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Grad program

Feed the hungry, support SoHo

apples in hands

From Yen-Hua Chen at Cornell’s Society of Horticulture for Graduate Students (SoHo):

This year, SoHo is unable to take part in Apple Fest to sell apples and raise money to support our activities due to the COVID pandemic. Instead we have been able to sell a small amount of apples to a CSA, and we decided to harvest apples to donate to charity.

In view of lost funds and the current COVID situation, we are having a charity fundraiser wherein every dollar donated will result in one pound of apple being donated to charity (upto $1,800). Please do generously support us in the this endeavor and we hope to donate at least 1,500 pounds of apples to charity.

More information on how to donate.

ASHS spotlights Yen Hua

yen hua in greenhouseYen Hua, Horticulture graduate student in Bill Miller’s lab, was featured by the American Society of Horticultural Science in the Society’s Graduate Student Spotlight.  Yen’s research focuses on xylem microbiology to extend cut flower vase life.

Asked what she loves about horticulture, Yen replied, “I always can find a peaceful place in my mind when I get close to plants, and it’s fun to learn more about something you love!”

If she had unlimited funds, Yen says she would tackle two tasks: She would hire other researchers and buy equipment to learn more about plant physiology and breed new varieties.  And she woudl explore marketing strategies to open up domestic floral markets and increase the consumption of floral plants.

Read the whole interview.

Rakow recognized for Nature Rx efforts

rakow flanked by two students walking through garden

Rakow strolls through Minns Garden outside Plant Science Building last year with Public Garden Leadership MPS students Trey Ramsey and Jessica Brey.

Associate professor Don Rakow was recognized for his innovative research with a 2020 SHIFT (Shaping How we Invest For Tomorrow) Award by the nonprofit Center for Jackson Hole.  The SHIFT Awards recognize individuals, initiatives, or organizations that make innovative, impactful and replicable contributions to the advancement of the health benefits of time outside.

Award organizers write that Rakow “has been one of the primary driving forces behind integrating Campus Nature Rx programs for universities and colleges in the US and Canada. He started the Campus Nature Rx network and has been collaborating with several researchers to look at how Nature Rx programs impact students’ mental and physical health. Through his research, Dr. Rakow highlights the significance of public gardens and parks as environmental, cultural, and social organizations. This focus bridges consideration of how campus landscapes can be leveraged for health and wellbeing of students, staff and faculty. He is committed to facilitating mental and physical health on university and college campuses through nature engagement that is inclusive of individuals of all ethnicities, abilities, and age groups.”

To learn more about Rakow’s work, see the Cornell Research article Nature, Our Intrinsic Healer.

Application open for Cornell Assistantship for Horticulture in Africa

Cornell University announces the availability of the Cornell Assistantship for Horticulture in Africa (CAHA), a doctoral position for a student from sub-Saharan Africa studying in the field of horticulture.

The doctoral assistantship is available to one student from sub-Saharan Africa who completes coursework at Cornell but conducts dissertation research in the region. The position is contingent upon the student returning to his or her home country after their doctoral degree is complete.

Applications are due September 15, 2020 for admission in 2021.

Successful candidates must already have a Master’s degree, originate from a country in sub-Saharan Africa, excluding South Africa, and be of native African ancestry. Depending on the nature of the research and cost, it may be necessary for the student to secure additional outside funding.

The assistantship will require 15 to 20 hours per week of teaching and/or research responsibilities.

Application: Cornell Assistantship for Horticulture in Africa


  • Already have a Master’s degree
  • Originate from a country in sub-Saharan Africa, excluding South Africa
  • Be of native African ancestry

Application deadline is September 15, 2020

Public Garden Leadership students engage local audiences

To wrap up the semester, two MPS students in Cornell’s Public Garden Leadership Program led virtual educational programs engaging local audiences.

Screen capture of Zoom webinar showing season-extending bed covers.Kim Ellis led a workshop on Growing Winter Vegetables with your Classes for teachers from the Ithaca City School District and BOCES. She shared lessons she learned testing a variety of cold frames and row covers to protect 12 different cold-tolerant crops over winter in the Pounder Vegetable Garden at Cornell Botanic Gardens.

True to its name, ‘Dwarf Blue Siberian’ kale was the best performer, Ellis found. “But the big surprise was the delicious ‘Joan’ rutabaga greens, and the fact that a double fabric row cover was ample protection for these hardy vegetables,” she notes. “A cold frame is still better, because the fabric row cover freezes to the ground and you have to wait for a thaw to harvest.”

Ellis talked about performance of the other greens and vegetables she grew and discussed how to build a cold frame. In breakout sessions, teachers discussed how they might use winter vegetables in their school gardens.  “Our goal was to provide an opportunity for kids to get outside in the winter and for teachers to better align vegetable production with the school year,” says Ellis.  “I also developed classroom curricular activities to coincide with winter growing, such as how to determine soil texture and how to take crop, soil, and weather measurements for kids to graph.”

Screen capture of LGBTQ+ talkIn partnership with the Botanic Gardens’ Student & Public Engagement Coordinator Kevin Moss, Trey Ramsey offered a Virtual Tour of Cornell Botanic Gardens for members of the Cornell LGBTQ+ community. “Originally we were planning to work with several partnering units, including the Cornell University LGBT Resource Center, to hold an in-person tour and reception in April,” says Ramsey. “But the COVID-19 pandemic changed all that.  We recognized that there was still a need both for community and access to nature, so we decided to shorten the tour and move it online.”

This was the first of what will be many more collaborations between the LGBTQ+ community and the Botanic Gardens, adds Ramsey. “I planned the event because it is important to represent and reach all forms of diversity within our work in public gardens, and I wanted to bridge my work between the LGBTQ+ community and the public gardens field.”

Moss led the tour, a slideshow depicting information about the Botanic Gardens and some information specific to the LGBTQ+ community. He discussed Iris, the goddess of rainbows, and shared the story of Sir Cedric Morris, an artist and iris breeder who fell in love with Arthur Lett-Haines. “At the end, we had about 15 minutes for people to chat,” says Ramsey. “The discussion centered around peoples’ experience during quarantine and their interactions with the Botanic Gardens.

“I will use lessons from planning this event, including pre- and post- quarantine, in my action project, where I will be creating a toolkit for public gardens to better include LGBTQ+ folks, particulary transgender folks, in their diversity and inclusion initiatives.”

Kumar receives Atkinson Center award

Shanthanu Krishna Kumar

Shanthanu Krishna Kumar

Shanthanu Krishna Kumar, a Ph.D. student in Greg Peck‘s lab, received a 2020 Sustainable Biodiversity Fund award from the Cornell Atkinson Center for Sustainability.

Shanthanu’s research goals involve enhancing biodiversity in cider apple production by increasing the concentration of polyphenols and micronutrients which were more plentiful in older cider apple cultivars.

With support from Sustainable Biodiversity Fund, Shanthanu plans to identify genetic markers for polyphenolic compounds which will speed development of new cultivars for the burgeoning cider market.

The Sustainable Biodiversity Fund  supports innovative research by Cornell graduate students and postdoctoral researchers on the most pressing questions in protecting biodiversity.

Seminar video: Deconstructing broccoli: complex traits are illuminated by an immortal mapping population

If you missed Monday’s Horticulture Section seminar, Deconstructing broccoli: complex traits are illuminated by an immortal mapping population, with Zachary Stansell, Horticulture Section, it is available online.

More seminar videos: Horticulture | School of Integrative Plant Science

Maria Gannett awarded three-year FFAR fellowship

Maria Gannett

ReposteMaria Gannett

Reposted from the SIPS blog, Discovery that Connects:

Maria Gannett, PhD student in the Field of Horticulture advised by Jenny Kao-Kniffin and Toni DiTommaso, has been awarded a graduate fellowship from the Foundation for Food and Agriculture (FFAR). The fellowship grants $150,000 over three years, with roughly half of the funding provided by an industry partner. Gannett’s thesis research is focused on manipulation of soil microbes to enhance growth of crop plants relative to weed competitors. Her industry partner, American Vanguard Company (AMVAC), develops precision application technologies and is interested in incorporating research findings on soil biological functioning.

FFAR was established as part of the 2014 Farm Bill. The Fellows Program was created to provide professional development and career guidance to the next generation of food and agriculture scientists and is led by the Academic Programs Office at the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at North Carolina State University. In addition to a $2.7 million commitment from FFAR, funding for the program is matched by a consortium of industry leaders. By providing early career support to graduate students, the fellowship cultivates supportive relationships between graduate students and industry peers to equip students with the skills needed to facilitate their transition to the workforce and prepare future leaders for food and agriculture. Fellows are co-mentored over the course of the 3-year program by university and industry representatives, and engage with their peers in professional development programming both virtually and at the annual one-week residential sessions.

As described in her FFAR profile, Gannett’s interest in weed control grew during her time in the Peace Corps where she observed the challenges of weed management in rural Senegal. In other parts of the world, heavy reliance on chemical herbicides such as glyphosate is leading to an increase in herbicide-resistant weeds. However, greater understanding of the interactions of soil chemistry, the soil microbiome, and the relative nutritional needs of plants, has the potential to reveal new strategies for weed suppression through targeted manipulation of these variables.

Gannett values this opportunity as the industry collaboration enables her to pursue fundamental research with real applications in farming systems and the program encourages innovation by gathering diverse stakeholders together. “This fellowship is especially unique in that it emphasizes professional skill development with our cohort. I’m really honored to be part of the program and hope I can share some of the skills I learn with the SIPS community.”

Read more about FFAR

Read more about Maria Gannett and her research

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.

New software helps plant breeders bring out their best

CALS News, Cornell Chronicle [2019-07-19]:

Thomas Björkman, professor in the Horticulture Section, studies broccoli in a field at Cornell AgriTech.

Thomas Björkman, professor in the Horticulture Section, studies broccoli in a field at Cornell AgriTech.

Broccoli is in the eye of the beholder.

A head of broccoli that might appeal to one person – perhaps because of its deep green color – may leave another cold, due to an asymmetrical shape or too-large buds.

Cornell researchers participating in the Eastern Broccoli Project, which aims to produce broccoli varieties suited to grow on the East Coast, have devised a statistical method to standardize evaluations of broccoli, in order to make plant breeding decisions more consistent and efficient.

Now a Cornell group – doctoral student Zachary Stansell; Thomas Björkman, professor of horticulture at Cornell AgriTech; and Deniz Akdemir of the Cornell Statistical Consulting Unit – has released RateRvaR, a new software based on this method. RateRvaR is freely available, open source, easy to use and applicable to breeders of any vegetable, tree or flower with subjective features.

Using the software, breeders can select traits and ask multiple people to perform the same evaluation. The program will then analyze that data to determine which traits are more or less important in predicting overall quality, partly by prioritizing traits that are easier to judge objectively, such as size or color.

“The challenge for breeders, when they’re looking for wider adaptations, is that for certain crops, you plant all over the place and fly to various locations around the world to do the evaluations yourself,” Björkman said.

“But what if you had to check the plant twice a week for a month because it’s maturing at different rates? You can’t be jetting around the world; it just becomes impractical,” he said. “Breeders want to know not only how another person would score a plant, but how they would score it themselves, or how some idealized consumer would score it. This should open up the opportunity for breeders to do evaluations in multiple locations.”

Read the whole article.

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