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Introduction to my summer internship

My name is Chutao Liu and this summer I join the Cornell Nutrient Management Spear Program (NMSP) to do my internship. My project is mainly focused on the optimum nitrogen rate and harvest time for forage sorghum. Besides, I also help other members in NMSP on a wide range of field works such as plot setup, soil sampling and forage harvest. It has been a great experience to work with so many friendly people who would patiently instruct me on establishing field experiment, using various equipment for field research and conducting statistical analysis on collected data. I have learnt a lot about the crop production practice in New York state and the NMSP’s research on farm nutrient management. This eight-week internship will definitely benefit my further study in agronomy by providing me a combination of both hands-on experience and knowledge of conducting research.

Since I mainly focus on the nutrient management for forage sorghum, it is necessary for me to learn some background knowledge about the sorghum production. Sorghum is not as famous as other common grain crops such as wheat or corn, yet it still plays an important role in agriculture. Tons of sorghum produced each year are used for animal feeds and thus support the meat and milk production. Besides, sorghum is also popular as a staple food in areas that often suffer water deficiency due to its tolerance to drought. There is also an increasing need of sorghum for syrup and alcohol production, especially in places where the high price of corn presses producers to look for alternative sources.

I started my internship in the end of May when the sorghum had not been planted. Hence I was able to see the whole process of field establishment and planting.  Seeing the planter moving across the field, I wondered that whether I would also have the chance to drive some ag-machinery in the future.

Field works are always attractive to me, and I will enjoy them.

Rain Is A Good Thing

Luke Bryan said it right- rain makes corn… and rain is a good thing. Unfortunately over the course of my internship we have barely had an inch of rain. It has been at least 3 weeks since we last had any measurable rain and the crops are suffering because of that.

Sorghum plotted in the test plot

Sorghum plotted in the test plot

Over the past few weeks, I have been taking care of my test plots and watering them as needed. Which, in this weather, is at least once a week. The two main plots that I have been monitoring are located in Hall and Seneca Falls, NY which has not been ideal this summer. At least once a week I water the plots with a 1500 gallon tank full of water and fire hose.

Watering the test plot

Watering the test plot

Both of the plots are mostly cover crops, however, the one located in Hall has forages, alfalfa, grass mixes, and organic corn. The heat has made most of the cover and alfalfa plots burn up and die quickly along with the corn. In hopes of salvaging what has yet to burn up or die, I channel my inner firefighter and break out the hose. The test plot located in Seneca Falls is actually a plot that will be shown during the Empire Farms Days at the beginning of August ans is located right on the show site. The owner and operator of  the land and show has graciously installed an irrigation system to keep the plot watered.

Hopefully the weather God’s have some mercy and let the rain fall soon.

Cynthia Sias: Summer Internship Experience with Texas A&M University

My name is Cynthia Sias and this summer I am engaging in a weed science research lab under the direction of Texas A&M Professor, Dr. Muthu Bagavathiannan (Dr. Muthu). Over the course of nine weeks I will be working with Dr. Muthu’s eight graduate students, each studying a different area of weed science and responsible for several projects. My time here at A&M will mostly be spent with two of his graduate students, Tabby Liu and Blake Young.

These first couple of weeks I was able to meet the team and began helping with Tabby’s research plots. Her biggest project going on for the bulk of her summer is a trial that is being held at the Eagle Lake Rice Research station in Eagle Lake, Texas. This is a common garden study that has four replications focused on differences in growth of 30 different barnyard grass populations that have been collected from 30 different sites all across the state of Texas. This part of the study is going to last about three months including the entirety of the summer, and in the end the 30 different populations will be evaluated to compare for differences in growth and structure. Barnyard grass is a weed that is an annual problem for not only rice producers but also for corn, soybean, and potato producers among many others. Some methods used for suppressing this weed upon germination include cultivation and herbicide use and many times both methods are used together. So far, after transplanting the barnyard grass to a field where rice was planted as protection rows, there is evident differences in germination rates as well as the growth structure that is varying across the different samples. Some samples have shown more horizontal elongation whereas other are more vertically elongated. These different physiologies might have an impact on the way that farmers take action when trying to control for the weed. Another important aspect of this study also surrounds checking these different populations for resistance to commonly used herbicides. Increasing weed resistance to herbicides is becoming an increasing problem, not only for rice producers in Texas, but for farmers in general. If an herbicide is used year after year on the same crop, weeds become immune to it and eventually the herbicide is no longer efficient when controlling for weeds in a production field.

A second experiment that is also taking place at the same research center is a smaller study that is centered on understanding emergence rates of the Nealley’s Sprangletop weed which is also becoming an increasing problem for rice producers in Texas. This study involved setting a quadrat in the ground and broadcasting the seed, replicating seven times. Tabby then returns to the research station every week to check germination rates and growth patterns. The main purpose of this study is to evaluate germination in a controlled environment to evaluate how much of a potential problem Nealley’s Sprangletop may become in future years. Studies like this can provide information about rates of emergence that future generations can expect on a production field as well as potential ways to control for emergence. In addition, soil sampling can provide information about seed beds and their contents found in a rice field.

For the next blog I will be sharing what I learned while working with Blake in his Johnson grass trials!

Not all the work is performed on field. Many of the transplants are started in the greenhouse which create controlled environments.

Not all the work is performed on the field. While working in the greenhouse I learned about small frogs that like wet and humid environments. There is more to agriculture than just the crops!


30 populations of Barn yard grass from 30 different location sites in Texas.

Tabby’s Rice field of 30 populations of Barn yard grass from 30 different location sites in Texas.


Travel More, Sleep Less

This summer I have a dual internship with Seedway and CHR Hansen, based out of Hall, NY. My internship looks at both ends of the agricultural spectrum; the plant and the animal. The two companies work together; Seedway sells CHR Hansen product and CHR Hansen helps farmers manage their plants. I wasn’t expecting to be a part of both companies this summer, but to my surprise it is very interesting and helpful to see agriculture from both points of view.

When I work with Seedway, I maintain forage and grain plots, I deliver seed, and scout fields for pests, diseases, and any other problems the farmers may be encountering. On the other hand, with CHR Hansen, I take corn silage and haylage samples along with manure samples and analyze them in order to help the farmer get the most nutrients and increase the milk they are getting from their cows.

Stepping foot into NH

Stepping foot into NH

During June, I spent a whole week working with CHR Hansen and we traveled up to Vermont and New Hampshire to do some testing. We met with one of the CHR Hansen dealers in Vermont along with a CHR Hansen employee who works in Brazil. Throughout the week, we went to numerous farms and took countless samples. We also presented our results to a few farms, showing them improvements they could make in packing or chopping or how our product would help eliminate their spoilage. Many of the days were long days, not reaching our hotel until close to midnight and then leaving before the sun rose the next morning.

All in all, the week was one that was unforgettable. I put my feet in two states I had never been and with this internship that seems like it won’t be the end of my travels.

Alfalfa, Forage, and Cover crop plot

Alfalfa, Forage, and Cover crop plot

Penn State Shaker box results

Shakin’ Up the Dirt

It’s hard to believe that I’m already halfway through my summer with the NMSP here at Cornell!

One of my recent projects has been running an experiment testing the distribution of aggregate sizes in dried soil samples. Aggregates are clumps of soil particles. The larger the aggregates in a soil, the less susceptible the soil is to erosive forces. The soils we are studying have been treated with various nitrogen fertilizer requirements, liquid manure injections or composted manure.


An example of a sieve we use to separate aggregates into their respective sizes

The manure treatments are applied at a rate to fulfill either the nitrogen or phosphorus requirement of the plants (mocking N vs P-Based Management). Previous years’ samples have shown that the soils treated with composted manure tend to have a higher proportion of larger aggregates as compared to the fertilizer and liquid manure counterparts.  We are looking to see if these trends still hold true. We use stacks of different sized sieves attached to an automated shaker to correctly partition out the soil aggregates into their sized groups, and then weigh each group to determine the proportions of aggregates in each size category.

We have compiled the data, and, after much statistical analysis, we have found that there is indeed a significant difference in the aggregate distributions across the treatments via the ANOVA test. It has been really exciting to see data support the hypotheses!


Measuring out the plots before sampling

Among the work I’ve been doing on our own project, I’ve also had the experience to contribute to other projects in our lab. We recently went to western New York to take soil samples and growth measurements on some on-farm trial plots. It’s been great to get exposure to the wide variety of projects others are working on as well as to work with such a diverse, talented, and quite frankly, entertaining, group of individuals!


NMSP Interns


Flashback Friday to My First Week as an Intern

This summer I am interning within the Cornell Nutrient Management Spear Program working on the Sustainable Dairy Project. We are looking at the effects of N-based and P-based liquid manure and dairy composted manure solid application on soil health. Dairy manure and composted manure solids are often distributed over fields according to the nitrogen demand. This, however, often leads to excess phosphorous being added to the soil. This phosphorous is often leached, ultimately leading to eutrophication. By adding manure and composted solids to fields based on the phosphorus requirements (instead of nitrogen requirements), we can reduce leaching of phosphorus.

Field Z

Aerial Image of our plots at the Musgrave Research Farm- Aurora, NY Photo compliment of Google Earth

Previous studies with this program have shown that these applications do not fulfill the nutritional needs of the plants and many crops under these treatments show signs of nitrogen limitation. It has, therefore, been recommended that nitrogen fertilizers be added as a supplementation to fulfill those needs. This program has studied this concept for over 15 years on the same plots at the Musgrave Research Farm. This summer, we will be looking at soil health in the current alfalfa rotation.

I started off my internship by reading through previous and related studies on this matter to familiarize myself with what is known and yet to be known about the switch from N to P-based management, manure management, and greenhouse gas emissions from manure applications. Soil samples were retrieved in April, before planting. We then sieved and ground soil samples after drying. Now that this dirty work was out of the way, we could start to experiment!

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