Skip to main content

Week 5: Potato Plague

This week I continued surveying and scouting as per usual however what was unusual was the high incidence of black leg observed in potatoes. Black leg is a bacterial disease in potatoes that can be either seed or air borne. An infected plant will yield inedible potatoes, so its management is essential. A particularly severe strain of new black leg has appeared in the seed pieces of many growers this year. Growers in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York have experienced a 10-50% infection rate of black leg in their fields. The previous strain of black leg would historically only infect 1% of potatoes. It is obvious therefore why many are referring this year’s black leg epidemic as “black leg on steroids”. No management strategies are available since the bacteria is present in the seed piece. Samples of the black leg have been shipped back to the seed producers to prevent such a severe infection in the future. It seems that Long Island potatoes could use a “leg” up. 

A potato infected with black leg, clearly inedible.

Everything is BIGGER in TX – Introduction

Case Steiger 450 and John Deere dirt scrapers.

Case Steiger 450 and John Deere dirt scrapers.

Seeding Sorghum into Tricale stubble.

No till planting sorghum into tricale stubble.

Most of the Quarter Sections are irritated with a  a sprinkler system them rotates on one center pivot so the crops must be planted in a circular pattern.

Most of the Quarter Sections are irritated with a a sprinkler system that rotates on one center pivot. As a result the crops must be planted in a circular pattern.

Week 1
Over ten years ago the Dairy I am interning with made the difficult decision to relocate from their dairy in northern California to the Panhandle of Texas. Over the past decade the Family has accumulated 4 individual dairy farms and a calf ranch and milk a total of 14,000 Holsteins. In addition to managing their cows company works approximately 16,000 aces, three quarters of which are under center pivot irrigation. The Texas Panhandle has experienced an extreme drought over the past 5 years depleting the ground water supply which they depend on by 25%.

This is there first year adding an intern position to their payroll of nearly 350 people. I found the job through the Network I have been creating at Cornell. A former professor introduced me to a Cornell alum who was offering the job.

My role as intern will consist of helping to improve and maintain the organization of their cropping operations in addition to completing basic tasks around the farm. Extensive networks of irrigation are an important factor for the farm profitability as the arable land provides over 75% of the feed for the dairy portion of the farm.

After a complete tour of all 5 farms and many introductions on the first day I was prepared to begin my role on the farm. The following day I learned how to operate a laser leveler moving earth from one location to another in order to prepare a foundation for a new hay barn to be constructed upon. Wednesday I received a 30 minute crash course on how to plant sorghum with a 32 row planter and operate John Deere’s Green Star software in order to plant sorghum, a drought tolerant crop commonly used for silage in Texas. Two and a half days later I already had 470 acres under my belt as my employers moved me to my next task. The main purpose of my intern position would be to gather information on each quarter section (an field consisting of 160acres) the farm owned. Over the next 7 weeks I will be gathering GPS coordinates, soil composition information and cropping records in oder to compose documents that will further improve the growers ability to efficiently produce high quality forages for 14,000 animals.

Field Scouting: Corn & Soybean CSI

An example of my scouting reports.

An example of my scouting reports.

Now that the corn and soybean fields have come up and the stands are well on their way, it’s prime time to be scouting the fields for early season disease, damage, and nutrient deficiency. These days are almost always spent by myself on a particular grower, driving around to about a dozen fields walking the crop, taking measurements, and recording observations with notes and pictures. Scouting for the top ten growers in my area has been assigned to me by my DSM as my regional project, one of the three projects that must be done in order to successfully complete my internship. This project had to provide a benefit to the sales region, and this gives my DSM and the Channel brand more communication touch-points throughout the season with the grower (we aim for about four main in-field connections from planting to harvest).

Now something that I have noticed about my experience with seed dealers in the Midwest versus seed dealers in the Northeast is that often, salesmen are only really there when the sale is being made and when the results are being calculated. At home in Iowa, our farm is used to having seed dealers and salesmen checking in with us at all stages of the growth process to ensure that we are satisfied with the product so far. This is uncommon for this area I am working in, and Channel is bringing that element into seed sales in this region of the US, as it was designed primarily to bring Monsanto-quality genetics with a higher level of personal service.

I collect my maps for the day and plan a route before I leave, mostly to save time and limit my driving distance so I don’t have to backtrack in a particular area. With my tools such as a seed pick, pocket field guide, spade, measuring tape, and a pretty strong agronomy background, I’m off to check up on the crops. The first field of the day is soybeans, which seems to be the popular crop this year. I walk out into the field a ways and start by looking over the leaves for foliar damage or feeding. Next, I dig up the plant to observe the roots. All too often, this part is overlooked and it is important to the overall level of plant health. I see some small nodules starting to form, but a few signs of root limiting with the soil compaction as a result of a no-till system. I notice some leaf discoloration in the wetter areas of the field, which could be the result of numerous things. I have an idea of what disease it could be, but just to be sure I refer to my field guide. Eventually I find the page and my suspicions are confirmed: this grower has a little Brown Spot, which is not unusual for the cool, wet weather. I do a few quick stand counts, noting that the population looks good, and finish up the walkthrough while taking a few pictures.

In the cornfields, the procedure is fairly similar (it’s just harder to walk through, especially when the corn gets tall). Because of the early May frost this part of the country received, some of the corn was damaged after planting. If it didn’t corkscrew back into the ground after imbibing cold water as it germinated, the corn plant shows some signs of frost damage on the leaves, or a few didn’t even emerge. This was an issue with quite a few growers this year, but the reality is that you can’t control the weather. I see some cases of phosphorus deficient in a few fields and a lack of sulfur in others, all of which can be fixed by fertilizer applications. A few weeds are starting to sprout up in fields, so I make a note of what kinds I see and perhaps make a spray recommendation.

Taking more photos, I see that some of these fields have issues with compaction as well, and that the end rows are particularly behind in growth stage as compared to the majority of the field. Field signs aren’t up yet, and my DSM and I probably won’t place them until after the corn tassels, but I know what varieties are in which fields with my maps, and it’s easy to see which ones are performing better. I make a mental note to report my observations on this to my DSM – he’ll find it interesting. I pull a corn plant out (they’re still small enough where I don’t have to dig them) and look at the roots. No visible rootworm feeding, which is more of an issue where I am from rather than the NE. So far, so good: I’ll be sure to check back up on this grower’s fields in another few days.

With all of my pictures and notes, I head back to my apartment at the end of the day to type up my reports. This is very important, as the reports have all of my comments and pictures that I can share with my grower and DSM in a detailed format. I create the write-ups and have my DSM proofread them later in the evening through email before I send it out the farmer, just to make sure all of my information is accurate and consistent. In the morning, I get an email back from the farmer asking if he should put down some in-season nitrogen, to which I reply it may be a beneficial application. Being able to share information and make recommendations with my farmers has been a both a rewarding and challenging experience, pushing me to think critically and problem solve, as well as put my agricultural knowledge to the test.

Root development.    Phosphorus deficiency.     Brown spot on soybean.


Root development, phosphorous deficiency, and soybean brown spot.


Week 4: Survey Galore

famrstandThe rain and survey Gods have answered my prayers and gave me an absolutely awful rainy day on Monday so I could catch up on surveying. I spent the entirety of Monday calling growers and setting up interviews with them. I was also driving from farm to farm on North Fork Long Island administering the survey. I was able to use a tablet and Qualtrics online for the first time which enhanced the efficiency of the survey process. In one day I was able to complete eight surveys and finally catch up on my quotas. The rest of the week I then spent scouting. I encountered new crops to scout such as raspberries, blackberries, and hopps. The weather has been absolutely amazing and being able to spend all day relishing in it has been even better!



Week 3: Hamptons Work Vacation

This week was another great one at the Long Island Horticultural Research and Extension Center. I continued tackling my standard weekly tasks, visiting farms and scouting their fields for pests, working on field trials on-site, and setting up interviews with local growers about their interest and willingness to grow broccoli. I found that last task was particularly difficult because of the amazing weather we were having. It seems that on rainy days growers are much more eager to chat. The interviewing component of the week was therefore minimal. The highlight of the week for me was being able to scout potato fields located in the Hamptons. These fields were almost directly on the ocean and surrounded by unimaginably large houses. Scouting here provided the opportunity to see agrarianism and lavishness side by side: two things that are not normally found together. It was a great week and I’m certain next will be as well.


Wading Through a Sea of Chickens


Happy hen on pasture

My first major job at Quails-R-Us was to set up electronet fencing for the laying hens.  The nearly twelve hundred Red Sexlink hens had been inside for the first part of the year and were ready to begin the ‘free range’ part of their life.  QRS doesn’t rotate their chickens on pasture, but instead has large semi-permanent runs accessed through chicken-sized doors in the barn wall.  The food, water, and nest boxes are inside, but the bugs, grass, and sunshine are outside, and most of the hens spent at least part of their day taking dust baths and stretching their wings.  Some of the hens had never been outside before, and required a lot of coaxing to become comfortable with the idea.

Every morning for my first two weeks I had the responsibility of caring for the layers.  The process of feeding them and collecting eggs took me about two hours, but for the farmhand Ramone or the owners, it might take one and a half.  I had never spent any significant time around chickens before and while I wasn’t necessarily afraid of them I was a little overly cautious.  The layers I cared for this summer are very curious about human activity, and will readily crowd around your feet and refuse to move out of the way when you’re trying to walk through them.  They constantly peck at any shiny object on your boots or hat or wrist.  At first I was afraid of their beaks, but I quickly learned that being pecked by an overly broody hen isn’t that painful. As time went on I became more comfortable shooing them out of my way and being the dominant creature in the coop.


Hens swarming over me and my irresistible boots.

The chicken feeders, which are used for the meat birds as well as the layers, are basically hoppers you fill at the top, and as the chickens eat, more food falls down into the tray. Their water comes from permanent piping with a movable nozzle, and they can drink by using their tongue to push the nozzle up so water drips down, similar to a hamster waterer.  Hoppers full of oyster shells were provided but rarely needed human attention. Feeding the chickens took a while because buckets of grain are very heavy, and I often had to make eight or more trips between feeders and the grain wagon.  But egg collecting took longer.

The QRS layers have developed the unfortunate habit of refusing to lay in their nest boxes.  Partially it’s because there are not enough nest boxes for the number of chickens. Usually you want one nest box for every five chickens; we needed about 250 nest boxes and were short by about 80.  Additionally, many of the nest boxes had no backs, making them too bright and too open for the comfort of the chickens. Many laid their eggs instead on the floor in the darkest room of the coop, which had no nest boxes installed.  Every day was an Easter egg hunt for me, as I got on my hands and knees to peer into dark corners and under feeders looking for eggs partially buried in the wood shaving floors.  We tried many different strategies to get the layers to use their nest boxes.  Some eggs collected from the floor were placed in nest boxes to get the hens to associate the boxes with egg laying.  We put extra hay bedding in some boxes, both to make the boxes seem more inviting and to keep the eggs that were being laid inside cleaner. We put large rocks and boxes in the really problematic corners to deter laying.  We put in pigeon nest boxes, which are shorter and shallower. We put some nest boxes flush with the floor.  And we tried to remove eggs from the floor as soon as they were laid to disassociate the floor with egg laying. Our attempts were moderately successful…more eggs were being laid in the boxes when I left than there were when I arrived.

An example of an abnormal egg

An example of an abnormal egg

The collected eggs – about 85 dozen a day – were washed and packaged soon thereafter.  After removing poop, dirt, hay pieces, and other non-delicious items in warm water, the eggs are air-dried then packaged in cartons stamped with the date of lay and stickered with the farm’s information.  From my counts, about 7% of the eggs collected broke before packaging, either due to shell abnormalities, jostling of the buckets during collecting and transport, or simple human error. Broken eggs are fed to the pigs. QRS sells their eggs nest run, meaning they do not weigh them for size or grade them for quality.  I still learned a lot about commercial egg selling, though. Sizes of eggs are based on weight of the entire carton together, rather than each individual egg.  Every day we’d have one or two very small eggs and six or seven jumbo eggs, which often contained two yolks.  The rest were large or extra-large. The variation in egg shell color, texture, thickness, and pattern was astonishing. Grading in eggs is done by candling – holding a light behind the egg to get a shadow view of the contents.  While our eggs were never graded, our customers always come back raving about how good their breakfasts were, so I have to assume they are at least grade A.  One thing is for sure: my farm fresh omelets were always delicious.


Grower Visits: Building Relationships 101

My DSM visiting a grower.

My DSM visiting a grower.

Throughout the summer, one of my tasks I described in the introduction post was meeting with growers throughout the sales district held by my DSM (District Sales Manager). Being in sales, the need for connection is the basis of a successful sale. In order to make the sale, you need to create a relationship with your customer to build trust and reliability, as well as a sense of loyalty to gain a returning client base. While all of these aspects are essential, no two of my visits have been the same. Each looks for different ways to make those connections, each customer looks for a different kind of advice, and a different level of attention to their product portfolio and operation. For the purpose of this post, I’d like to walk you through a typical day of making a couple farm visits to some well-established customers.

Usually, all of my days begin by meeting up with my DSM in order to go over the plan for the day. Some days I’m scouting, some days I’m making seed deliveries (which is wrapping up now that planting is just about over), and today, we will be making a few calls on growers. I follow him in my truck for the hour trip west into Pennsylvania, multi-tasking by joining on one of the intern class bi-weekly conference call sessions held by our team lead to check up on our progress. As we arrive to the farm, the grower is out in his shop working on some equipment. My DSM and I enter the building, saying hello and asking how his family is. Knowing his personality, this family is very family-oriented and this is a great way to open up conversation for the rest of the morning. From there, we start to discuss what we saw in the fields on our last visit, especially now that heavy rains have really affected the crop. After about an hour casual evaluation and commentary, the three of us jump into the truck to begin a bit of a farm tour.

Getting to the first field, we see that the incredible amount of rain have washed gullies into the ground and washed away some spots, which is not uncommon for the hilly ground. The growers notices that with his recent planting, the beans were very young and some of them “washed,” or were removed from the location where they were planted, leaving “skips” in the row. He made a comment to my DSM that he might just cultivate the beans back into the soil with a field cultivator and replant. Before telling him to go ahead with the decision and enacting the seed replant policy the Channel company offers, my DSM offers to give the field a brief look-over. After I grabbed the trusty field from the truck, we walked throughout the field and counted the number of missing plants in comparison to the 1/10 of an acre measurement in comparison to the intended planting population. We repeated this a few times, then came to the conclusion that it would not be necessary to replant, as the loss was not too great and the existing bean plants would compensate for the amount of space.

While this was the recommendation given by my DSM and I, we are still here to listen to the customer. Our grower decided that he would not replant, but if so, we would be ready to deliver him new seed when ready. The goal is to maintain the customer, and maintain the sale, hence through meeting the grower’s needs. Getting back into the truck, we visited a few more fields to do some “stand counts” (seeing how many plants emerged as a measure of weather conditions and seed quality) to check on the success of planting post-weather.

As any customer visits goes, it wouldn’t be complete unless we took the grower for lunch. While this may seem over-the-top to some, it not only shows a friendly gesture to the farmer indicating that we are glad to have their business, it also provides another good opportunity to sit down in a casual setting to discuss their ideas and perceptions of the products and what they would like to see. This is very important, as it gives my DSM and I an idea of how to better manage their account and to understand how we can incorporate ourselves into their production goals. Wrapping up lunch, we thanked him for his time and the chance to walk some fields with him as a grower’s time is very valuable. Next, it was time to drive to our second visit.

The second grower doesn’t have as long of a relationship or one that is as well-built as the grower we just visited, as the first one has been doing business with my DSM for years. This farmer is older, yet new to the company after a disagreement with the salesman of his old brand. This means that this customer and account has to be dealt with more carefully (not to say that we do not deal with accounts with equal care, this one just must be treated with a greater sense of professionalism rather than a sense of friendship). I have not met this farmer before, and as soon as I arrive I pleasantly introduce myself as an intern of the company in order to clear any questions about my presence on his operation. My DSM and I do similar activities as the first, asking questions about the status of his fields and his feelings about this year’s seed varieties, as well as visit a few fields. The grower is hesitant about some of the seed choices he’s picked out for the year, but my DSM knows the product line up inside out and can help explain the features of each variety and how it will benefit his production model. Hopefully by the end of the summer, I will also be able to know the products on a level where I feel comfortable making recommendations to the farmers.

As the visit comes to an end, we take a couple empty seed boxes back with us in the beds of our trucks. These big black boxes hold 50 units of corn seed (one unit of corn seed is 80,000 seeds, so that’s four million seeds, and at 52 lbs. a unit, that’s 2,600 lbs. of corn not counting the weight of the heavy plastic box itself) and are used to ship large quantities of seeds to growers as opposed to the bagged seed, which one bag equals one unit of seed. After the trek back to the main warehouse, one of the sub-dealers jumps on the forklift and stacks the boxes up, which they will eventually be loaded onto a semi truck and hauled back to the seed packing facilities to be reused.

While I said no two grower visits are the same, they are all equally enjoyable getting to know the farmers, as well as building up my own relationships to practice the skill of maintain the sale through loyalty and interest in the customer. I have a feeling this will come in handy throughout my career, no matter where I go.

Luke, one of the sub-dealers, is stacking up empty boxes to be reused.

Luke, one of the sub-dealers, is stacking up empty boxes to be reused.

The gully washed into the first grower's field as a result of the massive rains.

The gully washed into the first grower’s field as a result of the massive rains.

Hello and Introduction to Quails-R-Us…Plus!

Hi everyone!  I’m Lauren, a rising senior studying sustainable agriculture.  Sustainable agriculture is a huge field, but my interests lie primarily in management intensive grazing, consumer education, and economic ornithology.  I’m interning this summer on a small family farm in northeastern Pennsylvania that produces a variety of animal products.  Quails-R-Us…Plus is only about five years old and is run by Rick and Linda Franciosa.  The farm is still very much in the transition stage, but business is growing every year.  This is the first year they’ve had an intern, so my job description is very fluid.  Basically I help out wherever I’m needed, giving advice when I’m asked and learning a lot.084

Quails-R-Us…Plus, or Q-R-US for short, has its origins in poultry.  Rick and Linda both have many decades experience in live poultry markets in New York City.  The farm started off raising tens of thousands of live quail, and has slowly morphed into its current form.  Now we raise natural and organic Cornish Cross meat chickens, Coturnix quail for meat and eggs, Red Sexlink layers, Broad-breasted White Turkey, guineafowl, mixed breed pigs, mixed breed goats, mixed breed sheep, and rabbits.  Also raised are Bobwhite quail and Chukar partridge for hunting.

Q-R-US has a finger in many pots.  We sell direct to restaurants, we sell to whole-sellers, we contribute to two different CSA’s (community supported agriculture), we take orders from customers, and we go to seven different farmer’s markets a week.  We often butcher chickens raised by others, for a fee.  There are a host of pets that need care as well: dogs, cats, doves, donkeys, geese, a horse, a ferret, two cockatiels, and a pot-bellied pig.  Every day is different, bringing new challenges and new opportunities to learn.


A partridge chick…so tiny!

I live on farm, beginning each day around eight in the morning and working until six.  Rick and Linda’s daughters occasionally help out, and there is a farmhand Ramone.  We butcher three days a week, and I spend all day Sunday at one of our markets. So far during my four weeks here, I’ve helped with shearing, given vaccinations, installed new fencing, given a dog a haircut, coaxed layers out onto pasture, held impossibly tiny quail chicks, and untangled a kid from Electronet.  I’m now quite proficient at bottle-feeding lambs, collecting eggs, gutting chickens, and filling customer orders…not bad for someone who’s spent her whole life in the suburbs!  I’m learning a ton, and most of it is random tidbits and insights you’d never find in a textbook.  The kind of learning that only comes from hands-on experience, which is of course the very point of the internship requirement.  My only given task for the summer is to build the business a website, a process I’m very much enjoying despite its surprising difficulty.

I am surrounded by Cornell alumni.  Rick is a Class of ’82 animal science alum, and Q-R-US does a lot of partnering with Twin Brook Farms down the road, managed by Class of 2010 ag sci alum Cassie and her husband Erik, Class of 2010 natural resources.  When I wear my Cornell shirts to markets, many customers comment on how beautiful Ithaca is, or how great their education at Cornell was.  It makes me so thankful for my Cornell community.  I can’t wait to continue to learn from my mentors!

Week 2: Surveys and Scouting

This was another great week at the LIHREC. I began working on the project looking to determine the barriers to broccoli production on long island by surveying a few growers on their current production practices and their growing preferences. Growers were eager to answer my questions and very interested in the Eastern Broccoli Project. I was even rewarded with a few quarts of strawberries at one farm!  In addition to surveying, I worked on-site at the research station assisting with research trials. Finally, I participated in crop scouting of a large variety of crops. Looking forward to what next week holds for me.


Skip to toolbar