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Musgrave Research Farm

Visitors at a field day at Musgrave Research Farm in front of corn research plots

Aurora, NY
Musgrave Research Farm provides productive, arable land for applied agricultural research, teaching and extension with a focus on field crops and soil science research. The 450-acre farm uses about 100 acres for crop research with another approximately 250 acres for production crops, such as field grain corn, winter wheat, soybeans and hay. The production crops are sold to supplement cost of facility operations. To maximize yield, crops are rotated between research and production areas. Twenty acres at Musgrave Research Farm are certified organic by NOFA-NY Certified Organic, LLC, with another eight acres in transition.

The farm is located close to Aurora, 27 miles north of Cornell's Ithaca campus in Cayuga County, the county with the most corn, hay, and soybean acres in New York. The soils are high-pH glacial tills, which are representative of the highly productive soils in the state. Musgrave Research Farm provides an excellent location for research and outreach for Cornell researchers and many of the recommendations in the Cornell Guide for Integrated Field Crop Management emanate from research conducted at the farm.

The farm now has an RTK satellite navigation system that broadcasts highly accurate GPS information
(< 1 inch) to any farm vehicle set up to utilize the signal. It reduces not only the time working the fields, but also seeds, fertilizer, pesticides and fuel. Four failing grain silos were replaced by two larger ones with the ability to circulate air through the grain, keeping it dry and fresh longer. Musgrave also continues to install drainage systems to fields prone to be too wet. A total of 38 acres now have grid tiling. Recent machinery upgrades include a new research corn planter, a cover crop interseeder, and a new plot combine capable of harvesting small plot research trials of soybeans, small grains and field corn.

Contact Information and Directions

Postdoctoral researcher at Musgrave Research Farm

Research Highlights

  • Researchers from the Sustainable Cropping Systems Lab are testing the performance of perennial grains, such as intermediate wheatgrass. Compared to annual grains which need to be replanted every year, perennial grains drastically reduce the need for herbicides and fuel for farm equipment, and may reduce the need for fertilizer. With its deep root systems, intermediate wheatgrass helps to protect the soil year-round, and prevents water and nutrient runoff.
  • A study focusing on biochar as a valuable soil amendment has received international attention, because biochar is created by burning biomass through a process called pyrolysis, which produces energy in addition to a charcoal-like substance that sequesters carbon in soil and could be used to reduce global warming. Pyrolysis is said to be the only "carbon negative" form of energy production. Read more
  • Research on various weed management strategies for field crops and winter wheat includes chemical and non-chemical methods, such as cover cropping. Troublesome annual broadleaf weeds such as common ragweed and certain types of lambsquarter receive special attention, along with perennial weeds like dandelion.
  • An entomological study researches the use of a tiny bug named Trichogramma, as a biological control agent for the European corn borer in sweet corn, which is a common and devastating pest in the Northeast.
  • Other studies explore the factors that influence the growth, development, yield and quality of corn, soybeans and wheat in New York. Yield testing with different dates of planting for winter wheat and seed treatment studies are two examples.
  • A program on field crop fertilizer and manure management aims to improve the dairy industry awareness of crop nutrient needs, crop quality, management of organic wastes, environmentally sound nutrient management practices, and overall soil fertility management.
  • Another project researches malting barley production and pest control.
  • Extensive field trials test interseeding new species, varieties and mixtures of cover crops into grain, corn and soybeans. Studies look at best varieties for the New York clime, and the impact on cover crops on soil health and the nutrient needs of field crops. 
  • Research into the use of nematodes for controlling Western and Northern corn root worm  in field corn.  

Field day at Musgrave Research Farm

Better Corn Crops

Almost 30 acres of Musgrave Research Farm are currently used by various researchers for studies on corn, New York's largest field crop. A number of these studies focus on breeding and genetics of the crop, including evaluating new varieties, developing corn with better productivity and sustainability in New York growing environments, and studying the basic genetics of corn. The corn breeding project develops new inbreds and hybrids that are early maturing to fit New York's short growing season, and that have improved stalk and root quality, resistance to insects and diseases, and good yield potential. They also test these new hybrids and many commercially available hybrids over a range of environments in New York. The project aims to help New York farmers and gardeners by making new varieties available and testing the performance of many available varieties under local growing conditions.

Many researchers are studying the basic genetics of corn. These investigations focus on many traits of importance to New York corn growers, such as disease resistance, nutritional quality, and response to shading by other plants. They also include work designed to improve our understanding of the development and genetics of this agricultural plant in order to ultimately improve its productivity and sustainability. These projects will provide insights that will ultimately allow tailoring of corn for optimal performance in various environments and for various traits.