William (Bill) White was born on December 18, 1908, on a farm at Ruddell, Saskatchewan. He obtained his bachelor's and master's degrees in Agriculture from the University of Saskatchewan, and a doctorate degree from the University of Minnesota, specializing in plant breeding and genetics. White started with the Saskatchewan Department of Agriculture in 1934 as an agricultural promoter. In 1935 he moved to the federal service with the Dominion Forage Crops Laboratory in Saskatoon, serving seventeen years as Head. He was appointed Head of the Crop Science Department, University of Saskatchewan, in 1958. In 1965 he became Dean of Agriculture, a post he held until retirement in 1974. White's early research concerned alfalfa breeding and the role of tripping and cross-pollination in seed setting. White was the first rapeseed breeder in North America; he produced the varieties Golden and Nugget. Changes in breeding resulted in the crop which is today known as canola.
White's studies of coumarin in sweet clover formed the basis for later successful production of coumarin-free sweet clover, which helped to eliminate the problem of bloating in cattle. He developed the first sunflower hybrid, and contributed to the production of that crop in Canada and the United States. He crossed wheat with wheat grasses: this pioneering work later enabled plant breeders to transfer wheat stem rust resistance to wheat from a wheat grass. In recognition of his outstanding work, White became an honorary life member of the Canadian Seed Growers Association in 1961, Fellow of the Agricultural Institute of Canada in 1963, and recipient of the University of Minnesota outstanding achievement award in 1986. The Senate of the University of Saskatchewan established a William J. White Chair in the Crop Science (today Plant Sciences) Department, to which distinguished faculty members are named. He was inducted into the Saskatchewan Agricultural Hall of Fame in 1991. White died on February 28, 1993.