Home Industry News Economics USDA Breaks Ground on $70M Lab for Grape Research at Cornell AgriTech

USDA Breaks Ground on $70M Lab for Grape Research at Cornell AgriTech

Cornell AgriTech will soon be home to the National Grape Improvement Center, one of the largest cold-climate grape research facilities in the world.

On June 26, USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (USDA-ARS), legislators and Cornell leaders broke ground on the new state-of-the-art federal research facility at the AgriTech campus in Geneva, New York. The $70 million center is expected to propel innovation, foster collaboration and revolutionize grape production nationwide.

Grapes bring $162 billion annually to the U.S. economy, but growers face formidable challenges related to climate change, including invasive pests, diseases and extreme environmental conditions – all with potentially devastating economic consequences.

“Today everyone in the Finger Lakes can raise a glass and cheer as we break ground on America’s new National Grape Improvement Center,” said U.S. Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-New York), who has been a strong advocate for the research lab’s location in New York state. “Geneva and the Finger Lakes will now be the beating heart of research and innovation for the future of America’s wine and grape industry thanks to this facility and the groundbreaking partnership between Cornell and USDA.

“From the wines made here on Seneca Lake to Concords grown for juice and jelly, this region has time and time again proven itself as the leader in innovation when it comes to America’s grape culture,” Schumer said. “This massive 70,000-square-foot lab will help cement the Finger Lakes legacy within the global wine industry and marks the start of a new chapter for something greater. In 2018, I promised to push for this center and secured the $70 million federal investment to make today possible. Now with shovels hitting the ground we can finally pop the cork to say the future of America’s wine will flow through the Finger Lakes.”

The research facility will introduce sustainable solutions such as disease resistant and climate adaptable grape varieties, and innovative and efficient management strategies for growers to use in the field.

Cornell AgriTech grape researchers have long been at the forefront of fruit breeding, pest management, disease resistance, sustainable production and precision viticulture. The new facility will enable both independent research and collaboration among scientists at Cornell and USDA-ARS.

“On behalf of Cornell University, I am grateful for the federal investment that is building the USDA-ARS National Grape Improvement Center on the campus of Cornell AgriTech,” said Provost Michael I. Kotlikoff. “Locating this state-of-the-art facility here recognizes the longstanding and productive partnership between Cornell and the USDA-ARS Grape Genetics Research Unit, and solidifies the Finger Lakes as the hub of cold climate grape research in the United States. We are particularly grateful to Senator Schumer for his consistent leadership and to the New York wine and grape industry for their unflagging support of this project over many years.”

Grapes are produced in all 50 states, so U.S. growers face highly variable climatic conditions. The national center will house USDA-ARS’s Grape Genetics Research Unit and Plant Genetic Resources Unit as well as Cornell grape researchers, facilitating a greater understanding of the intrinsic adaptive capacity of grapevine species and cultivars across the country to tolerate an increasing number of threats.

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-New York) delivers remarks at the June 26 groundbreaking for the National Grape Improvement Center at the AgriTech campus in Geneva, New York. (Photo Credit: Jason Koski/Cornell University)

“Leader Chuck Schumer has been an unrelenting advocate for agriculture research generally and the National Grape Improvement Center at Cornell University specifically,” said Agriculture Deputy Secretary Xochitl Torres Small. “President Biden and USDA are proud to partner with Leader Schumer to invest in agricultural science and research that saves costs for farmers and provides them with a fairer share of the food dollar. Once open, researchers there will also advance climate-smart sustainability practices that support New York farmers and rural communities on the front lines of natural disasters and extreme weather.”

The new center will strengthen the grape research community by enhancing opportunities for scientists to collaborate across disciplines and between organizations. For example, Jason Londo, associate professor of horticulture, will focus on climate change adaptability using USDA-ARS imaging capabilities, and Maddie Oravec, assistant professor of horticulture, will use USDA-ARS’s genetic resources to develop improved grape varieties.

The building’s design will provide large open spaces for grape robotics studies, enhancing partnerships between faculty including Katie Gold, assistant professor of plant pathology and Susan Ecker Lynch Faculty Fellow, and Yu Jiang, assistant professor of horticulture, who have teamed up using remote sensing, robotics and artificial intelligence systems to help growers detect diseases in grapes.

“The USDA-ARS National Grape Improvement Center will strengthen our enduring research collaboration with the USDA, ensuring a promising future for the grape industry in New York state and beyond,” said Christine Smart, the Goichman Family Director of Cornell AgriTech and associate dean of CALS. “We’re excited to join forces with the USDA to revolutionize solutions for the grape industry.”

Sustainability is pivotal to the mission of the new center, which is expected to improve cultivation, quality and yield for grape producers nationwide. By addressing climate-related challenges – including water availability, pest infestations and pathogen threats – researchers will help ensure that grape production remains viable even in changing conditions.

The introduction of new grape cultivars that thrive in diverse climates will provide growers with alternatives to the classic European grape varieties. Producers will also benefit from streamlined processes, leading to increased efficiency and productivity.

“New York and Cornell AgriTech have been leaders in viticulture, conducting innovative research at the Lake Erie and Geneva experiment stations for decades,” said Sam Filler, executive director of New York Wine and Grape Foundation. “The USDA-ARS National Grape Improvement Center will strengthen New York’s leadership in viticulture by establishing it as the central hub for addressing the challenges of grape-growing in the United States, both today and in the future.”

Construction of the new building is expected to start in fall 2024 and completion is anticipated in early 2027. By Elizabeth Myers, Senior Writer, Cornell College of Agriculture & Life Sciences

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