G42 Emerson Hall
Margaret E. Smith joined the faculty at Cornell University in 1987 in the College of Agriculture and Life Science’s Department of Plant Breeding and Genetics, focusing on corn breeding.
My research goal is to enhance our understanding of corn adaptation to marginal environments and develop genetic materials that will improve corn productivity and sustainability in such environments. My corn breeding research objectives include: (1) gaining an understanding of the genetics of and genetic variability for improved performance under marginal conditions, (2) developing better selection methods for improving performance under such conditions, (3) exploring sources of novel genes to improve key productivity and sustainability traits, and (4) developing and releasing germplasm sources of use in New York, nationally, and internationally.
As Department Extension Leader, I aim to make our extension program as strong as it can be in support of our mission, guided by the following specific goals: (1) Help NY farmers and gardeners improve variety choices and seed quality. a. Grow and provide Foundation seed and help seed growers produce Certified seed of superior crop varieties for NY. b. Share results of variety testing on NY farms and experiment stations to help seed companies determine which varieties to market, seed growers decide which varieties to produce, and farmers select top varieties for their farms. c. Provide decision-making information to help farmers make wise seed choices. d. Gain feedback for breeders based on seed growers' and farmers' experiences with new crop varieties. e. Conduct commercial field corn variety trials to assess grain yield potential and adaptation to NY growing environments, and provide this information to growers and seedsmen. (2) Improve public understanding of plant breeding, crop varieties, and genetic engineering and increase awareness of the benefits that have been derived from genetic improvement of plants. a. Provide educational programs and written resources on plant breeding and genetic engineering. b. Develop a plan and resource materials for education about gene deployment across the landscape.
Seeds of well-adapted and highly productive crop varieties are a critical input for all NY farmers and gardeners. Seed growers and seed companies are key players in providing such seeds. The varieties they draw on for NY include improved crop varieties developed and tested by Cornell plant breeders. Often these carry better pest resistance (which reduces pesticide needs) and superior yield and quality that benefit both producers and consumers. Such new varieties may not reach their intended audience without strong extension programs that involve farmers, seed growers, and the seed industry. These same stakeholders also provide critical feedback to researchers on variety needs for NY, thus helping to ensure that Cornell plant breeders’ research programs are well targeted and effective. Extension interaction with these groups provides the vehicle for information flow both ways, and is a key focus of my extension program. A second area of focus is genetically engineered crops. There is significant public concern and misunderstanding about genetically engineered crops, and education that is accessible to the general public on this topic is essential. Experience shows that people respond well to information about genetic engineering that is balanced, accurate, and presented in an understandable way. It helps them to make more thoughtful and well-informed choices of their own regarding genetically engineered crops. Speaking to public audiences on this topic is another major component of my extension effort
My focus is on applied plant breeding, selection, variety testing, and seed issues. I also teach about genetically engineered crop plants (basic public issues education) and agriculture in the developing world.