Dr. Leonard Pike, director of the Vegetable Improvement Center at Texas A&M University, has been named Man of the Year in Service to Southwest Agriculture by Progressive Farmer magazine.
The honor, which appears in the February edition of the magazine, notes that Pike’s development of the famous, ultrasweet 1015 onion “will pale in comparison with what he’s doing now.”
As director of the vegetable center, which he developed two years ago, Pike is teaming vegetable scientists with medical researchers to develop foods that can prevent cancer, heart disease and other illnesses. As medical researchers identify natural food chemicals that help prevent diseases, horticulturists will use that information to breed plants with high amounts of those substances.
Carrots, for example, contain the chemical beta carotene, which has shown anti-cancer effects in laboratory tests. But beta carotene amounts vary by carrot. Pike wants to breed varieties that are consistently high in beta carotene, perhaps providing in one carrot an adequate daily supply of the natural chemical.
“I want a carrot that has the texture of an apple or celery,” Pike said in the Progressive Farmer issue. “I want one so sweet that kids will eat their carrot sticks instead of trading them for candy bars at school.”
Pike, a native of Arkansas, became internationally known for developing the 1015 super sweet onion. That variety, which is grown in the United States, New Zealand, Chile, Australia and Mexico, generates at least $100 million a year to the Texas economy. He also has developed many varieties of carrots and cucumbers.