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Summer at Cornell: Soil, Soybeans and Subsurfers

While many students choose to take a break from Cornell and get a change in scenery from Ithaca for the summer, I decided to accept an internship at Cornell and experience the few calm months that Cornell has each year. I am interning in the Nutrient Management Spear Program (NMSP) which is run by Dr. Quirine Ketterings in the Animal Science department at Cornell.  One of NMSPs main goals is to make sure the New York farms remain sustainable and they do this through extension programs, on-field and laboratory based research, and general exchange of knowledge among individuals.  Tools for planning and decision making on field crop nutrient management is readily available to anyone who needs it.  Through this program, recommendations can be made to farmers about what to apply to their fields to increase yields of their crops but also keeping in mind the environment.

Over the summer, I will be working on several different projects that the NMSP is running  as well as getting my own special project in which I will create an Agronomy Fact Sheet from the data collected.  Some of my responsibilities include setting up field trials at various farms and experimental stations across New York state, soil sampling, soil fertility and crop monitoring, sample processing and lab analyses.  I will also get a lot of experience working with extension and crop consulting agencies as well as a better idea of how to run your own research experiment.

Prior to starting my internship over four weeks ago now, I had no idea what to expect to be doing each day and even after four weeks I still don’t know what each day will bring.  I knew I would be working with soil but that was about it.  My first week on the job really gave me a taste of what my summer would include.  The first day I ended up washing and separating root and shoot samples from a cover crop study.  The next day I was in the truck headed to a farm in Western New York to set up plots and spread fertilizer in an alfalfa field.  The next day I was grinding plant samples followed by a day of computer work.  The last day of my first week was spent at the Musgrave Research Farm in Aurora taking soil samples from a multi-year corn/alfalfa rotation study that has been going on for awhile now.  I felt like I was going in a hundred different directions but I loved having a new challenge every day I came into work.

Musgrave Research Farm

I have learned how to do several laboratory tests including ISNT, LOI and Morgan Extractions.  ISNT stands for Illinois Soil Nitrogen Test and it measures the amount of Nitrogen in soil that is available for plant use.  This helps determine if addition of Nitrogen fertilizer will be beneficial to crop yields.  LOI stands for Loss of Ignition and measures the amount of organic matter in a soil.  Morgan Extractions measure the amounts of micro and macro nutrients in a soil sample.  There are still several lab tests that I will be learning in the coming weeks including a Corn Stalk Nitrate Test.

A few weeks ago, I was also given my special project from which I will create an Agronomy Fact sheet which will be published on the NMSP website.  My project is looking at soil pH in soybean fields in Delaware County.  The goal of this experiment is to see whether or not applying lime to fields with low pHs will increase soybean yield.  To prepare for the fact sheet, I am completing a Lime Management learning module located on the NMSP website as well as a lot of reading about soybeans.  There will be a lot more to come in future blogs on this project!

While I am working on a lot of different projects, I have found one that will most likely be my favorite.  At the Musgrave Research Farm, we have a sub-surfer manure injector that we are testing out.  It sounds strange but the main goal of this project is to break the machine which to me is kind of exciting.  This spreader is for no-till surface and sub-surface conditions in pastures and fields that will inject dry poultry litter and cow manure into the soil.  The company we received the prototype from wants to know what is wrong with it so they can make adjustments before releasing it to the general public.  We are just getting started with this and I can’t wait to see how we break this thing!


Subsurfer Prototype


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