Professor Emeritus, School of Integrative Plant Science Horticulture Section Cornell AgriTech
My research covered a broad range from discovering basic biological principles to direct application in commercial settings. I studied the effects of environmental stimuli on growth and development, particularly as applied to vegetable production. Recent work in flowering included discovering how temperature regulates the transition from inflorescence to flower in broccoli using the tools of functional genomics. I also have a strong interest in improving agricultural production through better integration, including work on cover crops that fill management goals for vegetable producers. Cover crops have physiological processes with valuable management benefits that complement the needs of vegetable growers. I led two multi-state research and extension teams. One supported making summer cover crops a standard practice on organic vegetable farms in the Great Lakes region. The other was instrumental in establishing a year-round Eastern broccoli industry by developing commercial varieties from existing germplasm that tolerates our growing conditions, developing grower networks in six Eastern locations that can collectively provide year-round harvest, and developing a distribution network to serve major Eastern markets.
Vegetable crop physiology
Establishing year-round Eastern broccoli industry
- Developmental processes that make vegetables valuable or interesting
- Root growth and interactions with soil biota
- Cover crop integration in vegetable cropping systems
A major area of applied research was in the mechanism whereby cover crops can overcome limitations in soil quality and contribute to weed management in vegetable production systems. That research informs the extension efforts that continues today.
My basic research focused on how development is arrested in the inflorescence of Brassica oleracea. A superb model system for this process is broccoli, a close relative of the well-studied Arabidopsis, and, with cauliflower, an extreme expression of such developmental arrest. Furthermore, precise control of this arrest is a critical management issue for a billion-dollar part of the vegetable industry. My lab investigated the role of homeotic genes believed to control developmental transition during this process.
My related applied research involved facilitating selection for broccoli that consistently avoids premature arrest that is normally induced by high temperatures during the main growing season. Major USDA funding from 2009 to 2021 supported an integrated project to establish an eastern broccoli industry based on new varieties derived from these selections.
Extension and outreach
I am the primary contact for cover crop use in vegetable production. The intensity of vegetable production necessitates active soil improvement regimes. Cover crops play an essential role in soil improvement as well as pest and weed management and biological nitrogen fertilization. Introduction of cover crops requires a systemic analysis of production systems, their constraints and limitations. Outreach on soil-improving aspects are designed to fill prescriptions produced by the Cornell Soil Health Test. This work is particularly valued by the rapidly growing organic industry. Current new outreach activity focuses on the use of short cycle cover crops during the growing season, which is a useful practice for which guidelines have not yet been established. Supporting my extension work, I did applied research on physiology of summer cover crops in relation to their competitiveness against weeds, and their ability to improve soil condition. I also led extension for buckwheat grain production, and was a resource for non-pathogenic storage disorders in cabbage.
Visit my ResearchGate profile
Awards & Honors
- Fellow (2017) American Society for Horticultural Science
- Fellow (2012) Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future
- PLHRT 9900: Doctoral Dissertation Research
205 Hedrick Hall
635 W North St.
Geneva, NY 14456
tnb1 [at] cornell.edu
Thomas in the news
The Cornell-led Eastern Broccoli Project, which built a broccoli industry on the East Coast worth an estimated $120 million over the last 13 years, has produced a promising new broccoli variety in partnership with Bejo Seeds, a Geneva, New York...
- Cornell AgriTech
- School of Integrative Plant Science
Larger organic farms operate more like conventional farms and use fewer sustainable practices than smaller organic farms, according to a new study that also provides insight into how to increase adoption of sustainable practices.
- Cornell Atkinson
- Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management
- Department of Global Development