Having a field day

  • A group of farmers, agribusiness professionals, teachers and others listen to U of I Professor Giovani Preze Fontes during a nitrogen presentation at the Agronomy Field Day at the Orr research center.
  • Giovani Preze Fontes, an assistant professor of field crop agronomy at the University of Illinois, talks about practical nitrogen management.
  • A wagon of visitors makes its way through the U of I Agricultural Research and Demonstration Center grounds to visit grain plots and hear presentations from university professors during the annual Agronomy Field Day.
  • Carl Bradley, a plant pathology professor at the University of Kentucky, shows charts comparing fungicide use on red crown rot disease in Illinois and Kentucky soybeans.
  • Emerson Nafziger, a retired crop production professor from University of Illinois, points to a slower-growing patch of corn during a discussion on corn and soybean yields.
  • Aaron Hager, an associate professor of weed science at University of Illinois, leads a discussion on chemical-related changes through the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Experts share current agriculture info during Pike County research site tour

Story and Photos by Julie Gerke

The business of agriculture — from below the soil’s surface to the top of the highest cornstalk — was on full display at the Agronomy Field Day hosted by the University of Illinois Orr Agricultural Research and Demonstration Center in Baylis.

The small Pike County town is home to hundreds of acres full of test plots for corn and soybeans and a separate beef production facility. The site — particularly a 2022 state-of-the-art conference center and classroom facility — is the crown jewel of a cooperative effort among U of I Extension, John Wood Community College and the Orr Corp.

“I was impressed with all the types of research going on in our backyard,” said Lisa Musch, president of the Jacksonville Area Chamber of Commerce. “It’s a really good reminder how involved that [agriculture] business is. People forget it’s a business and [about] all the related businesses and research … I think it was eye-opening for people to learn.”

About a dozen Chamber members were among the almost 70 farmers, agribusiness and community leaders, teachers and others who attended the field day, which included presentations by U of I agriculture experts, tours of the Orr Center fields, some classroom presentations and lunch.

Emerson Nafziger, a retired crop production professor from University of Illinois, drew interest from farmers and non-farmers alike with his explanations and predictions for grain yields. A crop reporting service on July 19 listed 60% of the state’s corn crops in fair, poor or very poor condition, he said, but “not today between here and Champaign. I didn’t see anything poor.”

Planting dates, rain, soil health, pests, pollinators, air temperatures and various herbicide/fungicide applications all play a part in how well a crop produces — and it can vary from field to field. The Orr plots are labeled with various planting dates and types of chemical application; Nafziger stood in front of several corn plots that differed significantly in height and leaf health.

“Imagine if you could tell your corn crop, ‘You’re not ever gonna have any standing water on you.’ Well, it’d be party time,” he said, drawing laughs. A dark green canopy the first week of August is “almost the best sign for a good yield,” he added.

Soybean farmers were particularly interested in comments from Carl Bradley, a plant pathology professor from the University of Kentucky, who shared warnings and research about red crown rot disease.

Signs of the fungus appeared in Pike County fields in 2018, and it has shown up in parts of Kentucky, he said. It already is common in Louisiana and Mississippi. Symptoms, which can mimic sudden death syndrome, brown stem root rot and southern stem canker, often show up as red or discolored leaves and red hues on lower stems and plant roots.

Early studies by the Illinois and Kentucky universities, supported by the Kentucky Soybean Board, seem to show that soil temperature — rather than planting date — is a better determinant of whether a plant may be affected. Bradley said Syngenta recently added the fungus to its Saltro label.

Preemptive moves include scouting fields, treating with fungicides, checking planting dates and rotating crops with non-host crops such as corn, grain sorghum and wheat.

The variety of presentations — including nitrogen poundage, federal regulations, cover crops, root worms and more — were “pretty technical but pretty interesting,” Musch said.

FarmWeek previously reported that the $2.5 million, 24,000-square-foot facility also includes a large arena, livestock-handling facilities and an animal-care wing with space for veterinary care.

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