Skip to main content

Orchards of Upstate New York: Collecting Samples

A few weeks ago I blogged about a trip I took to Peru, NY with the branch manager to visit with some of the apple growers of the region.  I mentioned that I would go back at a later date to conduct tissue and soil samples for any growers that wished to have them done.  This week I went back to Peru to take samples for three orchards: Hart Orchards, Forrence Orchards, and Northern Orchard.  The purpose of taking the samples is to identify and correct any nutritional or soil problems for the next growing season.

Collecting soil samples

On the first day, we took samples from both Hart and Northern Orchards.  Hart Orchards had tissue samples taken from four different blocks.  Two blocks were Macintosh apples, one was honey crisp, and another block was one that the growers said that they were getting a less than desirable crop from.  They were hoping to maybe find something through a tissue analysis.  For tissue samples, leaves are taken from spurs from the current growing season.  They are taken anywhere from late July to early August because the nutrient balance in the plant is the most stable.

The second stop of the day was Northern Orchards.  Here we took both tissue and soil samples.  Soil samples are taken by starting in one corner of a block and working in a line diagonally across the block.  This helps to get a broader picture of the orchard soil than working in one row.  Most of the tissue samples that we collected were from older trees with Macs, but we did collect samples on a block that had a new high density planting.

The second say of the trip was entirely devoted to taking samples for Forrence Orchards.  Forrences’ operate over a thousand

Deer repellent? If it works it works…

acres of orchards all over the town of Peru.  The first block that we took soil samples in was an old block that was going to get ripped up and replanted at the end of the growing season.  The soil samples were taken to see what kinds of things might need to be done to make the soil conditions better for the new trees, such as adding fertilizers to increase the abundance of nutrients that may be at low levels.

The rest of the day was spent taking tissue and soil samples from blocks all over the orchard.  At each block, broad tissue samples were taken.  This meant that we had to take leaves from many different trees across the to try to get a sample that represented the entire block.  At some of the smaller blocks, soil samples were taken in the same fashion.  However, at some larger blocks we divided them into smaller sections and took samples for each section.  This provides a better picture as to the soil makeup of the orchard and allows the grower to change his spray and fertilizer programs for specific rows in a block.  This saves money, as chemicals are only being applied where they are needed.

Beetles making short work of a leaf.

I can’t say that I learned a lot about apple production from the trip, but it definitely reinforced a lot of things I had learned in class.  It is one thing to read about something in a book and another to actually experience it in the field.  The best example I can think of was when I was looking for recent growth on the trees to collect samples from.  In HORT 1101, we spent a lab with Prof. Merwin in the orchard discussing pruning and how it results in a flush of new growth.  I found myself looking at the branches of trees that I would take tissues from and noticed they looked as if they had been recently pruned.  Rather than searching through branches to find ones with new growth, I was able to speed up the process a little by looking for spots that had been pruned.  More than likely, those spots were near new growth.





Dekalb Sales Rep. Meeting in Canandaigua, NY

Growing up on I dairy farm I have become pretty familiar with the sight of corn.  I wake up every morning and look out my window to see a five foot tall wall of it across the street from my house.  When I was little I spent my afternoons riding with my father in the silage truck.  As I got older, I then started spending those afternoons packing the silage pile.  I’ve seen many of our cornfields turn brown in the summer heat and have seen constant rains wash away seed that was just planted.  After a sack of corn seed is dropped off at our farm, I’m pretty familiar with what it takes to get that from the ground into the feed alley.  However, I knew nothing about what it takes to get that sack of corn to a farmer until last week.

Last week I went with two of the Helena salesman to a meeting with the Delkalb sales representatives of the northeast.  The meeting was at the Monsanto Research farm in Canandaigua, NY.  The meeting discussed some of the newest varieties of Dekalb corn seed and Asgrow soybean seed, new products coming in the future, and it included a tour of the farm.

Trial of one of Dekalb’s 113 day varieties.

One part of the meeting that I found the most interesting had to do with different varieties of corn and their potential as a silage crop.  Acres upon acres of corn that is taller than the tractor may fill up the silos, but it does not necessarily mean the silage will provide the farmer’s herd with the optimum nutrition that he is looking for.  Dekalb’s line of Silage Proven corn seed varieties are tested and proven to give dairy farmers the nutritional qualities that they are looking for in silage corn.  Dekalb’s Silage Proven varieties give farmers a corn variety that has high yields and a high digestibility to provide energy for lactation.

Another product discussed at the meeting that is designed to help growers is Dekalb’s line of R.I.B. (Refuge In Bag) Complete corn seed.  Depending on what area of the country, growers using Bt corn are supposed to plant a certain percentage of their acreage with corn seed that does not contain the Bt trait.  This percentage is called the refuge and is supposed to limit insects’ exposure to the Bt trait, thus preventing resistance.  If a grower’s refuge is 20%, then 20% of their acreage must be planted with non-Bt

Soybean plot for new Asgrow variety

corn.  This can be accomplished a number of ways.  If a farmer has a 100 acre field, he can plant one 20 acre section using non-Bt corn.  Dekalb’s R.I.B. Complete comes premixed with a 95% R.I.B. corn and 5% non-Bt corn that allows a farmer to simply dump the seed in the planter and go without having to mix seed or calculate refuge acreage.

After lunch, we were given a tour of the farm.  All over the farm are trials of different corn and soybean varieties.  There are also plots of corn varieties of some of Dekalb’s competitors.  These yields of both trials are compared so that salesman can make the best recommendations to growers.  There was also a plot that showed new Dekalb varieties growing side-by-side with varieties that Dekalb currently has on the market.  This side-by-side comparison gives the salesman a chance to see how the new products do against the ones that they may currently be selling to growers.  Some basic information on each variety was given as well. This included things like how well varieties did in different growing conditions and whether each variety was better suited as grain corn or silage corn.

The goal of the day was to better equip Helena salesman with the information and knowledge necessary to make the best recommendation of different Dekalb and Asgrow products to customers.  Helena is Dekalb’s major distributor in the Northeast.  The Hatfield branch started out selling around 400 bags a few years ago and is currently up to around 2,000.  By the estimates of one of the salesman that was about one third of the business in area of New England and eastern New York.  The goal is to expand upon that every year.  With the kind of information and commitment to product development displayed at the meeting, that goal should be attainable.

The competitor’s product struggling in the dry weather.

A plot with seed from one of Dekalb’s competitors.

Apple Orchards of Upstate New York

Last week I went to Upstate New York with the branch manager Tom Carter to visit clients in the region.  I was told Upstate New York was home to a lot of apple growers.  However, I did not expect that nearly every single tree in the region would be an apple tree.  As soon as we got out of the Adirondacks, the land literally opened up to hundreds of acres of apple orchards on either side of the highway.  The trip had wide range of goals.  We brought along a full pickup of products to deliver to growers.  At each stop, we talked to the growers about the kind year they were having and what kinds of difficulties they were having with their crop.  We also offered tissue and soil analysis and SmartFresh application for after harvest.

Cold damage to an apple

The first orchard that we stopped at was experiencing some cold damage and had one block that had a serious infection of apple scab.  We took some fruitlet samples at this orchard as well to see how well the plants were absorbing foliar applications of calcium fertilizer.  Forrence Orchards of Peru, New York was by far the largest orchard we stopped at.  They grew 1000 acres of apples.  We had lunch with Mason, Mack, and Seth Forrence, all of whom are Cornell graduates.  Our final stop was at Chazy Orchards in Chazy, NY.  The orchard is owned by the Giroux family that also owns Giroux’s Poultry Farm.  The size of this poultry farm can be seen as you drive along the main road in Chazy.  There are thousands of acres of corn fields and each grain of corn is combined to feed all of the birds.

At each stop, the growers were offered soil and tissue analysis.  I am going

Another example of cold damage

back up to the area in early August to collect samples for the growers that choose to have Helena conduct the analysis.  SmartFresh application was also offered.  SmartFresh is a chemical that blocks ethylene receptors in the fruit and slows the ripening process.  This allows fruit to be kept in controlled atmosphere storage for months at a time until the grower is ready to sell them.  It makes eating fresh apples in the middle of winter possible.

Growers had mixed messages about how their crop was doing.  All of the orchards we stopped at had fruit after a cold spell in early summer.  Some growers also had hail damage from a storm that happened before fruit set.  It was also the middle of a long hot spell in which the forecast had no rain.  Despite all the challenges of the year, many had reason for optimism.  Shortages of a crop in Michigan had everyone speculating

Apple scab on a leaf

about high prices.  There was even talk of juice fruit being at $0.30 a bushel.                                                                                                                                                                                                      At the end of the day, the trip served as a precursor to tissue sampling and offered me an extended view into the kinds of business that Helena Chemical conducts.  Being the distributor for New England and Eastern New York, the Hatfield branch conducts business with many diverse clients and offers many services that locations elsewhere may not.  Every day I leave the office tends to be another day that I learn something new.

Scab on a fruitlet

Side Dressing the Test Plot


 Since I have started at Helena Chemical this summer I have probably driven over five hundred miles every week.  Although I love driving through the countryside of New England, I often times find myself in bumper-to-bumper traffic on Interstate 91.  Anytime I drive on I-91 through the city of Springfield around quitting time, the traffic is bunched tighter together than the draft at a NASCAR race.  Needless to say, I always cringe a little when I look at my load tickets and see that I am driving through such high-traffic areas.   At least I can take solace in the fact that if traffic comes to a grinding halt I am getting paid by the hour.


Knifing in UAN 32 and Hydra-Hume

Due to the unusually warm spring, things have been slowing down lately.  That means I spend less time on the road and more time at the office doing odds and ends for the salesman.  One day, that meant trading in the truck for a tractor and side dressing the company’s corn test plot.  Besides herbicides, pesticides, and liquid fertilizers, Helena also sells a variety of different corn seeds.  In half of the test plot, different varieties are planted to see which ones grow the best and provide the highest yields.  The other side tests different mixes of fertilizer in an effort to see the effects on yield.  This kind of information allows Helena to better serve its clients by providing them with the best possible knowledge and products.

A mixture of UAN 32 and Hydra-Hume was knifed into the test plot.  Hydra-Hume aids in the uptake of nitrogen by stabilizing the nitrate from the UAN 32.  It essentially acts as liquid humus that can be sprayed or knifed into the soil.  It coats particles of the soil and helps to retain nitrate molecules much like organic matter.  It is applied at a rate of ¼ to 1 gallon an acre and it is recommended that no more than 3 gallons are applied to an acre in a single application.  Hydra-Hume also contains 1.00% soluble potash.  Here is a link for the Hydra-Hume label:

At a later date the plot may be top dressed using Helena’s CoRoN 25-0-0 Controlled Release Nitrogen Fertilizer.  CoRoN gradually releases nitrogen to plants rather than making it all available at once.  This helps to reduce burn out.  CoRoN can be

The test plot...and the eyesore of a housing development that borders it.

applied to corn at a rate of 3 to 5 gallons an acre between the V-6 and V-8 stages of growth.  It can also be sprayed as a foliar application from one to three gallons an acre as a nitrogen supplement during pre-tassel or at a rate of one to two gallons an acre between the pre-tassel and silk stages to help with ear fill.  Three gallons of CoRoN on a one acre plot like the Helena test plot will replace 37.5 pounds of nitrogen in the soil. Besides corn, CoRoN can be used in a wide variety of other field crops as well as on vegetable crops, ornamentals, and fruits.  Here’s a link to the label for CoRoN 25-0-0:

Helena sells CoRoN in either 2 by 2.5 gallon cases or in 250 gallon totes.  I had to unload an entire tanker of CoRoN into twenty totes one day.  That turned out to be quite a cluster when the driver showed up with a leaky hose to unload the product with and no air to blow out the line, but that is a different story.  Helena also has two trucks with 2,000 gallon tanks that can deliver pre-mixed sprays to a grower to fit their specific needs and applications.  The truck pumps the mix into the customer’s sprayer or nurse truck.  All the farmer has to do is sign off on the load ticket and then get to work spraying or side dressing.  I wish I had that kind of support when I was side dressing, but I guess you have to put in your time and start somewhere.

Full Tote of CoRoN

Test plot early in the year










Helena Chemical: First Week on the Job

Me calling a customer to figure out where to meet.

Last week I started my summer internship working for the Hatfield, Massachusetts branch of the Helena Chemical Company.  Helena started as a small distributor of agricultural chemicals in the town of Helena, Arkansas in 1957.  It has since expanded and does business in all 48 continental states.  Helena believes that the company’s success “revolves around People…Products…Knowledge…” “Our People provide the correct combination of Products based on our Knowledge of our customers’ business and our interest in helping extend and sustain their success.”  The Hatfield branch is the farthest north of all the branches and has accounts in all New England states as well as many in Eastern New York.  The Hatfield branch sells seed to farmers all over the Northeast, does custom spraying applications for growers, and delivers bulk tanks and individual cases of herbicides, pesticides, and fungicides to clients.

During my internship I am doing a wide variety of things to better help me learn about both the agricultural business in the Northeast and the business that Helena conducts.  At some point, I plan on riding along with a salesman to different customers.  Later in the summer, I will be conducting tissue and soil samples for clients to help them better manage their crops and achieve desired yields.  Currently, I am driving around the Northeast delivering orders of chemicals to growers.  In the one week I have been on the job so far, I have driven through every state in New England except Maine.  I have been on busy throughways, toured county roads, and have found myself lost on old dirt roads barely fit to be a horse path.  Most importantly, though, I have learned that the Northeast is a very prosperous and diverse agricultural region.

Unloading product at Cohen Farms in Connecticut

Many of the places I have made deliveries to are not what I would classify as “traditional” operations.  When I think of agriculture, I think of dairy farming and cornfields.  While I have driven by many dairy farms, I have not delivered to any.  Instead, I have discovered a diverse agricultural industry that I did not think existed in New England.  I have stopped at many apple orchards of various sizes all over Vermont and New Hampshire.  I always knew there were orchards in New England, but I did not imagine them to exist at the level I witnessed.  In Central and Eastern Massachusetts I stopped at few greenhouse operations.  While most were small roadside operations that had a greenhouse or two, I stopped at one so big a security guard had to check all outgoing vehicles to make sure no one was stealing products!  I had a hard time just getting into the place.  There were workers zooming around in golf carts and little Kubota tractors scooted about everywhere towing racks of potted plants from one greenhouse to another.  Sadly, I forgot my camera that day.  In Rhode Island, I stopped at one vegetable farm where I was given a warm loaf of bread by a couple of older men who were very hospitable and would not let me leave.  Thirty minutes later, I was given a cold stare down by a turf farmer that had an office that looked like it should have been Donald Trump’s.  Not only are the operations of New England diverse, but I guess the people are too.

Some equipment from the turf farm.

Besides agricultural clients, Helena offers a wide variety of products for both landscaping and ornamental plants.  I had stops at many lawn and garden centers as well as a handful of tree service operations.  The highlight of these stops, though, was taking an order of about ten cases to the grounds crew of Mohegan Sun.  I ended up sitting in the bus lot for an hour waiting with a guy who is connected to the Farm Aid concerts while I was able to sit and eat lunch.  Good thing I am not 21 or I probably would have lost the keys to the delivery truck at the Roulette Wheel.

Mohegan Sun.

I’m still trying to learn the ins and outs of the job.  For now I am preoccupied with battling traffic jams and uncooperative GPS systems.  As time goes on, I plan on chatting more with growers to learn about their operations and on learning more about the different applications of all the cases of chemicals I’m hauling all around New England.  For now, though, I am just going to take in all the different types of agriculture that New England has to offer while praying that my GPS does not send me down any more horse paths.


Skip to toolbar