Wednesday, August 27, 2014

An Indiana Summer

Greeting, all!

Here's to the end of a great summer and the beginning of an even better school year. As I reflect back on my summer experiences I am overwhelmed by all the basic agriculture practices I learned (for instance, driving a tractor).

I spent my summer working within the Agronomy department with Dr. Keith Johnson, a forage specialist and an extension educator. He is part of a much bigger research project headed by CenUSA bioenergy. The idea of the project is to test three different types of native prairie grasses (switchgrass, indiangrass, and big bluestem) for success in marginal land settings. Grasses were chosen for this project based on their potential for bioenergy use. As you can imagine, West Lafayette and the majority of surrounding areas aren't necessarily considered "marginal" land. This being said, a lot of my summer with Dr. Johnson was spent the traveling to our destinations. We had plots in Peru, Trafalgar, and Oakland City, Indiana.

Each location had it's identifier that made it qualify as "marginal land", but the most interesting one (being an environmental scientist) was in Oakland City. It is located north of Evansville on a farm who's land we're renting for the project. Across the street from the grass plot is a working coal mine. HOW COOL! (well not really, but you know what I mean). The irony of growing bioenergy grasses across from a working coal mine is something else.

A photo of the truck at the plots during planting with the coal mine in the background

Now for a little bit about my role in the research. I was Dr. Johnson's right hand girl, helping with planting, fertilizing and spraying herbicide, plot care, data collection and recording, and most importantly, observing and learning the process. One thing I learned this summer, and in my personal opinion, is that not many people out there are as dedicated and will work as hard as a farmer, especially Dr. Johnson. Work wasn't always easy, especially with the hot dusty weather we experienced in Oakland City. Another lesson is that no matter how long it takes, always do something right. We worked in Oakland city from sun up to sun down delineating plots, calibrating the seeder, sowing the seed, and even sowing a specific variety twice to make sure it was done right. 

Overall this summer was nothing short of awesome. I hope to aid in the harvest process this fall to further my experience and see the cycle completed. 
My advice to all who read this is to never pass up an opportunity to learn. 

Sending good wishes for new school year and am looking forward to serving as an Agronomy/NRES Ambassador!!


Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Australia to Indiana

This is my first time posting as an Agronomy Ambassador, but I am not a new Agronomy Ambassador. My name is Daniel Sweeney and I am a senior in Plant Genetics, Breeding, and Biotechnology and have been an Ambassador since my sophomore year. I manage to stay pretty busy on campus between being an Agronomy Ambassador and involvement in College of Agriculture Ambassadors, Ag Week Task Force, Agronomy Club, Old Masters, my fraternity, undergraduate research, and Mortarboard leadership honorary. Not to mention applying for graduate school and being on the Homecoming Court this fall! Last semester I decided to take a bit of a break and take a semester to study abroad at the University of Adelaide in Adelaide, Australia.  I had never been overseas before so traveling to Australia for five months was a completely new endeavor for me. I would not trade my experience in Australia for anything; I experienced a totally new level of independence, met incredible people from all over the world, and witnessed some of the most beautiful places on Earth. I chose the University of Adelaide for the quality of its agriculture program and took some very interesting courses. My plant health course looked at integrated pest management and offered a different take on pest control than I had received previously. I also took a wine science course which was fascinating. The area around Adelaide is home to some of the finest wine producing regions in Australia and the world. My class covered viticulture, wine making, and sensory evaluation (tasting). It was a bit of a change to learn about a crop that produces a higher quality product in stony sloped ground and where low yield is desirable, but I thoroughly enjoyed learning about a new facet of agriculture. Wheat and barley are the two major row crops grown in the state of South Australia; canola is more prevalent across Victoria and pastureland is ubiquitous to the country. Aussie cropping systems are very different than Midwestern cropping systems but they do share some similarities. South Australia is the driest state on the driest continent in the world so heat and drought resistance are very important in Australia. Disease resistance and salinity tolerance are also paramount. Many South Australian soils are saline and nutrient poor. No-till has become the norm in order to reduce water loss and conserve soils, but herbicide resistant weeds are becoming a large problem.  In my travels to northern Queensland, I also saw large sugarcane fields which were really interesting. Unfortunately I didn’t learn too much about that cropping system. I was able to meet with an Aussie wheat breeder and learn about the Australian wheat industry and I did some lab work for a durum wheat breeder at uni. As much as I learned in an academic setting, I learned so much more outside of the classroom and lab. Traveling opens one’s eyes to the incredible world around them and makes them approach and evaluate decisions much differently. My travels to New Zealand, the Great Barrier Reef, Melbourne, Brisbane and the Gold Coast, and all around South Australia increased my wonder for the natural world and conviction that each person is a treasure with a story to tell. Take a look at some of the pictures posted below for a sampling of my adventures!

Upon returning to the United States on July 5th, I had a week at home and then I moved back to campus and worked for Dow AgroSciences at their Fowler station. I led a crew of seasonal employees in the breeding nursery and later assisted with plant and ear height measurements. I had done similar work the last two summers but I was happy just to have a half internship after returning from studying abroad. I had previously worked for Dow AgroSciences at their Indianapolis labs in January before departing for Australia and I was really impressed with their research program and company culture. I look forward to writing for you all in the future! Boiler Up and Hail Purdue!

Daniel Sweeney

Michaela Turner- 2014 Beck's Superior Hybrids Production Intern

This summer, I lived in Atlanta, Indiana and worked for Beck's Hybrids Seed Company as a Production Intern. During the summer I worked very independently inspecting fields for top quality seed production.. I also worked with another intern conducting a project that we presented to the company on our last week.

The first week of my internship all the interns participated in Beck's On-Boarding program. During this we learned all about the company, and each department within the company. They took us on tours and introduced us to some of the top leaders within the company.

After On-Boarding,  I had some short training and was sent to my first field. I had my own truck and would travel to corn and soybean fields all over. In the beginning, I took stand counts and growth stages, identified weeds then monitored for bugs and diseases, eventually deficiencies and lastly took yield estimates. We recorded all of our information in an iPad Mini that would sync to our bosses computer. We would say what we saw, the pressure of the problem, and what we thought needed to be done. For instance one thing I might enter would be "Hemp Dogbane, medium patchy pressure, spray in 3-5 days."

During the summer, I also had to make sure that I made time to work on my summer project. Paige, another production intern, and I conducted pivot audits on 11 of Beck's pivots. We measured the amount of water each sprinkler was putting on using a catch can based test. Using the amount of water that we collected, we would then calculate the coefficient of uniformity. This simply gave each pivot a score on how uniform and efficient it was. We would then make graphs that identified where each pivot needed maintenance work. This project will help Beck's improve their pivot quality immensely. On our last week, we presented our project to the other interns and some of the leaders of the company. This was a great experience because I have never worked with irrigation before.

At this internship, I enjoyed learning about how the processes of seed production work. I also liked trying to identify problems in the fields and finding solutions to fix those problems. Most of all, it was the people that I got to work with that made such a great summer. This summer was a great learning experience. Internships help me identify where my skills and talents can best be utilized in the future when I look for a full time job. I would encourage everyone to get an internship each summer.