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Modern apple tree plantings have been made at the Hudson Valley Lab.

Modern apple tree plantings have been made at the Hudson Valley Lab.


Workers at Cornell University’s Hudson Valley Laboratory at Highland, near Poughkeepsie, New York, tend to see themselves as guardians of the gate. Whenever new diseases and insects come to challenge fruit growers in New York State, they come from the south and sweep up through the valley.

While fruit growers in northern New York have yet to face brown marmorated stinkbug and spotted wing drosophila, the scientists at the ­Hudson Valley Lab have been dealing with them for more than two years. They hope to have them all figured out before others north of them have to face them.

Even without invasive species, the Hudson Valley, with its humidity and rain, is a perfect place for scientists to study apple scab, fireblight, and cherry bacterial canker. It is warmer, providing the earliest fruit in the state—and the earliest pests. With climate change underway, the Hudson Valley will be the first place in New York to experience new pests as they move northward.

With more pest pressure, and the special demands of trying to control the two latest invasive insect species, the researchers are pressed to develop “neighbor friendly” solutions—because there are lots of ­neighbors in the Hudson Valley.

Growers in the Hudson Valley produce 22 percent of New York’s apples; some 72 percent are produced along Lake Ontario in western New York.

Research center

Some of Cornell University’s best-known fruit experts work out of the Hudson Valley Lab. The lab is under the direction of plant pathologist Dr. David Rosenberger, who has a national reputation in fruit diseases. Horticulturist Dr. Steve Hoying, one of the developers of the tall spindle ­system for apple production, does his research there.

And the person who makes the news these days for his work with ­invasive insect species is entomologist Dr. Peter Jentsch.

The experiment station also has extension staff, led by Mike Fargione, and a complement of workers in the laboratories.

“There’s not much support staff here for the orchard work,” Hoying told growers during the International Fruit Tree Association tour there in February. “The researchers tend to do a lot of the work, like spraying, themselves. On the plus side, it really makes them think like growers,” he said.

The lab sits on 35 acres, high above the Hudson River’s west bank. It was started in 1928 and has had strong financial and moral support from growers from the start.

Last September, however, Cornell University College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Dean Kathryn Boor proposed cutting support for the research program by 50 percent—reducing it from $500,000 a year to $250,000. While the change would not take place until August 2014, that will probably happen unless something changes, Rosenberger said.

Replacement funding would have to come from grower support or from philanthropy, he said.

The overall budget for the lab is larger. The half million pays the salaries of the three research scientists and two support staff, plus some other expenses. Many of the scientific projects they carry out are ­supported by grants.

The station is actually owned by a cooperative of growers, who built it and lease it to Cornell. There is no indebtedness on the property.

“It is a very serious thing,” Rosenberger said. “The bottom line is, all the College of Agriculture funding is facing a crisis, and Cornell has been reviewing the roles of its experiment stations for the last two or three years.