NMSU branding

New Mexico State University

New Mexico State University

News Center




Million-dollar royalty sets example of university-industry partnership potential

LAS CRUCES - The success of a grass seed developed in the 1980s at New Mexico State University shows the kind of success possible when university researchers work closely with commercial businesses.



New Mexico State University President Michael Martin, second from left, accepts a check that represents reaching the $1 million mark in royalties generated for the university and the United States Golf Association through the sales of a grass seed developed at NMSU. Presenting the check is Ronnie Stapp, executive vice president of Pennington Seed/Seeds West. Second from right is Arden Baltensperger, emeritus professor of agronomy in the College of Agriculture and Home Economics' Department of Plant & Environmental Sciences. Baltensperger developed the variety - NuMex Sahara - in the 1980s. With them, at left, is Michael Kenna, director of Green Section research for the United States Golf Association, which helped to fund Baltensperger's research. (NMSU Photo by Darren Phillips)

"This sets a model for the larger university," NMSU President Michael Martin said during a ceremony last week that recognized the million-dollar point in royalties the university has received from the sales of a Bermuda grass variety developed at NMSU. The unique, warm-season grass - NuMex Sahara - was bred in 1987 by Arden A. Baltensperger, now emeritus professor of agronomy in the College of Agriculture and Home Economics' Department of Plant & Environmental Sciences.

Baltensperger was one of those on hand for the ceremony at the Fabian Garcia Research Center. Ronnie Stapp, executive vice president of the seed division at Pennington Seed/Seeds West, presented a check to Martin that represented the $1 million mark in royalties generated from sales of the seed in retail outlets over the years.

"One of the things we're trying to do is take the intellectual property coming out of NMSU, make it commercially viable, turn it over to the private sector, generate revenues which allow the programs to continue on and to sustain our commitment to excellence, and this is the perfect example of how that works," Martin said. "We're trying to seed this model elsewhere at the university so we get faculty thinking about not only what they do in terms of their day-to-day activities in their unit, teaching and carrying on research and publishing journal articles, etc., but also taking what they know and making it useful to the larger population, and in turn helping support the great programs they operate in. So this is a model across this institution."

Michael P. Kenna, director of Green Section research for the United States Golf Association, outlined his organization's support of Baltensperger's research. USGA gave Baltensperger's program $90,000 over a four-five year period in the late 1980s, and has since received much more in return for its investment through its share of royalties, as well as the benefits the unique grass seed has brought to many golf courses.

Kenna called Baltensperger's project "the Google or the Microsoft of the seed business."

"The project really set the stage for warm season grass breeding," he said. One of USGA's early goals was to come up with a new variety of grass that would be suitable for golf courses, but use less water.

"Seeded Bermuda grass, I think, is the solution to that," he said, adding that there is tremendous room for growth in sales of low water use, warm season grass seed.

Stapp agreed.

"It's just an incredible achievement," he said. "Really what Sahara signifies is the development of the seeded Bermuda business on a certified and improved scale in this country, and it was also the gate-opener for other really good varieties to come along."

One of those varieties, Princess 77 - also developed by Baltensperger - is currently being used on the NMSU football field and was used on the fields for several Super Bowls. Turf grass research continues at NMSU under the direction of Bernd Leinauer, turf grass specialist for Extension Plant Sciences at NMSU, and Ryan Goss, an assistant professor in NMSU's Department of Plant & Environmental Sciences.

Baltensperger led NMSU's agronomy department for 12 years. He joined Pennington Seed/Seeds West after retiring from NMSU and served as turf grass research director for the company until 2000. He and his wife have established an endowed scholarship for graduate students at NMSU.

"I just feel so pleased that these three organizations have cooperated so well and accomplished so much," Baltensperger said.

The ceremony took place on the second day of the United States Golf Association's research committee meeting Oct. 17-18 in Las Cruces.