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Research farm harvests crop of possibilities

While the grape-growing conditions at Baker Research Farm are some of the most ideal in the North Country, said Davis, the success of the trial thus far has been very encouraging for those who would like to make winemaking more prevalent in the Champlain Valley.

"I think anything we can do to diversify agriculture around here is a plus," said Davis, adding the addition of wineries could encourage tourism in the region.

The cold-hardy grape trial may have significant implications locally, but other research conducted at the Baker Farm may have a more far-reaching impact.

Researchers at Cornell University used 18 years worth of data collected at the Willsboro site to develop Adapt-N, a software tool designed to help farmers better manage nitrogen levels in their soils.

"Corn gets nitrogen from a number of sources and there are many ways nitrogen can get lost from the root zone as a result of weather-related factors," Cornell University Crop and Soil Sciences senior sesearch associate Jeff Melkonian said in a press release. "The Adapt-N tool provides corn growers with more precise, field-specific nitrogen recommendations based on the impact of early season weather."

The Baker Research Farm has, for about the past 20 years, used a system of lysimeters to measure nitrogen content in water lost through the soil in 52 separate 50-foot-by-50-foot corn plots. Each plot represents different combinations of soil composition and tilling techniques and undergoes different schedules of fertilizer application.

According to Davis, the observations have allowed scientists to better predict nitrogen loss depending on how fields are tilled, what type of fertilizer is used, and when it is applied in relation to precipitation.

That knowledge, which is built into the new Adapt-N software, will allow farmers to use fertilizer more efficiently, Davis said.

"It not only optimizes the production and profitability of the farms," he said, "but also minimizes the amount of phosphorus and nitrogen that's allowed to be carried off-site and cause pollution to groundwater, lakes and streams."

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