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Ag Sci major wins first place and others excel at national weed science contest

-Toni DiTommaso

group of students with Toni
2019 Cornell Weed Science Team Members: Front Row- from left to right: Emily Urban, Maria Gannett, Liang Cheng, Toni DiTommaso (faculty mentor), Maria Osuna, Emma Kubinski. Back row- from left to right: Eugene Law, Chris Sitko, Matthew Spoth, Julie Mudasumbwa, Kristy Perano, Yuan Li, Aleah Butler-Jones.

Once again this year, Cornell students returned to campus with several awards for their achievements at the 2019 North American Collegiate Weed Science Contest held on July 25, 2019 at the BASF Midwest Research Farm, Midwest Ag Research Center of Valent, and Klein Farms near Seymour, Illinois. Like the Olympics, this national/international contest is held every four years. More than 250 graduate and undergraduate students from some 30 institutions across the U.S. and Canada competed in the contest and represented all regions of the country.

faculty member with award winner
Matthew Spoth awarded 1st place nationally for the Undergraduate Individual category with Toni DiTommaso

Cornell undergraduate and Agricultural Sciences Major Matthew Spoth, received first place in both the regional level (Northeast) and national level in the individual undergraduate category. This is indeed an impressive feat given the number and quality of students competing in this contest. Congratulation Matt!

Also, one of our Cornell undergraduate teams comprised of: Aleah Butler-Jones, Emma Kubinski, and Matthew Spoth finished in second place in the undergraduate team category for the Northeast Region. Congratulations Aleah, Emma, and Matt!

Cornell participants in this year’s contest included:

  • Graduate Team (1): Maria Gannett (Horticulture/Soil & Crop Sciences), Eugene Law (Soil & Crop Sciences),  Kristy Perano (Biological & Environmental Engineering)
  •  Graduate Team (2): Liang Cheng (Horticulture), Chris Sitko (Horticulture), Emily Urban (Soil & Crop Sciences)
  • Undergraduate Team (1): Aleah Butler-Jones (Agricultural Sciences), Emma Kubinski (Plant Sciences), Matthew Spoth (Agricultural Sciences)
  • Undergraduate Team (2): Yuan Li (Entomology), Julie Mudasumbwa (International Agriculture & Rural Development), Maria Osuna (Intern from Colombia)

The 2019 Weed Science Team members would like to especially thank SIPS for their support!

Emma Kubisnki, Matthew Spoth, and Aleah Butler-Jones received 2nd Place awards in the Undergraduate Team category for the Northeast Region

sign welcoming participantsInterested in competing in a future year?  The four different areas of the competition are structured around the following parameters.

  • Weed identification: Students are typically given a list of 120 weed species to know (from seed to mature plant) some 4 months ahead of the contest and in the contest they will be asked to identify 25 of the species (5 of which will be seeds). For five of the 25 species, they will need to write down the scientific name of the species — common names are OK for the other 20 species. For each of the 25 species, students also need to choose a correct biology/ecology related multiple choice answer for that species. The students are provided live plants for the contest.
  • Sprayer calculation and calibration. For the sprayer calculation part of this contest category students are given 30 minutes to answer (written) a set of sprayer related problem sets that requires calculations and good knowledge of sprayer technology. The second component is a team hands-on event where the students need to properly calibrate a hand-held 4 nozzle sprayer and apply the proper amount of product (water in this case) based on a previously calculated spray volume and speed. They also have to select the proper nozzles and screen meshes based on the calculated spray rate and using a Teejet Manual.
  • Herbicide Identification: Considered the most difficult component of the contest, participants have to identify the correct 10 herbicides out of a list of 30 herbicides that were sprayed on test field plots. The students have to learn both what the specific herbicide symptomology looks like on affected plants as well as the selectivity or lack thereof of the herbicide based on 10 crops and 10 weeds that are in each plot. The students are also expected to know the family of the 10 herbicides they select as well their modes of action and site of action. Scoring 50% on this part of the contest is considered good!
  • Farmer Problems: In this interesting and fun part of the contest, students role play and need to solve a real crop/plant issue that may be related to herbicide use/misuse but often is not. The students are told at the outset what role they will take on (e.g. extension educator, industry representative) and what the general issue/problem they will be dealing with (e.g. why are some of this organic farmer’s tomatoes dying?). Volunteers at the contest (e.g. faculty, extension educators, industry reps) take on the role of the organic farmer and there is also a judge that keeps score of how well the student is doing in terms of asking the proper questions to arrive at solving what the issue may be. Students can score well even if they do not completely solve the problem as long as they ask relevant questions that eliminate other possibilities (e.g. environmental factors, plant diseases, insect/mammal damage, improperly cleaning out a sprayer tank, etc..).  The students need to provide a recommendation to the farmer or other stakeholder for the current year as well as next year. These farmer problems are done at appropriately set up field locations on the site where the contest is held (e.g. research farm) so that it feels like the “real” thing…. Each student has to solve two farmer problems.


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