Grants fund Cornell AES work to improve lives in NYS

New USDA grants will fund research across Cornell seeking to improve New York state’s economy, food supply and well-being, from helping communities process the trauma of the COVID-19 pandemic to exploring the impact of labor shortages on farms.

The 52 Cornell projects that have been funded with a total of $3.9 million, beginning Oct. 1, are administered through the Cornell University Agricultural Experiment Station (Cornell AES).

They include a project from Qi Wang, professor of psychology in the College of Human Ecology and a faculty fellow at the Cornell Atkinson Center for Sustainability, who is examining how adults, teens and families are making sense of their negative experiences throughout the pandemic and identifying effective coping strategies.

Cornell impacting New York State

She hopes her findings will provide insight into how to support others, especially those in rural and minority communities, which have been hit harder and have fewer resources to seek help.

“Trauma impacts people’s mental health, but that doesn’t fully explain the outcomes we see; how people interpret and remember their traumatic experiences matters a great deal,” Wang said. “We can cognitively transform those experiences in a way to enhance our resilience and well-being. It’s an empowering process.”

Based in Ithaca, Cornell AES supports hundreds of researchers in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, the College of Human Ecology and the College of Veterinary Medicine. Cornell AES also manages 127,000 square feet of greenhouses on the Ithaca campus and nine research farms across New York state. Individual Cornell AES grants are relatively small – a maximum of $30,000 per year for three years – but they provide seed funding for new ideas, like Wang’s, or bridge funding for ongoing research.

“The explicit purpose of this USDA grant is to support research that benefits New York state,” said Margaret Smith, director of Cornell AES and associate dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. “The outcomes from this research portfolio – innovative products, processes and ideas – all contribute to improving the health and well-being of New York citizens, enterprises and environments.”

This year’s funding covers a broad array of research projects important to New York’s and the country’s food supply, economy and well-being. They include work on:

  • Ticks: Laura Harrington, professor of entomology, will be working to understand the expanding range of ticks and tick-borne diseases, which impact human and animal health. She will be conducting a New York State Tick Blitz, a citizen-science project modeled after the National Geographic BioBlitz program, through which community members help scientists gather data over large geographic regions.
  • Pollinators: One-third of U.S. crops depend on managed and native bees for pollination, but bee populations have declined dramatically, in part because of pesticide use. Minglin Ma, associate professor of biological and environmental engineering, will develop pollen-mimicking, detoxifying microparticles to assess – and hopefully mitigate – the impact of pesticides on honeybees.
  • Agricultural labor shortages: Immigration restrictions, smaller rural populations and 50-year-low unemployment rates have left farmers struggling to find workers. Richard Stup, agricultural workforce specialist for Cornell Cooperative Extension, will be conducting surveys and in-depth case studies with farm managers and employees on labor relations, human resource management and labor-saving innovations in New York farms. He plans to identify best practices to help farms reduce turnover and achieve long-term sustainability.
  • Dairy: Mastitis is a common disease that is costly for farmers and painful for dairy cows. Current methods to diagnose mastitis are laborious and expensive. Jessica McArt, associate professor of population medicine and diagnostic sciences in the College of Veterinary Medicine, will be developing technology to provide immediate assessment of udder health by measuring milk components and somatic cells.

The projects are financed with Federal Capacity Funds through the USDA’s National Institute for Food and Agriculture.

Krisy Gashler is a writer for the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.