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SIPS Section Priorities for Faculty Renewal – 2019

Plant Biology
Plant Breeding & Genetics
Plant Pathology & Plant-Microbe Biology
Soil & Crop Sciences

Horticulture Priority Positions

Title Description
Immediate need within next two years
Sustainable Urban Landscape Management



Research and teaching program on the selection and management of plants in support of biodiversity conservation in urban green spaces that sustain multiple beneficial ecosystem services. It is expected that the faculty member would teach a course in woody plant identification and establishment in the landscape, as well as an upper level course addressing ecosystem benefits of green infrastructure in the face of climate change.


Urban Ag: Food Production Systems




Optimize crop productivity and efficiency in the urban environment and provide horticultural leadership to interdisciplinary collaborative teams exploring urban food production systems, urban soils, controlled environment agriculture, food security, socio-economic impacts, and human health and well-being.


Needed in 2-5 year range
Seed Biology




A seed biologist will address critical issues for sustainable agriculture that are impacted by climate change. The applicant will develop a strong research program using methods ranging from field investigations to molecular tools. Two examples of research topics are provided. Understanding mechanisms of seed vigor and developing methods for successful germination and stand establishment for sustainable crop production under climate variability. Investigate weed seed dormancy mechanisms and manipulation of dormancy with migration of weed species into NYS due to climate change. Anticipation of Taylor retirement. 


Sustainable Viticulture


Extension leadership and liaison to industry stakeholders. Focus on soil health using vineyards as a model system for perennial crops; life-cycle analysis (how vineyard level decisions impact climate factors); variety evaluation with emphasis on disease resistance and wine making qualities; impact of viral and trunk diseases on viticultural characteristics.  Anticipation of Martinson retirement.
Vegetable Systems Specialist


Extension leadership in sustainable  vegetable production and liaison to industry stakeholders. Focus could be on nutrient cycling, soil health, soil fertility, crop productivity, stand establishment, postharvest and/or precision agriculture.  Organic and conventional growers. Anticipation of Reiners retirement.


Ornamental Plant Breeder


Potential match with Plant Breeding as well.  Focus would be on plants that provide form, function and beauty (nonedible) to urban environment with impact on local climate modification, environmental improvement and possible connection to therapeutic benefits to human wellbeing. Micropropagation techniques could be an important focus.


Human Benefits of Nature Contacts


As part of the developing ‘SIPS in the City’ initiative to advance research on urban ecosystems, it is critical that a faculty or research associate position be created to explore various approaches to reintegrating city residents with natural settings, and to measure ways in which such contacts alter attitudes, behavior, and overall well-being. This research can play a significant role in underpinning efforts in urban agriculture, community gardening, urban reforestation, and the development of green 21st century cities.


Non Tenure Track Positions
Landscape Plants Extension Associate


Best practices regarding landscape plants and their establishment in stressful, urban and disturbed sites is information highly sought after by practitioners. Nursery Growers, Arborists, Landscape Contractors, Landscape Architects, Planners and Municipal Foresters are being asked to develop sustainable landscapes that will survive and mitigate increasingly variable climate and storm events . A dedicated Extension Associate collaborating with research faculty will be invaluable in disseminating information and helping to problem solve in such areas as soil remediation, plants for drought tolerance, pest resistance and storm water flooding.


Although not proposed as a standalone position, one focus that would relate to many of the proposed  positions would examine the energy/water/carbon cost of food systems.  What are the advantages or disadvantages of local production of specialty crops versus long distance transport?  How do we lead innovative changes in plant development and production.  How to develop an effective economic model to drive this research?

Faculty Renewal Priorities –  Section of Plant Biology

Area 1. Plant Diversity and Climate Change:  Evolutionary Genetics of Plant Adaptation

Plant diversity represents a key global resource. Characterizing and elucidating patterns of diversity are fundamental to understand how and why this diversity varies in space and time. This is of critical importance to predict and mitigate the impacts of human-driven climate change on biodiversity. A new faculty hire focused on large-scale evolution of plant adaptation would help SIPS to better address climate change. Areas of study could include: i) long term historical and predicted patterns of adaptation through collection- and field-based research; ii) evolutionary processes underlying environmental and climatic interactions in wild populations, iii) computational research for investigating spatial, genetic, epigenetic or historic (geologic) factors leading to plant speciation, adaptation and diversification. The candidate will bring research and teaching expertise in plant biodiversity and adaptive plant genetics and genomics. It is anticipated that the candidate will contribute to further strengthening the LH Bailey Hortorium collections (expansion, digitization, funding, outreach and long-term longevity).

Area 2. Biochemical and physiological mechanisms of plant environmental responses

Plants must constantly respond to short and long term changes to the environment. Many of the underlying biochemical and physiological mechanisms that facilitate these responses are poorly understood, but must be addressed to help mitigate effects of climate change and improve agricultural outcomes. A new faculty hire focused on the biochemistry and physiology   of plant environmental responses would be highly beneficial to SIPS. Areas of study could include: i) structural and regulatory mechanisms of cellular functions, ii) molecular machines in DNA and RNA related processes, iii) cellular protein homeostasis (e.g. autophagy, proteasomal degradation, unfolded protein response) , iv) transport systems of small molecules and proteins. The candidate will bring research and teaching expertise in areas such as (bio)chemistry, (molecular) physiology and/or structural biology.

Area 3. Computational Plant Biology

The generation of large-scale biological datasets is outpacing the development of tools and strategies to use such (often orthogonal) data to transform these data into predictive models and new insights. There are unprecedented opportunities to generate and test hypotheses related to diverse biological systems and processes using computational approaches. A new faculty hire focused on computational modeling of complex plant systems, ideally coupled with ‘wet-lab’ or field research, is overdue. Areas of study could include: i) plant developmental and regulatory processes in real time, ii) biophysical factors impacting plant structures and morphology, iii) dynamics of gene, protein and metabolic (flux) networks, iv) responses of plants to changing environments, v) inter-organismal interactions, vi) evolutionary dynamics. The candidate will bring research and teaching expertise in computational biology.

Needs/priorities or emerging areas – Plant Breeding and Genetics Section

Members of the FRC developed three concepts, listed in random order. Most were developed with discussion or input from other faulty or graduate student representative:

Carbon sequestration and bioproducts breeding – Bioplastics and eventually carbon sequestration could become a larger market than the current value of all row crops combined in the US. The professor will develop courses and research around designing, testing, and breeding crops/ecoystems that provide maximal carbon services with minimal inputs, including selection of crops that produce platform chemicals as feedstocks for bioproducts.  Developing interdisciplinary science with chemical engineering, crop and soil science, mechanical engineering, and ecology will be key.

Breeding Vegetables for Sustainable High-Quality Production Supplying Expanding Northeast – This vegetable breeding program, located within the NE production environment, will be uniquely suited to breed high-quality, nutrient dense, fresh market vegetable cultivars that can be reliably and sustainably produced at scale in NY/NE to supply the extremely large NY/NE fresh produce markets and NY/NE consumers. The faculty member in this 60% research and 40% extension position will develop a program on two or more crops, pursuing goals and opportunities using whatever technologies or methodologies needed. Current needs and prior advances make this a particularly opportune time to develop crops that possess superior consumer quality/flavor and as well as are resistant to the challenges of NYS/NE growing conditions to support sustainable production of quality crops. The crop consumer quality/flavor issues addressed could be organoleptic quality, flavor, textures, nutrient content or bioavailability. Issues of reliable sustainable production could include abiotic issues (extending local production season; resilience for erratic environmental conditions impacting crop quality or yield; nutrient use efficiency); and biotic issues (diseases and perhaps insects that impact crop marketable yield and quality). As such, this position is well placed to interact with existing or proposed positions in Horticulture, Plant Pathology and Plant Biology, and also interact with Food Science programs. The extension responsibilities of the position will serve as a nexus among basic and applied researchers, extension educators, seed industry, vegetable producers, and end-users including market outlets and consumers, It will also help meet the informational needs of extension agents and growers as new crops matched to emerging production systems are developed, and help identify the future research priorities of the community.

Urban horticultural breeder – With the continuing expansion of urban populations, there is need to develop cultivars that provide ecosystem services (shade, nutrient management, brownfield restoration, water runoff management, etc.), carbon sequestration, and aesthetic improvements to urban landscapes, including edible forests. Urban environments impose particular biotic and abiotic stresses on plants, so breeding cultivars to survive and thrive under those stresses is critical for the establishment of productive urban plant ecosystems.

APPENDIX:  Current input from faculty, Synapsis, and graduate students. We will continue to seek input as positions are developed.

Additional faculty ideas not yet developed or overlapping with 3 FTC positions above:

  • Sensory Breeding – Breeding for sensory pleasure! Breeding for flavors, by someone with a biochemistry / food science background.  Connections with people who do sensory evaluations in food science, and people like Gaurav who can parse out the metabolomics of flavors, Georg Jander, Mike Gore.  Any vegetable or fruit crop would be a good target.  But why not oats too, breeding it for nutty or cardamom or other flavors.
  • Vegetable breeding position
  • Ornamental breeder: Breeding for visual pleasure, hardy ornamentals
  • Sociological “Demand-driven” Breeding – Consumers and global growers
  • Bioplastics

SIPS graduate student themes/ideas (NOTE: related suggestions are adjacent in list):

  • Breeding for sustainable agriculture (low input crops, applied crop modeling, climate resilience, microbiome breeding, crops for growing in marginal lands)
  • Resource use optimization. Crops that can grow well in margin/degraded land. Disease resistance
  • Breeding varieties adapted to production in New York State – integration of breeding goals with marginal environments, organic/agroecological production, etc. Breeders with connection to Extension system/Extension appointments. Integration of cutting-edge research (lots of it at Cornell) in ecology/soil/microbial communities, insect interaction with breeding systems and goals.
  • Local adaptation of crops to support local food and produce industry for our future (which also means accounting for climate change) as well as developing pathogen resistance in our crops. Pathology and breeding need cohesive collaborations, someone comfortable working transdisciplinary with engineers and pathologists.
  • Combination of microbiome, pathogens, and disease resistances
  • Molecular breeding and gene editing trait discovery
  • The interface between metabolomics and genomics
  • Metabolomics
  • Breeding with CRISPR/gene editing
  • Now that we have good models to provide accurate information, we need to focus on how to use that information to effectively make breeding decisions: which crosses to make and how to conduct efficient trials, to guide deployment and adoption of technology.
  • New crops: soybean, tree crops, vegetable, and orphan crops
  • Ornamental breeder
  • Indoor ag & hydroponics

Synapsis ideas (NOTE: related suggestions are adjacent in list):

  • Metabolomics/chemical ecology focused vegetable breeder. This position could be interdisciplinary with Plant Biology, Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, and Entomology. The core goal of this position would be to understand the genetic basis of biosynthesis of chemicals that mediate plant interactions with biotic stresses, and then incorporating these into a breeding program to develop pest resistant varieties. This faculty member with expertise in plant metabolomics and breeding can also work on flavor profiles in vegetable crops that could be useed in food industry as ‘natural’ flavorings, colors or additives.
  • New York State vegetable breeder: This would be a plant breeding position with a significant extension appointment, and potential collaborations within SIPS in the Horticulture and Plant Pathology departments. Vegetables account for $379 million in sales in New York State, and New York is a top producer of cabbage, squash, peas, peppers and pumpkins (New York State Comptroller). Because we are the land grant of New York State, we absolutely need to strengthen our connections to major producers and grower groups and ensure that we are serving their needs. This could also extend to needs in the greater Northeast region. Our department does phenomenal work in plant genetics, genomics and international agriculture, and that work is extremely valuable. However, if we are not directly working for even 10% of the 7,750 people employed by vegetable farming in the state (New York Farm Bureau), I fear that we risk losing relevance to the taxpayers of New York and would not fulfill part of our mission as public sector employees of a land grant institution. Thus, this should be a dedicated position within our department. There are also avenues for innovative new research that this position could address (participatory methods, incorporation of remote sensing into participatory sites, GxE modeling, characterizing grower needs like new disease resistance or market demands).
  • A dedicated vegetable breeding position. With Dr. Mutschler’s upcoming retirement, there would only be one Ithaca-based vegetable faculty position. I think having more vegetable breeders is good for the school and would provide more opportunities especially when it comes to recruiting graduate students. This could also be collaborative, especially with the Horticulture and Plant Pathology departments. Vegetables are a large part of the New York farm economy ($379 million in sales), and there is absolutely greater need than can be addressed by two vegetable breeders (Mazourek, Griffiths).
  • Climate resilience, applying biotech, dedicated GxE, soybean breeder, orphan crops breeder, controlled environment breeding, business liaison, microbiome breeding, reduced input breeding
  • Sustainable row crop breeding (different sustainable management strategies to genetics; GxE x management, applied crop modeling)
  • High-throughput phenotyping specialist
  • High-Throughput Phenotyping, Gene Editing, Time-series field evaluations, Genetic Diversity
  • Molecular biology / gene editing trait discovery – could overlap with a plant biology hire.
  • Cannabaceae breeding (hops and hemp)
  • Ornamental breeder
  • Retiring faculty should overlap with the new hire for their crop for at least one year.



The coevolution of plants with their microbiota has resulted in plant-associated microbial communities that both benefit and threaten plants and global food security. Climate change will modify plant-microbe relationships giving rise to new diseases and crop losses.

Research (60%). The individual in this position will develop an innovative, hypothesis/problem-driven, competitively funded, and internationally recognized program in plants and their associated microbiota with a focus on population dynamics in relation to climate change. Areas of particular interest include the effect of climate change on: a) metagenomics of microbial communities; b) the durability of plant resistance genes, and their impact on microbiota and resistance mechanisms; and c) role of pathogen virulence or symbiotic cooperation on plant health. Ideal projects will address fundamental questions in inter-organismal biology and have a potential for translational benefit.

Teaching (40%). The incumbent will teach a course in plant microbiology and contemporary methods for monitoring pathogen and symbiont population dynamics (epidemiology/population genetics) and will develop an undergraduate curriculum on plants, microbes, food production, and climate change.


Specialty crop industries are of major economic importance in New York (NY) with emphasis on fruits, vegetable and ornamental crops. Significant economic losses occur within each of these sectors, including controlled environment production systems, from bacterial diseases. Management of bacterial diseases is particularly problematic as the few antibacterial compounds registered generally have low inherent activity. The impact of bacterial diseases is also exponentially increasing as local weather patterns change with increasing temperatures and rainfall. Current and future bacterial disease management will rely on an improved understanding of pathogen biology, interactions with plants and other microbes and environmental and genetic factors that affect disease development and contribute to host resistance. Major focuses of this position could include bacterial-plant interactions, seed pathology, and population biology with the ultimate goal of developing effective means for managing disease. The incumbent would lead a nationally and internationally-recognized program that employs modern technologies for studying bacterial-plant interactions, population biology, and epidemiology associated with bacterial diseases of specialty crops and broadly disseminates relevant information to diverse audiences. The position is synergistic with the Provost’s Radical Collaboration Initiatives of Infection Biology, Genome Biology, and Sustainability.

Research (60%).  Anticipated core research areas include pathogen population biology and epidemiology, seed pathology, and dissecting complex relationships between bacterial diversity, the plant microbiome, disease development and plant resistance. Research should involve major bacterial pathogens of specialty crops (e.g., Erwinia, Pseudomonas, Agrobacterium, Xanthomonas, Clavibacter, and others), with special focus on examples that represent important threats to NY specialty crop production. The support of applied research will be particularly important to the complementary extension effort and may include diagnostics, assessment and management of bacterial resistance to antimicrobials, evaluation of chemical and biological controls, and development and implementation of methods for accurately measuring bacterial populations in the environment. The incumbent would work collaboratively with faculty members in Plant Pathology & Plant-Microbe Biology and related disciplines such as Plant Breeding, Horticulture, Soil and Crop Sciences and others.

Extension (40%). The incumbent will have lead responsibility for bacterial diseases of specialty crops in NY, including diagnosis and formulating management strategies, and develop a vibrant and innovative extension program. The development of partnerships with extension personnel, specialty crop growers, and a diverse range of stakeholders will be essential. A comprehensive knowledge of bacterial disease management and specialty crop production is also vital.

Qualifications. Ph. D. in Plant Pathology or related discipline. Strong background in microbiology with emphasis on bacteriology, and expertise in plant-microbe interactions, population biology, or epidemiology; and disease management. Desire and ability to develop and deliver a world class extension program.

The position would be based at Cornell AgriTech at The New York State Agricultural Experiment Station, Geneva, NY. The position was cited as a high priority in the Cornell Agritech Strategic Plan (2019).


Specialty crop production is trending in urban areas, especially in New York, creating unique, pressing and ongoing disease management challenges for those producing these high-value crops. Production is often in controlled environments (greenhouses and warehouses, including hydroponic and aeroponic production) and sometimes in vacant lots or on the roofs of skyscrapers. The locally-grown movement has inspired new entrepreneurs to grow edible and ornamental crops amidst the urban consumers. Plant pathology research and extension expertise is immediately needed to address long- and short-term challenges faced by the many urban horticulturist stakeholders, including the health and healthfulness of the crops.

The person in this position would be an essential member of a cluster of five plant scientists that would also include an urban landscape pathologist, urban plant breeder and an urban ag food production systems expert, as well as someone focusing on sustainable urban landscape management. Collaborations among these individuals would provide Cornell University with visibility and effectiveness, improving quality of life and sustainability of agribusiness in urban areas of the state. 

Research (60%). goals might include improvements in pathogen and disease detection and understanding epidemiology in controlled environments; more effective clean stock production for vegetative propagules; better understanding the interaction of bioantagonists with pathogens in hydroponic systems; developing faster methods for measuring disease resistance of cultivars created by their plant breeding counterpart; and development and assessment of cultural technologies, together with their horticulturist colleague, that would curtail disease development such as by manipulating temperature and light wavelength. Such research would benefit NY producers and also have a global impact.

Extension (40%). would be comprised of mutually-informative interactions with a large, diverse, and business-minded audience. In order to achieve more profitable, more sustainable, and healthier specialty crop production in urban areas, this individual would strategize, collaborate and deliver information along with an interdisciplinary team including entomologists, economists and agricultural engineers in addition to the core team (plant breeder and horticulturists). The framework for these interactions would be provided by the Greenhouse Horticulture Program Work Team, as well as by the Controlled Environment Agriculture advisory group and by the NY State Nursery and Landscape Association. Knowledge would be extended in real time via the internet (webinars, etc) as well as being archived to develop permanent resources for urban agribusinesses.


The urban landscape in New York is a stage where important tree diseases make their debut —and then proceed to rage across the eastern and midwestern US. Historically, both chestnut blight and dogwood anthracnose began in NYC. Recently, Massaria disease in London plane tree and beech leaf disease (BLD) in American and European beech have begun to have major impact in the highly-populated cities and towns of southeastern NY. City trees must be rugged to survive in stressful urban settings, but they also must be safe for the public to enjoy, and plant pathology plays a pivotal role in ensuring their health and subsequent safety. Trees along streets and in parks are important for both environmental quality and psychological well-being. Highly-visited public spaces, such as the High Line and Central Park in NYC, require trees, shrubs and flowers, maintained in a healthy condition without pesticide application for public approval. There is a huge need for a plant pathologist specializing in research on the protection of trees against diseases, through a combined research and extension effort. Faculty extension leadership in this area from Cornell could help to spur progress nationwide in urban tree planting choices, as well as maintenance and monitoring practices.

The person in this position would be an essential member of a cluster of five plant scientists that would also include a faculty member focusing on urban specialty crop disease management, an urban plant breeder and an urban ag food production systems expert, as well as someone focusing on sustainable urban landscape management. Collaborations among these individuals would provide Cornell University with visibility and effectiveness, improving quality of life and sustainability of agribusiness in urban areas of the state.

Research (60%). Many areas of tree pathology are ripe for study, particularly the etiology, epidemiology and control of Massaria disease, which causes limbs to fall from healthy-appearing London plane (>15% of the NYC tree population). Evaluation of street trees for their disease resistance would complement efforts of the SIPS Plant Breeding Section to generate improved woody plant material for urban use. Additionally, expanding our currently minimal understanding of the new and lethal beech leaf disease, recently found to be caused by a nematode, would be important to ornamental plantings and also forests across NY. Developing non-chemical controls for problematic tree diseases would be answering to the public will. Collaboration with the Urban Horticulture Institute at Cornell (Horticulture Section) would provide excellent synergy for both research and extension components.

Extension (40%). The individual in the Urban Landscape Pathologist position will have a broad stakeholder base including arborists and landscape gardeners, as well as personnel working at botanical gardens, arboreta, city and town parks, cemeteries, and golf courses. The extension program should be extended to all categories of outdoor-produced ornamentals, including herbaceous perennials, roses, boxwood, rhododendron and other environmental horticulture crops, working in concert with cooperative extension educators at the county and regional level to develop and disseminate information on management of new and newly problematic diseases, as well as updating information about recurring diseases as needed. The state and regional arborists’ and landscapers’ associations as well as the International Society of Arboriculture will provide structure for reaching stakeholders with interpretation of existing information as well as newly-generated applied research findings. Working through the Landscape Horticulture PWT will provide a basis for cross-disciplinary collaborations.

Soil and Crop Sciences Five-Year Faculty Needs/Priorities/Opportunities


  • Sustainable Weed Management in Field Crops (previous position request)
  • Water Science in the Plant-Soil System (previous position request)
  • Crop Modeling for Food Security in a Changing Climate
  • Soil Physics and Soil Biophysics
  • Food-Systems Modeling including Supply Chain
  • Global Soil Resources
  • Forage Production and Management (to fill anticipated retirement)
  • Specialty and Alternative Crop Agronomy (50% research 50% extension)
    • Conduct applied research on as hemp, millet and sorghum for grain, non-gluten pseudo-cereals (buckwheat, amaranth, quinoa), dry beans, sunflower, and canola and other crops that have potential to diversify and strengthen agriculture in New York State.
    • Examples related programs at other universities:
  • Seed Ecology and Technology in Field Crops (50% research 50% teaching)
    • Conduct research on sustainable seed treatments (microbial, chemical, polymer). Seed quality, seed testing, seed production, sorting, and cleaning could also be part of research program.
  • Crop Quality and Nutrient Density in Field Crops (50% research 50% teaching)
    • Systems research focused on understanding linkages between cropping practices and food quality including how nutrient management affects nutrient content. Research could focus on improving grain quality, reducing pesticide residue in food, food safety and reducing safety risks from mycotoxin.
    • Examples related programs at other universities:


  • Field Cropping Systems in the Digital Era
  • Soil Physics/Biophysics and Water Management
  • Geospatial Technology for Soil, Crop, and Natural Resources (to fill anticipated course needs and retirements)
  • Forage Production and Management
  • Seed Ecology and Technology in Field Crops
  • Crop Quality and Nutrient Density in Field Crops


  • Sustainable Weed Management in Field Crops (previous position request)
  • Forage Production and Management (to fill anticipated retirement)
  • International Soil Resources
  • Specialty and Alternative Crop Agronomy
  • Decision Support for Sustainable Field Crops and Soil Health
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