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Corn is Short for Cornell!

For the past two months I’ve been interning for the Nelson Lab in the Plant Pathology Department at Cornell. Our main objective as a lab is to understand the genetic basis of disease resistance in maize, with goals to reduce losses by breeding genetic resistance into maize. Our lab is only one of many with these same objectives and we collaborate with many others around the US and the World.

My job as an intern has required a very steep learning curve. I knew very little of genetics despite having taken Plant Genetics here at Cornell. No class can ever prepare you for the real thing. I was immediately thrown into PCR’s, Gels, and DNA extractions. The lab members were super cooperative and very willing to teach me how to perform these jobs in an efficient manner.

One of the greatest aspects about interning for the Nelson Lab is the involvement. By the end of the summer I will have been exposed to every aspect of running a research trial. We began by shelling the corn, bagging it, packing it, labeling it, bar-coding it, taking inventory, storing it, repacking it, planting it, and growing the corn.

Now that the corn is really taking off we have begun inoculating much of it with Northern Corn Leaf Blight, or Exserohilum turcicum. NLB is our primary focus this year and as an intern I have had the privilege of working with one of the Pathologists in the lab to culture over 400 Petri plates for our spore suspension and over 85 gallon jugs of sorghum inoculum.

The past two weeks have been occupied by stooping over 9 acres of little corn plants pipetting spore suspension and placing sorghum kernels covered in spores into the whorls. It may seem a tedious job, but we must infect the corn plants to quantify the resistance within the different varieties of corn. After only a few days we have already noticed flecking, which are the beginning of lesions, in the more susceptible lines. Soon we should notice a more drastic spread and true lesions developing.

Renewable Energy Field Days!

The field days I wrote about are finally scheduled! When I posted about the process before I wasn’t sure how long it would take. It turned into one of those situations in which you work and work and work and think you’re making no progress, but one day, without warning, you find yourself with your goal in hand! Our networking efforts produced some great results: three of the field days are co-sponsored. Sincere thanks are due to Richard Gast of Franklin County Cooperative Extension, Molly Ames of Jefferson County CCE, and Dick Winnett of the Finger Lakes Resource Conservation & Development Council. Richard and Molly are members of the Small Farms Energy Work Team.

There are four field days scheduled. See the Small Farms Program website for more information.

The current challenge is publicizing the field days. Violet realized that our press list was last updated three years ago, so she’s asked me to make sure that the contacts are current and to expand the list. While working on that project, I’ve brainstormed some other ideas for getting the word out. My favorites: posting fliers at county fairs, asking farmers’ market managers to tell their vendors, and listing the field days on the Ithaca Journal events calendar. Publicity has already gone out through the newsletters of several organizations and people are starting to sign up!


WHERE AM I?? Oh ya  Iowa.  

MaxYield Plot Tours – Round 1

Each season MaxYield has numerous seed plots located throughout their trade region. Many are simply trials of different hybrids planted in different farmer’s fields that are willing to help, but we also have two large “Knowledge Plots.” These plots include many different trials for both corn and soybeans including plant population trials, yield trials for different hybrids for corn on corn and soybean on corn stalks, as well as many different management strategies done by the SciMax Solutions team. SciMax uses the newest scientific principles to maximize the return on investment for the farmer. This mainly focuses on precision ag innovations and using them to maximize the pool of information farmers have like yield data, soil grid sampling and variety placement data. They provide solutions such as variable rate planting, foliar applications of nutrients (92% of MaxYield’s tissue tests show deficient levels of zinc!), soil sampling and nitrogen management.

Three different times during the growing season we have plot tours, where supper is provided and our solutions specialists walk growers through the field highlighting topics that seem most important so far in the year, and what each farmer should be looking for in his or her own fields.

We have already had one tour for both of the large plots this season and have seen some interesting stuff.

As I mentioned before 92% of our tissue tests show deficient levels of zinc in our early corn plants, boron is actually our most deficient nutrient, which is inadequate in 95% of our tests! Knowing when these micronutrients are needed by the plant is most important.

Croplan has already decided that next season all of their corn seed is going to be treated with zinc; you will not be able to get untreated corn. Zinc is important early in plant growth and we have been seeing difference in our fields between our non-treated and zinc-treated varieties. The picture below isn’t the best quality, but both hybrids are Croplan 4801VT3, on the left (to the left of the sign and the four rows on the right of it, up to the red line) is the non-treated corn and the zinc-treated corn is on the right (from the verticle red line to the far right). We can see an noticeable height difference, which we have been seeing throughout the lifecycle so far, just because there was simply a little bit of zinc next to the seed when it started to grow. From previous Answer Plots Croplan has seen a 7-11 bushel increase in yield due to zinc treatment, this boost is why they decided it was a “no-brainer” to treat all of their seed with zinc.

Of course this is just one of many, many topics discussed at our knowledge plots, I thought I’d spare you the information on corn nematode or soybean aphids! 🙂  For more on Croplan’s zinc coating visit: ADVANCE COATING ZINC ADDING VALUE TO CROPLAN GENETICS® SEED CORN IN 2009.

Welcome to Your Small Farm

The 2009 4-H Career Explorations were held here on campus from June 30 through July 2. Violet and I were asked to lead one of the focus groups, called Exploring the Small Farm Dream. On Wednesday, we visited Dilmun Hill (Cornell’s student-run farm), Finger Lakes Farmstead Cheese, and Reisinger’s Apple Country. One group of teens recorded a video of the field trip. The highlight (of course) was getting the vans stuck in the mud.


Syngenta spends a bit more than two million dollars a day on research.  So what are they researching?  I work in the crop protection side of everything, so I will talk about that.  Syngenta Crop Protection has a product or products for pretty much all major crops.  Here is a little rundown of what we are working on this year: corn, soybeans, cabbage, tomatoes, potatoes, watermelons, squash, pumpkins, onions, carrots, turfgrass, crabapples, lilacs, cyclomen, asters, boxwood, phlox, pansies, and marigolds.  Some of this research involves the development of new chemicals or reformulations of existing registered chemicals.  Some trials are testing the safety of existing chemicals on new crops and others test adjuvants.  Sygenta is unique because the majority of its trials are conducted “in-house,” by Syngenta scientists.  Most other companies contract their work out to private researchers.  So if you are thinking about research, and you are looking to make some money, look into agricultural chemical research.

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