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Water sensor moves from basic research to promising business

A sensor installed in the trunk of a grapevine. After the installation of the sensor, the researchers cover and insulate the trunk.

A sensor installed in the trunk of a grapevine. After the installation of the sensor, the researchers cover and insulate the trunk. (Photo: Alan Lakso)

Cornell Chronicle [2017-02-06]:

A water sensor technology that began as basic research at Cornell is blooming into a business that fills a vital need for grape, nut, apple and other growers.

While current water sensing tools are expensive, inaccurate or labor intensive, the new sensor tells growers when their plants need irrigation with accurate, real-time readings at reasonable cost.

Much like a blood pressure gauge for humans, the sensor reads the water pressure inside the plant. When plants are thirsty, their water pressure is low, sometimes even negative. The sensor reads this pressure inside the plant to help growers ensure plant health and optimize water use in drought-stricken agricultural areas. Applying water at the right time can also greatly improve the quality of fruits, nuts and especially grapes for red wines.

In mid-2016, Cornell engineers and horticulturalists who developed the sensor launched FloraPulse, a startup aimed at commercializing the sensor and using it to provide agricultural services. The first target markets are grape and nut growers in California’s Central and Napa valleys.

Read the whole article.

Curiosity and expertise earn Excellence in IPM award for Cornell ‘pumpkin whisperer’

'Pumpkin whisperer' checks in with her 1,872-pound patient.

‘Pumpkin whisperer’ checks in with her 1,872-pound patient.

NYSIPM program news release:

Meg McGrath, a Cornell University plant pathologist based at the Long Island Horticultural Research and Extension Center, is an internationally recognized researcher, sought-after speaker, and well-versed in the solutions to devastating plant diseases.

And for growers with trouble on their hands, she’s available at a moment’s notice.

These qualities and more have earned McGrath an Excellence in IPM award from Cornell University’s New York State Integrated Pest Management Program (NYS IPM).

McGrath’s expertise spans the gamut of IPM strategies and tactics that both organic and conventional growers use to combat disease pests such as late blight and downy mildew. “Meg embraced the concepts of integrated pest management from the beginning of her career,” says colleague Margery Daughtrey. “She does a splendid job of bringing her discoveries to the practical level for growers in dozens of presentations annually.”

But it’s her help in the field that farmers value the most — help that’s delivered with a welcome dose of levity. “Meg’s funny,” says Marilee Foster at Foster’s Farm in Sagponack. “She’ll say ‘I’m sorry, I’m a plant pathologist. I like to study sick plants.’” When a nearby outbreak of late blight threatened Foster’s organic heirloom tomatoes, Meg came to help scout — “arriving early so we’d have the visual benefit of dew,” Foster says.

When they found a handful of plants with symptoms, McGrath reviewed Foster’s alternatives, but none were suited for organic crops. The strategy they hit on together? Using a handheld weed-flamer to take down suspect plants. “Blight can’t handle temperatures much above eighty degrees,” Meg told Foster. “And it might feel good!”  Which, Foster agrees, it did.

Meg focuses on core IPM principles — principles such as careful identification so you don’t treat a disease the wrong way, or changing a crop’s environment to outsmart its pathogens. “She helps Long Island growers deal with the limited availability of products they can use to manage pests, given the island’s heightened groundwater concerns,” says Jennifer Grant, director, NYS IPM. “It’s not every day you find someone who brings such warmth and knowledge to a position that means so much to so many farmers’ livelihood.”

Marilee Foster echoes that. “I have long admired the energy and curiosity Meg brings to farmers in eastern Long Island. We are lucky to have her working with us, for everyone.”

McGrath received her award on January 18 at the 2017 Empire State Producers Expo in Syracuse, New York. Learn more about integrated pest management at nysipm.cornell.edu.

More information:

The Grand Pomologist of Hard Cider

Greg Peck — arguably the nation’s preeminent hard cider scientist — is on a mission to turn America’s fledgling hard cider scene into a sophisticated industry, à la the viticulturists of California, according to Modern Farmer. Read more,

Peck talks cider apple production at 2016 cider field day at Cornell Orchards.

Peck talks cider apple production at 2016 cider field day at Cornell Orchards.

Bruce Reisch on new wine grape varieties

Bruce Reisch

Bruce Reisch

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.

— Grape breeder Bruce Reisch, professor in the Horticulture Section of the School of Integrative Plant Science, in Can Science Save Our Favorite Wines? in Wine Enthusiast [2016-12-08].

Read the whole article.

CALS Celebrates the Tastier Side of Science

Michael Mazourek discusses his plant breeding work with the Honeynut squash during a event Nov. 19 at Stone Barns. Photo by Sirin Samman.

Michael Mazourek discusses his plant breeding work with the Honeynut squash during a event Nov. 19 at Stone Barns. Photo by Sirin Samman.

Via CALS News [2016-11-29]:

Nearly 200 Cornellians were treated to a taste of collaboration between the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS), Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture, and Blue Hill restaurant on Nov. 19.

The event, held at the Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture in Pocantico Hills, New York, showcased farm-to-table cuisine that incorporates ingredients bred by CALS plant breeding and genetics assistant professor Michael Mazourek.

Mazourek is a leading innovator in the movement to breed better tasting vegetables that encourage people to eat more nutritious food. Since 2009, he has been collaborating with Blue Hill chef Dan Barber to create an array of healthy, innovative, and delectable dishes that are served at Blue Hill at Stone Barns, the much-lauded farm-to-table restaurant.

The event, which was a joint effort between CALS and the Northeast Corridor Alumni Affairs and Development office, allowed guests to literally enjoy the fruit—and vegetables—of Barber and Mazourek’s labor.

Read the whole article.

Deportation plan will make U.S. food and wine more expensive

Vanden Heuvel

Vanden Heuvel

President-elect Donald Trump’s plans to deport up to three million undocumented immigrants will make U.S-produced food and wine more expensive and less available.

That’s the warning from Justine Vanden Heuvel, associate  professor in the Horticulture Section at Cornell University, and Mary Jo Dudley, director of the Cornell Farmworker Program, in an article in The Conversation, an independent source of news and views from the academic and research community.

“What he doesn’t seem to realize is how integral undocumented workers are to America’s food supply. Our scholarship at Cornell combined with research in other areas of agriculture reveal the significant impact his plans would have on the foods we eat and beverages we consume each and every day,” they write.

“Since these immigrants do much of the heavy lifting in American agriculture, preserving the current workforce and ensuring a continuing supply of laborers is a top priority for producers – and should be for consumers who value the foods and beverages we currently enjoy on our dinner tables,” they add.

The authors cite a report commissioned by the American Farm Bureau Federation predicting  decreases of 15 to 31 percent in vegetable production and 30 to 61 percent in fruit production if undocumented workers are deported and the border is closed. The study also predicts food price increases of 5 to 6 percent and decreased availability of fruit, vegetables, meat and dairy products.

Read the whole article.

New book helps researchers find innovative solutions to complex challenges

From USDA-SARE Program news release:

Laurie Drinkwater

Author Laurie Drinkwater, professor, Horticulture Section

As farmers and ranchers strive to maintain profitability, they face a multitude of pressures such as protecting water and air resources, conserving biodiversity and limiting soil erosion. Too often, however, single-faceted agricultural research fails to account for the complex links between critical environmental, social and economic factors.

The result? Piecemeal solutions to complex and interrelated problems. Now, SARE’s groundbreaking Systems Research for Agriculture, by Laurie Drinkwater, professor in the Horticulture Section of the School of Integrative Plant Science, provides the theories and tools that researchers and producers need to design and implement interdisciplinary systems research projects that advance sustainable agroecosystems.

book coverFrom USDA Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program news release:Systems Research for Agriculture is based on groundbreaking SARE-funded research trials that mimic an entire production system rather than substituting and comparing individual practices. Modifying research trials to fit local best farming practices allows systems-level changes in economic, social and environmental conditions to emerge and be better studied. While the model requires close collaboration between researchers and producers, it provides producers with practical insight into the on-farm adoption of new techniques.

Systems Research for Agriculture addresses the theoretical basis for agricultural systems research and provides a roadmap for building effective interdisciplinary and multi-stakeholder teams. This handbook is essential reading for researchers and producers working together to plan, conduct and analyze the complexities of multifaceted systems research experiments.

Systems Research for Agriculture is available as a free download at www.sare.org/Systems. Print copies can be ordered for $20 plus shipping and handling. Discounts are available for orders of 10 items or more.

‘Pings’ and ‘pops’ reveal sunflower stress

Via CALS Instagram:

sunflower and petiole

A sunflower is astonishing for more than just its outward beauty. Associate professor Taryn Bauerle and her students are tracking how drought-stricken sunflower roots send electrical signals to the leaves to close their pores. Bauerle and her students also listen for the “pops” and “pings” that denote hydraulic signals via breaks in the plant’s water column. Research conducted by Bauerle is aimed at addressing critical issues about how plants respond to stress, from the impacts of drought to pressures exerted by herbivore pests. The image is a magnified look at the sunflower’s petiole, the stalk that joins leaf and stem. #sunflowerscience#CornellCALS #nature #sunflower#science #horticulture

Kale Is About To Have An Identity Crisis

Photos: Hannah Swegarden

Photos: Hannah Swegarden

NPR’s The Salt [2016-11-28]:

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.

Read the whole post.

 

Video: Björkman, Mazourek on NBC News Mach

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.

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