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Zachary Stansell: paving the way for a New York broccoli industry

Photo credit: Justin James Muir


By Erin Flynn, CALS News [2019-01-24]:

Zachary Stansell, a fourth-year doctoral student in the field of horticulture, is studying under the guidance of Thomas Bjorkman, professor in the Horticulture Section of the School of Integrative Plant Science.

We spoke to Stansell about his research and what he sees for the future of the broccoli industry.

The Eastern Broccoli Project is working to establish the scientific basis for a local, reliable source of broccoli production on the east coast. What are some of the hurdles and the opportunities to making this a reality?

Currently, reliable broccoli production on the east coast is constrained by a number of biological hurdles. For example, temperature sensitivity related damage often occurs. Modern broccoli types have also undergone a genetic bottleneck.

I believe that my work with this delicious super food—and, dare I say, favorite food—will enhance production and access to affordable, high-quality, locally produced broccoli. My work is addressing broccoli production issues by disentangling the genetic networks that regulate its adaptation to heat stress. I’m also taking a census of the current state of modern broccoli compared to large pools of genetic diversities contained in older “heirloom” types. This work will help us develop optimal broccoli types for New York state, while preserving the crucial genetic diversity needed to adapt to challenges such as climate change.

What is your most memorable student experience?

The relationships and community I’ve experienced at Cornell and Cornell AgriTech have been my meaningful life experiences.

Professor Björkman has been a consistent mentor, supporting and challenging me to create strong, inference-based research. I’m consistently impressed by the openness, inclusiveness and willingness of the Cornell AgriTech community to help graduate students.

What inspires you as a student at Cornell AgriTech?

As corny as it may sound, opportunities to give back inspire me. I feel immensely grateful to the people who have invested time, care, curiosity and resources into my development. I’m beginning to have an ability to give that back. For example, I am planning a demonstration garden to help Master Gardeners train community gardeners across New York state. I’m also collaborating with undergrad summer scholars to collect field data, write the code to analyze it, and make actual discoveries. Developing tools and methods to help quantify horticultural quality in other crops is also a passion of mine.

How do you think graduate student research benefits New York state agriculture?

My own experience here has allowed me to listen to and learn from nearly every stakeholder group in the New York state agricultural community. I’ve learned to communicate with people working on topics ranging from heat-stress mechanisms in model organisms, to farm workers transplanting cabbage, to venture capital funded agriculture entrepreneurs. I believe that sort of informational cross-linking created by graduate students serves to strengthen and integrate the network that Cornell AgriTech provides to New York state agriculture.

So You Want To Grow Hemp

Larry Smart examining hemp plants in the greenhouse at Cornell AgriTech.

Larry Smart examining hemp plants in the greenhouse at Cornell AgriTech.

From Science Friday podcast [2018-12-07:]

Good news could be coming soon for anyone interested in hemp, the THC-free, no-high strain of cannabis whose use ranges from fibers to food to pharmaceuticals. If the 2018 Farm Bill passes Congress in its current form, growing hemp would be legal and products derived from hemp would be removed from their current legal gray area.

Universities and private research teams have been busy studying hemp pests, genetics, and other cultivation questions since Congress legalized the research in 2014. Cornell horticulture professor Larry Smart explains why a plant that hasn’t been grown legally in the U.S. for nearly a century will require a monumental effort from scientists to catch up to crops like soybean and tomatoes.

Listen.

Seminar video: Cover crops for enhancing soil health in vegetable production

If you missed Monday’s Horticulture Section seminar, Cover crops for enhancing soil health in vegetable production with Thomas Björkman, Horticulture Section, it is available online.

More seminar videos: Horticulture | School of Integrative Plant Science

Seminar video: Roots and rhizosphere interactions of temperate forest tree species in a changing climate

If you missed Tuesday’s Graduate Field of Horticulture exit seminar, Roots and rhizosphere interactions of temperate forest tree species in a changing climate with Marie Zwetsloot, PhD candidate, it is available online.


More seminar videos: Horticulture | School of Integrative Plant Science

Toward Sustainability Foundation grant deadline is Dec. 3

Hannah Swegarden was one of the investigators for the 2018 TSF-funded project, Connecting Consumer Acceptability and Farm Productivity to Improve Collard Varieties for East African Growers.

Hannah Swegarden was one of the investigators for the 2018 TSF-funded project, Connecting Consumer Acceptability and Farm Productivity to Improve Collard Varieties for East African Growers.

For more nearly 20 years, CALS has bolstered its sustainability research with a steady stream of gifts from the Toward Sustainability Foundation (TSF), a Massachusetts-based organization founded by an anonymous, eco-minded Cornell alumna.

Since 1999, TSF provided more than $1.5 million in funding for more than 100 faculty and student projects that examine the technological, social, political, and economic elements of sustainable agriculture.

The deadline for proposals for the 2019 round of funding is December 3, 2018

Read more about TSF grants, download the full Request for Proposals, and view titles and contacts of recent projects.

Growing the World’s Food in Greenhouses

Neil Mattson

Cornell Research website:

Neil Mattson, School of Integrative Plant Science, Horticulture Section, spent his childhood on a farm with flower and vegetable gardens. “If you know how to grow your own food, you’ll never go hungry,” Mattson recalls his grandmother, who grew up during the Great Depression, saying. “That ethos has carried with me.” And it has carried into his research projects, which aim to better understand controlled environment agriculture (CEA)—the cultivation of crops in controlled environments such as greenhouses, plant factories, or vertical farms.

Mattson is particularly interested in CEA. He says, “It integrates technology and agriculture and enables year-round production of high quality products.” For example, one can produce 20 to 50 times more lettuce per acre in a greenhouse than in a field in California.

Even so, there are challenges and drawbacks to growing crops in controlled environments, including the amount of energy and labor costs required. Given the challenges, one of the main questions driving Mattson’s work is essential: Is it realistic and economically viable to scale up CEA to feed the masses? “I’m trying to understand the pros and cons of this higher tech production system and want to understand its constraints and improve upon the constraints,” Mattson says.

Read the whole article.

 

Cornell’s new Sustainable Landscapes Trail opens Oct. 5

Cornell Chronicle [2018-10-02]:

Lace up your walking shoes and head to Cornell’s new Sustainable Landscapes Trail, which will open with a ceremony Friday, Oct. 5, at 2 p.m., at the newly refurbished Peterson parking lot across from Stocking Hall and the Dairy Bar on Tower Road.

In lieu of a ribbon-cutting, officials will offer a celebratory “downpour” of water on the sustainable, permeable asphalt. Afterward, Nina Bassuk, professor of plant science, will lead a tour of the Sustainable Landscapes Trail.

Students in Creating the Urban Eden: Woody Plant Selection, Design, and Landscape Establishment (PLHORT/LA 4910) plant trees and shrubs in the Peterson Lot bioswale.

Students in Creating the Urban Eden: Woody Plant Selection, Design, and Landscape Establishment (PLHORT/LA 4910) plant trees and shrubs in the Peterson Lot bioswale.

Stretching from the Libe Slope Meadow to the Botanic Gardens’ Native Lawn, the trail features 20 stops that show how design, construction and the management of campus grounds can enhance and promote healthy landscape ecosystems.

The Peterson green parking lot was constructed this summer as a state-of-the-art example of green infrastructure and is the latest project to join the trail. It was designed by landscape architecture students and Cornell staff to demonstrate an alternative to traditional impervious parking lots and the resulting storm water runoff.

As a cause of water pollution, runoff from impervious roads and parking lots collect oil, sediment and other pollutants – and carries this material into waterways.

Green infrastructure practices will turn this parking lot into a natural landscape by capturing rainwater where it falls, filtering out pollutants and reducing large volumes of runoff, said David Cutter, Cornell’s campus landscape architect.

The Peterson lot’s porous pavement allows storm water to drain into a stone reservoir below the lot’s surface, while CU-Structural Soil along the lot’s central bioswale (a landscape element designed to remove pollution) allows the roots of bushes and trees to succeed under paved surfaces.

The parking lot is expected to be certified by both SITES, an initiative of the U.S. Green Building Council to certify sustainable land design and development, and by Parksmart, a rating system for green parking structures.

Other highlights of the trail include Fernow Hall’s rain garden and green roof; a green roof consists of a shallow layer of light-weight soil and plants that filter runoff. Fernow Hall’s rain garden diverts storm water from paved areas and roofs and channels it into the ground using a well-draining soil that helps to prevent polluted water from flowing directly to streams and lakes.

The trail also includes Mann Library’s entrance garden and green roof, the Ag Quad biodetention basins, which control pollution, and the Tower Road bioswale, which filters polluted water runoff with carefully selected plants growing in engineered soil and it provides a habitat for insects and pollinators.

The trail is a living laboratory for open spaces, natural areas and landscapes with unique sustainability features. On the trail, see the Rice Hall bioswale that undergraduate students built by using a technique called “scoop and dump” during a project in the “Urban Eden: Woody Plant Selection, Design and Landscape Establishment,” taught by Bassuk and Peter Trowbridge, professor of landscape architecture.

The Sustainable Landscapes Trail was developed by the Land Team of the President’s Sustainability Campus Committee. It fulfills a goal in Cornell’s Climate Action Plan, by demonstrating best practices in sustainable landscape planning, design and management, according to Sarah Brylinsky, Cornell’s sustainability communications manager.

Seminar video: Growing the lost crops of eastern North America

If you missed Monday’s Horticulture Section seminar, Growing the lost crops of eastern North America: Developmental plasticity in plant domestication  with Natalie Mueller, post-doctoral fellow, Horticulture Section, it is available online.

More seminar videos: Horticulture | School of Integrative Plant Science

Landscape professionals learn about bioswale benefits

Tower Rd bioswale planting
Above: Students in Creating the Urban Eden: Woody Plant Selection, Design, and Landscape Establishment (PLHRT/LA 4910/4920) planted more than 1,000 feet of beds along Tower Road from Plant Science Building to Stocking Hall with nearly 1,000 woody shrubs in September 2014.

Nearly 50 landscape architects, environmentalists, educators and others visited Cornell September 17 to learn about the ecosystem benefits of bioswales and tour the runoff-filtering structures on campus.

Bioswales channel water from streets and parking lots into areas where the water can infiltrate into the groundwater instead of entering storm drains and waterways. In the process, they keep sediment and other pollutants out of streams and lakes, reduce flooding and prevent streambank erosion.

They can also provide aesthetic benefits, habitat for pollinators and other ecosystem services, says Nina Bassuk, director of the Urban Horticulture Institute in the Horticulture Section of the School of Integrative Plant Science, who led the program along with Peter Trowbridge, Trowbridge Wolf Michaels Landscape Architects and retired professor from the Department of Landscape Architecture.

Bassuk’s work has focused on the ‘bio’ aspects of bioswales, researching which plants are best-suited for the tough conditions they face. “We’re testing plants that can tolerate both saturated soil and periodic drought,” says Bassuk. “They also need to be able tolerate salty soil and bounce back from damage when snow and ice are piled over them during winter.” Woody shrubs that can be cut back to the ground and regrow quickly in spring are especially good candidates.

The landscape professionals saw many of those plants in three bioswales they toured while on campus, including northern bayberry (Morella pensylvanica), shining sumac (Rhus coppalina), creeping willow  (Salix repens), seaberry (Hippophae rhamnoides), ) buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis) and others.

Those three bioswales – the quarter-mile-long Tower Road bioswale, the Rice Bowl bioswales adjacent to the parking lot next to Rice Hall, and the Cornell Botanic Garden bioswale next to the Nevin Welcome Center parking lot – are featured on the new Sustainable Landscapes Trail developed by the Land Team of the President’s Campus Sustainability Committee.

For more information on bioswales, download Woody Shrubs for Stormwater Retention Practices at the Urban Horticulture Institute website.


Above: Nina Bassuk explains bioswale plant selection to landscape professionals touring the Tower Road bioswale.

Big, blue Everest Seedless is Cornell’s newest grape

Bruce Reisch with Everest Seedless grape vines
Everest Seedless, the newest offering from Cornell’s grape breeders, is a big, bold fruit that comes with a towering history. Above, Bruce Reisch ’76, professor of horticulture, examines clusters of Everest Seedless in a research vineyard at Cornell AgriTech. Photo by Erin Flynn/Provided

CALS News [2018-09-13]:

The newest offering from Cornell’s grape breeders is a fruit that’s big, bold and comes with a towering history.

Those factors led the grape’s breeders to name the new variety Everest Seedless, a nod to the celebrated Nepalese mountain, said Bruce Reisch ’76, professor of horticulture in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, and grape breeder with Cornell AgriTech in Geneva, New York.

“We were looking to develop very flavorful grapes with large berries and large clusters, and we’ve achieved that with Everest Seedless,” Reisch said.

The new variety is a cold-tolerant, blue-colored Concord-type, with berries that weigh up to 7 grams – roughly twice the size of the traditional Concord. It is also the first truly seedless Concord-type grape ever released. It’s intended as a table grape – meant primarily for eating fresh, rather than using for jams, juice or wine, as most American Concords are used.

Read the whole article.

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