Researcher recognized at National Conference in Austin, Texas

Commitment and a common touch helped Dr. Terry Bates, senior research associate at Cornell University, earn the American Society of Enology and Viticulture’s (ASEV) first Extension Distinction Award.

Dr. Bates receives the award at the ASEV’s 2014 National Conference in Austin, Texas, on Wednesday, in recognition for developing a system to mechanically prune vines to meet seasonal conditions and attain balance.

Bates was hired for a research position, but rethinking how research is best applied led to the restructuring of the program in 2009 to become the Cornell Lake Erie Research and Extension Laboratory (CLEREL). Not only did the new structure formalize the collaboration with Penn State University and overcome state borders bisecting the Erie Grape Belt, it also connected researchers more directly with the commercial growers as research collaborators and beneficiaries. The new model made everyone’s roles at CLEREL extension-like, accelerating the delivery of valuable research and information.

Still, Bates recently said he is surprised by the honor, which he sees as recognizing years of efforts by CLEREL personnel. “This award really goes to the Erie team for a decade of great work and great results for growers,” he said.

Bates led the team that came up with a method for the mechanized pruning of concord vineyards by modifying conventional grape harvesters. Combined with assessment tools and techniques, the innovation allowed growers to estimate and thin crops to suit seasonal conditions.

Growers describe Bates as having the mind of a researcher with the heart of an extension agent.

“When he is in the vineyard, his eyes gleam and you can see the excitement,” said Dawn Betts of Betts Farms in Westfield, N.Y., which has 200 acres of concord. Bates can communicate scientific concepts in a way the farmer can understand, she added. One of his early contributions reduced Nelson Shaulis’s pruning formula to an easy-to-use chart.

Like a tech-savvy friend, Bates enjoys pushing introducing growers to new technology, helping them use GPS to improve vineyard management and evaluating the NDVI (Normalized Difference Vegetation Index) to measure vigor.

Developing a mechanized pruning regimen that did not appreciably hurt quality has been a boon and cost saver, Betts said, changing how concord is cultivated. Last year, Bates’ method was applied to about half the concord acreage – 12,000 acres of vines setting massive amounts of fruit. Without pruning, the grapes probably wouldn’t have ripened to the industry standard of 15.5 °Brix, saving growers an estimated $9 million, based upon a Cornell estimate.

Mid-season mechanized crop thinning has been adopted by growers in several other states, noted Tim Martinson, senior extension association for viticulture with Cornell.

“Terry’s leadership in applied research has given concord growers a new tool for managing crop load efficiently, resulting in substantial economic benefits,” he said.

Bates received his Ph.D. in plant physiology from Pennsylvania State University in 1998 and was hired by Cornell University soon after. He has authored or co-authored more than 20 technical articles in extension and trade publications.