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Summer Field Days

Over the course of my internship thus far I have been to several field days covering a wide range of subjects. Field days are usually put on by a Cornell program located here on campus or through the Cornell extension service. The purpose of field days is to share information regarding different research that is currently going on through Cornell. Generally the audience consists of farmers, extension agents, consulting firms, and other Cornell researchers. Presentations are given about each of the projects at the given location usually in addition to a tour of the facilities.

One of the first field days I attended was the small grain grower’s field day. This field day was almost entirely focused around the recently passed farm brewer’s bill. Due to the lack of barley and other small grain crops being grown for malting, these researchers were quite busy this year testing a wide range of varieties to determine which grow best in New York’s climate. In addition to being able to grow well, they must also be of high malting quality. This narrows the options down quite a bit since the quality needs to be top notch in order for the crop to be used for malting. Growers are extremely interested in the results of this research as many of them are likely going to be growing crops that will be used for malting as a result of the farm brewer’s bill.


The next field day I attended was the forage yield monitor field day. This field day was hosted by Gary Swede Farms, Agrinetix, and the Cornell Nutrient Management Spear Program (NMSP). This was mainly put on to provide information about forage yield monitors such as the importance of  forage yield monitors, how they work, calibrating the monitors, and constructing yield maps from the collected data. The NMSP’s project looking at the accuracy of the yield monitors was also presented showing some preliminary results.

The most recent field day I attended was the Aurora Farm Field Day. It took place at the Aurora research farm, where there are numerous research projects including several which belong to the Nutrient Management Spear Program. One of the projects presented was looking at planting date and planting depth of corn and soybeans. Several other studies were variety testing of corn and other forage crops. One study that I found to be of particular interest was a fairly new piece of equipment which is used as an inter crop seeder.  The purpose of the machine is to go over corn when it is about waist high and plant the cover crop which is to follow the corn once it is harvested. This helps the cover crop by having it establish earlier to increase the benefits it provides. Another presentation that covered a fairly new piece of equipment was one by the NMSP. The piece of equipment was a small scale manure injector that just arrived from Penn state. This will be used in the future for a study comparing different injection rates and application methods. Unfortunately, this presentation had to be done indoors due to some unexpected afternoon showers!

Sample Processing

In my previous post, I mentioned processing the samples taken in the field for my personal project on zone tillage depth. I first put them through a grinder, as the soil needs to be fine in order to analyze it in the lab. Once this is done, it is brought to the lab where 10 grams of each sample is weighed out and separated.
Next, active carbon is added to ensure more accurate nutrient analysis. For this project, we are only testing for soil nitrate levels. Morgan’s solution is then added to each of the soil vials and thoroughly mixed together.

The samples then are put through a very fine filter in order to separate the solution from the solids in the soil. Small amounts of each of the sample solutions are then taken in order to be analyzed by the computer. This process is quite time consuming, however many samples are able to be done at once. At a glance, it does not seem like there is a significant difference between the numbers. Now the next step is to organize these results and see if any conclusions can be made.

Zone Tillage Depth Study

This past week I was introduced to the personal project I will be working on while with the Nutrient Management Spear Program. The project is evaluating the use and effect of various depths of zone tillage. But what exactly is zone tillage? In the world of tillage, there are generally two approaches: conventional and reduced/no-till systems. Conventional tillage systems would include the use of your typical moldboard plow, disk, chisel, aerway, etc. These methods generally create a quality seedbed while effectively incorporating organic matter, however also tend to have some negative effects on the soil with increased soil erosion, compaction, and decreased surface residues. Reduced/ no-till systems attempt to cause as little disruption to the soil as possible. Reduced/ no-till systems generally require specialized equipment such as a seed drill or zone tiller in order to not require conventional tillage to prepare a suitable seedbed. Zone tillage is where a narrow strip of soil is tilled, while leaving the areas between these strips undisturbed. This creates a quality seedbed (pictured), increases surface residue, reduces soil erosion and possibly relieves some compaction issues as well. This method essentially compromises on the positive effects and objectives of both conventional and no-till systems.

For this study, I visited Table Rock Farm in Castile, NY. Data has been collected for several years at the farm looking at the possible effects of different depths of zone tillage. The three zone tillage depths in the study are zero (control – aerway), seven, and fourteen inches. This week, eight and twelve inch soil samples were taken to have soil test results prior to side dressing. In addition to soil samples, early season biomass plant samples, stand counts, plant height, and leaf counts were taken to be evaluated to see if there are any early significant differences between the depths.

Currently, I am processing these samples and recording the results. The next data to be collected will be at the end of the season when the corn is being harvested to look at any possible yield differences.

Soil, first cut, and more

Three weeks ago, I started my internship working for the  Nutrient Management Spear Program (NMSP) in Cornell’s Animal Science Department, run by Dr. Quirine Ketterings. The main goal of the program  is to aid farms (focusing on dairy farms) to become more sustainable. The team does this by conducting a variety of research—both on farm and at experiment farms, lab work, and through Cooperative Extension outreach. The research evaluates numerous soil management practices and their effect on the farm’s sustainability by looking at the amount of farm  inputs  vs. the products exported from it. Some of the management methods under review  include: crop rotations, manure application, fertilizer application, yield monitor accuracy, and tillage.

My first week was largely assisting with a project examining the effect of different nitrogen fertilizer application rates on triticale and wheat fields. This project will be looking at the differences in yield as well as the nutrient content of forages. Pictured left are different levels of application on each plot and the distinction from the rest of the field. Once samples are harvested by hand, we take them back to the lab to be weighed when they are wet and then dry after three days in the oven. Once this is done, the samples are put through a grinder and prepared for nutrient analysis.

In week two I  assisted with a project evaluating the accuracy of yield monitors on choppers. This project evaluates the monitor accuracy of crop moisture content and the necessary frequency of monitor calibration. To do this, the chopper operator is given a sheet to record what the yield monitor reads for moisture content for each load of alfalfa. Samples are then taken from each load and dumped at the bunk (pictured left). They are then weighed to determine actual crop moisture content.

In week three, I received my summer research project. I will continue work with an on-going study comparing varying depths of zone tillage looking at differences in yield and soil quality. I will start with a farm visit that has been aiding in this research, and will include the details in my next post!

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