2019 FVI Project Profiles

The 2019 FVI grant round was highly competitive, with 46 proposal received and 15 projects funded. The work that rose to the top of the lists is a testament to the open minds of our farmer review panels. These are not farmers who are resistant to change, they simply need research to identify the most productive paths forward.

For a list of 2019 funded projects, see here. Individual project profiles follow. For prior year project profiles, see here.

Hemp and Honey

Examining the Efficacy of a Novel Control Method for
Varroa Destructor in Honey Bee Colonies.
One of the most significant challenges faced by beekeepers is disease and colony loss caused by the Varroa mite and the viruses it transmits. Hailey Scofield co-founder of Combplex, a NY start-up, believes her team has engineered the solution. They have designed a device which uses optical recognition to identify the parasite on the bee’s body as it enters the hive. If it is present, the battery-powered device uses a high-powered laser to kill the mite.  These miniature devices have been successful in the lab and are currently undergoing short term tests in the field.  With support from Cornell University, Combplex will scale-up the test and trial the device in 150 commercial hives in New York State. Design input from New York State’s commercial beekeepers will ensure an optimum solution is developed and collaboration with beekeepers will be an integral part of the overall process.

The Combplex device is embedded in the frame of commercial hives. The diagram to the left shows where it located and illustrates how it targets the abdomen of the bee as it enters the hive.

Optimizing Industrial Hemp Production for CBD in New York. The 2018 U.S. farm bill has made it clear: Hemp is here to stay. While the plant can be used many purposes, consumers are clamoring for Cannabidiol, commonly known as CBD. Led by Larry Smart at Cornell AgriTech, this project will compare four production methods for yield of CBD, including development of novel dual purpose grain/CBD field crop production and extended season production in high tunnels. The project will also evaluate the disease incidence and suitability of cultivars under different cultivation scenarios and compare the capital, labor and input costs compared with revenues for each method in order to define profitability. Extensive outreach will be conducted to ensure New York growers are well prepared to profit from this growing opportunity.

Dairy and Field Crops

Faster Cheaper and Safer: Re-engineering Best Management Safety Practices on NY Dairies. Between 2007 and 2014, 36 workers died on NY dairy farms. Although, on-farm safety training has been provided for decades by the New York Center for Agricultural Medicine and Health (NYCAMH) , injury statistics demonstrate that additional solutions for encouraging workers to adopt safety best practices are needed. This project seeks to apply advancements in human behavioral research to the field of dairy safety. Led by Julie Sorenson with NYCAMH/Basset Healthcare Network, the project will integrate international expertise in “behavioral nudging”. Anticipated outcomes include the development of safety solutions that increase worker adoption, reduce risks, reduce time and effort required to complete identified work-tasks and increase farm profitability either through improved work efficiencies or the elimination of waste. Farmers will be involved in many phases of the project, from identifying priority work-tasks to evaluating solutions. Results can be implemented on most NY dairy farms and will be shared through multiple, existing partner networks and NYCAMH promotional activities.

Onboarding Dairy Farm Employees: Safe, Productive and Engaged from Day One! Recent research with large dairy farms indicates annual employee turnover rates ranging from 20% to 80%. Assuming a 500 cow farm with 10 employees, a 50% turnover rate mean 5 new employees each year. Getting them started right can make or break the business. The goal of this work is to help farm managers learn how to “onboard” their farm employees to help them be safe, productive, and engaged from day one of employment. A closely related goal is for farm employers to become more professional in their human resource practices and fully compliant with existing state and federal employment regulations. This project, led by Richard Stup of Cornell University and executed through regional extension educators will work with 50 NY dairy farms to develop their onboarding process. A wide array of templates and training materials will be created and made available to ensure the knowledge can be utilized by all dairy farms.

Measure to Manage: Why Does the Colostrum Vary? Colostrum is the “liquid gold” produced by mammals before giving birth, and is known to be critical for a healthy start of the newborn. Prepartum risk factors influencing colostrum production of modern dairy cows are largely unstudied despite the fact that the volume and/or quality of colostrum may vary significantly among operations and individuals. Cornell researcher Sabine Mann, with the College of Veterinary Medicine and her colleagues want to understand what factors affect the quality and quantity of colostrum produced. The possible contribution of age of animal, nutrition, stocking density and season (photoperiod/temperature/heat stress) will all be evaluated. This information will help farms understand the practices that they can modify to ensure that all their calves receive high quality colostrum to aid in the prevention of preweaning diseases such as diarrhea and pneumonia. Research will take place on 21 New York dairy farms.

Forage Evaluation On-Farm Using Handheld NIR Units. The use of Near Infrared Reflectance Spectroscopy (NIRS) analysis for forage quality was developed in the mid 1970s. It allows for fast, accurate and precise evaluation of the chemical composition and associated feeding value of forages and other feedstuffs. Since that time, the knowledge of animal nutrition has grown exponentially, and now dairy farms are increasingly practicing “precision feed management” an approach that evaluates the nutritional value of feed relative to its cost and the benefit of increased production. In the US, most farms that are using this approach are sending forage samples to labs for testing on a regular basis. The development of new handheld NIRS devices offers potential for on-farm testing and immediate results. Jerry Cherney with Cornell University wants to help farmers know how well these tools work. This project will evaluate four commercially available devices for accuracy, precision and practicality of use on the farm. At its conclusion NY dairy farmers will understand the potential value of using these tools on their farm.

Regaining Control of Herbicide-Resistant Weeds
in Corn and Soybean.
New York corn and soybean growers are fighting to keep horseweed (marestail) and waterhemp out of their fields. Both plants have developed resistance to certain herbicides and improved management approaches are needed to keep corn and soybean fields productive. Bryan Brown, with the Integrated Pest Management Program at Cornell AgriTech will be trialing a number of options at five farms across the state to help growers understand which combination of cultural, mechanical and chemical processes may prove to be most effective. Cost effectiveness of the practices will also be evaluated. Results will be shared via the NYSIPM YouTube channel, podcasts other traditional outreach methods such as field days.

Growing the Potential of Red Clover: Optimum Stage of Harvest, Feed Value Compared to Alfalfa Across New York there are soils that simply don’t drain well enough to grow alfalfa, particularly in a wet year. Farmers are looking for profitable alternatives. Recent Cornell varietal trials demonstrated that red clover can match alfalfa yield in short rotations and the University of Wisconsin found it potentially equals or exceeds alfalfa in feed value. In this project, Tom Kilcer, with Advanced Ag Systems, seeks to establish the value compared to alfalfa in NY; and the unknown optimum time frame for NY farmers to harvest based on the analysis of the nutritional profile at various stages. Trials will take place on three farms and the results will be shared broadly within the ag community. The livestock panel also reviewed this proposal.

Apples and Other Fruit

Mitigating Apple Grower’s Losses from Fire Blight with Novel Management Approaches. Erwinia Amylovora is a devastating bacterial infection known to apple growers as “fire blight”. Current Cornell production guidelines recommend treating preemptively with antibiotics. In 2002, 2011 and 2018 new, antibiotic resistant strains of the pathogen were discovered in NY orchards. This project, led by Kerik Cox from Cornell AgriTech, will collect and “fingerprint” fire blight samples from across the state to determine if differential management programs are needed for different growing regions. It will also conduct on-farm efficacy trials to understand the potential for new programs of plant growth regulators, plant defense activators, and biological bloom protectants to help growers protect their orchards. An economic analysis of each program will be conducted.

Keeping the Money In, and Bitter Pit Out, of HoneycrispTM Apples. Consumers love Honeycrisp apples and growers across the country have been producing this apple in increasing quantities. The challenge? Bitter Pit, a physiological disorder that leads to high cull rates, as well as fruit that often rapidly declines in storage. With increasing product available on the market, producing a Honeycrisp apple that stores well is critical to the crop’s profitability. Through prior grower funded research, it was confirmed that a commonly used plant growth regulator, applied early in the season could mitigate bitter pit by 50%. Models to help growers predict the storage capability of their fruit were also developed. This project led by Daniel Donahue with CCE’s Eastern NY Commercial Horticulture Program will educate growers on new options for managing bitter pit, refine the prediction models and evaluate additional agrichemicals for bitter pit suppression. Conservative estimates of bitter pit loss in NY are at $2.3 million annually, so even modest improvements could have significant impact.

Expanding the Range for Establishing the Samurai Wasp in
Orchards and Vegetable Crops
. Nobody likes stink bugs. From homeowners to agricultural enterprises the Asian invasive brown marmorated stink bug (BMSB) can cause significant economic damage as well as nuisance. In New York BMSB was first reported in 2012. Since the pest’s arrival, researchers across the country have been working to identify management practices to contain it. The Trissolcus Japonicus, a parasitoid known as the Samurai Wasp has been identified as a viable biological control. Redistribution of the wasp is underway in Oregon and Washington State with recent approval by the DEC for redistribution in New York. Building on a prior NYFVI project, Peter Jentsch with Cornell University’s Hudson Valley Research Lab, will lead this project to understand the presence of native parasitoid populations to determine the need for biological release of the Samurai Wasps. Activities will include the use of BMSB traps, commercially available smartphone scouting tools and a USDA funded EDDMaps to track the prevalence of BMSB. Following the first year of measurement, the Samurai Wasp will be released in areas where it is deemed necessary to counter BMSB to protect crops.

Using ECa to Predict Soil Cation Exchange Capacity in Vineyards. Cation Exchange Capacity (CEC) is an important soil characteristic that relates to soil fertility. While knowledge of spatial variations in CEC is crucial to site-specific management of vineyards, the conventional approach to estimating CEC is time-consuming and expensive with low spatial resolution. Soil apparent electrical conductivity (ECa) and chargeability depends on bulk soil properties and are used as proxies to estimate CEC. With this project, Erasmus Oware of SUNY Buffalo, will develop a framework to rapidly estimate high-resolution CEC of a vineyard from ECa and chargeability measurements. The resulting CEC maps will support site-specific vineyard management decisions that reduce off-site impacts, such as the placement of drainage tile to reduce runoff as well as targeted fertilization practices to reduce nutrient leaching. Six grower-collaborators will ground-truth their CEC maps. If successful, a strategy to rapidly evaluate CEC on a large-scale will benefit not only vineyards, but also have broad applications in other production systems to reduce input costs and minimize environmental impacts of agricultural production.


Prophylactic UV Treatment to Prevent Downy Mildew. Cucumber Downy Mildew (DM), a foliar disease, produces asexual spores that are wind-born and become widespread. Infected leaves die prematurely resulting in fewer or lower-quality fruit. The pathogen develops resistance to fungicides, and resistant varieties are only effective for current pathogen strains. A 2018 FVI project examined both powdery mildew and DM. It learned that unlike with powdery mildew, UV light is only moderately effective when delivered post infection. However, there is evidence that prophylactic UV doses induce the plant’s resistance to DM. This project, led by Mark Rea with the Lighting Research Center at RPI, will leverage the UV light delivery system built to treat powdery mildew in summer squash and modify it as needed to prophylactically treat DM in cucumbers. Trials will take place on an organic farm in the Hudson Valley. The annual value of New York fresh market cucumbers is approximately $17 million.

Putting the Heat on Seed-borne Pathogens of Garlic. Over 400 New York farmers grow garlic, producing a crop worth $27 – $43 million annually. A 2011 survey by Cornell Cooperative Extension found almost 25% of growers had lost greater than 30% of their crop in the previous five years. These losses have been exacerbated by recent introductions of pests and diseases including bloat nematode, eriophyid mite, clove rots due to Fusarium and other fungi and the sporadic occurrence of white rot (caused by the fungus Sclerotium cepivorum). Cornell AgriTech’s Frank Hay and a team of regional extension educators want to help growers avoid these losses by developing cost-effective management solutions to fight seed-borne pests. The work will define optimum seed curing/storage conditions, investigate means of grading out infected/infested seed prior to planting, and reevaluate hot water treatment of seed cloves as well as seed treatments with OMRI listed/conventional pesticides.

Can Biocontrol Nematodes Control the Colorado Potato Beetle?
Elson Shields
at Cornell University is well known for his work with persistent entomopathogenic nematodes to fight pests in NY fields. A single field inoculation will provide pest suppression for multiple growing seasons. Since 2007, NYFVI has invested over $400k into his research to help identify cropping systems and insect pests where this biocontrol technology can have the biggest impact and the greatest benefit for the grower. To date, these insect-attacking nematodes are extremely effective with the alfalfa snout beetle, western corn room and the root weevil complex in strawberries, cranberries and blueberries.  With this project, Shields will conduct a preliminary trial at the Cornell Research Farm to understand if biocontrol nematodes can effectively attack the Colorado Potato Beetle and persist in the potato cropping system.  In 2017, NY grew 14,500 acres of potatoes worth $50 million.