UW Professor Honored For Crop Breeding Work

Julie Dawson, an associate professor and extension specialist in the UW–Madison Department of Plant and Agroecosystem Sciences, was recently named the Clif Bar and Organic Valley Chair in Plant Breeding for Organic Agriculture. The appointment runs from July 1, 2023, to June 30, 2030.

Dawson’s plant breeding efforts concentrate on crops that meet specific regional needs. She involves hundreds of farmers and also home gardeners in trials through which they offer feedback on crop varieties. Recent work includes tomatoes adapted to organic high-tunnel systems and bread wheat for artisanal baking. She also has done work with American hazelnut which has the potential to be a high-value crop for organic growers. In addition to farmers, Dawson’s partners include SeedLinked, the Organic Seed Alliance, the Artisan Grain Collaborative, UW associate professor Lucia Gutierrez, the Upper Midwest Hazelnut Development Initiative, the Savanna Institute and many plant breeding colleagues.

Through the Seed to Kitchen Collaborative Dawson coordinates a large network of plant breeders, seed producers, farmers, chefs and local food consumers. This network helps independent vegetable breeders and small regional seed companies evaluate, improve and release varieties adapted to organic systems.

“It is great to see Professor Dawson in this position,” says Adam Warthesen, of Organic Valley. The research in organic plant breeding is needed today as much as it was when this chair was first created. We just had Julie on an organic dairy farm this summer. She knows this community. Her work on small grains is something farmers in our co-op identify with. We look forward to collaborating with Professor Dawson and the entire UW CALS team.”

Teaching the next generation of organic plant breeders is another major element of Dawson’s program. She also helped develop an organic agriculture certificate for undergraduate students at UW–Madison with the UW Organic Collaborative. Dawson also created a registered apprenticeship program for organic vegetable farm managers with the FairShare Coalition and Wisconsin’s Department of Workforce Development.

Dawson is involved in public service at the national level. She is the lead author on a 2023 USDA–Agricultural Marketing Service report. This covers intellectual property rights and competition in the seed industry. She is now working with the USDA to begin implementing some of the report’s recommendations.