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A long, wet Spring

Black Cutworm

This summer I am interning at Carolina-Eastern Vail, which is a fertilizer and crop service company with several locations in eastern and central New York. They not only sell and apply both fertilizers and pesticides, but they also are a DuPont Pioneer seed distributor. They handle application and distribution of these products to growers from central New York to western New England and everywhere in between. Another service that this company offers is crop scouting to it’s growers, which is a large part of what my internship has been thus far.

Interning in a large dairy area near Salem, NY has allowed me to see many different fields while working with a number of dairymen and women and, this year, observe the effects that a cold, wet spring can have on all crops. Farmers throughout the eastern part of the state have had an incredibly tough start to the growing season, with only about half of the corn being planted as of June 1st. However, conditions have turned around slightly as of late, and agronomists at CaroVail believe at this point that most farmers have stopped planting, with the exception of some shorter day silage corns.

One of the many pests I observed early in the spring is pictured above, and that is black cutworm. This creature tends to show up in stands of corn where there was a rye cover crop, or old grass sod that was turned under. The cutworm feeds on the root systems of the grass and rye, and then after the cover crop is killed, resort to the corn crop. They are easier to find during the night or in the early morning hours, as they do most of their feeding at night.

Bindweed

Another pest that I have been tracking heavily in corn this spring is bindweed. Bindweed is a perennial that grows in a vine and can devastate corn crops. It has a tendency to form a green wall on the stand of corn, making the corn damaging to any harvesting equipment. It can pop up anywhere, grows fast, and is very resilient to herbicide injury. This is definitely a weed to lookout for!

As the growing season continues, the weather is beginning to straighten out, and the fields are starting to dry up (for the most part). It will be interesting to see what mother nature has in store for the rest of the summer.

All About Ag!

I spent a lot of time the last couple of weeks out of the office and out in the field. With finally some nice weather, I was so glad to be able to spend many of my days outdoors! One of the main events that we had is called Agstravaganza. Agstravaganza is a two-day event held at the county fairgrounds. About a dozen fourth grade classes from the area schools come each day to learn about all of the different avenues of agriculture. I ran a station about 4-H and why agriculture is important to us, as well as played a few agriculture-based games. It is a really great way for students to learn about what agriculture is and everything that is included in it.

Then, the following week the local fifth grade classes had a field trip again put on by Cooperative Extension at a local dairy farm. The McMahon’s own E-Z Acres, where they milk around 700 Holstein cows. Again, this two-day event provides the ins and outs of a dairy farm with the classes visiting around ten stations throughout the farm, ranging from hoof trimming to equipment and soil health. I ran the calf station, where the students learned about calf housing, nutrition and the life of a calf on the farm. It was a really fun experience sharing knowledge that I am passionate about and spreading the importance of dairy and agriculture to the students.

This past week, I spent most of my afternoons out in corn fields getting a sunburn (I forgot sunscreen!). Janice, the fields crop specialist, has three different cornfields that we are doing research on this summer. Each field has fifteen plots, with each plot having either 36 or 24 rows in each, depending on the size of the field. Different fungicides and amounts will be sprayed on the different plots; the first field being sprayed today. It was my job this week to visit all of the fields and measure plant populations on all of the plots in each field. While it might seem like a simple task, it was quite time consuming. I had to do three populations in each plot and there were fifteen plots per field. That’s a lot of measuring! The different plots are divided out by the flags, as you can see in the picture.

The best, yet most intimidating thing in the last couple weeks are the chicken eggs that are currently in my spare bedroom. The eggs themselves are not at all intimidating, who doesn’t love little chicken eggs! What is intimidating is that I’m in charge of hatching them! Each year for the county fair we hatch eggs for the 4-H building so that the kids can see them throughout fair week. It takes 21 days for them to hatch, so for the days that are left, I’m in charge. That’s a lot of pressure, I hope I don’ t mess it up somehow! Until next time, stay tuned for my next blog and hopefully the eggs will still be in tact!

Let the New Adventures Begin!

This summer I am spending my time in Cortland County, working in the Cornell Cooperative Extension Office. I just officially finished my first week and it is off to a great start! The neat thing is that I am not only working in one avenue of extension, but many. My sole focus for the summer is education, both youth and adult. A lot of my time here will be with the 4-H educator, Rebecca Ireland-Perry, where I am working on different lesson plans and workshops with local recreation programs and the county’s camp, Camp Owahta, where I will be doing livestock lesson plans with the kids each week. Also, I will be heavily involved with the county fair, which is less than a month away! That’s not all, though! The South Central Dairy and Field Crops Team is also based out of the same office. I will also be working with Betsy Hicks, the area dairy specialist and Janice Degni, the team leader and field crop specialist. The big summer project with Betsy is a tiestall lameness study, so stay tuned throughout the weeks!

I have already gotten the opportunity to get my hands-on experience in many different areas of agriculture. Memorial day weekend, I was able to spend at the county fairgrounds. The walls in the 4-H building at the fairgrounds are getting a “facelift” so I spent most of Saturday working on putting up the new walls and basic carpentry. I had little to no experience with tools, just the basics like a hammer and drill, so this was an awesome opportunity to learn. I want to teach agriculture education, so this was a great lesson in a different part of agriculture and vocational education. My favorite part was using the air nailer, as you can see in the picture! Also during that weekend, the state goat show was going on at the fairgrounds, so the 4-H Teen Council group had the food booth open, so on Sunday I helped out with that.

A few weekends prior to the end of the semester, I was able to sort of start my internship a little early, with the annual Dairy Rodeo, and what a fitting name this is to the event. It is an all-day event where the 4-H kids are given a day to train, clip and show their animal. In the morning, a couple areas farms bring thirty or so calves and each kid gets a calf. I then did a showmanship demonstration for the members and another individual did a clipping demo to show the kids the proper way to clip their animal. Then then have the rest of the afternoon to wash, clip and train their animal to walk. I spent the day in the show ring helping the kids get their animals to walk and gave them pointers on their showmanship techniques. Then, at around 5:30 or so, the “mock show” began. The classes for the show were divided up based on age and I was the official judge. I placed them beginning with a first place winner and then went through the group and said what they did well and what to improve on given the circumstances. All of the 4-H members did a great job given the circumstances; there are a lot of calves who only want to run and some that don’t want to move, so it is a long day for both the kids and the calves, but definitely a learning experience for both!

Like I mentioned earlier, with Betsy Hicks, the area dairy specialist, we are working on a tiestall lameness study this summer, where we will be measuring lameness, the size of stalls and overall body condition scores, along with other specific parameters. This past week we went out and met with a farmer who will be participating in the study and sat down with her to find out specific information about her barn and farm. The team is also doing a few different farm tours this summer, one of them being a heifer barn facility tour. On Friday of this past week, we went out and visited a few farms to invite them to host one of the tours of their facilities.

I have a feeling this summer will be very diverse in the different departments that I am involved with, but they are all things that greatly excite me! Like they say “Experience is the teacher of all things.” Until next time, stay tuned!

Final Post: Writing a Factsheet for Extension

I spent this past summer and fall of 2016 working with the Nutrient Management SPEAR team in the Animal Science Department. Over the summer I worked on updating the manual used to prepare for the Certified Crop Advisor exam and this past semester I worked on writing a factsheet for the ‘Agronomy Factsheet’ series, a SPEAR project. All the summer interns worked on an individual topic this semester and we developed our topics from rough, three-page outlines to two-page, condensed, easy-to-read format over the 12 weeks of the semester. My factsheet was about using cover crops and I focused on establishment and termination methods for field crop operations. Sarah, Lindsay and Chutao wrote about soil aggregates, forage quality testing and sorghum, respectively.

At the start of the semester, we wrote outlines with what we thought were the main points of our factsheet. These outlines were the backbone for the rest of the semester and were probably the most challenging part of the process for me. There is so much information about cover crops everywhere and isolating the most important pieces, then organizing them in a way that took season timing (planting/harvesting), cost and equipment into consideration- was a feat. Sarah, Lindsay, Chutau, Quirine our fearless leader and I met once a week throughout the semester and in the beginning we helped each other organize the outlines. Once we had polished outlines, we each sent them to our own external review teams. These were experts who Quirine identified and reached out to over the summer to ask if they would be involved in the reviewing process. My review team was Joe Lawrence, Janice Degni, Thomas Bjorkman, and Mike Stanyard who regularly work with farmers in the northeast and have intimate insights to their operations that google does not. Karl Czymmek, senior extension associate on the SPEAR team, worked with all the factsheets and posed thought-provoking and critical questions to challenge our positions.

With feedback from the experts, our factsheets moved into the next stage of first drafts. We incorporated our reviewers’ feedback which, for some of us, meant a total upheaval of our content. I had a few sections to rearrange and some points that needed attention but getting my questions answered about tricky timing, and climate considerations was so helpful. Its so difficult to get the whole picture just from reading research papers, extension articles and cover crop guides online. We formatted our factsheets using the standard page layout and font size of the other factsheets in the series and we brainstomed ideas for images to include. This was also the stage where we worked to get our content to fit into the two-page format, which involved some serious craft. Quirine has the magical powers of creating space from thin air and showed us some of the tricks. As we moved through our first drafts into our almost-finished-drafts, we reached out to our review teams again for feedback. This second round of feedback was more mellow, with some questions and comments but content was accepted. It was great to see my factsheet go through the wringer and really learn about the intricacies of cover cropping methods.

I would like to thank the factsheet team- Sarah, Lindsay, and Chutao for a fantastic semester together. It was challenging, it was fun, and you guys are awesome. Also HUGE thank you to my review team- Joe, Janice, Thomas, Mike and Karl. The internet can only take education so far. And finally, Quirine, for holding down the fort and facilitating an intense and incredibly productive team!

See the factsheet I wrote here: http://nmsp.cals.cornell.edu/publications/factsheets/factsheet93.pdf

10_tips_first_time_cover_croppers_1_635010116391789049.jpgCOVER CROPS ARE AWESOME!
Photo credit: FarmFutures.com

Data are Glory

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Our final trial was finished on October 2nd. We had been collecting data for about four months, amassing a pile of data sheets. You can see some of them above. I spent a few days inputting all the data into excel a few weeks ago. Connor just sent me the preliminary graph as seen below that shows the preference of the different species we looked at. It is difficult to see the insect species names and plant species names in the picture so I will try to describe a bit of what it says. Gryllus is on the top right, Pterostichus is on the bottom right, Harpalus is on the bottom left, and Allonemobius is on the top left. As predicted in my previous post, Gryllus ate the majority of most species except velvetleaf and hairy vetch. Radish was also one of the least preferred (it also has a harder seed coat). One of most significant findings we found overall was Gryllus’ preference for red clover. They ate every red clover seed! The others they preferred most were pearl millet, triticale, giant foxtail, ragweed, winter barley and annual ryegrass.

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The graph shows clearly that Pterostichus preferred pearl millet seeds to all others. If I had to guess based on all the counting I did I would’ve said Pterostichus preferred triticale and radish more than they apparently did in contrast to the millet. Millet was always their first choice though.

Harpalus seemed to favor the Giant Foxtail. This is important because, as I spoke of before, Giant Foxtail is a weed, it isn’t used as a cover. Perhaps Harpalus is ultimately beneficial (at least from an economic perspective) in an agro-ecosystem because of the suppression of that weed it offers. On the other hand it also has a particular taste for annual ryegrass, pearl millet, red clover, and white mustard. These are all commonly used cover crops that can have huge benefits on production over time. Harpalus’ potential benefit (or potential for harm) would depend on the agricultural system.

I haven’t spoken much about Allonemobius allardi. Maybe this is because until recently Connor was still debating which species of cricket this was. They are a smaller cricket than the Gryllus species we tested. We would spend hours sweeping nets across the tall grasses out behind the processing center looking for them. We caught hundreds. Interestingly they were the only species to prefer Ragweed more than the others. Ragweed is another one of the three plants that we tested that aren’t used as cover crops. They also preferred pearl millet, giant foxtail, and winter barley to the others.

These are preliminary results. Connor plans to do quite a bit more work with these numbers before they can be applied.

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The final tasks have been cleaning petri dishes and recovering the traps from the field.

Thank You Connor, Matt, and the entire Sustainable Cropping Systems Lab!

The Cover Crops

Of the 13 plants we are testing in SPOC, 10 of them are often used as cover crops.

Cereal Rye is thought to be the best cool season cereal cover for absorbing unused soil nitrogen that would otherwise wash out of the system. It is a dynamic crop that has been used in many different cover crop systems, offering benefits including erosion control, additions of organic matter and weed suppression.

Winter Barley is often used to protect soil from erosion, provide weed suppression and act as an input of green manure and organic matter in the cool season when cultivation of a grower’s cash crop isn’t possible.

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Radish is a plant that has been growing in its appeal as a cover crop in recent years because of its ability to protect from erosion, scavenge nutrients, suppress weeds, and alleviate compaction while creating far fewer of the challenges associated with residue in many other covers.

White Mustard is preferable as a fall seeded cover crop that winter kills. So, while mustard offers benefits such as addition of organic matter, the breaking up of hard pans, weed suppression, etc., plants won’t survive the winter and fields will be better prepared for spring planting.

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Crimson Clover is a legume that is often used to provide spring nitrogen for full season crops.

Red Clover is a very common cover crop that is known for fixing nitrogen, protecting soil from erosion, suppressing weeds, helping improve soil tilth, as well as providing forage.

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Triticale is known for its excellent value as forage for grazing livestock. The plants also leave a heavy residue on the soil offering good weed suppression and protection from erosion.

Pearl Millet is a warm season annual grass that is often used as forage. These plants are known for having less of a demand for nutrients than other cover crops, making them potentially useable on lands unsuitable for other covers. It is primarily used as a weed and nematode suppressor, as well as for protection from erosion.

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Hairy Vetch is a legume that fixes a greater amount of nitrogen in contrast to other cover crops. As plants grow they are known for spreading out and become very dense. They offer very good weed suppression and protection of soil erosion. Vetch can also be harvested and used as forage.

Annual Ryegrass is usually used a ‘catch crop’ because it is known for having a dense shallow root system that can tolerate compacted soils. ‘Catch’ crops are crops that have a particular capability of absorbing nitrogen that would have otherwise washed out of the soil and been lost from the system. Annual Ryegrass also has other benefits including erosion control, improvement of aggregate stability and compaction prevention.

September of SPOC

September has been consumed by trials that test the preference of Harpalus, as well as two species of crickets (Gryllus pensylvanicus and Allonemobius allardi). From August 20th until September 27th we ran 260 Harpalus trials which come out to 20 replications of the experiment (20 trials of each of the 13 plant species), 105 Allonemobius trials which come out to about 8 replications, and 72 Gryllus trials which come out to about 5 and a half replications.

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You can see some of the physical differences between these two species of cricket in the pictures above. The first picture is of a Gryllus Pensylvanicus, the second is Allonemobius allardi. The third picture shows a Gryllus cricket molting. When I went to check that dish I actually thought this cricket was dead. Then it starting jumping, trying to shed its shell.

Gryllus pensylvanicus is one of the most common species of cricket over the majority of the U.S. and much of Canada. The Gryllus are the larger of the two species we have been testing. We’ve found them to be anywhere from a third of an inch to probably a full inch. It depends how old they are. They are known to be major predators of both seeds and other invertebrates. Similar to the beetles their population is known to max out in the fall because that it when seeds are most prevalent, after they have been shed (the crickets are commonly known as the ‘fall field cricket’). These bugs really differ from the beetles and the cricket species in terms of their life cycle because of their range in diet. It is generally accepted that years with greater seed abundance produce greater populations but the variety in available prey that the species has gives it really good flexibility. But, their ability to prey on invertebrates has been proven to give them an important advantage in years with worse seed abundance. It is actually debated how significant the effect of seed abundance is at all with these species because of this range. I found an interesting study talking about how certain genotypes in these types of insects can be preferable in years of greater seed abundance, and others can be preferable in years of worse seed abundance.

img_3221-1 It has been easy to notice from these Gryllus trials that they aren’t exactly picky when they are hungry. We have seen one bug eat all 26 seeds in one 24-hour interval. We have seen one bug eat all 26 seeds and a good amount of the paper towel that lines the dish. They are much more rambunctious than they other species we’ve looked at. The only two plant species that they noticeably stay away from are velvetleaf and hairy vetch because of their hard seed coats.

Final Growth

I spent weeks watering and tending to my forage plot in Hall, NY. With minimal rains, on the edge of a drought, the crops looked weak with no sign of growth. I left my plot in the best shape I could when I headed back to school, and on September 10th, I returned to see that the sparing rain had miraculously helped the cover crops prosper and the alfalfa to regenerate.

Cover crop and grass mixes

Cover crop and grass mixes

On September 9th and 10th, I was invited back to the Annual Seedway Kick-off meeting held in Geneva, NY. The evening of the 9th, we held a reception for all of the district sales managers and their dealers beneath them. A night of meeting new growers I never had to chance to connect with, and catching up with those I did spend time working with was a great experience. Both Seedway and CHR Hansen had tables set up displaying their new products for the upcoming year and enhancements made in their old products and literature.

Final alfalfa and clover stands

Final alfalfa and clover stands

The morning of the 10th, we had a plot day at the Hall, NY forage plot I maintained during my internship. We had three different stations, each spending an hour talking about the outlook for that crop in the upcoming year. The forages and cover crops were my showcase. Explaining the numerous hours spent and gallons of water used to try to make the plot look as well as it did for the conditions it faced. I was able to tag along with a group and listen to the pitches about the corn and the soybean plots as well. When he came to the CHR Hansen tent, I was able to pitch in and help my boss describe the products and when to use them.

Plot Day cover crop talk

Plot Day cover crop talk

 

Overall, the kick-off meeting was a good ending to my internship. Being able to see just how far my plot had come since the beginning and being able to connect with many growers and sellers, I was extremely grateful to have the opportunity to intern with such a welcoming company and community.

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August of SPOC

erqh4r0hsrdlyl2l3lalkzdlmztl0z0h2rolqzvl7z1lizvlxzkhkzplrzozfl6l7r3zlzul3l6lqrjzlztzflfz2r3zWe’ve been collecting a lot more Harpalus pensylvanicus these past few weeks. We’ve been finding about 15-30 a day, which is a very sharp change from the beginning of August. Harpalus is a genus of ground beetle with different species commonly found throughout the contiguous United States and Canada. Harpalus pensylvanicus is known as a species prevalent in croplands. You can see they are pretty easily ID-able by their tan/orange legs along with a more shiny body in contrast to other similar looking species. As seeds make up the primary portion of their diet, they have been found to be most active in the fall after weeds and the like have shed their seeds. This is why we didn’t see too many throughout the summer. Different studies have worked at trying to pinpoint the species’ eating habits and preference. (As I said in the previous post, few if any of these studies refer to cover crops). They are an important predator of many weeds. One study told of how the trials they ran resulted in this species eating up to 90% of weed seeds. It’s important to consider that not all weeds are considered cover crops. There are weeds that are accepted as generally harmful to agricultural systems from both an economic and ecological perspective. The purpose of SPOC is to test the preference of these definitive weeds against other species of plants that can are often be thought of as weeds but can be used as cover crops, and to help re-contextualize the discussion surrounding seed predation to include cover crops.

One study (co-authored by Matt Ryan!) looked at Harpalus pensylvanicus preference of Giant Foxtail. Giant Foxtail is an example of a plant that isn’t considered useful as a cover crop, it is generally considered to be undesired in agricultural fields. The study was run through two seasons and found that not only did the beetles prefer newly shed foxtail seeds to older aged ones, but also the population density of beetles was found to hit its maximum at the same time foxtail seed shed began.

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The pictures above show the seed counter I spent time using in August to separate Giant Foxtail seeds from small debris and count them. I had never seen a machine like this before so it was fun to spend a few hours working with it. You set it so it rotates and vibrates with a certain amount of power depending on how heavy the seeds are you hope to count. The seeds travel around the cylinder while other debris stays behind. Eventually the seeds make their way to the top and pass across a laser as they are deposited out of the spout. They are counted one by one digitally.

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!

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