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Ag Sciences interns blogging

View from John Owen’s internship across Europe. As he described the day in northern Italy, “Majestic mountains and castles towered over the landscapes. Vineyards covered the entire valley floor.” Not a bad way to spend your summer, Jay!

Each year we have 25-30 students interning around the world. Some choose to use this blog (students categorized by year) and others have a separate blog. This summer see our group of Cornell Cooperative Extension bloggers; junior Rain Hennessey interning in Western NY working with youth education and GIS, sophomore Kaitlyn Kelder working on agricultural pests in the Hudson Valley, sophomore Kelly Albanir working in Delaware County with field crops and nutrient management, and senior Richard Smith also working in the Hudson Valley with the Master Watershed Steward program. Joining Brooke Parsons and Daniel Boucher in their viticulture and enology internships, senior John Owens is traveling Europe learning and interning in Switzerland.

Ag Sciences interns blog

In addition to our featured category bloggers, seniors Mason Day and Myra Manning along with May ’12 graduate Rosy Cohane-Mann are also sharing stories from the trenches. Read more about Mason’s internship with Ball Horticultural Company focusing on social media and marketing in the horticultural industry as well as Myra’s internship with Cornell Cooperative Extension studying nematodes and developing education/communication tools. Rosy’s internship is with the State Government Relations group in Cornell’s Government and Community Relations Office in Albany. Great work everyone!

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.

Potash matters—Wars of the Titans!

Potassium, along with nitrogen and phosphorus, constitutes the three most essential nutrients for crops. For alfalfa, a predominant legume forage crop for the dairy industry, sufficient potassium in the cell plasm means smooth and effective sugar transportation to all parts of the plant during the harsh winter. Potassium is supplied through potash, its fertilizer form. The origin comes from the burning residue of plant tissue or ash. Though fertilizer prices are generally influenced by energy prices, and the latter has dropped sharply since the outbreak of financial crisis worldwide, the current crude oil price has steadied at about $60 per barrel. This trend of the potash price hike seems irreversible. Within a couple of years, one ton of potash has risen from around $300 to a current price of $900! Without doing careful price forecasting and farm financial management, dairy farmers may face a dire scenario.

My internship research project this summer is to evaluate the current three widely used potassium management recommendation systems and compare their relative effectiveness; generating a feasible solution for alfalfa growers.

The three approaches currently used are:

1) Soil test

Take several soil samples cores from the field of interest and submit them to the soil nutrient laboratory (Cornell Nutrient Analysis Laboratory, or CNAL) for chemical analysis. The result tells how much potassium, expressed in concentration, like parts per million (ppm) or pounds per acre.

2) Potassium saturation (K%)

This also requires doing the same soil chemical analysis, but the focus is on the K’s relative level, in other words, K’s amount versus the summation of potassium, calcium, and magnesium—other major soil cations.

3) Crop removal

This soil test is free! You do not have to do any soil test to calculate your potash needs. Based on the previous harvest, let’s say 5 tons/acre, use the general rule of thumb of one ton of alfalfa can absorb 0.2 ton of potassium. Then you know you need to put 1 ton of K to replenish the loss, right?

Those three approaches all have very long history and are deeply entrenched in our recommendation systems. Cornell has been long dedicated to the first method, generating the Cornell Recommendation every year, which is distributed to farmers for free. This soil test and field trial proves that soil tests work well. The second method, proposed by a group of prominent soil scientists in the 1940s, says that an ideal soil, should have x% of Ca, y% of Mg and z% of K, and of course, xyz may vary a little bit based on years of modifications. The last one, intuitively the most practical one, is believed to be the most useful tool.

Different soil labs and soil consulting businesses may choose different approaches, which makes the whole system pretty chaotic. Basically, if you want to raise your soil’s K% to 5%, as recommended by some consulting firms, the cost will be astronomical (most of the fields here our area is around 2%)! Is it worth it? Maybe, but you also risk ending up with no extra benefit in yield after applying those expensive fertilizers. What about crop removal? Soil will supply some K, but water will carry some away, so you never know. I do hope that we can have some answers by the end of this summer.

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.

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