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Berry for Your Thoughts: Contest Seeks Name for Grape

The new breed of grape is remarkable for the large size of its berries. Photo by Bruce Reisch/CALS.

The new breed of grape is remarkable for the large size of its berries. Photo by Bruce Reisch/CALS.

Reposted from CALS news [2017-06-19]

Big on flavor, aroma and size, Cornell’s newest grape lacks one defining feature: a name. Grape breeder Bruce Reisch ’76 spent years developing the grape, and now he’s offering the public the chance to name it.

Currently dubbed NY98.0228.02, the grape is a seedless, flavorful berry with the attractive blue coloring of a Concord at nearly double the size. Reisch, professor of grapevine breeding and genetics in the Horticulture Section of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, said the new variety is well adapted to the Northeast, with good cold-tolerance for most of the Eastern states, including New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland and New Jersey.

“This grape is the first truly seedless Concord-type and has naturally large, attractive berries,” said Reisch. The Concord has long been an American favorite, known best for its use in grape juice, jellies and jams.

“Our new grapes weigh 5 or 6 grams per berry, almost twice the weight of a traditional Concord,” said Reisch. “It’s pretty rare to find a grape that size, especially with such full flavor.”

Read the whole article.

This article also appeared in the Cornell Chronicle.

Five Questions for Grape Expert Terry Bates

Reposted from CALS News 2017-06-07]:

Terry Bates

Terry Bates

Terry Bates  joined Cornell in January 1998 as a researcher studying plant nutrition and root biology in Concord grapevines at the Fredonia Vineyard Laboratory. In 2009, the Cornell Lake Erie Research and Extension Laboratory (CLEREL) was constructed and Bates was appointed director of the facility focused on research and extension activities of juice grape, wine grape, hops, willow and vegetable production.             

What inspired you to work with grapes?

I was fortunate to have a few outstanding professors who sparked my interest in plant biology research.  Dr. Melvin Wentland was my plant biology and ecology professor at St. John Fisher who supported plant physiology concepts with real world applications. Dr. Jonathan Lynch at Penn State taught me how to approach challenging questions through research. It is a little embarrassing to admit at this point that I did not set out to work in the grape and wine industry. When I was finishing my graduate research, I was looking for a position where I could use my experiences in plant mineral nutrition to make a practical difference in production horticulture — and end my life as a starving graduate student. The advertised position at Cornell called for a researcher to investigate plant nutrition and root biology issues with Concord vineyards…it was a good match.

How have the research targets of your field changed since the beginning of your career?

When I started in 1998, the western New York Concord industry and the Lake Erie Regional Grape Program team identified a production target of averaging 8 tons/acre of ripe (16 oBrix) fruit. Current production was stuck at around 4-5 tons/acre. Initially, we addressed vineyard production through research on increasing vineyard water and nutrient availability to improve vine size and fruiting potential. As vine size and productivity improved, research activities changed to focus on reducing production costs through pruning strategies, mechanized production systems, and mechanical crop estimation and adjustment. To stay on the front edge of production and efficiency, our next great challenge in viticulture is to integrate those two areas of research and spatially manage vineyards in response to variable environmental conditions to optimize production and minimize costs.

What projects are going on in your lab right now?

CLEREL has several cooperative projects on juice grapes, wine grapes, hops, willow, and vegetables in areas ranging from cover crops to nutrition, pest management, and variety evaluations. The largest effort, however, is in precision viticulture. The “Efficient Vineyard” Specialty Crop Research Initiative funded project aims to bring precision viticulture tools to juice, wine, and table grape vineyards in the U.S. In the project, spatial soil, canopy, and crop data is collected with mobile sensors. The data layers are validated, processed, and integrated to generate potential spatial management maps for producers. Precision agriculture hardware and software is used to apply and test variable rate mechanized management to commercial vineyards.

How will your research benefit the grape industry?

The primary function of my viticulture position at Cornell is to support the Concord juice grape industry. Concord and Niagara represent about 85 percent of the grape production in New York (65 percent of the farm gate value) and the price paid for Concord is approximately $220/ton.  Over the past forty years, the price of Concord has only fluctuated between $180-$280/ton. For this industry to survive and remain profitable, vineyards must increase the sustainable yield of quality fruit and reduce production costs. Our past research on vine nutrition and root biology has demonstrated the upper limits of Concord growth and production in the region. The research on vineyard mechanization and crop load balance has provided options to reduce production costs while maintaining yield and quality. The current Efficient Vineyard project maintains our focus on production efficiency by using spatial vineyard measurement and variable rate management to make the most of every vine.

What was the best piece of research advice you have received?

Dr. Nelson Shaulis, considered by many as the father of eastern viticulture, was a retired pomologist at Cornell when I was hired. I was very fortunate to be able to spend time with him in my first year at Cornell and he was quite worried about my transition from the world of Arabidopsis physiology research to applied viticulture. He said to me, “There is a lot of non-science based information out there to confuse growers. Don’t add to the confusion. Viticulture is horticulture and enology is food science, there is no magic.” Viticulture does seem to attract a fair amount of myth and mis-information on the romantic quest for the perfect bottle of wine – when grape production becomes more “art” than “science.”  Fortunately, fundamental plant biology and the scientific method rarely fail in answering questions important to real production for real growers and their real businesses.

This article originally appeared in Appellation Cornell.

Extension, NYS Apple Growers Partner on Innovation

By R.J. Anderson, reposted from CALS News 2017-05-19]:

Jason Woodworth operates a tractor-mounted Darwin string thinning machine to thin apple blossoms on a fruit wall at the Lamont Fruit Farm in Waterport, New York. Lamont Fruit Farms participated in a recent Cornell study examining mechanical alternatives to chemical blossom thinning. Photo by R.J. Anderson/Cornell Cooperative Extension.

Jason Woodworth operates a tractor-mounted Darwin string thinning machine to thin apple blossoms on a fruit wall at the Lamont Fruit Farm in Waterport, New York. Lamont Fruit Farms participated in a recent Cornell study examining mechanical alternatives to chemical blossom thinning. Photo by R.J. Anderson/Cornell Cooperative Extension.

For optimal yield and fruit quality, apple growers in the United States have long relied on chemical solutions to generate spring blossom thinning to promote the growth of larger, higher-quality fruit by giving them less competition for carbohydrate. However, in the last couple of years, one of the apple industry’s go-to thinning chemicals, carbaryl, has come under fire from some retailers, which are prohibiting the chemical’s use on produce sold in their stores.

Equally alarming for growers, says Cornell Cooperative Extension’s Mario Miranda Sazo, an orchard management and mechanization specialist with CCE’s Lake Ontario Fruit Team, are continued whispers of potential U.S. ban on carbaryl. The carbamate insecticide has been outlawed in Europe since 2008.

“Growers in the Northeast are especially dependent on carbaryl – nearly all of them chemically thin in the spring using carbaryl in combination with either naphthaleneacetic acid or benzyladenine,” said Miranda Sazo. “Because of this region’s humid climate, removing a key contributor like carbaryl from current management practices could create obstacles for growers and make them less competitive.”

Cornell Cooperative Extension Orchard management and Mechanization Specialist Mario Miranda Sazo examines apple blossom prior during a mechanical string thinning study conducted at Lamont Fruit Farm in Waterport, New York. Photo by R.J. Anderson/Cornell Cooperative Extension.

Cornell Cooperative Extension Orchard management and Mechanization Specialist Mario Miranda Sazo examines apple blossom prior during a mechanical string thinning study conducted at Lamont Fruit Farm in Waterport, New York. Photo by R.J. Anderson/Cornell Cooperative Extension.

Such concerns prompted New York apple producers, CCE educators and Cornell researchers to team up for a recently completed three-year study examining a mechanical blossom-thinning alternative to carbaryl.

Published in the winter 2016 issue of New York Fruit Quarterly, research led by Miranda Sazo and College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS) scientists Poliana Francescatto, Terence Robinson and Jaume Lordan Sanahuja tested mechanical string thinning on Gala and Honeycrisp apple varieties at Lamont Fruit Farm in Waterport, New York.

Mounted on the front of a tractor, the Darwin string thinner resembles a large weed whacker crossed with a feather duster. Featuring rotating flexible 2-foot-long injection-molded plastic spindles, the machine whips away a third to a half of a tree’s blossoms. What remain theoretically will grow into bigger, healthier fruit.

“With this study, we wanted to identify the ideal thinning parameters while monitoring and mitigating potential spread of fire blight (a destructive and highly contagious fruit tree disease exacerbated when tree tissue is wounded),” said Miranda Sazo, who received funding for the study from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program and New York Apple Research and Development. “While measuring return bloom and potential yields for each tree, we looked at supplementing mechanical thinning with other chemical treatments.

“It was probably the largest research project focused on mechanical blossom thinning undertaken in North America thus far,” Miranda Sazo added.

For the project, Lamont Fruit Farms committed approximately 2.5 acres of mature Honeycrisp and Gala trees. Rod Farrow, one of the farm’s three owners, became intrigued by the technology after seeing it five years ago while visiting orchards in Europe.

“When I returned from Europe, we started some very basic and very small trials,” Farrow said. “Then Mario approached us about conducting a larger three-year project. My partners Jason Woodworth, Jose Iniguez and I were more than happy to collaborate.”

The first year of the study ended in frustration as they struggled to pinpoint optimal rotation speeds for the Darwin spindles and ground speed of the tractor. “The fruit size ended up being too small that year, and we lost a considerable amount of money compared to grower standard for that acreage,” Farrow said. “The second year we lowered the revolutions per minute of the spindle and improved our yield a little, and then in the third year we slowed the spindle speeds even more and found what we think is a sweet spot.”

For Lamont Fruit Farms’ narrow fruit wall, in which trees are spaced two feet apart with 11 feet between rows, the optimal spindle speeds lie within a range of 180 and 200 rpm. The ideal tractor speed is 5 miles per hour.

“With Mario’s help, we really dialed those metrics in, which has been huge,” said Woodworth, who operates the Darwin machine. “We also found that spraying with a benzyladenine product immediately following string thinning improved fruit quality and yield. And return bloom of the blossoms that were mechanically thinned last year has been more than acceptable.”

The encouraging data prompted Lamont Fruit Farms to use the process on additional acreage this spring. “After the study, we felt very comfortable trying it out on a more commercial scale,” Farrow said. “And at the conclusion of this growing season, we should be able to glean enough real-world yield return data to analyze mechanical thinning’s true potential for our operation.”

Still, the potential spread of fire blight, a disease that can spread quickly and significantly impact a farm’s entire harvest, has pushed Miranda Sazo to conduct more research. This past April, he partnered with Kerik Cox, CALS associate professor of plant pathology, on a one-year trial at the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva, New York, aimed at assessing and minimizing the threat of fire blight following mechanical thinning. It is running concurrently with a similar study at Washington State University.

Woodworth believes Miranda Sazo’s research has already helped Lamont Fruit Farms better position itself should carbaryl exit the industry. “If it goes away, we’re in a good place to react and hopefully remain profitable,” Woodworth said. “And Mario has been a big reason for that. His expertise and energy has made a big impact.”

Miranda Sazo believes mechanical thinning could become a game-changer for apple growers in New York and the Northeast. “We’re on an accelerated learning curve,” he said. “They’ve been testing and using these techniques for several years in Europe – what we’ve done in three is really exciting. It goes to show how much can be accomplished when you pair researchers with highly skilled, forward-thinking growers who are willing to take a risk.”

R.J. Anderson is a writer/communications specialist with Cornell Cooperative Extension.

This article also appeared in the Cornell Chronicle.


Cornell hard cider in the news

Greg Peck

Greg Peck

Hard cider research, teaching and extension efforts of Greg Peck, assistant professor in the Horticulture Section of Cornell’s School of Integrative Plant Science, have been featured in recent articles in the Cornell Chronicle:

For more information about Peck’s work and the work of the  Hard Cider Program Work Team (PWT) — a multi-disciplinary group of Cornell researchers, instructors, and extension educators and industry stakeholders — visit  the Cornell Hard Cider Resources website.

Peck teaches grafting to students in Ecological Orchard Management (PLHRT 4450).

Peck teaches grafting to students in Ecological Orchard Management (PLHRT 4450).

Precision viticulture project

Cornell researchers are among the collaborators in the Efficient Vineyard project, delivering an innovative, science-driven, and approachable precision viticulture platform to measure and manage sources of vineyard variation.

More information:

New protected culture berry production resources

Interested in extending your harvest season and protecting your berries from weather?  Here are two new resources:

  • Protected Culture for Strawberries Using Low Tunnels –  New 20-age publication by Marvin Pritts berry specialist in the Horticulture Section, School of Integrative Plant Science, and and Laura McDermott, Team Leader, Small Fruit and Vegetable Specialist, Eastern New York Commercial Horticulture Program.
  • Low and High Tunnels for Protected Culture for Berries — Video of presentation by Marvin Pritts, during the Rutgers Cooperative Extension educational sessions at the New Jersey Agriculture Convention and Trade Show in February 2017.

Karl, Wojtyna receive Cider Association support

Two projects in Greg Peck’s Lab in the Horticulture Section of Cornell’s School of Integrative Plant Sciences received grants from the United States Association of Cider Makers.

Horticulture graduate students, Adam Karl and Nathan Wojtyna, wrote the grants and will be leading projects on the effects of nitrogen fertilizer on orchard productivity and fruit and cider quality and phenotyping the USDA-PGRU collection for novel apples to use in cidermaking.

Read more

Set Strawberry Alarm Clock for Post-Apple Bloom

By Krishna Ramanujan, reposted from CALS news [2017-03-30]:

Native ground nesting bees visit apple blossoms. Photo by Heather Grab/Provided.

Native ground nesting bees visit apple blossoms. Photo by Heather Grab/Provided.

Growers who time their strawberries to bloom just after apples do can reap a better harvest, according to new research.

When apple trees blossom, the sheer abundance of flowers attracts most of the pollinators, which leaves fewer bees for other nearby crops such as strawberries and lowers their yields. But if growers time their strawberries to flower directly after a neighboring apple bloom, strawberries produce higher yields than they would if there were no apple trees nearby.

The findings, published in the March 27 issue of Nature Scientific Reports, offers growers a sustainable method for boosting yields of crops that bloom around the same time as apples.

Previous research showed that strawberries can have as much as 40 percent yield increase when bees and other pollinators visit, compared with relying on wind pollination alone.

“We are trying to figure out ways that growers can use ecosystem services to promote crop yield rather than relying on external inputs, such as fertilizers and pesticides,” said lead author Heather Grab, a doctoral student in the lab of co-author Bryan Danforth, professor of entomology.

Planting natural habitats around farm fields can lead to improved health of pollinators and a boost in their services, according to research. But for many growers in agriculturally dense areas, increasing natural habitats is not an option.

“Those growers need some more sustainable agriculture options,” Grab said. “If growers pay attention to timing of when crops are blooming and manipulate that by planting apple varieties and strawberry varieties that don’t overlap, you can get a boost in yield that is almost equivalent to having natural habitat nearby.”

Growers often also use mulching systems to delay strawberry blooms.

The researchers, who conducted the study in the Finger Lakes region of Upstate New York, discovered diverse pollinator communities in the area, with at least 65 species visiting either apples or strawberries, with substantial overlap in species that visited both crops. The most abundant apple pollinators – ground nesting bees – were also the most abundant strawberry pollinators.

Grab and her colleagues set up experimental plots of potted strawberry plants in commercial strawberry fields, so they could control water, soil quality, deer herbivory and the timing of strawberry blooms. These plots were located across a gradient with apple orchards nearby in some locations and with no apples present in others. They also set up bee traps in these plots. They put out the pots of strawberries at three distinct time periods; during early apple bloom, at full-peak apple bloom, and just as apple blooms were dying out.

Future work will investigate whether this strategy also holds benefits for the pollinators, as food sources are spread out over time rather than having a large glut of food that is followed by less availability.

Co-authors included Greg Loeb and Katja Poveda, both Cornell faculty members in entomology, and Eleanor Blitzer, a biologist at Carroll College.

The study was supported by Smith Lever and Hatch funds and the United States Department of Agriculture.

This article also appeared in the Cornell Chronicle.

Researchers Look for Genetic Clues to Help Grapes Survive Cold

By Matt Hayes, reposted from CALS news [2017-03-29]

Al Kovaleski, a doctoral student in the field of horticulture, visits the Anthony Road Winery in Penn Yan, New York. Photo by Chris Kitchen / University Photography

Al Kovaleski, a doctoral student in the field of horticulture, visits the Anthony Road Winery in Penn Yan, New York. Photo by Chris Kitchen / University Photography

Months before northern vineyards burst into their lush summer peak, the delicate grape buds holding the nascent fruit in its tiny core must first withstand the freezing onslaught of winter.

Understanding how grape buds respond to subzero temperatures is of paramount concern to vineyard managers in New York and other northerly grape-producing states. Some of the more popular varieties used in the wine and juice industries can survive temperatures far below the freezing point of water. By a process known as supercooling, cellular mechanisms within the bud maintain water in liquid state down to around minus 4 to minus 30 degrees Fahrenheit, depending on the species. Beyond a certain low-temperature threshold, ice forms inside the cells, cellular functions cease and the bud dies.

Horticulturists have long relied on traditional methods to study freezing in plants. Now a researcher in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences is using powerful technologies on campus to explore in new ways the cellular mechanics that allow grape buds to survive brutal cold. The research has implications for vineyard economics, especially as climate change opens more northerly land for cultivation and current growing regions experience more extreme weather.

Al Kovaleski, a doctoral student in the field of horticulture, is using the Cornell High Energy Synchrotron Source (CHESS) to create 3-D images of grape buds. The images produced at CHESS are providing a unique perspective as Kovaleski unravels the genetic underpinnings of supercooling in grape buds.

Supercooling is a dynamic process: Different parts within the bud freeze at different temperatures, and those levels and locations change based on the season. When seasonal temperatures plummet, the grape bud responds by expressing cold resistance genes as the cells marshal resources to survive.

“Regions within the bud have different behaviors related to cold resistance. We know there must be a genetic control of what’s going on as the bud responds to freezing temperatures,” Kovaleski said. “By identifying which genes are expressed at various times in the seasons, we can isolate those that are most active when temperatures are coldest and pinpoint the genes responsible for supercooling.”

Plants that overwinter above ground have buds to protect the flower primordia and vegetative growing tips. The current understanding is that as ice forms in extracellular spaces, water leaves the cell until a point where no more can be lost for the cell to survive. At that point the supercooling process begins.

Now, Cornell researchers are teaming with physicists to visualize supercooling. Using the high-energy parallel X-ray beams produced at CHESS, Kovaleski is imaging grape buds by taking advantage of how X-rays scatter when passing through varying tissue densities within the bud. The scattering gives rise to phase contrast images, from which Kovaleski constructs digital images that allow him to visualize how water shifts. When combined with genetic sequencing data, Kovaleski can create a robust portrait of how buds react at the coldest temperatures.

The pursuit is not trivial. Winter freezes have been known to decimate grape crops, such as a cold blast in 2014 that wiped out around half of many winemaking varieties in New York, forcing growers to purchase grapes from outside the state. Subzero cold snaps routinely ravage vineyards across the Northeast, such as the “Christmas massacre” of 1980. In the Finger Lakes region, deep lakes that typically remain unfrozen during winter help maintain temperatures slightly warmer on the slopes around the lakes, opening these areas for grape growing. But even these protected regions are prone to devastating freezes.

Deepening the scientific understanding of supercooling provides grape breeders with insights to select the best breeding lines. By working with his adviser and Cornell grape breeder Bruce Reisch, Kovaleski is identifying genes responsible for cold hardiness. The data gives Reisch and other breeders the information to select individuals with the ability to survive colder temperatures while retaining the flavor and growing qualities demanded by consumers and vineyard owners.

Grape buds are the structures that contain the flower primordia and vegetative growing tips. Subzero temperatures can kill these plant parts and destroy the crop before it starts. Photo by Chris Kitchen / University Photography.

Grape buds are the structures that contain the flower primordia and vegetative growing tips. Subzero temperatures can kill these plant parts and destroy the crop before it starts. Photo by Chris Kitchen / University Photography.

“For a trait as complex as low-temperature survival, there is not likely to be a single gene that will impart cold tolerance to seedlings in the breeding program. But the more we understand the complexities of the genetic system, the better breeders will be able to improve cold tolerance,” said Reisch, professor in the Horticulture Section of the School of Integrative Plant Science and research leader of the Cornell-Geneva Grapevine Breeding and Genetics Program. “Al’s work is bringing much needed clarity to this field of research, with potential applicability to a wide range of perennial crops.”

According to Kovaleski, peaches and other fruit trees that supercool to survive winter could benefit from this fundamental science. If the same genes at work in buds also are active in green tissues, the genetic data might reduce the risk of spring frosts as well.

“By understanding the genes governing cold resistance in grapes, it’s possible that we can reduce the risk of winter kill and protect fruit crops crucial to the Northeast economy,” Kovaleski said.

Along with Reisch, Kovaleski is advised by Robert Thorne, professor in the Department of Physics; and Jason Londo, a research geneticist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture–Agricultural Research Service’s Grape Genetics Research Unit.

This article also appeared in the Cornell Chronicle.

New Tool Gives Apple Farms Hope in Fight Against Spring Freezes

By Blaine Friedlander, reposted from CALS news [2017-02-24]

Apple blossoms killed by a spring frost in 2012, after a long stretch of warm days. Photo by Gregory M. Peck/Provided.

Apple blossoms killed by a spring frost in 2012, after a long stretch of warm days. Photo by Gregory M. Peck/Provided.

This February’s warm weather is nice in the Northeast, but apple farmers may pay a price if winter roars back. To help growers assess precarious temperatures in turbulent springs, the Cornell Institute for Climate Smart Solutions has developed a new Apple Freeze Risk decision tool.

“I think the warm weather we’re seeing this week may push the apple trees into vulnerable stages,” said Art DeGaetano, professor of earth and atmospheric sciences and director of Cornell’s Northeast Regional Climate Center.

Apples are an important cog in New York’s agriculture industry, which produces over 29 million bushels of apples annually, employing over 10,000 people directly and 7,500 indirectly.

Apple trees need dormancy and cold weather so that springtime buds develop properly. When early spring temperatures rise consistently above the low 40 degree mark, the trees get ready to bud, said DeGaetano.

Through their phenological stages in warming weather, the apple trees develop silver tips, green tips, and then bloom.

“They become less and less tolerant of cold, and if a freeze hits after a warm spell, that’s when apple producers begin to see bud damage – and that takes an economic toll,” said DeGaetano, who with Rick Moore, research support specialist, built the new risk-assessment tool. Development of the tool was made possible thanks to Federal Capacity Funds and funding from the New World Foundation.

The Apple Freeze Risk tool shows minimum temperatures for the most recent 30 days, provides a 6-day temperature forecast, and shows the current stage of development in tree varieties. Apple trees are currently dormant, and only a sustained period of 25 below zero temperatures can damage this season’s crop. But as days warm, the buds’ tolerance for freezing lessens.

“The benefit of this tool is that a farmer can access information about a specific location anywhere in the Northeast, and can get detail to within a 2.5-mile grid of their orchard,” said Allison Chatrchyan, director of the Cornell Institute for Climate Smart Solutions. The institute established the Cornell Climate Smart Farming (CSF) program, which is developing tools to support individualized, real-time, and data-driven management, through what’s known as “Digital Agriculture.”

“With climate change already occurring, our winters are getting warmer, and farmers are asking us for specific tools and information about what they can do to reduce the risks on their farm, including from freezes,” Chatrchyan said. “The apple tool was built based on stakeholder input, and with the help of our NYS CSF Extension Team, which is training farmers about climate risk and adaptation.”

One likely user of this new tool will be Mark Doyle, manager of Fishkill Farms in Hopewell Junction, New York, which grows apples, peaches, nectarines, currants, and cherries. He is concerned about early warm weather and freezing weather afterward, as he examines factors such as temperature inversions (warm air above cold air) and whether to employ either mechanical or thermal methods to heat the orchard on frigid nights.

Said Doyle: “Along with other factors, I will be looking at this tool to understand the weather situation in front of me and the freeze risk facing our apple trees.”

This article also appeared in the Cornell Chronicle.

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