Clif Bar & Company and Organic Valley have named University of Wisconsin-Madison Professor William Tracy of the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences as 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.
A 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.
“We are thrilled that professor Tracy has been selected as the first endowed chairperson in this program,” said 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 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.
Clif Bar & Company and Organic Valley selected UW-Madison as the first endowment partner 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.
“The continued growth of the organic market provides a unique opportunity for family farms of Wisconsin and an increased need for research on organic farming methods,” said George Siemon, CEO of Organic Valley. “We are so pleased that Bill Tracy will be the first endowed chair in organic agriculture in the U.S., and that he will lead this important work right here in the heartland of organics.”
Tracy’s selection was announced Feb. 10 during Organic Valley’s Grass Up! Madison event at the Wisconsin State Capitol. The gathering is an educational event bringing policy-makers, educators, farmers, and other experts in agroecology to advance solutions for sustainable food systems.