Skip to main content

Northeast Weed Science Society contest

Deer browsing project.

As part of the internship experience I participated in the NEWSS Collegiate Weed Science Contest. The contest was held in Smithfield, North Carolina on July, 24 hosted by BASF. Starting in June our team of 11 people had weekly meetings from 5:00 pm to 7:00 pm on Tuesdays. During practice we went over the rules, practiced identification, went over unit conversions and talked about past experiences. The most helpful experience was doing weed walks in the Weed Teaching Garden and looking at flats with herbicide symptoms. More details of the layout of the contest are given here: 

As a visual and tactile learner, identifying weeds as part of my job was very appealing and was a great way to practice for the contest. One of the projects that I helped identify weeds for was a project looking at the effects of deer browsing on weed communities. I worked on this project on rainy days because the flats were inside the greenhouses. When the weather was nice I counted weed seedlings at Musgrave and Freeville as part of the weed seed bank emergence forecasting project. The purpose of forecasting is to help identify weeds that farmers might have in their fields. In these plots there we’re subplots that were tilled and not tilled. I also practiced by memorizing scientific names.

Practicing herbicide application.

Two days before the contest the we drove 10 hours from Ithaca to Smithfield. The plan was to have a day to practice before the competition. The morning after arriving we went for a walk to identify weeds found in southeastern United states that we had not seen before. Then we did a complete walk through of the sprayer calibration. My role was to do the timed walk through after the calculations, backpack, and nozzles were in place. In the afternoon we went over the farmer problems list that was given to use in advance. Each of us researched a problem and identified root causes and possible solutions.

The day of the competition weed identification was first. I managed to identify some, but others I was less confident about or I couldn’t remember the name. Next was the calibration. For the sprayer component I had to walk 50ft in 10 seconds with the sprayer 30 inches above the ground. I forgot to start spraying the first time I made the walk, so the judge let me restart the walk. The walk was perfect except for the mishap  the first time. Next was the 20 minute written test that had many conversions. During the farmer problems, it would have been more clear to me how to approach the problems If I had practiced reading herbicide labels more. However, I knew the solution to one of problem thanks to the research. The second farmer problem I was able to find out that the farmer dumped extra herbicide in the forested area. It was easy to tell that there was bleaching. Overall the contest was thrilling and I look forward to participating in the Weed Olympics in my home state of Illinois next year!

Orchard Weed Research Project

One of the research projects at the orchards that I have assisted with is collecting weed samples in the orchard. This research project is being conducted under Honey-crisp trees grafted on a Bud 9 rootstock managed in an organic system. The bud 9 rootstock is cold-hardy and has a dwarfing effect on the honey crisp variety, and the trees are planted onto a high density system. Research for this project started in 2016, and contains different treatment practices for weed control and soil health. The treatments include mulch, tilling with an implement by Harris Mackey called the Wonder Weeder, weed whacking, 2 organic sprays (Suppress and Final-San-O) and a control area. Ultimately, the research project aims to see which weeds grow under different management systems, the biomass of those weeds, which system yields higher soil health levels, and the overall horticultural performance of different management systems.

To collect data, we first place square outline of PVC pipes on the ground between trees. After the target area is defined, my supervisor would take a picture of the area to collect data on the percentage of weed cover in the plot. Next, we cut the weeds at surface level, and then sort them out into bags labeled with their variety. We would then dry the weeds and weigh them to note the biomass levels. I have not tested soil health, but soil samples are sent to the Soil Health lab at Cornell to assess this data point. This process is repeated every month to see the change in varieties and repeated across many rows in the orchard to account for different factors that could be present across rows and trees.

This diagram shows what area we would harvest weeds from in the orchard. Some plots have much more weeds than this and many more varieties. This research project has been useful in my ability (or lack thereof) to identify weeds that grow in the area! This plot looks like could be part of the organic spray section, but I am unsure which spray was used in this area.






In this picture, you can see the difference in weed biomass and species that are present in the research trial. I would guess that this section would be in the “control’ category, meaning that we have not had any weed control interference in the plot. These weeds are most likely competing with the trees for nutrients and could grow to be very unruly if left alone.

The following picture is the mulch section of the trial. From my observations, this treatment seems to prevent weeds the best when compared to the other treatments.

The next picture is of the “Wonder Weeder” plots. This cultivation implement is attached to the front of the tractor, and the speed is dictated by the speed of the tractor. Cultivation with this tool is fairly shallow, so the soil health levels are not majorly impacted. My supervisors like this tool for orchard weed management, because it allows them to get close to the trees and see the area they are tilling from the front hitch attachment. I have also attached an image of the implement to get a better idea of what it looks like.

photo-MSU Extension

After we weigh the weeds, we input the data into a excel spreadsheet that is formulated to allow my supervisor to see how much of the biomass was composed of which species. Hopefully later, they will be able to share scientific-based recommendations on which weed control method prevents certain weeds and total weed cover for organic apple orchards!

Hairy Vetch: Managed or Management Practice?

Hi all, my name is Matthew Spoth and this summer I am interning for Matthew Ryan in the Sustainable Cropping Systems Lab. The summer is flying by and it is probably because of how much fun I have been having at work. Every week I am assisting with a different task, and it is exciting to watch all of our research plots progress.

Perennial Grain plot where we managed the vetch by hand weeding to keep the farmers happy!(vetch is the purple color you can see)

Over the next several decades, our environmental stability is going to diminish due to changes in climate. Concurrently, our global population and the demand for production will be exponentially increasing. As a brief overview, the lab focuses on advancing sustainable crop production practices. We do this through researching radical and exciting ideas such as perennial small grains, ecological weed management, intercropping for increased resilience, interseeding, rotational no-till practices, cover crop breeding and much more. Another large part of the lab is conducting farmer interviews to determine socioeconomic factors that influence the use of ecological farming practices. This is only a fraction of what we do and I cannot wait to share more throughout the rest of the summer.

Today I would like to talk about Hairy Vetch in our legume cover crop breeding trials, as well as my encounters with it in our perennial grain test plots. As I go home and explain my internship to my family who farms in Erie county, this piece of my internship always surprises them because Hairy Vetch is commonly known as a vigorous and competitive weed that you do not want to see in your fields. It can be serious problem, especially in fall sown small grains such as winter wheat. In our on-farm perennial grain test plots, I have seen a single plant spread out 4 feet in diameter. However, when used as a cover crop and intentionally seeded in early September, hairy vetch can overwinter and provide over 100 lb nitrogen per acre to subsequent crops planted in June. The competitiveness of hairy vetch is what makes it both a bad weed as well as a good cover crop. As a cover crop, it can smother weeds and reduce weed seed production; however, it can also smother crop plants and reduce yields when is it growing as a weed.

Our legume cover crop breeding project is a multi-site project, with sites in Maryland, North Carolina, Minnesota, and here in New York.  We use traditional breeding techniques select for desirable traits. In addition to large amounts of biomass and vigor, some organic farmers are interested in early flowering and using hairy vetch for organic no-till production.  This system involves mechanically killing the cover crop with a roller-crimper. Hairy vetch can be effectively killed without herbicides by rolling it when it is at the late flowering/early pod stage. Thus, organic farmers want early flowering varieties that will allow them to terminate the hairy vetch with a roller-crimper in May instead of June and no-till plant corn into the residue.  Farmers are also very interested in reducing hard seededness (i.e., dormancy) in hairy vetch, as this trait leads to hairy vetch persistence in the soil seedbank and emergence at unwanted times such as during the wheat phase of a crop rotation.

My tasks in helping with the experiment included helping to trellis the plants, install deer fences, take meristem clips for DNA sequencing and eventually harvesting the seed pods.

Trellising the hairy vetch plants to keep them off the ground

All Done!!

Even though they can be considered a weed they are very aesthetically pleasing!

Hard Cider, Hard Work

While the Orchards Store has many tasty apples and cider for sale, much of my work with apples this summer has been on something that the store does not offer–hard cider apple varieties. The Orchards has multiple plantings of apples that might not taste the best if picked right from the tree, but, if given time, will make excellent hard ciders. These apples can make a variety of cider tastes, as each have differing levels of volatile compounds. The apple varieties I have worked with come from all across the world, like England’s Dabinette, United Kingdom’s Brown Snout, and the United State’s Golden Russet. The newest apples at the Orchards are from Spanish varieties, and have been a long work in progress, as many new varieties have to be quarantined before they are allowed to be planted.

When I first arrived at the Orchards, the staff had recently planted a new block of cider apples. These apples are different than the previous cider plantings, because the new block was planted with Spanish style cider varieties like Blanquina Geneva and Raxao Geneva. These new varieties of apples will produce a different tasting style of beverage than what is currently sold on the market. Draft magazine calls the Spanish cider style “funky, tart, smoky and sometimes challenging ciders.” Cider is often measured in terms of tannin and acidity, and hard ciders are often categorized as bittersweet (high tannin, low acidity), bittersharp (high tannin, high acidity), sharp (low tannin, high acidity), and sweet (low tannin, low acidity), depending on the content of each volatile. The Spanish style hard cider is made from apples with different levels of tannins and acidity, and most varieties have high acidity levels. It has been fun to see the progression of a new planting, and all the work that goes into planting an apple field. I’m eager to come back in future years and see how the fruit tastes, and learn firsthand how different the Spanish style is from the current style that is popular in the United States. In the mean time, here is the work I have been doing on the new planting.





At first, the trees looked very small and weak in this open field, but not for long!








The Orchards staff and my fellow interns got to work building trellising for the trees, so they could stand up in Ithaca’s weather. The wooden posts were pounded in with a special machine, and will support the trees throughout their lifespan.






Next, we painted the tree trunks white to prevent winter freeze injury, and then added rubber bands and clips to keep the trees in place. We also marked a certain height on the tree with red paint, so staff can go back in and measure the diameter of the trunks for research projects.








In this picture, we are cutting tree guards to keep out rabbits and other animals during the winter months and prevent damage to the trees.




Lots of work goes into planting and maintaining trees, but I’ve enjoyed working hands on with the new planting!


Moisture sensors for remote irrigation monitoring

Sensors at 8″ and 18″

Over the past few weeks I have been able to work with an excellent new product for farmers using irrigation on crops. The CropX moisture sensor reads real time soil moisture and temperature. The best part about the CropX sensor is that through the app you can access your sensors data allowing you to make decisions on irrigation without being in the field.  The sensors that I have been working with have the ability to give readings at depths of  8″ and 18″. This gives the ability to the grower to make decisions about when to irrigate his crop depending its rooting depth.

Second planting snap beans at RL Jeffres in Piffard, NY


The sensor can be installed within minutes making it a very simple product to use. To activate the sensor you simply scan the qr code that is on the top of the sensor into the app. This the activates the sensor as well as pinning its location in the field in case you have trouble finding it.

Scan the code to activate the sensor















Apple Thinning

While Johnny Appleseed may have given many people the view that apples can be planted anywhere and maintain their growth perfectly for many years, this is unfortunately not the case. Apples are susceptible to diseases, pest pressures, and, if left alone, may not bear perfect-or hardly any-fruit every year. Growing up on a wheat farm, I knew about spraying fungicides and pesticides, but I never thought I would run into the problem of the crop having too high of a yield. Apples run into issues when they produce too much fruit, and can often fall into a biennial fruit bearing systems, meaning that they will produce a high volume of  fruit one year, but none the next. Many farmers spray chemical thinners when the trees are pollinating, which allow the king bud (the first bud to emerge) to remain, but prevents the subsequent buds from becoming fruit. At the Orchards, one of the research projects is focused on achieving the ideal crop load for producers, while preventing the tree from taking on a biennial growth pattern. Here is an example of a tree that has several fruit per cluster, which we (the interns) would then thin down (remove fruit from the trees) to a single fruit per cluster, ideally the king bud.

One research trial that has preceded my time as an intern, focuses on thinning trees down to 3, 6, or 9 times the fruit as the tree’s diameter, measured 12 inches above the graft union (the spot where new growth of trees are grafted onto their rootstock). There is also a category of trees that is thinned down to 0 fruit, or left unthinned.








The Orchards staff and my fellow interns have spent long hours counting fruit, thinning fruit, counting, and trying to reach a specific, total number of fruit per tree. This will allow the researchers to note the number of fruit remaining in subsequent years, so they can allow producers to time their chemical thinners to a specific time. Here is an image of us diligently working on the project with staff at Cornell Cooperative Extension. While it may seem simple to thin fruit, it took many hours to achieve perfection on this research project.













From Hops to Blueberries

The past few weeks have flown by! The work has been steady and more tasks have been added to our plates.

The mite levels have slowly increased over the last few weeks with rising temperatures above 100 degrees. The mites move upward to reach the sunlight and are typically found congregating on the leaves that are within the top two feet of the bine. As soon as more than thirty mites or mite eggs are spotted in a field on a single leaf, the sprayers are notified and the field is sprayed within a few hours of our discovery.

Powdery mildew levels have also been increasing, particularly in the baby fields that are more susceptible to heat stress.


Onto the fun stuff! On Friday the 13th, we worked a half shift during the day, then came back to the farm at 10:00 PM to go weevil hunting until 3:00 AM! Weevils are a nocturnal pest that feed on the hop leaves. The only known control method for weevils is nematodes, and this research has only been conducted in greenhouses. Therefore, it is unknown whether nematodes would be a useful predator to distribute throughout the fields. Our goal was to scout 9 point in each field to determine which field has high weevil counts. Those with the highest counts would be considered for nematode distribution. My boss,  co-worker, and I split each field into thirds and chose a lane to take our counts from. We stopped at three points in our row, laid out a tarp, and beat the back of a bine with a stick to see how many weevils fell out. We recorded the number of weevils that fell onto the tarp. There were only a few fields that had relatively high counts and control methods have yet to be determined.


We have now begun taking sap analysis samples on leaves from the organic blueberry fields. This past week was my first time being over there and it was quite an experience! I was able to catch the blueberry harvester in action while collecting leaves. We will be collecting leaf samples from the blueberries for the next few weeks so I look forward to getting back over there, especially before everything is harvested!


blueberry harvester


The hops have also been slowly getting bigger! These are from the same Palisade field that I showcased in the previous blog post. We are starting to smell the aroma characteristics of each hop variety.

Finally, here is a sunrise photo I was able to capture just before starting my fields last Monday. Enjoy!

Summer? Where did it go?

Kreher Family Farms certainly knows how to keep summer interesting! If we just grew one or two crops, that might be a different story but the diversity certainly keeps things interesting. This past month has included many exciting events including a visit from the Wegman family on the farm and a trip to the Cornell Field Days at the Musgrave Research Farm.

Not only does the Kreher family grow field crops for the chickens along with

Baby leaf lettuce harvester! 100% stainless steel construction for sanitation purposes!

green beans and beets, they are also involved with a baby leaf lettuce operation in Brockport, NY. The baby leaf lettuce operation is run by Duncan Family Farms who is based out of the South West but is beginning to expand their baby leaf operation into the North East. We had the honor of joining the Duncan Family Farm team in hosting a farm tour for the Wegman family. The day was thoroughly enjoyed by all. Not only was it a unique opportunity to meet the Wegman family but also to learn more about the baby lead operation that Kreher’s are connected to.

The Wegman Family and Executives joined by the Kreher Family Farm and Duncan Family Farm Management!


Some of my more routine days are spent scouting fields for insect and disease pressure along with monitoring crop development. Our spring peas have been harvested, our beets are sizing up nicely and on track for harvest in September, our snap beans are beginning to be harvested daily and, our corn is looking for any drop of moisture that is out there! We have laid miles of irrigation pipe in the past few weeks to irrigate the green beans while praying for rain to help other crops. Finally, our wheat fields have all been combined and our malting barley is days away from harvest!

The beets are coming along nicely however New York soils can have lots of variability that can lead to size differences in the cotyledons, as pictured above.

Malting Barley on a beautiful summer morning!

Cherry Training Systems: UFOs and KGBs-But Not Flying Saucers or Russians

During my time at Cornell Orchards, I’ve learned about management systems for a variety of fruits. One of the newest fruit systems in the Orchards are UFO and KGB cherry training methods. When left to their own defenses, cherry trees can grow to heights that make the tree harder to harvest and less efficient in fruit production. Without management, cherry trees have a central leader, have strong apical dominance, and can take years to produce a fruit crop.

This is what the cherry trees look like without any intervention. You can see that a large amount of the  fruit crop is located above the area where pickers can reach without a ladder, and much of the tree is not utilized in fruit production. These are sour cherries at the Lansing location of Cornell Orchards. (they made great dessert tarts!)

To combat the problems of natural cherry tree growth patterns, faculty at Cornell Orchards have planted cherry trees to be managed in Upright Fruiting Offshoot (UFO) and Kym Green Bush (KGB) systems. These systems allow the trees to be planted in higher densities than natural growth systems, and allow for fruit to be located more conveniently for pickers.

Recently, my fellow interns and I helped set up the trellising for the UFO systems. These trees are trained to create a narrow fruiting wall, much like grapevines. The trunk in UFO systems is trained to grow in a horizontal pattern low to the ground, and have new growth grow vertically on fruiting wires about every 8 inches. Here is a picture of the UFO system at the Orchards:

The trunk is trained and tied down to a lower wire, and each shoot is tied upwards with rubber wire to a top line. With this system, we used rubber to tie the branches upright instead of wire. This was done because cherries and other stone fruit are susceptible to bacterial canker. This disease can fester through cuts during wet weather, and the rubber may prevent wounds in branches.

The other system we have at the orchards is the KGB system. Here is one of the trees at the orchards that was trained in the KGB system.

In this system, the shoots are pruned regularly to keep the tree bush height. This keeps the vigor of the tree low, and keeps all fruit at eye level or lower. KGB pruning keeps shoots productive and efficient for fruit growth.

One of the best parts of this internship has been quality control and taste tests on the amazing cherry crop! They tasted just as good as they looked!

Data Processing

A picture of what the greenseeker data looks like once it is loaded into ArcMap. Each line accounts for the L,N, and R strips.

Once the data is collected, it is time to make use of it. The NDVI  data from the greenseeker is put into ArcMap. ArcMap is a software program that allows for the spatial analysis of relationships. It is extremely useful not in gathering information but in manipulating it in order for conclusions to be made.

First, the data is cleaned and trimmed so there are no outlying values present. Points are added to make the the polygons that will create the final data set. Once the polygons are made around each strip, the join function will be used. The join tool uses one data set’s attributes to and fixes that to another’s location. Each strip gets its one attributes. Then from that the difference in NDVI can be determined between each strip.

A picture of the data set from the joined data sets. It may not look like much, but it holds lots of important information.

This is done for each and every field. A report is made of all the fields. The increased NDVI in the Nrich strip supports that the corn is healthiest where it has sufficient nutrients. It is also worth noting that the average NDVI for all fields that were recorded at V6 is higher than the other fields at V5 and V4. This type of approach can give us insight on what areas of the field are the healthiest in order to manage accordingly.

A picture of the final report of the NDVI for all fields including the average, and the average according to the stage when the data was collected.

Skip to toolbar