Remembering The Georgia Professor Responsible For The Lush, Green Turf At Sanford Stadium And Across The Country
That carpet-like, deep green grass you see covering the Sanford Stadium field and playing fields across the South and overseas is compliments of Dr. Burton and the University of Georgia Agricultural and Environmental Sciences Department.
Dr. Burton’s accomplishments in both forage and turf development are astonishing. Beginning with “Coastal Bermuda” grass, a forage hybrid released in 1943 that now covers more than 10 million acres, 10 additional bermuda hybrids were released. The research behind these accomplishments is described in over 750 publications and resulted in his receiving over 60 honors of which the most prestigious were his election to the National Academy of Sciences in 1975, the U.S. President’s Award for Distinguished Federal Civilian Service in 1980, and the National Medal of Science in 1982.
The research of which Dr. Burton was most proud was his work with pearl millet that made major contributions to the green revolution in arid parts of India and Africa. Within a few years after his hybrids were first used in India, the annual millet output more than doubled. This huge increase saved millions from starving.
Dr. Burton was born in 1910 in Clatonia, Nebraska, where he grew up helping his father farm with horse-drawn implements. He graduated from the University of Nebraska and went to Rutgers University where he earned M.S. and Ph.D. degrees.
In 1934, he married Helen Maureen Jeffryes and moved to Tifton, Georgia. In 1936, he took a position as Principal Geneticist with the Division of Forage Crops and Diseases of the Agricultural Research Service of the United States Department of Agriculture at the Coastal Plains Experiment Station. In 1950, when the Coastal Plains Experiment Station became a part of the University of Georgia, he became a member of the faculty of the College of Agriculture serving as Chairman of the Agronomy Division until 1964 when he was named Distinguished Alumni Foundation Professor..
His career took a real turn in 1946 when the U.S. Golf Association asked Burton, if provided $500.00 a year for turf research, would he be willing to start some research studies. Before the early 1950s, many Southern golfers had to putt on greens covered with green-colored sand. The fairways were very rough and turned brown in winter. Dr. Burton’s introduction of Tiffine, his first ultra-short hybrid turf grass, gave Southern golfers real putting greens.
The search for a better, more durable grass for football fields continued and Burton’s turf breeding project resulted in his crown jewel…. the release of Tifway 419 in 1960. Arguably the most widely used turfgrass in the world, Tifway 419 covers most of the South’s athletic fields, including Georgia’s Sanford Stadium. Tifway 419 was selected as the turfgrass for each venue in the most recent World Cup in Brazil.
In 1996, he established the Glenn and Helen Burton Feeding the Hungry Scholarship Fund at Georgia. This fund supports a doctoral student in the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences and a doctoral student in the College of Family and Consumer Sciences.
Dr. Burton once said, “Helping feed the hungry of the world is my greatest accomplishment. It was important to me because I saw those hungry people and I was able to help them.”
Dr. Burton touched many lives around the world. Deb Baltenberger, a science teacher at Lee County High (Ga) recalls meeting Dr. Burton while her father was the Head of Georgia’s Agronomy Department. “I remember meeting Dr. Burton and his wife shortly after moving to Athens. Mrs. Burton was a dietician. Such a wonderful couple.”
Morgan County’s Faith Peppers remembers Dr. Burton as well. “Dr. Burton was such a kind and generous man. He, and the dozens like him, are what make working in the UGA College of Agriculture a privilege.
Dr. Burton died in 2005 at his Tifton home. His contributions to agriculture, agronomy and the sports world are legendary and have had everlasting benefits throughout the world. One Damn Good Dawg.