While Edward Runge, Ph.D., was a researcher and professor, he is probably best known for his advocacy for agronomy and soil sciences and as a voice for agriculture at the Texas A&M College of Agriculture and Life Sciences in the Department of Soil and Crop Sciences.

Edward Runge in a blue shirt
Edward Runge, Ph.D., researcher, professor and international advocate for agronomy and soil sciences in the Texas A&M Department of Soil and Crop Sciences died April 10. (Texas A&M AgriLife photo)

Runge died on April 10. Services will be on April 22 at the Peace Lutheran Church, 2201 Rio Grande Blvd., College Station. The visitation will be from 9:30-11 a.m., with the service at 11 a.m. and a reception following. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that gifts in memory of Runge be sent to the Texas A&M Foundation.

Coming to Texas A&M in 1980, Runge spent 25 years before retiring, first serving as head of the Department of Soil and Crop Sciences for 19 years, and later as a professor and Billie B. Turner Chair in Production Agronomy Emeritus. After retiring in 2005, he served as the Monsanto’s Beachell-Borlaug International Scholar Program director and judging panel chair.

Prior to coming to Texas A&M, Runge served on the faculty at Iowa State University and the University of Illinois and was chairman of the Agronomy Department at the University of Missouri.

In addition to his university leadership roles, Runge served as president of the leading associations for his field of study — the Soil Science Society of America, the American Society of Agronomy and the Council for Agricultural Science and Technology.

“Dr. Runge has truly been a force for agriculture,” said David Baltensperger, Ph.D., head of the Department of Soil and Crop Sciences. “His thousands of presentations, committee and agricultural organization leadership and advisory roles have been a monumental benefit to agriculture.”

Research and international influence

Born in St. Peter, Illinois, Runge earned a bachelor’s degree with honors in agriculture education and a master’s degree in soils, both from the University of Illinois, and a doctorate in soils from Iowa State University.

“Our job as agronomists is to make plants grow better,” Runge once said.

Baltensperger said Runge was one of the most visible agronomists in the last half of the 20th century. He accomplished much during his professional career, from the research and extension work early in his career to the years of service as department head to his effort to make agronomic production monetarily rewarding with reduced government subsidies. 

Runge’s long-time research focused on corn yield and production forecasting work for the corn belt. Additionally, he strived to impart his international experiences to others by teaching Agriculture Study Abroad Courses in Vietnam, Brazil, Paraguay, New Zealand and Australia.

Runge lived or worked in more than 70 countries, with longer-term assignments in New Zealand and Indonesia.

Some of the unique positions he held outside of the university realm were:
— Consultant to the Indonesian government on using soils for agricultural purposes.
— Consultant in a large area crop inventory experiment at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.
— Short-term advisor for curriculum reform in Butare, Rwanda.
— Short-term advisor for USAID-ICARDS “Future Harvest Conference” in Afghanistan.

Runge was also especially passionate about his work since 1996 as the technical director of a Corn Improvement Project in Burma, now Myanmar, in conjunction with the 101 Veterans Committee Inc.

Ed Price, Ph.D., Howard G. Buffett Foundation Chair on Conflict and Development in the Department of Agricultural Economics, said he and Runge were called in to assess the situation of Kachin poppy growers in Northern Burma to replace the opium program. Runge pushed for improved corn, and it proved successful. The program, “Project Old Soldier,” was supported by the Burmese military and Kachin Baptist Church leaders.

Uniting the industry greats with future breeders

Baltensperger said it was only fitting that he hired Runge back after his retirement in 2005 to serve as the Monsanto’s Beachell-Borlaug International Scholar Program director.

Edward Runge, Shelby Redgate and Pat Runge standing for a posed photo
Edward Runge, Ph.D., left, and his wife Patricia Runge, right, stand with Monsanto’s Beachell-Borlaug International Scholar Shelby Redgate. (Texas A&M AgriLife photo)

Runge’s position as program director allowed him to make the connection between the brightest students headed into the wheat and rice breeding industry with two of the greats in agriculture: Dr. Norman Borlaug, the father of the Green Revolution noted for his work in wheat, and Henry Beachell, Ph.D., referenced as the co-father of the Green Revolution in rice.

During his time as department head, Runge was instrumental in getting Borlaug to come to Texas A&M in 1984 to teach a course each year. Runge once commented he was Borlaug’s boss for 19 years, but he prized his personal relationship more.

While Beachell was at Beaumont at the Texas A&M rice center working for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, it wasn’t until after his move to the International Rice Research Institute that Runge met Beachell in the Philippines.

Under Runge’s leadership, the Bayer’s/Monsanto’s Beachell-Borlaug International Scholars Program, administered by Texas A&M AgriLife Research, received $13 million over eight years. In his final report, Runge said the funding trained some 89 wheat and rice breeders from 30 different countries who will continue making a positive impact by increasing the world’s food production.

Leadership and service to many

One of Runge’s driving forces was a strong belief that the status quo is not good enough. He continually looked for ways to improve everything from working conditions for faculty as a department head to the practices of organizations and groups to which he belonged.

Major award recognitions:

— Named Fellow in the following associations: American Association for the Advancement of Science, American Society of Agronomy, ASA, and Soil Science Society of America, SSSA.
— Earned the Texas A&M Former Students Faculty Distinguished Achievement Award for Administration, the first department head to receive the award for administration.
— ASA Agronomic Service Award.
— Distinguished Service Award from the Texas Seed Trade Association.
— Outstanding Public Servant Award from the Texas Association of Crop Consultants.
— Alumni Award of Merit College of Agriculture, Consumer and Environmental Sciences, University of Illinois.
— Recipient of ASA Crops and Soils Award for Excellence in Agricultural Journalism.
— Honorary Professor, Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences.
— Received an Honorary Doctorate from the University of Agriculture, Nitra, Slovakia at their 50th Anniversary Celebration, in recognition of programs to help Slovakia.

Major industry service positions:

— Served as president-elect, president and past president of both ASA and SSSA.
— Board of directors, International Fertilizer and Development Center.
— Director and chair, Texas State Seed and Plant Board.
— Founder, president and chairman of the board of the Registry of Environmental and Agriculture Professionals, which ultimately led to the ASA’s Certified Crop Advisors Program.
— World Food Prize Selection Committee.

Honoring Runge’s memory

In lieu of flowers, the family requests that gifts in memory of Runge be sent to the Texas A&M Foundation. Runge and his wife Patricia started a scholarship many years ago that supports students in the Department of Soil and Crop Sciences at the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Questions may be directed to Megan Hutchison, director of development at mhutchison@txamfoundation.com.

If donating online, go to txamfoundation.com/give. Under “Select a Unit or College,” select “Unlisted Account” and then under “Giving Account Name or Number,” write: #0433838.

If mailing a gift, write the check to Texas A&M Foundation and mail it to the Foundation at 401 George Bush Drive, College Station, TX 77840. In the memo line, include: #0433838: P&E Runge Scholarship.

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