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Heckrodt Gift To Establish Fiber Crop Program At CALS

A $2 million gift from William F. Heckrodt to the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences at the University of Wisconsin-Madison will be used to establish a program of fiber-crops research.

The William F. Heckrodt Program of Excellence for Fiber Crop Development and Utilization will support outreach and research to develop and use poplars as sources of raw materials to meet fiber, timber and energy needs in Wisconsin. Heckrodt, of Menasha, Wis., will contribute $200,000 a year to the program for the next 10 years.

Heckrodt hopes to see the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences at UW-Madison become a national source of information on poplar production and use.

“The College views this initiative as a highly significant step in advancing research into fiber production and utilization systems,” said Neal Jorgensen, dean of the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences.

“In addition to meeting future fiber and renewable energy needs, rapidly growing trees can be the basis for a new Wisconsin agricultural enterprise. If this research and outreach program leads to the commercial applications that we anticipate, fiber producers, processors and users will all owe a debt of gratitude to Bill Heckrodt,” Jorgensen added.

Glen Stanosz, a professor of forest ecology and management and plant pathology, will direct the program as the recipient of the Heckrodt Professorship. As a forest pathologist, Stanosz”s research has focused on finding well-adapted, fast-growing poplars that are also resistant to disease. Over the past three years, in a cooperative project with the U.S. Department of Energy and the U.S. Forest Service, he has managed part of a four-state regional trial, planting and maintaining 150 genotypes being evaluated for growth in the north-central states.

In addition to the personal research of the director, the program will offer competitive research grants, and combine research efforts of faculty across the UW-Madison campus.

The program will employ a full-time fiber crop outreach specialist, who will formulate guidelines and “best practices” to help growers maximize returns. The outreach specialist will disseminate information on poplar profitability and management, including data on the best available clones, site preparation, planting, maintenance practices and pest management. The specialist will also establish demonstration plantings for grower education, and conduct field days, workshops and demonstrations.

Forestry is big business in America”s Dairyland. Forest products is the second largest industry in the state in total economic impact, according to the Wisconsin Department of Development. The fiber-crops program comes at a crucial time for the state, Stanosz notes.

In Wisconsin, the supply of wood fiber doesn”t meet the demand, driving up raw material costs. Wisconsin is lagging behind comparable efforts in Minnesota and the Pacific Northwest, where significant acreages of poplars are being planted annually. This could put Wisconsin at a competitive disadvantage in the future, according to Stanosz.

The fiber crops program will look at the potential to grow fiber crops as alternative agriculture crops for underutilized croplands. Poplars require relatively low inputs of chemicals and fossil fuels compared with traditional agricultural crops, Stanosz notes. Poplar also has potential as lumber, and the U.S. Dept. of Energy considers poplar a biofuel that can be used to meet part of the region”s growing energy demands.