Researchers in Cornell’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences will enter the new year with more resources and opportunities thanks to three grants earned in mid-December. The grants, awarded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Services’ Integrated Organic Program, total to $1.99 million.
Due to the increase in demand for organic foods, researchers have established programs to explore and improve seed viability, dairy health, crop and soil conditions and production.
Charles Mohler, a senior research associate in the department of crop and soil sciences, is using the grant to further his research on organic crop rotation systems, a procedure he has been studying for years. Mohler manipulates variables in the grain and vegetable crop systems in order to research more effective growing and disease-prevention methods.
“We look for different nutrient sources from growing the crops to try to better understand how weed, insect and disease problems are related to soil” Mohler said.
“We also change the amount of tillage and manipulate the crops’ source of nitrogen to study the growth and quality of the grain and vegetables.”
While research had started before the grants were earned, the increased funding will provide for project continuity.
“The grant will give more longevity to these new groundbreaking experiments,” Mohler explained.
Sarah Johnston, executive director of the Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York, agreed with Mohler, and emphasized the importance of the research not only on New York’s farms, but nation-wide farming practices.
“While research on organic techniques attracts only a fraction of the resources dedicated to improving conventional practices, the lift given to each of the newly funded projects will go a long way toward strengthening the vitality of organic farming in New York, the Northeast and the nation as a whole,” Johnston said in a press release.
A second grant also went to the Organic Seed Partnership (OSP), a program dedicated to improving organic seed quality and farm profitability.
The OSP, headed by Molly Jahn, professor of plant breeding and plant biology, will use the grant to research seeds and then establish a large community of growers and breeders who can produce the seeds and share information.
The research and improvement of organic seeds is something that has little emphasis in the past but hopes to yield big results.
“The quality of organic seeds and breeding for organic agriculture has never been a focus of the public breeding community,” Johnston said.
“Molly Jahn has picked up this need and run with it.” The final portion of the grant will be used for the study and development of hormone-free and organic dairy products. The program will evaluate the quality of organic milk and udder health, and seek more strategic and productive methods to teach to organic farmers.
While all the grants are being used for different specific means, the common goal is that the information discovered will be accessible and disseminated to farmers nationwide so they are able to implement the most productive and profitable methods available on their farms.
“There are web-based distant learning courses available so farmers and others can learn and benefit from the results of the experiments,” Mohler said.
Archived article by Carl Menzel
Sun Staff Writer