Clif Bar takes lead on organic agricultural research

by Eric Schroeder
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Clif Bar & Co. and Organic Valley Family of Farms have selected the University of Wisconsin-Madison as the recipient of the nation’s first endowed chair focused on plant breeding for organic crops.

EMERYVILLE, CALIF. — Clif Bar & Co. and Organic Valley Family of Farms have selected the University of Wisconsin-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 U.W. graduates John and Tashia Morgridge, will fund research to develop crop varieties adapted to organic systems.

The U.W.-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 said it now is 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.”

Kevin Cleary, c.e.o. of Clif Bar.

Kevin Cleary, chief executive officer of Clif Bar, said industry must “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.”

George Siemon, c.e.o. of Organic Valley, said the grant will provide students an opportunity to learn about the organic model of agriculture.

“It is critically important that our young people know the benefits of organics and leverage them to develop solutions for all of agriculture,” Mr. Siemon said. “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 and Organic Valley said they selected U.W.-Madison due to its history as a land-grant public university committed to serving rural communities and the public good. In addition, the university’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, the companies said.

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 U.W.-Madison with an established record of crop development under organic conditions. In addition to conducting research, the faculty member also will mentor students in the discipline of organic agricultural systems.
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