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Crusader for environmental golf course management earns Excellence in IPM award

Bob Portmess was a mechanical engineer and former executive with Cox Communications who just happened to be an avid golfer.

That last item is key. Twelve years ago, Portmess walked into turf guru Frank Rossi’s office at Cornell University. He knew exactly what he wanted: to work, he said, “with the people who produce the finest golf playing surfaces in the world.”

Two years later, Portmess had received his Masters of Professional Studies in turfgrass management by synthesizing the practical knowledge that Rossi and colleague Jennifer Grant, now director of the New York State Integrated Pest Management Program (NYSIPM), had amassed over seven years of experimental work at the world-renowned Bethpage Golf Course, also a New York State Park.

And a year after that, Portmess had developed an “IPM Handbook” of best management practices for sustainable turf, informed in part by his engineering background. This handbook, now translated into Spanish, served as a resource for the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America’s seminar that Portmess co-instructed at several International Golf Shows. It continues to guide management of New York’s 29 state park golf courses as well as golf courses around the country that want to cut back on inputs while maintaining top quality turf.

Portmess’s passion for teaching turned out to be as consuming as his passion for golf. “Whether it was frequent light topdressing, root pruning, over-seeding, better ways to aerify the soil, or careful use of water—Bob taught them all,” says Larry Specchio, superintendent at Chenango Valley State Park Golf Course. Each tactic Speechio notes is a core IPM method.

“I find myself almost daily wanting to pick up my phone and call him; he was more than just a consultant to me,” Speechio says. “No one has a had a more positive impact on my career than Bob.”

Rossi couldn’t have predicted it at that time, of course, but that meeting in 2006 turned out to be one of the most important partnerships of his career.

“For that, I owe Bob more than simply a nomination for an award he is more than worthy of, but rather my own continued commitment to the work that he started,” Rossi says.

Sadly, Portmess passed away before he could see the full impact of his work. “Losing Bob Portmess was a tragedy” said Rose Harvey, commissioner of New York State Parks. “But his legacy lives on in the sustainable management of our golf courses.”

Melinda Portmess, Portmess’s widow, received the Excellence of IPM award at a ceremony at Green Lakes State Park in Syracuse on August 10th.

Learn more about IPM at NYSIPM.cornell.edu.

Joseph Sieczka, potato specialist, dies at 79

Joseph Sieczka

Joseph Sieczka

Cornell Chronicle [2018-08-09]:

Joseph Sieczka, professor emeritus of horticulture, an expert on potatoes, died July 29 at his home in Mattituck, New York. He was 79.

He also worked as a Cooperative Extension agent in western New York and served as coordinator of Cornell’s Long Island Horticultural Research and Extension Center in Riverhead, New York, for more than two decades.

Though he conducted research on vegetable crops, he focused on potatoes. Over the course of his career, he managed widely acclaimed potato extension programs, and his work on potato cultivation led to reduced grower costs and lower nitrate impacts on groundwater. Sieczka’s applied potato research included strategies for weed control and determining optimal applications of fertilizer. And he helped develop new potato varieties, including some that are resistant to golden nematodes, a major potato pest.

“Joe was extremely knowledgeable in all things ‘potato’ and had an encyclopedic memory,” said Donald Halseth, professor emeritus of horticulture. “He knew things about more potato varieties than anyone I have known.”

“From a personal point of view, I always valued the uncommon amount of ‘common sense’ that Joe showed when I would ask for his advice, which I did very often,” said Elmer Ewing, professor emeritus of horticulture. “He had sound judgment on important issues and was able to see the broad picture.”

Read the whole article.

Bluegrass Lane Open House August 11

flyer

Click image for flyer

Come and see:

  • Annual and perennial plant trials.
  • Pollinator garden.
  • Grafted tomatoes.
  • Planting media trials.
  • Containers planted by the Botanic Gardens’ amazing gardeners!
  • Staff will be available to answer questions..

Saturday, August 11
9 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Bluegrass Lane Turf and Landscape Research Center
232 Bluegrass Lane, Ithaca, NY
Off Warren Rd., near Robert Trent Jones Golf Course, follow signs for parking. Map.

This event is open to the public; bring your friends and family!

If you have questions or need special accommodations please contact Tara Reed tln2@cornell.edu or 607-592-5620.

‘Cornell AgriTech’ reflects influence in food, ag innovation

Cornell Chronicle, CALS News [2018-08-01]

larry smart with industrial hemp in greenhouse

The College of Agriculture and Life Sciences announced Aug. 1 the renaming of the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station (NYSAES) to Cornell AgriTech.

Agriculture and food are multibillion-dollar industries in New York, and the name change underscores the value Cornell AgriTech brings to improving the health of the people, environment and economy of the state and beyond. Based in Geneva, New York, Cornell AgriTech is home to more than 300 faculty, scientists, staff and graduate students at the leading edge of food science, entomology and plant sciences research.

“Cornell AgriTech is an essential part of Cornell CALS and supports our mission of discovery that grows the agricultural economy in New York and makes food more nutritious, safer and better tasting for everyone,” said Kathryn J. Boor ’80, the Ronald P. Lynch Dean of CALS. “Cornell AgriTech is a global leader in food and agriculture research and innovation, as our scientists generate the breakthroughs and develop the technologies that improve the crops in our fields and the food on our plates.”

Read the whole article.

Learn the latest at industrial hemp field day August 14 at Cornell AgriTech

Join Cornell researchers and other industrial hemp experts to learn the latest about this emerging crop at an Aug.14 field day at the Cornell AgriTech Fruit and Vegetable Research Farm, 1097 County Road 4, in Geneva, New York. The Cornell Industrial Hemp Research Team Field Day is free and open to the public, but pre-registration is required.

Researchers in Cornell’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS) have expanded their efforts during their second year of field testing to improve agronomic outcomes for farmers. Cornell has been funded to identify and breed cultivars suitable for New York and to establish certified seed production in the state. They have expanded cultivar trials to the northernmost and southernmost parts of New York, and have initiated a long-term hemp breeding program aided by $2 million in new state funding.

Registration begins at 9:30 a.m. for the field day, which includes research and policy updates as well as field tours where Cornell scientists will describe the research trials underway.

The morning program includes:

  • Hemp disease update from Cornell plant pathologist Gary Bergstrom..
  • Hemp seed review by Cornell seed scientist Alan Taylor, who will provide an update on seed quality and coating studies plus information on the current status of the hemp seed certification program in New York .
  • Updates on the NYS Hemp Pilot Program, including procedures for licensing and other regulatory issues, led by Tim Sweeney of the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets.

Field tours starting at 10:30 a.m. include:

  • Cultivar evaluation trial: Members of Cornell plant breeders Don Viands’ and Larry Smart’s labs will describe the 2018 cultivar evaluation trials, including the 35 cultivars under evaluation at Cornell AgriTech. A member of Cornell entomologist Elson Shields’ lab will provide an update on insect pest surveys they have been conducting in New York hemp fields in 2018.
  • Pollination distance trial: Larry Smart will describe a study to better understand the risks to CBD production due to pollination from adjacent hemp fields with male plants.  Members of Cornell entomologist Katja Poveda’s lab will describe the bee surveys they are conducting in NYS hemp fields.
  • CBD production trial: Members of Larry Smart’s and Cornell plant pathologist Chris Smart’s labs will describe trials to evaluate cultivars selected for CBD production.

Francescatto named a top young researcher

CALS News [2018-06-26]:

Francescatto in orchard

Poliana Francescatto has been named one of the nation’s top young researchers in the fruit and vegetable industries by Fruit Growers News.

The Cornell research associate was recognized as a next generation leader in the “40 under 40 category. She was lauded for her studies on the use of plant growth regulators to improve orchard management of temperate tree fruit crops for the benefit of New York state tree fruit growers.

Along with her research trials in orchards at Cornell, she works directly with growers in New York on practical applications they can use to modernize fruit production practices.

She joined the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences in 2015 as a postdoctoral researcher with Terence Robinson, professor in the Horticulture Section of the School of Integrative Plant Science.

Based at the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva, New York, her program seeks new, efficient and profitable strategies to improve and standardize fruit orchard practices to deliver more uniform, high-quality fruit, according to Francescatto.

As an applied fruit physiologist, she focuses on how plant growth regulators and crop load management can be used in the orchard. Her program focuses on pome fruits like apples and pear, and stone fruits, like cherries and peaches. Her research priority areas have focused on fruit thinning, improved fruit finish and flower bud formation.

“I grew up in an apple growing family in Brazil, and my parents continue to be growers today,” said Francescatto. “Because of that, I understand the impact research has on bettering people’s livelihoods and how it improves fruits delivered to consumers. This award means more than words can describe.”

Grape vine management work nets Cornell doctoral student three awards

Anne Kearney

Doctoral student Anne Kearney earned a trio of awards for research into a vineyard technique to control vine growth and improve grape composition. Photo by Chris Kitchen.

Innovative research on a vineyard technique to control vine growth and improve grape composition earned a Cornell doctoral student three high-profile awards this year.

Anne Kearney, a doctoral student in viticulture in the field of horticulture, studies palissage, an alternative to hedging grape vine shoots in order to control excessive growth. Palissage consists of either wrapping shoots on the top catch wire or tucking shoots back into the catch wires.  The management technique may be beneficial by reducing vegetative growth of the vine and increase the efficiency of pesticide application.

Her research has earned her a 2018–19 American Society for Enology and Viticulture (ASEV) Traditional Scholarship, a 2018–­­19 ASEV Eastern scholarship and a 2018 American Wine Society Educational Foundation scholarship.

Working with associate professor Justine Vanden Heuvel in the Horticulture Section of the School of Integrative Plant Science, Kearney has been looking at the effects of palissage on vine growth and fruit composition, with an emphasis on the physiological mechanisms behind these responses. It has the potential to be used as a canopy management tool in wine grape vineyards given that it reduces extra vine growth in the fruit zone as well as cluster compactness, according to Kearney.

“Palissage is emerging as a new alternative for winegrowers looking to fine-tune their cluster morphology and microclimate, allowing them to further improve fruit quality,” said Vanden Heuvel. “It’s great to see Anne’s research efforts being rewarded with these scholarships.”

The process has showed promise as way to reduce fruit losses to disease, particularly in tight-clustered cultivars.

Anne Kearney


Palissage is a technique of wrapping shoots on the top catch wire or tucking shoots back into the catch wires in order reduce vegetative growth of the vine and increase the efficiency of pesticide application. Photo by Chris Kitchen.

Cornell research is growing the hard cider industry in New York

Gregory Peck, assistant professor of horticulture, tags apple trees as part of a research trial at Cornell Orchards.

Gregory Peck, assistant professor of horticulture, tags apple trees as part of a research trial at Cornell Orchards.

Cornell Chronicle 2018-05-15:

To say that hard cider has been making a comeback is an understatement. In the U.S. alone, the hard cider market has increased more than 10-fold in the past decade, with sales reaching $1.5 billion in 2017. And Gregory Peck, assistant professor of horticulture, has been paying attention.

Taking advantage of this upward trend, Peck has been tapping cider’s full potential to grow New York state’s apple market. Now he’s at the forefront of a hard cider renaissance.

“The industry has been booming because cider producers are innovative,” Peck said. “Consumers want to experience something different in their food and drinks. Cider has a rich depth of flavor and range of products that appeal to a large and growing consumer base.”

Read the whole article.

Seminar video: Grapevine Winter Survival Guide

If you missed Monday’s Horticulture Section seminar, Grapevine Winter Survival Guide with Al Kovaleski, Graduate Field of Horticulture, it is available online.

More seminar videos: Horticulture | School of Integrative Plant Science

Boor: Increased Ag Research Funding Needed To Provide A Bright Future For Our Next Generation

Dean Kathryn J. Boor

Dean Kathryn J. Boor

In  a post for FedByScience, Kathryn J. Boor, Ph.D., the Ronald P. Lynch Dean, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, cites CALS’ controlled environment agriculture (CEA), apple and honeybee research as examples of how publicly funded food and agriculture research that is so critical to our future.

Agriculture faces grand challenges on a global scale, with a projected two billion more mouths to feed by mid-century. Some estimate that we will need to double our current food production capacity in the next 30 years to ensure that the global population has enough healthy and safe food to eat.

Yet, since the early 2000s, federal spending on U.S. agriculture and related research has declined. The United States has slipped from our position as the world leader in food and agricultural research. China has outpaced us in public support for agriculture research and development since 2009, and Brazil and Argentina now outspend us on agriculture R&D entirely.

Read the whole article.

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