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Adventures in the North Country: The Last Post

Greetings from the North Country! I started the week off by starting a small survey project. Through every field meeting I’ve participated in, I’ve noticed that growers are always quick to ask about problems with their plants, yet they rarely ever ask about soil health issues. The idea is to go around to a few growers, collect a small sample, and ask them to guess the pH. So far, most growers are incredibly close. Most are only off by 0.2 or 0.3. Though this doesn’t really indicate a larger need for soil health measures to be taken, I noticed that a few newer farmers were unsure what I was talking about. Most of these farmers were fairly new to growing and didn’t come from a scientific background.


Discussing Magnesium deficiency at a grower field meeting

It’s so strange to me that this summer has gone by so quickly. I’ve learned so much than I ever anticipated. Coming from a background of animal agriculture, I worried about how I would fit into an internship that seemed to focus on horticultural production. However, I found that studying horticulture is just as interesting as animal agriculture to me. I’m extremely excited to continue what I’ve learned this summer with classes back at Cornell in the fall.

Top of Mt. Philo with my incredible boss, Amy Ivy

I feel like I have to thank some people for helping me this summer. First of all, my boss, Amy Ivy, has been amazing at making me feel at home in Clinton and Essex counties as well as teaching me so much about horticulture and entomology. Other thanks to Professor Steve Reiners, who has been available to help me at every step. I would also like to thank Masa Seto for allowing me to help him with his research of the leek moth (and for the hike through AuSable Chasm!). Finally, I want to thank everyone at the Clinton County Cornell Cooperative Extension office for being so welcoming and kind!

All About Bugs

Sweeping for army worms (round 2)

The last couple weeks have been all about bugs. We’ve been scouting for corn rootworm beetles, leafhoppers, and the dreaded armyworm. The armyworms have returned for another round of fun, but this time were ready for them. In anticipation of the second wave of armyworms we have been checking our grass crop fields. I started seeing them last week and they are still very small (about the diameter of a toothpick) and around a quarter inch long. The first time the armyworms appeared I could find them by looking at the ground on my hands and knees, but due to their small size we have been using our sweep nets to catch them. So far, I’ve found a handful of fields above threshold with this new infestation and I’m sure we’ll be keeping an eye out for increasing worm populations.

We’ve also been doing the weekly checks for leafhoppers in alfalfa fields. I discussed this in previous posts, but the basic idea it is to sweep the field each week after it has been mowed to see if the leafhoppers are above threshold. Once the population of leafhoppers is evaluated and if it is found to be above threshold the field will be treated or mowed. If the population is lower than the threshold I return to sweep the field again next week. The other insect we have been busy looking for is corn rootworm adult beetles. This type of scouting requires three successive visits to the same field over a three week period. The corn field must be from 80 – 100% tasseled and we look at three groups of ten corn plants and count the total number of corn rootworm beetles hiding in the collars of the leaves. I have to admit this is my least favorite scouting for a couple reasons. One being that I am arachnophobic and there are often all kinds of spiders and webs in the tall corn. The other being the tons of pollen and anthers that rain down on you all day and make you itch like crazy! But its all part of the fun I guess .

scouting for rootworm beetles in the sunshine

Last week we had a little celebration for WNYCMA. The bosses, David and Dierdre DeGolyer, had a nice picnic for all the employees and several of our farmer customers to celebrate 25 years of service to area farmers. We all gathered and had a good meal with steaks, hotdogs, and all the different deli salads you could imagine. Then David gave us a little history on WNYCMA and several longtime employees talked about the various changes in crop production and management over the years. We also talked about current issues such as the effect the drought is having on the corn and the second coming of the armyworms. After that, we went to a soybean field and did some training on identifying 2 spotted spider mites and their symptoms commonly found in soybeans. With the long period of dry weather the mites are also an issue this year. It was a nice event and was interesting to see how much a local business has grown in the last quarter century.

Alfalfa Harvest and Spider Mite Infestation in Western New York

Tools used to gather alfalfa samples at Coyne’s farm in Aurora New York.

This post starts at Coyne’s alfalfa fields in Avon New York located in Livingston County. I joined a group that was taking the third cutting samples from six different fields. The trial is looking at the impact of different nutrient applications in relation to the growth and composition of the alfalfa. The three different nutrient-treatments in the trial were calcium, sulfur and calcium, and the third sample was grown without calcium and sulfur.

Alfalfa sample collected from test plot at Coyne’s.

Spider mites have become the new pest issue in soybean fields in Western New York. Spider mites become an issue when there are drought-like conditions, which has been the case in Western New York this season. Spider mites can group at the field edges, especially if there are weeds surrounding the borders. Eventually they can disperse with the wind to develop a field-wide infestation. Spider mites feed on the underside of the foliage with sucking mouth parts and may be very destructive when found in large numbers. Under hot and dry field conditions, spider mites thrive on plants that are under stress. Soybean foliage infested with spider mites initially exhibits a yellowish speckled or stippled appearance. As plants become heavily infested, foliage turns yellow, then bronze, and finally the leaves drop off the plants as the effect of heavy feeding leads to dehydration and death of plant. With more and more concern arising from the presence of spider mites from farmers, the answers for treatment are not cut and dry. There is no measure for economic threshold, rather treatment depends on the length of infestation in comparison to plant growth stage. Most of the fields that I have been scouting are starting to form small bean pods and are in a very vulnerable growth stage to be hit with the spider mite infestation. With the anticipated rain in the forecast, we hope that on this week’s scouting trip, spider mites will not still be a looming pest.

Delaware County-Soybeans

Soybean Field in Delaware County

A big part of my internship this summer is to create an agronomy fact sheet that will be posted on the Nutrient Management Spear Program’s website.  The topic is soybeans and lime application.  A field trial was set up on a farm in Delaware County to provide more information for the fact sheet.

The topic of soybeans and lime came up when an extension agent in Delaware County found that fields that were being planted with soybeans had relatively low pHs and the question was asked if the pH of the soil will actually affect yield.  The target pH for soybeans is 7.0, while the fields in Delaware County were testing at mid to upper 5s.  A plot was set up with 8 reps, alternating with four control plots and four plots receiving lime.  The lime was disked into the soil even though this field was normally no till conditions.

Initial soil samples were taken prior to planting and the addition of lime.  I will be running pH tests on these samples as well as ISNT and LOI.  ISNT stands for Illinois Soil Nitrate Test and estimates the readily available nitrates in the soil.  LOI stands for Loss of Ignition, which through a series of drying steps, can estimate soil organic matter.  Soil samples will also be taken at harvest, where the pH will again be measured.

In mid-July, a team of several extension agents from Delaware County and I went to the field to take several different measurements. We took stand counts, plant heights, and plant stages at five different sections of each of the reps with each rep being averaged together.  The next step will be to take nodule counts as the plants reach the R1 stage.  This should be happening within the next week so there will be more to come on this project shortly!

Cornell Cooperative Extension Tour

This past week I went to a Cornell Cooperative Extension grower tour. The tour consisted of 5 stops and a lunch break at noon. I would like to talk about my favorite 2 stops on the tour that I found most informative. The first stop was a very important update on fire blight. This bacterial infection gets into the trees via new shoots, blossoms, or any part of the tree that has a open wound. Once inside, the infection will take about two to three years to completely kill the tree. The first year of the infection there are minimal signs, however, at the start of the second year the most obvious sign is known as a shepherds hook. With the hook, one can see that the branch also has a burnt appearance to it, hence the name fire blight. Once at this stage the Cornell Extension agent said that you have to cut it out of the tree completely. It is advised to make the cut 6-10 inches below the last sight of the burnt color and then remove that limb from the entire orchard. The main point of this lecture was to tell farmers that if they see this blight AND they sprayed the recommended application of Streptomycin that they need to call an extension agent to have the blight tested for resistance. This is a major concern for famers due to the fact that Streptomycin is the best available spray for fire blight and if resistance starts to build, then it will have to be taken off the market. In the conclusion of this stop, I learned that there have been two cases of resistance and they have been quarantined. However, everyone in the area of Wayne, Monroe, and Ontario County needs to be on the look out.

The second stop was to look at and discuss the impacts of a wind machine on certain locations of a farm. This particular wind machine cost about $35,000 and was propane-powered. In the picture it is hard to see, but the wind machine is placed on a small ridge in the bottom of a valley. This is a great location because cold air will settle in the valley and in the spring, the frost will kill all of the apples. I talked to the farmer that owns this machine and discussed specifics. Looking at the location of this block and the spring we had, there shouldn’t have been a single apple on any tree, however there was about 70% of a crop present. The farmer said the wind machine will move cold air out and protect up to 15 acres of land, however, he was using it for only about 10 acres because that’s how big the valley is. He also shared that he ran it about 7 times this spring for roughly 4 hours each time and that it costs around 30-40 dollars an hour to run depending on how fast you need the blades to rotate. After looking over some more numbers with him we both came to the conclusion that machine paid for itself this spring alone because he saved a crop that is worth around $45,000.

Those two stops were the best in my mind because they seemed to give the most up-to-date information on ways to stay ahead of two major crop killers–fire blight and frost damage.

OFA Short Course

From July 14 – 17, a group of Cornell faculty, grad students, and interns headed to Columbus Ohio for the nation’s largest horticulture convention. This was a new experience for me, and probably one the of best learning opportunities I’ve ever had. At the convention, there is a 7 acre trade show, not including the non-stop workshops and seminars that have various topics from greenhouse sanitation protocols to business tips and networking opportunities.

Attending the show was extremely beneficial to me, since my interest in greenhouse production is somewhat new. I had many opportunities to ask questions about the industry and was able to see the latest technologies and trends. It was hard for me to choose between attending seminars and going to into the trade show. Both were so interesting and helpful to me. Professor Bill Miller told me that the best way to engage myself in the convention was to meet people and network inside the show. I was offered many internship opportunities, along with a scholarship opportunity as well. The company owners were extremely excited to meet us and answer any questions we had.

Sam Kass, one of the keynote speakers, is a chef at the White House who works along side of Michelle Obama with her anti-obesity campaign. This was intriguing to me because I did my senior exit project on this topic. He was big into gardening with the kids and teaching them the importance of producing food and cooking it to eat. Another speaker created a gardening program for young children in a school, which emphasized the importance of Ag education. This struck me and had me thinking of ways that I could implement a program in my own former elementary and high school.

Overall, I thought that the experience was incredible and I am planning on attending next year. It is hard to recap everything I learned and experienced but what I gained will help me so much with my future studies and career. I recommend this show to anybody interested in horticulture, there is something for everybody to learn.

Adventures in the North Country: Field Visits

One of the most educational experiences of this internship takes shape through field visits from Cornell faculty. By bringing in a different person each week, Amy Ivy (executive director for the Clinton County office of Cornell Cooperative Extension – and my boss!) has made expert knowledge accessible to the members of the North Country. The idea is that by performing local farm visits as well as hosting a field meeting, the farmers and growers are able to ask specific questions about specific problems instead of being forced to search through Cornell databases for help. The informal atmosphere also helps to foster collaborations among farmers in the same region.

Consulting with a grower during Jud's visit

Last week, Jud Reid came in and hosted a field meeting at The Carriage House. Being an expert on vegetables and insect management allowed him to pass on advice to local farmers about nitrogen management during periods of heat stress. We stopped by multiple farms and growers. One that we lingered at for awhile was Campbell’s Greenhouse in Saranac, NY. Here, Jud gave advice to the owner about proper care for high tunnel tomatoes. The two discussed the proper suckering techniques. At another farm, Jud taught me easy identification of problems in plants. For example, yellowing of the tissue between veins on leaves of a crop can indicate a magnesium deficiency. At the end of his visit, The Carriage House hosted a field meeting that gathered multiple growers. One interesting aspect I learned from this tour was about how one grower was doing a study through a grant from the USDA that required he grow the same crops in two adjacent plots: one inside a hoophouse, the other outdoors. The one outdoors was more susceptible to threats such as pest infestations and weather disasters, while the other faced more problems with heat stress.

Talking with growers during Professor Reiner's visit

This week, Professor Stephen Reiners and his graduate student, Sarah Hulick, visited from Monday to Wednesday. On Tuesday, we spent the day visiting different farms and talking about issues at each. At each place, I was able to learn about something new. While attempting to identify a cover crop of grass at one farm, Sarah was able to teach me techniques to identify grasses (which should come in handy in my Field Crops class during the fall semester!!) such as looking for oracles. At another farm, Professor Reiners showed me an example of the blossom end rot for the first time and explained how it occurs due to a calcium deficiency (as well as other factors) and can be treated by applying appropriate moisture.

These field meetings have been a great experience because it perpetuates a discussion that will benefit all parties in the long run. Though you may think that growers would hold back due to fear of competition in the marketplace, that has not been my experience in Clinton and Essex counties. Growers have been very open and willing to talk about their strengths and their witnesses. At each field meeting, you can always spot a few growers chatting amongst themselves about which pesticides each is using, whether or not to use row covers, etc.

Also, it really is fun to goof off with your faculty advisor.

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

Apple Farming in Wayne County

As many people know, the area of Wayne County was hit with a very hard freeze this spring and area farmers are continuing to see the effects. While I have been working for CPS this summer, I have had everyone from customers to passersby ask me questions about the effects of the frost. My response is always the same, “it varies a lot and farmers are dealing with it by doing different things.” For this blog, I am going to elaborate on this answer.

When I say the crop amount varies, I don’t just mean town by town or farm by farm. It literally varies block by block. I took two pictures of trees today from not only the same farm, but the same block. The first tree has a full crop of apples and is in good shape due to location. The second tree doesn’t have a single apple because it was on the side of a hill. In this particular block, there is a hill and only the top three rows have apples. Below, the rows have a decreasing load, until about the 10th row, and from there down there are no apples.

Some farmers had a wind machine (pictured below) that pushes cold air up in hopes that warmer air will take its place. These are proven to help reduce the effect of inversion layers. These machines are not overly popular because of their sticker price. They can cost $25,000 to $40,00 a piece and about $300 dollars each day one is on.


After talking to the majority of the farmers in the area, as well as several consultants, the general consensus is that there is only about 30% of an apple crop for the region, as a whole. Some farmers lost everything this year, and petitioned to receive retroactive insurance for crops like cherries, peaches, and pears. If this bill passes, farmers could purchase insurance now and still claim this year’s loss. The plan would only pay out up to 60% revenue, but this is a lot better than the current total loss.  This would greatly help the area to get through 2012 and at least make it to 2013.

Without a crop, farmers are taking this time to complete major farm projects. Several farmers are taking out old trees and replacing them with high-demand varieties. Pictured is an example where the farmer removed and piled 10 acres of trees.

This farmer is also putting up a large cold storage unit that could cost well over a million dollars and is easily larger than a football field. It’s really impressive.

Soybean Scouting in Western New York

As wheat harvest comes to a close, my focus is now mainly on scouting the soybean fields of Ontario County. Beans are thriving and growing rapidly due to the warm weather, although drought is starting to become a factor for some farmers. Another piece of bad news is that Soybean Aphids are now infesting Western New York.

Soybean field of Jonathan Garman, one of the farmers participating in the Ontario County TAg program.

If I was to average the measurements of what I am seeing in the fields, plants are between the V3-V4 growth stage meaning that there is three to four fully branched leafs on each plant. Due to the warm weather plant viruses and bacteria infection problems have been scarce if present at all in fields. On the other hand insect pest are starting to become a higher problem.  Some of the pest that I am finding in the fields is Clover Worms, Japanese Beetles, Leaf Hoppers and Aphids. Spider Mites are also becoming a problem to some of the farmers. The Spider Mites increase is attributed to the warm temperatures and lack of precipitation. The plants that are being most affected are the ones closest to ditches and dirt roads or grassy banks. Spider Mites have sucking mouth parts, which drain the juices from the plants leaf leaving them to shrivel and die. This leaves the plant weak at the critical growth stage right before bean pod production. None of the fields that I have been scouting are above economic thresh hold, but with the plants continuing to develop I will have to keep a close watch to ensure thresh holds remain in a safe zone.

I have also been put in charge of monitoring the Ontario County Western Bean Cutworm trap, located on Harold Weavers farm in Gorham New York.  I have made three visits to see how many moths the trap is reeling in and the count is on the rise.  Starting with week one we had zero moths, the second week we had one moth, and this past week the trap was up to seven months.

Example of healthy nodule growth on Soybean plant.

Clover Worm, on of the pest that causes defoliation to Soybean plants.

Although a short report I will be reporting back soon with information I have gathered from the Musgrave Research Farm Field Day and continued reports of Soybean Scouting. Until next time!


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