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Sarah Hetrick

Adventures at the Manure Expo

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to travel to London, Ohio with fellow intern Nicole to attend the North American Manure Expo. As we were approaching the end of our internships, it was a great time to get out of the office and connect with farmers and extension associates out-of-state.

Upon arriving at the expo, the first thing we did was venture to the equipment. Nicole and I are not from farming homes so we were wowed by the large tractors with tires taller than us! We were amazed by the size and power of the equipment. We spend a lot of time talking about spreading manure and different management practices, but it was neat to actually see the equipment that carries out these practices.

We then hopped on the bus to participate in the beef tour. One stop along the way was an organic beef farm. They have slats upon which they feed their cows, which was interesting to learn about as none of the farms I have seen in NY use slats. Slats are “flooring” under the pens which is constructed of slightly separated boards so manure can fall through the cracks and be collected underneath the pens.

After spending some time cooling off in the shade and hydrating, we hopped around to different sessions. One that really peaked my interest was a session promoting a new product that separates manure into clean water, solid pellets and a liquid byproduct. The latter two can be used as nutrient sources for growing crops while the water can be used to clean parlors, or even for animal consumption! The session was trying to sell the system to the farmers that were there, but it sparked my attention as systems such as these could make farms more sustainable if cost-effective. Finding the most efficient ways to use our resources and recycle nutrients is key in today’s agricultural systems so it was interesting to think about this systems’ potential in farms in NY.

We later ran into fellow Cornellian Jordi whose family has a dairy farm nearby. I went to tour the farm later that night. Jordi’s parents came to the US in 2002 from the Netherlands and have since built the farm from the bottom up and now manage a herd of 2000 Holsteins. Their farm operates with very low inputs and use their manure as direct fertilizer on fields after collecting sand to reuse for bedding. It was a really neat experience to actually experience the farm that Jordi has spent so much time telling us about!

Overall, I had a super fun time at the expo, and learned a lot through the sessions and even through visiting Jordi’s farm! It was a great way to start to bring my internship to a close as I could bring together what I learned this summer and see its applications. I had a really great summer in the NMSP and am excited to continue my work on the project this fall!

Reachin’ Out

I really can’t believe I’m in my 9th week of my internship-it’s all gone by so fast! The past two weeks I’ve spent a great deal of time preparing extension materials. Although it was great to present our studies to the local farming community at the field day two weeks ago, field days are certainly not the only way to connect with farmers to share our findings! The NMSP publishes scientific papers to journals often, but we also try to accompany these papers with extension documents of various sorts to be able to share with farmers from all over NY state.

The first extension material I’ve been working on is an agronomy fact sheet. The topic I’ve been writing about is aggregate stability with manure management. Aggregate stability is such an important component of soil health because it dictates and is impacted by several other soil properties such as: pore space, infiltration, organic matter, etc. Although many inherent properties of the soil will affect aggregate stability, we can manage fields in a way that favors the building of aggregate stability. For example, we have found that by adding organic sources of nutrients, such as liquid manure or composted manure, to a corn/alfalfa rotation, we can improve aggregate stability and the overall health of the soil.


Infiltration and aggregate stability differences between soil treated with compost and soil treated with inorganic fertilizer

The second extension material I’ve been focusing on is a What’s Cropping Up? article summarizing our paper on soil properties. What’s Cropping Up? is a bi-monthly digital newspaper distributed by Cornell’s Soil and Crop Sciences department targeting farmers and farm advisors. The goal is to give an easy to understand, concise summary of published journal articles. We are working on finish an article about soil health changes when shifting form N-based to P-based manure and compost application rates.

In the coming week we hope to put together a video clip demonstrating infiltration differences between a soil treated with inorganic nutrients and soil treated with organic sources of manure. In practice, we have seen stark differences and really want to show people how much of a difference 15 years of applying organic sources of nutrients can make on a field.

Hopefully these materials will be useful to farmers across NY in making the best management decisions for their fields!

Aurora Field Day

IMG_9047A big part of what our NMSP team does is extension work. We conduct a lot studies, but none of it will ever be significant if we cannot effectively communicate the things we learn with farmers to improve NY s agriculture. Most of our research plots are located in Aurora, NY at Musgrave Research Farm. To better present our findings to farmers and farm advisors, the farm hosts an annual field day where various groups may create short 20-25 minute presentations. Because I am working on the Dairy Cap project (currently in its 16th year here at Cornell) our presentation was titled “Tracking Soil Changes from Long-Term Manure Applications”. We talked to the farmers, farm advisors, and other extension agents who attended primarily about changes over time in corn and hay yields as well as soil organic matter trends.


Amir, myself, and Karl preparing to present to the first group

I worked with Amir Sadeghpour, the post-doc whom I’ve been working with on the Dairy Cap project, as well as Karl Czymmek, PRO-DAIRY senior extension associate.  Amir and Karl have much more experience with the project and so they took the lead on discussing the data and long term trends, while I focused on a visual to show the audience that the changes go beyond numbers on paper. We also teamed up with Amy Langner, a NRCS agent, who was able to show us how to demonstrate a rain infiltration test. Amy was super helpful, extremely enthusiastic, and encouraged me every step of the way!


display of soil clods from various treatments, notice the difference between continuous grass clods (far left) and 0N clods (second to last bucket lid)

I presented the crowd with a display of soil clods from soils treated with inorganic and organic fertility amendments (0 inputs, inorganic 150 lb/ acre N, high rate of compost, high rate of manure, low rate of manure, and continuous grass) as well as with the infiltration test demonstrating the lack of aggregate stability in the 150 lb/ acre soil leading to surface crusting as compared to the soil that received high rates of compost which, generally, has shown us better infiltration with its increased aggregate stability.


mock rain/infiltration demonstration, soil from inorganic (left) vs organic (right) fertility treatments after being “rained on”

Luckily, the infiltration demo worked spectacularly for the first crowd! The differences were very apparent and it really sparked the audience’s attention. The second demo did not show clear differences between the two, which was disappointing, but it definitely helped us to practice thinking on the spot as we continued to defend our findings, even when the demo wasn’t cooperating.

Overall, we had a really fun day connecting with new people and spending time together outside of the office. It was a really great opportunity to practice my extension skills and share our enthusiasm about soil with the audience!




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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