Researchers Provide Information Farmers Need to Improve Production, Quality of Crops

Improving the taste of food can be as simple as adding a touch of salt or spoonful of sugar. But improving the production of food and introducing new varieties with better nutritional value takes a team of scientists. As we continue to Explore New York, Cristina Domingues introduces us to a one-of-a-kind research center in Geneva.

GENEVA, N.Y. -- Out on a field at the New York State Agriculture Experiment Station, professor Larry Smart is growing shrub willow. Every two or three years, the stems are harvested and turned into wood chips.  Those chips heat two buildings at the center.

Because the willow re-sprouts and can grow on underutilized land, Smart says it could become the next commercial biofuel crop. This is just one of the many research programs going on at the station.

"Our mission is to apply cutting edge science to improve agriculture in New York State, in the Northeast, across the U.S. and even across the world if we can," said Smart.

Run by Cornell University, the station has 900 acres in Geneva where thousands of scientists and students help farmers yield larger crops, make tastier fruits and vegetables, and fight pests and plant diseases.

"When we buy vegetables from the grocery store, we don't see those that got thrown away because they had problems.  We're reducing those problems and making the growers more profitable, but we're also getting better products to consumers," said Susan Brown.

Dr. Susan Brown is not just the director; she's also a plant breeder who created the Snapdragon apple variety.  It's one of the more than 60 varieties Cornell has developed since the 1890s.

"Honey Crisp is a great apple, but when a grower grows it -- only 40 to 50 percent gets to market because it gets dots on the skin and all sorts of disorders.  So, I said I'd like to create something similar to Honey Crisp but a little more umpf, a little more flavor, and not have production problems," Brown said.

Funded through federal and state money, the horticulturists, entomologists, biologists and geneticists are working on everything from new natural dyes, to tall growing vegetables that can feed villages in Africa.

They're helping winemakers perfect their grapes.  And then they're making sure all those products, are safe to hit your supermarket shelves.

"Our vegetable growers will say when people enjoy a carrot or cabbage; they don't realize the research that goes into it. You know that bumper sticker that says if you have food, thank a farmer?  Thank a researcher as well," said Brown.