UW-Madison Introduces First Organic Agricultural Researcher

New Professorship Was Created Through Private Sector Endowment


University of Wisconsin-Madison Professor Bill Tracy has become the school’s first organic agriculture researcher, inaugurating an endowed professorship that could lead to new advances in a field that might not otherwise see university research.

UW-Madison’s new chair in plant breeding for organic agriculture was created through an endowment from Clif Bar and Organic Valley. According to the two companies, it’s the first endowed chair in the U.S. to focus specifically on plant breeding for organics.

Tracy has been breeding organic sweet corn varieties for around 10 years now. He said there aren’t many other university researchers working on similar projects.

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“There’s probably a half-dozen people that I know of in the public sector that are breeding under organic conditions,” he said.

Tracy said many times fields of research aren’t pursued because there isn’t funding available.

“Until the Clif Bar company started this initiative, I would have described organic agriculture as a classic case of that — of places that were underfunded,” Tracy said. “Them stepping forward may make it seem like it’s well-funded, but this is really quite a brand new thing.”

Senior Associate Dean Dick Straub from the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences said specialized research like organic plant breeding probably wouldn’t happen at the university without support from companies or private donors.

“We can only do research where we can develop funds to support it. As you know from the recent budget discussions, the amount of state dollars that we get at the university has been on the decline for a number of years,” said Straub.

Straub said he thinks the growing demand for organic foods will bring in more support for organic agricultural research.