Work by Cornell researchers in Geneva focuses on an alternative to chemicals

GENEVA — Researchers are finding a way to cut back on chemicals used on crops by turning to UV lights.

If you drive by the Cornell AgriTech research field in Geneva at night, you may just see an usual sight as a tractor outfitted with UV lights roams the field. The recent creation is replacing certain chemicals.

Poisonous pathogens on plants can create total crop loss. It’s why many farmers turn to fungicides to get rid of things like powdery mildew, downy mildew and mites.

Over time, those organisms have become more resistant to the chemicals used. However, Cornell AgriTech recently discovered a breakthrough in their research.

Single cell organisms have adapted to natural UV from the sun, having an effective mechanism to repair damage from the UV. However, Cornell AgriTech discovered that repair mechanism turns off at night.

“So, if you expose them [to UV] at night, you can kill them with a very small dose that’s not harmful to the environment or plant,” explained David Gadoury, a senior research associate.

It is an old technology used in a new way.

“Water purification systems, operating rooms, they’re in microbiology labs. People don’t realize how close they come to these lights every day,” explained Gadoury, adding the lights are also used for pasteurization.

The lightbulbs aren’t ones you’ll find in a tanning bed, but are more powerful.

In New York, the first commercial grapevine field trial will be at Bully Hill in Hammondsport.