$4.2 million in grants Cornell AES works for better lives in New York

At Cornell, 56 research projects have received federal funding to investigate topics that will support New York’s food supply, economy and well-being. These include teaching young people financial literacy skills, evaluating the economic opportunities for dairy farmers to participate in carbon markets, and understanding the role birds play in controlling pests in New York’s orchards.

The Cornell University Agricultural Experiment Station (Cornell AES) has won and will administer $4.2 million in funding from the US Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

One of the projects will assess the food security benefits and food safety risks of Great Lakes fish. This freshwater fishery is defined as “recreational”, but evidence suggests that the fishery is much more than recreational and meets a diverse set of cultural needs for some fishermen. These include immigrants who associate fishing as an activity they did in their home countries and people in urban areas who use fishing as a source of food. A better understanding of who fishes, why and how much fish they eat will help policymakers better integrate the risks and benefits of fishing into resource management beyond traditional sport fishing, said project leader Catherine Fiorella, assistant professor of public health and health of Ecosystems at the College of Veterinary Medicine (CVM).

“Natural resources can provide a safety net for accessing high-quality food or meeting important cultural needs,” Fiorella said. “A better understanding of the use patterns of these aquatic food resources and the risks they may pose through pollutants is critical to addressing their role in the food system and natural resource management across the full range of uses and values.”

Other topics the researchers will study include:

  • Rice as an adaptation to climate: Climate change is increasing the risk of flooding across the Northeast, threatening agricultural production. Chuan Liao, assistant professor of global development in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS), and colleagues will study the feasibility of flood-resilient rice production in New York. They will create a map of the state that identifies flood-prone areas suitable for rice cultivation and analyze economic opportunities and farmer interest.
  • Reducing food waste: The food industry generates extensive production data, but this information is significantly underutilized. Effectively analyzing such data can lead to operational improvements that would reduce food waste. Abigail Snyder, assistant professor of food science (CALS), and Randy Worobo, professor of food science (CALS), will develop a model data management system that uses machine learning and artificial intelligence to evaluate how food manufacturers can save more food from spoilage by pathogens and fungi.
  • Youth Financial Literacy: New York’s youth need financial literacy skills to better recognize potential risks and avoid poor financial decisions. Among New Yorkers, 28% pay the monthly minimum on credit card bills, and 41% don’t have enough saved for emergencies. In collaboration with Cornell Cooperative Extension financial educators, Valerie Reyna, professor of psychology in the College of Human Ecology (CHE), will develop a curriculum to help students interpret numbers in everyday life, understand risks and achieve financial well-being.
  • Dairy farms and carbon credits: Carbon credit markets are growing in the US, and dairy farms can generate carbon credits by using an anaerobic digester for manure that recycles animal waste into renewable natural gas. Christopher Wolf, EV Baker Professor of Agricultural Economics in the Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management, will evaluate the feasibility and long-term economic value of bioreactors for New York dairy farms, specifically whether farmers could gain more value by owning and operating the bioreactors themselves or by concluding a contract with private operating companies and receiving a certain fee.
  • Assessing Birds in New York’s Orchards: Birds provide agricultural benefits to New York orchards, such as pollination, seed dispersal, and pest control. This study will measure the ecological services of birds and provide recommendations on how producers can increase the diversity and abundance of key bird species for pest control. It will be led by Irby Lovette, Fuller Professor of Ornithology (CALS), and Research Associate Jen Walsh and Postdoctoral Fellow Gemma Clucas, both in the Fuller Program in Evolutionary Biology at the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology.

Cornell AES helps fulfill Cornell’s land-grant mission by maintaining research farms, greenhouses, and other facilities, and by funding researchers at CALS, CHE, and CVM.

“Since our founding in 1879, Cornell AES has supported research projects that aim to improve the lives and livelihoods of New Yorkers,” said Margaret Smith, director of Cornell AES and associate dean of CALS. “The 56 new projects starting this year address agriculture and food system issues that range from growing food to reducing post-processing waste, from minimizing environmental footprints to maximizing natural pest control , from more affordable food options to improving people’s financial management skills and more. “

Chrissy Gashler is a freelance writer for the Cornell University Agricultural Experiment Station.

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