Western Illinois University is known for their agriculture. It is one of our flagship programs here in Macomb. It allows students to gain an education in all aspects of agriculture. One of the aspects of agriculture that can sometimes be overlooked though is the role of organics in the industry. the University has an agronomy research farm for all the conventional farming research. We also have access to a 20 acre certified organic research farm just outside of town. Today myself and my classmates took 6 non-ag students out to the organic Allison Farm for a tour and give them a look inside an overlooked aspect of modern agriculture.
Dr. Gruver who is our Soil Science professor as well as our leader in organic research at Western, gave us our tour. We began our tour today by looking at the combine harvesting the last of the corn crop for this year. As he was finishing up, Dr. Gruver showed us that every six rows they placed a flag to show were different plots were planted. Each plot was planted using a different variety and tillage practice. once harvested they would empty the combine into the weigh wagon, measure it, and then later examine how each factor effected yield and grain quality. Dr. Gruver also explained how they usually did their crop rotations for corn which were usually followed by soybeans or if they had time cereal rye used as a cover crop.
After finishing up looking over the corn, we switched gears away from grain and took a look at some cover crops. A cover crop is a crop planted not to be harvested but used to benefit the soil in ways such as fixating nitrogen, aerating the soil, and reducing erosion. Dr. Gruver showed us an oats and radish mixture they have stated using as a cover crop before planting corn on top of the oats and radishes. Radishes are new cover crop and are being used as “Biodrills”. Because the breed of radishes they use (Daikon) have a very long and thick taproot they make large pores in the soil that help it dry and store nutrients better. The radishes are planted directly in the same row that the corn will be planted in the following spring. This type of cover crop is essential to organic farming by helping crops grow without aids of fertilizers.
Following the cover crops we moved over to the pumpkins. Illinois is actually the leader in pumpkin production on the United States. All of the pumpkins at the Allison farm are contracted by a food company and used in pie filling. the pumpkins at the Allison farm are planted and then wind-rowed and actually are never touched by human hands until they are processed. The company that contracts the pumpkins, does all the planting and harvesting of them the Allison farm just tends them over the summer.
Finally at the last stop of the tour we took a look at the soybeans. Similar to the corn every two rows is marked and is harvested and examined. They then look at how the different practices effect yield and grain quality. The Allison farm has a special research combine they use to harvest just two rows at a time.
Organic farming while not the most inviting style of farming to everyone can be very lucrative. While most of Illinois is struggling with very low corn prices this year, the Allison farm is being payed a very high premium for their organic products. As high as nearly $13 a bushel for corn. Consumers also appreciate knowing the farmer that their products come from say if they visit a farmers market. While not for everyone, organic farming defiantly has its place solidified in modern agriculture.
My name is Jon Oberreiter. I am a senior here at Western Illinois University studying agriculture science with a minor in agronomy. I plan on going on and furthering my education and pursuing my MS in crop science.