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Faculty Focus

Five Questions for Luke Haggerty

Luke HaggertyLuke Haggerty joined the Lake Erie Regional Grape Program, Cornell Cooperative Extension in July 2013 and is part of a four-member extension team, based at the Cornell Lake Erie Research and Extension Laboratory.   As a Viticultural Extension Associate, Haggerty provides commercial grape growers with the knowledge and resources necessary to assess production and management practices that will enhance their profitability and sustain the growth of the juice and wine grape industry in the Lake Erie region.  Formerly a researcher assistant at the University of Minnesota, he brings expertise in grape berry phenology for cold-hardy Minnesota grape varieties to the Cornell Viticulture and Enology program.

What inspired you to work with grapes?
Growing up in South Dakota working on corn and soybean farms, I viewed growing grapes and other fruit as an adventure.  The true inspiration came from the challenge of growing grapes in the cold climate of the upper Midwest.  As my interest grew I discovered that this ‘challenge’ was being researched by the University of Minnesota through their Grape Breeding Program by the development of cold-hardy wine grape cultivars.  Through some persuasion I was given the opportunity to work in the research vineyards at the U of M Horticultural Research Center.  I then completed a Master’s Degree in the Applied Plant Sciences Graduate Program: Plant Breeding and Genetics with Dr. Jim Luby.  I then moved out to western New York into my current position as viticulturist at the Lake Erie Regional Grape Program (LERGP).

What are the major challenges in your field?
I primarily work with the Concord grape industry.  This industry is currently undergoing a series of significant economic challenges.  Declining markets and the closing of processing plants have resulted in loss of contracts for some and very tight margins for the rest.  This has become a critical time for LERGP to assist the grape industry by providing research-based information that helps them make cost sensitive production decisions. 

What projects are going on in your lab right now?
Our program currently has 18 externally funded projects.  Cover crops and precision viticulture are two research areas that I’m most involved in. After several attempts, Dr. Terry Bates and his project team were successful in obtaining a large grant from the USDA’s Specialty Crop Research Initiative to advance precision viticulture in multiple grape industries. I will be helping with the extension portion of this grant.  I was also awarded a grant from the New York Farm Viability Institute to study the effect of cover crops in Concord vineyards.  The project will measure how different cover crop mixes affect soil health and vineyard productivity over the next two years. The focus of this research is to collect physical, chemical, and biological data to assess soil compaction, vine size, and noxious weed suppression. I have enjoyed working with local growers on both of these projects.

How will your research benefit the grape industry?
As a new extension viticulturist, my research experience is limited at this time.  Most of the research I conduct is applied, where I measure various cultural practices (floor management, NDVI, nutrient management, replant practices, etc.) to meet growers’ needs so they can manage their vineyards in a sustainable and economical way. 

What was the best piece of research advice you have received?
For the past two and half years I’ve had the opportunity to work alongside Dr. Bates.  During this time he has repeated the phrase, “You can’t manage what you don’t measure”.  This phrase can apply to many things, but as scientists we would like to measure everything possible.  However, with 605 vines in an acre, we have our limits.  For decades viticulturists have been conducting replicated research on small plots to synthesize recommendations for grape growers. Current research focuses on making quick spatial measurements to identify sources of vineyard variation and then applying differential management to those areas.  The idea is to decrease vineyard variability by using sensor technology to spatially measure the entire vineyard, making the impossible, possible.  For example, my cover crop experiment has replicated plots, but they are stratified according to spatial NDVI data rather than the traditional “randomized sample” fashion.  Using the spatial data we are able to get a head-start on the project by directing the sampling to digitally mapped management zones.