in White and Tippecanoe counties, which her estate sold. Under the terms of her will, Purdue received the proceeds from the property sale and created a trust in her name under the Purdue Research Foundation for support of agricultural research.

The presentation and seminar in honor of Patterson will begin at 2 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 2, in the Pfendler Hall auditorium. A. Bruce Maunder will present the Fred Patterson Series seminar.

Maunder, of Lubbock, Texas, is a longtime Patterson colleague who is an international authority on sorghum breeding. He has developed 150 grain and forage sorghum hybrids that have been successfully used in farming in more than 35 countries.

A reception will follow the talk. All of the events are free and open to the public.

Writer: Susan A. Steeves, (765) 496-7481, ssteeves@purdue.edu

Sources: Gebisa Ejeta, (765) 494-4320, gejeta@purdue.edu

Herb Ohm, (765) 494-8072, hohm@purdue.edu

Randy Woodson, (765) 494-8391, woodson@purdue.edu

Craig Beyrouty, (765) 494-4774, beyrouty@purdue.edu

Ag Communications: (765) 494-2722; Beth Forbes, forbes@purdue.edu
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