Campus News

Glenn Burton, famous for his work with grains and grasses, dies at age 95

Glenn W. Burton, 95, a farm boy who became world famous for his work which improved pearl millet-a food staple for 90 million people around the world-and his development of turf grasses for golf courses and grazing, died Nov. 22 in Tifton. Funeral services were held there Nov. 25.

A native of Clatonia, Neb., Burton earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Nebraska in 1932 and M.S. and Ph.D. degrees from Rutgers University in 1936. He took a position as principal geneticist with the Division of Forage Crops and Diseases of the Agricultural Research Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture at the Coastal Plain Experiment Station in 1936. He continued in that position as head of the grass plains breeding department for more than 61 years.

In 1950, when the Coastal Plain Experiment Station became a part of UGA, Burton became a member of the faculty of the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, serving as chairman of the agronomy division until 1964 when he was named Distinguished Alumni Foundation Professor.

In the early 1960s, Burton sent a small sample of his hybrid pearl millet seeds to India, enabling that nation to increase ­production from 3.5 million to 8 million tons within 10 years. Similar increases were seen in Pakistan and several African nations. 

“Helping feed the hungry of the world is my greatest accomplishment,” Burton once said. “It was important to me because I saw those hungry people, and I was able to help them.”

Burton also developed nutritious grasses for cattle. His first hybrid, known as coastal Bermuda grass, doubled forage production in the South. His grasses were also credited with improving golf courses and football fields in the Southeast. After his formal retirement in 1997, Burton continued his research program with funding from his salary savings.

Burton’s research is described in more than 750 publications and resulted in more than 60 honors including election to the National Academy of Sciences in 1980, the U.S. President’s Award for Distinguished Federal Civilian Service in 1980 and the National Medal of Science in 1982.