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NMSU researcher receives national turfgrass science award

New Mexico State University Professor Emeritus Arden Baltensperger received the 2006 Fred V. Grau Turfgrass Science Award presented at the Crop Science Society of America annual meetings.



Crop Science Society of America President Steven Fales of Iowa State University, left, presents the Fred V. Grau Turfgrass Science Award to Arden Baltensperger, professor emeritus at New Mexico State University. (Photo courtesy of Crop Science Society of Agronomy)

"It's great to receive this career award for our turfgrass research and development," Baltensperger said. "I'm indebted to many students and especially graduate students who contributed so much to our plant breeding and variety development program (in the 1980s and 1990s). I think this reflects well on NMSU.

"This university has been so good to our family - my wife, Elsie, and I and our four children," Baltensperger said. "All four of our children and one grandchild have attended or are attending here."

The meetings, held in conjunction with the American Society of Agronomy and Soil Science Society of America, took place Nov. 12-16 in Indianapolis.

Baltensperger is a professor emeritus of agronomy in the Plant and Environmental Sciences Department at NMSU and a consultant to Pennington/Seeds West. Baltensperger has served as head of the agronomy department at NMSU and was president of ASA in 1990.

His recent research has been primarily on the genetics, breeding and development of seed-propagated turf-type Bermuda grass resulting in cultivars with wide acceptance. His first variety, "NuMex Sahara," has generated more than $1 million in royalties to the NMSU Agricultural Experiment Station and the U.S. Golf Association, which helped finance the research. His most recent release, "Princess 77," was the first dense, fine-textured, seed-propagated intraspecific hybrid Bermuda grass.

Baltensperger's link to agronomy goes back more than 65 years.

"My interest in agronomy started in about 1940 after visiting with a neighbor's son who was attending the University of Nebraska," Baltensperger said. "Our family was just recovering from the Dust Bowl days and the Great Depression. Agriculture, especially in Western Nebraska, was almost a dirty word.

"However, my parents never questioned us six children going to college, no matter how poor, so I started in agronomy that fall," he said. Baltensperger went on to earn his bachelor's and master's degrees from the University of Nebraska, despite a four-year interruption while serving in the Army.

"I liked the genetics and plant breeding aspect so much that Elsie and I spent four years at Iowa State University getting a Ph.D.," he said.

Several aspects of his career have been very rewarding, Baltensperger said.

"College teaching at four universities and advising graduate students, primarily at NMSU, and then watching them develop and contribute is very rewarding," he said. "Helping to get the first Ph.D. programs started in the Ag college, while department head here, and helping develop the Leyendecker Plant Science Research Center rank high."

Baltensperger has taught courses in crop science, plant breeding and/or turfgrass science at four universities. His former graduate students hold prestigious positions at universities and in industry. He has served as a major professor for graduate students at the University of Arizona and NMSU and authored or co-authored 98 papers in refereed journals, chapters in books and technical and non-technical publications. Baltensperger was instrumental in establishing a Ph.D. program in agronomy at NMSU in the early 1970s, which was one of the first in the College of Agriculture and Home Economics. While serving as agronomy department head, he was primarily responsible for developing NMSU's Leyendecker Plant Science Research Center as a soil and plant research facility.

Baltensperger has been honored by many state, national and international organizations. He is a fellow in the Crop Science Society of America and the American Society of Agronomy and served as president of both the Western Society of Crop Science and the American Society of Agronomy. He was president of the International Honorary Agricultural Society - Gamma Sigma Delta, and was the first president of the New Mexico chapter.

In 2005, the Southwest Turfgrass Association established the Arden Baltensperger Lifetime Achievement Award in his honor. He recently received the Breeders Cup from the Turfgrass Breeders Association for the development of Princess 77.

The Fred V. Grau Turfgrass Science Award recognizes significant career contributions in turfgrass science during the most recent 15 years and is supported by gifts from the Grau family to the Agronomic Science Foundation.

ASA, CSSA and SSSA are educational organizations helping their 11,000-plus members advance the disciplines and practices of agronomy, crop and soil sciences by supporting professional growth and science policy initiatives, and by providing quality, research-based publications, and a variety of member services.