$4.2M grant funds Cornell AES work to better lives in NYS

Across Cornell, 56 research projects have received federal funding to explore topics that will support New York’s food supply, economy and well-being. They include teaching young people financial literacy skills, assessing the economic opportunities for dairy farmers to participate in carbon markets and understanding the role birds play in controlling pests in New York orchards.

Cornell impacting New York State

The Cornell University Agricultural Experiment Station (Cornell AES) will administer $4.2 million in funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute for Food and Agriculture.

One of the projects will assess the food security benefits and food safety risks of fish from the Great Lakes. These freshwater fisheries are defined as “recreational,” but evidence suggests that fishing is far more than recreational and meets a diverse set of cultural needs for some fishers. They include immigrants who connect to fishing as an activity they did in their home countries and people in urban areas who use fishing as a source of food. Better understanding who fishes, why, and how much fish they eat will help policymakers better integrate the risks and benefits of fishing into management of the resources beyond traditional sport fishing, said project leader Kathryn Fiorella, assistant professor of public and ecosystem health in the College of Veterinary Medicine (CVM).

“Natural resources may provide a safety net for access to high-quality food or meet important cultural needs,” Fiorella said. “Better understanding use patterns for these aquatic food resources, and the risks they may present via contaminants, is critical to addressing their role in the food system and managing natural resources with respect to the full range of uses and values.”

Other topics researchers will explore include:

  • Rice as climate adaptation: Climate change is increasing the risk of flooding throughout the Northeast, jeopardizing agricultural production. Chuan Liao, assistant professor of global development in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS) and his colleagues will explore the feasibility of flood-tolerant rice production in New York. They will create a map of the state that identifies flood-prone areas suitable for rice growing and analyze economic opportunity and farmer interest.
  • Reducing food waste: The food industry generates extensive production data, but that information is significantly underused. Effectively analyzing such data could drive operational improvements that would reduce food waste. Abigail Snyder, assistant professor of food science (CALS), and Randy Worobo, professor of food science (CALS), will develop a model data management system that uses machine learning and artificial intelligence to assess how food producers can save more food from spoilage by pathogens and fungi.
  • Youth financial literacy: New York youth need financial literacy skills to better recognize potential risks and avoid faulty financial decisions. Among New Yorkers, 28% pay the monthly minimum on credit card bills and 41% do not have enough saved for emergencies. In collaboration with Cornell Cooperative Extension financial educators, Valerie Reyna, professor of psychology in the College of Human Ecology (CHE), will develop a curriculum to help students interpret numbers in everyday life, understand risks and achieve financial well-being.
  • Dairy farms and carbon credits: Carbon-credit markets are growing across the U.S., and dairy farms can generate carbon credits by using an anaerobic manure digester, which recycles animal waste into renewable natural gas. Christopher Wolf, the E.V. Baker Professor of Agricultural Economics in the Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management, will assess the feasibility and long-term economic value of digesters for New York dairy farms, in particular whether farmers could gain more value by owning and operating the digesters themselves or by contracting with private operating firms and receiving a set fee.
  • Valuing birds in NYS orchards: Birds provide agricultural benefits in New York orchards, such as pollination, seed dispersal and pest control. This study will measure birds’ ecological services and will provide recommendations on how growers can increase the diversity and abundance of key pest-control bird species. It will be led by Irby Lovette, the Fuller Professor of Ornithology (CALS), and research associate Jen Walsh and postdoctoral associate Gemma Clucas, both in the Fuller Evolutionary Biology Program at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

Cornell AES helps fulfill Cornell’s land-grant mission by maintaining research farms, greenhouses and other facilities, and by funding researchers in CALS, CHE and  CVM.

“Since our founding in 1879, Cornell AES has supported research projects that aim to improve the lives and livelihoods of New Yorkers,” said Margaret Smith, director of Cornell AES and associate dean of CALS. “The 56 new projects starting this year tackle agriculture and food system issues that range from growing food to reducing waste after processing, from minimizing environmental footprints to maximizing natural pest controls, from more affordable food options to improving people’s financial management skills, and more.”

Krisy Gashler is a freelance writer for the Cornell University Agricultural Experiment Station.

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