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2014 Interns

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.

More Data, Delaware, and Done

It is hard to believe that three months ago three other interns and I started this internship when the corn was just emerging from the ground and some was not even planted yet.  I remember our very first task as interns was to spray-paint dots across the ranges of several fields in the pollinating nursery.  We painted a dot at the beginning of each plot so we would know where to go back and plant “delay” plots.  These plots were planted later than the majority of the field so all of the corn would not be ready to pollinate at the same time.  It was also a way to ensure access to viable pollen later in the season when most other tassels would be done shedding pollen.  These delayed plantings were spread out and a few plots were hand planted each day according to how many degree days were recorded in the New Holland area.

Pioneer show block, New Holland, PA

Pioneer show block, New Holland, PA

We spent our last couple of weeks at the station collecting data and cleaning up from the pollinating season.  A lot of time was spent collecting silk and shed dates.  To do this, we walked through a field in pairs and recorded when a plot started silking or shedding.  Many plots we looked at were one-row plots which made it easier for data collection.  A plot was “silking” if at least half of the plants in the plot had ear shoots with silks emerging from them.  A plot was “shedding” if at least half of the plants in the plot had tassels currently shedding pollen.  We also collected plant and ear height data.  Using PVC pipes with inch marks up the side, we recorded both of these heights.  The ear height was the height of the plant up to the base of the topmost ear.  Plant height was the height of the plant up to the base of the top flag leaf.  A considerable amount of this was done at the home farm and at many surrounding locations, just as hoeing and stand-counting had been done two months earlier.

During the last week at Pioneer New Holland, the other interns and I got to go on a field trip with the station supervisor down to DuPont’s headquarters in Wilmington and Newark, Delaware.  We saw where a tremendous amount of research is done relating to crop development, protection, and resistance.  We were given a tour of the facilities run by a Pioneer team working within DuPont to improve soybean varieties.  We saw their office, lab space, growth chambers, and greenhouses.  We got to see a much bigger side of the company we had been working for all summer.  We heard about how the data we collected in the field was entered into a data collection system that could be viewed by Pioneer researchers at the Delaware facility and at other facilities as everyone collaborated and worked together to create a better product.  This information helped to bring our summer work full circle.

Summer 2014 Intern Crew

Summer 2014 Intern Crew

This was a great summer internship in many ways.  I would recommend this internship to anybody interested in the research side of a company like Pioneer and also to those who like to work outside.  I met great people who are passionate about what they do and who were willing to share what they knew with us.  While we spent a lot of time in the corn field collecting data and completing repetitive tasks, it was all necessary for the plant breeders to determine what is working in a new hybrid or inbred, and what is not.  I now have a greater understanding as to how a seed research station works for a large company like DuPont Pioneer.  I have a deeper appreciation for the amount of time, money, labor, resources, ingenuity, and determination it takes to create a modern corn hybrid.

Coming to a Close

Two weeks ago today I had my last day at CLEREL and I already miss it!  I had such a great summer filled with amazing people and experiences.  I was able to get a hands on feel for research, I gained exposure to hops and grapes, I went to California and collected data in table and wine grape vineyards, I attended an NGWI conference in Napa and met a lot of influential people in the industry, and I started to think more seriously about what my plans should be after I graduate next May.CroppedTSSM

My last week was devoted to the hops.  I collected my leaves on Monday and spent the next few days counting mites.  I also borrowed a camera, which I was able to hook up to the microscope and take some photos of TSSM and predatory mites.  The photo to the left is a two spotted spider mite, distinguishable by the two black spots on either side of its abdomen.  The photo below is a predatory mite and if you look closely, you can see the outline of an egg.  It’s hard to determine the species of the predatory mite, as the only difference between species is the shape of the anal plate at the back of the abdomen.croppedPM

That Thursday, Tim cut down the Brewer’s Gold from the variety row in the hopyard and ran them through the harvester he made. After they went through we still had to pick a lot of the cones off by hand.  Tim is still trying to perfect the harvester and make it more efficient than hand harvesting.  Some of the bines had male flowers, which are the smaller, almost white flowers next to the cones in the photo below.   Once the hops had been harvested, Kim figured out the moisture percentage and how much the hops should weigh when they reach 10% moisture.  They were then put into a drying oven, and a sample was weighed periodically until it reached the target weight for 10% unnamedmoisture.  Kim used a moisture calculator found at the University of Vermont extension website here:

Today, I drove up to Geneva from Cornell, where I am back in the swing of classes.  I met Karen, a woman who works with mites at a lab there, and she helped me identify the predatory mites I had saved on slides.  I still have a few to go through, but mmale flowersost of the ones I collected are N. fallacis.  I did find several tydeid mites, which feed on fungus, not TSSM.  Under a microscope they looked distinctly different than the two species I released, which are phytoseiid mites. I will go through the rest of my slides on campus in Ithaca and finish putting all of my data together.  I am almost done with my project, and will be ready to present at the Internship Reception in October.

Pollinating Season at Pioneer

July means pollinating season at Pioneer New Holland.  The home research farm is broken up into three major sections.  One section is the pollinating nursery, one section yield testing, and one section disease testing.  All of the hand pollinations occur in the pollinating nursery at the home farm.  The plant breeders who wish to cross some in-bred corn lines for the first time, or who want to self in-bred lines to reproduce similar material, have to control where the pollen goes from one plant to the other.  When performing a self-pollination, pollen from the tassel of a corn plant is placed on the silks coming out of the ear shoot of the same plant.  A cross pollination is done by taking the pollen from one plant and placing it on the silks of another plant.


To help with this work, the station brings in about 50 high-school kids to help with the hand pollinations for the 3 to 4 week long season.  A big tent is set up with tables for lunch and break times.  Porta-Potties, hand-washing stations, tables with water coolers, and trash cans are placed throughout the property to accommodate the extra workers.  During the peak week of pollinating season, upwards of 10,000 pollinations may be done in a day.  The “pollinators” as they are called arrive by 7:30 am and work until 3:00 or 4:00 pm.  The interns start a little earlier as we were on water detail.  The kids break into groups of 10 and each research assistant becomes a crew leader.  The interns fill in as needed, helping pollinating crews, bringing supplies, helping set up and clean up.  We also had a good bit of other data collection to do during this time so that kept us fairly busy.

Placing ear shoot bags

Placing ear shoot bags

Each day, the pollinators would go through a three step process.  First thing in the morning, shoot bags would be placed on the emerging ear shoots.  In a few days when the silks emerged, they would not be exposed to any pollen flying around in the open air.  Second, everyone would “set up” on the tassels of plants.  This involved placing a tassel bag over the tassels that were already shedding and losing anthers and pollen.  Finally, the plants that were “set up” on the day before are “taken down” today.  Tassel bags are taken off the plant after being shaken to capture more pollen.  They are placed on the silks of the same or a different plant after the ear shoot bag is removed.  The tassel bags with the pollen in them are then shook over the ear shoots and fastened around the stalk so as not to expose the silks or pollen.  This is how pollinations are done and repeated over the entire pollinating nursery.  In crossing blocks, pollen is taken from one set of male plants to another set of female plants in a different block.

Setting up tassel bags

Setting up tassel bags

A lot of pollinations were done in three short weeks.  We accomplished a lot with all of the help we had and we had excellent working weather.  Though the corn might have liked it a little hotter, we were fine with days in the low to mid-80’s with average humidity.  A gentle breeze made things all the better.  It was interesting to learn how the pollination process worked.  This is how the plant breeders create more seeds to work with in the future, to advance their research projects and improve current hybrid varieties of corn.

Weather, Hops, and the end

Weather plays an enormous role in agriculture. During the final week of my internship we got over six inches of rain on Monday and 3/4 inch hail a few days later. The rain kept us out the fields for the rest of the week unless we had no choice.



We were in the heat of squash harvest season, and if you have ever grown squash, they don’t stay the ideal size for very long. Despite the deep mud the tractors, trailers, and workers ventured out into the fields, and commenced to get stuck a lot. They got stuck so much that it was worth it to pay someone to sit in a tractor just ahead of the one pulling the harvest wagon in order to pull it out whenever it got stuck. They came back completely cover in mud . The hail did not hit too many of our fields, but the fields that were hit were decimated. The corn was shredded and the pickling cucumbers were pounded into the ground. I had never seen anything like it.

I spent most of my final days in the hopyard repairing the infrastructure. The hopyard is the seven acre field where the hops are grown. Hops are climbing vines and thus require a huge amount of infrastructure. In short there are a lot of telephone poles and a lot of wire crossing the tops of the poles with twine for the vines to grow up hanging in long rows. The weight of the maturing hops combined with the severe weather was too much for some of the poles to withstand, and so they snapped in half. I, along with my colleague, Ciro, spent several days using a loader and an off-road forklift, along with some other tools like an impact driver and a posthole digger, to disconnect the wires, pull out the broken poles, re-dig the holes, put the new poles in at a 65 degree or so angle, and secure them down.


Installing a support pole in the hopyard

That concludes my summer internship with Pedersen Farms. It was an eyeopening experience which I am very glad I got. The most important thing I learned over the course of this internship is that you learn by screwing up. Honestly that is probably how I learned most of the things I did. Even after a moment or two of doubt at the beginning, I am still confident this is the right career path for me.

Where are the Predatory Mites?

Last week a group of us from the lab took a trip to Empire Farm Days, which is a three day event focused on agricultural related topics.  A lot of it is machinery and equipment, but there is a building for the Cornell Cooperative Extension.  We set up a table with information on GPS sensing and grape pests, but unfortunately not too many people stopped to chat with us about these topics.  There were many people from the extension there with booths and information on agriculture, so the attendees did learn something new, even if it wasn’t related to vineyard management.unnamed

On Wednesday I went to a vineyard/hopyard in Pennsylvania with Tim and Luke.  We were only there for about an hour in the morning, but it gave me the opportunity to see an actual production hopyard outside those planted for research and extension.  The hopyard was much bigger than those here and in Geneva, and it was also the shorter production rows, instead of the tall ones.  It was really interesting to see the amount of cones that will be harvested from their plants; they were heavy with them and will be ready to harvest in a couple of weeks.  As we were walking down their rows we did see some TSSM damage though; hopefully they can take the right measures to get rid of them before they infest the conunnamed1es and damage their crop.

The rest of the week I spent counting the mites from the leaf samples I collected Wednesday afternoon.  The TSSM are really starting to spike in some areas of the hopyard, and I am starting to see the bronzing on the leaves that is characteristic damage of TSSM (photo to the left).  However, as I keep mentioning, I am not seeing the numbers of predatory mites I should be.

I had a conference call with Greg about my project and we talked about potential reasons why the predatory mites aren’t there.  Heavy rainfall will cause the mites to wash away from the leaves, which would result in lower numbers following a storm.  Also, predatory mites don’t move with the wind using spinnerets the way TSSM do, sunnamed4o if they don’t have a food source readily available, they will crawl to find a new one; my best guess would be down to the ground where there are other plants and weeds where they can feed on pollen.  I am going to go back and look at the weather, especially rainfall, the day before I collected my leaf samples each week and the day after I released the predatory mites in June to see if that could be the cause.

After our discussion we decided that I should release some more predatory mites into the hopyard.  On Thursday I ordered 20,000 more N. fallacis and had them overnighted so I could release them on Friday.  This time I released them at the opposite end of the hopyard that I released them at in June.  This week will be my last week of counting, but I am hoping to see more predatory mites at the end of the row where I released them.  If I still am not seeing them there will be another interesting project for someone in the future looking at where they might be going!



Wrapping up Pasture Management

Our Pos/Neg fencing had arrived! Excited, I set it all up, with the help of a highschool intern, Dylan, who had been helping on the farm for 2 weeks. We put this fencing up in a different spot (less dry/rocky soil than the previous test site) between the creamery and the farm house, and put some babies inside to test it. We figured that since there was a large tree in the test site, any adult goats might damage it.

Successful fencing!

Successful fencing!

It ended up working well! The two ground rods created a high enough current to provide enough shock to keep the babies in (with the exception of Rafiki who often escaped, but returned). This was really exciting for me, because it meant that in the future (probably once I was back at school), Dylan and Hadley would be ready to move this fencing around on our hay field beyond the pastures. We’d been dreaming of this hay field becoming a pasture all summer long, since it was pretty much the only green land left on the property! However we wanted to wait until there was sufficient regrowth, and until we were comfortable with the fencing system to begin MIG. I believe that Dylan actually started doing this in September.

My final project at Toluma was getting their hay tested (nutrients, ash etc…). Over the summer, I became a “Certified Hay Sampler” online, and ordered the Penn State Probe tool for testing. Only on my last day on the farm did I actually have time to complete the testing! This consisted of taking random probe samples from around 40 bales (attaching a drill to the probe and filling up plastic bags with the contents), and sending the combined sample to the UC Davis Analytical Lab. For sampling, I created a random number generator and counted along the faces of the stacks of bales to pick the specific bales for sampling.


Example stack, random within this were tested

Example stack, random bales within this were tested

My Last Day

It is a bittersweet feeling, to be ending my internship today. I am looking forward to two relaxing weeks with my family before diving back into my schoolwork, but I was just starting to get settled into the office and getting to know the people I surround myself with daily.

Blue and Jamie sorting the insects from the water sample.

Blue and Jamie sorting the insects from the water sample.

John and I were tricked into a educational last day to get us out of the office for a while with the storm water management department. We headed out to one of their sites to learn about the citizen science project they are very involved in called WAVE – Water Assessment by Volunteer Evaluators. They took samples from the stream we visited and we all tried to sort and identify the different water insects that were in the water. In doing so, it would give us a perspective of how healthy that stream is. There are certain insects that are desirable in streams and rivers, and some are less, and to determine the health, it is a matter of what insects are present – more desirable insects means the stream is healthy and vice versa. Blue Neils kept us out until around noon and when we returned, the office had a surprise celebration lunch the going away of myself, John, and Jamie, another intern with water health. There was a pizza lunch, and peach cobbler and ice cream to finish it off, my favorite.


Our booth in the Cornell Building at Empire Farm Days.

Our booth in the Cornell Building at Empire Farm Days.

But, as I promised in my last post, I was going to talk about my experience at Empire Farm Days in Seneca Falls. It was the first time I had been to this, and I will admit it was very cool. As the daughter of parents in the greenhouse production business, I had been to expo’s for the horticulture industry, and that is what I equate it to. Rows and rows of farm machinery, products, gadgets, and just about anything else you can think of that would be used on a farm. Christina and I managed to fit ourselves in next to some other vendors in the Cornell Building where there is everything Cornell and Cornell Cooperative Extension. We had a great little set up with some of the brochures I made, handouts on ladybugs, and an overview of our project on a poster, and a poster of New York Sate for folks to interact with and show us where they have seen Knapweed. It was great to see some familiar faces whether out walking around, or talking to folks at our booth. It was also nice to see some friends of ours that also did CCE internships in other fields and learn about their experiences.

Interactive map Christina and I used for people to show us where they saw knapweed across the state.

Interactive map Christina and I used for people to show us where they saw knapweed across the state.

I am surprised that our booth generated as much traffic and interest as it did. Saratoga County, from what I noticed, had very little knapweed on the farms I visited.  However, as I drove up the lake with Christina daily, from Ithaca to Seneca Falls, I could see that it was much more of a problem in Central New York that it was in the Eastern part of the state. The interactive map we created even showed that. Also, on our morning drive, we would pull to the side of the road where we would see it driving by (just about anywhere) and pick some so that the people could see what it was as they came over to out booth. With that I noticed that much of what we were finding was Meadow Knapweed and not the Spotted, which was all I found in Saratoga County.

photo 2 (5)Most of the questions farmers and some homeowners asked was, is it harmful? and How do I get rid of it? As far as the harmful question goes, that was an easy one to answer because, yes, if you let it grow, you will pay for it soon enough. I learned a few more things about the weed. It is a biannual, so it goes to seed twice a year, and it can produce up to 300 seed heads on a single plant, each which contains 40-60 seed. The seeds can be transported by wind, water, animals and humans, so if it is not properly maintained, it can get everywhere. And some farmers told me of whole fields that completely taken over by the weed. Another reason it is harmful, is that its roots secrete toxins that can stunt the growth and even kill plants around it.  Naturally, after people learned this, their next questions was “Well, how do I get rid of it?” I had no direct answer, but I would just recommend mowing it a few times a year to keep it from going to seed to minimize the spread. photo 3 (4)If they were a homeowner, and had a small patch of it, I recommended pulling it out and solarizing it in a plastic bag.  I then let them know the reason we were there, which is that Christina and I helped with the preliminary steps to the research this summer to begin testing the insect controls that proved very effective in the Pacific Northwest. Christina was mostly set up to build relationships with farmers in Tompkins County that would be willing to lend Cornell some land of theirs to conduct their research. I mostly tried to locate different species around the state, which ended up only in Saratoga County.

Laurel and I enjoying some much needed Cornell Dairy ice cream at the end of the day, courtesy of the Cornell Dairy Science Club (CUDS).

Laurel and I enjoying some much needed Cornell Dairy ice cream at the end of the day, courtesy of the Cornell Dairy Science Club (CUDS).

Integrated Pest Management

Towards the end of July there was a lull, everything was planted, the pests were largely under control, and harvest hadn’t started yet. Half the time the fields were too wet to get on with the equipment without getting stuck and destroying the soil structure. Most of the projects were general maintenance and upkeep of the hopyard and scouting the crops for pests, disease, and deficiencies.


European Corn Borer damage in tassel

It was during this time that I learned how to scout for the European Corn Borer, a caterpillar pest specifically in sweet corn. The Corn Borer does exactly what the name suggests: eat its way through the corn, significantly reducing the value of the crop. Evidence of their presence, depending on the generation, which depends on the time of year, can be found on more protected parts of the leaves and stalk, or in the tassels and ears. This evidence if fairly obvious, a sort of white, powdery substance around the damaged area. The extent of the infestation is determined by the number of caterpillars found while walking through the field in a random pattern.



This year was a very good year in that there were very few living Corn Borers. I was told that just a couple of years ago the infestation was so bad you couldn’t walk ten feet without finding as many caterpillars. That was a serious infestation. The difference was a newly implemented integrated pest management (IPM) method.

This IPM method was the release of a tiny wasp which parasitized the Corn Borer. The Trichogramma ostriniae come in small packets, about 3″ square, each of which holds about 50,000 wasps. In a ten acre field of sweet corn I would put out somewhere between a dozen or two packets. The wasps were “applied” every few weeks.

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!

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