Organic Agriculture

Breeding resistant cultivars is one of the most effective strategies for controlling plant diseases without the use of synthetic inputs. While the products of many SIPS breeding programs are suitable for use in organic agriculture, several research groups have projects specifically targeted to the needs of organic producers.

  • Michael Mazourek’s program is focused on breeding vegetables including peppers, squash and cucumbers for disease resistance.  Mazourek has also partnered with chefs and local farms to promote specialty vegetables as part of the farm-to-table movement
  • Mark Sorrells’ small grains breeding program encompasses breeding for the regional and organic markets.  Projects include evaluating ancient and specialty grains as well variety selection and development for use in the New York brewing industry
  • Margaret Smith is the extension leader for the Section of Plant Breeding and Genetics. Her research focuses on development and evaluation of maize varieties for conventional agriculture as well as non-commodity organic production

Breeding for resistance is supplemented by other disease control methods. Many SIPS researchers are engaged in development and optimization of disease control strategies using approved inputs for organic production.

  • Kerik Cox’s pathology program includes optimization of organic controls for diseases of apple as well as researching alternatives to antibiotic control of bacterial disease.
  • Lance Cadle-Davidson is investigating the use of light for suppression of powdery mildew
  • Sarah Pethybridge’s program encompasses a broad range of strategies for control of vegetable disease including organic alternatives to control of white mold on snap beans.
  • Chris Smart’s program evaluates the effectiveness of organic and conventional control strategies for diseases of pepper and squash, and in collaboration with Michael Mazourek is using genetic markers to generate disease resistant open pollinated varieties of cucumber, squash, and melon.

Accurate disease forecasting allows growers to selectively targeting inputs to the times and locations where they can be most effective. This is especially important for organic growers who have a narrower range of inputs available to them.

  • Kerik Cox and Juliet Carroll work on development of disease forecasting models that provide guidance for applications of organic anti-fungal agents
  • Chris Smart's program includes on disease monitoring and forecasting for late blight

Several SIPS faculty and staff are evaluating different management strategies for increased crop health and yield.

  • Matt Ryan and Laurie Drinkwater are working with organic farmers to breed new varieties of hairy vetch, winter pea, and crimson clover to improve organic production systems by enhancing legume cover crop performance and consistency.
  • Greg Peck’s program investigates the impact of different weed control, tillage, and load management strategies in an organic apple orchard near the Ithaca campus
  • Marvin Pritts is developing recommendations for organic production of blackberries in high tunnels
  • Anu Rangarajan investigates how reduced tillage can enhance organic vegetable production
  • Terence Robinson’s program studies apple varieties, rootstocks, weed control, and nutrient management on four certified organic acres at Geneva

Effective communication is a key step in the translation of research findings into economic benefits for organic growers.  Inclusion of organic agricultural practices in student instruction and training further serves to educate the next generation of plant scientists.

  • Justine Vanden Heuvel integrates organic practices into her course on vineyard management and maintains organic grape blocks for this purpose
  • Chris Smart and others at NYSAES Geneva host a summer research internship program where many of the students are engaged in research related to organic agriculture