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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.

Martinson receives Outstanding Achievement Award from ASEV-Eastern Section

Tim Martinson

Tim Martinson [2019-07-23]:

Dr. Chris Gerling, chair of the American Society for Enology and Viticulture, Eastern Section, presented the Section’s Outstanding Achievement Award to Dr. Timothy Martinson, senior extension associate at Cornell University at the opening session of the ASEV-Eastern Section conference in Geneva, NY on July 16. In presenting the award, Gerling noted that Martinson had been the senior extension agent and statewide viticultural extension person since 2007. “Tim is a really giving and generous colleague,” Gerling commented. “He’s one who ‘shares the credit and takes the blame.’”

Martinson began his career at Cornell in 1991 after working for the Peace Corps in Central America for three years. He had completed both his Master’s and Ph.D. degrees in entomology at Cornell and initially was research associate with the grape entomology program at the university’s NY State Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva. He became the grape extension specialist for the Cornell Cooperative Extension’s Finger Lakes Grape Program in 1997, at a time when the Finger Lakes region had a vineyard base of 10,000 acres, 230 growers and 90 wineries.

For ten years, Martinson’s focus was on the development of the VineBalance sustainable viticulture program and the production of The New York Guide to Sustainable Viticulture Practices Grower Self-assessment Workbook. He was appointed senior extension associate in 2007 with the goal of creating a statewide viticulture extension program. As part of that program, he edits the Veraison to Harvest weekly newsletter that is delivered across the state from late August through early November and Appellation Cornell, a quarterly online publication that features articles and news about viticulture and enology research, extension and teaching programs at Cornell.

From 2011 until 2017, Martinson provided the leadership for the Northern Grapes Project (NGP), a coordinated agriculture program funded by the United States Department of Agriculture that involved 12 institutions, 34 researchers and 23 industry associations. The NGP focused on the integration of viticulture, winemaking and marketing of the new cold-hardy cultivars in 12 Midwestern and Northeastern states.

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.

Schwartz Sax is new director of Connecticut College Arboretum

Miles Schwartz Sax

Miles Schwartz Sax

Connecticut College News [2019-07-09]:

Connecticut College has named Miles Schwartz Sax as the new Charles and Sarah P. Becker ’27 Arboretum Director, effective Aug. 1, 2019.

Sax received a master’s degree in public garden leadership in 2014 and a Ph.D. in horticultural biology in 2019 from Cornell University. His academic research focuses on issues relating to urban horticulture, tree selection and evaluation, stress physiology and rare plant conservation in the context of an increasingly urbanizing and warming planet.

The Connecticut College Arboretum, one of the most cherished resources on campus, consists of a very diverse 750 acres that include the landscaped grounds of the College as well as the surrounding plant collections, natural areas and managed landscapes.

“The Arboretum has a long history of doing exceptional work in land conservation and ecological landscape management, and I look forward to using this rich history as a foundation to continue to grow and expand the capacity of the institution,” Sax said.

Read the whole article.

Kao-Kniffin receives White House early career award

Kao-Kniffin with former graduate student Kevin Panke-Buisse PhD '16.

Kao-Kniffin with former graduate student Kevin Panke-Buisse PhD ’16.

From Cornell Chronicle article [2019-07-05]:

Jenny Kao-Kniffin, associate professor in the Horticulture Section, is one four Cornell faculty members recognized by the White House with prestigious 2019 Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE). The awards were announced July 2.

The award is the highest honor bestowed by the federal government to scientific and engineering professionals who are in first stages of their independent research careers and who show exceptional promise for leadership.

Established 23 years ago during President Bill Clinton’s administration, the awards acknowledge the advancement of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education; and community service, as demonstrated by scientific leadership, public education and outreach. The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy coordinates the PECASE with participating federal departments and agencies.

Kao-Kniffin’s award was through the U.S. Department of Agriculture for her work in soil microbial ecology. Her research focuses on the bacteria and fungi found in the root zone of soils, known as the rhizosphere, and how they impact ecosystem nutrient cycling and the growth of plants. Many of these underground interactions can be isolated to better understand their potential for agriculture and land management, she said.

Read the whole article.

Plant breeding project gives East African farmers better leafy green options

CALS News [2019-06-27]:

 Griffiths, associate professor of horticulture, and graduate student Hannah Swegarden pose with East African women harvesting collard greens.

Griffiths and graduate student Hannah Swegarden pose with East African women harvesting collard greens.

Phillip Griffiths, associate professor in the Horticulture Section of the School of Integrative Plant Science based at Cornell AgriTech, has a special connection in East Africa that’s improving the humble collard green to help smallholder farmers—and their communities—live and eat better. Griffiths’ East African connection was made when Charles Wasonga, recipient of the first Cornell Assistantship for Horticulture in Africa (CAHA), began his Ph.D. studies with Griffiths. The design of CAHA, which requires advisors to work alongside students on research in their home country, brought Griffiths to Kenya to oversee Wasonga’s work on green beans. While there, the two also saw a number of collard fields and realized the significant challenges farmers had in getting fresh, desirable products to rapidly urbanizing markets.

“The issue with fresh-market crops versus agronomic crops, like maize, is always getting them to end users. Farmers need to focus on marketable yield,” said Griffiths, associate professor of horticulture, plant breeding and genetics.

In Kenyan diets, collard greens—a member of the Brassica family—are a nutritious dietary staple for millions of people. Like all dark leafy greens, they’re high in vitamin A and a good source of calcium, iron and vitamin C. But collards are highly susceptible to black rot, which can reduce marketability by 50% to 80%. This susceptibility makes the crop a risky venture for small farmers looking to expand their income options with vegetables.

Recognizing the vulnerabilities that would have to be overcome, Wasonga and Griffiths started crossing several kale and collard varieties at Cornell with the goal of breeding for improved resistance to black rot. After Wasonga returned to Kenya, Griffiths applied for and was chosen as a David R. Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future Academic Venture Fund project to continue the collaboration and investigate more diverse leafy Brassica vegetables in Kenya and Tanzania.

Read the whole article.

Wolfe advises House sub-committee on climate stress and mitigation strategies

David Wolfe testifying to the U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on Biotechnology, Horticulture, and Research

David Wolfe testifying to the U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on Biotechnology, Horticulture, and Research

Reposted from the SIPS blog, Discovery that Connects [2019-06-14]. See also Cornell Chronicle article.

SIPS faculty member David Wolfetestified Wednesday to the U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on Biotechnology, Horticulture, and Research in a public hearing entitled, “Increasing Resiliency, Mitigating Risk: Examining the Research and Extension Needs of Producers”. Wolfe led the expert testimony by outlining challenges presented by recent extreme weather events and ways in which farmers are responding. He went on to list areas of need such as improved regional climate data, digital agriculture infrastructure, and greater access to capital.

The entire witness panel strongly emphasized the importance of public sector research to develop regionally adapted cultivars and address pest and pathogen challenges exacerbated by climate variability. Cooperative extension and collaborative research with USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS) were also hailed. Followup questions from representatives covered topics as diverse as the benefits of gene editing, efficacy of cover crops to mitigate both flooding and drought, international competition in the realm of biotechnology, to concerns about the proposed move of USDA headquarters.

Other experts testifying at the hearing included Robert W. Godfrey, Director of the Agricultural Experiment Station at University of the Virgin Islands, Brise Tencer, Executive Director of the Organic Farming Research Foundation in Santa Cruz, CA, Sam Godwin of Godwin Family Orchard in Tonasket, WA, and Fred Gmitter of the Citrus Research and Education Center at the University of Florida.

Wolfe’s program in the SIPS Horticulture Section focuses on the accounting and management of carbon, nitrogen, and greenhouse gases in agroecosystems. He is also a project coordinator of the recently released New York Soil Health Roadmap.

Empire apple breeder Roger Way dies at 100

Cornell ChronicleCALS News [2019-06-12]:

Roger Way

Roger Way

Roger Way, Ph.D. ’53, professor emeritus of pomology and world-renowned apple breeder, died June 2 in State College, Pennsylvania. He was 100 years old.

Way gained worldwide recognition for apple varieties he developed. His apple-related fame landed him on a “Jeopardy!” question, under the category “By the Way,” which read: “Roger Way tasted 200 of these a day, helping him develop the Empire and Jonagold types.”

“Dr. Roger Way contributed to the New York apple industry, but also nationally and internationally,” said apple breeder Susan Brown, the Herman M. Cohn Professor of Agriculture and Life Science at Cornell AgriTech. “His Jonagold apple, named in 1968, is seventh in European apple production by variety and Empire is ninth in U.S. production.”

Read the whole article.

Towering ‘Double Allium’ sculpture installed at Cornell Botanic Gardens

Cornell Chronicle, CALS News [2019-06-12]:

double allium ribbon cutting

Anne Simon Moffat ’69, right, and husband Keith Moffat, center, along with Christopher Dunn, executive director of Cornell Botanic Gardens, cut the ribbon on Double Allium, a steel-and-glass sculpture by blacksmith-artist Jenny Pickford, June 8 during Reunion 2019. Photo by Sonja Skelly.


A towering new sculpture welcomes visitors to the Cornell Botanic Gardens: “Double Allium,” crafted of metal and glass, stands 12 feet tall and sits along the walkway to the Nevin Welcome Center.

The work features graceful leaves crafted of metal and closed blooms in purple glass.

Jenny Pickford, a contemporary artist blacksmith based in the United Kingdom, created the sculpture to illustrate the co-existence and co-dependence of strength and fragility in the natural world. Its whimsical qualities are inspired by Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland,” and aim to invoke childlike awe and wonder toward nature.

Anne Simon Moffat ’69 and husband Keith Moffat, a professor at the University of Chicago, commissioned the sculpture, which was dedicated June 8 during Reunion weekend. Anne Moffat was celebrating her 50th reunion.

The Moffats are experienced glass collectors and share a love of gardening.

“Keith and I wanted to combine our passion for glass, horticulture and Cornell University by bringing an iconic sculpture to Cornell Botanic Gardens,” said Anne Moffat, a certified master gardener. “We hope that it will give visitors joy and deepen their understanding of our relationship with the natural world.”

Pickford designs her sculptures for outdoor installation, where they draw attention to the natural beauty around them. Cornell Botanic Gardens’ sculpture is her first permanent installation in the U.S. and her first sculpture in the double allium form.

“Art highlights what is there and makes people notice its presence,” Pickford said, noting the glass features of her works “allow natural sunlight to pour into the glass.”

To create these structures, Pickford uses blacksmithing skills in her forge to transform industrial steel into a malleable form, bringing the piece to life. She uses special tools she has made herself, along with a fly press and 1930s-era power hammer. She obtains the glass pieces through partnerships with distinguished glass blowers.

Pickford’s sculptures are featured all over the world, including in China, Australia and across the United Kingdom. One her most notable works is the “Bluebell” sculpture at the Royal Derby Hospital in Derby, England, where it is in place to connect cancer patients with the hope and beauty of nature.

“Double Allium” is installed on the lawn near the Bioswale Garden at Cornell Botanic Gardens and along the walkway to the Nevin Welcome Center. The gardens are free of charge and open dawn to dusk daily.

By Alice Soewito, marketing and communications intern at Cornell Botanic Gardens.

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