GENEVA — One of the primary missions of Cornell’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences is supporting New York farmers and food industry businesses — from developing disease-resistant fruits and vegetables to supporting the development of new crops to improve business margins.
A lot of that work is being done in Geneva, in the labs, fields and orchards that make up Cornell AgriTech.
Congressman Tom Reed, R-23 of Corning, is no stranger to the work being done at Cornell AgriTech, and on Wednesday, he got a chance view some of the latest research in Geneva in a two-hour tour that included, among others, Cornell AgriTech Director Jan Nyrop and Cathy Young, director of the New York State Center of Excellence for Food and Agriculture at Cornell AgriTech.
Reed said these types of tours give him a greater understanding of the kinds of innovation being generated in his district and “allows me to better advocate on their behalf.”
He said the financial investments made at Cornell AgriTech may be into the millions of dollars, but that research brings returns many times over those initial dollars.
“The innovations you see here cannot be underestimated,” he said. “This is a world-class facility in our backyard. We’re leading the world right here in Geneva.”
His first stop was the McCarthy Farm on County Road 6, where a variety of crops — from grapes to apples — are growing. But it was a crop that holds great potential for New York farmers and related industries that brought the Republican to the site: a field with various varieties of industrial hemp.
Craig Carlson, a plant breeding and genetics expert in the School of Integrative Plant Science in Geneva, explained that Cornell is doing trials — from Geneva to Ithaca to the Hudson Valley — with 30 different varieties of hemp to determine which ones work best for New York. Crop trials are being done on lands from less than an acre to 600 acres, said Carlson.
One of the most promising opportunities in hemp is the rapidly growing CBD oil industry, which Carlson noted has brought a Colorado-based company to purchase a massive greenhouse complex in Newark, where it will grow hemp seed, hemp plants and process hemp for CBD products. The company cited Cornell is a reason it wanted to come to New York.
Certainly the tastiest part of the tour came with a presentation by Courtney Weber, who heads the Cornell Berry Breeding Program.
Weber provided a host of berry varieties — including many raspberries — that are being developed at Cornell AgriTech.
The Cornell program is the only one in the Northeast, Weber noted.
“We are an asset in New York, but also the whole region,” he said.
Weber said it’s important that Cornell be able to share its research because mega-berry producers such as Driscoll’s consider its research proprietary.
A few rooms over, Reed learned about Cornell’s Eastern Broccoli Program, an effort to develop varieties that grow well in regions beyond California, such as New York and the Southeast. The closer consumers are to the broccoli, the better it tastes, Weber said in a video on Cornell’s website.
The program is proving to be a success. The number of New York broccoli farms has risen from 290 to 535, and that figure is expected to rise as Cornell works to create greater varieties.
Cornell AgriTech’s support of the grape industry comes in many forms, but one that Reed got a chance to see combines Cornell know-how in multiple fields.
Reed watched as a robot performed examinations of grape leaf samples as part of an effort to develop grape vine varieties resistant to powdery mildew, a fungal disease that can wreak havoc in vineyards.
Nyrop told Reed that what’s happening in this room — and across Cornell — is a marriage of disciplines, including biology, engineering and information science.
“This is classic system integration,” he said.