Skip to main content

The Skinny on the Research Projects

This summer I am working on mostly just two projects that try to lend greater understanding behind the main concepts of organic weed management.   The two projects are quite different, however, in their  concepts under scrutiny.  They also differ in the work required to carry out the research.

So the first project is one that has been running for ten years now.  It examines organic management styles for economic profitability.  The four “systems” are carried out for both vegetable and field crop production.  Interesting, the main techniques that depicts the style of management are used on both the vegetable and field crop plots.  What differentiates the management techniques are crop rotations, cover crops, fertilizer applications, and tillage/cultivations practices.  Going on ten years now, it is quite fascinating to see the dramatic differences between the plots.  There are a number of data collections that we make throughout the summer to monitor the progress of each of the plots.  This project mainly overseen by head lab/field technician Brian Caldwell and senior researcher Chuck Mohler.

The second project to be worked on is headed by Cornell graduate student Neith Little of the CSS Dept. and advised by Chuck Mohler.  We are helping her examine weed competition at varying levels of fertilizer.  The application of this research has proven to be quite tedious and hard work.  With 5 species under experimentation, with around 20 variations of nutrient applications, and 4 replications; it turns out to be around 330 different scenarios that we have to build and manage every step of this project seems to be a major undertaking.

I will further describe the projects and what I have gained from my work in research in later posts.

My Summer Research in Weed Management

Hello Readers,

Your AgSci Ambassador and familiar voice from Sweden coming back to you to blog about my accredited academic work position for the summer. s635971557_1329816_5179 I am coming at you about a month and a half into my work position in the Department of Weed Science as a Field/Lab Assistant. I have a lot to tell so even though this is my first post, hopefully many more are soon to come (however the GrassRoots Fest is this weekend).

Dr. Charles Mohler

Dr. Charles Mohler

I am working under Dr. Charles Mohler on two projects that examine organic weed management and issues. I was given the position through my advisor, Professor of the Weed Science course, Toni DiTommaso. I realized through my pursuits of job positions that one of the strongest qualities to have is networking skills and that knowing people will be your best weapon for competitive positions.

So, if you were to know me then you would know that I am interested in agribusiness and economics. Doing a physical-science based research position was not my ideal work experience position. I applied to a few internship positions within the agribusiness industry but I was not accepted into them for one reason or another. I realized that I probably should have put forth more effort into previous summers for this work experience. Working on the home dairy farm was how the summers were spent in those previous years. Nonetheless, I have learned and am still learning quite a bit at my current position. The concepts and information that I gain this summer will surely be able to used later on in my professional career.

Going into the research assistant position, I was hoping to get a better grasp on a couple of things that I could draw back from later on in life. One of the main things I was hoping to get out of this academic research position is exactly how academic research worked and whether or not it was something I wanted to pursue as a profession. Another item that I wanted to learn more about was organic management for vegetable and crop production. Coming from an organic dairy farm, I have gained the understanding of how organic practices differ to conventional ones in animal agriculture systems. I thought it would be good for me to gain a similar perspective for organic plant production.

Now that I am well into the position, I can say that I have gained the perspective that I was hoping for going into the summer position. In later posts I will describe the work experience that has enriched my knowledge base.

In Pursuit of French Dessert… and an Understanding of French Agriculture

olives!Bonjour for one last final post as my France adventure draws to a close. Since my main objective of the internship was to fully understand the concept of terroir and how the farm incorporates value added agriculture in the form of tourism, I am going to elaborate once again on these concepts now that I have actually had field experience (and can understand a lot more that is said to me in French!) My internship has been absolutely amazing, and I strongly encourage anyone looking for an internship next summer to abandon their paid, somewhat normal internship offers for an unknown adventure (thank you Cornell Tradition for making this opportunity financially feasible.) I had the chance to do so much ranging from planting olives trees, sorting olives, bottling olive oil, packaging, guiding tastings and giving farm tours in French. I also had the opportunity to meet with research professors, local producers, and government officials to learn about agriculture policy and consumer trends.Filling Tapanade

In my own opinion, the French seem to have their priorities right when it comes to food much more so then we do here in the States. They value quality and taste over time and convenience, and this is reflected in the fact that a business such as the Domain de l’Oulivie exists in France in the first place. I can clearly understand why one of the major challenges of the farm is the fact that Spain can export olive oil to grocery stores in France for a fraction of the price that it takes for the Domain to hand-produce their olive oil since it is so manually, labor intensive. I feel that if the Domain operated in the United States, this would be even more of a problem, but in France consumers are driven by the desire to connect to their food. This connection is important for the Domain because it allows them to convey to customers that the extra price means that the olive oil is more flavorful, healthier for the tree, rooted in tradition, and generally of a better quality.  French consumers are very receptive to this, as Eric Cellier, chef of Maison De La Lozere, stated in our interview,“ I chose the oil of the Domaine de l’Oulivie because it is a product of quality, and is a product very representative of the region. It is a product made with passion, soul, and feeling.  I use the oil of the Domaine de l’Oulivie and no others.”OLD olive tree

It is clear that the olive farm gives added value to their product from the standpoint that their quality is so high. In addition to this, value addition is given based on the fact that their product line is so unique due to their cosmetics, flavored olive oils, olive spreads, and their extensive use of heirloom varieties of olives.

Food for the picnics

The agro-tourism aspect of the farm equally gives value to their product. In the last few weeks I was at the farm, the Domain started a picnic program where customers could come and eat lunch purchased from the store, partially prepared by yours truly, in the olive grove. In addition to this, the festivals, history and tradition of the farm, educational video about olive harvest, translated from French to English for tourists, again by yours truly, and on-site store continue to add value for the farm. The farm is able to market to a wide range of consumers, from residents, tourists, exporters, other local boutiques, restaurants, retired couples, and children. I feel that by working on the farm, taking part in all of the activities, and interacting with the wide variety of customers, I more fully understand the concept of agro-tourism. As far as terroir goes, I started off this blog by searching the academic journals for articles to answer and clearly define terroir, and wound up accidently stumbling upon the perfect definition while interviewing one of my bosses, Pierre Vialla. When asked what does terroir mean, Pierre responded, “Terroir brings together history; the history of the land on which we live, the men who cultivate the soil for generations and the products that result. The history of men and the products, this is what terroir is for me.”

dessert again!

Needless to say, I truly enjoyed my French experience. It is nearly  impossible to achieve a complete understanding of French agriculture, but I tried to learn as much as possible, and I can definitely say that I successfully pursued French desserts.  Thanks for reading-merci and au revoir!The Final Dessert

Update from Long Point’s Vineyards

Now that we are well into the growing season, much of my responsibilities are focused on making sure the vines are trim, tidy, and healthy.


One of the most beneficial practices towards producing quality fruit is to make sure that the vines’ shoots are positioned up trough the catch wires of the trellis system.  This practice serves four very important purposes: (1) to make the rows more accessible to equipment, (2) minimize tension on the trellis system produced by sprawling vines, (3) allow for more thorough and even chemical application, and (4) allow the vines better sun and air reception.

This close-up photo shows how the bird netting protects the clusters from bird, deer, and other pest damage.


– Ryan

Soil Conservation with RUSLE2

One of the main functions of the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is to perserve the intergrety of the soil and reduce the amount of erosion taking place on agricultural land.  This is often accomplished through conservation practices such as no-till planting.  No-till planting is where the residue from the previous crop is left on the field after harvest and the second crop is planted through the residue.  This reduces the amount of disturbance of the top soil and reduces the possibility of erosion caused by rain water.  Here is an example of soybeans no-till planted in grain corn residue. 

This no-till planting of crops is often applied along the contour of the slope of the hills that are present in the field to reduce the amount of soil loss.  RUSLE2 is a formula developed that takes into account various pieces of information such as the type of soil in a field, the common degree of slope present, and the length of the slope where erosion is taking place or is likely to take place in the future.  This computer program allows you to project such items such as the type of crops, the rotation, and the planting technique, to reduce the amount soil loss.  In the next picture you can see us out measuring slopes in a no-till soybean field.  I think it was in the neighborhood of 100 degrees when this shot was taken.P1010025

I’ll admit that I did not understand the importance of these types of activities before my internship, but as I have been exposed to the consequences of poor land management, I realize the future of our crop land is at stake.  Agriculture and food production should be a top priority if we are to hope to feed the ever-increasing world population.  You can’t grow food on soil that is no longer there.  I have learned that what the NRCS and other soil conservation agencies do keep our agriculture land from beginning to look like the picture below and that is why I am thankful to have the opportunity to work with this agency this summer.

I would never have believed that conservation work had so many facets to it.  It has been an exciting and informative internship and I am looking forward to what I will learn in the few weeks that I have left.

Got Milk? Eh.

My bull calf friend and me

My bull calf friend and me

I’d like to start off this blogging series with a dirty joke.

Van Ryssel Dairy Farm Sign

Van Ryssel Dairy Farm Sign

What’s black, white, and bred over and over?  A Holstein dairy cow! Actually, the real dirty part of the joke is that they never stop pooping. For those of you with dairy experience this may have been your first answer, but before my internship started I’ll admit I may have answered with something lame like a penguin or perhaps a zebra.  However, after completing my first week at Van Ryssel Dairy farm it is plain to see that the first image that comes to mind is a barn full of Holsteins, without a doubt.  Located just outside of Oakbank, Manitoba, Canada Van Ryssel Dairy milks about 125 Holstein cows and farms 4000 acres.

I began my week by quickly becoming acquainted with the “girls” and getting a whorl wind, quick n’ dirty (literally and figuratively) walk through the barn chores.  There are so many little tricks to remember for things like maneuvering the mechanized straw cart at just the right angles to prevent it from crashing while bedding the stalls or remembering who gets fed what and how much during feeding-all of which has to be carefully timed between the two daily milking times. But, for the majority of my internship, I will be dealing with the heifer and calf management and treating sick cows when necessary.


The straw cart

Fortunately for me, my first day on the job was also the day for “herd health” checks, which occurs once every two weeks. As an aspiring pre-vet, it was an amazing experience to go around with my supervisor, Peter and the two local vets who conducted the checks. So much so, that I plan on dedicating an entire blog in the future about herd health.

One of the major issues the diary industry faces is lameness, particularly in the legs and hooves of the cows.  Basically, the happier the cow, the more milk it will produce. To prevent hoof infections from arising, the cows are run through a chute where I was shown how their hooves are trimmed and checked for ulcers, foot rot, and warts.  Those cows with any problems with their feet are treated appropriately, and in the case of bacterial infections they are often treated with an intramuscular injection of Depocillin.

The chute

The chute

In my first week, I was shown how to “dry off” a cow to stop it from continuing to milk.  This involves injecting OrbeSeal and medicated Dry-Clox into each of the four teats, followed by a final dip of iodine to prevent infection. At this time the feet or head of the developing fetus can be felt inside the cow through rectal palpation.

OrbeSeal for drying the cows off

OrbeSeal for drying the cows off

Occasionally, calves will get scours (a nasty diarrhea) that can be caused by a variety of reasons such as nutritional problems, bacteria (commonly E. coli), stress, or from something in the environment.  To treat them, two pills of Neo-Sulfalyte are administered orally for about a 100 lbs. calf for a few days.  Now, you have to realize that a calf is not going to simply swallow the pill on command, so a long rod is used place the pills down their throat.

In every case of treatment, it is extremely important to note and record the withdrawal time associated with each drug administered to each animal.  When given certain drugs, for example the Depocillin mentioned above, the milk or meat of that animal is not allowed to become food until the withdrawal time indicated on the label is surpassed.

Dairy cattle are also susceptible to becoming bloated, which is basically an accumulation of gas in their digestive tract that continues to build up and expand until the animal becomes noticeably larger in size in the mid section and clearly uncomfortable. It doesn’t happen often, but bloat can be caused from eating high grain diets.  This can be potentially fatal when not treated.  To alleviate the gas build up, we placed a long hollow tube in the heifer’s mouth and down the digestive tract.  Once the tube is placed all the way in, two people can apply pressure on either side of the animal and force the air out.  Within seconds, the air is removed and the heifer returns to normal size. How is that for a weight loss program!

Meet the "Girls"

Meet the "Girls"

Now when I get home from the dairy and open the fridge, I have a new appreciation for the time and energy that goes into the milk I’m pouring into my glass and I’ll confess, into the freezer as well, for those of you that are familiar with my love of ice cream.  So until next time, I’ll be upgrading my straw cart driving skills and getting my hands dirty.


In Pursuit of French Dessert… and an Understanding of French Agriculture


Today, I was able to discuss the consumer trends of olive oil with everyone on the farm, and learn more about the clientele base of the farm.

Olive oil is experiencing a dramatic surge in popularity.  The farm has noticed that customers are now especially concerned about the health of the environment, and their own personal health. Olive oil has a good image, thanks to the heavily scrutinized Mediterranean diet, and is rich in polyphenols, Vitamin E, and monounsaturated fatty acids. I am indulging myself in the olive oil, as after all, I am somewhat near the prime location of deviation for Ancel Key’s Seven Countries study findings. The study found that serum cholesterol levels were strongly associated with coronary heart disease everywhere, but particularly, not in Southern Europe. Could this be the “healthful” fats of olive oil at work?

The farm hopes that by going organic, they will further project their image of being healthy for both the body and the environment.Violette de Montpellier olive

A paper by T. Michels (2006) identified six consumer profiles for olive oil, which I thought was very noteworthy. The paper describes the “the foodie, the aspirational foodie, the recipe reader, time poor foodie, time poor aspirationals and the uninterested.” Michels also points out that consumers do not really know about olive oil, or various ways to use it. I somewhat agree with this even though in the US, Rachel Ray and others are always proclaiming their love for Extra Virgin olive oil to the public masses.  Here, even though this is the south of France, and not the larger Spanish or Italian olive oil production areas, it is difficult to find a product which does not use olive oil.

A Tasting

In addition to consumer trends, it was interesting to learn the break-down of the sales on the farm; an incredible 70% is sold directly from the on-site shop. The shop is only 10 minutes away from Montpellier, a very large city, and attracts wealthy clientele since the product is of a very high quality and is labor intensive. Besides location, I think the store has such a good turnover because the whole experience is very personalized. As soon as a customer comes through the door, they are greeted with a “Bonjour!” and if desired, are educated about the various products of the farm, which includes a tasting. I have taken part of this process many times as both the taster and the informer, although I do have to admit, usually I am the taster.

Exportation is a new feature for the Domain, and results in 5% of sales. Apparently, it is harder to export to Asian markets since olive oil is not as widely used in their cuisine, but northern Europe and North America are turning out to be important customers. For example, we just prepared a large order to send out to Canada.

 The remaining 25% of sales results from restaurants and local boutiques that carry the Domain’s products. I have mentioned such boutiques when I discussed the “Maison de Producteurs” organization in the last post.Chef Eric Cellier

Along the lines of selling to restaurants, this week was definitely one of the highlights of my entire internship. I had a chance to visit Maison De La Lozere, a restaurant that the Domain de l’Oulivie almost exclusively supplies ( I was able to eat, see the kitchen, and interview the chef, Eric Cellier. This is definitely my favorite kind of learning experience!Maison De La Lozere

 A paper by Abel Duarte Alonso dealing with olives and tourism describes how when restaurants carry local olive products, it increases the interest of customers, and acts as an incentive to attract customers to the olive farm or to buy the farm’s products.  From my visit to the Maison De La Lozere, I understand how this can be true. The restaurant displays the various oils they use from the Domain in a gorgeous glass case for customers to see when they first enter the restaurant. Also, the chef has worked extensively with my boss at the farm to blend his own special oil using two varieties, and a special black bottle which was designed exclusively for the use of the restaurant. After select customers dine, the chef offers them little vials of the olive oil to take home as well. The oil is used in the classic style with vegetables, meat, and fish, but is also used to make marshmallows, and ice cream.special bottle design

Currently, Mr. Cellier is working on a project to blend chocolate, oil, and basil. Every dish I had was divine, and it was fantastic for me to see what a great market and promotional outlet the restaurant is for the farm. It also reinforced the fact that the quality of the product is crucial for its marketing niche. Olive oil may be made cheaply in Spain, and it may take a lot of work to produce the final product, as I have experienced, but in the end, when the plate arrives in front of you, it is definitely worth the price and extra effort…








In Pursuit of French Dessert… and an Understanding of French Agriculture

I know I have previously mentioned the Common Agriculture Policy, known in France as the Politique Agricole Commune, when I initially underwent the French agriculture policy crash course at SupAgro University. However, now that I am on the olive farm and have discussed with my hosts the role of public policy on the daily financial operation of the farm, I have a definite renewed interest. If the thought of policy makes your eyes glaze over, I will try to intersperse pretty pictures from the farm throughout my policy spiel. Black Olives

Here’s a quick description of the PAC as I understand it… Originally, the PAC was focused on the objective of increasing food production since food security was a postwar issue. Farmers were given grants and subsidies for excess food produced. By the time the 1980’s rolled around however, the opposite, food surplus, was now the problem. The policy’s aim of creating food security worked too well. The French refer to it as being a “victim de son success.” Thanks to large reforms in 2003, grants are now given to farmers independently of amount produced to avoid the problem of a food surplus.Inside the store

There is still income from the government through subsidies, but for example, instead of subsidizing for quantity, grants come to farmers for aspects such as sustainability and food safety practices. The farmers are free to produce whatever is most profitable for them by following market demand. I’m almost done with the simplified policy lecture here, but I do have to point out my favorite aspect of the PAC in relation to France. I find it so interesting that out of the whole EU, France gets the most money from the PAC-a whopping 42.7% even though they do not contribute the most money to the European Common Budget. Obviously, this is a source of great debate for upcoming revisions to PAC, but it just goes to show how important agriculture is here in France.


The Domaine de l’Oulivie gets such grants from the national government, the EU, and the Region, especially since the farm is working on developing themselves as an organic farm. Still, because olive growing makes up only .1% of the agricultural products produced, it is not given financial priority in relation to the PAC budget. To combat this, growers have united under AFIDOL, Association Française Interprofessionnelle de l’Olive. It is a professional olive association which includes 30,000 growers, 30 confectioners that use olives in their products, and 18 olive nurseries. In addition to having power to petition for government funding, the association assists French olive growers, such as the Domain de l’Oulivie, by providing technical knowledge specific to Mediterranean olive growing.welcome to the farm label

It is fantastic that there are so many organizations to assist the smaller farmer in a financially viable manner here. The farm belongs to several organizations which help market their product. One example is the French Agriculture Board’s Bienvenue a la Ferme, which is a membership program to promote regional products. For only a small fee, the farm receives publicity such as road signs. The farm also markets their products with a Qualite Sud de France label which is an association created by the Languedoc-Roussillon Region. The products are described as “coming from the soul, heart, and taste buds.” Most importantly, the label creates a brand identity that links local products to a market, and is a mark of quality for the customer. The newest organization for the Domain de l’Oulivie is the Maison de Producteurs, which is a group of producers with boutiques that sell each other’s products.


I would now like to introduce my dessert of the moment… the Canelé. It is the official pastry, with a custard center, from Bordeaux containing egg, sugar, milk, rum, and vanilla. I was doing a little research on it and found out that back in 1663 there was a registered Guild of the Canauliers, or the people that make the Canelé. Unfortunately, these people did not belong to the Pastry Guild so they were not allowed to use milk and sugar in their confections. On March 3, 1755, the council in Versailles ruled that the Canauliers were allowed to use milk and sugar. In 1767 there was another ruling passed that said a city could have only 8 Canelé shops, so the profession was highly regarded. This ruling must have not been well enforced. Also, as a point of interest, the main rum flavoring that we all so enjoy now was not added until at least the 20th century…the Canelé

Skip to toolbar