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Week 6: Local Broccoli Coming Soon

This last week was just as enjoyable and informative as the previous ones. My surveys regarding the barriers to expanding the production of broccoli on Long Island have been returning promising results. The survey contains questions that address growers current  methods such as, “Have you ever raised broccoli in the past?” and “Do you currently use a distributor to reach wholesale or retail markets?”. It also contains additional questions to assess their willingness to expand their broccoli production. At the conclusion of my summer all the responses I collect will be inputed into Qualtrics and statistical analyses will allow us to determine the potential barriers to increasing broccoli production on Long Island. If the results are sufficiently promising then further work will be conducted next summer in hopes of expanding this project. As per the results I have collected thus far, it seems that this is quite likely. It is my hope that before long supermarket shelves on Long Island will be stocked with broccoli that boldly states “Grown Locally”,


Breaking Records – Abnormal Growing Season in Texas

Sprinklers irrigating juvenile corn.

Sprinklers irrigating juvenile corn.

Texas has gotten into the habit of record breaking during the past couple of years. A record drought is now being followed by record rainfall making a mess of operations on the farm. However farmers here in the Panhandle are certainly not complaining, as the water is certainly needed in order to replenish the aquifers in this region.

Despite the rainfall farmers have continued to irrigate their crops in order to provide a steady supply of water to the crops, especially corn. However the rainfall causes problems for the center pivots as the excess mud causes the to get stuck and break down. As a result I spent many days pulling these sprinklers out of the slippery clay mud and replacing the broken parts that move them along the 1.5 circumference of the circle.

Moving bales of Triticale.

Moving bales of Triticale.

The additional rainfall for the year also contributed to a welcomed surplus of feed provided by unusual regrowth by their winter tricale crop. The grass was swathed, raked and balled in order to store for a predicted return drought. As a result throughout the past two weeks I have moved nearly 700 round bales from the field helping me further develop my operating skills in the field.

Of course during the rainy days I have working on the mapping project they have assigned, obtaining well locations and determining where the water lines run throughout the field. This will be essential information when adding additional water lines, tilling the field and maintaining irrigation systems.

Spreading dry manure on wheat stubble to fertilize and reduce erosion.

Spreading dry manure on wheat stubble to fertilize and reduce erosion.

The Kickoff: My experience with the Cornell Sustainable Cropping Systems Lab

My name is Kirby Peters and I am an upcoming junior Agricultural Sciences major. This summer I will be interning with Professor Matt Ryan’s Sustainable Cropping Systems Lab located on Cornell’s campus, however, much of the research is executed off campus at Cornell’s research farm in Aurora, NY and on various farms. Many people have been asking me what the lab is researching and it is hard to answer that simply. Our lab is performing several experiments looking at the potential benefits of different cropping systems. The labs research experiments are broken down into a few different project themes: perennial grain crops, cover crop organic rotational no-till, cover crop interseeding, forage intercropping, and ecological weed management.The lab is composed of a research support specialist, two research technicians, five grad students, and seven undergraduate research assistants.

So far I have mainly worked on Jeff Liebert’s (one of the grad students) experiments. His two experiments are what we call the variety trial forage quality experiment and the variety trial roll plant soy experiment. The forage quality experiment evaluates the relationship of forage quality and yield of different species and cultivars of winter cereals (Rye, Triticale, and Barley) in a double cropping system. New York state is the third largest producer of milk in the United States so that being said the impact of the dairy industry is significant. The winter cereal double cropping system possesses a few advantages: mitigation of soil erosion, nitrate leaching and phosphorus leaching runoff, an increase of homegrown forage, and improvement of farm profitability. The goal of the experiment is to provide farmers with an optimal interval of harvest for specific species and cultivars of winter cereal. By collecting samples throughout the season and analyzing biomass and forage quality Jeff can figure out an interval of time where the relationship of the two is optimized. For example, last year the results showed Triticale produces as much biomass as wheat but with a longer optimal interval of harvest.

The second part of the experiment is analyzing cover crop rolling as a form of weed suppression for organic no-till systems. No-till systems are known for providing great soil benefits but can create weed management challenges because herbicides can not be used in organic systems. The experiment aims to optimize the blocking of light to increase weed suppression. Cover crop rolling is exactly what it sounds like. A large cylinder attachment on the tractor is used to rolled down the cover crop to form a carpet to block out the weeds. Multiple species and cultivar are rolled at different times to see what stage of growth produces the best results.

After rolling

Cover crop rolling


The work I’ve done on Jeff’s experiment is plant sampling. Plant sampling is done by taking a quadrat and placing it in a selected spot of a cover crop plot. Once the quadrat is correctly placed on the ground every plant (excluding weeds) that is growing within the quadrate is cut. Our lab uses electric clippers that make the cutting process very quick. If we have smaller quadrants we will also use regular manual clippers. Everything that is cut is then placed into a labeled paper bag and is then ready to head to the ovens to be dried.

Different species and cultivars in the Variety Trial experiment

Setting up a quadrat


Placing plant biomass into a bag








Carrying biomass samples

After the samples have dried in the oven, they are ready for sample processing. All samples are weighed and recorded. Depending on the experiment the samples are either composted or put into the grinder. A grinder is a machine that takes plant material and grinds it into particle sizes depending on the filter inserted. For all the grinding I have participated in we have been using a 1 millimeter (mm) filter. Grinding is necessary for nutrient analysis which provides us with the forage quality data. Jeff will be taking samples throughout the season so he can find a time where forage quality and yield are optimized.


Grinding plant matter


From Farm to Table: The Hands-on Approach


As my summer went on, I transitioned from working primarily with the animals themselves to primarily selling their products at the markets.  One task that remained constant, however, was the butchery.  In order to sell fresh chickens  every week, we need to kill every week.  And so every Tuesday I pulled on my grimiest pair of jeans and headed out to catch some chickens.


Chickens not quite fat enough for slaughter

The QRS chickens are white Cornish cross breed, and usually are slaughtered at about six weeks of age.  The goal is to have them dress at four pounds, so the exact number of chickens caught and processed every week depended on how effective the chickens were that week at eating and putting on weight. Usually, though, it was about 200 birds.  Rick and Linda prefer the white chickens to the red chickens for meat production because the muscle doesn’t bruise as easily.  They also regularly do custom butchering, either for people with home flocks that can’t bring themselves to butcher their own chickens, or for large orders from restaurants.  Butchering 200 birds with only 4 people in a very small room is an all-day affair that ends with us exhausted and with questionable substances staining our clothing and crusted on our skin.  And it all starts with catching.  I’d never caught a chicken before coming to Quails-R-Us, unless you count picking up a friendly backyard chicken every now and then.  To save my dignity and the time it would have taken me to chase chickens around trying to pick them up, someone somewhere invented a handy chicken hook that you can use to trip a chicken from the back and swiftly turn it upside down, which should, theoretically, calm it.  I say theoretically because I had a lot of chickens that really didn’t like being held upside down in my fist and flapped furiously when they should have been still and stoic.

The plucker

The plucker

The chickens are placed in plastic crates and wheeled over to the kill pit, which is the modified milking parlor from when the farm was a dairy.  QRS uses the typical setup that I’ve used before when I’ve processed chickens: kill cones, a scalder, a plucking machine.  Four or five birds are processed at a time, and cycled through the machines.  Some weeks we also butcher quail and guineafowl for meat, which involve similar processes with some important differences.  For instance, quail feathers require a different sized plucker than the larger birds, and it’s easier usually to just pluck them by hand.  Quail feathers are also prone to melting beneath the skin if they stay in the scalder too long.  The bald, warm, dead birds are taken from the plucker and put on a stainless steel table to be gutted.  QRS cuts the head, neck, and feet off, saving the latter two for sale.  Gutting a chicken may seem simple but it takes a significant amount of force to pull all the entrails out at once without shredding the lungs or tearing the heart from the liver.  I very quickly learned it was more efficient for me to be on salvage duty: taking the entrails and separating the wastes from the marketable organs: the heart, liver, and gizzard.  I observed a lot of variability in the deposits of internal fat, cut my hands on the very sharp bones of quail, popped way too many gallbladders [releasing a dark green fluid which stains the meat] and learned a lot of recipes for these unconventional ingredients.  Chicken liver was actually the product we ran out of most often at the markets – demand far outstripped our supply, and chicken liver is hard to find in your neighborhood grocery.


About to break down a chicken by knife

Dressed birds were put on ice for several hours to chill, giving the workers a chance to clean up from the killing and break for lunch.   Slaughter and gutting usually took about six hours.  From mid-afternoon to early evening we packaged the chickens.  Most are sold whole, with giblets – the neck, heart, liver, and gizzard – included.  We also sold bags of individual pieces, like wings or thighs, bags of organs, feet, and necks, and a variety bag of pieces that was basically a whole chicken cut up already.  Cutting was done with an industrial meatpacking saw I chose to stay far away from.  I did get a chance to break down a chicken with a knife that was very informative for how the muscles are structured around the bones.  The products are dried off, trimmed if needed, bagged, weighed, labelled with the date and weight, bagged again, and sealed, then placed in the walk-in cooler for sale that week.  Anything not sold in that week – a very rare occurrence – is frozen for sale in future weeks. Record keeping during the rush of packaging is a must, to keep track of inventory for the week.

Chicken processing is a tedious and messy business but with good conversation flowing, waterproof boots, and a sturdy apron, it’s manageable.  Helping put so many chickens on the table for our customers to enjoy definitely made me appreciate the effort that goes into my own food.  I look forward to the next time I get to help process, and the next time I get to eat fresh chicken for dinner after a long day of work.

First Days at Casa Caponetti

Hello everyone! I am happy to say I finally made it all the way to Italy! This summer I am doing an internship at Casa Caponetti, an olive orchard and organic farm in a small town called Tuscania, about 60 miles north of Rome.  After spending a night in London due to flight delays, losing my luggage to the chaotic conveyor belts of the Rome airport, two trains, and a cab from Tarquinia to Tuscania, the journey (that is, multiple giorni) seemed to take forever. Apparently there is a store in Alabama that sells lost luggage, and I had pretty much accepted that as the fate of my bag about an hour ago, when someone drove up the dirt road and delivered my missing backpack! So that has made this experience much more enjoyable.

Casa Caponetti is in general a quite enjoyable place to be. My first views upon arriving were of rolling hills dotted with olive trees, horses and sunshine. The heat in the middle of the day is made bearable by a trusty breeze that always seems to pick up in the afternoon. It’s pretty exhausting to work outside under the sun all day, so my day is divided by a long siesta after starting farm tasks between 7 and 8 am. After work in the morning, I make lunch and work for a few more hours around 4 or 5 pm. By 9:30 I’m tired enough to fall asleep before the sun has completely set.

I’ve actually been sleeping in a tent for the week since there is a large group of Butoh dancers staying in the volunteer cabins. They work on excavating the Etruscan necropolis that lies beneath the grounds of the farm, working with inspiration from this experience to culminate in a dance performance at the end of the week. We share a kitchen, and many of them speak English really well, but I am still trying to pick up bits of Italian. I definitely overestimated my capacity for language-learning, and had high hopes that it would be easy since I have a pretty good background in Spanish. It’s also been harder to motivate myself to learn it because everyone I need to talk to speaks English either fluently or well enough to get by. The exception is Stephano, one of the people who works with me in the gardens. He speaks to me in a particular Tuscanian dialect of Italian and I don’t understand a word, but I make a lot of blank expressions and get by using gestures.

So far I’ve been doing a lot of weeding, learning how the irrigation system works, trellising tomatoes, and harvesting zucchini and cucumbers. There is more basil than I can possibly imagine eating, which is also really exciting. Apparently there is another intern from Cornell coming next week, but I don’t know anything about him other than that I think his name is Danny. Anyone out there? Hope to see you soon if you happen to read this! I am looking forward to getting settled in more now that I have my luggage and will soon move into an actual cabin. Tomorrow I plan to check out the excavation site with the dancers. More to come soon!

My new home for the week!

My new home for the week!

Prettier aspects of my new home

Prettier aspects of my new home

Playful kittens

Playful kittens

Actual farming (and much more weeding to be done)

Actual farming (and much more weeding to be done)

Goating the Hang of Caring for the Flock

It’s a great experience to wake up the sounds of sheep and goats moving through your backyard. Except when they start grazing at four thirty in the morning.  Or when the guard geese see an imagined predator and honk loudly for several minutes. Or when a young kid uses your window screen as a scratching post and almost breaks the window in the process.  Yes, I’ve learned that raising small pasture animals is not quite the idyllic experience one might expect.

Knock knock!

Knock knock!

I had a little bit of experience with sheep care going into my internship, thanks to ANSCI 3800. But I learned a lot from solving various problems and getting hands on experience. Quails-R-Us has a mixed breed flock of about thirty ewes and a herd of about ten does. The animals are bred to off the farm rams and bucks once a year, and their offspring are either kept for breeding or sold for meat.  The flock has had excellent breeding success despite minimal culling, and nearly every ewe has two lambs a year.  The goats usually have one kid a year.  Birthing was over by the time I arrived, but it happens in the safety of the barn, using lambing jugs. At night, the sheep and goats seek out the shelter of the barn, and often spend the night inside. Despite often hearing coyotes at night from my room, the farm has minimal predator problems and lambs and kids are more likely to die from becoming tangled in the Electronet.  Ideally, the animals would rotate through the 30 acres of pasture of the farm evenly, grazing everything down before being moved to the next paddock, but the permanent electric fencing on the farm hasn’t worked in years so in reality the animals have free run of the entire farm, from pastures to neighbor’s fields to the flowers planted under the kitchen window.


On the pasture

I helped with a variety of tasks related to goat and sheep care, besides taking daily walks around the farm and untangling babies from the fencing.  I helped feed the animals in the morning for a few weeks.  In the weeks after birthing, Rick and Linda provide a little bit of grain in the morning mixed with vitamins and minerals to keep the animals healthy and to acclimate the babies to humans. One ewe had triplets, and her runt lamb, Mia, was bottlefed several times a day.  She is a very persuasive baby, and often chased after you and insisted on feeding even when it wasn’t feeding time.  My hilarious video of such encounter was too large to upload, but believe me, she was feisty. One of my first major husbandry tasks was shearing.  QRS hires a professional shearer, but he has limited availability, so while usually sheep are sheared before lambing, the QRS sheep were sheared in mid-June.  The sound of grain in a bucket brought them running into the barn in the middle of the day. We meticulously separated out the goats, kids, and lambs, which required a lot of patience and quick reflexes. The isolated ewes then were brought out one by one to be sheared and released. Several of the QRS sheep have Katahdin heritage, meaning they partially shed their wool.  An abundance of burdock and thistle in the pasture combined with this partially shod wool meant that the wool was nearly worthless, even by meat sheep standards.  It wasn’t worth our time to try to dry and sell it, and since wool is naturally fire retardant, we couldn’t burn it, so we left it in the pasture, where birds took fibers for their nests.

Hoof trimming was another fun challenge for me.  I’ve trimmed the hooves of sheep before but when faced with a large goat with a hoof problem, I was a bit lost.  The goat, named Cow for her black and white markings, was almost as strong as I was and much more insistent about what was going to happen. My first attempts, when I managed to pin her in place and lift her hoof, took off far too little of the excess keratin, and I eventually had to admit defeat and hand over responsibility to Ramone, who wasted no time getting to the heart of the issue and swiftly freed Cow from her painful hooves.  I helped disinfect her feet and gave her some grain for her trouble.  I’d like to think she eventually forgave me.

Towards the end of the summer, we did take the growing lambs and kids meant for butchery, now weaned, and isolate them in a side pasture with a permanent fence.  Corralling animals across several acres of pasture is an adventure, but with a team we got it done. When some animals were large enough to be taken to the butcher, we weighed them first, and placed them on the trailer.  And the lamb steaks and goat chorizo we got back were delicious.

Week 5: Potato Plague

This week I continued surveying and scouting as per usual however what was unusual was the high incidence of black leg observed in potatoes. Black leg is a bacterial disease in potatoes that can be either seed or air borne. An infected plant will yield inedible potatoes, so its management is essential. A particularly severe strain of new black leg has appeared in the seed pieces of many growers this year. Growers in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York have experienced a 10-50% infection rate of black leg in their fields. The previous strain of black leg would historically only infect 1% of potatoes. It is obvious therefore why many are referring this year’s black leg epidemic as “black leg on steroids”. No management strategies are available since the bacteria is present in the seed piece. Samples of the black leg have been shipped back to the seed producers to prevent such a severe infection in the future. It seems that Long Island potatoes could use a “leg” up. 

A potato infected with black leg, clearly inedible.

Everything is BIGGER in TX – Introduction

Case Steiger 450 and John Deere dirt scrapers.

Case Steiger 450 and John Deere dirt scrapers.

Seeding Sorghum into Tricale stubble.

No till planting sorghum into tricale stubble.

Most of the Quarter Sections are irritated with a  a sprinkler system them rotates on one center pivot so the crops must be planted in a circular pattern.

Most of the Quarter Sections are irritated with a a sprinkler system that rotates on one center pivot. As a result the crops must be planted in a circular pattern.

Week 1
Over ten years ago the Dairy I am interning with made the difficult decision to relocate from their dairy in northern California to the Panhandle of Texas. Over the past decade the Family has accumulated 4 individual dairy farms and a calf ranch and milk a total of 14,000 Holsteins. In addition to managing their cows company works approximately 16,000 aces, three quarters of which are under center pivot irrigation. The Texas Panhandle has experienced an extreme drought over the past 5 years depleting the ground water supply which they depend on by 25%.

This is there first year adding an intern position to their payroll of nearly 350 people. I found the job through the Network I have been creating at Cornell. A former professor introduced me to a Cornell alum who was offering the job.

My role as intern will consist of helping to improve and maintain the organization of their cropping operations in addition to completing basic tasks around the farm. Extensive networks of irrigation are an important factor for the farm profitability as the arable land provides over 75% of the feed for the dairy portion of the farm.

After a complete tour of all 5 farms and many introductions on the first day I was prepared to begin my role on the farm. The following day I learned how to operate a laser leveler moving earth from one location to another in order to prepare a foundation for a new hay barn to be constructed upon. Wednesday I received a 30 minute crash course on how to plant sorghum with a 32 row planter and operate John Deere’s Green Star software in order to plant sorghum, a drought tolerant crop commonly used for silage in Texas. Two and a half days later I already had 470 acres under my belt as my employers moved me to my next task. The main purpose of my intern position would be to gather information on each quarter section (an field consisting of 160acres) the farm owned. Over the next 7 weeks I will be gathering GPS coordinates, soil composition information and cropping records in oder to compose documents that will further improve the growers ability to efficiently produce high quality forages for 14,000 animals.

Field Scouting: Corn & Soybean CSI

An example of my scouting reports.

An example of my scouting reports.

Now that the corn and soybean fields have come up and the stands are well on their way, it’s prime time to be scouting the fields for early season disease, damage, and nutrient deficiency. These days are almost always spent by myself on a particular grower, driving around to about a dozen fields walking the crop, taking measurements, and recording observations with notes and pictures. Scouting for the top ten growers in my area has been assigned to me by my DSM as my regional project, one of the three projects that must be done in order to successfully complete my internship. This project had to provide a benefit to the sales region, and this gives my DSM and the Channel brand more communication touch-points throughout the season with the grower (we aim for about four main in-field connections from planting to harvest).

Now something that I have noticed about my experience with seed dealers in the Midwest versus seed dealers in the Northeast is that often, salesmen are only really there when the sale is being made and when the results are being calculated. At home in Iowa, our farm is used to having seed dealers and salesmen checking in with us at all stages of the growth process to ensure that we are satisfied with the product so far. This is uncommon for this area I am working in, and Channel is bringing that element into seed sales in this region of the US, as it was designed primarily to bring Monsanto-quality genetics with a higher level of personal service.

I collect my maps for the day and plan a route before I leave, mostly to save time and limit my driving distance so I don’t have to backtrack in a particular area. With my tools such as a seed pick, pocket field guide, spade, measuring tape, and a pretty strong agronomy background, I’m off to check up on the crops. The first field of the day is soybeans, which seems to be the popular crop this year. I walk out into the field a ways and start by looking over the leaves for foliar damage or feeding. Next, I dig up the plant to observe the roots. All too often, this part is overlooked and it is important to the overall level of plant health. I see some small nodules starting to form, but a few signs of root limiting with the soil compaction as a result of a no-till system. I notice some leaf discoloration in the wetter areas of the field, which could be the result of numerous things. I have an idea of what disease it could be, but just to be sure I refer to my field guide. Eventually I find the page and my suspicions are confirmed: this grower has a little Brown Spot, which is not unusual for the cool, wet weather. I do a few quick stand counts, noting that the population looks good, and finish up the walkthrough while taking a few pictures.

In the cornfields, the procedure is fairly similar (it’s just harder to walk through, especially when the corn gets tall). Because of the early May frost this part of the country received, some of the corn was damaged after planting. If it didn’t corkscrew back into the ground after imbibing cold water as it germinated, the corn plant shows some signs of frost damage on the leaves, or a few didn’t even emerge. This was an issue with quite a few growers this year, but the reality is that you can’t control the weather. I see some cases of phosphorus deficient in a few fields and a lack of sulfur in others, all of which can be fixed by fertilizer applications. A few weeds are starting to sprout up in fields, so I make a note of what kinds I see and perhaps make a spray recommendation.

Taking more photos, I see that some of these fields have issues with compaction as well, and that the end rows are particularly behind in growth stage as compared to the majority of the field. Field signs aren’t up yet, and my DSM and I probably won’t place them until after the corn tassels, but I know what varieties are in which fields with my maps, and it’s easy to see which ones are performing better. I make a mental note to report my observations on this to my DSM – he’ll find it interesting. I pull a corn plant out (they’re still small enough where I don’t have to dig them) and look at the roots. No visible rootworm feeding, which is more of an issue where I am from rather than the NE. So far, so good: I’ll be sure to check back up on this grower’s fields in another few days.

With all of my pictures and notes, I head back to my apartment at the end of the day to type up my reports. This is very important, as the reports have all of my comments and pictures that I can share with my grower and DSM in a detailed format. I create the write-ups and have my DSM proofread them later in the evening through email before I send it out the farmer, just to make sure all of my information is accurate and consistent. In the morning, I get an email back from the farmer asking if he should put down some in-season nitrogen, to which I reply it may be a beneficial application. Being able to share information and make recommendations with my farmers has been a both a rewarding and challenging experience, pushing me to think critically and problem solve, as well as put my agricultural knowledge to the test.

Root development.    Phosphorus deficiency.     Brown spot on soybean.


Root development, phosphorous deficiency, and soybean brown spot.


Week 4: Survey Galore

famrstandThe rain and survey Gods have answered my prayers and gave me an absolutely awful rainy day on Monday so I could catch up on surveying. I spent the entirety of Monday calling growers and setting up interviews with them. I was also driving from farm to farm on North Fork Long Island administering the survey. I was able to use a tablet and Qualtrics online for the first time which enhanced the efficiency of the survey process. In one day I was able to complete eight surveys and finally catch up on my quotas. The rest of the week I then spent scouting. I encountered new crops to scout such as raspberries, blackberries, and hopps. The weather has been absolutely amazing and being able to spend all day relishing in it has been even better!



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