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Michael Rosato: Creating a more sustainable and affordable future for New York growers

Mike Rosato and others harvesting snap peas in research plots at Cornell AgriTech

Michael Rosato, a graduate student studying under the guidance of Steve Reiners, professor and chair of the Horticulture Section of the School of Integrative Plant Science, is evaluating the soil sulfur levels on vegetable farms across New York State and conducting sulfur fertilizer trails that have economically important crops for growers. Above, Rosato, center, harvests snap peas at Cornell AgriTech with summer field workers, Christine Driscoll, Kim Day and Luke Czadzeck. Photo by Justin James Muir

CALS News [2019-08-23]:

Michael Rosato is a graduate student studying under the guidance of Steve Reiners, professor and chair of the horticulture section of the School of Integrative Plant Science.

What drew you to the program with Steve Reiners?

I first worked in Steve Reiner’s program at the beginning of my undergraduate years as a summer technician. Steve always took the time to answer questions and helped me explore the world of horticulture. Beyond being a true mentor, seeing how his worked helped growers—both with sustainability and success—was a big reason why I wanted to work with him.

What’s the focus of your research?

Historically, sulfur has been abundant in soils mainly due to widespread pollution and the use of manure. In the 1970s, the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency and the Clean Air Act led to a gradual but drastic reduction in atmospheric sulfur, and thus, less sulfur was deposited in U.S. soils.

My project has two key elements. First, we are evaluating soil sulfur levels on vegetable farms across New York State, and second, we are also conducting sulfur fertilizer trials that have economically important crops for growers. We are measuring both yield and quality factors across all crops.

In our tomato trial, we are conducting sensory evaluations, as well as testing soluble solids and titratable acids to see if sulfur may be impacting flavor.

What’s the most exciting thing you’ve discovered while doing research at Cornell AgriTech?

In our first sensory evaluation, a panel of 100 participants generally rated sulfur-treated tomatoes as more acidic. Their observations were mirrored in our measurements of citric acid in the fruit.

Sulfur is a macro-nutrient that may impact the flavor of vegetables like tomato and onions, but it is often overlooked. If growers can add flavor intensity to their tomatoes by using a sulfur source like gypsum, which is cheap, easily applied and has the option of being organic, it’s a win for the farmer and the consumer.

In what ways do you hope your research will help growers in New York?

By measuring soil sulfur levels state-wide, we hope to get a better idea of how common sulfur deficiencies are. Further, we want to create accurate fertilizer recommendations for growers, so they can produce the highest quality products possible in both an affordable and sustainable way.

How do you think graduate students benefit from doing translational research?

Working on real life issues and seeing your efforts positively impact others’ lives is an important experience for all of us, and it’s truly fulfilling. I think translational research is a place where people can find purpose in helping others in any variety of ways.

Knowing berry pests’ varied diets may help control them

Spotted-wing drosophila on a blueberry

Spotted-wing drosophila cause billions of dollars in damage to fruit crops across Asia, North and South America, and Europe.

Cornell Chronicle [2019-08-06]

With New York state’s $20 million berry industry entering peak season, an invasive fruit fly is thriving.

Female spotted-wing drosophila (Drosophila suzukii Matsumura) have a special ovipositor (a tube through which a female insect deposits eggs) with a saw-like end that allows them to cut into soft fruits and insert their eggs. The larvae and adults feed on the fruits, causing billions of dollars in damage across Asia, North and South America, and Europe.

But little has been known about how the pests survive before and after the growing season.

A Cornell study, published in May in Ecological Entomology, investigates for the first time what spotted-wing drosophila adults and larvae eat, and where they lay their eggs, when these short-lived fruits are not in season.

“They will lay eggs and successfully develop on less preferred resources and not the typical fruit that we think they prefer,” said Greg Loeb, professor of entomology at Cornell AgriTech and a co-author of the paper. Dara Stockton, a postdoctoral associate in Loeb’s lab, is the paper’s first author.

Read the whole article.

Schumer announces funding for hemp seed bank at Cornell

Larry Smart, professor in the Horticulture Section of the School of Integrative Plant Sciences, examines industrial hemp in a greenhouse.

Larry Smart, professor in the Horticulture Section of the School of Integrative Plant Sciences, examines industrial hemp in a greenhouse.

Cornell Chronicle [2019-08-05]:

The 2018 Farm Bill changed federal policy regarding industrial hemp, including the removal of hemp from the Controlled Substances Act and the consideration of hemp as an agricultural product.

The change created an agricultural opportunity potentially worth billions of dollars, and thanks to a big push from Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., Cornell will play a major research role as that industry grows.

On Aug. 2, Schumer announced $500,000 in federal funding for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agriculture Research Service (USDA-ARS) to create the nation’s only industrial hemp germplasm repository – a seed bank – co-located at Cornell AgriTech in Geneva, New York. This funding, part of the Fiscal Year 2019 Omnibus Spending Package, builds on Schumer’s contributions to the 2018 Farm Bill.

“I fought tooth and nail to secure this federal funding,” said Schumer, the senate minority leader, “while also working to strip back the burdensome federal restrictions that held our farmers and growers back from growing industrial hemp as an agriculture commodity, because I knew the potential this crop had to transform the upstate New York economy.”

Industrial hemp is used to make a wide range of products, including fibers, textiles, paper, construction materials, cosmetics and food.

“The hemp seed bank and the research potential it gives our Cornell and USDA-ARS scientists will be vital resources for New York state farmers,” said Kathryn J. Boor ’80 , the Ronald P. Lynch Dean at Cornell’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. “We are grateful to Sen. Schumer for his hard work to secure this federal funding.”

Larry Smart, professor in the Horticulture Section of the School of Integrative Plant Sciences (SIPS), said the hemp repository is a desperately needed resource. The seed bank will enable researchers to identify pest-resistant and disease-resistant genes, giving them the tools to breed new varieties. Getting to the root of crop health, Smart said, is essential for providing better resources to New York hemp growers.

Read the whole article.

Cornell horticulturists travel to Las Vegas for annual conference

Yi Qiu, Masoume Amirkhani, and Alan Taylor

Yi Qiu, Masoume Amirkhani, and Alan Taylor

By Magdalen Lindeberg from the SIPS blog, Discovery that Connects {2019-08-01]:

The 2019 General Conference of the American Society for Horticultural Science (ASHS) was held July 21 – 25 in Las Vegas Nevada with many SIPS faculty, research staff, and students participating. As it does every year, the SIPS Horticulture Section hosted a reception for alumni and meeting participants with more than 30 people attending.

Thomas Bjorkman confers with a conference attendee

Thomas Bjorkman confers with a conference attendee

Highlights of the meeting included the naming of SIPS/AgriTech faculty member Susan Brown as an ASHS Fellow. Cornell faculty leadership is evident in diverse ASHS initiatives with Chris Watkins serving as Chair of the Extension Advisory Council, Marvin Pritts chairing the American Pomological Society, and Thomas Björkman chairing the National Issues Committee. Björkman additionally coordinated a session on “Advocating for Horticultural Research and Extension When You Are Far from Washington”.

Chris Watkins with Yosef Al Shoffe and Watkin’s lab alum Jinwook Lee

Chris Watkins with Yosef Al Shoffe and Watkin’s lab alum Jinwook Lee

Horticulture graduate student Haley Rylander received an Outstanding Educational Materials Award for her leaflet on use of tarps to suppress weeds and reduce tillage.

Research highlights included a keynote talk by Larry Smart on the topic “From Grey Area to Gold Rush: Establishing a Comprehensive Hemp Research Program”. Hemp was also addressed by Alan Taylor in is talk on biological seed treatments for hemp with members of his program presenting on other seed related research.

Apples were a major topic at the conference and Cornell was represented by Greg PeckChris WatkinsTerrance Robinson, and members of their research programs. Watkins and lab members presented on postharvest treatment of Honeycrisp and other apples. Peck and his research group addressed weed management in organic orchards and the state of cider apple germplasm, and Robinson presented on ethylene production by apple flowers.

Horticulture alum Tamara Wynne with Marvin Pritts

Horticulture alum Tamara Wynne with Marvin Pritts

Other Cornell faculty attending included Courtney Weber who presented research on black raspberry production in high tunnels, and day-neutral strawberries in low tunnels. Thomas Björkman’s group addressed various aspects of broccoli production in the northeast. Researchers in the Mattson and Miller programs were also in attendance, presenting on controlled environment production of strawberry and spinach, and maximizing postharvest quality of cut lilies, respectively.

Marvin Pritts commented that the diversity of attendees and presenters at ASHS continues to grow and that he looks forward to more Cornell undergraduates attending in future years.  Cornell attendees were thankful to return home before the arrival of grasshopper swarms in Las Vegas shortly after the conference.

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