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ISU names center for leading plant breeder

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Iowa

Iowa State University will name its Center for Plant Breeding in honor of the late Raymond F. Baker, President Martin Jischke announced May 16.

Baker was an Iowa State agronomy graduate and long-time research director for Pioneer Hi-Bred International. He died in 1999 at the age of 92.

The center is being named for Baker in honor of his many contributions to the science and practice of plant breeding, said Jischke.

"Raymond Baker put his education to work to build the scientific foundation for crop production that has helped us keep pace with the world's rapidly growing food and fiber needs throughout the 20th century," said Jischke. "The Raymond F. Baker Center for Plant Breeding will carry on his work and his vision."

The Raymond F. Baker Center for Plant Breeding is a center within the Plant Sciences Institute and the agronomy department. Center scientists conduct basic, long-term research designed to further enhance the plant breeding programs in corn, forages, soybeans, popcorn, small grains and potential new crops.

As Pioneer Hi-Bred's lead plant breeder for 43 years, Baker developed many of the company's first hybrid seed corns, including the first single-cross hybrid corn to be produced in volume. He is credited with establishing the scientific groundwork in the 1930s that helped Pioneer Hi-Bred become the world's largest seed corn company.

Baker met Pioneer founder Henry A. Wallace in 1926 at a corn day program at Iowa State. Fascinated by Wallace's work with corn hybrids, Baker temporarily left his studies at Iowa State and became Pioneer's second employee in 1928. He completed his Iowa State degree in 1935.

Baker served on the Pioneer board of directors from 1935 through 1985. He retired in 1971 as a corporate vice president and head of the corn research division, but continued to work in the company's plant breeding program.

Baker was a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and of the American Society of Agronomy. In 1991, Iowa State awarded him an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters - the first honorary degree the university had awarded in more than 26 years.

Baker remained a lifetime friend and supporter of Iowa State's College of Agriculture. He served on the college's advisory committee.

The plant breeding center's research is specifically related to selection methods, yield stability, germplasm enhancement and value-added traits, said Arnel Hallauer, center director and professor of agronomy.

"Because effective plant breeding methods include different scientific disciplines, plant breeding is the ultimate technology for the genetic improvement of crops," Hallauer said. "One of the goals of the center is to strengthen links to the emerging areas of genomics, computational biology and the biological sciences."

The center also will facilitate increased support for graduate student education, postdoctoral researchers and visiting scholars.

"Iowa State is recognized nationally and internationally for its plant breeding research and education programs," said Colin Scanes, interim director of the Plant Sciences Institute. "The center's challenge is to assure that Iowa State's plant breeding program continues to be second to none."

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