Schumer wants funds for ‘cutting edge’ grape, wine research

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Senator Schumer says he is making a push to find federal funding for a Geneva-based lab working on “cutting edge” grape and wine research.

Schumer says the lab, the Grape Genetics Research Unit (GGRU) located at the New York State Agriculture Experiment Station, is working to “revolutionize” the grape and wine industry — a critical industry for the Finger Lakes.

To assist the lab, Schumer is looking to get funds from the Department of Agriculture to help pay for tools like mobile and static data sensors and robotic tools for field-mounted vineyard equipment — which would allow scientists to collect real-time data on factors impacting crops like insects, water, and disease.

“We must not leave the Grape Genetics Research Unit on the vine. The grape industry drives incredible growth in New York State, providing $4.8 billion in economic benefits and supporting thousands of good-paying jobs in the Finger Lakes Region. The outstanding ARS researchers at the GGRU are working diligently to revolutionize this industry. It is vital that the federal government invest in its own scientific workforce and provide them with the necessary resources to keep pace with innovative, state-of-the-art technologies,” writes Senator Schumer.

The senator also sent the following letter to the USDA:

Dear Dr. Jacobs-Young:

I am writing to encourage the Agriculture Research Service to provide a robust investment in modern sensing equipment and increased computing capacity at the Grape Genetics Research Unit (GGRU) in Geneva, NY. Upgrades to the GGRU’s technology are necessary to ensure that these very productive scientists have sufficient resources to respond to the research needs of a rapidly-changing grape and wine industry.

The GGRU, co-located on the Cornell AgriTech campus at the New York State Agriculture Experiment Station, is one of the ARS’s most productive, collaborative, and innovative research programs. The collaboration between federal scientists and Cornell faculty, researchers, and extension associates has helped spur exponential growth in the grape and wine industry in New York state and across the country. With more than 1,630 family vineyards, 400 wineries, and almost 40,000 acres of cropland, the New York grape crop alone is valued at over $52 million and generates $4.8 billion in economic benefits annually for New York state.

Work at the GGRU has improved grape quality, variety, productivity, weather tolerance, and disease resistance, all to the benefit of grape growers, wine makers, and the industry. Indeed, ARS recognized the significance of the work at Geneva when it designed and approved plans for a state-of-the-art replacement facility in 2003-04. Nearly $15 million – about half the total needed for construction – was appropriated before Congress rescinded these funds in 2011. The grape genetics laboratory at Geneva currently sits midway down the long list of facilities slated for replacement pursuant to the ARS Capital Investment Strategy.

While ARS works its way through the backlog of construction, Cornell University recently moved the GGRU into a newly renovated lab at the Cornell AgriTech campus in Geneva. The relocation is not intended to take the place of a new lab, but will help to ensure that ARS scientists remain fully integrated into the grape research occurring at Cornell and to address some of their infrastructure needs. While this Cornell-renovated space is a vast improvement over the old facility, the laboratory still needs upgraded equipment to keep pace with the digital revolution in plant breeding and crop management.

To address these needs, I urge you to invest in mobile and static digital data sensors and robotic tools on field-mounted vineyard equipment for the GGRU. This equipment would enable scientists to collect real time data on crop canopy, insect and disease pressure, and water and nutrient stress. Digital sensors, working in combination with new varieties and pest- and disease-management systems developed at Geneva, would allow scientists to provide growers with integrated digital management systems to create economic and environmental efficiencies. At the same time, ARS must also invest in increased computational capacity for the GGRU. This is necessary to fully utilize the data generated from the digital sensing systems and allow for the development of models that can be deployed by commercial vineyard growers in New York and beyond.  

I look forward to working with you on this important project.   

Charles E. Schumer 

U.S. Senator

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