Parasitic threat | Black vine weevils such as these pose a significant threat to a variety of crops vital to New York agriculture.

Student Spotlight on Ben Engbers: Researching a Sustainable Way to Control Pests

While many Cornell students were off enjoying summer vacation away from Ithaca, Ben Engbers ’20 remained on campus to defend and improve the vitality of New York’s berry industry. As a research assistant and project manager at Elson Shields Laboratory of Entomology, Engbers has dedicated the majority of his undergraduate career to demonstrating the efficacy of nematodes as a sustainable biocontrol for berry farms.

“Nematodes are a native, sustainable, and organic solution to a food security problem that is affecting New York state and the world,” Engbers said. While Shields laboratory has studied the behavior and application of nematodes as pest control for over two decades, this summer, Engbers facilitated a specific project concerning the control of black vine weevil at Rulfs Orchard located five hours away in Peru, NY. “My work this summer resulted in promising data that I am excited to see published and ultimately applied in the real world,” he said. Black vine weevil is a formidable obstacle to crop growers worldwide and has been a significant detriment to the berry industry.

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Advocating For Agriculture on a National Level

Conor McCabe ’18, promoted federal funding for agricultural research and land-grant universities in Washington D.C from March 4th to 7th as the first-ever student selected to serve as a delegate for the Association of Public Land Grant Universities’ Council for Agricultural Research, Extension, and Teaching. In an interview with The Sun, McCabe talked about the importance of having a current student’s perspective when making funding decisions relating to education and research. “Many of the individuals who previously served on [CARET] were at the end of their careers, but there had never been a point of view of someone who was currently experiencing the land-grant system as a student,” McCabe said. “I had such a unique story to tell that would show the power of the land-grant university system and how my life has been directly impacted by it.”

The motivation behind McCabe’s involvement in D.C. stemmed not only from his academic background, but also from his personal history. The kinds of agricultural programs for which he advocated in D.C. were similar to those from which he had benefited from in his childhood.

A tractor sprays nitrogen-based fertilizers on a corn field in Leesburg, Virginia.

Discovery of New Step in Nitrogen Cycle To Fundamentally Alter Fertilizer Use

Fertilizers form the backbone of many agricultural processes worldwide. Decades worth of work has been poured into understanding the way in which fertilizers function and the ways in which they can affect the environment. In fact, the process by which bacteria break down nitrogen products in fertilizers to help provide plants with nutrients has found its way into high school textbooks, often accompanied by easy to understand diagrams.

A study led by Prof. Kyle Lancaster, chemistry, however, sheds light on a new found process that suggests that there is more to this nitrogen cycle than previously known. According to Lancaster, existing biochemical models state that bacteria convert ammonia into an inorganic compound, Hydroxylamine, before turning that into nitrite. Nitrite can then be converted by other bacteria to form nitrate, a vital plant nutrient.