Archive for the “Research” Category


Measure to know!

How healthy is your soil? There’s only one way to find out:  Test it!

For farmers, gardeners, landscape managers and researchers who want to go beyond merely testing the nutrient levels of their soils, the Comprehensive Assessment of Soil Health from Cornell University is just what you need.

Soil health management practices can regenerate soil structure, reduce weather-related risks and increase productive capacity in the long term. “There’s a growing recognition of the importance of improving soil health,” says Aaron Ristow, Cornell Soil Health Program Coordinator. “The Soil Health Assessment can help you determine specific soil constraints and point you to the practices that will help you overcome them”.

This year, the lab is offering expanded choices of the Soil Health Assessment that range from the Basic package to the Comprehensive Analysis of Soil Health – the gold standard of soil health testing.

Packages provide standardized, field-specific information on agronomically important constraints in biological and physical processes in addition to the typical nutrient analysis. The Standard and Comprehensive packages include tests of soil respiration, available water capacity, active carbon levels and soil aggregate stability, among others.

“Add-on” testing such as heavy metals, soluble salts and others are also available.

The assessment comes with a detailed report explaining the results and recommending both short- and long-term management strategies specific to the field’s constraints.  The assessment’s indicators and management strategies for improving soil health are also detailed in the Cornell Soil Health Assessment Training Manual, available free online.

For more information and to submit your soil for an assessment visit the Cornell Soil Health website or email the lab at



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nina-bassukx960Nina Bassuk, founder of Cornell University’s Urban Horticulture Institute, is the recipient of a 2015 Arbor Day Award in honor of her outstanding contribution to tree planting, conservation and stewardship, the Arbor Day Foundation announced today. She is a professor in the Horticulture Section of Cornell’s School of Integrative Plant Science (SIPS).

Now in her 34th year at Cornell, Bassuk will receive the Foundation’s Frederick Law Olmsted Award, which recognizes an outstanding individual who has had a positive impact on the environment due to lifelong commitment to tree planting and conservation at a state or regional level.

Bassuk’s accomplishments include the development of bare root transplanting technology and CU-Structural Soil™ — a patented mix for urban environments engineered to provide rooting area for street trees while supporting pavement, decreasing tree mortality. Owing to her efforts, thousands of trees have been planted around the world in conditions that would not have otherwise supported trees.

Bassuk is also widely known for her innovative teaching, and recently received a Stephen H. Weiss Presidential Fellowship for her efforts. Her two-course series Creating the Urban Eden not only incorporates plant walks around campus but also a cutting-edge Woody Plants Database website. Students in the course also design and install landscapes around campus. “She helps and challenges students to develop their own methods of learning,” one of them wrote.

Student Weekend Arborist Teams organized by Bassuk have inventoried street trees in more than 36 communities around New York to help municipalities better manage their urban forests.

On Arbor Day this year, Bassuk’s students will be hanging tags on trees around campus estimating their worth in terms of energy savings, increased property value, carbon sequestration, and other ecosystem services.

Bassuk is one of 13 individuals, organizations and companies being recognized by the Arbor Day Foundation during the annual Arbor Day Awards. This year’s ceremony will be held at Arbor Day Farm in Nebraska City, Nebraska, on Saturday, April 25.

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Kevin Panke-Buisse

Kevin Panke-Buisse

Cornell University researchers have discovered that it is possible to alter plant flowering time and other traits by manipulating soil microbial communities, a finding that they ultimately hope will help reduce crop inputs on everything from greenhouse plants to agronomic crops.

“For example, if we can give grass a competitive edge over weeds by enriching the soil with microorganisms that provide benefits only to the grass while suppressing the growth of other plants, it will give us another tool to grow high-quality turf without resorting to chemical weed control,” says weed specialist Jenny Kao-Kniffin, assistant professor in the Horticulture Section of Cornell’s School of Integrative Plant Science, one of the study’s authors.

Developing such tools is particularly important with the 2010 passage in New York of the Child Safe Playing Fields Act – and similar laws in other states – that prohibit pesticide applications to playgrounds and athletic fields at schools and daycare facilities, she adds.

The study, Selection on soil microbiomes reveals reproducible impacts on plant function, was published October 28, 2014, in The ISME Journal, and has been in the top ten of articles downloaded at the journal’s website for weeks.

The study’s lead author, Kevin Panke-Buisse, a Ph.D. candidate in the Graduate Field of Horticulture, used a single genotype of Arabidopsis thaliana to develop two different soil microbial communities. He grew the plants for 10 generations, harvesting soil each time from early- and late-flowering plants to inoculate the soil for the next generation.

“By using seeds from the same Arabidopsis genotype – keeping the plant genetics the same from generation to generation within an inbred line – we were able to verify that the differences in flowering time were due to differences in the microbial inoculants alone,” he observes.

When Panke-Buisse then used the resulting inoculants to grow additional Arabidopsis genotypes and a related mustard-family plant (Brassica rapa) — an important agronomic crop — he found that the soil inoculation continued to either delay or accelerate flowering with these different plants.

Analyses showed that the early-flowering soils were dominated by bacteria from families associated with decomposition and nutrient mineralization. The late-flowering soils were dominated by different bacteria families known for promoting plant growth.

“But the greatest differences we saw were in the presence or absence of relatively rare bacteria, suggesting that they could play a big role in controlling flowering time despite being in low abundance,” Panke-Buisse notes.

Later flowering plants also saw a 50 to 100 percent increase in biomass. “If we can harness soil microbes so that we can enhance grass density and shade out competing weeds, it should go a long way to help us reduce herbicide use,” he adds.

Panke-Buisse and Kao-Kniffin plan to further investigate how soil microbes affect other plant traits and apply what they learn to other horticultural systems.


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Cornell berry breeder Courtney WeberReposted from Station Notes, [2015-03-02]

March 2, Cornell University joined a number of its peers nationwide in announcing the official launch of the National Land-grant Impacts website, a centralized online resource that highlights the teaching, research and extension efforts by Land-grant universities.

The website provides access to university or regional-specific impact stories, which document the research and extension programming planned, performed,and implemented by Cornell and other land-grant universities. The website, as a cooperative effort of these institutions, represents a collective voice for the agricultural experiment station and cooperative extension arms of the land-grant universities.

“The Land-Grant Impacts website is a new tool that will better inform the American people and the international community of the significant agricultural research, education and extension impacts taking place at land grant universities across our nation, which offer practical solutions to today’s critical societal challenges,” said Sonny Ramaswamy, director of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. “This website will help policy makers and the public learn more about this work that is partially supported with NIFA funding.”

Read the whole article.

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dilmun logoDilmun Hill, Cornell’s student-run farm,  is currently looking for students who would like to conduct research at the farm. This is a great opportunity for students interested in agroecology, soil science, horticulture, agronomy or other related fields.

If interested, please fill out the application and submit to Betsy Leonard by Friday, March 13th.

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CALS Communications

Greenhouse ribbon-cutting at the New York Agricultural Experiment Station, Geneva, N.Y., October 2014. Photo: Rob Way, CALS Communications.

Reposted from CALS Notes [2015-02-24]

It was a year of promises and deliveries, of new partnerships and the research and outreach results those relationships fuel. For Cornell’s New York State Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva, 2014 will be remembered as a very good year.

Here are a few of the highlights:

  • The Northern Grapes Project, led by senior extension associate Tim Martinson, received a $2.6 million USDA grant to continue developing grape growing, wine making and marketing resources for cold climate grape growers.
  • Susan Brown, incoming Station director and faculty in the Horticulture Section, was named a 2014 “Women of Distinction” in a ceremony at the State Capitol.
  • Sarah Pethybridge was hired as an assistant professor in the Plant Pathology and Plant-Microbe Biology Section, Steve Reiners assumed the position of associate chair of the Horticulture Section, Anna Katharine Mansfield was promoted to associate professor in the Department of Food Science, and Jennifer Grant was named director of the New York State Integrated Pest Management Program.
  • The Station completed its 10th year of boosting science literacy through a plant science program for the Geneva City School District’s third and fourth graders.
  • The Summer Research Scholars Program hosted 27 students from top universities around the country for immersion in agricultural research.

And that’s just a start.

Read all the highlights in the Station’s “2014 Year in Review” available online on the NYSAES homepage:

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Saturday morning, graduate students from all five sections helped the School of Integrative Plant Sciences put its best foot forward to prospective graduate students at a poster session in Stocking Commons hosted by SIPS and the Field of Food Science.

The enthusiastic presenters included Michael Schmidt, Soil and Crop Sciences …

Michael Schmidt

… and Maria Gannett, Horticulture.

Maria Gannett


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Flower Bulb Research at Kenneth Post Lab Greenhouses.

Flower Bulb Research at KPL



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For more than 15 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 $1.1 million in funding for more than 100 faculty and student projects that examine the technological, social, political, and economic elements of sustainable agriculture.

Projects funded for 2015 include research and outreach topics ranging from soilless media for rooftop farms to growing organic grains for local markets to using vermicompost to grow tomatoes.

View full list of funded projects and contact information for each.

A 2014 TSF grant aided Horticulture graduate student Miles Schwartz-Sax's study on long-term urban soils remediation using organic amendments.

A 2014 TSF grant aided Horticulture graduate student Miles Schwartz-Sax’s study on long-term urban soils remediation using organic amendments.

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Two Cornell projects were recently featured on the Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program‘s Dig Deeper online feature:

Judson Reid

Judson Reid

High tunnels for winter greens – Cornell Vegetable Specialist Judson Reid used a Northeast SARE grant to research and document pest and disease management in high tunnels using biological controls and biorational pesticides on winter crops like spinach, kale, pak-choi, chard, and mustard. Target pests included caterpillars, slugs, aphids, and thrips, and diseases like downy mildew and rot. Reid and his research team also looked at varietal susceptibility to these disease and insect pressures.

Twenty growers agreed to take part in a case-study component designed to build their scouting, pest identification, and cultural control skills through regular contact with the project team; this contact also helped farmers understand action thresholds and how to use cultural control strategies with more precision. This one-to-one interaction had real impact—as one farmer in Allegany County put it, “The regular contact with Cornell Cooperative Extension project personnel gave me access to a great resource—someone who was always willing to discuss all ag-related questions.” Read more.


Marvin Pritts

Marvin Pritts

Analyze this: Professional development for berry production – The rising cost of inputs and the environmental impacts of fertilizers provide new impetus for taking a whole-farm approach to berry crop nutrient and soil management. However, agricultural service providers, who are frequently on the front line for advice and assistance with berry crop soil and nutrient problems, often feel ill-equipped to address farmer concerns and promote beneficial practices; no single, comprehensive resource on this topic has been available for either educators or growers.

This two-year project, led by Dr. Marvin Pritts, Cornell University small fruit horticulturalist and berry crop nutrition specialist, aimed to bridge this gap by training a cadre of 50 educators across the Northeast. The performance target was that 15 educators would develop and deliver outreach programs reaching 150 berry growers who manage a total of 750 acres of berry crops, with 50 growers going on to conduct soil, nutrient, and soil health testing; these growers would get one-on-one help interpreting test results, and would implement analysis-based fertilization and soil health management practices on their farms. Read more.



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