N.Y. vegetable growers fund research to boost industry

Thomas Bjorkman
Thomas Bjorkman, associate professor of Vegetable Crop Physiology at Cornell’s New York State Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva, examines cabbage plants.

There’s a new player at the table when it comes to supporting agricultural research in New York – and organizers are hoping their ante will encourage regional vegetable producers to place their bets on the industry’s future.

Dubbed the “Agriculture Research Fund” by the group of processing vegetable growers from Western New York who launched the endowment in 2014, the fund is designed as the beginning of an ongoing industry effort. Seeded with more than $100,000 from its initial contributors, organizers say the goal is to support critically needed research in breeding, growing and protecting vegetables across New York state.

“We’re hoping this fund will grow significantly, with additional support from the industry,” said Tom Facer, president of Oakfield-based Farm Fresh First and a former Birds Eye Foods executive.

Farm Fresh First includes growers and managers who work from Canada to the U.S. Midwest and Southeast. Facer said vegetable growers and processors throughout New York anticipate increasing demand as consumers choose healthy and locally grown food. He said the industry also faces an “ever-changing” set of challenges – from new weeds and diseases to steadily increasing insect pressures. Facer said the Agriculture Research Fund’s supporters firmly believe ongoing basic and applied agricultural research must be continued and expanded for growers to stay ahead of these challenges, stay in operation and continue to deliver top-quality produce to consumers.

It’s the kind of work he said has been going on for decades at Cornell’s New York State Agricultural Experiment Station (NYSAES) in Geneva and shared by researchers there and through the Cornell Cooperative Extension network. Facer said NYSAES will be the primary recipient of support from the fund, but as resources grow the fund will consider supporting additional research efforts – as long as they share the common goal.

“All of our efforts are for the improvement of the production of vegetables in New York,” Facer said. “This isn’t for marketing, this is for research and this is for growers; what benefits them.”

So committed are Facer and Farm Fresh First to the mission of the new Agriculture Research Fund, the organization issued a challenge to its members. In addition to its initial $25,000 contribution, Farm Fresh First will annually match contributions made by any of its individual members up to an amount set annually by the Farm Fresh First Board. Facer said he hopes the example of the fund’s initial supporters, and Farm Fresh First’s matching pledge, will inspire growers statewide.

“The vegetable industry needs to have funds ready to address these challenges as they come up,” Facer said. “It will be the forward thinking of those growers who started the fund, and the rest of the industry supporting this fund, that will allow New York to be a reliable vegetable supplier for generations to come.”

The Agriculture Research Fund is established within the Cornell University endowment and donations are tax deductible. Contributions can be made by check payable to Cornell University with the reference name and number “Agricultural Research Endowment 0010429,” and sent to Cornell University, PO Box 25842, Lehigh Valley, PA 18003-9692. Credit card payments can be accepted as well by calling Cornell at (800) 279-3099. People donating by phone are asked to reference the fund name and number.

John Carberry is managing editor of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

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