Seed Matters™ Funds Next Generation of Organic Plant Breeders

Clif Bar Family Foundation Initiative Addresses Funding Disparity for Organic Agriculture Research
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Seed Matters™, an initiative of Clif Bar Family Foundation, today announced four new fellowships totaling $500,000 awarded to PhD students studying organic plant breeding in North Carolina, Texas, Washington, and Wisconsin. The five-year grants are designed to help narrow the funding gap between plant biotechnology and organic seed research by supporting the next generation of organic plant breeders.

“We want to promote more organic seed research by funding the next generation of plant breeders whose work will help protect organic seed diversity, which is the vital link for healthy and productive organic food systems.”

The four PhD students awarded Seed Matters fellowships include:

  •   *Ryan Gregory, whose research at Texas A&M AgriLife Research in Lubbock and Texas Tech University, is focused on breeding cotton for drought and salt tolerance, but is also developing efficient methods for screening conventional and organic cotton for contamination from genetically modified organisms (GMOs);
  •   *Zachary Jones, whose work at North Carolina State University is breeding organic corn varieties to resist contamination from genetically engineered corn pollen;
  •   *Claire Luby, who is breeding organic carrots at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and examining the impact of patents on plant genetic diversity; and
  •   *Louisa Winkler, whose work at Washington State University will involve the breeding of new organic oat and wheat varieties to enhance economic and environmental performance in western Washington.

 

“Plant biotechnology research, primarily focused on developing GMO crops, received $54 million in federal funding over a three year period while only $775,000 went to organic seed research – that’s a disparity of 70 to 1,” said Matthew Dillon, director of Seed Matters. “We want to promote more organic seed research by funding the next generation of plant breeders whose work will help protect organic seed diversity, which is the vital link for healthy and productive organic food systems.”

Professors managing the fellowships include Dr. Jane Dever, of Texas A&M, a cotton breeder and project leader of the Cotton Improvement Program at Texas A&M AgriLife Research in Lubbock; Dr. Irwin Goldman, professor and chair of Horticulture at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a faculty member in the Plant Breeding and Plant Genetics Program; Dr. Major Goodman of North Carolina State University, the leading expert on the classification and use of the diverse genetic resources of maize; and, Dr. Stephen Jones of Washington State University, whose focus is the breeding of improved wheat and other small grain varieties for low-input and organic systems.

Starting in 2012, Seed Matters has awarded $1 million in fellowships to land grant universities for organic plant breeding. Land grant universities were selected by Seed Matters for organic plant breeding fellowships due to their historical commitment to serving rural communities and the public good, and to support Seed Matter’s goal to reinvigorate public seed research and education. In addition to providing organic farmers with new varieties of seed adapted to meet the needs of organic systems and regional food and fiber production, these fellowships will develop the next generation of thought leadership in organic research, education, and entrepreneurship.

Joining Clif Bar Family Foundation as financial collaborators in helping Seed Matters increase awareness about organic seed and fund future fellowships and research around the country are Annie’s Inc., Bejo Seeds, Earthbound Farm Organic, Eileen Fisher, High Mowing Organic Seeds, Organically Grown Company, Organic Valley, Vitalis Seed, and Whole Foods Market.