Richard Crowder’s work in agriculture may have started with driving mules on a small tobacco farm in Virginia’s Mecklenburg County, but it’s taken him all over the world, where he’s been a driving force opening up global trade opportunities.

Richard Crowder, at left, talks with students.
Richard Crowder, at left, talks with students Sarah McKay of Orange, Virginia, and Zachary Horton of Fancy Gap, Virginia, both of whom are majoring in applied economic management.

As an undersecretary with the U.S. Department of Agriculture from 1989 to 1992, Crowder managed the Food, Agriculture, Conservation, and Trade Act of 1990, better known as the “Farm Bill,” and was the nation’s agriculture negotiator for the Uruguay Round of multilateral trade talks that led to the creation of the World Trade Organization. He also headed two missions to the former Soviet Union to address food needs and policies for President George H.W. Bush.

Crowder later served as chief agricultural negotiator for the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative within the Executive Office of the White House, a post with ambassador’s rank. After leaving that position, he served as a special advisor to the trade representative’s office before joining the faculty at his alma mater, Virginia Tech, in 2008.

“At this stage of my life, I’m doing what I can to give back to help Virginia Tech, particularly the students,” said Crowder, who earned his bachelor’s in agricultural and applied economics in 1960, a master’s degree in the subject in 1962, and also has a doctorate from Oklahoma State University.

In 2013, Crowder was appointed the C.G. Thornhill Professor of Agricultural Trade, a position endowed the previous year by C. Gordon Thornhill. Crowder said having a named professorship is a powerful endorsement that helps his efforts on collaborative projects. Along with teaching, he works on multiple initiatives to promote Virginia agriculture.

The commonwealth saw record levels of exports in 2012 ($2.61 billion) and 2013 ($2.85 billion). The 2014 figures are expected to be announced in March 2015, at the Governor’s Conference on Agricultural Trade. That annual event began after Crowder reached out to Virginia’s agriculture community to initiate a conference focused on agricultural trade and policy.

“One of the good things about the conference is it brings together Virginia Tech, the Virginia Farm Bureau, Virginia Department of Agriculture and Forestry, and Virginia Port Authority,” Crowder said. “You have four key organizations that are linked to the success of agriculture, and those four organizations are working well and collaboratively with each other to promote the interests of Virginia’s agricultural and forestry industries.”

Todd Haymore, Virginia’s secretary of agriculture and forestry, said he appreciates Crowder’s work and is fortunate to be able to draw upon Crowder’s “vast knowledge and insight” into agricultural trade.

“I am proud to call him a friend and am glad that I have him in my Rolodex and on my speed-dial,” Haymore said. He has been an invaluable partner.”

Crowder’s expertise has also been a major asset for Virginia Tech students such as Sarah McKay, of Orange, Virginia, who is in a five-year program that should lead her to earn a bachelor’s degree in applied economic management in 2015 and a master’s degree in that subject in 2016.

“He’s been an incredible mentor for me in terms of advising for academic and career decisions, as well as in helping me network,” said McKay, who secured an internship with General Mills with help from Crowder and has been offered a job with the company once she completes her degrees. “He has a really unique perspective, one of tremendous value.”

While he has made notable accomplishments in the educational and government fields, Crowder also has a distinguished history in industry, having held senior-executive positions with Wilson & Co., Pillsbury, Armour Swift-Eckrich, DEKALB Genetics, and the American Seed Trade Association.

“He’s held a broad range of positions and, at every step of the way, his actions and his work have been important for U.S. agriculture,” said Bob Stallman, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, which in 2013 presented Crowder with its highest honor, the Distinguished Service Award.

Crowder served in the U.S. Army for two years after earning his master’s degree, and was stationed in Bamberg, Germany, during that time. He said it was a formative experience.

“The time I was in the Army was one of the big foundations of my career,” he said. “Being able to get out of the states and into Europe and assume some significant responsibility at an early age, I got the bug for international work, and it led to a very diversified career.”

  • For more information on this topic, contact Albert Raboteau at 540-231-4733.

Crowder gives back professionally and philanthropically

Richard Crowder
Richard Crowder, at left, the C.G. Thornhill Professor of Agricultural Trade, served as an undersecretary with the U.S. Department of Agriculture from 1989 to 1992.

A desire to help his alma mater, and its students, led Richard Crowder to join Virginia Tech’s faculty in 2008. He’s also given back by endowing the George T. and Estelle M. Crowder Scholarship in memory of his parents, and by working with other alumni to create a scholarship in honor of Professor W.L. “Hoot” Gibson Jr., who was one of Crowder’s mentors.

An alumnus of the millennium

In recognition of his government service, Richard Crowder was one of 100 Alumni of the Millennium honored in a 2001 Virginia Tech Magazine article.

An honor for an extraordinary career

The American Farm Bureau Federation presented Richard Crowder with its highest honor, the Distinguished Service Award, in 2013, and showed a video about him at the presentation ceremony. Crowder also received a Distinguished Service Award from the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative.

Endowed faculty support

Richard Crowder is the C.G. Thornhill Professor of Agricultural Trade, a position created in 2012 thanks to a donation by its namesake. Endowed chair positions, professorships, and fellowships recognize faculty members of exceptional accomplishment or promise and typically provide their holders with funds to support research or supplement salary.