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Ag educator brings sound science to NY capitol district farms, wins IPM award

Contact: Don Rutz, 315 787 2208;

by Mary Woodsen

Ag educator brings sound science to NY capitol district farms, wins IPM award

Troy, NY: Sorting eight bushels of just-picked sweet corn to find that four had corn earworms in them could have driven Chuck Bornt far from the farm he grew up on. But Bornt, a Cornell Cooperative Extension educator, loved the lifestyle—enough, in fact, to want to help make it easier for any farmer to stay on the land.

Staying on the land means dealing with dozens of variables that shift widely from field to field and season to season. Bornt helps farmers solve problems with innovative practices that work.

Still, each farming practice, each problem, has a common denominator—the soil. Healthy soils help ensure healthier, more pest-resistant crops. Bornt’s research collaborations focus largely on developing and demonstrating new methods for building healthy soils.

Now, for his outstanding work bringing sound, research-based science to over 200 vegetable farmers across four counties in New York’s capital district, Bornt has received an “Excellence in IPM” award from Cornell University’s New York State Integrated Pest Management (IPM) Program. IPM brings together a wide range of pest management options to help people choose the lowest-risk method that works in their situation.

“Chuck is a hands-on guy,” says John Altobelli, one of Bornt’s collaborators, who grows 180 acres of sweet corn, pumpkins, and other crops in Kinderhook, New York. “He goes out on a limb to make something work. He gets out and talks to growers—all of it pushing toward taking care of the soil.” Bornt made over 300 farm visits in 2006, most of them squeezed into a busy growing season of about 150 days.

Typical farming practices, Altobelli has learned, can be hard on the soil. “Plowing can beat it to death,” he says. But new “minimum till” practices help retain or regain a healthy soil. “We’re seeing really good results,” Altobelli says.

Farmers who go the minimum-till route use a “zone builder” that rips through dense subsoil. This allows for better drainage while keeping organic matter where it does the most good. Better yet, the zone builder is designed to make a fine seedbed at the same pass, saving labor and fuel.

Minimum tillage methods have been used in field crops since the 1970s. It’s taken a good deal of tweaking, though, to make them work for vegetable growers. Bornt and other researchers have been developing and fine-tuning these techniques for over 15 years.

Now they’ve seen enough results, learned and replicated over enough seasons—good and bad—to be “very satisfied,” Bornt says. It’s no longer does it work, but how can we get to where everyone can use it. “You’ve always needed big equipment to do minimum till,” says Bornt. “Many vegetable farmers on small acreage can’t go that route.”

To solve that problem, he and Altobelli are building a small, two-row zone builder for demonstrations on small farms.

“Chuck has been tireless in developing projects that address farmer’s needs,” says Don Rutz, director of the New York State IPM Program. “He is a leading force in extending IPM practices to New York’s vegetable growers.”

Bornt receives his award on February 15 at the New York Fruit and Vegetable Expo in Syracuse, NY.