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Extension and outreach

Remembering Robin Bellinder

Robin Bellinder

Robin Bellinder

From Steve Reiners, Horticulture Section chair:

Friday, we received the sad news that our colleague and friend, Robin Bellinder passed away unexpectedly.

Robin Bellinder received her Bachelors from Michigan State University and her Masters and Ph.D. from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University.  In 1984, she joined the Cornell University Horticulture Department as an Assistant Professor, with a program focused on weed management for vegetable crops.  Robin was a national and international leader in her field.  She was the author of more than 80 research publications and more than 200 publications focused on growers.  She was the past President of the Northeastern Weed Science Society, and in 2005 was named the recipient of Cornell’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences award for Outstanding Accomplishments in Applied Research.

She was mentor to numerous graduate students and advisor to many undergraduates.  Despite her busy schedule she even managed to add teaching to her responsibilities and co-taught Commercial Vegetable Production.  She was a tireless fighter for New York vegetable growers, always looking for new tools to manage weeds.  Her research included all aspects of weed management, from traditional herbicides to cultural and chemical alternatives. She pioneered research in the weed suppressive ability of cover crops. A sabbatical leave to Sweden in 1991 introduced Robin to new and innovative European cultivation equipment that she brought back to New York.

Robin worried about people, whether it was poor farmers in southern Asia or hungry families in the Southern Tier.  She led the effort at Cornell to provide fresh vegetables from plots at the Homer C. Thompson research farm to the Food Bank of the Southern Tier.  Robin realized that rather than fruit and vegetables being put in compost bins, they could wind up on dinner tables and feed hungry families.  Since 2004, Cornell has donated more than 1 million pounds of produce from the Thompson farm.

Robin was very involved in international agriculture and traveled throughout Central America and Asia.  After a visit to India, Robin pioneered the use of backpack sprayers for small growers.  She said “anyone who thinks farmers in India should control weeds without herbicides should spend an afternoon in a field there with a hoe”.  Her work in India changed lives and she was elected a Fellow of the Indian Weed Science Society for her contributions to Indian agriculture.

Please keep Robin’s family in your thoughts and prayers.

A memorial service for Robin will take place on Saturday, November 21 at 3 p.m. at the Wagner Funeral Home, 110 South Geneva Street, Ithaca.  Visiting hours will be held prior to the service beginning at 2 p.m. In lieu of flowers, Robin’s family suggests donations in her name to the Food Bank of the Southern Tier.

Robin Bellinder (right) with volunteers gleaning potatoes for the Food Bank of the Southern Tier at the Homer C. Thompson Research Farm in 2012.

Robin Bellinder (right) with volunteers gleaning potatoes for the Food Bank of the Southern Tier at the Homer C. Thompson Research Farm in 2012.


In the news

Greg Peck

Greg Peck

Some recent articles of interest:

The orchard of the future: Higher tree densities, more automation [Fruit Grower News 2015-11-02] – “If asked what commercial fruit orchards might look like in the future – even up to a century from now – those who’ve studied orchards closely will give you a wide range of answers. The speculation begins below. Greg Peck, assistant professor of horticulture at Virginia Tech [now assistant professor in the Horticulture Section in Cornell’s School of Integrative Plant Science], tackled this question with graduate students Ashley Thompson and Candace DeLong.” Read more.

Making a Meal That’s Bred-to-Order [The Atlantic 2015-11-10] – “Michael Mazourek and Dan Barber can trace the roots of their unusual partnership to a winter squash. A few years ago, Mazourek, a vegetable breeder and professor of plant science at Cornell University, went to the Blue Hill restaurant in New York to sample the dishes that Barber, the chef, had made from the some of Mazourek’s newly bred organic vegetables. He was expecting a good meal, he recalls—after all, he could vouch for the quality of the raw ingredients—but he was blown away by the flavor that Barber and his colleagues had coaxed from the vegetables, particularly a tiny, tan variety of butternut squash called ‘Honeynut.'” Read more.

Plant scientists tackle big data problems at workshop [Cornell Chronicle 2015-11-13] – Participants at the first Genomic and Open source Breeding Informatics Initiative (GOBII) workshop at the Boyce Thompson Institute (BTI) the week of Nov. 2 attempted to plan a one-size-fits-all solution to handling big data in plant research programs.Read more.

$1.2 million to assist specialty crop research and education

State Agriculture Commissioner Richard A. Ball

State Agriculture Commissioner Richard A. Ball

New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets press release:

State Agriculture Commissioner Richard A. Ball today announced awards totaling $1.2 million for 10 projects to grow New York agriculture through research, protection and promotion of the state’s specialty crops, which rank highly in the nation in terms of both production and economic value.  Funding is provided through the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program and provides important assistance for research and grower education projects to boost competitiveness of New York farms and enhance long-term viability of agri-businesses.

Commissioner Ball said, “As a specialty crop farmer, I know how important these crops are.  These grants will help improve access to healthy food and help farmers solve difficult problems that will result in a safer and more efficient food supply.  Together, we’re tackling some of the most challenging issues in the state’s food supply and making remarkable progress.” …

The following six research and grower education projects based at Cornell University were awarded funding:

  • $105,568 to increase consumer demand for fresh, local vegetables year-round by supporting farmer entrepreneurs with the necessary business analysis tools to successfully enter the emerging field of controlled environment agriculture.
  • $51,916 to help growers reduce pesticides by 30 to 40 percent and improve growers’ profitability by offering a series of one-day, in-depth training courses on state-of-the-art spray application techniques.
  • $112,149 to evaluate management strategies of leafroll viruses and develop a comprehensive, integrated pest management (IPM) program to be disseminated to the local grape community to increase the overall quality of production and vineyard profitability.
  • $111,561 to find better ways to fight the damaging Cercospora leaf spot disease, which affects beets.  New York is the nation’s second largest producer of table beets for the fresh and processing markets, and demand is likely to continue to rise with the opening later this year of Love Beets USA, LLC’s new beet processing and packaging plant in Rochester.  Efforts will include research to find a more effective fungicide, as well as developing optimum methods for rotating crops and disease and weed management strategies;
  • $108,977 to reduce the impact of leaf mold in tomatoes produced in high tunnels (covered structures where tomatoes grow horizontally on tall trellises.)
  • $109, 829 to help New York apple growers adopt precision management techniques to reduce loss and ensure that a higher percentage of Honeycrisp apples meet the quality criteria necessary for the fresh market. Cornell Cooperative Extension’s Lake Ontario Fruit Program will coordinate this project.

The following four promotion and marketing projects were awarded funding:

  • $280,000 to educate consumers about the many environmental, economic, and health benefits of specialty crop consumption.
  • $100,000 to increase the capacity of schools to procure and serve locally-produced specialty crops and help schools in carrying out their farm-to-school plans and initiatives.
  • $90,000 to assist specialty crop industry groups in providing information, raising awareness and promoting the state’s specialty crops to buyers and sales leads at the New York Produce Show in New York City.
  • $58,241 to assist consumers and commercial buyers to more easily search for and locate sources of specialty crop products by expanding the Pride of New York database and its functionality.

Read the full release.


Learn to farm online this winter

online courses for small farmersFrom Erica Frenay, Online Course Coordinator, Cornell Small Farms Program:

Winter is a great time for farmers to rest, slow down the pace, and build new skills for the coming growing season. The Cornell Small Farms Program is pleased to announce the winter roster of online courses available through its Northeast Beginning Farmer Project. These courses help farmers learn from the latest research-based education.

Since 2006, the program has offered high quality, collaborative learning environments online and each year educates hundreds of beginning and established farmers through these courses.

Are there courses for me? From aspiring to experienced farmers, there is a course for nearly everyone. There’s a handy chart on our course homepage to direct you to the right courses for your experience level.

What are the courses like? All of our courses consist of weekly real-time webinars followed by homework, readings, and discussions on your own time in an online setting. If you aren’t able to attend the live webinars, they are always recorded for later viewing.

Qualify for a 0% interest loan! Participants who complete all requirements of one or more online courses are eligible to be endorsed for a 0% interest loan of up to $10,000 through Kiva Zip.

Each course is $200, but up to 4 people from the same farm may participate without paying extra. See the course description page for more on the course learning objectives, instructors, and outline.

Courses often fill very quickly, so don’t miss your chance to sign up today!


Martinson receives Extension and Outreach award

Senior Extension Associate Tim Martinson received the CALS award for Outstanding Accomplishments in Extension and Outreach at the CALS Research, Extension and Staff Awards ceremony November 3.  The award “recognizes individuals who have demonstrated leadership in developing a highly innovative and responsive extension/outreach program that addresses stakeholder needs.

The Awards Committee cited Tim’s leadership in developing and promoting sustainable viticulture practices, which has been recognized throughout New York and has served as the foundation for extension programs in other states as well.  They also noted the significant economic and environmental benefits that have accrued to New York’s grape industry as a result of his educational efforts.

Those efforts include Appellation Cornell and Veraison to Harvest newsletters and the Northern Grapes Project.

Martinson talks with growers at field day.

Martinson talks with growers at field day.

Farmers, business leaders will bring politicians to the table on climate change

David Wolfe in The Hill [2015-11-02]:

David Wolfe

David Wolfe

“… Farmers are on the front lines of climate change, and while they may not all call it by that name or agree about the causes, the vast majority recognize they are the first generation of farmers, ever, who cannot rely on historical weather patterns to tell them when to plant, what to plant or how to grow it.

“Many farmers have told me that if the changes were as straightforward as a few more days of heat stress or drought each year, they could plan around that. But the changes are all over the map. One year, farmers may face record-breaking spring rain that delays planting. The next year could bring a record-breaking drought near harvest. Another year, their fruit crops bloom weeks early and get blasted by a spring frost. As a result of this unpredictability, many are hedging their bets, staggering planting dates, planting a wider range of crops and considering investments such as irrigation or drainage systems.”

Read the whole article.

Eden’s gardens of broccoli become poster child for farm-to-table movement

Thomas Björkman

Thomas Björkman

The Buffalo News [2015-10-23]:

…California has long been the top producer of the nutritiously dense and once maligned vegetable. That state produces more than 95 percent of all broccoli grown in the United States.

But agricultural experts and farmers are working to develop a year-round broccoli industry on the Eastern United States, from Florida to Maine. And Eden farmers are poster children for what agriculture experts want do in New York State and the East Coast.

“We hope to replicate parts of that in other locations,” said Thomas Björkman, a Cornell University professor. “This is a great thing right here in Western New York.”

Read the whole article.

New publication: CU-Structural Soil® – A Comprehensive Guide

CU-Structural Soil® installation at Zuccotti Park, New York City

CU-Structural Soil® installation at Zuccotti Park, New York City

CU-Structural Soil® – A Comprehensive Guide is a new 56-page publication that covers the why’s and how’s of using CU-Structural Soil® to support trees, turf and porous pavement, and includes six case studies.

CU-Structural Soil® (also known as CU-Soil®) was developed at by Nina Bassuk, director of Cornell’s Urban Horticulture Institute, as a way to safely bear pavement loads after compaction and yet still allow root penetration and vigorous tree growth. It was patented and trademarked to insure quality control.

Read more about CU-Soil® at the Urban Horticulture Institute website.



Grape research boosted by $6 million USDA grant

A vineyard map image showing data layered on Google Earth.

A vineyard map image showing data layered on Google Earth.

Cornell Chronicle [2015-10-22]:

The ancient art of grape growing is getting a high-tech boost thanks to Cornell University research and a $6 million federal grant.

The grant money, part of the USDA’s Specialty Crop Research Initiative, will fund a four-year project to develop and implement digital mapping technology. The project aims to bring precision viticulture technology to growers of various scales, cultivating all grape species, with the potential to spur gains for the U.S juice, wine, raisin and table grape industries.

The project will be led led by Terry Bates, director of the Cornell Lake Erie Research and Extension Lab in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS).

Project leaders plan to utilize a suite of mobile sensors that measure conditions related to the soil, canopy and crop. Software developed by the project team will crunch thousands of data points to produce digital maps layered with information detailing specific conditions.

Read the whole article.

Revamped ‘Willowpedia’ website delivers bioenergy info

shrub-willowx400Just in time for National Bioenergy Day, the shrub willow bioenergy research program based at the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva has launched a revamped version of its Willowpedia website.

The new version of the website is chock full of information for growers, researchers and the general public, including factsheets, videos,  links to research publications and more. The new also features ‘responsive design’ making it much easier to navigate on phones or tablets.

And if you’d like to stay up on the latest in shrub willow bio-energy research and be notified when major new resources are added to the the website, be sure to sign up for the project’s e-newsletter.

If you have questions, comments or suggestions, contact Larry