Cornell University has a well-kept secret: a campus on Long Island that has been d edicated exclusively to horticultural research and extension for 85 years. The Long Island Horticultural Research & Extension Center (LIHREC) in Riverhead, N.Y., was designed to help members of the horticultural industry increase crop yields, improve crop quality, decrease production and marketing costs, increase production and marketing efficiency, and preserve and enhance the quality of the environment.
The LIHREC is a one-of-a-kind facility for the United States. It houses faculty and staff from Cornell’s departments of horticulture and plant pathology, as well as members of Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County. It is the only single-location research center that is exclusively horticultural and has professional staff members who represent each of the major commodity areas: floriculture and greenhouse; nursery and landscape; fruit and vegetable. Staffers also represent cross-discipline areas, including entomology, plant pathology, weed science and plant tissue culture.
Strong support from the Long Island agricultural industry is integral to this unique facility; advisory boards for each of the commodity groups help to direct activities and ensure a ground-up approach to research and extension.
Long Island Horticulture
Long Island, bordered by the Atlantic Ocean to the south and the Long Island Sound to the north, is one of the largest islands in the world with one of the largest populations. It extends almost 120 miles from New York City harbor, varies in width from 12 miles to 23 miles and has a land area of 1,400 square miles. The island is made up of two New York City boroughs, Queens and Brooklyn, on the western side, and Nassau and Suffolk counties on the eastern side. While Queens and Brooklyn are located on the island, the name Long Island generally refers only to Nassau and Suffolk Counties. Suffolk County is the easternmost and largest county with a land area of 912 square miles, and Nassau County has a land area of 287 square miles.
Nowhere in New York are agriculture and horticulture stronger and more diverse than on Long Island. Of the 58 counties in New York, Suffolk County is the leader in New York based on wholesale value. Long Island’s floriculture, greenhouse and nursery industries contribute about 40 percent of the New York sales and help the state to be ranked fifth nationally for its floriculture sales. In 2006, the state’s floriculture sales value was $207 million, and nursery sales were $63 million. In Suffolk County alone, it is estimated that more than 10 million square feet are in production under cover with approximately 5,000 acres in field production of greenhouse, floriculture and nursery crops.
But greenhouse, floriculture and nursery industries are not the only high-value industries found on Long Island: About 3,000 acres are in sod production, and the vegetable industry on Long Island is also significant with nearly 9,000 acres of more than 100 different vegetables being grown. The most significant change in Long Island agriculture in the past 25 years has been the grape and wine industry; there are about 30 wineries with more than 4,000 acres of grapes currently in production.
Horticulture and field agriculture are strong in a large part because of the ideal growing conditions and available markets. The soils are fertile and well drained; the climate is warm, thanks to the temperate effects of the Atlantic Ocean and the Long Island Sound (USDA Zone 7); large quantities of underground, freshwater aquifers supply adequate water during even the driest summers; and the region receives more sunlight than anywhere else in New York. With more than 7 million people less than 100 miles away, there is a large consumer market nearby that fuels growth, supports the industry and allows a high return on investment.
The Future of Long Island Horticulture
As anticipated for all areas of the United States, Long Island’s horticultural industry will continue to evolve and change. Once predominantly a cut flower industry centered close to New York City, the industry has migrated east, away from the city, and has developed into the bedding and potted plant industry seen today. Large producers will likely continue to grow in size, specialty producers will increase in number and diversity, the number of retail operations and service-oriented sectors will increase, and consumer entertainment or “agritainment” will help shape the direction of some operations.
While Long Island horticulture will certainly remain strong and viable, numerous challenges lay ahead: Labor availability, the state of the economy and high energy costs will affect Long Island growers as well as those around the nation. The Long Island industry will continue to face numerous challenges as a result of being on the interface of a more urban population: high cost of land, high property taxes, and zoning and neighbor issues. In addition, concerns about environmental issues will continue to drive the politics that affect agriculture, and the need to focus on water, fertilizer and pesticide best management practices will remain critical.
Currently, the State of New York and the county governments of Long Island recognize the importance of maintaining and supporting agriculture and horticulture. Suffolk County initiated a county farmland preservation program in 1975, the first of its kind in the country. Currently, state, county and town funds support farmland preservation and have purchased development rights for more than 15,000 acres on Long Island. County-funded programs are also in place to assist research and the adoption of new practices aimed to protect groundwater.
The Floriculture and Horticulture Team at the Long Island Horticultural Research & Extension Center include program leaders Margery Daughtrey, plant pathologist; Dan Gilrein, entomologist; Dr. Andrew Senesac, weed scientist; a nursery specialist and the two authors.
There are also several support staff who focus on the greenhouse and floriculture industry: Maria Tobiasz, Lynn Hyatt, Genevieve Giroux, Dr. Jadwiga Komorowska-Jedrys and Lucille Siracusano.
On the main campus in Ithaca, there are several other floriculture members who contribute to the LIHREC programs, including Drs. Neil Mattson and William Miller, horticulture; Dr. John Sanderson, entomology; and the NYS Ornamentals IPM Program team. Together, this creates one of the largest nationally recognized floriculture programs in the country.
In the early 1900s, pressure grew from the agricultural leaders in New York to have a facility on Long Island to deal with local farm-related problems. Legislation was enacted on April l, 1922, to provide for the acquisition of land and equipment on Long Island for the study of soil fertility and disease and insect control. Later that year, a committee headed by H.R. Talmage chose a 30-acre farm — now the site of the LIHREC — to be identified as the Long Island Vegetable Research Farm. The New York State Agricultural Experiment Station administered the farm operation, employed the scientists and supplied the equipment. From 1975 to 1999, the facility was known as the Long Island Horticultural Research Laboratory (LIHRL), and in 1999, Cornell University approved the current name to better reflect the facility’s activities.
In 1952, the first Cornell Recommends for Florist Crops was published; this culture and management guide was the forerunner to similar publications for many crops. These publications are still currently produced for various crops and are now called Cornell Guidelines. As agriculture and horticulture industries on Long Island expanded, the programs and property of the center expanded as well. In 1956, the LIHREC acquired 20 additional acres of land, followed by an additional 18 acres in 1986. The center now has 68 acres of prime farmland for its research activities. The facilities have also been upgraded over the years: In 1998, a new, state-of-the-art 13,000-square-foot greenhouse complex was constructed, bringing the center’s total greenhouse space to about 18,000 square feet. In 2001, a new nursery and container production area was also constructed, along with a large plant tissue culture laboratory in 2003. Also installed recently were major display and trial gardens, including both perennial and annual trial gardens, an Adrian Bloom–designed public display garden, and a high tunnel research facility.