Back in 2017, Wisconsin’s potato producers made a big commitment to CALS. In January of that year, industry leaders announced their intention to raise $5 million over 10 years to help support the college’s potato program. Since then, they’ve been taking the steps needed to reach their goal.
The state’s 160 licensed potato producers, who are represented by the Wisconsin Potato Industry Board (WPIB), harvested over 65,000 acres of the crop in 2021 — the third most in the nation. The industry clears millions in sales every year, and growers pay an assessment on those sales, a fee that goes towards the industry’s marketing efforts and research and education programs. Between 2016 and 2018, the WPIB voted twice to increase the assessment. The resulting hike (2 cents per 100 pounds) now generates around $500,000 per year toward a gift to CALS, which is intended to help maintain the strength and numbers of the university’s potato research team.
“Wisconsin potato growers have shown great vision and leadership with this gift,” says Tamas Houlihan, executive director of the Wisconsin Potato and Vegetable Growers Association. “They realize that this is a long-term commitment, one that will ensure the future success of the industry.”
The money raised thus far has been accumulating in a fund established at the Wisconsin Foundation and Alumni Association, which serves as UW–Madison’s nonprofit gift-receiving organization. An advisory board of potato industry members meets annually to review the pool of money, called a “donor-advised fund,” and make decisions related to spending. So far, they’ve mostly been watching the pot grow, biding their time until there’s enough to make impactful investments in faculty, research, and facilities. But they’ve also taken some action.
In 2020, thanks to the generosity of alumni John and Tashia Morgridge, a $70 million matching gift became available to help fund new endowed titles at UW. Offered as professorships, chairs, and distinguished chairs (depending on the level of funding), endowed titles provide appreciation, resources, and professional status for highly productive UW faculty. The Wisconsin Potato Industry Board acted on this opportunity, dedicating four years of incoming funds to generate $2 million, which will be matched to create a pair of $2 million endowed faculty chairs.
“Funding these chairs fits very well with the goals of the original donor-advised fund,” says Houlihan. “Gifts to support endowed faculty positions help the university attract and retain the very best thinkers, teachers, and researchers in an increasingly competitive hiring market.”
The two endowed chairs are named for UW researchers who made outstanding contributions to potato research. The Wisconsin Potato and Vegetable Grower BCS Chair honors Larry Binning BS’65, Dave Curwen, and John Schoenemann BS’50, MS’54, PhD’59, and the Wisconsin Potato and Vegetable Grower KWS Chair honors Keith Kelling MS’72, PhD’74, Jeff Wyman MS’68, PhD’71, and Walt Stevenson PhD’73.
“We sincerely appreciate the potato industry’s support for these new chairs and the visionary investment in the college through the donor-advised fund,” says Doug Reinemann, CALS associate dean for extension and outreach. “These investments will help ensure the ongoing strength of our potato research program and our ability to support Wisconsin’s potato producers.”
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This article was posted in Economic and Community Development, Food Systems, High Yield, Named professorships, Spring 2022 and tagged Doug Reinemann, John and Tashia Morgridge, potato, Wisconsn Potato Industry Board.