GPS: Guiding You Towards Accuracy and Precision

Global positioning systems have taken the agricultural industry by storm. This satellite device has been helping producers meet maximum accuracy when working in the field. GPS technologies enable data collection with accurate information, leading to efficient analysis of large, geographical areas. GPS applications are being used for planning, field mapping, soil sampling, guidance, crop scouting, rate applications, and yield mapping. In years past, it has been difficult for farmers to obtain precise accuracy. This limited effective strategies that could have enhanced production. Today, precise applications of herbicides, pesticides, and fertilizers are dispersed more accurately throughout the field, thus reducing expenses, and producing higher yields. Precision agriculture is changing the way producers and agribusinesses view specific treatments to increase agricultural production. Precision agriculture is more accurate, cost effective, and user friendly. New innovations rely on the integration of computers, data collection sensors, and GPS time and position reference systems.

What more can we expect from global positioning systems in the agriculture industry? Through the use of GPS and remote sensing, inform-

GPS image 1
Photo from

ation is collected to analyze and implement improvements for both land and water structures. For additional benefits, producers combine better utilization of fertilizers and other soil amendments, determining the economic threshold for treating pest and weed infestations. GPS equipment manufacturers have developed several tools to help producers and agribusinesses become more productive and efficient in precision agriculture. GPS receivers collect information for mapping field boundaries, roads, irrigation systems, and problem areas in crops such as weeds or disease. The accuracy of GPS allows farmers to create maps with precise acreage for field areas and accurately navigate to specific locations in the field, year after year, to collect soil samples or monitor crop conditions.

Crop advisors use data collection devices with GPS for accurate positioning to map pest, insect, and weed infestations in the field. The same field data can also be used by crop dusters. Crop dusters equipped with GPS are able to fly accurate swaths over fields, applying chemicals only where needed, minimizing drift, and reducing the amount of chemicals needed. In the future, we can only expect further improvements as GPS continues to modernize. To remain accurate and cost efficient, global positioning systems with become further advanced, precise, and continue to enhance production agriculture.

Hello, IDSC_1063 am Cody Wilkens. I am a senior at Western Illinois University and will be graduating this May with a bachelors degree in Agricultural Business and a minor in Agronomy. I am from a small town, Lewistown, MO, thirty miles west of Quincy, IL. All my life I have been exposed to agriculture. My grandpa operates a small farm just outside of Nauvoo, IL. I have spent most of my summers helping with cattle, hogs, and harvesting during the fall. I enjoy what agriculture has to offer, such as hard work, dedication, and responsibility. I am excited to see which new technological advancements agriculture has to offer and the ability it has to increase production.


Encouraging student success through teaching and research at the Western Illinois University greenhouses


Over the past few years, the School of Agriculture has added a three-bay greenhouse facility for teaching and research. This would not have been possible without support from both school funding and outside sponsors. School funding came from the School of Agriculture and the College of  Business and Technology. Outside funding was provided by 1st Farm Credit Services (Compeer Financial), Archer Daniels Midland, and the Illinois Corn Marketing Board. The department hopes to add to the facility as funding becomes available in the future. The first bay is used for teaching. This gives students in both agronomy and horticulture courses the opportunity to view live specimens and gain hands-on experience with growing plants in a greenhouse environment. Many students benefit from being able to grow plants and practice identification in this bay during the winter months. The second bay is used by Dr. Winthrop Phippen to conduct research on pennycress as a potential biofuel. The third bay houses a research spray chamber and is used primarily by Dr. Mark Bernards for conducting herbicide research.

Each bay is equipped with growing lights,  overhead sun shades, mesh-lined tables, water, a furnace, exhaust fans, and swamp coolers. The lights and heating/cooling systems can be set for specified temperature, humidity, and duration, depending on what is being grown in the space.

Image Courtesy of


I am currently a student in Dr. Bernards weed science course. As part of the course, he has divided the class up into six groups and each group is responsible for their own research project. The goal of this exercise is for students to learn about how agricultural research is conducted and gain hands-on experience. My group is looking at how rainfall and wheat residue affect the efficacy of a common herbicide (Bicep II Magnum).

“I hope that the assignment results in students learning more about the research process” — Dr. Mark Bernards

We used trays which measured 21 inches long by 11 inches wide and 2.5 inches tall. The trays were filled with a silty-loam soil which was mixed (by volume) with 40% sand, and 10% perlite. We used this mixed field soil to more closely replicate how the herbicide would move through a field soil in the Midwest as potting soil consists of mostly peat. We then planted four potential weed species in four rows across the trays. These weeds served as indicators of the herbicide’s performance. The species used were sunflower, velvetleaf, amaranth, and giant foxtail. Bicep II Magnum is a pre-emergence herbicide, meaning that it is applied to fields prior to the crop emerging. We planted a specific number of seeds of each species so we could estimate the effect of the herbicide once the plants emerged. An 85% wheat straw residue was used on some of the trays and the others were left bare. We used the spray chamber in the third bay to apply the herbicide. After allowing about an hour for the herbicide to dry, the rainfall function on the spray chamber was used to apply either 1/4” or 1/2” of simulated rain to the trays. The trays were covered with plastic covers, called humidomes, for one week. We assessed the experiment through visual control, weed population counts, and weed height measurements once a week for two weeks. After assessing the data, we found that wheat residue had no effect on the performance of the Bicep II Magnum herbicide. However, there were differences in control of velvetleaf and sunflower across the different rainfall treatments.

This project has been a good opportunity for myself and others in the class to learn about the agricultural research process. One of the fun things about it is that we were all asked to come up with our own research questions at the beginning of the semester. So, hopefully we can get answers to some of our inquiries through these projects. Both greenhouse and field experiments play an important role in the testing and development of new agricultural products. It is great that Western Illinois University’s Agriculture program now has the facilities to do some of both types of research.

Here is one of the no-residue trays, you can see how much evaporation was actually caught by the humidome. It was interesting to see how much the residue reduced evaporation.
Here is another photo of the tray uncovered. The order of species which were planted from left to right was giant foxtail, amaranth, velvetleaf, and sunflower. Although, a few velvetleaf and some sunflower plants were all that survived the herbicide application.
Here is an example of a tray with 85% wheat residue


Hello, my name is Zachary Brewer. I am currently a Junior at Western Illinois University and am studying agricultural science with emphasis in plant breeding and agronomy. I work at the Western Illinois University Agriculture Field Laboratory and assist in conducting field research trials. I grew up in western Illinois and have always enjoyed living in a rural area. In my free time, I race slot cars and repair and restore antique farm equipment.


Dicamba: The Make it or Break it Year

The last growing season was the foundation of what is to come.  We had dicamba

Photo from DTN by Aaron Hager

soybeans on the market. Dicamba is a herbicide farmers have used to control broadleaf weeds like waterhemp. Some producers were hesitant to jump on the dicamba train while others jumped immediately.  The farmers that chose the dicamba route couldn’t have
been more pleased with the cleanliness of their fields as well as the yields.  On the other hand, the producers that chose another route were furious with the damage done, shown in picture to the right, to their fields by the dicamba drift from their neighbors.

What can we expect in the 2018 growing season? With the label possibly getting pulled after this year, what can we as producers do to solve the problems

Photo from Agriculture Wire

that occurred last year?  When I have been talking to seed salesman in my area many of them are saying that 80% of the soybeans sold are going to be dicamba soybeans. This will solve most of the soybean damage since the producers are switching over to dicamba this year.  The label has became more strict since last year to hopefully limit the drift of the herbicide, but the instructors must be followed by the applicator to be effective.

One salesman in the local area called this growing season a “joint effort” and that is exactly what it will come down to.  The farmer and applicator need to work together to minimize and eliminate the drift factor that occurred so much in 2017.  Hopefully with execution of the label, there should been an effective control of drift.  With a successful 2018 growing season Monsanto will be able to renew the label for years to come.

Hello, I am Dexter Redenius. I am a junior at Western Illinois University.  In December I will be graduating with a bachelors degree in Agricultural Science with an emphasis in Agronomy and a minor in Agricultural Business.  I am from a small town, Augusta, IL.  I have been exposed to agriculture all my life.  I come from a farming family and I also have helped other local farmers in my area when help is needed.  My family farm includes row crops and commercial beef.  Agriculture is a passion that has been instilled in me from generations before me and I am excited for the next steps in my life to pass on the passions that I have to others.

Ripping up Turfgrass in California

Turf irrigation
Photo Credit: Center For Resource Conservation

Over the past decade California has been under a drought state of emergency and homeowners have been encouraged to remove their lawns.  Those that have lawns have been forced to shut off or severely limit their irrigation to comply with water restriction policies.  I’m not sure that this has been as environmentally friendly as California’s legislators have hoped; considering that landscape irrigation only accounts for 9% of statewide developed water use, it seems minimal compared to the benefits that turf provides.  Yes, it certainly saves on water use but at what cost?

Urban areas are prone to higher temperatures when compared to surrounding areas and removing lawns only aids in creating hot spots.  Turfgrass helps to “air condition” landscapes by means of transpiration (evaporation of water from plant leaves.)  Losing this natural air conditioning in urban areas can result in a temperature rise of several degrees; which in turn requires more energy to cool homes and businesses.

Turfgrass reduces air pollution by not only creating oxygen but by trapping smoke and dust particles.

Turfgrass maintains healthy soils by reducing nutrient loss and promoting healthy soil structure.

Healthy lawns can also aid in slowing or stopping the spread of wildfires.  Having a living “green carpet” around homes and businesses provides some protection and seems like good reason to keep turfgrass in play.

In environments that are busy with roadway noise, turfgrass helps to eliminate noise pollution.  Turfgrass does this by increasing surface area, reducing noise by 8-10 decibels when compared to bare soil.

I believe that turfgrass in California can be sustained through periods of drought. This can be partially achieved by using turfgrass types that have deep root structures.  These type turfgrasses provide the most drought resistance and require the least amount of water (Bermudagrass comes to mind.)  Also, irrigation system technologies have come a long way in recent years and “green” conservative options are now widely available.

In 2017, California received above average rainfall for the first time in 5 years.  In this year, all but 4 counties have had the drought state of emergency lifted; I believe that now is the time to implement a statewide strategy promoting turfgrass.  This could be accomplished by providing financial incentive to those who upgrade their irrigation systems and implement drought tolerant turf types.  This would require some form of public education but I believe the benefits outweigh the costs.  I think it is time that California legislators stop demonizing turfgrass in the name of water conservation and seek ways to give homes and businesses their lawns back.

Adam Wilson, Agriculture Science major at Western Illinois University from Colchester, IL.  Landscape professional 10+ years.

The Pros and Cons of Drones in Agriculture

Drones have been around for awhile now and have many uses. But now they are making their way to agriculture and taking the industry by storm. There are many uses of drones in agriculture and they are only going to get more popular as time goes on. They are a very helpful tool and look for them to become a more common practice within the agriculture industry. Along with any normal practice there are also many cons that come with using drones in agriculture.

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An example of one of many flying patterns for scouting a field.



Drones are useful throughout the whole planting process. They are able to produce 3-D maps for soil analysis that will be helpful in the planning of planting patterns and then after the planting is complete, the soil analysis provides information for irrigation and nitrogen-level management. One of the things they are very useful for is scouting fields after the planting process. Once the crops have started to grow, you can take the drone and scout the field from up above. Here you can spot out many things that you wouldn’t be able to see just by walking the field.

Some may ask, “How can drones help with irrigation?” Drones are equipped with thermal, hyper-spectral, or thermal sensors that can detect which parts of the field have become dry and have not received enough water. This is a huge asset and helps the farmers precisely attend to the drier parts of the field. Along with irrigation, drones are able to scan crops using visible and near infrared light. With this technology, farmers are able to depict plant health through the green and near-infrared light that is reflected by the plants. They then take the images and monitor the crops of their current state.

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Along with all of the benefits, also come with cons. Including flight time and cost just to name a few. These are problems that are going to cause a domino effect of problems, but they are issues that will make you think out purchasing a drone.

One of the bigger problems that farmers face is flight time. The majority of drones have a flight time of 20 minutes to an hour. This causes of problem of the amount of ground it can cover per battery charge. An easy way to fix that problem is having excess batteries on the side ready for flight, but it ends up being a hassle changing the batteries time after time. I’m sure that as time goes on, technology is only going to get better and we will see some drones that can be in flight for much longer but that brings us to our next problem. Cost!

Drones are not a cheap purchase and can easily cost you thousands of dollars. Depending on what you wanted to use your drone for will determine the price. You can buy drones without all of the equipment needed for a number of things and that would be the cheaper route. But if you’re wanting to go the whole nine yards with it then expect to have a nice portion of your bank account removed.

As you can see, drones are becoming a huge epidemic in agriculture and the demand for them is going to rise. They are making tasks that once took physical labor and turning them into tasks that doesn’t even break a sweat. I would look for them to keep getting bigger and better at what they’re doing and possibly doing even more than we imagined.


Hello, my name is Kory Bienhoff and I am a senior here at WIU. I am from Golden, Illinois, a small town about 40 miles from here. I am majoring in Agriculture Business and am currently on track to graduate this May. Right now, I currently do not have a guaranteed job but have a couple potential ones out there. I am excited for what my future will bring, and I will always be thankful for my years as a Leatherneck! #NeckUp




Benefits of Cover Crops

Cover crops are a great resource and something that is not used as much as they should be today. Cover crops can provide many benefits and help to improve the overall soil health when used over a long period of time. The small family farm that I grew up on uses cover crops and it was not until I got to college that I realized that most farms do not use them.

Cover crops have been found to have been used in many as 200 years before World War

II (Groff). So what did they know that we do not know now? They realized that cover crops helped to give back to the soil. Some people will argue that George Washington was one of the innovators that used cover crops and helped to educate people about them (Groff). He has always been considered a leader figure and someone who generally knew what they were doing. This was a time when the soil became less productive after a period of about twelve years that people would just move towards the west and find more land to farm, but George Washingtonrealized that this was not sustainable and that we could only do that so long before we ran out of land to farm. So he looked into other options that would help to give back to the land some of what we had taken out of it. Cover crops is the answer that he found (Groff).

Some of the many benefits that cover crops can help to provide are that they help to prevent erosion, improve organic matter content in

the soil, hold nutrients in place, and also help to convert nutrients into a form that is easily used by the cash crops.

Cover crops help to prevent erosion because they hold the soil in place during the harsh winter months. When soil is left bare and a big rain comes or when snow starts to melt it can move the soil and create rills and gullies in fields. Cover crops help to cover up the soil so when rain in falling less of it is going to directly hit the grounds surface and this helps to prevent the first step in erosion, which is detachment. Detachment occurs when rain directly hits the bare soil surface and particles of the soil are brokelose and are now easy to move to another location either in the field, off into the ditch, or into a nearby body of water. Cover crops can just help to keep everything in place until you are ready to plant your cash crop.

Cover crops also can help to improve the amount of organic matter that is found in the soil. Cover crops help to provide more residue that when broken down over time will become organic matter. Now this is a process that does not just happen over night. This takes time and persistence. Organic matter is important in the soil because of the number of benefits that it has to offer. Such as: increased water holding capacity, a better soil structure for the plants to live in and thrive, and also helps the nutrients to change into a form that is easy for plants to take in.

Organic matter helps to transform nutrients into a usable form for plants because with the increased organic matter you will also get an increase in the soil decomposing organisms that help to convert these nutrients (Magdoff, Es). After these nutrients are converted they will be able to be taken up by the cash crops and used easily.

Nutrient runoff is a big issue that most farms have, but cover crops can help to keep these nutrients right where they are supposed to be. Cover crops will absorb the nutrients that have been added to the soil during the winter months and then release them back into the soil when they are killed off in the spring. This means that they will be available for the cash crop when they are ready to use them.

These are just some of the many benefits that implementing cover crops into your crop program can provide. Yes, these do not all just happen over night, but over time they will become visible and they can lead to improved yields for your cash crops. Some may say that I am only for them because I come from a family farm, but after learning more about them in college I have truly learned why they are something that should be used and not just over looked.


I am currently a senior at WIU pursuing an agriculture business degree. I grew up on a fourth generation family farm in Jerseyville, IL. I attended Parkland College first and obtain my Associates Degree in Applied Science in agriculture while playing soccer for them.300.4850.084 (1)

Pollinator Program May Be Bringing in New Invasive Weed

The pollinator program is intended to help rebuild bees, butterflies, moths, beetles, flies, wasps, bats, and bird populations.  Bees alone have contributed for 30 percent of crop yield and with the pollinators together are responsible for pollinating 80 percent of plants.  Due to habitat loss, parasites, environmental contaminates, and hard winters their populations have been decreasing.  This program is similar to Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), but has a more diverse seed selection with wildflowers, legumes, grasses, and shrubs.  During the summer months, it is required to have multiple plants flowering through the season.  Not only is this good for pollinators, but it also gives good cover for deer, rabbits, quail, and other aesthetic wildlife.  The USDA’s enrollment target is 100,000 acres to get converted to this program. 

I believe that this is great conservation program; however, sometimes the seed for the program is contaminated with weed seeds.  One weed, in particular, palmer amaranth (amaranthus palmeri )  is very invasive.  It is problematic in the south, but hasn’t been established most places in the Midwest.  Palmer amaranth is resistant to many different groups of herbicides and is hard to keep under control.  If the viable seed gets in crop fields it can greatly decrease yields, and if not contained it can make fields un-farmable. 

Most pigweed species look similar to each other especially when they’re small.  To be able to tell between smooth or red root pigweed from palmar amaranth is that the smooth and red root pigweeds have fine hairs on their stems and leafs as palmar doesn’t; however, waterhemp is also hairless.  It is extremely difficult to distinguish between the two.  Palmar amaranth has a rounder leaf shape than common waterhemp, and branches out more aggressively which makes it more of a problem.

So, if you have recently plantedPalmer-Amaranth-350w anything into a pollinator program, I’d advise you to scout the field for this invasive weed before it gets into crop fields.  If you happen to find it put a plastic bag over it, so any of the seeds can’t fall off.  Then bury or burn the plant in the bag.  After finding it in a field, combine that particular field last, this will help you from spreading it to non-infected fields, and clean the combine thoroughly. 


I’m Alex W. Pembrook, currently a senior studying agriculture business with a minor in agronomy.  I have participated on the weed science team.  I was raised, on a family farm, and understand the importance of weed control.