The Long Island Horticultural Research and Extension Center in Baiting Hollow celebrated 100 years since it began providing crop research and education to local farmers yesterday with a centennial celebration featuring the president of Cornell University.
The research facility, an extension of Cornell, was founded in 1922 as the Long Island Vegetable Research Farm and focused on researching local crops such as cabbage, potatoes, corn, and cucumbers. In 1921, Long Island’s agricultural industry accounted for 18% of New York State’s output, and some growers called for a local “experiment station” to study the industry’s problems in the region.
As Long Island farms and the crops they grow have changed over the past hundred years, so has the research and outreach center. Originally a staff of three, the business has grown to 20 professionals helping growers manage everything from diseases and insects that threaten to destroy their crops to implementing new research-based methods to save money on farm inputs.
“We are here so that if anyone has a question, someone can answer it, inshallah. If we can’t answer, we can find someone who can,” said Mark Bridgen, the center’s director, who sees the facility as a “one-stop shop” for growers on Long Island.
Located on 68 acres of land on Sound Avenue surrounded by farmland, LIHREC’s campus has begun operations on 30 acres. It has 18,000 square feet of greenhouse space, several diagnostic and research laboratories, weather and air quality monitoring stations, and a well for testing water quality.
The center has research programs in entomology, floriculture, nursery and greening, ornamental horticulture and horticulture, plant pathology, vegetable crops, viticulture and weed science. In layman’s terms, the center learns just about everything the region’s growers need to keep growing.
Suffolk and Nassau counties have about 592 farms and about 31,000 acres of cropland, according to the 2019 agricultural profile published by the New York State comptroller. Suffolk accounts for most of the farmland in the region and has 69 wineries, the largest number in the state. The county also ranks fourth in the state in total agricultural sales and is first in bed and garden crop sales and tomatoes harvested.
As agriculture and science have evolved over the past 100 years, LIHREC’s research has evolved to meet the needs of local farmers.
“If you look at the articles written about this place 100 years ago, the farmer had the same problems,” Bridgen said. “They had bugs, diseases, problems. Now there are the same kinds of problems: different insects, different diseases, different technological problems. So we changed, we adapted. We are solving these problems now.”
Bridgen recalled a conversation he had with longtime Long Island Farm Bureau executive director Joe Gergela when he first interviewed for the LIHREC director position. It set expectations for the work he would do over the next 20 years and demonstrated the importance of the center’s role in the region’s agricultural industry.
“He said, ‘I just wanted to let you know that if you don’t do your job, you can leave,'” Bridgen recalled. Bridgen’s reaction was, “Who is this guy?”” Bridgen recalled. “But that’s the way it is. The industry expects us to do our job. So do we. We if we don’t, they suffer. That’s the bottom line for them. That’s money.”
The employees of the center are the people farmers call when they face problems they cannot solve themselves. In one case, Bridgen said, an organic grower in the North Fork purchased organic potting soil that had too much salt and killed the grower’s plants. LIHREC was able to help the land company’s insurance company provide scientific evidence to reimburse the farmer for the value of the land and damages.
“There are situations where growers feel helpless, what should I do? How can I prove to them that I am right?” Bridgen said. “So that’s what we do.”
Bridgen said that in his 20 years at LIHREC, the institution’s biggest change has been a shift toward research into how the chemicals used to farm and grow crops affect the environment.
“Ways to reduce pesticide use, ways to reduce the amount of nitrogen fertilizers going into groundwater, air quality, things like that,” he said as he began to explain how farmers are starting to replace pesticides with some type of pest. -eating worms and how controlled release fertilizers help reduce nitrogen pollution in groundwater.
Researchers at LIHREC are renowned in their fields, some of whom have written books and are internationally recognized. LIHREC staff will be honored as the Long Island Nursery and Landscape Association’s Men and Women of the Year at an awards ceremony this November.
Members of Long Island’s agricultural community gathered at the LIHREC grounds Thursday to celebrate the anniversary with a small gala, with local wine poured into souvenir bottles served in bottles adorned with special 100-year anniversary labels.
Cornell University President Martha Pollack and College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Dean Ben Houlton attended the event and toured the LIHREC campus beforehand, where they heard research presentations from staff. This is the second time a Cornell president has visited LIHREC, the last time being in 1977.
“I think LIHREC is incredibly important. That’s pretty much what Cornell means, isn’t it? We both advance the sciences and reach out to the communities around us to help when we can. So it’s really important,” said Pollak. “I’m very excited to be here to celebrate 100 years.”
Bridgen said Pollack’s appearance at Thursday’s celebration was a testament to LIHREC’s work and impact on the community.
“I wanted the president to be here because he was making a statement, not because I wanted to meet him or anything like that,” he said. “I think it tells our staff and our supporters, our industry supporters, that Cornell supports us. And we’re 300 miles from Ithaca, so sometimes you feel like the stepchild of the university.”
Scientists at LIHREC said they feel their work is making a difference on Long Island.
“Gardeners are very grateful for our work, so working with different growers is one of the best things,” says Faruque Zaman, an entomologist who has conducted insect control research at LIHREC since 2011. vegetable growers, fruit growers, grape growers, some nurseries. So that’s a big part of working on Long Island, you’re not limited to working with one product every day.
Margaret McGrath, plant pathologist at LIHREC, said “what does it do [LIHREC] special, number one: the people I need to be around are here because it helps me a lot to be successful.
“And the growers in the area,” McGrath said. “Because they’re very interested in what we’re doing. They are eager to adapt what they see working well. Helping people is very rewarding and I enjoy helping farmers, it’s my background.”
Bob Anderson, a local farmer who grew up on the family farm, said LIHREC’s newsletters help farmers communicate the complex information they need to grow their businesses.
He said he asked his 80-year-old farmer father what came to mind when he thought of LIHREC: “It goes, ‘everything.’ He takes the ‘whole package,’” Anderson said.
He told his father’s story about a storm that damaged the farm’s tomato crop and how a LIHREC employee helped identify the microorganism in the crops and correct the problem.
“That’s how important it is to have this group of people here,” Anderson said.
Assemblyman Fred Thiele and state Sen. Anthony Palumbo sponsored a resolution they presented to Bridgen during the gala praising LIHREC’s work. Thiele said the center is the “cornerstone” of agriculture and that it is one of the region’s most “important” industries.
“The data here and the work that Cornell has done in general has been critical primarily to agriculture as we’re talking about today, but also to another major industry, and that’s our marine industry. So it’s 100 years of support for these industries, support for the families that undertake these industries,” Thiele said, “And it’s great for us to recognize the important role that Cornell Cooperative Extension plays in the community, and especially this agricultural facility. “.
LIHREC received praise from others who attended the event, including North Fork farmer and County Legislator Al Krupski. “This lab has provided technical support to agriculture for 100 years, and Cornell University has been a great supporter of Long Island agriculture,” Krupski said.
Vanessa Lockel, executive director of Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County, said the center is a “Mecca” for the area’s growers and farmers. “I think Long Island has a hidden gem here,” he said.
“The work done here at the Horticultural Research Center — the greenhouse growers, the vegetable farmers, our vineyards — has helped keep our industry alive here,” said Long Island Farm Bureau Administrative Director Rob Carpenter. “Farmers have many unique, challenging problems that these researchers and scientists work on every day. Farmers call here all the time for advice and guidance and problem solving skills. So, in my opinion, this is one of the most important institutions [agriculture] on Long Island.”
Riverhead LOCAL photos by Alec Lewis
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