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Cherry Training Systems: UFOs and KGBs-But Not Flying Saucers or Russians

During my time at Cornell Orchards, I’ve learned about management systems for a variety of fruits. One of the newest fruit systems in the Orchards are UFO and KGB cherry training methods. When left to their own defenses, cherry trees can grow to heights that make the tree harder to harvest and less efficient in fruit production. Without management, cherry trees have a central leader, have strong apical dominance, and can take years to produce a fruit crop.

This is what the cherry trees look like without any intervention. You can see that a large amount of the  fruit crop is located above the area where pickers can reach without a ladder, and much of the tree is not utilized in fruit production. These are sour cherries at the Lansing location of Cornell Orchards. (they made great dessert tarts!)

To combat the problems of natural cherry tree growth patterns, faculty at Cornell Orchards have planted cherry trees to be managed in Upright Fruiting Offshoot (UFO) and Kym Green Bush (KGB) systems. These systems allow the trees to be planted in higher densities than natural growth systems, and allow for fruit to be located more conveniently for pickers.

Recently, my fellow interns and I helped set up the trellising for the UFO systems. These trees are trained to create a narrow fruiting wall, much like grapevines. The trunk in UFO systems is trained to grow in a horizontal pattern low to the ground, and have new growth grow vertically on fruiting wires about every 8 inches. Here is a picture of the UFO system at the Orchards:

The trunk is trained and tied down to a lower wire, and each shoot is tied upwards with rubber wire to a top line. With this system, we used rubber to tie the branches upright instead of wire. This was done because cherries and other stone fruit are susceptible to bacterial canker. This disease can fester through cuts during wet weather, and the rubber may prevent wounds in branches.

The other system we have at the orchards is the KGB system. Here is one of the trees at the orchards that was trained in the KGB system.

In this system, the shoots are pruned regularly to keep the tree bush height. This keeps the vigor of the tree low, and keeps all fruit at eye level or lower. KGB pruning keeps shoots productive and efficient for fruit growth.

One of the best parts of this internship has been quality control and taste tests on the amazing cherry crop! They tasted just as good as they looked!

Data Processing

A picture of what the greenseeker data looks like once it is loaded into ArcMap. Each line accounts for the L,N, and R strips.

Once the data is collected, it is time to make use of it. The NDVI  data from the greenseeker is put into ArcMap. ArcMap is a software program that allows for the spatial analysis of relationships. It is extremely useful not in gathering information but in manipulating it in order for conclusions to be made.

First, the data is cleaned and trimmed so there are no outlying values present. Points are added to make the the polygons that will create the final data set. Once the polygons are made around each strip, the join function will be used. The join tool uses one data set’s attributes to and fixes that to another’s location. Each strip gets its one attributes. Then from that the difference in NDVI can be determined between each strip.

A picture of the data set from the joined data sets. It may not look like much, but it holds lots of important information.

This is done for each and every field. A report is made of all the fields. The increased NDVI in the Nrich strip supports that the corn is healthiest where it has sufficient nutrients. It is also worth noting that the average NDVI for all fields that were recorded at V6 is higher than the other fields at V5 and V4. This type of approach can give us insight on what areas of the field are the healthiest in order to manage accordingly.

A picture of the final report of the NDVI for all fields including the average, and the average according to the stage when the data was collected.

Data Collection

A picture of myself taking soil samples in a strip.

Just before the side-dress nitrogen fertilizer is applied to the corn fields, it is time to do a lot of field work. To begin, the PSNT (pre-side dress nitrogen test) is taken. They are soil samples taken in relation to the GPS points in the field. It requires 8 cores of soil from 12 inches deep. Along with that is sample of 8 cores at 8 inches deep to measure the concentration of other macro nutrients like potassium and phosphorous. Each field has a L, R, and an N strip. The N strip is where the extra fertilizer is added to. Depending n the size of the field, the number of points vary. In some fields there may be up to 19. That is 114 soil samples for one field!

Another job is to walk the greenseeker. The greenseeker is a device that measures Normal Digital Vegetative Index (NDVI). It is used to quantify vegetation by measuring the difference between near-infrared (which vegetation strongly reflects) and red light (which vegetation absorbs). This is one way to estimate the potential yield.

ndvi formula

The formula for NDVI. NIR stands for the near-infrared light reflected and Red is the amount red light absorbed.

Covering each strip does take a long time since there is only one greenseeker. It’s especially grueling during the heat and humidity of summer while keeping at a constant speed at 3 feet above the canopy.

A picture of myself walking the greenseeker at Aurora.

Drones flying can be very challenging.  Weather and surrounding objects play a large role in the success of a drone flight for a particular field.  The drone is responsible for taking multi spectral satellite images that measures the amount of reflected light by the plants from the sun.

A close view of the drone used to take light images.


It has been an insane period of time traveling across the New York from Peru, to Hudson Falls, and to Perry. In total 30 fields and 5 research plots were soil sampled, had greenseeker data, and drone images taken. A total of 3147 soil samples! The next part of the project is processing the data in order to make sense of it all.


Hello everyone my name is Travis Mattison and I and currently a junior in the Agricultural Sciences Major. I am doing my internship this summer with a precision agronomy company out of Rochester, NY called Agrinetix.  Agrinetix has its hands in all aspects of agriculture from selling GPS guidance systems and autosteer to fertility management plans, water management,  spray and fertilizer application control systems as well as a GIS department that does EC/field mapping, NDVI imagery and yield and planter mapping. This summer my main focus is working as a technology integrator installing and maintaining Trimble Guidance systems, 360 Yield center products, Precision planting products and Raven control systems.

The First two weeks were an extremely busy planting season. I was on the road almost everyday traveling to different farms across New York state mostly servicing Trimble GPS systems controlling auto-steer in the tractor as well as planter controls. After the hectic first couple weeks myself and the other tech integrator Chris went out to Ohio State University Agriculture Research and Development Center for a two day training conference put on by Trimble on a new product they released. The release was for the GFX750 display and NAV 900 controller as well as the Muller ISO ecu. This was a great experience receiving training on the product as well as networking with others in the precision agriculture industry from all over the United States and Canada.

Males, Mites, and Aphids

The workload for these last two weeks has steadily increased. The pests have gradually been increasing in the fields and I have begun to see more aphids and a few two-spotted spider mites. However, since the temperature hasn’t been as high as it usually is by this time of year, there are still not too many problems with pests. We are expecting temperatures to increase in July and two-spotted spider mites to become more of an issue then.

Look Closely to See a Two-Spotted Spider Mite!

During week three, I found an abundance of aphids in one section of a field. Ultor, an aphicide, was sprayed on just those twelve rows which terminated the aphid population.


The newest addition to our daily schedule is roguing. Roguing is scouting for male plants. The fields we are roguing had high seed percentages per barrel this past fall. Therefore, it is our job to find them, mark them, and cut them down. Later in the season, other workers will come in and remove the hills that we’ve marked to ensure that the males do not grow back next year. It is usually very obvious to spot the male plants because they have visibly large pollen sacs attached to the bines, as pictured below. However, if the plant hasn’t fully expressed itself yet, it can be very difficult to spot male plants which means very thorough checks must be made to ensure none are missed. My colleague and I scout every other row of a field to check for males. If a field is abundant in males, it can take us around six hours to complete a ninety row field. Therefore, we break up the time spent scouting over a few days. There are some bines that can also be hermaphroditic, due to an environmental stress that the bine may be under. We have to severe these bines as well to ensure that pollination does not occur.

Male Bines 

Hermaphroditic Bine

Another task which I have been assigned with is taking soil measurement readings in two fields. My supervisor manages the irrigation in these fields. The water conductivity of the soil is highly variable in these two fields, which means that soil moisture must be closely tracked to ensure that the bines aren’t receiving too much water to cause leaching, and so that they don’t dry out. My job is to take three readings in each of the eight zones so that I can develop a graph that shows the soil moisture for each zone in the field. My supervisor then makes decisions on the length of time the irrigation will run and how many times a day these fields will be irrigated.

To finalize this post, there are hops growing now! Below you can see baby cones developing on Simcoe and larger cones that have started growing on Palisade. If you can’t tell by the picture below, I am absolutely loving working with the hops!

Baby Simcoe cones

Palisade Cones

Nrich Strips

Corn is an extremely important crop to agriculture in New York State and nitrogen is the most limiting nutrient. The work being done my supervisor in the Nutrient Management Spear Program is to study how added nitrogen affects corn yields. The studies are called Nrich strip trials.

In order to begin the study, fields with at least three years of yield data are selected, preferably large ones since they typically have more variability. The yield data is arranged to represent 4 different quadrants in the field.

Quadrant 1- High yielding, low variability

Quadrant 2- high yielding, high variability

Quadrant 3- Low yielding, high variability

Quadrant 4- Low yielding, low variability

A week after planting, a strip spanning the length of the field is laid out. It is where the extra nitrogen fertilizer is applied at side dress time, usually 75 lbs. more per acre. The strips are about two chopper or combine passes wide in order to draw accurate conclusions.


A quadrant map of two fields selected for this project. The gray marks indicate the area for extra nitrogen fertilizer.


Once the trial is set up, GPS points are taken in the field. The points are the locations from where the pre-side dress nitrogen test (PSNT) will be taken. A PSNT measures the amount of nitrate (NO3-) in the soil. Nitrate is an inorganic form of nitrogen that plants most readily take up. Along with the PSNT, drone images, and green seeker data is taken when there are six collard leaves on the plants, otherwise known as V6 stage. That is where I will begin my next post.


A hand-held GPS.

GPS points taken from the field are downloaded into Arc Map to create a map like this. The white rectangle represents the Nrich strip.




















This is a diagram explaining what collard leaves on a corn plant look like.

Sample don’t trample

The golf hole cutter made work easy.

This week we completed the drought experiment at Leland. The experiment was to see how climate change can impact plant competitive ability under drought and non-drought conditions. Last year the experiment was done with morning glory, and this year it is with bur cucumber. The bur cucumber was transplanted from a corn field in Barton to our field in Leland.

We then placed 16 rain shelters into the field. The plots in the field varied with different bur cucumber densities between corn rows, and each density had a drought and non-drought area. Then we put moisture sensors 6 inches into the ground. Rain water was collected in gutters and dispersed by tile drains. As we did moisture readings each week I got an idea of how well the shelters were working.

Bur cucumber within corn row.

When collecting moisture readings I had to be careful not to trample the crops. This is a challenge when I collect Rye or Kernza samples. But in this field I had to be extra careful not to get caught in the bur cucumber or trip over the cable holding down the shelters. The Bur cucumber grew vigorously next to the corn using its tendrils to climb. For five weeks data was recorded. We discovered that a rodent had bitten one of the cables where were finding negative data. It is visible obvious that the corn under the shelters has been stunted. We also collected corn height for each subplot. Using the data we’ve collected we will get a better understanding of how climate change impacts weed species’ competitive ability.

Here is a video that helps visualize the extent of the low precipitation in Ithaca: Taughannock_Falls_drought-14cis42

The Nutrient Management Spear Program

Hey everyone, I’m John Harvey, an Agricultural Sciences major. I would like to talk about my first weeks as an intern with the Nutrient Management Spear Program.

Honestly, I had never worked outside of the family farm for the summer. I previously would be on the farm in an environment that I had been accustomed to being in. Same people. Same location. The day I first arrived at Morrison Hall, I was caught in a whirlwind. Not a person that I had ever seen before. Reality hit me of how much of a different setting this was from what I had been used to. I realized how little I knew about data collection and precision Ag. I knew from then on what it would take to help the program in as many ways as possible.

From soil sampling to flying drones, there is always something to do. Everyday there are hands on learning experiences. Somehow, I am able to manage the many tasks that I have to do within the program. Most importantly, the major benefits of being part of the NMSP is the people.

It is an honor to work with this team. We share common goals and interests. I realize good laughs is the way to form close bonds between one another.  Everyday, I look forward to what not only the NMSP has to offer me, but what I have to offer the NMSP.

Hanging out with the team in Canton, NY From Left to right: Me, Dillip, Greg, Tulsi, Angel

Sarah Gruntmeir-Cornell Orchards

Hey guys! My name is Sarah Gruntmeir and I’m a rising senior here at Cornell. I come from Oklahoma, and have a wheat and cattle production background. This summer, I’m working at Cornell Orchards with the pomology faculty on a variety of fruits. I chose this internship due to my previous (and current) love of eating apples and touring orchards. The first few weeks of the job have included weeding, training trees, battling groundhogs, setting up infrastructure for trees, and working on various research projects. Research projects at the orchard have taken me across New York State, where I have learned about crop load management strategies, positioning and training practices, and tons more. This internship has given me the opportunity to learn about a different side of agriculture than my background provided and given me hands on experience in a field that interests me.

Here are a few pictures of the fruit crops I’ve spent time with!

(The above picture is from LynOaken Farms. This is a farm we traveled to for crop load management research in western New York. This research experiment was conducted with Cornell Extension. In this picture, I am thinning the tree to a specific number of fruit previously determined by researchers)








above: yummy strawberries from insect exclusion and fertigation trials. I even got to take home a quart after the data was collected!









above: blueberries becoming more ripe by the day!








above: apple thinning to remove clusters and help the tree reduce biennial fruiting patterns








above: hearty kiwis, which, to my previous lack of knowledge, grow well in New York!


Stay tuned for future posts, where I’ll explain in depth the many aspects and projects included in my internship!

-Sarah Gruntmeir, 2018 intern

Weed ecology internship

Ivy Leaf Morning Glory with herbicide symptoms

Greetings from Ithaca! My name is Danilo Pivaral. I am going to be a senior agricultural sciences major. Although I grew up in Chicago, I have wanted to contribute to the food supply chain that fails many neighborhoods, by studying agriculture. This summer I am an intern in the Weed Ecology and Management lab at Cornell. As part of the lab I work on a couple different projects such as, the perennials project, seedling emergence, and drought experiment. My interest in sustainability led me to the perennial grain project, growing intermediate wheatgrass and rye. In the past five weeks I have helped pull weeds at the Musgrave Research farm and fields in Newfield and Ovid. The weeds we have mostly targeted are wild mustard and hairy vetch. These were controlled to prevent them from pollinating and reseeding for next year. Pulling the vetch was very satisfying and had to be put in bags and dumped away from the field because vetch seed continues to form even when pulled. The satisfaction came from freeing up a cluster of Kernza by pulling out a vetch from stem closest to the ground. Although weeds are an issue to farmers, they can be appreciated for their beauty and resilience to cultivation and herbicides.

My experience as a home gardener has been limited to hand weeding. Though it is fun spending time outside weeding, herbicide application seems like an adaptable technology. This Internship will help me prepare for the weeds class in the fall and help me find a career in agriculture. By learning about how weeds are controlled in different fields, I will have another cultivation tool under my belt.

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