September 25, 2007

C.U. Experiment Station Celebrates 125 Years

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Though it is thousands of miles away from the hot, muggy farmlands of Hawaii, a small research station 50 miles away from Ithaca in Geneva, N.Y., was instrumental in saving the island’s papaya industry.
According to Prof. Tony Shelton, entomology, several years ago, Cornell’s New York State Agricultural Experiment Station located in Geneva saved the industry through its development of a transgenic papaya.
While many undergraduate students may be unfamiliar with NYSAES, it is certainly not new to Cornell. The station was founded in 1882, but in 1923 it became part of Cornell and is now a part of College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. It is closely affiliated with the University’s Agricultural Experiment Station here in Ithaca.
Plant pathology, entomology, horticultural sciences and food science and technology are the four academic departments in NYSAES and these departments correspond to the same departments on the Ithaca campus.
Research is the primary focus of NYSAES, which gets its funding from the state, the federal government, grants and contracts.
Prof. Thomas Burr, director of NYSAES, said, “We do some very applied research that directly impacts the food and agriculture business in New York State and also some very fundamental type research.”
According to Burr, topics of research being conducted by NYSAES are food product development, food safety, plant breeding and control methods for new invasive pests and plant viruses.
The research focuses on New York State agriculture, but much of the research has a much larger, international impact.
Shelton said that the transgenic papaya was simply a “brick in the foundation of trying to develop new technologies that will be useful worldwide.”
Other examples of research that have had international impact are the development of the gene gun that allows for the making of transgenic plants and pioneering work on insect pheromones, the chemical signals used by insects to communicate.
NYSAES also has a USDA Agricultural Research Service unit that specializes in plant genetics resources and grape genetics. It also houses a Food Venture Center that hopes to aid small businesses.
According to Burr, the “Food Venture Center has helped hundreds of small companies develop food products throughout New York State.”
Megan Lang grad, works with Dr. Olga Padilla-Zakour, who runs the center.
Lang said the center provides a great service for the community by allowing local entrepreneurs to create value out of commodity.
NYSAES celebrated its 125th anniversary with a massive outreach program on Sept. 15. There were over 6,000 attendees from the community and the community members were able to see how NYSAES runs and the benefits it provides to the community.
Shelton said that the anniversary “highlighted many of the things scientists at the station have done, such as improving human health, protecting crops and the environment, and fueling the economy and development through agriculture.”
According to Burr, another very successful outreach project NYSAES runs is an educational program for school children in Geneva to help them understand agriculture and science.
Extension is another major part of the work at NYSAES.
Burr said that the faculty works with “growers and grower organizations in the food industry to help them solve problems and issues and look to the future.”
The large wine industry throughout the Finger Lakes region is also aided by NYSAES. NYSAES produces new varieties of grapes, and new methods for processing them, and it helps local farmers and wineries streamline their processes, Lang said.
Due to the distance from Geneva to Ithaca, there is very little undergraduate teaching there. However, some professors travel to Ithaca to teach undergraduates and NYSAES offers summer research positions.
Student life at the center is therefore directed at graduate students. Lang currently serves as the president of the Student Association of the Geneva Experiment Station.
“SAGES builds community among the grad students and employees of the station as a whole. It also promotes the agriculture that is so strong in this region,” Lang said.