For 100 years, the agricultural research center in Riverhead has served as a critical resource for the region

The seed for the Long Island farming industry was planted by a single question: “Why don’t we have a Long Island branch of the New York Experiment Station?”

In 1888, the Rural New Yorker quoted this anonymous request from the question box of the Riverhead Farmers’ Institute, stressing the need for an agricultural research facility on Long Island, where markets and growing conditions differed significantly from the rest of the state.

Thus began the conversation that would lead to the founding of the Long Island Horticultural Research and Extension Center in 1922. Originally called the Long Island Vegetable Research Farm, the 30-acre facility was operated by the New York State Agricultural Station in Geneva to study soil fertility and disease and insect control. In the century since then, the research center has evolved into a 68-acre Riverhead facility to serve the research and extension needs of the horticulture industry.

In those 100 years, Suffolk County has also been known, at least in part, as one of New York’s most successful agricultural regions, thanks to abundant aquifers, rich soils, and a climate conducive to farming. research center.

“It’s one of those things where you want to be humbled, but I’m confident because we’ve learned from so many other businesses that what we’ve done here has helped them survive and succeed,” LIHREC director Mark Bridgen said ahead of the facility’s 100th anniversary last Thursday. . “There’s a $226 million agriculture industry here, so it’s big business. We deal with all growers, we work with landscapers, arborists, designers, as well as some home gardeners.”

The sprawling campus along Sound Avenue includes fields and research areas, state-of-the-art greenhouses, a nursery and container production area, and a plant tissue culture facility. On the island, growers regularly visit and fix plants and problems. LIHREC’s activities have been integral over the years, say several people interviewed by the Times Review.

“It’s incredible to have this in our backyard,” said Chris Olsen, former owner of Homeside Florist in Riverhead, at Plant Science Day, which drew about 200 visitors.

Cornell University President Martha Pollack speaks during the 100th anniversary celebration of the Long Island Horticultural Research and Extension Center last month. His visit was the second visit by a Cornell president in the history of this institution. (Credit: Brianne Ledda)

“The initiative and continued education is phenomenal and that’s what we need. The whole state benefits from this,” he said, stressing how much “phenomenal respect” the institution has.

Jesse May, who works in greenhouse production at Whitmores in East Hampton, emphasized how closely he works with LIHREC to keep the plants healthy.

“They’ve helped me troubleshoot, identify issues, done tons of lab work for me … that’s been a big help in getting our production from one year to the next,” he said. “The resources we have through them are just invaluable.”

The LIHREC facility is not to be confused with Suffolk County’s Cornell Cooperative Extension just down the road. Each New York county has its own cooperative extension program, with budgets and staffing based on the strength of agriculture in that county, Mr. Bridgen said. LIHREC is a research center on the campus of Cornell University and funds the enterprise.

“Our mission, those who work at the university, we have a mission for the entire state, and Cornell Cooperative Extension has a mission for Suffolk County,” Mr. Bridgen said. “We are the only horticultural research center in the United States that has scientists and professionals from every commodity industry as well as various fields. And the only way we can claim that is because of our close relationship between Cornell University faculty and Cornell Cooperative Extension.”

The study has the advantage of having stakeholders within about a 50-mile radius, he added. Much of Long Island’s agricultural community — about 592 farms and a total of about 31,000 acres of cropland, according to a 2019 state report — is in eastern Suffolk County.

Jesse May, who works at the Whitmores in East Hampton, and Marina Kobasiuk, a soil technician with the Suffolk County Soil and Water Conservation District, highlighted LIHREC’s value to the growing community at Plant Science Day earlier this month. (Credit: Brianne Ledda)

“The nice thing about it is that if they want, they can take a sample for us to look at or invite us over to their place to help talk about the problem,” Mr Bridgen said. “Another advantage is that we have experts in every field because of this wonderful relationship with cooperative expansion.”

LIHREC offers plant pathology, entomology and weed science, making it a “one stop shop” for the ag community. Some of the company’s accomplishments over the past 20 years include helping growers reduce pesticide use through programs such as breeding plants for disease and pest resistance and integrated pest management.

For example, vegetable scientists at LIHREC have discovered that mustard plants can act as a natural herbicide and natural inhibitor of some root rot diseases, Mr Bridgen said. “You are fighting not only against weeds, but also against diseases. That’s pretty important.”

Mark Bridgen, director of LIHREC, at last week’s ceremony. (Credit: Brianne Ledda)

LIHREC celebrated its centennial on April 1 with a ceremony last Thursday that included the historic second visit by a Cornell University president to the institution and a formal resolution presented by state Assemblyman Fred Thiele (D-Sag Harbor) and state Sen. Anthony . Palumbo (R-New Suffolk) congratulates the research center on its 100th anniversary. The dean of Cornell’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences also made his first visit to campus since being appointed during the pandemic.

“Everyone here is very committed to advancing science because you never know what’s going to happen next. You don’t know what advances in science will make a difference five, 10, 100 years from now, but they’re also about working with all of you here and everyone in the community so that knowledge gets out there and makes a difference in what you do,” said Cornell University President Martha Pollack. “It’s not just the local community, I would consider the whole world better, because when a region works towards sustainability, the whole world benefits.”

Speeches from local politicians, including Suffolk County Legislator Al Krupski (D-Cutchogue), focused on the economic and cultural importance agriculture holds in the East End, highlighting generations of farm families who have worked the land for centuries and LIHREC’s trust. Long Island growing community.

“Agriculture is critical here, and the families and businesses that support agriculture are critical not only to our economy, but to the way of life that has evolved here for centuries,” Mr. Thiele said. “Cornell’s strength is not just the science they do, but the research they do. This is their reliance on the agricultural community on the east end of Long Island, and I suspect throughout New York State.

A poster board depicting the achievements and goals of the Long Island Horticultural Research and Extension Center. (Credit: Brianne Ledda)

“When it comes to disease and pest control and everything that this amazing agency does, what do you do? [is] it’s critical because it’s a way of life for us,” Mr. Palumbo said.

Bob Anderson, who was born and raised on a vegetable farm on Roanoke Avenue, was an interested party at the ceremony. According to him, his father, who is over 80 years old, is still farming.

“I asked him a question, I said: ‘What do I have in mind with LIHREC? What do they do for you?’ And he says, “Everything.” “The whole package,” he says. “I asked him, can you give me an example?” And he did so, setting an example.”

Mr Anderson’s father recalled a crop-saving trip by a LIHREC researcher years ago, after his tomatoes dwindled after a storm. Everyone told him that the plants must have been affected by the salt water from the downpour, but it turned out that a LIHREC scientist had found an infestation of mites. He gave advice on how to control pests and the crop did not fail, Mr Anderson said.

“That’s how important it is to have this group of people here,” he said, emphasizing not only the science the facility offers, but also the bridge it provides between growers and government.

According to Mr. Bridgen, the celebrations will continue on Nov. 2 with the Long Island Nursery and Landscape Association planning to honor LIHREC staff with man and woman of the year awards.

“The roadmap to 2050 highlights moonshots,” Mr Bridgen said. “Remember, you can’t moonsault without a solid base to push off. Our center has been doing this all these years. We provide this solid foundation. We provide fuel for filming this month.”

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