For many of New York's 3,200 vegetable farmers, the risk of Phytophthora blight, a disease that attacks peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, snap beans and gourds, looms large.
A team of five researchers in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS), working on the world's only farm facility dedicated solely to the study of the pathogen, aims to arm farmers with blight-resistant varieties and crop management strategies to beat the disease.
The project is one of nine in CALS funded Oct. 15 with nearly $850,000 from the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. With the grants, researchers will examine pest and disease management techniques, crop productivity and plant health in New York's specialty crops sector, which ranges from fruits and vegetables to honey, wine and maple products and generates $1.3 billion annually.
Cornell's Phytophthora team, led by Chris Smart, associate professor at the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva, plans to use the funds to share prevention tactics with growers through a new Web site, demonstration trials and other forms of outreach. On a nine-acre farm in Geneva, they will also test the use of cover crops and various techniques to limit the disease's severity, along with experiments on breeding blight-tolerant varieties.
"Our goal is to combat the disease by combining the most effective cultural practices and control strategies with the most tolerant vegetable varieties," said Smart.
Smart is joined by Helene Dillard, professor of plant pathology and director of Cornell Cooperative Extension; Bill Fry, professor of plant pathology and dean of the university faculty; Michael Mazourek, assistant professor of plant breeding and genetics; and Steve Reiners, associate professor of horticultural sciences in Geneva.
The other CALS-projects funded are to:
"Specialty crops are incredibly valuable to the state's economy, environment and quality of life," said New York Commissioner of Agriculture Patrick Hooker. "These federal funds will allow some of the best and brightest in New York state to research new varieties, learn new techniques to control proven pests and share their newly acquired information with the rest of the industry so that all can benefit and prosper from these grants."
Ted Boscia is a staff writer in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.