November 30, 2005

Tech Farm Promises Innovative Research

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Farming is about to have a facelift. Having just opened in September, the not-for-profit Cornell Agriculture and Food Technology Park in Geneva, NY aims to foster the creation of innovative technologies related to agriculture, bio-based industries and food. Its initial projects have been tilled by a federal research agency and four new start-up businesses affiliated with Cornell faculty members.

The pioneer Technology Farm tenants are the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Berrigen Biotechnology, Cherrypharm, Terramend and Vitis Biosciences. Berrigen focuses on bio-fortified plants, Cherrypharm has been collaborating with Cornell researchers to develop an all-natural cherry juice nutritional supplement, Terramend seeks to use agricultural waste products for environmental remediation, and Vitis Biosciences from Chile is working to sell virus-resistant grapevine rootstalks. But the Food Technology Park also has slots available for other agricultural business and enterprises to get involved with ongoing projects and/or start new areas of research and development.

The Technology Farm is a satellite of Cornell’s NYS Agricultural Experiment Station, which upholds the vision of advancing sustainable plant agriculture and food systems via state-of-the-art research and extension programs that address local and worldwide needs. Since 1985, more than $8 million in local, state and federal funding has been raised to complete phase-one construction of the park. The park has received considerable support from New York State Electric and Gas Corp., plus state and federal legislators.

In addition to the 72 acres of property currently garnered, construction plans have been outlined for a 59,000 square foot Grape Genetics research facility. This project is set to be launched in 2007 and upon completion the center would employ another 20 people.

Daniel Fessenden, the park’s executive director, emphasizes that the Technology Farm will not be an isolated sphere that only workers and top researchers have access to. Instead, summer internships for budding undergrad entrepreneurs will certainly be available.

“The Technology Farm is not focused on businesses looking to just upscale and mass produce; the agricultural research park is looking for innovative companies that will germinate ideas,” Fessenden says. “Gradually it will impact the culture within Cornell by demonstrating that good research begets strong commercialization opportunities.”

Putting a good label on bioengineered foods in consumers’ eyes can be challenging. The Technology Farm likewise encountered patches of sensitivity at various junctures throughout the 10 year planning process, but by abiding by legal parameters of acceptable research, there has not been any major public backlash.

To increase public awareness, the NYS Agricultural Experiment Station incorporates a public outreach sector on their website where people can inquire about plants and gardening, bugs and pests, and horticultural diagnostic tools, as well as receive informative brochures regarding agricultural biotechnology. As of now, the Technology Farm building is not public domain, but tours can be arranged and the infrastructure of roads traversing all the crop fields can be driven by anyone. Thus, by no means is the Technology Farm disjointed from the surrounding Geneva community. Also, despite the hour driving distance from Ithaca, the Technology Farm seeks to be closely tethered to Cornell’s campus by ongoing collaboration with faculty and students.

As of now, there is still progress to be made. Linda McCandless, Director of Communications in CALS, said, “The research station in Geneva is an under-appreciated asset in general. Many students and even Cornell faculty members just aren’t aware of it.”

So far, nearby Finger Lakes Community College and Hobart & William Smith College students have had opportunities for involvement in the avenue of research opportunities.

Archived article by Devan Flahive
Sun Staff Writer