Research Projects

The grape industry is an important component of the eastern U.S. agriculture and economy and future development of a thriving industry depends on clean stocks in foundation vineyards. Clean stocks are paramount to produce high quality grape production and vineyard sustainability. Our research seeks to understand the economic impact of National Clean Plant Network (NCPN) centers, one at Cornell University, which promote sustainable growth of the industry by testing grape material for viruses and other graft-transmissible agents, perform procedures for pathogen elimination, and extend information about the benefits of clean planting material. Determining the economic benefits of NCPN on the grape industry is essential to provide new incentives for the use of clean vines. Similarly, estimating the return of public investments on NCPN is critical to provide guidance to industry stakeholders for enhanced support of clean plant centers.

Multiple markets are emerging in Western New York and the Hudson Valley region for locally-sourced, organic small grains, corn and soybeans. Primary higher-value emerging markets include artisan baking, specialty culinary applications, brewing, and distilling. Secondary markets are also emerging for animal feed markets for grains, especially when they don’t meet human consumption quality standards. Organic corn and soybean production is a critical source of feed for the organic dairy, beef and poultry industries. However, there is very little information on growing grains organically in western NY and some of the grain grown for bakers and brewers does not meet the necessary specifications and is sold as feed. This objective of this project is to generate the necessary information for efficient organic production of feed grains in the largest grain-growing region of NY so as to increase profitability for producers, local availability for processors, and reduced cost to consumers.

The production of locally grown vegetables in greenhouses located in NYS has the potential to further increase based on consumer preference shifting to locally grown year round produce. Significant obstacles to new or transitioning farmers to enter the Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA) sector include the need for detailed financial plans and the need to develop markets that value locally grow. This project directly addresses this critical need by engaging key players in the CEA vegetable industry to assist in the development of market and business planning tools. The goals of this project are to develop a market assessment report for year-round CEA produce in NYS, to develop interactive spreadsheet tools and to deliver the business development and marketing tools to promote the implementation of new CEA businesses in New York State. The spreadsheets, combined with estimates on crop yield, and market valuation will be used to simulate the flow of costs and revenues during the lifetime of a CEA operation. Combined with estimates on crop yield and production costs, the market information developed in this project will allow potential CEA businesses to develop robust, research-based valuations of their products.

This is a four-year project funded by USDA's National Institute for Food and Agriculture. This project aims to understand how to manage spotted wing drosophila (SWD), a devastating pest of soft skinned fruits, across various cropping systems and climatic regions. It employs a stakeholder-driven, bottom-up approach to develop economically and environmentally sustainable SWD management practices that will reduce reliance on pesticides. The project includes innovative, forward-looking research activities that will enable future advances in SWD management nationwide. The goals of this project are to develop sustainable SWD management programs, to implement these programs, evaluate their effects, and to identify promising innovations that will enable future enhancements of SWD management. This is the first project on SWD with national participation and extends the work of previously funded projects to areas where SWD had not been detected when they were awarded. The project team has worked closely with stakeholders to develop objectives and activities that address the pressing need for sustainable SWD management strategies.

There is a fundamental factor impeding the establishment of long-term sustainable and trustful relationships between the supply chain and cooperatives representing smallholder coffee growers: the lack of transparent information regarding the cost and benefits of producing specialty coffee. Most evidence is anecdotal at best, but rigorous assessments of costs and benefits are essential for industry and donors to continue supporting initiatives to profitably integrate smallholder growers into global specialty coffee markets. Improved information systems and real costs estimations has been shown to improve welfare for all supply chain members. In particular, help roasters to define fair prices paid to growers and help cooperatives to negotiate superior contracts with coffee buyers. In partnership with Fair Trade USA we are developing an online Cost of Production Calculation and Discussion Tool for sustainable coffee production for smallholder farmers in Latin America. This coffee calculator will be a step toward informed production decisions and a more inclusive, environmentally sound coffee industry.

Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future Academic Venture Fund Award 2016

Eastern consumers ' demand for local broccoli is high, but that demand cannot be met until sufficiently adapted varieties are available and the distribution network is expanded. Locally grown represents a large transition in the produce industry and in consumers interest in food. Broccoli is an excellent model for driving that transition. This project will enable a tripling of eastern production, to a farm gate value of $100 million per year, by making eastern broccoli more profitable for seed companies, growers and distributors. This expansion will also reduce the overall cost and carbon footprint of broccoli consumed in the East, increase food security by diversifying production areas, and provide rural economic development. National food security is improved by diversifying the production area to reduce risk from regional events like the current western drought. Production to include areas with sufficient rainfall stabilizes the market and improves food security. Furthermore, the carbon footprint of eastern broccoli consumption is lower because it is shipped shorter distances, and with less ice.

The project goal is to make broccoli a self-sustaining crop on the East Coast by developing adapted varieties and overcoming barriers in production and distribution that currently limit expansion. The project has four primary objectives:

Objective 1: Seed of new cultivars commercially available: Bring to market hybrids, bred in the previous five years of this project, that are much better adapted to the East. Seed companies will produce, market and distribute seed of about six new varieties in the eastern US market.

Objective 2: Sustained Improvement of broccoli: Introduce new breeding tools and create germplasm even better than today's best, to produce broccoli hybrids with the adaptation, quality and productivity needed to keep the crop competitive into the future.

Objective 3: Develop a large grower base Provide the information that growers need in order to be financially successful when expanding broccoli production, and raise awareness of the opportunities that the new varieties create.

Objective 4: Enhanced distribution channels for regional fresh produce. Overcome barriers to increased distribution of eastern-grown broccoli that have not resolved in the private sector. Much of the potential production capacity is on farms that could produce tens of acres per year, but larger customers need a base of hundreds of acres and lower risk of supply gaps than individual growers can provide. Customers expect year-round supply, but individual production areas have short seasons; coordinating distribution from multiple regions is necessary to meet customer expectations. The growing food-hub movement is a vehicle for addressing both of these limitations. We will work with food hubs to use broccoli as reliable revenue source and to solve some of the problems that cause food hubs to fail.


Expanding the consumption of local foods entails many benefits: reducing greenhouse gas production, delivering fresher food attuned to local tastes, and contributing to the local farm economy are but three. Despite public policy efforts to promote the purchase of local foods through direct channels (eg., farmers markets), direct sales have reached a plateau (Thilmany McFadden 2015), while sales of intermediated local foods -- through retailers, restaurants, and food service operations -- continue to grow rapidly (Low and Vogel 2011). We propose to examine intermediated local food supply network design in order to increase the amount of value created for farmers, local food economies, retailers, and consumers. Our supporting objectives are to: show how local foods support the retailing function in theory; test the relationship between local-food assortments, store traffic, equilibrium pricing, and welfare by analyzing field-experiment data from an internet-based local foods retailer (Relay Foods); study consumers' store-choice and shopping-basket purchase habits by varying local content in an experimental context; design a model of the supply network for local-food retailing based on the Relay Foods data; use agent-based modeling (ABM) methods to simulate welfare outcomes from an optimal retail supply network; and draw implications from our modeling exercise for retailers, distributors, growers, and policymakers. Our proposed research promises to make a number of substantial contributions to the state of knowledge on local food retailing, supply-chain design, and policy with regards to promoting local foods consumption.