Extension Specialist Hired By Grape Program

The Lake Erie Regional Grape Program is very pleased to announce that Jennifer Russo has joined the team as the new viticulture extension specialist.

The viticulture extension specialist at LERGP plays a key role providing growers in the Lake Erie Grape Belt with the latest research-based information to assist them in producing grapes in an environmentally and economically sustainable manner. The Lake Erie Grape Belt extends all the way from Erie county Pennsylvania through Chautauqua, Cattaraugus, Erie and Niagara counties of New York.

The viticulture extension specialist is part of an extension team consisting of Tim Weigle, grape and hops IPM specialist, Kevin Martin, business management specialist, and Andy Muza, extension educator.

Russo actually joined the Cornell Lake Erie Research and Extension in 2018 as a research technician with the Efficient Vineyard project where she was focused on improving crop estimation procedures and practices from vineyard through industry. The improvement would have a ripple effect from helping a grower to better understand the amount of grapes in their vineyards and the management decisions that flow from there, to trucking, processing, tank space, projections of revenues and even crop insurance claims.

In order to help solve this problem, the development of an accurate automated berry counting machine was deemed necessary. Russo was integral in designing the Cornell Grape Counter machine designed specifically to count grapes at the various stages in their development. Working with National Grape Cooperative she was able to fine tune the process over the 2018 growing season. The machine is able to count the berries in 50 clusters of grapes (3,000-5,000 grapes) in approximately two minutes with a 99.5 percent accuracy. Traditionally, it would take a person an average of 52 minutes to count this same number of berries and would add the possibility of human error. By using this CGC machine a grower would be able to decrease labor costs, increase accuracy and provide digitized data for crop estimates required by local grape processors.

Graduating from The State University of New York at Fredonia with both her Bachelor of Science and Master of Science degrees, Russo later went back as an adjunct biology/environmental science professor and graduate research scientist. Her career has been focused on environmental issues and sustainability and therefore her attention has been drawn to a number of local efforts including TimberFish Technologies LLC as the director of research and development.

The organization is working to offer solutions to the looming threats to the future food supply and safety posed by rising populations and environmental pollution. This is being done by developing and implementing new ecotechnologies that are environmentally sound and economically competitive in today’s marketplace. Additionally Russo has been a principal investigator for the Chautauqua County portion of the Lake Erie watershed, and has worked with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, state Department of Environmental Conservation, Chautauqua County Soil and Water Conservation District and the Northern Atlantic Aquatic Connectivity Collaborative on stream stabilization and connectivity projects to ensure future viable specie populations, reduce shrinking habitats, and assess current infrastructure effects on hydrology, sediment transport, and water quality of streams and watersheds.

The Lake Erie Regional Grape Program is happy to have a viticulture extension specialist on staff again and welcomes members of the program to call or stop in to meet Russo. She is excited to meet growers and looks forward to helping them get the best out of their vines.

The Lake Erie Regional Grape Program is a cooperative effort between Cornell and Penn State universities; the participating Cornell Cooperative Extension Associations of Chautauqua, Erie, Niagara and Cattaraugus counties in New York and Erie County in Pennsylvania; and participating industry partners National Grape Cooperative (Welch’s), Constellation Brands and Walkers Fruit Basket.

The LERGP extension team provides research-based educational programming for commercial grape growers throughout the year at venues across the Lake Erie grape belt. For more information on LERGP, call 792-2800 or visit their website at lergp.cce.cornell.edu.

The Lake Erie Regional Grape Program is one of many programs offered by Cornell Cooperative Extension of Chautauqua County. CCE-Chautauqua is a community based educational organization, affiliated with Cornell University, Chautauqua County Government, the state SUNY system and the federal government through the United States Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture. For more information, call 664-9502 or visit their website at cce.cornell.edu/chautauqua.