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New York Germplasm Resources Unit to Celebrate ARS' 50th Anniversary with Open House

By Luis Pons
September 17, 2004

GENEVA, N.Y., Sept. 17—The Plant Genetic Resources Unit (PGRU), operated here by the Agricultural Research Service, will help celebrate ARS' 50th year with an open house Saturday at the unit's headquarters at the Cornell UniversityNew York State Agricultural Experiment Station. Established in 1953, PGRU houses one of the largest crop-plant germplasm collections in the country. ARS is the U.S. Department of Agriculture's chief scientific research agency.

"The Finger Lakes region of New York has always given our scientists outstanding support, so we're delighted to invite everyone to PGRU's first public open house," said ARS Administrator Edward B. Knipling. "Our scientists want to share their work by offering tours of the orchards, vineyards and vegetable crop plantings, along with demonstrations of small-scale seed production and state-of-the-art research in fruit breeding and genomics. This will be an excellent opportunity to learn about PGRU programs, meet the scientists, tour the facilities and talk with the staff."

The Plant Genetics Research Unit is one of 33 components of the National Plant Germplasm System, a nationwide cooperative effort by federal, state and private organizations to preserve the genetic diversity of plants. The ARS germplasm preservation system acquires, preserves, evaluates, documents and distributes germplasm to breeders interested in developing improved varieties.

The PGRU is focused on safeguarding germplasm of apple, asparagus, buckwheat, celery, cole crops, grape, ground cherry, onion, radish, tart cherry, tomato, tomatillo and winter squash. In addition, its researchers are involved in projects to breed, protect and improve apples and grapes. The open house will include farm tours showcasing the unit's grape and apple collections. The diverse apple collection includes wild trees grown from seeds collected in Kazakhstan, Russia, China and Turkey, as well as dwarf apple trees from the PGRU apple rootstock breeding project.

Also highlighted will be displays such as one showcasing the wide range of tomato colors, shapes and sizes; videos; and a demonstration of how apple buds are cryogenically stored at minus 320·F in a liquid nitrogen tank. For children, there will be a live honey bee observation hive, leaf printing and coloring books.

A centerpiece of the event will be a hands-on, small-scale, seed-harvesting demonstration that is part of the Public Seed Initiative (PSI). This on-farm breeding and seed-production project seeks to connect small seed producers with seed companies, university researchers, nonprofit groups and government agencies. The PSI is sponsored by the Initiative for Future Agriculture Food Systems and implemented by PGRU, Cornell University, the nonprofit organization Oregon Tilth and the Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York.