Skip to main content

End of the Year

factsheet snapshotI know it’s been a few months since my last post, but that means that there is a lot to talk about.  After classes started, I continued working with the NMSP team.  I helped grind corn stalk samples for CSNT testing, and I also ground some alfalfa for different types of nutrient composition testing.  I’ve been working with the team for about 6 hours a week, so all my time isn’t only spent grinding.  I’ve been working on a research report, as well as a separate fact sheet, both on the GreenSeeker technology I talked about in my last blog.

My fact sheet has come a long way, but it’s literally gone through over a dozen revisions from about six different people throughout the semester.  It’s a lengthy process, but we meet once a week to make sure we’re on schedule.  I’m glad I chose to write a fact sheet, as I am eager to start helping farmers gain real, usable knowledge now and after graduation in the spring. Once published, you can read the entire fact sheet (#84).

Looking back on the entire internship process, I believe that it was extremely helpful to my educational growth.  I gained a ton of experience, connections, and skills over the last six months, and I’d recommend the NMSP internship to anybody willing to work.  I hope my blogs have effectively showed you my internship experience, and I thank you for taking the time to read them.

The GreenSeeker Project

Last week I started on my own personal project for my internship.  I’ll be making a fact sheet that will be available to the public about a tool called the GreenSeeker.  This tool emits an infrared beam onto the ground and measures the light that is reflected back.  Basically, you pull and hold the trigger, walk any distance while holding it over the row, and it gives you that row’s average number, anywhere from zero to one. The higher the number it measures, the healthier the plants are.  The tool also comes in a few different forms.  I’m using a hand-held model for my project, but you can also mount as many as you want on a vehicle (tractor, truck, four wheeler) to measure fields on a larger scale.  For example, a few GreenSeekers mounted on a nitrogen side dresser could collect real-time data, and then fertilizer rate adjustments could be made on the fly based on crop health at any point in the field.


photo 1

GreenSeeker held parallel to row

photo 2

GreenSeeker held perpendicular to row









My project, however, is actually observing different measurement methods that you can use with the GreenSeeker.  I’m testing to see how holding the tool different ways affects the reliability of the measurements that are taken.  I’m testing two main factors: height of the tool and direction of the tool.  As of now, a standard height of 48 inches off the ground is used by most people, but I’m testing a new height.  It’s calculated by adding 36 inches to the field’s average plant height.  The direction of the tool is the second element.  Instead on holding the tool parallel to the row while going over it, I’m turning the tool 90 degrees so that it’s perpendicular to the row.


The visible effects of different nitrogen treatments on sorghum

Different nitrogen treatments visible in sorghum

I’m testing two different locations with four repetitions of five treatments in each, for a total of 40 plots to go through.  The plots have sorghum growing in them that were started with five different rates of nitrogen fertilizer.  I measure the middle three rows of each plot four different times.  This is because I walk through each row holding the GreenSeeker parallel and low, parallel and high, perpendicular and low, and perpendicular and high.  This makes for a lot of walking by the end of the day, but I believe it’ll be some very useful information that could help farmers better utilize this innovative tool.


This is also my last week of the internship before classes start, but I’ve decided to continue helping the team through the fall during their busy harvest time.  That means I’ll have something new to blog about in a few weeks!

Field Day, Manure, and Drones

Last week we visited the Musgraves Research Farm’s field day in Aurora, and our experiments were on the day’s agenda.  The field day focused on new management methods, breeding improvements, and environmentally sound farming practices.  There were eight different stations located around the farm, and you learned a lot about each subject as you worked your way through them.

Professor Matt Ryan showing the effectiveness of a new mulching tool (right)

Professor Matt Ryan showing the effectiveness of a new mulching tool (right)

Implement used to crimp and roll down cereal crops for mulch

Implement used to crimp and roll down cereal crops for mulch


This week was a nice break from the emissions testing routine because I got to work on a new project just past Aurora in Auburn.  We are testing a new type of manure applicator that allows farmers to manure fields during the early summer, freeing up a lot of their valuable and limited time during spring planting.Manure applications can’t normally be done this time of year because the corn is too tall and the applicators we use today would crush a lot of the crop.  This applicator has been called the nutrient boom because it’s a 120-foot wide (48 corn rows) boom that stands high above the corn at around nine feet.  In the front of the field, the boom is attached to a tractor and pulled to the back of the field.  This causes the massive reel of drag line that is attached to the boom to unravel and follow the boom.  At the back of the field, the tractor unhooks the boom, and the reel begins pulling the boom back across the field, all while pumping manure through the drag line and spreading it over the 120-foot path.  This is a new implement that has a lot of potential for growth and development in the future of agriculture.

Nutrient boom being transported to the end of the field

Nutrient boom being transported to the end of the field

The massive reel that retracts the nutrient boom once it's detached from the tractor

The massive reel that retracts the nutrient boom once it’s detached from the tractor

Apparently we weren’t the only ones excited by it, either.  While we were using the equipment in the field, we noticed a man pull his car along the road and launch a surveillance drone.  He flew this little four-rotor helicopter right over us and used its video camera to see what we were doing.  I still don’t know what to think about that, but it makes for a unique story.  I can’t believe that the summer is winding down already, but I’m sure that there will be some more interesting events in these last few weeks.

Traveling Soil Sampler

I’ve been all over the place these last couple weeks.  Our first location was about two hours north of Ithaca, just outside of Watertown.  Here, we had to do a lot of soil sampling and a few other measurements, including counting the number of corn plants in a 40-foot row, plant height, and number of leaves per plant.  We took soil samples at both 8- and 12-inch depths, as well, so this made for some long days.  Another new measurement I took was with the GreenSeeker, which is a handheld device that shoots an infrared beam down onto the crop.  As you walk over the row, it measures the light that is reflected back up to it and gives you an average value when you release the trigger.  The values range from zero to one, and the higher the number, the greener (and healthier) the crop should be.  I’m really excited to use this for whole-field mapping in the future.  Our second location was west of Rochester. We took the same types of measurements as we did in the first location, but the plot layout and sizes were all different.
The only new thing I’ve done in the last few weeks is plant grinding.  I basically but six-inch tip samples of alfalfa into an industrial grinder and collect the powder that comes out.  This is so that the plants from different treatments can be tested in the lab.


Ground alfalfa sample

Ground alfalfa sample

We’re also continuing our emissions project that I described on the last post.  Now that the corn is taller, it’s easy to see the effectiveness of all the different treatments, so that’s exciting.  However, we’ve recently made a change to the experiment.  Since the corn, grass, and alfalfa are all so tall under the chambers, extensions must be used.  This isn’t a big deal, though, as the time that the chambers remain on the bases will just need to be lengthened.
Other than that, we’ve really just been doing a lot of soil sampling in a lot of different parts of the state.  It makes for long days, but I can’t complain.  I was told that the craziness of fieldwork should slow down in a week or so, so I’m sure I’ll have some new job to describe later.

First Month on the Job

Taking greenhouse gas emissions samples from the soil

Taking greenhouse gas emissions samples from the soil

My name is Tyler Pardoe. I am a senior in the Agricultural Sciences major  three weeks into my internship with the Cornell Nutrient Management Spear Program (NMSP).  The NMSP team works to conduct research in both the field and lab in order to provide New York’s farmers with current, reliable, and practical knowledge that they can easily implement on their own farms.  Quirine Ketterings is the professor that heads the program, and the team consists of a research assistant, three doctorates who help with research, and two lab technicians.  There is also another intern that works with me, so a  team of nine.

I’ve learned a lot of awesome things in three weeks and it’s reflecting in how I work with the team.  So far, most of the work has been at the Musgrave Research Farm near Aurora (about halfway up Cayuga Lake).  The first day, we started measuring nitrous oxide and methane (both greenhouse gasses) emissions from the soil on plots with different manure applications.

This process involved a lot of planning, setup, and precise work, so it was a bit overwhelming at first.  Now, I’m teaching some of the other doctorate researchers how to do the sampling, so that shows how much I improved in a short time.  The first day was a bit rough, partly because everything was new to me, but also because I had to take 300 8″ deep soil core samples.  In 90 degree weather, that tends to sap the life out of you.  However, I came back the next day ready to persevere through the task, and now I could take those pesky soil samples with both eyes shut (though I haven’t tried).  We also did a little bit of alfalfa sampling in plots with different sulfur and manure treatments.  At the end of that first week, I was much more comfortable with the team, the work, and the overall lessons we were trying to learn with our research.

That pretty much sums up the first week– emissions sampling and soil sampling.  The second week I helped prepare fields for new experiments.  This was a nice change of pace and I got to use my farm machinery skills.

Using a chopper to prepare fields for emissions experiments

Using a chopper to prepare fields for emissions tests

My first goal was to mow down a grass field and an alfalfa field in preparation for a new manure study.  I used a tractor with a hay chopper and wagon hooked to the back of it to accomplish this.  After about 10 hours of mowing, the fields were ready for the new emissions tests.  We also continued our normal emissions testing schedule in the first experiment during the second week.

The third week is when our plates started getting a little full.  On top of the first emissions experiment, we had two more fields that were each about half the size of the first, so we basically doubled our work.  We now regularly spend eight hours sampling the emissions, so we’re getting pretty good at it.  On top of that, we had to take a day to drive about two and a half hours west to Castile, NY to take soil and alfalfa samples from an area dairy farm.

It’s now the start of the fourth week, and I don’t look for our workload to decrease anytime soon.  I’m learning a lot.  I also know that there will be a lot of interesting things for me to discover in the coming weeks.

Skip to toolbar