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Empire Farm Day

Last week, my colleagues and I attended the Empire Farm Day at Rodman Lott and Son Farms. When I arrived, I was surprised to see that there were so many visitors and business men attending this big local event, and soon I found that it was a great opportunity for people like me to know more about agriculture development in New York State.

The first tent we visited was about soil health seminar. We have learned most of the content in the soil health seminar before in soil science courses, but we could  find that the lecturer used simpler words and more examples so that the contents could be easier comprehended and better remembered.

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There were a variety of agriculture machinaries showing on the grass land. The farmers could conveniently talk to the dealers, in order to know more about the strength of these machinaries.

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Also, there were a diversity of agriculture equipments that could be used to farm, keep livestock or market in a more convenient and precise way. I suppose that increasing use of such high-tech equipment must be a irreversible tendency nowadays.


The most exciting thing for me was two alpacas. Before, I had only seen such cute animals on the websites, and I was so surprised to see that there’s a farm of alpacas in New York State. By the way, it’s interesting that these two alpacas showed their “somber” back to people from beginning to end.

I think this kind of event could definitely act as a great platform for local farmers to improve their knowledge, facilities and equipment that were useful for their farming work.

Organic Cropping Systems (OCS)

Organic Cropping Systems (OCS) is a study comparing four different organic cropping systems. The four different systems are a high fertility system, low fertility system, enhanced weed management system, and reduced tillage system.  The experiment is headed by several people. The head person in our lab is Brian Caldwell. All the work that I have done has been on a sub-experiment within the OCS experiment. This experiment is run by Margaret Ball, one of the grad students in our lab. From this point when I mention OCS, I will be talking about Margaret’s sub-experiment. Margaret’s experiment compares weed suppression, weed community composition, weed-crop competition and effect of nutrient addition among soybean in all four systems.

Weeds are a major problem for organic growers since organic systems exclude the use of conventional herbicides. By exploring these four organic cropping systems Margaret can examine which system is best at managing the effects of weed competition or which systems that are more conducive for soybean resilience  For example, last year the experiment saw results that suggested the low fertility system was most favorable for soybeans because of competitive yield, good weed suppression, and low input costs.


Picture of a system plot. For example 1.1A, 1.1B, 1.3B, etc. (refer to map)

OCS plot map

Picture of a plot map and treatments. Each rectangle represents a system plot. Each little rectangle within the system plot represents a subplot with a specific treatment.









The OCS experiment is where my work has been the most diverse. Here is a list of what I have worked on so far:


1)We first measured out where the soybeans were going to be planted in the experiment.

2) The individual treatments(subplots) needed to be measured out. Soybean rows had already been planted and were starting to emerge from the soil. In all there were six treatments (excluding the control treatment). The six treatments were:

  • Sodium nitrate application
  • Triple Phosphate application
  • Weed-free (hand-weed leaving soybeans only)
  • Weedy (add weed seeds and avoid cultivation)
  • Surrogate (add millet, hand-weed leaving soybean and millet, and avoid cultivation)
  • Monocrop (add millet, hand-weed leaving millet only, and avoid cultivation)

Example of the differences among subplots. At the bottom left corner is the Surrogate subplot, next is the Monocrop subplot, then the Weedy subplot, and lastly the Weed free plot.


3)After the treatment plots had been measured out we broadcasted the millet seed, weed seed, and fertilizers. The Millet plots were designed to create consistent competitive pressure for the soybeans between all systems. The weed seed was planted to show the effect of having a high density of weeds.

4)Soil samples were taken from plots to compare the soil properties among each system.


Taking soil samples.


5) Due to improper germination, millet had to be replanted. When we replanted millet we planted it in rows instead of broadcasting because it makes it easier to differentiate between millet and other grasses like Foxtail.

6) Weekly weeding of weed free plots.

7) Lastly, we took weed and soybean biomass samples. In my first post I talked about biomass sampling. The process was very similar in this experiment. Within the quadrat we identified and counted the weed species and counted how many soybeans were present.

Ciao for Now, Casa Caponetti!

Missing Tuscania already!

Missing Tuscania already!

Well, the last six weeks went by quickly, but it’s been a wonderful experience getting to spend my summer working on a farm in Italy. I’ve gained a ton of first-hand knowledge about planting and growing vegetables, independent research projects, and travelling by myself. I hope the practical farming skills I’ve gained here will stick with me and prove useful in the future, but I think the most valuable part of this summer for me was experienced on a more personal level. When I first arrived at the farm I was the only one working in the garden, shy and nervous about asking questions or messing something up. Eventually I settled into a routine, asked to be included in the decision making processes of managing the garden, and finally got people to save their 1.5 L plastic bottles for my experiment.

I’ve figured out that in most situations, you don’t just get everything you need handed to you. Being assertive is something I sometimes struggle with, but over the course of my time at the farm I’ve learned how much of an ability I have to get what I want out of any experience. The opportunity to travel by myself has also been incredibly rewarding. There’s something about navigating multiple trains and buses in a foreign country and actually managing to get where you’re trying to go that can make you feel quite independent and satisfied with yourself. To my pleasant surprise, I made it back home without any bumps along the way – I didn’t miss any of my flights and none were delayed! I’m so thankful for my internship experience this summer and I’m excited to finish up the ag science major and make the most of senior year. Back to Ithaca in less than a week!

New Sprouting Experiment

In addition to my olive fruit fly control research project, I started a small experiment to test the effects of different potting mixtures on seed germination rates. The method typically used here at Casa Caponetti is sprouting seeds in soil blocks with a mixture of 1 part soil from the farm, 1 part manure, and 1 part pre-made outdoor potting soil with peat and fertilizer. I wanted to see how effective it would be to keep the amount of regular soil the same, and change the ratios of manure and potting soil.  I sprouted lettuce in 4 different combinations: 1 part farm soil and 2 parts manure, 1 part farm soil, 1 part manure, 1 part potting soil, and 1 part farm soil and 2 parts potting soil, and a control of 100% pre-made potting soil. As one might expect, the pre-made potting soil seems to be the most effective in germinating seeds quickly, since that is what it’s designed for. The sprout heights were measured, and the ones that germinated in the potting soil were longer than those in the other three mixtures. This was likely because there is fertilizer in the potting soil already, which speeds up the growth. The combination of just soil from the farm and manure was very unsuccessful, and only resulted in 3 out of 27 seeds germinating because of the high levels of ammonia in the fertilizer. The mixture of equal parts manure, potting soil, and farm soil was not far behind the 100% potting soil group and seems to be the most effective texture for making the soil blocks. It’s an added bonus that this mixture uses resources that are already on the farm and reduces the amount of external resources needed to produce and transport the potting soil. It is also a less expensive option.


Week 10: End of Season

Tuesday marked my last day as an intern at Cornell University’s Long Island Horticultural Research and Extension Center. This internship proved to be both enjoyable and educational. I was introduced to the fundaments of scouting, interviewing, research and agriculture in general. This phenomenal experience could not have been possible without the support and guidance of Professor Bjorkmann at the Geneva research station and the Vegetable Extension specialist at LIHREC, Sandy Menasha. As a result of this internship I feel more secure in my decision to continue to pursue a degree in Agricultural Sciences, and I am eager to use my new knowledge in all my future endeavors.


Celebrating my last day at the annual Grown on Long Island Day farmers’ market


Saying goodbye to the plethora of cabbage loopers on our crops


Fun Work Days

As a part of my internship, I encountered many opportunities to attend agriculturally-related events as well as visit beef cattle farms in the Finger Lakes Region.

The first event I attended while working under the NMSP was the Cornell Seed Growers Field Day, where the topic of discussion focused on small grains and forages. Many speakers talked about the varieties of small grains and forages, all providing pros and cons for each option. Identification and prevention of disease and pests were other components of the seminars given at this field day.

The second event, the North American Manure Expo, was located in Chambersburg, PA. The morning was filled with seminars on manure application (specifically injection) and the benefits of injection. Tractors and manure application equipment lined the Expo grounds as well as exhibits with businesses, services and research projects for public display. Demonstrations for dry- and liquid-based manure ended the Expo, leaving the audience impressed with the liquid injection of manure.

Manure injection was the primary project I worked on this summer, so the event was an eye opening experience since it showed me how my research with NMSP was part of a bigger picture in the scheme of agriculture.

Manure Expo Demonstrations

Manure Expo Demonstrations

The Aurora Field Day at the Musgrave Research Farm encompassed most of the research I have conducted with the NMSP and encountered from other Cornell University research programs this summer. Many interns from other programs at Cornell participated in the trials happening at the research farm. Besides learning about all of the research happening at Musgrave, it was satisfying hearing my supervisors explain our greenhouse gas emissions, manure injection and green seeker projects I am a working on and, again, hearing the big picture concepts to our research.

Matt Ryan explains his research with cover crops

Matt Ryan explains his research with cover crops

Fellow intern, Isaac, demonstrates how Greenseeker equipment functions in Field Z

Fellow intern, Isaac, demonstrates how Greenseeker equipment functions in Field Z

I made three additional trips (with Quirine’s permission) based off my interests in beef cattle. Nancy Glazier, a Cornell Cooperative Extension small farms specialist, guided me through each event. The first beef-related trip I took part in was a monthly meeting where a group of experienced and inexperienced beef cattle farmers shared their financial struggles in starting up and maintaining beef cattle. I learned a great ordeal from the trip and met a great group of people, which set the stage for my next trip.

These black angus seem to dislike me

These black angus seem to dislike me

The following week Nancy took me on tours to multiple farms raising beef cattle, namely High Point Farm, Adventureland Devons, Just Serependity Farm, and Hidden Canyon Farm. Each location managed their herd with different methodologies and bases of knowledge, making each farm unique. With each visit I gained a lot of advice and support in raising beef cattle.

I traveled to Seneca Falls to check out the Empire Farm Days a week after my visits. Similarly to the Manure Expo, there was plenty of farm equipment and exhibits for display as well as seminars on cover crops and soil health. Here I watched Dr. Mike Baker demonstrate cattle handling and received my Beef Quality Assurance Certification (BQA). The required seminar for BQA was long and a test was administered. Following the test, we had to give a cow a subcutaneous injection. I never gave a subcutaneous injection before, so it was quite the experience and no harm was done to the animal.

Dr. Mike Baker shows his audience how the handling system functions

Dr. Mike Baker shows his audience how the handling system functions

Manure Injection Study

The use of manure as an organic fertilizer is a critical component of dairy cropping systems. It essentially allows the farmer to find a cheap, productive use of manure while supplying crops in the field with necessary nutrients.

There are many different methods for applying manure. Broadcasting is the most commonly used method of manure application since it is typically fast and cheap. However, you get what you pay for. When the ammonia (NH3) lays on the surface of the soil, you will experience losses in nitrogen due to volatilization, leaving much less nitrogen behind than the initial amount available. Another issue with broadcasting is uniformity. Since the actual distribution of the manure varies with broadcasting, uniformity of application leaves some areas of the field with more/less manure than other. Furthermore, if you live relatively close to “city folk” and plan to broadcast manure, you will receive many complaints about the foul odor from your fields.

The only way to reduce losses and limit odor would be to make another pass through the field and incorporate (disk the manure into the field), and attempting to increase uniformity with broadcast would only create more variability in abundance of ammonia. However, more passes through the field mean more soil compaction, more fuel and more soil disturbance.

Manure Broadcasting

Manure Broadcasting

Manure injection is another method in applying manure to fields. With injection, multiple hoses feed from the tank. Disks are used to create slits in the soil large enough to allow manure, which feeds through a series of hoses and exits out of the end from the boot, to enter the first few inches of the soil. Immediately after manure is injected into the soil, another set of disks recovers the manure with the disturbed soil surrounding the slits.

Frontal view of manure injector with boot and disks to recover manure

Frontal view of manure injector with boot and disks to recover manure (from the NA Manure Expo)

Disk used to create a slit in the soil to allow manure insertion

Disk used to create a slit in the soil to allow manure injection (from the NA Manure Expo)


On the other hand with manure injection, the ammonia is buried beneath the soil, eliminating major losses due to volatilization. With more ammonia preserved in the soil over the course of the growing season, the need for side dressing later in the season can be eliminated, saving farmers thousands of dollars. In addition, the manure is covered underneath the soil, drastically reducing odor in the field. Another benefit of injection includes uniformity of application. With uniform application, nutrients are dispersed evenly, and with this, the likelihood of excess or deficient amount of nutrients will be much less prevalent throughout the field. However, injection requires experience, so the process of applying manure will become faster and more efficient over time.

Injected Manure

Injected Manure

Here at NMSP, I am partaking in a project to determine the impact of manure injection on grass and alfalfa yield and quality, stand health, environmental indicators (soil nitrate, phosphorus and potassium) and greenhouse gas emissions.

For our manure injection research, we used four different fields (Fields 33 and 47 near the Cornell University Ruminant Center and Field Z Grass and Alfalfa at the Musgrave Research Farm). The fields at CURC each contained six replications (rep), and each rep contained four plots. The alfalfa field at Musgrave contained 12 reps and the grass field contained six reps. Four treatments were used in our study: broadcasting, injection with manure, injection with no manure, and no injection and no manure (control). Each plot in every replication represented one of four the treatments. We used, in collaboration with Scott Potter, a Veenhuis manure injector model for our trial.

Veenhuis Manure Injector with wings folded up

Veenhuis Manure Injector with wings folded up

Veenhuis Manure Injector

Veenhuis Manure Injector

No manure was applied to the fields before the first cut of grass and alfalfa. When the time was right to harvest the alfalfa, we cut samples from the fields with clippers that resemble hand sheers used in sheering sheep. We determined the yield per acre from the three quadrats (frames with a 3’ x 1’ dimension) of samples from each plot once they were dried in the Caldwell ovens for least four days at 60 degrees Celsius. Once weighed, the samples were grounded so they could be sent to and analyzed in the lab. Once the first cut was harvested, we readied for manure application.

Quadrat with clippers used to collect plant samples

Quadrat with clippers, gloves and paper bags used to collect plant samples

As for our second cut, we repeated the same procedure for hand harvesting with no further manure application for the rest of this year’s trial, and we are hoping to get our third cut in soon. We are still looking over and collecting data, so there are no inconclusive results from our study yet.

Crossing the Finish Line: Back to St. Louis

Just a glimpse of the Monsanto main campus in St. Louis.

Just a glimpse of the Monsanto main campus in St. Louis.

Just as our internship this summer began with a training week in St. Louis, MO at the company headquarters, we finish with a final wrap-up week back at the same location. While the first week was all about preparing us for our role and helping us to understand what to expect, the final week is all about recapping our experiences and gauging what we learned throughout our time with the company.

After catching up with friends and sharing our own adventures, we worked on adding finishing touches to our presentations, practicing our deliveries, and brushing up on our interview questions. The day after our arrival, we all broke out into different groups to present our corporate projects with our student teams and mentors. Each student was evaluated by the designated mentors with a form, which would eventually be used to critique our possible return for another internship or trainee position after the conclusion of the week. In my case, I gave two presentations: One was the wrap-up of my summer experience with brief comments about my corporate project, and one solely dedicated to the Vistive Gold project to the special analytics team (the rest of the students combined their comments about their summers and projects into one presentation). We were asked to give two because this was the first time data regarding grain-handling facilities was recorded and they wanted to get an idea for it right away.

After a break from presenting, everyone had the opportunity to sign up for an interview slot. For rising seniors, they could interview to be DSMTs (District Sales Manager Trainees), and for rising juniors, they could interview to be retuning interns. I decided to interview for the returning role, which I can gladly say I was offered another position that I accepted for the summer of 2016.

Later in the day, all of the interns had the chance to sit down and eat lunch with their St. Louis connection, or an employee at the headquarters who somewhat acted as a “link” or a “sponsor” just to be there to answer questions and provide guidance over the course of the internship. I was already well acquainted with mine prior to the beginning of the internship, as I had the opportunity to travel to St. Louis in December of 2014 to meet with different individuals in roles across the company as hosted by an upper-level member of Monsanto, which I am very grateful for as it gave me the chance to get to know many people before arriving. My St. Louis mentor and I talked about where I could take my experience with Monsanto in the future, and it really helped capture my interest in post-graduate careers.

As the few days wrapped up, we turned in our equipment and vehicles and prepared our trips back home, all leaving with a great experience, good friends, and a new perspective in working in the agricultural business world. I am nothing short of impressed with the company and the learning opportunity they provided us. See you next summer, Monsanto!

The power ladies of the Vistive Gold project & our mentor.

The power ladies of the Vistive Gold project & our mentor.

A remarkable experience at a remarkable company.

A remarkable experience at a remarkable company.

When Leaving A Small Farm Feels Like a Big Deal

Hey everybody,

As my days here at Quails-R-Us whiz by, I’m startled to realize that I have very little time left here on the farm.  After months of working so closely with the owners, living with them, taking meals with them, hearing firsthand their struggles and future plans, I’ve found that somewhere along the line I stopped thinking of this summer as a temporary arrangement and more as the beginning of a long-term partnership. During this summer I have been treated as a partner in the business, a position I’m honored to have held.  Often I was asked my opinion on some managerial decision that would impact the farm well after I was gone, and I always gave my answer as if this really were my farm.  Without realizing it, I started considering the success of this farm as integral to my future as it is to that of the owners.  The farm’s struggles became my struggles, and I devoted as much time and effort to fixing them as I would any hardship in my own life.  Any victory the farm had – getting into a new market, having a favorable article written about us in the local newspaper, securing a new CSA member – had me as delighted as if I would be benefiting from that victory myself.

One of the many newspaper pieces mentioning us this summer

One of the many newspaper pieces mentioning us this summer

Every minute I spent working alongside the owners was less for me and my education and more for the continued success of the farm.  Somewhere between my arrival on the farm and now, I became invested, and the continued improvement of the economic and environmental sustainability of the business became my sole goal.  I’ve been giving 110% every day to make sure this farm survives. Now I find it difficult to remind myself that this is just a temporary job, and in just a few short weeks I’ll be far away from the beautiful sunlit meadows I’ve come to love.  I’ve had an absolutely wonderful summer, filled with hard work and many memories, and I’m still a bit confused as to where all my time went.  It’s a bit of a shock to remember that no, I won’t be here in November to make sure all the customers ordering their Thanksgiving turkeys are satisfied.  And no, I won’t be here next lambing season to help birth and eartag new additions to the flock. It’s so strange, after weeks of thinking of this farm as my farm, as my future, and doing so much for its long term success, that I’ll be leaving it behind to continue my life.  Maybe I’ll return someday to continue to help manage it, and maybe not.  The thought makes me a little melancholy.

I hardly feel that all my hard work is for nothing, though.  I’ve learned so much from this experience, lessons you could never get from a textbook or a lecture.  While I hardly romanticized farming before this job, I definitely was not fully aware of how much it takes out of you. I regularly have been working seventy hours a week, falling into bed exhausted at the end of the day, with barely the energy left to eat, much less do all the hiking and adventuring I thought I was going to do this summer. And still I have had more downtime than my bosses, who regularly wake up at 4am to start the day’s chores while I’m still snoozing, and who work longer into the night every night on paperwork and number-crunching.  I knew before that a farmer wears many hats: soil scientist, veterinarian, carpenter, marketing specialist, mechanic.  Now I know that farmers often also must know the less hands-on fields: web design, the ins and outs of workers comp, how to navigate market politics, and a lot about licensing, permits, and taxes.  Many of the farmers I developed friendships with this summer cited a love of the land and of nature as the reason they kept with farming, despite all its hardships. And yet often we all are so busy farming, rushing from one chore to the next, that taking the time to consider and appreciate the natural landscape we work in gets put on the back burner.  All farmers, it seems, are on the brink of survival.  You’ll never get rich in farming.  There always will be another crisis to attend to – an outbreak of footrot, a broken tractor, a very vocal unsatisfied customer, a bill that’s overdue to be paid.  But, if you do it right, you will have a good sense of satisfaction with your life.  You’ll be working hard to put food on the tables of your customers.  You’ll have rewarding relationships with your community, fellow farmers and consumers alike. You’ll spend time with animals, spend time with growing things, spend time in nature every day.  You’ll go to bed knowing you made a difference.  And, to me, that will be what makes it worth it.

More soon.


The Farm Chef


An electron scale installed under neath the mixer instructs the loader operator as to how much of each ingredent is needed.

Week 5
A busy schedule has distracted me from blogging but alas the time has come for an update on the activities here in Texas. The past few weeks have been filled with an abundance of fun activities.

The cost of feed composes approximately 50% of a Dairy Farms costs. Additionally nutrition is essential to the growth, health and production of the cows so essential to profitability. As a result the production and processing of the cattle’s feed are very important activities within the dairy. I spent two days feeding the cattle on the farm with many different rations throughout the herd. Feed ingredients include homegrown silages and hays as well as purchased products such as Dried Distillers Grains (byproduct of ethanol production) and various minerals necessary for adequate cow health. Through these two days I fed over half a million pounds of feed for nearly 7,000 animals including heifers, and milking and dry cows.


Unloading a mixture of alfalfa, corn and wheat silage into the feed bunks. Max capacity of feed truck 30,000 libs.

Also essential for operation on such a large farm is organization and documentation. Overt the past weeks I have been working to integrated some additional technology, utilizing RFID ear tags, to electronically document events such as pregnancies, freshenings, sicknesses and deaths. This information is later used to analyze the status of the dairy, an impossible task without the help of modern technology.

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