Montana State University

MSU Alumni Foundation halfway to $5 million fundraising goal for first endowed plant sciences chair

February 12, 2015 -- MSU News Service

Montana State University is beginning a national search for its first-ever Montana Plant Sciences Endowed Chair, thanks to the support of more than 60 Montana grain producers who have pledged $2.5 million -- or half of the $5 million goal -- for the position. The chair is the first of its kind in the history of MSU's College of Agriculture and Montana Agricultural Experiment Station. It is expected to be filled by a renowned, accomplished scientist who will build a significant research program addressing Montana's greatest agricultural challenges in the grains industry. MSU photo by Kelly Gorham.

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Montana State University is beginning a national search for its first-ever Montana Plant Sciences Endowed Chair, thanks to the support of more than 60 Montana grain producers who have pledged $2.5 million – or half of the $5 million goal – for the position.

The position received early funding from the Montana Wheat & Barley Committee and the Montana Grain Growers Association, which provided an essential boost to launch the MSU Alumni Foundation’s formal fundraising effort in the fall of 2013. Agribusinesses like Northwest Farm Credit Services, CoBank, Mountain View Co-op, and Northern Seed, LLC have also been instrumental in backing the early success of the fundraising initiative.

The chair is the first of its kind in the history of MSU’s College of Agriculture and Montana Agricultural Experiment Station. It is expected to be filled by a renowned, accomplished scientist who will build a significant research program addressing Montana’s greatest agricultural challenges in the grains industry.

One of the chair’s priorities will include researching management strategies for the wheat stem sawfly, an aggressive insect that has had devastating effects on wheat production in North America. The United States Department of Agriculture has estimated a gross national loss of $350 million due to the pest. In 2012, average sawfly-related losses for Montana’s wheat economy were estimated to be at $80 million. A recent study faculty in MSU’s Department of Agricultural Economics and Economics conducted found that in some cases, individual Montana wheat farms lost up to $120,000 the same year. The pest’s ability to adapt to changing environmental and production conditions over the past few decades has made it one of the greatest threats to wheat producers in Montana and the Northern Great Plains region, according to MSU Agricultural Economics Professor Anton Bekkerman. MSU Alumni Foundation and MSU College of Agriculture leaders say addressing the challenges associated with the wheat stem sawfly was one of the main motivations for the chair’s creation.

Charles Boyer, MSU vice president of agriculture, said the position will combine producer-led priorities and university plant science research.

“The unique nature of this position is that it was shaped to meet the pressing, critical needs currently facing Montana grain growers,” Boyer said. “The capability of this position to conduct innovative plant science research and build interdisciplinary teams at a leading STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) land-grant university, coupled with a direct line of support from regional producers, will strengthen Montana and MSU as leaders in grains research.”

Boyer said a search committee comprised of faculty members and producers are currently advertising the position and expect to hire an individual by next fall. The chair will work with an advisory council made up of representatives from Montana’s crop production industry and will actively collaborate with breeders, entomologists and plant pathologists.

“Plant science research in genomics and genetics at MSU is supported by excellent facilities and leading scientists in their field,” said John Sherwood, head of the MSU Department of Plant Sciences and Plant Pathology. “The chair will bolster current research targeting pest resistance and expand additional research and program capacity in grains crop production across the state.”

The MSU Alumni Foundation and the Montana Grains Foundation partnered together to visit Montana producers, and they now are approaching corporate industry and agribusinesses in an effort to meet the $5 million fundraising goal for the chair, said Kevin Brown, senior director of development for the College of Agriculture. Sustained by permanently invested funds, endowed chairs – which are often the highest academic award universities bestow on faculty -- provide predictable and stable funding to help the university build upon its existing academic and research programs.

MSU is the state’s largest land-grant institution and is charged with conducting research on ongoing challenges in Montana’s agriculture industry. The Montana Agricultural Experiment Station has seven research centers across the state to address the diverse climatological challenges in crop and livestock production.

For additional information on the Montana Plant Sciences Endowed Chair, please contact Brown at (406) 994-4815. To view the complete position description, visit https://jobs.montana.edu/postings/1107.

Contact: Kevin Brown, kevin.brown@msuaf.org or (406) 994-4815