Cornell Scientists Win $4.5 Million for Grape Research

Massive federal grants to develop and commercialize Northern grape varieties

by Hudson Cattell
cornell grant
Dr. Timothy Martinson and Dr. Bruce Reisch each received grants to fund grapegrowing research.
Geneva, N.Y.— Cornell University researchers from the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station at Geneva were awarded grants totaling $4.5 million for two projects to improve grape varieties and make new grape varieties commercially successful. Last week, Cornell announced that $2 million went to Dr. Bruce Reisch, Cornell grape breeder and professor in the Department of Horticulture; Dr. Timothy Martinson, senior extension associate in the Department of Horticulture, received a second grant for $2.5 million.

Both projects are funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture Specialty Crop Research Initiative; each is a dollar-for-dollar matching grant requiring equal amounts from non-federal sources. Matching funds have already been raised from industry and university sources.

Each is a two-year grant, but both projects will cover five years. USDA’s funding comes from the Congressional Farm Bill, which will come up for renewal in 2012. If Congress continues the Farm Bill, USDA will finance the remaining three years of each project on the same matching fund basis. The total five-year funding from federal sources would total about $4.6 million for Reisch’s project and approximately $6 million for Martinson’s

The project led by Reisch involves working with 24 researchers at six publicly funded U.S. grape breeding programs in support of breeders who want to develop wine, table and raisin grapes as well as rootstocks by linking DNA markers to specific traits including disease resistance, cold hardiness or undesirable aromas. Discovery of new markers will make breeding for complex traits more efficient and allow breeders to develop new varieties that will satisfy consumers and growers interested in organic or sustainable production. Another goal of the project will be to offer breeders trait-screening services to detect the presence of different traits and identify the most promising selections.

While the grant to Reisch names him project leader, he will share that role with Dr. Lance Cadle-Davidson at the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service at Geneva. The team involves scientists specializing in many fields including DNA genomics, grapevine breeding, cold hardiness and fruit quality analysis. An extension component will be included as well as an economist to study the economic impact of individual grape traits.

Going commercial
The Martinson project will determine how to commercialize new varieties successfully once they have left the breeder’s vineyard. Martinson calls this a “northern grapes project” because his team primarily will work with Minnesota and Swenson varieties. The goal is to provide producers with research-based tools and practices to help them grow and vinify these varieties and sell quality wines to local and regional markets. The project will work with 13 institutions and 20 cooperative grower organizations in 14 northern states from Nebraska and the Dakotas to New England. 

In many ways this is an extension-driven project because of the need to carry out vineyard and winemaking trials. Team leaders include experts in enology, viticulture, fruit composition and genetics as well as economics and marketing. Martinson is the project leader; Dr. James Luby at the University of Minnesota is the assistant project leader. Working as a team, they hope to offer integrated, relevant information that would not be possible if the states worked independently. Ultimately, the project should help convert start-up wineries into sustainable, profitable enterprises to fuel rural economic development.

Posted on 10.20.2011 - 07:51:53 PST
Hopefully, half the money will be spent on how to MARKET the new varieties. We have no shortage of difficulty to sell newly developed varietals. The perfect grapevine could be developed, but if the marketing isn't behind it, it won't sell quickly enough to make an impact.
Duncan Ross
Lockport, NY USA