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Robert Seaney, forage management expert, dies at 93

Robert Seaney, Ph.D. ’55, professor emeritus of soil and crop sciences who’s best known for his research on identifying the best forages for New York state soils and climate, died Jan. 19 in Petersburg, Illinois. He was 93.

“Dr. Seaney was an excellent communicator and was widely respected by colleagues, extension agents and farmers,” said Danny Fox, professor emeritus of animal science. “Through his research and extension program, he had a large impact on improving forage production on livestock farms in New York state.”

Born Jan. 23, 1927, in Fort Wayne, Indiana, Seaney served in the U.S. Army before earning his bachelor’s degree in biology from Purdue University in 1951. He received his Ph.D. in plant breeding, then joined the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS) as an assistant professor of plant breeding and agronomy. Seaney was promoted to associate professor in 1961.

In 1967, he was awarded a tenured position from the Department of Soil, Crop and Atmospheric Sciences — now the Soil and Crop Sciences Section in the School of Integrative Plant Science.

During his 35 years at CALS, Seaney collaborated closely with Fox to develop the Cornell University Hillside Pasture Research and Demonstration Project, at the Harford Animal Science Teaching and Research Center.

“The goal of this project was to evaluate the potential for using the approximately 3 million acres of underutilized and abandoned hillside farmland in New York as grasslands for grazing beef and dairy cattle,” Fox said. “[Seaney] was very committed to transferring the results through his extension program to help beef and dairy cattle producers improve their profitability.”

From 1978-90, Seaney worked to identify the best forage species for the state’s soil and climate conditions. He also spent time developing forage management practices that would better support the high productivity of grazing cattle throughout the growing season. As part of their extension programming, Seaney and Fox held tours and field days for cattle producers to learn more about specific techniques.

For example, Seaney discovered that alfalfa is more likely to survive freeze-and-thaw heaving cycles when it’s mixed into a hay stand, instead of left standing on its own — thanks to the fibrous root networks that act like a shock absorber.

He retired on Oct. 31, 1989, and was named professor emeritus in March 1990. He and his wife, Patricia, operated Seaney Greenhouses in Newfield, New York, until they moved to Illinois in 2003. He then helped his son build a state-of-the-art greenhouse, currently 20,000 square feet and home to more than 100 types of perennials and annual bedding plants.

In addition to his wife, Seaney is survived by four children, two stepchildren and several grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Services will take place at a later date; the family asks that memorial contributions be made to the Wounded Warrior Project.

Jana Wiegand is the editorial content manager for the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

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Lindsey Hadlock