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Five Questions for Lynn Sosnoskie

Lynn SosnowskiLynn Sosnoskie joined Cornell AgriTech in September 2019 as an Assistant Professor of Weed Ecology and Management in Specialty Crops, which includes tree and vine crops in addition to fresh and processing vegetables. A native of Pennsylvania, she earned a B.Sc. in Biology from Lebanon Valley College, a M.Sc. in Plant Pathology at the University of Delaware and a Ph.D. in Weed Science at Ohio State. Prior to coming to Cornell, Lynn worked as a research scientist at the University of Georgia, the University of California – Davis, and Washington State University. Her work has focused on a variety of crops (almonds, cotton, melons, peppers, pistachios, tomatoes, walnuts and wheat) and a variety of weeds (field bindweed and glyphosate resistant Palmer amaranth, hairy fleabane, horseweed, and junglerice). She was most recently employed by the University of California as a Farm Advisor working with agronomic crops in the Central Valley, which is California’s agricultural hub.

What inspired you to work with weed ecology in horticultural plants?

I always thought that I wanted to be a medical doctor or work with animals in some capacity…until I took a botany class in college and we went on a field trip to Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, PA. I was blown away by the beauty and complexity of plants. After that, I knew that I would work with them in some capacity. I was fortunate to be able to join Longwood’s staff as a paid intern after my B.Sc., followed by other positions in botanic gardens in the Delaware Valley. While I adored working with cultivated plants, weeds were always intriguing to me. Their plasticity and durability are amazing. I respect the challenges that specialty crops face against these competitors. Weeds are constantly adapting to control strategies and the weed management toolbox available in horticultural systems can be very limited. This inspires me to seek novel solutions.

What is your vision for your position within the E & V program?

I see myself as a weed biology, ecology, and management resource to the Cornell community and the viticulture industry at large. My goal is to develop a program to describe the weeds and weed communities that are difficult to manage in New York grapes. We will focus on current problems as well as up and coming threats that have been identified in other regions. This will include documenting species shifts that are associated with the evolution of herbicide resistance or that occur in response to other selective pressures. In addition to identifying the most pressing weed targets, my program will be focused on evaluating and optimizing control strategies. This will include traditional tools as well as novel approaches, such as electrical weeders and optical and robotic sprayers. I hope to work closely with university, extension, and industry collaborators to distribute the information as widely and efficiently as possible.

What projects are going on in your lab right now?

The onset of COVID-19 interfered with the initiation of a lot of projects, but we (my research technician, Elizabeth Maloney, and myself) were lucky enough to complete the first round of a greenhouse-based study to describe the perennialization process in field bindweed…and how quickly newly emerged seedlings become tolerant to suppression strategies. We have recently been approved by Cornell CALS leadership to begin critical, field-based research trials to evaluate the efficacy of organic herbicides and some novel synthetic active ingredients against difficult-to-control weed species. We were recently informed that we will receive a New York Farm Viability Institute grant (starting this year) to investigate and optimize the performance and safety of electrical weeders in beets and soybeans; we hope to use this data to leverage other granting agencies to explore the utility of this technology in perennial crops. I have been talking with some companies about acquiring tractor-mounted, see-and-spray pesticide application units so that Dr. Yu Jiang and I can evaluate the effectiveness and safety of targeted post-emergence herbicide treatments relative to traditional to broadcast sprays. I am planning to partner with Dr. Katie Gold this summer to use remote sensing to describe how the type and timing of weed management practices can affect grape development in order to better assess how weeds are impacting yield potential. Starting this summer, my technician and I will begin a statewide screening program focused on describing the distribution of herbicide resistant weeds across crops in and regions of New York.

How will your research benefit the grape industry?

I anticipate that the work I will be doing here at Cornell will be helpful to many specialty crop industries. This includes identifying how widespread herbicide resistance is and determining which herbicide groups are most in danger of becoming ineffective. This knowledge will, in turn, help us to design more effective control strategies. Hopefully, as my program expands, we will be able to identify new tools, which are both effective and economical, for controlling unwanted vegetation.

If your office and lab were on fire and you could only escape with one item, what would it be?

My husband bought me an autographed copy of the book ‘Annapurna: A Woman’s Place’ as a gift for our wedding. It was written by Dr. Arlene Blum and describes the first all-women’s expedition to climb Annapurna I in 1978 (American Women’s Himalayan Expedition). Her recounting of the triumphs and tragedies of that ascent has resonated with me at critical points in my life.