WILLSBORO - Farms across the North Country and beyond are benefiting from venturesome agricultural experiments being conducted in Willsboro.
Cornell University's E.V. Baker Research Farm, located on Farrell Road, has recently been credited with some significant breakthroughs in agricultural science that will help farmers and the communities where they operate.
The farm is named for its prior owner, who donated the large property to Cornell University in 1980. Farm manager Michael Davis has overseen a wide variety of applied agricultural research there for the past 14 years.
"What we try to do is push the envelope and show what is practical and what isn't," he said.
Most recently, the farm has provided a major boost to a sprouting North Country wine industry through its cold-hardy grape trial.
The experiment was initiated in 2005 as a collaboration between Cornell Cooperative Extension, experts from Cornell University and a handful of enthusiastic Champlain Valley grape growers. It featured 300 vines representing 25 different wine grape varieties; 12 red and 13 white.
"Some of them are experimental and not yet commercially available," said Davis, "but some of them are pretty widely used, and we just wanted to see how they would do in a tough North Country Climate."
Not only did every one of the plants survive, but they produced fruit beyond everyone's expectations.
"What they were able to get for yields off of this is incredibly high," said Davis, noting how the trial produced, on average, three to four times as many marketable grapes per acre as the average vineyard. "They're bountiful, but they're also very high quality."
Winemaker Richard Lamoy, who operates Hid-In-Pines vineyard in Morrisonville and has played a major role in managing the Willsboro trial, won medals for six different wines he submitted last fall to a winemaking competition in Manchester, Vt. Five of the six were crafted with grapes harvested from the Baker Research Farm.
While the grape-growing conditions at Baker Research Farm are some of the most ideal in the North Country, said Davis, the success of the trial thus far has been very encouraging for those who would like to make winemaking more prevalent in the Champlain Valley.
"I think anything we can do to diversify agriculture around here is a plus," said Davis, adding the addition of wineries could encourage tourism in the region.
The cold-hardy grape trial may have significant implications locally, but other research conducted at the Baker Farm may have a more far-reaching impact.
Researchers at Cornell University used 18 years worth of data collected at the Willsboro site to develop Adapt-N, a software tool designed to help farmers better manage nitrogen levels in their soils.
"Corn gets nitrogen from a number of sources and there are many ways nitrogen can get lost from the root zone as a result of weather-related factors," Cornell University Crop and Soil Sciences senior research associate Jeff Melkonian said in a press release. "The Adapt-N tool provides corn growers with more precise, field-specific nitrogen recommendations based on the impact of early season weather."
The Baker Research Farm has, for about the past 20 years, used a system of lysimeters to measure nitrogen content in water lost through the soil in 52 separate 50-foot-by-50-foot corn plots. Each plot represents different combinations of soil composition and tilling techniques and undergoes different schedules of fertilizer application.
According to Davis, the observations have allowed scientists to better predict nitrogen loss depending on how fields are tilled, what type of fertilizer is used, and when it is applied in relation to precipitation.
That knowledge, which is built into the new Adapt-N software, will allow farmers to use fertilizer more efficiently, Davis said.
"It not only optimizes the production and profitability of the farms," he said, "but also minimizes the amount of phosphorus and nitrogen that's allowed to be carried off-site and cause pollution to groundwater, lakes and streams."
Several other research projects are ongoing at the farm, including trial plots testing different varieties of wheat, soybeans, and even switchgrass for use as biofuel pellets.
For more information about research projects at the E.V. Baker Research Farm and other sites funded through NNYADP, visit www.nnyagdev.org/facilities.htm.