American Vegetable Grower magazine turned to Thomas Bjorkman, associate professor in the Horticulture Section of the School of Intergrative Plant Science, to answer questions about Cornell Soil Health Laboratory’s Comprehensive Assessment of Soil Health and the importance of knowing more than just your soil’s nutrient levels to produce healthy crops in two recent articles:
From Matt Hayes, CALS communications:
This holiday season will be even merrier — and warmer — for nearly two dozen Geneva school children thanks to Cornell’s New York State Agricultural Experiment Station (NYSAES).
Members of the Station community sponsored 23 children from 12 families in the Geneva City School District as part of the Cornell University Elves Program. The Elves Program was founded in 1989 to benefit elementary school students who are in greatest need.
This is the 5th year members of NYSAES have taken part in the program by providing local children with a new outfit of clothes, pajamas, a winter hat, gloves, and a toy.
The support comes from across the Geneva campus: staff, faculty, students, including those in the Student Association of the Geneva Experiment Station (SAGES), as well as members of the New York State Integrated Pest Management and those in the U.S. Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service based in Geneva all took part.
This year the community also purchased new boots and winter coats for almost all of the children, said Beth Demmings, a postdoctoral associate and VitisGen project manager.
“Each year I am blown away by the overwhelming generosity of this small campus to support families in the greater community of Geneva,” said Demmings, who co-coordinated this year’s event with Jessica Townley.
Station members wrapped the gifts on Dec. 14 during a lunch hosted by the office of Susan Brown, the Goichman Family Director of the NYSAES and the Herman M. Cohn Professor of Agriculture and Life Sciences.
All of the gifts will be delivered to West Street School this week.
Growers and the market are all conditioned to accept certain popular varieties—Merlot, Chardonnay, Cabernet. [My grapes] may have qualities that could be similar to elite varieties, but these would be entirely new varieties.
Unfavorable apple growing conditions in Ithaca this season nearly crushed a seasonal favorite: Cornell Orchards’ cider. But with the help of Cornell’s New York State Agricultural Experiment Station (NYSAES) in Geneva, New York, the popular beverage pressed right on campus is once again available to the Cornell community.
For a time this fall, the production of Cornell cider seemed in jeopardy. Erratic temperatures and a late spring frost followed by a persistent summer drought spelled trouble for the Ithaca campus apple trees used to make the cider.
While Ithaca’s apples suffered, the orchards 50 miles north in Geneva benefited from slightly more favorable conditions.
Kale is getting a makeover, and the very essence of kaliness may hang in the balance.
To develop a new variety of kale tailored to American palates, horticulture professor Philip Griffiths of Cornell University College of Agriculture and Life Science and graduate student Hannah Swegarden are soliciting consumers’ kale reflections — the good, the bad, and the ugly. The scientists face a philosophic question for the ages. Asks Swegarden:
“How far can you push a consumer’s concept of what kale is, before it’s not kale anymore?”
Kale, like many other vegetables, has been bred with agricultural practicality in mind, selected for virtues like drought- and disease-resistance. But Swegarden says those traits don’t necessarily translate into a better taste and appearance, qualities that matter more to consumers. Griffiths has been working with kale for years, so he and Swegarden decided to see if they could develop strains to seduce farmers and consumers alike.
Thomas Björkman and Michael Mazourek share insights into their research in this video feature at NBC News’ science and technology site: Meet the Scientists Breeding Vegetables for Our Changing Environment.
“Artificial intelligence, new smartphones and missions to Mars now dominate innovation headlines, but seemingly less sexy scientific progress is landing on our plates every day. And it’s making the food we eat better, safer, more abundant, and more delicious in the process.” Read full accompanying article.
A Cornell program is reimagining kale – its color, shape and even flavor – in a bid to breed the naturally biodiverse vegetable for consumer satisfaction.
Traits of importance for plant production, such as resistance to disease, pests and drought are often a major focus for plant breeders. Consumers, however, are usually more interested in the culinary and aesthetic qualities of vegetables that directly impact their preparation in the kitchen.
Cornell vegetable breeder Phillip Griffiths, a professor in the Horticulture Section of the School of Integrative Plant Science, and doctoral student Hannah Swegarden have embarked on a program to identify the different leaf shapes, colors, flavors and textures favored by consumers, and breed for those traits.
For scientists, an understanding of root morphology is of tremendous importance for agricultural and biofuel crops alike. The measurement of the belowground traits of plants has become increasingly important because of the vital role that root biomass and architecture play in traits like drought tolerance and carbon sequestration. The ability to measure root biomass is useful in plant breeding programs, but is a daunting task that requires washing, filtering, drying, and weighing fine and intricate root tissues. Researchers have used electrical capacitance—the ability of an object to store an electrical charge—to measure root biomass, but this technique had only been shown to work in hydroponically grown plants and had not been extensively tested in soil-grown woody plants grown from cuttings.
As Craig Carlson, a PhD candidate at Cornell University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, explains, “A majority of electroconductivity studies have focused on annual grasses and hydroponic systems. We wanted to develop a cheap, quick method of measuring root biomass in soils.” Carlson works with Dr. Larry Smart, leader of North America’s largest breeding program for shrub willow (Salix spp.), an important biofuel crop. One aspect of their breeding work requires growing up to 400 individual plants in separate pots, and an efficient method to quantify root biomass would allow for rapid selection of individuals with optimal traits to continue breeding. The alternative is to mechanically remove soil to measure root biomass, a method that is both destructive and extremely time consuming.
Despite being initially skeptical that the root electrical capacitance (REC) method would work in soil, Carlson was able to tweak the technique and demonstrate its efficacy in a paper published in a recent issue of Applications in Plant Sciences.
Lakso wins in first USDA Innovations in Food and Agricultural Science and Technology (I-FAST) prize competition [USDA press release]- The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) and the National Science Foundation (NSF) announced November 1 the winners of the first Innovations in Food and Agricultural Science and Technology (I-FAST) $200,000 prize competition. I-FAST helps scientists and engineers broaden the impact of their NIFA-funded research by encouraging collaboration between academia and industry to translate fundamental agricultural innovations into the marketplace. Alan Lakso, emeritus professor in the Horticulture Section, was on of four winners. Lakso and his Cornell team — including Abe Stroock, Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, Vinay Pagay, PhD Horticulture ’14, and Michael Santiago, Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering graduate student — won for their micro electro-mechanical systems (MEMS) microtensiometer.
CU in Nature website encourages students to get outside [Cornell Chronicle 2016-11-03] – Students can feel overwhelmed by the pressures associated with getting a top-quality education, but a new website and programming aims – by nature – to lower their stress levels. CUinNature.cornell.edu, which launched this fall, is a clearinghouse for the many natural areas on campus, including theCornell Botanic Gardens, most just a short walk away for students. Don Rakow, associate professor in the School of Integrative Plant Science, Horticulture Section, in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, is hoping students take advantage of an easily accessible antidote for academic and other stressors.
Geneva project explores ways to improve Northeast grape growing [Station News 2016-10-28] – Jason Londo, adjunct associate professor in the Horticulture Section of the School of Integrative Plant Science and a geneticist in the USDA-ARS Grape Genetics Unit, is teaming up with researchers from across the country to map genetic traits in grapevine roots in order uncover the ways genes interact with the environment. The research aims to optimize the productivity and environmental resilience of grapevines, potentially pointing to new ways to improve grape growing in the Northeast.
Tech brings value to vineyards [periodiCALS, Vol. 6, Issue 2, 2016] – Each morning, the same question greets Cornell Lake Erie Research and Extension Laboratory Director Terry Bates from his office white board: What are you doing for the grape growers? This summer, the answer has come easily. He’s systematically taking the guesswork out of managing vineyards, with help from a fleet of sensors that see the vineyard more clearly than the human eye.
Strawberry fans, rejoice. The newest Cornell strawberry variety concentrates intense flavor in a berry big enough to fill the palm of your hand.
Topping out at over 50 grams, Archer, the latest creation from Cornell berry breeder Courtney Weber, is comparable in size to a plum or small peach. But this behemoth stands out in ways beyond just its proportions: the flavor and aroma exceed what you’d expect from a strawberry of such unusual size.
“Archer is an extraordinarily high-flavored berry,” said Weber, associate professor in the Horticulture Section of the School of Integrative Plant Science. “It has an intense aroma, so when you bite into it you get a strong strawberry smell, and it’s very sweet, so you get a strong strawberry flavor that really makes an impact.”
Weber says the combination of large fruit and strong flavor hits the sweet spot for local growers who sell in farmers markets, u-pick sites and roadside stands. Archer ripens in June and holds its large size through multiple harvests for two to three weeks.
In September 12 Horticulture Section seminar, Weber explains the long road he had to take to bring ‘Archer’ to market: