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  • Cornell AgriTech
  • Agriculture
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Pedersen Farms is a family owned farm located in Seneca Castle, New York, that produces over 1,500 acres of vegetables. Owners Rick and Laura Pedersen have grown many different vegetables over the years and have gradually changed from processing vegetable production to mostly fresh market vegetable production. In 2004, the Pedersens began further transitioning the farm to organic production. Today, 600 acres of their farm is certified organic. They exclusively sell wholesale to grocery stores, farm markets and large wholesalers throughout the Northeast. Laura Pedersen recently spoke with Cornell AgriTech about its role in their success.

What has it been like to work with Cornell AgriTech over the years?

We’ve had a close relationship with Cornell AgriTech over the years working with faculty there ever since we started farming in 1983. Both of us had worked on the Geneva campus during summers in college, so we knew some of the faculty members already. We always feel that being close in location to Cornell AgriTech has been a big benefit to our farm because we are able to have contact with faculty and staff on a regular basis. If someone from Cornell AgriTech wants to do offsite research, they will reach out to us and say, “Can we put this trap out in your field, or can we do start this project in your field?” Their experiments benefit us as well.

What have been Cornell AgriTech’s most notable impacts on Pedersen Farms?

Pest control has been something that we can always depend on Cornell AgriTech for. Cornell AgriTech is usually working on pest management for important crops grown in this area. Even though we grow some of the more unusual crops, there's usually someone with knowledge of that particular crop and the pests that affect it.

Especially since we’re organic, we can't just spray pesticides. Getting help from Cornell AgriTech with organically approved materials has been a huge benefit. We’ll ask, “Have you ever tried this or is there any evidence that this will work?” A lot of times a faculty member will either have tried [a pest management technique] in trials or will have general knowledge about it.

What do you view as the biggest challenge for New York vegetable growers?

The biggest challenge has been climate change. There have been a lot more big rain events than we used to get and that has affected crops. Unfortunately, we don't grow some of the crops we used to grow because a lot of them had sensitivities to heavy rainfalls.

Downy mildew used to be a disease on vegetables that only showed up once in a while or late in the season, and now we see it a lot earlier and pretty much every year. We have had help in controlling downy mildew from AgriTech, but it gets to the point where it’s not economical to grow certain crops that are constantly affected by that pathogen.

Why is Cornell AgriTech research important to the vegetable industry?

We need [AgriTech’s] research because the climate is changing and problems are changing. We see different insects showing up as well as diseases that we didn’t used to see. Research happening at Cornell AgriTech is necessary to mitigate the emerging issues we are experiencing … to help solve problems that we have today that didn’t exist 10 or 20 years ago.

What do you love most about being a farmer?

When you can produce a good crop and see your customers really happy and wanting more. That’s been the most rewarding part about growing kale. When we first started growing it, we had some demand for it, and then all of a sudden people really liked it. Organic kale has really good flavor and [people] wanted more. We found it really satisfying to grow something [that] customers really appreciate and want us to grow more and to be able to fulfill their demands.

What has been your experiences with vegetable varieties developed at Cornell AgriTech?

We try new varieties whenever we can. Every year we will try a different variety of something just because we like to see what’s out there. As the market develops, we grow what works for this region, and if the breeding is done at Cornell AgriTech, it’s likely to grow well here.

What advice would you give to a vegetable grower just starting out about working with Cornell AgriTech?

Go to extension meetings and get to know the people that are working on the crops that you’re interested in or using the technique you’re interested in. Cornell AgriTech is a huge resource that you can tap into basically for free. It has been a huge benefit to us over the years – why reinvent the wheel? Chances are [AgriTech has] expertise to offer on the technique you want to try or the issue you’re trying to solve. It makes sense to tap into the knowledge that's there and take advantage of it

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