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Newlin, Owen J.

Published onMar 12, 2021
Newlin, Owen J.

Owen J. Newlin, 2017

Commissioned by University Museums and the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. U2017.348

OWEN J. NEWLIN (BS ’51 agronomy,  MS ’53 crop production) could be considered a pioneer both in the seed industry and in support of higher education.

Newlin grew up on a farm 10 miles northwest of Des Moines with the address of RFD Grimes, Iowa. After attending ISU for both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees, Newlin and his wife moved to the Minneapolis-St. Paul area where he pursued a Ph.D. in plant breading and genetics from the University of Minnesota. He became senior vice-president and director of Pioneer Hi-Bred International, Inc.  Newlin chaired the 1988 Partnership for Prominence campaign and raised a record $214.5 million for Iowa State. He served as a member of the Board of Regents, State of Iowa, for 12 years, eight as president.

Newlin’s involvement with Iowa State began in 1977, when he became an ISU Foundation Governor.  He is a past president of the ISU Achievement Foundation (now the ISU Foundation) and received its first True and Valiant Award, the Order of the Knoll Campanile Award, the Alumni Merit Award, the Distinguished Achievement Award and two of the College of Agriculture and Life Science’s highest honors – the Floyd Andre Award and the Henry A. Wallace Award.

He credits ISU professors George F. Sprague and Louis M. Thompson, and professor E.H. Rinke at the University of Minnesota, for their mentoring, encouragement and mental stimulation.

“I learned a lot about genetics and corn breeding from them,” he said in a 2015 tribute to his life in Seed World magazine. “We didn’t have biotech in those days. It was difficult to make progress, but progress was made. During the latter part of that time, the average corn yield per acre was increasing 1.5 to 2 percent per year.”

In addition to enhancing seed quality and yield, Newlin was instrumental in developing Pioneer’s agronomy service to help farmers understand the genetic potential of hybrid corn. He worked with numerous organizations, including the U.S. Grain Council, which develops new export markets for grain corn and grain sorghum. Newlin also served as president of the American Seed Trade Association.  He retired from Pioneer Hi-bred International Inc. in 1993.

He was named a Fellow of both the American Society of Agronomy and Crop Science Society of America and a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

In 2017, the Seed Science Center at Iowa State University honored Newlin with a Distinguished Lifetime Achievement and Service Award for Seed Science, Technology and Systems.

Newlin passed away in July 2020. He is survived by his wife, three children, 10 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

Former Dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Wendy Wintersteen (2017): Owen Newlin is a true legend. He’s a world-renowned pioneer and champion of the seed industry. He’s been a tireless supporter of Iowa State University, including leadership that was critically important in securing support for a major new addition and renovation of our agronomy building in the 1980s, making it the nation’s best facility for the soil, crop and agronomic sciences.

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