John Niederhauser is remembered and honored in this autobiographical memoir as one of the most important agricultural scientists of the last century, notable for his contributions to plant pathology and global agriculture, especially his work in the 1950s on late blight disease of potatoes. Along with winning the World Food Prize in 1990, Niederhauser was also a participant in other amazing events such as the Soviet collectivist experiment, the Rockefeller Foundation’s Mexican Agricultural Program, the Green Revolution, and the development of the system of International Agricultural Research Centers (IARCs).
This book was originally concepted in 2002 as a biography that would be compiled with Niederhauser’s help and guidance. Due to unforeseen scheduling conflicts of both editors and the tragic death of Niederhauser in 2005, the book changed course slightly to become the autobiographical tribute that it is today. Niederhauser’s comments and commentary from earlier versions of the publication were used as the foundation of the book, with a special emphasis on findings taken from his numerous published and unpublished notes and papers.
This book is a great read for history buffs as well as those with a passion for plant pathology. The story of Neiderhauser’s life is interlaced with his own commentary as well as tales and photographs of his life and his many contributions to the science community.
Comments from Colleagues of John Niederhauser...
"He was an absolutely wonderful and charming individual. His life story is fascinating – filled with drama and adventure. He was one of those persons who was bigger than life and could charm just about anyone. His love of potatoes was without limit and his respect for potato late blight as an adversary was very well placed. His contribution to our understanding of the pathogen, Phytophthora infestans was truly transformative. His group, working in the Toluca Valley of Mexico discovered the A2 mating type there and demonstrated that sexual reproduction was a normal component of the life history of this organism there. These discoveries demonstrated that the population of P. infestans in central Mexico was different from every other population of this organism worldwide."
-- Dr. William Fry, Cornell University
"John Niederhauser was an enthusiast, as well as a dedicated potato scientist, expansive raconteur, and energetic Little League Baseball founder in Mexico. A member of the first board of directors of our non-profit, The Potato Museum, John was happy to share with us his insights as to how the potato might reduce world hunger. He offered us his writings, and even some of his potato gear collected from all over the world. We respected that he understood and connected with farmers, and was willing to learn from the locals, while at the same time sharing his considerable expertise with them. An indefatigable traveler, along with his wife, Ann, John relished the world's differences and yet delighted in the commonality of just about everyone he met."
-- Meredith and Tom Hughes, Co-founders of The Potato Museum and FoodMuseum.com
“John and Ann Niederhauser were extraordinarily generous to the APS Foundation and, therefore, future generations of plant pathologists. Gifts included a donation of a large portion of John’s World Food Prize to establish the John and Ann Niederhauser Endowment to support research on diseases of food crops in developing countries. They also directed a portion of those earnings to provide a cash prize for the APS International Service Award. In 2001, the John S. Niederhauser Student Travel Award was established to support student participation at the annual APS meeting. John loved students and interacting with them; the story of his life will inspire many and his generosity will benefit plant pathology in perpetuity.”
-- Dr. Stella Melugin Coakley, APS Foundation Chair Emeritus
“ Dr. Potato”, as John Niederhauser was affectionately known to all of us, was one of the original pioneers in the Green Revolution, working side by side with Norman Borlaug in Mexico. In 1990, when Borlaug presented the World Food Prize to him, Borlaug said: “Without a doubt, Dr. Niederhauser’s discoveries have had a dramatic impact on the food-deficient regions of the world. Today we recognize a lifetime of dedication and decades of innovation.”
-- Ambassador Kenneth Quinn, President of The World Food Prize Foundation
"Dr. Potato -- Producers of the crop concur on Dr. John Niederhauser. Why? Because he focused his lifetime of prolific research on the potato. As a result of his achievements, the quality, productivity and availability of this food crop is improved worldwide."
-- Dr. Lowell S. Hardin, Purdue University
"I remember meeting John Niederhauser at a Wisconsin Meeting of the American Potato Society in 1953. Those members interested in potato late blight met during the meeting and John was the star of the show. Other super stars of P. infestans research such as W, Black, M. E. Gallegly, C. J. Edie, W. R. Mills, J. Cervantes, and F. J. Stevenson were also at the meeting. Although I was a lowly graduate student at the time, John took my picture during the meeting and sent me a copy. I believe he often did this to help remember peoples names and to impress people with his thoughtfulness.
Over the years I interacted with John many times. In 1953, I attended the regional meetings of the American Phytopathological Society at the University of Wisconsin. While there, E. C. Stakman introduced me to Lee Heidrick who was working in the Rockefeller Foundation's Colombian agricultural program. That interview prompted an offer from the Rockefeller Foundation for me to go to Colombia as an assistant plant pathologist, replacing Lee Heidrick in the potato program, after I finished my MS degree. Thus, in June l954 I went to Colombia, South America to replace Lee Heidrick while he was in the USA finalizing his PhD degree. I had little knowledge of the country, no Spanish, and even had to look up Colombia's location in an atlas. My lack of knowledge, experience, and training meant that I knew practically nothing of the agriculture, customs, traditions, history, religion, or sociology of Colombia. I had never seen Andean peasants and had no idea that thousands of years of agricultural trial-and-error, observation, and plant selection that were behind their farming systems. I had a lot of learning to do. After two years in Colombia I returned to the University of Minnesota to complete my PhD degree and began looking for a job.
I was first asked to go to Mexico to replace John Niederhauser. John had been asked to go to Peru to build an international center for potatoes. John and I corresponded and John even made arrangements for my children to go to school in Mexico when I arrived there. Well, the Rockefeller Foundation plant pathologist (Bob Skiles) resigned, the plans for the international center fell through and the Rockefeller Foundation in its wisdom decided I should go to Colombia after all. So, I never got to go to Mexico. In any case I am sure I never could have replaced John and his great program in Mexico.
I spent over eleven years in Colombia working for the Rockefeller Foundation. John visited my program a few times and gave us the benefit of his long experience working in Mexico. I also visited John in Mexico where he gave me a first-hand look at his outstanding program there on developing late blight resistant varieties.
John apparently had no nerves or fear. During a visit to Mexico he took me and a visitor from India in his pickup to see the top of the Nevada de Toluca, a snow capped mountain overlooking the Toluca Valley where John worked for so many years. It was foggy when we started out and the weather got progressively worse until I couldn't even see the hood of the car, much less the road. John assured us that there was nothing to worry about, although the road was narrow, and if you went off the road you would die. When we finally got to the top of the mountain it was so foggy and raining so hard we could see nothing. We returned home and made it back alive but the nerves of his visitors were in bad shape.
During another meeting of the Caribbean Division of The American Phytopathological Society in Costa Rica, we arrived just after the volcano Irazu had begun to erupt. A cloud of dust from the volcano hung over San Jose. John made arrangements to visit the volcano and took a busload of APS members up to see the volcano. It was one of the most terrifying trips of my life. The ground shook and the volcano was spewing out dust and rocks, some of which were landing close to us. The next week red-hot rocks falling from the volcano killed several people. I rapidly took some pictures and got out of there as fast as I could. John had a wonderful time and showed again his lack of nerves or fear.
Another example of John's steady nerves were exhibited during a trip that John, his wife Ann, Lee Heidrick and I took to southern Argentina in 1961. Ann was very pregnant at the time and this worried me during the entire trip. John obviously felt there was not need to worry and he was right. Their child was born shortly after the trip.
The above gives not hint of the tremendous admiration, respect and love I had for John and for his many contributions to our science. John loved life, and he loved people, but I believe he was most proud of the role he had in enabling many Mexicans and others from Latin America to get advanced graduate education. John was always irrepressibly cheerful and optimistic and he will be sorely missed."
-- Dr. H. David Thurston, Cornell University