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History of Cornell AgriTech

1886 Staff
Station staff in 1886

Cornell AgriTech (New York State Agricultural Experiment Station) was established by an act of the New York State Legislature on June 26, 1880, “for the purpose of promoting agriculture in its various branches by scientific investigation and experiment.” At that time, agriculture was one of the biggest industries in the state, employing over half of the labor force. The first director, E. Lewis Sturtevant, set a course that has lasted over 100 years: scientific discovery and rapid communication of results to benefit the farmers and consumers of New York.

In the earliest days, the seven  scientists—working in a single building that doubled as living quarters—conducted research on dairy products, horticultural production practices, and the evaluation of vegetable and field crop varieties for New York on 130 acres of farmland. In 1887, the program expanded to include work on beef cattle, swine, and fruit varieties.

Originally an independent state institution, The New York State Agricultural Experiment Station became part of Cornell University in 1923 and immediately diversified to include research on crops for canned goods, nursery plants, and raspberries. When all animal research was transferred to Cornell’s Ithaca campus at the end of World War II, Cornell AgriTech became a true horticultural research institute. To support this mission, by the late 1940s new departments for chemistry, insects, food science, plant diseases, seed testing, and vegetable production were added.

Station campus today

Today, Cornell AgriTech serves an evolving agricultural sector that remains an economic engine for New York State, valued at over $36.7 billion a year. New programs have been added to keep pace with changes in New York agriculture, including programs to serve the state’s grape and wine industries, hop producers, bioenergy crop production, food entrepreneurs, and farmers facing new crop pests and diseases.

The campus has grown from its original single building and barns to a complex that today includes over 700 acres of land planted to test plots, orchards, and vineyards. It is home to faculty from the Departments of Entomology and Food Science and the School of Integrative Plant Science. Researchers—including over 300 faculty, staff, and students— work to safeguard New York’s production of fruits and vegetables, develop new crops, enhance food safety for consumers, and promote economically viable farming solutions.