Clif Bar & Company and Organic Valley today named the University of Wisconsin-Madison (UW-Madison) as the recipient of the nation’s first endowed chair focused on plant breeding for organic crops. The endowment, to be funded in perpetuity with a $1 million gift from the companies and matched by a $1 million gift from UW graduates John and Tashia Morgridge, will fund research to develop crop varieties adapted to organic systems.
The UW-Madison Clif Bar and Organic Valley Chair in Plant Breeding for Organic Agriculture is the first of five organic research chairs to be led by Clif Bar. The company is now working with other organizations to raise an estimated total of $10 million by 2020 to fund chairs dedicated to organic plant breeding.
"Today’s first endowed chair is an investment in our national organic legacy and serves as an assurance that organic agriculture will play a critical role in feeding a healthy America into the future,” said Kit Crawford, owner and co-visionary officer for Clif Bar. “We’re grateful for Organic Valley and the University of Wisconsin’s partnership in this first-of-its-kind commitment, and look forward to working with other organizations to make more organic research a reality.”
Of the public tax dollars spent on agricultural research, organic receives less than one percent of funding. However, public demand for organic products has never been higher with 84 percent of American consumers purchasing organic food in 2014 alone. As such, public funding for organic crop research has not kept up with consumer demand, and has hindered organic agricultural innovation, slowing the growth of organic production in the United States.
“We can no longer depend on an agricultural system that is reliant on toxic chemicals,” said Kevin Cleary, CEO of Clif Bar. “We must instead invest in our organic future by spurring innovation and diversifying away from these temporary spray-on solutions. Today’s endowed chair is an important first step toward this goal.”
“On behalf of our 1,800 farmer-owners across the country, Organic Valley is pleased to work with Clif Bar to gain this foothold in one of the United States’ most important agricultural education systems. With this grant, and the creation of this chair, students will have an opportunity to learn about this organic model of agriculture,” said George Siemon, CEO of Organic Valley. “It is critically important that our young people know the benefits of organics and leverage them to develop solutions for all of agriculture. We deeply believe that healthy seeds and healthy soils are key to healthy plants and animals. This is an exciting start right here in our home state of Wisconsin, with the promise of national impact.”
Clif Bar & Company and Organic Valley selected UW-Madison due to its history as a land-grant public university committed to serving rural communities and the public good. In addition, UW-Madison’s College of Agricultural and Life Sciences has been a leader in organic agricultural innovation – supporting Wisconsin’s organic farms and researching organic systems including dairy, vegetable production and forage. Recent discoveries include a new sweet corn variety adapted to organic farming systems. UW-Madison is also home to the nation’s largest plant breeding research program. With today’s endowment, UW-Madison students will have faculty leadership to help them develop new solutions for organic agricultural systems for generations.
“Our college has a long history of supporting the diverse spectrum of agricultural production. Wisconsin ranks number two nationally in organic agricultural production, and many of our students and faculty are actively researching issues related to organic farming systems,” said CALS Senior Associate Dean Richard Straub. “We are grateful for this generous endowment that recognizes our contributions in this area and will help us continue to contribute to a diverse agricultural future.”
An endowed chair provides permanent research support to a faculty member from the interest income that is earned from an endowed investment fund specifically designated for that purpose. The chair position will be awarded to a distinguished faculty member at UW-Madison with an established record of crop development under organic conditions. In addition to conducting research, the faculty member will also mentor students in the discipline of organic agricultural systems.