Skip to main content

In the news

Log-grown lion's mane, held by Jeanne Grace, MS '10.

Log-grown lion's mane, held by Jeanne Grace, MS '10.

Farmers into fungi can reap forest rewards [Cornell Chronicle 4/10/2012] – Cornell agroforestry experts are hoping the exotic fungus Hericium erinaceus — also known as lion’s mane — will follow the lead of shiitake mushrooms and become a hit with New York farmers and foodies. Cultivated by the Chinese for its medicinal benefits, its seafood-like texture and flavor-absorbing properties would also make it a treat for chefs in search of new culinary inspiration, said Ken Mudge, associate professor of horticulture.

Too-early spring takes a toll [Buffalo News 4/12/2012] Warm weather in March followed by frosts has decimated New York’s cherry crop and could also hurt apples. “I’m expecting the apple crop to be much less affected by those frosts. Maybe you might squeeze through the month of April without damage,” says Terence Robinson, professor and fruit crop physiologist in the Department of Horticulture,

Experts suggest grazing cows, sheep, ducks in forests [Cornell Chronicle 4/9/2012] Ithaca area farmer Steve Gabriel of Work With Nature Design, who is an extension aide in Cornell’s Department of Horticulture, is experimenting with [silvopasturing] in a novel way. With a grant from the Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program, he is pasturing ducks in a mature sugar maple woodlot, which has the added benefit of providing pest control for another of his agroforestry projects, a shiitake mushroom farm.

‘Purple Wonder’: Small, Dark and Delicious [Cornell Daily Sun 4/4/2012] The latest strawberry from Cornell’s berry breeding program. “The color comes with a very good flavor. Dark-colored strawberry varieties are not unknown, but often varieties that get dark have a poor flavor as they ripen. But this one seems to get sweeter the riper it gets,” says Courtney Weber, who developed the berry.

Alumnus Designs Golf Course for 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro [Cornell Daily Sun 4/5/2012] Gilbert Hanse M.L.A. ’89, will design the golf course that will reintroduce the sport of golf to the Olympics for the first time since 1904. “This is one of the biggest golf course projects in the past fifty years — and probably the next fifty years. I think that the [selection] committee felt a sense of responsibility that countries that don’t pay a lot of golf may start to invest in it with it in the Olympics. This course may shape the business,” says Frank Rossi who advised Hanse on the selection of proper turfgrass for the challenging environment and other matters.

Seminar CANCELED: Julian Alston on Agricultural Science Policy

Julian Alston

Julian Alston

Update 4/12/2012: Seminar canceled.

Agricultural Science Policy: Changing Global Agendas and Emerging U.S. Implications

Julian Alston
Professor, Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics
Director, Robert Mondavi Institute Center for Wine Economics
University of California, Davis

Wednesday, April 18
10:00 – 11:00 AM
Plant Science 404

This presentation will provide an overview on a variety of issues that Professor Alston has studied related to the economics of agricultural science and Agricultural productivity. Specifically, this seminar will highlight:

  • Trends in global and U.S. spending on agricultural science
  • Evidence on the rates of return to that investment
  • The recent slowdown in global and U.S. agricultural productivity growth and its implications
  • Options for alternative funding models to revitalize the investment and rekindle productivity growth.

Professor Alston is one of the world’s foremost scholars in the fields of the economics of agriculture, agricultural R&D, and related policies.

Seminar sponsored by: CALS, CCE, and the Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management

Dreer seminar: Social justice and education at public gardens

Cultivating Care: Social justice and education at public gardens in the United Kingdom, Germany and Australia

Presented by Allie Byrd Skaer
Fellow, The Cornell Graduate Program in Public Garden Leadership
Dreer Award Seminar on Wednesday, April 11
12:30-1:30 P.M. in Warren 245

Refreshments will be served. All are welcome.
Questions? Contact Allie at

Please note, if you cant make the first seminar (April 11, 12:30-1:30, Warren 245), there will
be another opportunity (May 2, 2:00-3:00, Nevin Welcome Center, Cornell Plantations)

Read more about the Frederick Dreer Award, which allows one or more students to spend 6 months to up to a year abroad to pursue interests related to horticulture.

New lawn fertilizer law aims to curb phosphorus pollution

A. Martin Petrovic

A. Martin Petrovic

A new law that aims to keep phosphorus in lawn fertilizers out of New York’s waterways went into effect January 1, 2012.  But that doesn’t mean you can’t have a green lawn while preventing pollution of the state’s rivers, lakes and streams.

The main provisions of the law prohibit application of all lawn fertilizers from December 1 to April 1, and restrict application of lawn fertilizers that contain phosphorus to new plantings or when soil tests show that phosphorus is in short supply.

“It’s easy for consumers to comply with the law,” says A. Martin Petrovic, turf specialist in the Department of Horticulture, Cornell University.  “Ninety percent of the turf soil samples that come to our lab have enough phosphorus to grow healthy grass.  If you don’t need more phosphorus, you shouldn’t waste your money applying more.”

Phosphorus runoff from lawns can contribute to algae blooms and reduce levels of oxygen in water, killing fish, notes Petrovic, who has conducted extensive research on how lawn fertilizer moves in the environment.  Phosphorus impairs more than 100 bodies of water in the state according to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.

But lawn fertilizers aren’t the only source of phosphorus pollution, Petrovic points out.  Leaky septic systems, decomposing leaves, some road de-icing salts and runoff from farm fields and livestock operations also contribute to the problem. The law also prohibits sale of phosphorus-containing dishwasher detergent – another potent source.

Some commonsense provisions in the law will help keep fertilizers from directly polluting waters.  One prohibits application to impervious surfaces such as sidewalks and roads, where fertilizer can quickly wash into storm drains and waterways, and requires immediate clean up of accidental spills. Another restricts applications near waterways.  (See sidebar: How to keep lawn fertilizer out of our waterways.)

The law also requires retailers to display phosphorus-containing lawn fertilizers separately and post educational signs.  County and municipal governments can enact more stringent lawn fertilizer regulations, and five have already.

Composts are exempted from the law. But Petrovic recommends using them with extreme caution.  While compost can improve soils, many are high in phosphorus, difficult to apply at low rates and can wash off into water as easily as fertilizers.

If you think your lawn might be short on phosphorus, you’ll need to test the soil to document the need before applying fertilizer. But the law does not specify where or how soil should be sampled and tested, says Petrovic. One option he suggests is using Agro-One Services, a lab that works cooperatively with the Cornell Nutrient Analysis Laboratory and uses Cornell’s research-based fertilizer recommendations.  (A phosphorus and pH analysis for turf soil samples costs $7. Visit  or contact your local Cornell Cooperative Extension office for more information.) “We have the research to back up the recommendations they make based on the testing procedures they use,” says Petrovic.

Even if you don’t need any phosphorus, that doesn’t mean you should forego lawn fertilizer completely, he adds.  It’s still important that lawns have enough nitrogen to thrive.

“If your grass doesn’t get sufficient nitrogen, your turf will grow thin, soil will be exposed and phosphorus losses will actually increase,” Petrovic points out.  “You need a dense carpet of sod to minimize phosphorus runoff.”

Early-fall nitrogen applications encourage root growth and early green-up in spring.  “People use nitrogen because they like the green,” notes Petrovic.  “But more importantly, it’s for that thick growth you need to protect water.”

More information:

How to keep lawn fertilizer out of our waterways

Tips to help you be “green” and have a green lawn:

Mow high. Set your lawn mower at its highest setting. Taller grass encourages deeper rooting, better ground cover, fewer weeds and less phosphorus runoff than from lawns cropped too short.

Leave the clippings.  That recycles nutrients and reduces fertilizer needs. “If your soil already has enough phosphorus and you return the clippings, you’ll probably never have to apply any more,” says Petrovic.

Mow leaves.  Don’t rake them into the street (same with grass clippings) where they can wash into storm drains and waterways and contribute directly to phosphorus pollution.  Shred them right where they fall on the lawn.  (A mulching lawnmower works best.)  Or if they are too thick for that, rake them into flower beds, around trees and shrubs or into compost piles.

Use care near water.  The new law prohibits application of all lawn fertilizers within 20 feet of a waterway unless there is a 10-foot-wide vegetative buffer, or within 3 feet if you use a drop spreader or equip your rotary spreader with a guard or deflective shield that assures more accurate delivery.

Be careful with new seedings.  While the law allows you to use phosphorus fertilizer on new seedings, Petrovic suggests testing the soil first, anyway.  If levels are high, you might be able to skip the phosphorus, or at least wait until the grass comes up and the soil isn’t as vulnerable to erosion and fertilizer runoff.

Apply nitrogen as needed.  But not before April 1.  (It’s against the law.)  Avoid early spring applications except where turf is thin. The best time to apply nitrogen to cool-season grasses is when the grass is actively growing in late-spring/early-summer and/or early fall.  In most cases apply the rate recommended on the fertilizer bag. Most will suggest ¾ to 1 pound of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet.



In the news

Frank RossiThe slacker’s guide to a great lawn [Consumer Reports May 2012] – Frank Rossi (right) on the now debunked rule-of-thumb that you should never cut more than one third of the grass blade when mowing: “It was inspired by research conducted in the 1950s by scientists at the U.S. Department of Agriculture who were evaluating Kentucky bluegrass as a forage grass. If you’re feeding cows, the one-third rule will give you the most rapid leaf production. But if your goal is a good-looking lawn, we’re now saying it’s OK to take more off.” Most grasses thrive even when half or more of the blade is removed. That means you can mow less often, saving time and fuel, Rossi points out.

Frost threatens early blooms [Scranton Times-Tribune 3/26/2012] – “I’m pretty sure this will be the earliest bloom, going back at least to the early 1900s,” said Ian Merwin, Ph.D., a horticulturist who specializes in tree fruit at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y. “We are definitely in a very risky situation right now for the fruit crop in the whole Northeast.”

Northern vintners work to improve wines’ quality [Wall Street Journal 3/29/2012] – Led by Cornell University, the Northern Grapes Project will work with more than 330 wineries and 1,300 growers managing more than 3,000 acres of grapes from the Upper Midwest to New England. Tim Martinson, the Cornell scientist leading the project, said cold climate winemakers and grape growers share information and tips at conferences and over the phone, but the project will pull it together in writing and make it available through papers and webinars. The goal, he said, “is to raise the industry.”

Brown to address plant breeding symposium April 13

synapsis logoAssociate chair Susan Brown will speak on “Apples: From Johnny Appleseed to Genomics” at a day-long symposium, Wild and Forgotten: Conservation, Characterization, and Utilization of Orphan Crops and Wild Relatives. The event is sponsored by Synapsis (the Plant Breeding and Genetics grad student organization) and Pioneer Hi-Bred.

Friday April 13, 2012
8:00 AM – 5:00 PM EST
102 Mann Library, Cornell University, Ithaca NY.
Overflow seating available in 100 Mann Library.

If you can’t attend in person, the program will also be livestreamed. More information.

Other speakers include:

  • David Bonnett, Senior Scientist in Germplasm Resources at CIMMYT in Texcoco, Mexico:“Harnessing Diversity for wheat improvement”
  • Paul Gepts, Professor of Plant Sciences at University of California in Davis, CA:“Closing the domestication triangle: The role of humans in the on-farm management of crop biodiversity”
  • Jeff Maughan, Professor of Genetics and Genomics at Brigham Young University in Provo, UT:“Genetic resources for orphaned crops of Central and South American”
  • Susan McCouch, Professor of Plant Breeding and Genetics at Cornell University in Ithaca, NY:“Capturing positive transgressive variation in rice from wild and exotic germplasm”
  • Dean Podlich, Research Scientist at Pioneer Hi-Bred International, Inc. in Johnston, Iowa:“Insights into Pioneer’s corn germplasm pipline”

Turfgrass webinars, podcasts

Cornell turfgrass program’s outreach program this year includes:

Cornell turfgrass

Bioenergy, invasive ecology seminar

Jacob Barney

Jacob Barney

Welcome back Jacob Barney (Ph.D. Horticulture 2007) at this Crop and Soil Sciences Seminar:

Cultivating energy not weeds: The intersection of bioenergy and invasion ecology

Jacob Barney, Assistant Professor – Plant Pathology, Physiology and Weed Science – Virginia Tech

Thursday, April 5, 2012
12:20 – 1:10 pm
135 Emerson Hall

Unlike traditional food, feed, and fiber crops, bioenergy crops are being selected to be maximally productive on marginal land, which requires they be easy to establish, highly competitive, and thrive with minimal human intervention. The most promising crops are perennial rhizomatous grasses and fast growing trees that exhibit rapid growth rates, possess broad climatic tolerance, tolerate poor growing conditions, harbor few pests, and require minimal inputs. These traits also describe the invasive ‘ideotype’, and typify many of our worst invasive species, most of which were intentionally introduced. I will discuss the risk of invasion and mitigation strategies for the bioenergy industry.

Light refreshments will be served starting at noon.

Skip to toolbar