bill tracy at endowed chair announcement

We are proud to announce that UW-Madison Professor William F. Tracy of the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences has been named the recipient of the nation’s first endowed chair focused on plant breeding for organic crops. The $2 million endowment, known as the UW-Madison Clif Bar and Organic Valley Chair in Plant Breeding for Organic Agriculture, will support research to develop crop varieties adapted to organic systems.

The grant will be funded in perpetuity by both companies and will be matched by a gift from University of Wisconsin graduates John and Tashia Morgridge. This is the first of five organic research endowed chairs totaling $10 million to be led by Clif Bar over the next five years.

The award is given to someone with an established track record of mentoring students in the discipline of organic cultivar development and also developing cultivars under certified organic conditions.

photoA sweet corn breeder and professor of agronomy, Tracy leads the world’s largest research program focused on the breeding and genetics of traits important to organic sweet corn growers. In the past eight years, he has developed five cultivars under organic conditions which are currently on the market.

Of the public tax dollars spent on agricultural research, organic receives less than one percent of funding1. However, public demand for organic products has never been higher, with 84 percent of American consumers purchasing organic food in 2014 alone2. As such, public funding for organic crop research has not kept up with consumer demand and has hindered organic agricultural innovation, slowing the growth of organic production in the United States.

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“We are thrilled that Professor Tracy has been selected as the first endowed chairperson in this program,” shared Kevin Cleary, chief executive officer of Clif Bar & Company. “His leadership in organic agriculture development, innovative research, and student mentorship make him an excellent recipient for this award.”

A dedicated mentor to more than 40 graduate students and an academic adviser to 300 undergraduates during his career, Tracy is committed to training the next generation of scientific leaders.  Two of Tracy’s recent PhD students are now employed in the organic seed industry. He also lectures around the country about recent developments in public, organic plant breeding.

“With this grant, and the creation of this chair, students will have an opportunity to learn about this organic model of agriculture,” said George Siemon, CEO of Organic Valley. “It is critically important that our young people know the benefits of organics and leverage them to develop solutions for all of agriculture. We deeply believe that healthy seeds and healthy soils are key to healthy plants and animals. This is an exciting start right here in our home state of Wisconsin, with the promise of national impact.”

Clif Bar & Company and Organic Valley selected UW-Madison due to its history as a land-grant public university committed to serving rural communities and the public good. In addition, UW-Madison’s College of Agricultural and Life Sciences has been a leader in organic agricultural innovation – supporting Wisconsin’s organic farms and researching organic systems including dairy, vegetable production and forage.

Hear more from Bill Tracy in this excellent interview on Rootstock Radio


1 2014 United States Farm Bill

2 Consumer Reports Organic Food Labels Survey, March 2014