Skip to main content

Cornell AgriTech

Crunchy, complex: Cornell releases three new apples

susan broown with technician in orchard

Susan Brown with research support specialist Kevin Maloney

CALS News [2020-09-02]:

This fall, apple lovers can look forward to three new varieties from the oldest apple breeding program in the U.S. — located at Cornell AgriTech in Geneva, New York, part of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS).

On Sept. 2, Susan Brown, the Herman M. Cohn Professor of Agriculture and Life Science, and research specialist Kevin Maloney announced the release of NY56, NY73 and NY109 – marketed as Cordera, Pink Luster and Firecracker, respectively.

As an open-release, orchards in New York state and across the U.S. will be able to grow the new varieties without licensing exclusivity. Brown said this gives growers a competitive edge by allowing them to replace older apples with what today’s consumers want — crunch, complexity and a new twist on an American classic.

Read the whole article.

New variety challenges ‘Jaded’ attitudes to green tomatoes

Jaded mixed in with cherry tomatoes of other shapes and colors.

Jaded green tomatoes add a different hue to cherry tomato medley mixes.


Cornell Chronicle [2020-02-11]:

Most people are jaded about green tomatoes, which are considered unripe and unsavory unless they’re fried. But a new, flavorful and highly productive cherry tomato – that ripens green – promises to be the envy of tomato growers this spring.

The new variety, dubbed Jaded, was developed by Phillip Griffiths, associate professor of horticulture at Cornell Agritech, who bred it from four heirloom tomato varieties. The green cherry is on sale now through local organic seed company Fruition Seeds.

With a smooth and tropical flavor, Jaded’s skin becomes translucent like a gooseberry and adopts a golden hue when ripe, signaling it’s ready to pick.

“Challenges [in breeding a green tomato] came in knowing when it was ripe,” Griffiths said, “but also the perception of people to green as a color in tomato, because when people think of sweeter types of products, then green doesn’t necessarily come to mind.”

Griffiths began working with the improvement of heirloom varieties in 2005. At the time most vegetable breeding programs were more focused on varieties with disease resistance and higher yields. Meanwhile, consumers were starting to have more influence in food markets through buying power, as they sought different colors, new flavors and more fun varieties.

Green also adds a different hue to cherry tomato medley mixes.

Read the whole article.

New, more appealing varieties of kale in the works

Phillip Griffiths with several of his new kale varieties showing different colors and textures from green to red and smooth to crinkled.

Phillip Griffiths, a plant breeder and associate professor in the Horticulture Section of the School of Integrative Plant Science at Cornell University, poses with several of his new kale varieties.

UPI story [2020-02-04]:

Loved by some for its health benefits and disliked by others for its cardboard-like consistency, kale might be heading for a makeover.

After surging in popularity several years ago, sales of the dark green, leafy vegetable are beginning to plateau. One vegetable breeder hopes to change that by creating varieties of kale with new flavors, textures and colors.

“It’s mainstreaming kale, to some extent,” said Phillip Griffiths, an associate professor of horticulture at Cornell Agri-Tech in New York.

“Kale has become one of those health foods, and only certain people eat it,” he said. “But there are a lot of people who eat leafy greens because they want something fresh and healthy.”

To reach those customers, Griffiths is creating a whole line of new kale.

Read the whole article.

Genetic marking discovery could ease plant breeders’ work

bruce reisch with grapevines on a sunny day

Bruce Reisch, professor of horticulure and member of the VitsGen2 team at Cornell AgriTech, assesses powdery mildew on chardonnay vines. Photo: Allison Usavage/Cornell University

Cornell Chronicle/CALS News [2020-01-21]

Plant breeders are always striving to develop new varieties that satisfy growers, producers and consumers.

To do this, breeders use genetic markers to bring desirable traits from wild species into their cultivated cousins. Transferring those markers across species has been difficult at best, but a team of grapevine breeders, geneticists and bioinformatic specialists at Cornell AgriTech in Geneva, New York, has come up with a powerful new method.

Their research is detailed in “Haplotyping the Vitis Collinear Core Genome With rhAmpSeq Improves Marker Transferability in a Diverse Genus,” published Jan. 21 in Nature Communications.

The team’s new technique for developing genetic markers improves markers’ transfer rate across grapevine species by leaps and bounds – from 2% to 92%. With it, breeders worldwide can screen their collections and find out immediately which vines have the traits they want – regardless of what varieties they are, where they came from or which species their parents were.

“This new marker development strategy goes well beyond grapes,” said co-author Bruce Reisch, professor of horticulture in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, and leader of Cornell’s Grapevine Breeding and Genetics Program. “It’s applicable for breeding and genetic studies across different grape breeding programs, plant species and other diverse organisms.”

Read the whole article.

‘Locally grown’ broccoli looks, tastes better to consumers

Thomas Björkman in broccoli field

“Demonstrating that consumers do value ‘locally grown,’ and that the seller gets latitude on price and appearance, are valuable selling points in getting distributors and retailers to take that risk,” Thomas Björkman said.

 

Cornell Chronicle [2019-12-16]:

In blind tests conducted by Cornell researchers, consumers rated a California broccoli tastier and better-looking than a pair of varieties grown in New York.

But the New York broccoli fared much better in a subsequent series of tests. It earned the highest marks for flavor and consumers were willing to pay more for it – on par with the California variety.

What changed?

The second group was told the New York broccoli was “locally grown” in New York state, where the tests were conducted. That information improved consumers’ perceptions of the broccoli and its value compared with the California alternative.

“If you don’t tell the consumers anything, they will penalize the looks and they will even penalize the taste,” said Miguel Gómez, associate professor at the Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management in the Cornell SC Johnson College of Business. “But as soon as you tell them it’s local, it’s the other way around. They like it better – not only how it looks, but also how it tastes.”

Gómez and co-authors Xiaoli Fan, Ph.D. ’17, assistant professor at the University of Alberta, and Phillip Coles, M.S. ’15, professor of practice at Lehigh University, reported their findings in “Willingness to Pay, Quality Perception, and Local Foods: The Case of Broccoli,” published Oct. 4 in Agricultural and Resource Economics Review.

Thomas Björkman, Cornell professor of horticulture at Cornell AgriTech in Geneva, New York, and principal investigator for the Eastern Broccoli Project, served as project director for the experiments.

Read the whole article.

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.

Susan Brown named American Society for Horticultural Science (ASHS) fellow

CALS News [2019-07-25]:

Susan Brown with apples

On July 22, Susan Brown, head of Cornell’s apple breeding program and the Herman M. Cohn Professor of Agriculture and Life Science, was named a fellow of the American Society for Horticultural Science (ASHS) for her outstanding contributions to horticulture through her research, teaching, extension work and leadership in the horticulture industry. Above, Brown holds an apple variety she developed.

In New York, apples are big business: the state’s 600 commercial growers produce an average of 30 million bushels annually, making it the second-largest apple producer in the U.S. But growing apples isn’t easy, and much has changed since Cornell began its breeding program roughly 115 years ago. Cornell’s program, one of the largest in the world, has released 66 apples, including the well-known Cortland, Jonagold, and Empire varieties.

But just over the past decade, public and private breeders have sped up the pace of release of new varieties—patenting hundreds of consumer-friendly apples, many trademarked, that are beginning to take a bite out of older varieties’ sales.

Enter Susan Brown, head of Cornell’s apple breeding program and the Herman M. Cohn Professor of Agriculture and Life Science. Brown has dedicated her professional career to using molecular marker-assisted breeding to develop important apple varieties that provide the best appearance, flavor, growing characteristics, and highest prices for New York growers and those in other temperate North American and international regions.

On July 22, she was named a fellow of the American Society for Horticultural Science (ASHS) for her outstanding contributions to horticulture through her research, teaching, extension work and leadership in the horticulture industry.

Brown excels at meeting consumer and grower needs through plant breeding. Her research on the genetic control of tree form led to the development of trees that combine high yield with less labor, as well as those uniquely suited as ornamentals. And she has laid the groundwork for future advances with her research on the underlying biological mechanisms of phenolic synthesis, disease resistance genes, fruit texture and flavor, as well as the apple’s nutritional properties, plant architecture, and cross-pollination peculiarities.

Brown has published 64 research articles, 60 outreach publications, nine book chapters, and holds nine U.S. plant patents: four sweet cherries, one tart cherry, and four apple varieties. Her two most recent releases, in 2011, introduced growers to SnapDragon™ and RubyFrost™—apples that combine superior eating quality with high disease resistance and packout, which means that more market-ready fruit can be picked from each tree at one time. After more than a decade in development, consumers got their first taste in 2013 and Brown said demand has been exceptional for both.

Brown picks apples in a Cornell AgriTech orchard.

Brown picks apples in a Cornell AgriTech orchard.

“Susan has been breeding for the apples you wish you could have. She’s meeting the needs of everyone involved to get consumers better apples,” said Thomas Björkman, professor of vegetable crop physiology in the School of Integrative Plant Sciences, and also an ASHS fellow. “They have great texture and flavor plus disease resistance, which is critical for growers and valuable environmentally. Efficient tree form makes the economics work. Storage ability means a more marketable apple that people can enjoy for more of the year. Nobody else puts all the pieces together like that.”

Joy Crist of Crist Brothers Orchards in Walden, New York, said Brown’s work is crucial for her farm and all New York growers’ sustainability. Crist Brothers is a member of Crunch Time Apple Growers, a cooperative owned by growers that was formed in 2010 solely to manage and market the SnapDragon™ and RubyFrost™ varieties. The cooperative now has 147 growers representing 60 percent of New York’s apple production.

“We’re vying for shelf space in grocery stores with other club varieties. You have to have an apple that looks good and holds up to harsh handling,” Crist said. “The value of Susan’s work is keeping agriculture viable in New York state by growing something that’s appealing to customers, so they choose apples instead of other fruit. Without these new varieties, I don’t see how we’d be able to compete.”

Brown also has helped ensure that Cornell remains a leader in agricultural research and extension, and that its students can compete. She was former director of the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station (now Cornell AgriTech) and has advised dozens of graduate students, mentored undergraduates in Cornell’s Summer Scholars program, and speaks regularly to anyone who loves apples as much as she does—including garden clubs, nurserymen and researchers.

“The society considers fellows to be the ‘best of the best’ that bring honor and prestige to the organization,” said Michael Neff, ASHS executive director. “I’m pleased to see Dr. Brown recognized as a fellow of ASHS this year. She and her colleagues in this 55th class of ASHS fellows exemplify professionalism in horticulture and are richly deserving of this signal honor of the society.”

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.

Skip to toolbar