GENEVA, N.Y. — Sen. Chuck Schumer has announced $68.9 million in federal funding to build a new lab at the Cornell AgriTech campus in Geneva for grape genetics research. The facility will house the federal Grape Genetics Research Unit and facilitate collaborations between USDA Agricultural Research Service and Cornell scientists.

“The grape industry drives incredible growth in New York State, providing $4.8 billion in economic benefits and supporting thousands of good-paying jobs in the Rochester-Finger Lakes Region and across Upstate New York,” Schumer said in a statement.

Schumer said while researchers in the Grape Genetics Research Unit have significantly advanced the wine and grape industries in the region, they have been hampered by cramped facilities. He said the lab “needs a dedicated facility with sufficient space to incorporate new sensor technology and the enhanced computing capacity necessary to stay at the leading edge of crop research to support grape growers Upstate and nationwide.”

The research unit is currently situated in leased space on Cornell’s Geneva campus. A USDA feasibility study for a new facility was completed in 2003, but the USDA-ARS budget did not allocate funds to move forward with the project until now.

Cornell University President Martha Pollack said in a statement, “It has been Cornell’s privilege to lease space to the GGRU for many years, and we are pleased that these world-class scientists will now have a world-class facility of their own.”

Pollack said the co-location of the federal facility on the AgriTech campus would cement “the decades-long research partnership between Cornell and USDA that has helped fuel the explosive growth of the New York wine and grape industries.”

The unit’s research has explored topics including cold tolerance and resistance to disease, providing critical data to the more than 320 growers in the Rochester-Finger Lakes region.

In a statement to the Cornell Chronicle, Gan-Yuan Zhong, who leads the research unit, said the new lab facilities will “accelerate the genetic improvement of grapevines and allow more opportunities for on-site collaborative work connecting cutting-edge genetic research to grow the sustainability and the competitiveness of the U.S. grape industry.”

According to 2017 data from the Finger Lakes Tourism Alliance, the Finger Lakes region is home to more than 100 wineries. The Ithaca Voice recently spoke to an expert in the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva about the local climate, top wines and what challenges growers face. Read the story here and watch the video below.

(Produced by Jacob Mroczek for the Ithaca Voice)

Featured image courtesy of Bill Davis.

Devon Magliozzi

Devon Magliozzi is a reporter for the Ithaca Voice. Questions? Story tips? Contact her at or 607-391-0328.