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Week #5 Fly Vacuums for Cows

Learning about dairy cows has been one of my favorite parts of this internship so far. This week I attended a pasture walk in Clifton Springs New York where the main focus of the discussion was geared towards fly control. If you’ve ever lived on or near a dairy farm, you’ve probably experienced how pesky these little insects can be. Fly populations on dairy farms can sometimes become so out of control that it is a stress to the cows and will lower milk production, not to mention the fact that it is a sanitation issue. Too many flies can cause in increase in the bacterial counts in milk and some can transmit diseases or parasites to the animals. Although there are different types of traps, chemicals and farm management practices that will help lower the fly population some farmers take extra measures to ensure that their herd stays stress free and clean. At Steve and Hope Galen’s organic dairy farm in Clifton Springs they have installed a fly vacuum that the cows must walk through each time they enter the barn to be milked. According to Steve some cows have learned to even enjoy the machine! The machine costs around $7,500 which seems very expensive, but it has made a world of difference for these dairy cows. As the cows pass though the vacuum each day and are collected,  it decreases the opportunity for the flies to breed.  Almost no house flies, horn flies or stable flies were bothering these cows, but face flies are not so easily taken care of and remain a pest on the farm. Maybe someday a face fly vacuum will be of help on the farm as well, but for now the Cow Vac seems to be doing really well.



New Plantings

Last week was busy down here and we lost a Friday because of Independence Day, so I have two weeks to catch up on!  I have spent a lot of time outside in the vineyards these past two weeks and that has been a lot of fun.  Most of the work has involved Tim’s rootworm project, both his experimental nematode  pots here at the office unnamed2(photo to the right) and a spray trial out in the vineyard.  Last week we counted rootworm (photo to the lower left) in different blocks that would be treated with different insecticides and on Wednesday of this week we examined the plants to see if the sprays had been effective.  When scouting for rootworm it is important to recognize the damage they cause on the plants and leaves.  The photo on the lower right shows the chain-like feeding pattern characteristic of rootworm adults.

There are weekly meetings called Coffee Pot meetings that growers can attend to discuss what is going on in the vineyards, and I was able to attend them the past two Wednesday’s.  I don’t have a lot of knowledge or experience about what it takes to actually manage a vineyard and it was really interesting to listen to what the growerunnamed1s had to say.  Pesticides and nutrient requirements were the major topics of discussion. I have learned about both of these in my classes at Cornell, but it really solidifies the information when you are talking about it with actual growers; it’s beneficial to listen to the important factors to consider, such as what the major nutrient issues are and which pesticides are recommended for which pest and labeled for use in New York.

I once again took my weekly leaf samples and counted both TSSM and predatory mites.  I have seen an increase in TSSM, but I am not seeing very many predatory mites.  This isn’t what I expected, as I released 40,000 predatory mites into the hopyard, so it will be interesting to see the kind of numbers I get in the coming weeks.unnamed

On Friday we were outside all day planting another hopyard!  There are five more production rows of different varieties, Centennial, Perle, Newport, Sterling, and Fuggle.  This will allow research to be done on more varieties, as well as in two separate plots, which will eventually allow for a project to be done on the release times of predatory mites.

Saturday I went to another Hops Field Day, similar to the one CLEREL held in June, but this time in Geneva.  There were several speakers discussing topics relevant to interested growers.  I was able to talk a little bit about my project and the data I have collected, as well as general scouting a hop grower would do in his yard for TSSM.

Rootworm photos by Tim Weigle

Strong Volunteers

As the corn matured in the month of June, we took more stand counts and did a considerable amount of hoeing and staking.  What we did at the “home research farm” in New Holland, we often had to do the same at other research locations as well.  We would often load up the van with hoes and boxes of stakes and take off for a plot that could be a few miles away, could be in a neighboring county, or could be three hours either north or south.  On longer trips, we left the research station around 7:00 am and returned around 5:00 or 6:00 pm, usually after most other employees had returned home.  We did not complain however, as we got to take a nice nap on long rides, and lunch was also provided.

For each research field, there is set number of plots and a specific layout for these plots.  Each field is generally rectangular and surrounded by border rows of corn to act as a buffer.  A standard commercial variety is usually used for these border rows.  The test plot size is either two or four rows wide and is anywhere from 10 to 17 ½ feet long.  The field is divided into ranges and plots.  Ranges run horizontally and rows run vertically if you are oriented at the correct end of one of the fields.  Stakes were placed in certain ranges as specified by the breeders so they could identify the location of each of the plots as the corn grew.  The plant breeders and research assistants could then more easily collect their data.

 Valley near Williamsport, PA

Valley near Williamsport, PA

Hoeing out volunteer corn and the occasional hemp dogbane weed was another adventure all by itself.  The other three interns and I probably hoed between 30 to 40 acres of the home research farm at least once.  We hoed at most of the surrounding test fields close to New Holland.  We hoed down south in Delaware.  We hoed up north around Williamsport, PA.  In the month of June we hoed like it was going out of style.  Two more memorable hoeing trips stick out in my mind.  Once down in Delaware on a 96°F day, we were hoeing a field that had been planted but much of the seed was eaten by birds.  The field was then tilled up and re-planted, but some of the first round of corn that had not been eaten was still coming up.  We were hoeing out what was originally good experimental test material, but it was now in the way of the re-planted test material.  We were not hoeing pesky volunteer corn, but stuff other research assistants had planted three weeks ago!

Pulling out volunteer corn

Pulling out volunteer corn

Another memorable hoeing trip was just down the road from the New Holland station.  It was another 90°F day in a field that had been subjected to lodging and stalk strength testing in the previous season.  To test the stalk strength of each plot, they take an apparatus consisting of a few metal bars and “push” the corn over, seeing which plots withstand this best.  Usually most of the corn ends up on the ground.  Before the next corn test field was planted, the ground was tilled, creating a perfect environment for those buried kernels to germinate.  We were left to hoe out clumps of 5-10 corn plants popping up all throughout the rows of experimental plots.  To say we had a small volunteer corn problem would not accurately describe the situation.  Some of the volunteers were taller than the actual “good” corn and at times we could not tell where the actual rows of experimental corn were as we were on our hands and knees pulling the stuff out.  All in all though, good bonding experiences with our fellow interns and the other research assistants.

Where are the rows?

Where are the rows?

Invasive Species Awareness Week

By Proclamation of New York State’s Governor, Andrew Cuomo, this week of July 6-12 has been declared as New York State’s Invasive Species Awareness Week. The PRISMs around the state have many events going on to help spread the public awareness of invasive species of their area. Events for this week and in the future can be found at

photo (1)

Some of the ways that I contributed this week to the events was first, on Wednesday, I got to give a presentation to Saratoga County’s Board of Supervisors. That was really exciting. It was a group about about 25 people representing all the different towns that fill the county and it was the first time I had ever had the opportunity to speak to elected officials. I started with an overview of the PRISM and that there are several other PRISMs around the state with similar goals. I highlighted where they can find other events for the week and then I got into the brochure I made on common weeds found on Saratoga County farms and I began to talk to them about my project with the Knapweeds. I gave them a highlight of the history and told them what my research from this area would be used for. Lastly, I asked the group if they had any questions for me and I got some response. That was cool because according to Bill, they won’t usually ask questions.

Secondly, on Thursday, Laurel and I went down to the New Baltimore rest stop on the Thruway. Outside there we set up a information booth about invasive species in New York State. It captured many eyes but only gained the full attention of few out-of-staters that were interested in learning weather or not the same species that were a concern in their states, was also a concern in our state.


Lastly, as an educational experience, Laurel brought us up to Lake George to see some of the new boat wash stations around the lake. It was really interesting to see the great effort that is going into preserving and protecting Lake George from the invasive aqua species in other lakes around the state. Even though we did not get to see the wash in action, they walked us through the whole procedure of how they check all the compartment of the boat where water is stored to make sure it is dry and there is not a drop of water in it. If they find any of the invasives, or water still in the boat, they must give it the routine disinfectant, which is just a high-temperature,  high-pressure cleaning, inside the bilge and engine, and outside the boat and the trailer.

After this I got my first ever visit to Lake George. We checked out the Invasive Species Awareness Week booth set up at the Lake George Visitor Center, then walked around and I got a brief history of the lake. We finished with some soft ice cream before getting back in the car to come back to the office. I am really looking forward to another visit to the area.


In Pursuit of Knapweed

So it has been over a week since my last post, but there has not been too much to report on until today!

Yesterday was an exciting day as Laurel and I headed out to Ithaca to get some training on the project as a whole, and how to identify the species I will be looking for.



We started discussing the Knapweeds. Jeromy Biazzo, an associate of Lindsey Milbrath – a research entomologist with the USDA-ARS out of Cornell – led a discussion on the history of the different Centaurea species and the objective of locating them across the state. The history begins in 1907 where Spotted Knapweed -though not the only species now present- was first found in Washington state. It spread into the surrounding states of Idaho, Oregon, Montana, and into British Colombia from there. In the 1970’s much work was done on finding biological controls for the Knapweeds.  Years of research and experiments allowed the release of nearly a dozen different root weevils, seedhead weevils, and seedhead flies. The three types of insects, when used as a combination, are very effective in damaging the Knapweed to control its spread.

Spotted Knapweed and other species, cause severe problems in agricultural systems. They spread uncontrollably because they have the ability to produce tens of thousands of seeds. These seeds can be carried by wind, water, animals, or humans. Some species of Knapweed are particularly dangerous because they can produce toxins in their roots that stunt the growth of other plants around them if the other plants are not adapted to this. Knapweed has the ability to become a serious invasive in fields under favorable conditions for the plant. However, the point of the research that Cornell will conduct, is to determine if the Northeast has these favorable conditions for the Knapweeds.

As you may have guess, somehow it has found its way to the East Coast and we are on the hunt. New York and the Northeast have a much different climate than that of the Pacific Northwest. First we want to see if it is actually going to cause any harm to agricultural systems and if it ends up doing so, can we control it with the same insects as they have been using to control Knapweed in the other states. Most of the project is to determine sites and farmers that want to cooperate with the USDA and Cornell to do these studies, and mostly located closer to campus. My findings are important for the researchers to know that it is all around the state and what the density of it is.

Leslie Allee, a research associate in the Department of Entomology, spoke on the Lady Beetle part of the project. 30 years ago, the nine-spotted ladybug was not only the insect of New York, but found vastly across the Northern part of the US and into Canada. In the past 20-30 years, not a single one has been seen in New York. In an effort to find this native ladybug, in 2005, Leslie and a few other associates launched a citizen science project called the Lost Lady Bug Project, to help them find out what happened to this lady bug. With the efforts of this project, the nine-spotted ladybug has actually been found on Long Island, and it continues to be the only place in New York that has spotted it. Anyone can use the site, the only thing needed is your email address, a photo of the ladybug and the location of where you found it. People uploading this information do not need to be able to identify the ladybug, just take a picture. And it has gotten easier for any smartphone users, there is an app for the project now and you can take a picture and upload it within minutes. It is really exciting and I have been asked to participate in this as well.

We also looked at and learned how to identify some species in the carrot family – Wild Parsnip, Queen Anne’s Lace, and Poison Hemlock. We are looking closely at these species because in the past, many lady beetles have been found on many of these species. Given that we are looking for the lady beetle species mentioned above, checking these plants is a great place to start, and the researchers of the lady beetles want to determine if there is some relationship between the bugs and the carrot family of plants. 


So now with all of this information, and an introduction on how to carry out the protocol, I can begin. The past five weeks, Laurel and I have been making connections with farmers that want to participate and have me snooping around their fields for all that I listed above. We have a list of places that I began my work with this morning. I started at DeVoe’s Rainbow Orchards, a family owned orchard and vegetable operation. John and I searched the large orchard and came up with only some carrot species, fewer species around the second field, but the third field we looked at, BINGO! Spotted Knapweed.  Oddly enough, it was a bit exciting to come across some. I really thought that after 2 hours of searching, we might not come up with anything today, but we did. Unfortunately, we did not find any ladybugs, but I will try harder to look for them next time because I have made it a challenge to myself to find either the nine-spotted bug, or the other rare native, the transverse ladybug.

Spotted Knapweed capitulum

Spotted Knapweed capitulum


Disease Scouting and Dairy Farms – Week #4


As usual, this week consisted of a variety of tasks. Much of this week was spent gathering malting barley samples to send to the pathology lab at Cornell to be tested for diseases. Some fields in Livingston County had loose smut and powdery mildew, but we will have to wait until harvest to see how the much of an effect it will have on the crop. I’ve gotten to learn quite a bit about the trials of growing malting barley in New York States, most of the growers we have been working with are new at growing this crop. Interest in growing malting barley is increasing though, as it can fetch higher market prices than corn or wheat.

I was out on my own this week to help pull plant samples for the statewide soybean disease survey. I got my first practice in locating fields and scouting by myself! Pulling samples proved to be a little more difficult than I thought it would be since we had some pretty hard rains the night before, so what’s usually a nice walk through the fields was a struggle through the slippery mud! As my internship continues, I will be creating a Google Map to show each location that our team samples from and include pictures of the diseases that we’ve found in each location. This map is meant to be used a reference to the team and also to growers interested in learning to identify the diseases they may have in their fields

Aside from scouting, I attended a pasture walk at Maverick Farm, an organic dairy in Lockport, NY. Local farmers from the area gathered to hear about the grazing management practices that they use on the farm  and we also got to share a great lunch made by Tina Kowalowski, one of the owners. It was a great opportunity for other dairymen to learn from one another to find new ways for optimizing the health and efficiency of the cows on their farm. I really enjoyed being able to meet others who have family farms or have started their own farm, especially since its something I would like to do in the future!

Tools of the Trade

We use some pretty high tech tools to do our research. The following tools have been paramount in our work the past week or so and each one comes with its own special features.

-Kneeling Pads–Now don’t get too excited here. Originally composing several camping mats (you know, the ones for under your sleeping bag?), these mats got folded over and used to kneel on until they finally were just ripped or cut into smaller rectangles that are still used to this day in the field. Their character is apparent as they are laden with dirt and small stones in the indents made by years of kneeling. Regardless of their age, they save your knees in the field.

-Forceps–These are self-explanatory. Glorified tweezers.

wheel hoe

Exactly as much fun as you think it is

-Wheel Hoe–Now this, folks, is the reason I’m writing this post. We used a wheel hoe in the field the other day. Why would we use any contemporary machinery when we have a wheel hoe? See the picture here that shows literally exactly what the contraption we used looks like. It’s an antique for sure. Try cultivating an entire field with it. I have a much higher respect for my farming ancestors after the blisters from that day.

-Wood Sandwich Picks–Otherwise known as toothpicks.

-Paper Bags–The lab has piles and piles of paper bags, some previously used to be reused, and some new. The bags are used to collect samples and there IS a proper way to close them, so please learn the technique.


Chuck with a scuffle hoe

-Scuffle Hoes–These unique hoes, also called loop hoes, are brilliant. They are for the indecisive people in this world who can’t commit to either pushing or pulling their hoe. Please refer to the picture of Chuck doing the hoe demonstration for us at the field.

-Metal Detector–For treasure hunting. Because, priorities. All kidding aside, this is probably the most advanced piece of equipment that we have used this summer in the lab and we used it to dig up metal washers in the buried seed experiment.

-Watering cans–Let me tell you a story. Last week was a dry week. Without the water, the lettuce/galinsoga experiment we’ve been working on needed water desperately. In order to water the field, we needed to water each plant with half a liter of water that was carried from the water tank with watering cans to each plot. As if it weren’t enough that we were watering these 3200+ plants by hand, we got done with two reps and it started to pour.

-Clippers–Yes, scissors.

Moral of the story: Weed research, I’m realizing, is a lot of hard work–as I can imagine a lot of research is. It isn’t always as efficient as you might like, but the effort is necessary and worth it.

Traveling Soil Sampler

I’ve been all over the place these last couple weeks.  Our first location was about two hours north of Ithaca, just outside of Watertown.  Here, we had to do a lot of soil sampling and a few other measurements, including counting the number of corn plants in a 40-foot row, plant height, and number of leaves per plant.  We took soil samples at both 8- and 12-inch depths, as well, so this made for some long days.  Another new measurement I took was with the GreenSeeker, which is a handheld device that shoots an infrared beam down onto the crop.  As you walk over the row, it measures the light that is reflected back up to it and gives you an average value when you release the trigger.  The values range from zero to one, and the higher the number, the greener (and healthier) the crop should be.  I’m really excited to use this for whole-field mapping in the future.  Our second location was west of Rochester. We took the same types of measurements as we did in the first location, but the plot layout and sizes were all different.
The only new thing I’ve done in the last few weeks is plant grinding.  I basically but six-inch tip samples of alfalfa into an industrial grinder and collect the powder that comes out.  This is so that the plants from different treatments can be tested in the lab.


Ground alfalfa sample

Ground alfalfa sample

We’re also continuing our emissions project that I described on the last post.  Now that the corn is taller, it’s easy to see the effectiveness of all the different treatments, so that’s exciting.  However, we’ve recently made a change to the experiment.  Since the corn, grass, and alfalfa are all so tall under the chambers, extensions must be used.  This isn’t a big deal, though, as the time that the chambers remain on the bases will just need to be lengthened.
Other than that, we’ve really just been doing a lot of soil sampling in a lot of different parts of the state.  It makes for long days, but I can’t complain.  I was told that the craziness of fieldwork should slow down in a week or so, so I’m sure I’ll have some new job to describe later.

Fencing Challenges

It was early July and the dry California heat was intensifying. The Premier1 package had arrived and I decided to test the fence in a little piece of pasture under the vegetable garden. This way, if we put a few “test” goats or weeners in there, we could keep an eye on them from the farm house. With each electric fence came a galvanized steel ground rod and a solar charger. The idea is that the connection between the sun –> charger –> ground rod –> fence creates a current, ideally above 3000 volts to shock the animals and keep them within the fence. So, after charging the solar charger in the sun for a day or so, I began to assemble the parts. But, of course I hit into my first problem… literally. The ground was so dry that the ground rod would barely go more than 5 inches under the soil (even when hit with a sledge hammer)… it was supposed to be 2 feet deep. I tried moistening up the soil, but even then the voltage was too low to be effective. The few weaning babies we put inside the fence escaped with barely shock at all.


Bucket of water with tiny hole, dripping water onto the ground rod to moisten soil

Babies testing out the new fencing

Babies testing out the new fencing (Behind is the milking parlor)


Discouraged, I called up the Premier1 help center and explained the problem. The woman on the phone told me that of course I was running into this problem, and that since we live in a dry area we should have ordered their “Pos/Neg” fencing! Interestingly, the woman who I originally consulted about the purchase never mentioned this item… Anyways, the Pos/Neg fencing comes with 2 ground rods, less flimsy fence spikes, and works better with dry soil because of it’s alternating hotwires and groundwires. Essentially, it relies less on the soil moisture to create the current. Finally convinced, I packed up the two fences we bought, and shipped them back to Premier1, making an exchange for the Pos/Neg ones. What a headache…


Scouting, Scouting, and more Scouting

Last Saturday was the hops conference here at CLEREL and it was a success!  Aspiring growers came from across Newunnamed5 York, as well as from Pennsylvania and Ohio.  The morning consisted of speakers talking about basic hop topics, such as the actual planting of the hopyard, nutrition, and the economics behind starting a yard and marketing the hop cones at the end of the growing season.  Most of the literature search I have done has been focused on the science side of hops, so it was really beneficial to learn about the actual planting and the processes that go into managing and marketing a hopyard.

The afternoon took place outside in the hopyard with separate stations.  One station had two experienced growers asking questions, one was a pit dug next to several hop plants with the roots exposed to show their structure.  Hop plants grow via rhizomes,unnamed2 which are essentially stems of the plant that grow underground and the roots and main stem then sprout from the rhizome.  The photo above shows the root structure spray painted white.  The other stations discussed irrigation techniques and trellis construction, while I led a station discussing my research project and scouting protocols (photo to the left).  I think all of the attendees had a good time and learned a lot, I know I did!

This past week I helped with a lot of pest scouting in grapes.  On Monday, I scouted for rootworm alongside the fieldworkers.  Despite not finding any last week, there was evidence of rootworm this week and we brought some samples back to the lab.  I also helped Kim, whose main job is mapping, put together pest traps, which we set up in several vineyards and nurserunnamedies on Tuesday.  The goal of the traps is to find and identify different invasive species, but the traps have been put out in past years and none have been found.  In a couple of weeks we will go back and see if there is anything in them.

A continual effort has been made to collect leaf samples from the hopyard and count spider mites, just as I have done the past two weeks.  This week I did see several, but not enough for them to be causing any kind of serious damage in the yard.  The economic threshold for June is 1-2 mites per leaf, so I’m not even close to that number yet, as I would have to be finding over 400 mites, but I know they are coming.  Like spiders, twospotted spider mites spin webs and move with the wind using spinnerets, so once they get moving, they will move quickly.  I released the predatory mites on Thursday, both N. californicus and N. fallacis.  They came packaged with corn meal (photo to the right) to add weight and volume when they are sprinkled on the plants.  I kept several of each species on a slide and will have to really study their unique and defining characteristics to make sure I can tell the difference when I find them in the field.

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