Cornell team readies for national 'Weed Olympics' July 21

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Joe Schwartz
spraying for weeds
Provided
A student from Guelph University participates in the sprayer calibration competition when Cornell hosted the weed contest at the Homer C. Thompson Vegetable Research Farm, Freeville, New York, in 2010.

After enduring practice through thistle and flashcards, the Cornell University Weed Team will send four graduate students and seven undergraduates for two days of agronomic combat at the 2015 National Collegiate Weed competition – affectionately dubbed the “Weed Olympics.” The contest will be held at Ohio State University’s Agricultural Research and Development Center at South Charleston, Ohio, July 21-22.

The competition is serious business. Students who know their horsenettle (Solanum carolinense) from their horseweed (Conyza canadensis), their quackgrass (Elymus repens) from their stinkgrass (Eragrostis cilianensis) stand a good chance of landing their job of choice. Judges will be from university faculty and industry professionals from governmental agencies, Sygenta, BASF, Bayer, DowAgroSciences, DuPont and Monstanto.

“Doing well in the contest is a good way to get the attention of faculty or companies who could be hiring, and even just going to the contest is a good networking opportunity,” said Kristen Perano, a doctoral student in biological and environmental engineering. “Placing shows that you have practical, applicable and broad skills in weed science and are not pigeonholed into your own research.”

Students must identify weeds as seeds, seedlings, plants and plant parts, and they’re tested on common names and scientific names. In fact, students must recognize more than 130 species of weeds and recognize the effects of 30 herbicides. Judges gauge knowledge of sprayer calculations and proper use of spraying equipment, ensuring the safety and efficacy for herbicide applications.

Collegiate teams participating include the University of California at Davis, Washington State University, Texas A&M University, Penn State, Purdue University, Virginia Tech and the University of Guelph, Ontario.

Through role-play, students solve a farmer’s difficult weed problem, then obtain points for interaction, assessment and making recommendations.

Perano grew up on a cattle ranch in California and often fought invasive species. “I wanted to learn more about weed science,” she said. “I think this team and science experience will serve me well in the future.”

Aside from Perano, the other graduate students are Vinay Bhaskar in the field of horticulture, as well as Jeff Liebert and Margaret Ball, both from the field of soil and crop sciences.

Undergraduates include Meghan Joline ’17, Amy Garza ’17, Jonathan Hunn ’15, Rachel Breslauer ’16, Blake Elkins ’16, Nick Brennan ’17 and Christine Cho, a student from Northwestern University studying at Cornell for the summer.

Antonio DiTommaso, professor of weed ecology and management in the section of Soil and Crop Sciences, School of Integrative Plant Science, serves as the team’s faculty adviser, and graduate student Courtney Stokes serves as coach. The team has been funded by grants from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, and the Section of Soil and Crop Sciences.


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Blaine Friedlander