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Week Eight: Field Day at Musgrave

Barley at the Musgrave field day

Several NMSP team members made the quick drive out the Musgrave Research Farm for their annual field day earlier this week. It was really exciting to see how scientists communicate the value of their ongoing projects with both other researchers and the general public. There were a lot of cool speakers and a great lunch featuring Cornell Chicken Barbecue Sauce.

Kernza growing with red clover

Pictured: Kernza®️ intercropped with nitrogen-fixing red clover. This trial aimed to see whether or not farmers could avoid using expensive nitrogen fertilizer while still harvesting a strong grain crop.

One of the most interesting plots was the full field of intermediate wheatgrass. This crop goes by the tradename Kernza® and is known for both its exceptionally large root system and its ability to perenially produce bread quality grain. This means that the need for tillage is greatly limited, and the long roots are believed to support healthy soil development even on marginal land. Unfortunately, low yields have been a large challenge with this crop. The trial at Musgrave found that the crop stand gets so thick after a few years of establishment that grain yield is limited by self-competition. The researchers were able to relieve some of this pressure by using strip tillage to lower the amount of plants per acre. This seemed to be very effective at increasing yield, but not to the point that Kernza® was competitive with wheat on a pounds-per-acre basis. However, Kernza® also provides high quality straw forage for livestock which could make it a suitable crop for farmers with land at risk for soil erosion. I will be very curious to see how researchers continue to develop these cropping systems in the future, especially if carbon marketing comes into play for American farmers.

Technology on the Farm

Hey everyone, welcome back!  Now that all the crops are actively growing my duties at Edgewood Farms, LLC has switched from helping with field work to primarily scouting.  With about 4,000 acres to be keeping an eye on, there is no shortage of work for me to do.  This might sound like a daunting task, but luckily, I have some neat technology to help me out.  I have two apps downloaded on my phone; the first is called Encirca, and the second is called Granular.

Encirca is a part of Pioneer and is capable of many tasks, however I use it to assist me in the monitoring of field health.  Some of the fields I’m responsible for scouting are well over 100 acres.  If one of these fields are an area of poor health, I would have a slim chance of realizing it unless I walked through it all, which would take all day.  I don’t know the exact details of how Encirca works but it utilizes satellite images that are taken daily and maps the health of your field.  This is useful because instead of aimlessly walking through the fields, I can look at my phone, see where the problem spots are, and make sure to check those specific areas when out scouting.  With as wet as it was earlier this summer, many of the “low health” areas are spots that were wet or the crop simply drowned out.  The one downside of Encirca is that on cloudy days (which there have been a lot of), the satellite can’t get a clear image of the fields so you have to rely of day from previous days.

The second app, Granular is one that all the employees on the farm have and it is where we either record work that we have done, or are assigned work by someone else. I se it to record all my notes from scouting and add pictures when necessary. My boss can later review my notes and we can talk about treatment options if there is an insect or weed problem that needs addressing.  A few weeks ago, I also used Granular to assign work orders to our sprayer operator for fields that were particularly weedy and needed to be sprayed sooner than later.

 

 

Sweet & Cheeky!

Hi y’all, welcome back to the blog. These last couple of weeks at FREC, my fellow summer research assistant, Megan, and I have been focusing mainly on our project given to us by Dr. Schupp.

Our project focuses directly on a new club variety of apple called Sweet Cheeks. They are a cross between Honey Crisp and Pink Lady apples. Unfortunately, it has a fruit finish issue, mainly with russetting. This project will study which general sector of the tree has the most russet and which side of the apple it is prominently featured on.

The trees we were given to use are top worked trees, which mean the were planted as one variety, in this case, Gala, and then they were cut off where the rootstock and the scion join. Then, scions of the new variety (this is where the Sweet Cheeks come in) are placed in notches in trunk that is still in the ground. The scions are secured and left to grow.

We were given 5 of these trees, which we then divided into 6 sectors using flagging tape. Fist we divided the tree horizontally, determining an upper and lower canopy. This line was placed equidistant between the second and third wire of the trellis system. Second, we divided the tree into outer and inner canopy by dividing the tree vertically into three sections, creating an outer north, inner, and outer south.  If you’re lost (don’t worry, I was), refer to the picture below. With these divisions, we created 6 sectors of the tree. These sectors are: upper outer north, upper inner, upper outer south, lower outer north, lower inner, and lower outer south.

After this, Megan and I counted all of the apples in each sector. Then, we went through and counted the apples with signs of russet. We also rated whether the russeting was “low”, “moderate”, or “severe”. Russet usually initially appears as small black dots around the sides of the apple, typically on the exposed side that receives the most sun.

From there, we determined percent russeted in each sector. Just from this, we noticed that apples in the upper canopy had more russet because of their increased exposure to sun.

Additionally, to quantify severity, we harvested around a dozen apples from the surrounding sweet cheeks trees of which we considered “low” severity and around a dozen of which we considered “moderate” severity. We then took pictures of them and ran through a digital image analysis program that gives us a percentage of russet on the apple. To do this, one of the researchers there, Edwin, built a photo box using PVC pipe, poster board, and lamps. It has boards and pipes at the top, which can hold a camera that is used to capture the images. All you have to do is slide the apples in on the apple tray covered in blue fabric and click the capture button. I will insert a photo of the photo box. It is a picture taken from above because I was the one adjusting the camera.

We will survey the Sweet Cheeks again in August and at harvest time to determine whether the russet is early or late onset.

Next week, I hope to delve deeper into the other research projects that Dr. Schupp is working on and share with you how much I have learned!

Week Seven: Drones!

Quantix drone

In this image, Greg is inserting a fresh battery for a new round of flights. Quantix drones can survey up to 400 acres on a single 45 minute flight.

 

This week I got to see even more drone action in the field. Greg and I drove up to several farms and he walked me through the flight process in more detail. Greg is a FAA certified drone pilot and has been troubleshooting with our current drone lineup for quite a while. He has run into some issues with one of the drones, Quantix, which is almost too automated for its own good. The Quantix take-off and landing processes are fully automated, which means that the drone not only pilots itself but also sets its own take-off and landing flight path. Although the drone has a unique method of vertical take-off and landing, it is still at a relatively low altitude when it begins its second round of fixed-wing style flight while increasing or decreasing altitude. Quantix drones are considered “hybrids,” in that they combine the agile helicopter-style flight of quad-copters as well as the speedy and highly efficient cruising motion of fixed-wing planes.

 

Although it would normally be a big perk to have the pre-scan and post-scan flight paths automatically generated, the tree lines in New York State make this style of take-off and landing very risky. It would be too battery draining for the drone to use vertical take-off to reach its final cruising altitude, so Greg has been looking for new ways to manually alter the pre-scan and post-scan flight paths. These include selecting new initial take-off and landing zones for the drone, as well as modifying the area that the drone is set to actually scan in order to force a new overall flight path. Although it would probably be incredibly easy to use in my home state of Iowa, the massive tree lines and diverse landscapes of New York State provide an array of challenges for this drone.

Week Six: Soil Sampling

This week I got to help out with some soil sampling in corn fields. NMSP is working with farmers to do trials on N-rich strips, which are sections of a field that are given so much pre-plant nitrogen that sidedressing is unlikely to be necessary. These plots help farmers to estimate how much nitrogen they need in certain areas and guess whether or not larger applications of nitrogen would make sense economically across certain management zones.

Field technicians use soil probes to take core samples from two soil depths, 8″ and 12″. The 8″ samples are used for general soil fertility tests, while the 12″ samples are tested in-house for soil nitrate levels. Although the 12″ cores can be very difficult to take in rocky soils, it’s important for researchers to know how much nitrate is present throughout the entire rooting zone.

Bagged soil sample

NMSP uses a double bagging method to keep soil samples secured and organized. The outer bag contains a small ID tag with replication and treatment info, along with the inner bag which contains the actual sample.

Soil samples in a dryer

The bags are opened up back in the lab, where the soil samples and ID tags are placed into individual cups for further processing. Soil cups are then loaded into the 50 °C dryer in order to remove most soil moisture. Processing wet soils would be very messy and lead to less reliable data.

Edgewood Farms, LLC Internship

Hello, my name is Bryce Schuster and I am a soon to be senior, studying agricultural science.  This summer I am completing my internship at Edgewood Farms, LLC in Groveland, New York.  Edgewood Farms is primarily a crop farm, but also operates a small feedlot, and is an authorized reseller of drainage tile, bunk covers and bags, fencing supplies and agricultural GPS systems.  The main crops grown are corn and soybeans, however they also grow wheat, green beans, kidney beans, and black beans.  The mission at Edgewood Farms, LLC is to provide quality products and service to their customers, while maintaining the integrity of the land, animals and environmental resources.  My duties this summer consist mostly of crop scouting, tissue sampling, and field agronomic problem-solving.

This spring and the beginning of summer have made farming difficult to say the least here in Western New York.  It has rained constantly and been cooler than normal until a couple of weeks ago.  When I started the internship at the end of May, corn planting was just getting under way.  This meant all hands-on deck to get fields prepped and seed in the ground.  Without any crops for me to scout this meant I also got the opportunity to assist with field work in equipment that is much larger than I am used to on my farm.

My first week on the job consisted of learning the names and location of over 200 fields, making up almost 4,000 acres, spread over 3 townships; and running a Case IH 9180 with a chisel plow to fill in ruts made by the farms sprayer that was applying pre-emerge herbicide.  Edgewood Farms has made the transition to an almost entirely strip tillage or no-till cropping system so it is rare to see conventional tillage performed, such as chisel plowing.  However, when last fall and this spring saw excessive rainfall, it is inevitable that a 35,000 lbs. sprayer with narrow tires is going to sink into the ground more than is ideal.  I also got the chance to use their 40-foot-wide roller to roll fields that are planted to beans, making the ground as flat as possible to optimize yield by allowing the combine header to be run closer to the ground without risking damage by picking up a rock.

Soil erosion on a conventionally tilled corn field.

Now that crops are finally starting to germinate and emerge, I can begin my scouting.  When the crops were still in the VE stage my main focus was on taking stand counts and checking for insect damage.  With all the moisture, one problem associated with strip or no-till cropping systems became apparent.  While the residue on the ground from last years crop is good for soil moisture retention in dry periods and weed suppression, it also creates a great environment for slugs.  I never knew slugs could do so much damage to crops and unfortunately it is not an easy problem to control.  Slug bait is extremely expensive so purchasing enough to treat every field is not practical.  The best way to end the problem is for things to dry out a little bit.  I am looking forward to how the summer progresses and what knew things I can learn!

Slug damage.

Week Five: NDVI for Nitrogen Management

This week was very exciting! I continued working with R and several yield cleaning projects, but also got to join Greg for a couple of rounds of field work. This meant getting to see two of NMSP’s drones complete NDVI scans of corn fields. NDVI scans are able to measure the vigor of plants in the field, either to estimate yield or to help farmers more accurately place sidedress fertilizer. The latter seems very interesting but also very challenging. NDVI works on a scale of 0 to 1, with 1 being very green and 0 being not green at all.

Quantix drone

Drones are the quickest way for farmers to accurately take NDVI readings over a full field.

 

The greener sections of the field are assumed to not be nitrogen deficient, and the less green sections are given extra nitrogen to address lower vigor. However, lower vigor could also be due to other factors like a wet spot in the field or a deficiency of nutrients other than nitrogen. As precision ag technology continues to evolve, it will be cool to see how companies and farmers address these issues. Looking for patterns in individual leaves is one solution, but it would require very high resolution cameras and advanced imagery technology. I will be excited to learn more about this quickly moving ag sector as the summer goes on!

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