Loss of a Great Agronomist

Glenn W. Burton, 95, a Nebraska farm boy who became a world-famous agronomist credited with improving pearl millet and developing popular grasses for athletic fields and golf courses, died Nov. 22, it was reported in Tifton, Ga. No cause of death was reported.

Dr. Burton was most proud of his work with pearl millet, a food staple for 90 million people around the world. In the early 1960s, he sent a small sample of his pearl millet seeds to India, enabling that nation to increase production from 3.5 million to 8 million tons within 10 years. Similar increases occurred in Pakistan and several African nations.

Dr. Burton was born in Clatonia, Neb., and raised on a farm in Bartley, Neb. He was a 1932 agronomy graduate of the University of Nebraska. In 1936, he received a doctorate in agronomy from Rutgers University.

After graduation, he worked at the University of Georgia’s Coastal Plain Experiment Station in Tifton, first as a scientist with the Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service and then as a university professor. After more than 61 years on the job, he retired, but he continued grass research at the experiment station.

When Dr. Burton arrived in south Georgia, he found there were few nutritious grasses for cattle, so he went to work developing hybrid Bermuda grasses.

His first hybrid, known as coastal Bermuda, doubled forage production in the South and at one time covered 10 million acres of Southern pastures.

He is also credited with developing excellent turf grasses for golf courses and athletic fields. At one time, the grass on the University of Georgia football field in Athens and at the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, Fla., were products of his research.

Before the early 1950s, many Southern golfers had to putt on greens covered with sand. Dr. Burton’s introduction of Tiffine, his first ultra-short hybrid turf grass, gave Southern golfers real putting greens.

During his career, Dr. Burton traveled to at least 56 countries, including China and Russia, and he received 51 national and international awards, including the 1979 USDA Distinguished Service Award.

Posted by Neil Sperry
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