Two major organic food brands, Clif Bar & Company and Organic Valley, have named the University of Wisconsin-Madison as the recipient of the nation’s first endowed chair focused on plant breeding for organic crops. The companies have contributed a $1 million gift, which is being matched by $1 million from UW graduates John and Tashia Morgridge. The funds will help to develop crops designed specifically to be grown in organic farming systems.
“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,” Kit Crawford, owner and co-visionary officer for Clif Bar said in a statement. “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.”
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. And Clif says it’s currently working with other organizations to raise an estimated $10 million by 2020 in order to fund chairs committed to organic plant breeding.
According to Clif Bar, organic agricultural research receives less than one percent of public tax dollars, even though the public demand for organic food is at an all time high. The snack bar company says 84 percent of American consumers purchased organic food in 2014. “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,” the company said.
“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, which manufactures snack and energy bars for adults and children, and Organic Valley, the leading cooperative of organic dairy and egg farmers, say they chose UW-Madison for its history as a land-grant public university with a commitment to rural communities and serving the public good.
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