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Newlin, Owen J.

Published onOct 11, 2021
Newlin, Owen J.

(February 6, 1928 - July 12, 2020)

Quick Facts

Owen J. Newlin is an agriculturalist, plant breeder, geneticist, business leader, community leader and visionary.

Owen Newlin was born in Johnston, Iowa to Jay Newlin, co-founder of Pioneer Hi-Bred International. Owen Newlin literally grew up with the Pioneer company, where his father managed the Johnston farm and managed seed production and sales. Ironically, while living on the farm where Owen was a member of 4-H, his projects were all livestock, not crops. It was not until he studied at Iowa State College that his interest turned to agronomy and crop production,

Owen spent his teenage years at Westtown School, the same Quaker school in Pennsylvania where his father had studied. He then returned to Iowa and Iowa State College (now University) to study and earn a BS (’51) in agronomy and MS (’53) in Agronomy. Owen received his PhD (’55) in Plant Breeding and Genetics from the University of Minnesota. His doctorate work was studying genetic inheritance for male sterility in search of a strain that would eliminate the costly mid-summer seed corn production step of removing male tassels by hand. His study ended with the completion of his dissertation and he accepted a position with Pioneer Hi-Bred as a research assistant in production.

It became evident very quickly that Owen had strong business skills. In 1964 Owen became production manager and three years later was promoted to president of the Central Division business unit of Pioneer Hi-Bred International. During this time Owen graduated from the Harvard University Advanced Management Program (’74). In 1978 he was elected vice president and became Senior Vice President in 1986. With Owen’s leadership, the Pioneer Hi-bred International company went through many changes that contributed to its growth. The company went from a privately held company to a publicly traded company listed on the New York Stock Exchange. In addition the company’s share of market increased dramatically. During his career, Newlin was responsible for many innovations in the agricultural seed industry. He emphasized “quality first” for the company and the seed. He promoted the use of portable weigh wagons to more accurately measure corn yields in side-by-side comparisons with competing hybrids. He encouraged Pioneer Hi-Bred sales representatives to make these weigh wagons available to farmers who wanted a yield check. He collaborated with Al Hayes to create Pioneer Days where farmers would order and pay for their seed. In addition, under Newlin’s leadership, agronomy service was established as an important value added service that later became a standard in the industry. He also served the agricultural industry by advocating alternative horticultural crops for Iowa, expansion of US export markets for grain and increased domestic utilization of corn.

Owen Newlin’s leadership was valuable to many organizations outside of Pioneer Hi-Bred International. As a quiet philanthropist, he played a major role in facilitating the construction of a new agronomy building at Iowa State University. In 1995, the National Society of Fund Raising Executives named him outstanding volunteer fund raiser for raising $214.5 million ($60 million over the goal) as chairman of Iowa State University’s Partnership for Prominence capital campaign. He helped establish the Iowa State University Foundation as an independent organization and has been a member of the Foundation directors since 1977. He was a member of the ISU Presidential Search and Screen Advisory Committee and has served on the ISU College of Education Development Council. Newlin was also one of the original investors in the Gateway Hotel at Iowa State which was to serve as a first class hotel and conference center and the “gateway” to the university. He is probably best known for his service as a member and as president of the Board of Regents, State of Iowa.

His many other honors, awards and leadership contributions are serving as Chair of the Simpson College Board of Trustees, President of the Des Moines Rotary Club, President and campaign fund chair of the United Way of Central Iowa and Chair of the Human Services Coordinating Board of Des Moines. In addition, he served as Chair of the National Sponsors Board of the Future Farmers of America; President of the Iowa Seed Association, Chair of the U.S. Feed Grains Council, Chair of the American Seed Research Foundation, member of Boatman’s Bank Board, member of American Mutual Life Insurance Board and a member of the Iowa Methodist Medical Center Board and the John Stoddard Cancer Center Board. He has been recognized with the Distinguished Achievement Award, Alumni Merit Award and Order of the Knoll Campanile Award – all from Iowa State University. He has received the Distinguished Achievement Award from the University of Minnesota, the Agri-Marketer of the Year Award from the National Agri-Marketing Association, the VIP Citation and an Honorary American Farmer Degree from the Future Farmers of America and the President’s Award from the National Corn Growers Association. In 2000, Newlin was inducted into the Iowa Business Hall of Fame. He is a fellow in the American Society of Agronomy and Crop Science and a member of FarmHouse Fraternity.

Newlin was a member of the ISU Order of the Knoll, a lifetime member of the ISU Alumni Association, an honorary member of the American Seed Trade Association and the first recipient of the Iowa Corn Growers Association Lifetime Achievement Award. He and his wife, D.J. (’53 Household Equipment), lived in Des Moines, IA.

Owen J. Newlin’s contributions to agriculture, the seed industry, higher education and citizen diplomacy will continue to influence many generations into the future.

Selected Sources

Numerous articles and documents from the Pioneer DuPont archives.

Secondary sources include Don Muhm and Virginia Wadsley, Iowans Who Made A Difference, Iowa Farm Bureau Federation, 1996, pg. 185-87.

Obituaries and tributes:

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