Schumer visits upstate apple orchard, touting federal crop research funding

Posted 8 October 2019 at 10:10 am

Press Release, Sen. Charles Schumer

File photo by Tom Rivers – Honeycrisp apples are pictured in October 2016 at the Roberts Circle R fruit stand and farm market on Route 18 in Carlton.

Standing at the Boehm Farm and Orchard in Greene County, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer on Monday touted his recently-secured fix to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Specialty Crop Research Initiative (SCRI) as part of the federal budget extension.

Schumer detailed how a matching requirement for SCRI limited access to millions of dollars in grant funding for researchers, including the Cornell University College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, who had to provide an equal amount of matching funds to their own projects, which is often not possible for researchers working with constrained budgets.

This would’ve reduced access to funding to study specialty crops like apples and how to increase crop yields, boost resiliency and adjust to other 21st century challenges. Schumer explained that this would have been a major detriment to Upstate New York apple producers, like Boehm Farm and Orchard, which are a major component of New York State’s vibrant agricultural economy.

To address this issue that threatened Upstate New York’s access to this critical funding, Schumer successfully fought for a provision in the budget extension to eliminate this matching requirement, to ensure that the state’s specialty crop industry continues to have the support it needs to thrive and boost New York’s agricultural economy.

“New York State is the second-largest apple producer in the country, with apple farming having an estimated economic impact of $574 million to the state, and much of it is thanks to family farms like Boehm Farm,” Schumer said. “Even though we produce the highest quality product around, for the industry to continue being grown and cultivated, it depends on critical USDA research funding being sent to first-rate organizations like Cornell.”

Schumer pointed to a 2016 grant from the SCRI as a means of showing its value and importance to apple production in New York State. Cornell University received $4,218,618 through the program to advance research in the commercial apple industry.

This funding allowed Cornell to invest in new candidate rootstock and work to identify new genetic markers to select improved plant traits. These rootstocks can reduce the need for crop fumigation, improve disease resistance, reduce fruit disorders, and make orchards both more economically and environmentally sustainable. Considering that apple producers face annual costs of nearly $300 million to replant orchards to improve tree health in the face of persistent disease threats and changing soil conditions, this research provided to them through Cornell can make a major difference to their bottom lines.

Schumer explained that without the SCRI, Cornell would have struggled, financially, to execute such valuable research for apple farmers and other specialty crop producers.

New York is the second-largest apple producer nationwide, harvesting a total of 29.5 million bushels annually from over 650 farms and roughly 55,000 acres across the state. According to the New York Apple Association, there are 600 commercial apple growers, with the industry providing 10,000 direct jobs to New Yorkers, and another 7,500 indirect jobs.

The USDA Specialty Crop Research Initiative (SCRI) was created in order to improve the quality and efficiency of farms through innovative research. Eligible projects must address research subjects like plant genetics to improve crop characteristics, invasive species, new technology, food safety hazards in production and more. Over the past 5 years, roughly $30 million in SCRI grant funding has been awarded to Cornell University for specialty crop-oriented projects.

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