Research farm harvests crop of possibilities

WILLSBORO - Farms across the North Country and beyond are benefiting from venturesome agricultural experiments being conducted in Willsboro.

Cornell University's E.V. Baker Research Farm, located on Farrell Road, has recently been credited with some significant breakthroughs in agricultural science that will help farmers and the communities where they operate.

The farm is named for its prior owner, who donated the large property to Cornell University in 1980. Farm manager Michael Davis has overseen a wide variety of applied agricultural research there for the past 14 years.

"What we try to do is push the envelope and show what is practical and what isn't," he said.

Most recently, the farm has provided a major boost to a sprouting North Country wine industry through its cold-hardy grape trial.

The experiment was initiated in 2005 as a collaboration between Cornell Cooperative Extension, experts from Cornell University and a handful of enthusiastic Champlain Valley grape growers. It featured 300 vines representing 25 different wine grape varieties; 12 red and 13 white.

"Some of them are experimental and not yet commercially available," said Davis, "but some of them are pretty widely used, and we just wanted to see how they would do in a tough North Country Climate."

Not only did every one of the plants survive, but they produced fruit beyond everyone's expectations.

"What they were able to get for yields off of this is incredibly high," said Davis, noting how the trial produced, on average, three to four times as many marketable grapes per acre as the average vineyard. "They're bountiful, but they're also very high quality."

Winemaker Richard Lamoy, who operates Hid-In-Pines vineyard in Morrisonville and has played a major role in managing the Willsboro trial, won medals for six different wines he submitted last fall to a winemaking competition in Manchester, Vt. Five of the six were crafted with grapes harvested from the Baker Research Farm.

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