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Dan Demeree

The Weedy Projects

In my position of field assistant this summer, I have been working on two different projects.  One has been underway for several years and is looking into the ecological as well as economic impacts of different cropping systems (for vegetable and field crops).  The other looks more into the effects of fertilizers on weed competition.  The latter project is in its first year and is under the direction of a graduate student.  I will use this post to describe the research work I have been participating in this summer.

The organic cropping rotations project is being done on two different sites- the Vegetable Crop Research Farm in Freeville, NY and the Musgrave Research Farm outside of Aurora, NY.  Both are Cornell facilities and at Musgrave, we have our field crop plots.

At the Musgrave Farm, we have 4 replicates of 5 different treatments to the same field crop rotation.  The rotation is soybeans to winter spelt under-sown with clover to corn (a three year rotation).  Each year, there are two entry points and so this year, we grew the winter spelt/clover and corn.  Next year will have corn and soybeans.

The five systems of the plots at Musgrave represent different management practices for inputs of fertilizer and tillage.  In System (1), we use the recommended nutrient application rates for conventional management and normal tillage practices to control the weeds.  Of course, for fertilizer, we use composted manure to follow organic management practices.  System (2) aims to have lowered inputs both for nutrients and labor (cultivation) in order to maximize profitability.  (3) has the intensive weed management i.e. more cultivation to remove any unwanted weeds and normal fertilizer rates.  This system tends to be the most laborious.  System (4) has reduced tillage with normal fertilizer application.  The system 4 plots tend to be the hardest to collect data from because of the constant fight with weeds.  The last system, (5),  is the straight conventional plot where we use a conventional chemical fertilizer and use a early season herbicide on the plots.  We use this plot to mark to the performance of the organic plots against the conventional system.  System five needs to be a certain distance away from the organic plots under organic law so there is a buffer zone in between these systems.

Throughout the season, we are collecting data on all of these systems for weed and pest counts and identification, nutrient and biomass yields, as well as the profitability of the system.

Head Technician, Brian Caldwell, seeds down the plots
Head Technician, Brian Caldwell, seeds down the plots

At the Freeville research farm, we examine similar aspects but in a slightly different manner because we are working with vegetable crops.  Here, there are only 4 different system types and each are on a 4-year rotation.  The systems differ on the intensity of the land use again but with a slightly different spin.

I will list the 4 system types here:

(1) An intensive system with high inputs of fertilizer, no legume cover crops, and we harvest 6 cash crops in the 4 year rotation.

(2) This system has an intermediate intensiveness with a low fertilizer application, heavy legume cover crop integration, and 4 cash crops harvested in the 4 years.

(3) An “extensive” system whereas there is a low fertilizer application, heavy in legume cover crops, and only two cash crops taken off in the 4 year rotation.

(4) The last system uses a ridge tillage technique to cultivate the plot with the same input/output levels as the intermediate system.  This style of conservation tillage can be productive but tends to not work in our test plots and is very evident at juxtaposition.

The fertilizer used in these organic test plots are a compost and this year we used compost from the Cornell industrial composting facility.

The four vegetable cash crops used in this study are winter squash, fall cabbage, lettuce, and potatoes.  A great benefit to working this position is that there is an unlimited supply of these vegetables come harvest time.

The majority of my work surrounding this project has been collecting data on these plots.  We have collected data on growth of the crop, identification and sometimes weight of weed biomass, time of hoeing, pest occurrence, and nutrient sampling of crops and weeds.  The data we collect will give us a picture of nutrient input and output as well as the agro-ecology of the test plots.

The other project I have been working on this summer that is under the direction of a Cornell graduate students looks into nutrient’s role in weed competition.  It is a very interesting topic and has been a lot of work for her getting it going.

The main reason for the mass of work involved with this project is the set up.  With five species under examination, partitioning N/P/K, at 4 different application rates, and with 3 repetitions; there are 330 different testing stages that we most go through for every activity.  With this number, any activity is quite the tedious job.  To work for science tends to be quite tedious and I have been able to form my own interests in research work through this.

The project’s purpose is to find the point where crops max out their own utilization of the nutrients applied and weeds continue to use the nutrient stores in the soil to increase biomass.  This research would help out organic farmers with the decision in the amount of fertilizer to apply.  The project partitions NPK into the individual nutrients and simulates the amounts of that nutrient at varying levels composted manure applied.

The setup of the project is sort of quirky and, as I said, has been a lot of work doing. In order to separate each of the 330 experiments into their own, isolated area, we have built 330 square boxes of wood to put in the ground 330 times and filled with an amended  soil 330 times.  This doesn’t include planting and thinning 330 boxes of plants and measuring 330 different boxes of plants for growth data.  It has been quite exhausting but fun when you work with the fun group that I had this past summer.

The experiment uses two crops and three different but common weed species.  The partitioning of the nutrients from composted manure are in the form of Bone Char for phosphorous; blood mean for nitrogen; and potassium sulfate for potassium.  The amount of these nutrients are derived from the amounts that would naturally be found in composted manure.  So then we even differentiate the amounts amended to the soil in the boxes by the relative lbs/acre of N.  These rates are 40, 80, 160, and 320 lbs/ acre of N.

Filling the in-ground boxes with the amended soil.
Filling the in-ground boxes with the amended soil.

This project looks into a really interesting concept for agriculture and I feel that I a lot can be learned from this study.  One thing that I have already picked up from this experiment is the monotony of research work.  This eludes to a major theme that I have uncovered from this summer’s work.  That academic research work is very important for education and progress but also that I may not choose it exclusively as a profession.

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.

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