WIU Weed Science Team Captures Regional Awards

MACOMB IL – Four Western Illinois University School of Agriculture students recently won two awards at the North Central Weed Science Society (NCWSS) competition near Ames, IA. The students were members of WIU’s Weed Science Team, advised by WIU Associate Professor of Agriculture Mark Bernards.

The competition was held at Iowa State University July 27. The WIU team placed third in the Undergraduate Student Contest and received an award for team sprayer calibration.

WIU sent two teams to the competition. Team one, which captured the awards, includes Luke Merritt, a senior agriculture major from Payson, IL; Tyler Wilson, a senior agriculture major from Murrayville, IL; Nathan Hilleson, a senior agriculture major from Lee, IL and Zach Brewer, a junior major from Monmouth, IL. Team two includes Alex Pembrook, a senior agriculture major from Greenfield, IL; Ethan Johnson, a senior agriculture major from Gilson, IL and Allyson Rumler, a junior agriculture major from Canton, IL.


“The contest involves a variety of parts, which are relevant to the agricultural field.,” said Brewer. “I found the contest challenging, although it helped me to practice herbicide ID, weed ID and sprayer calibration. These skills will be valuable in my future agronomy courses and my future career as an agronomist.”

The NCWSS Weed Contest provides educational experience for college students interested in weed science. The contest offers networking opportunities with university faculty, researchers, industry representatives and fellow students. The competition allows students to apply and expand their weed science knowledge in a practical setting.

The competition also aims to increase visibility of weed science and its importance for the agricultural industry.

For more information about the WIU weed science team, email Benards at ML-Benards@wiu.edu.


Agriculture Production Differences from Maryland to the Mississippi

Image result for corn fieldPhoto credit: Inhabitat

At the discretion of the land

If a person were to get into a vehicle and start driving with a starting point at Ocean City, Maryland and start driving west, there would be many different observations made when traveling. One of the more obvious observations is the lay of the land. On the very east coast, the land is relatively flat. Then, when heading west the mountains start to become more apparent. Once one is over the mountains and into the central portion of Ohio, it seems to get flat again. From there it only seems to get flatter!

Another observation that can be made from Maryland to the Mississippi River is the agricultural demographic. There is produce, cereal grains, livestock, and seafood produced on the far east. Cereal grains, hay, and livestock become more of the top commodities produced when headed to the Midwest. I grew up in a town called Woodbine, Maryland. As a kid, I travel many times into the Midwest, mainly due to livestock shows. While driving the countless miles to and from the Midwest, many observations were made about the agriculture diversity that was involved between Maryland and Illinois.


To start with Maryland, the Chesapeake Bay contributes to over 50% of the blue crab harvest in the United States. In Maryland alone, the seafood industry brings in over $600 million in annual income for the states economy. Commercial landings of seafood have averaged almost 57 million pounds in the past 15 years. Maryland Blue Crabs and oysters are among the crowd favorite when consuming seafood within the state.

Image result for maryland seafood

photo credit: The Crab Depot

Now Maryland isn’t known for just the seafood. Other agricultural industries in Maryland include the equine, poultry, beef, dairy, produce, hog, and cereal grain industries. Last year, there was an average of 164 bushels of corn harvested per acre, 40 bushels of soybeans per acre, 64 bushels of winter wheat per acre, and 69 bushels of barely harvested per acre. There was over 20 thousand pounds of milk produced per dairy cow annually last year also. Maryland.gov will tell us that there are more horses per square mile in Maryland than any other state in the nation! The Preakness Stakes is a highlight event in the horse industry that the state of Maryland hosts. Maryland.gov will also tell  us that “in 2015, Maryland ranked ninth among states in the number of broilers, or chickens raised”, what do all of these statistics mean one may ask? The numbers show how diversified the state of Maryland really is. There is not one industry that is of major focus, but there are many industries that really make Maryland agriculture and make Maryland so proud of what they produce.


Now unfortunately for some, fresh seafood is non existent in the state of Illinois as it is in Maryland. Grain and livestock production is of a much larger scale though. On average there can be one cow/calf pair ran on about two and a half graze-able acres in Illinois. There are some parts of the state that 300 bushel an acre corn harvest is normal. At one point in time, Henry County, Illinois was known as the hog capital of the world because there were more hogs per square mile then there was at anywhere else. Now with the rise of new technology and different production practices, that is no longer the case, but there is still an extreme amount of livestock and grain production in Illinois when compared to Maryland. A very simple observation can be made by the soil color differences between the two states. On well maintained and highly productive Illinois ground, there is a very dark, rich, black dirt that covers the land. According to the Illinois Department of Agriculture, Illinois farmland covers nearly 75% of the states total land area. Illinois Department of Agriculture also states that exports from Illinois account for 6 percent of all U.S. agricultural exports. So even though Illinois may not host one of the largest race horse events in the country or have the delicious seafood readily at hand, the state is extremely important when pertaining to American agriculture.

Image result for illinois hog farm

photo credit: Illinois Pork Producers

From Maryland to the Mississippi River, there are all different kinds of agricultural practices in place. From getting on a boat every morning in the Chesapeake Bay to go harvest that days catch of seafood, to getting in a combine to harvest 300 bushels of corn an acre on the rich black dirt of Illinois, and everyone between,  there’s a purpose behind everyone’s efforts. The purpose stands behind the red, white, and blue. The purpose is, American Agriculture!

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My name is Brandon Gruber and I am currently a senior at Western Illinois University. I’m originally from Woodbine, Maryland, where I grew up raising hogs and was very active in 4-H and other national junior livestock associations. I am currently employed at Minnaert Show Cattle of Atkinson, Illinois, and now call Annawan, Illinois, home where I plan on building a competitive showpig sow herd and stay diversified within multiple species at the completion of my time here at WIU.

Sources:  http://msa.maryland.gov/msa/mdmanual/01glance/html/agri.html


A view of agriculture from a Minnesota Rancher

Background information

I did an interview with a young man by the name of Jared Seinola, Jared is a farmer on the eastern side of Minnesota. He lives in a small town called St. Charles, as a young kid Jared always had a passion for agriculture. In 1995 his family moved to a farm  and called it the 5 Star Ranch. The name generated from the 5 children that lived there, Jared being one of them. At first they began renting out both the pasture land and the crop land from the previous owners. In 2014 they began running all the pasture and hay land for production, and acquired some cattle over the years.

Picture taken by Jared Seinola, at the Five Star Ranch


Growing up

Jared was four years old when he moved to the farm, even though at this age he couldn’t really do much to help out he was always around the farm. Throughout his schooling Jared was involved with the FFA and showed cattle all over the U.S.. After high school he went on to North Dakota State University (NDSU), where he received a bachelor’s degree in Animal Science and minored in Agriculture Business. At 22, he started operating the family farm by himself. After graduation from NDSU, Jared now being 23, began as a beef cattle nutritionist for a larger scaled company, Benson Farm Service LLC. Here he works with 30 other full time employees but he is the only beef nutritionist on the staff. Benson Farm service sells feed to Wisconsin, Iowa, and Minnesota farmers, along with dairy and agronomy services. When I asked Jared why he got into agriculture he told me:

“I’ve always enjoyed raising cattle. I enjoy growing food for others. The different seasons and times of the year bring new challenges and opportunities. Whether it’s calving season or breeding season or fall harvest. It all takes a specific plan to be successful.”

On the nutrition side of things he said “I’ve always seen nutrition as a vital role in the health of animals. I’m in a position to help farmers maintain healthy productive animals to make them the most profitable and sustainable they can be.”

The Future

Currently, the Five Star Ranch has 30 calves from 30 cows, all of which are maintained and taken care of by Jared. He likes the way the operation is going right now and is excited for the future growth of the farm. The Five Star Ranch sells breeding stock year round, and is currently in the growth stage the operation.  I asked him what he plans on doing for the future and he told me that he wants to own up to 100 plus cow/ calf pairs at some point in his life but right now he is fine with where its at, especially with him starting a family of his own he can’t really expand the operation just yet.Displaying IMG_0256.PNG

Picture from Jared Seinola of a new born calf and its mother.

Working in Agriculture

I asked Jared whats the best thing about working in agriculture and he told me helping people and the challenges it brings. Jared also shared that ever since he was a little kid he loved growing food and helping out with the animals. He says that farming is a humble and noble occupation that requires a lot of work. He loves that about the job, he said that you carry around a sense of pride when working in agriculture. Where he is from he works with a small portion of the national population, and says that a lot of people think that their food comes from the grocery store, but it’s from everybody that works in the agricultural side of things and he loves knowing that.

In the end, I got that sense of pride as Jared was talking, just by listening to him in this interview. Jared is a very hard working, driven young man. He does what needs to be done not only for his family but for everyone that he works with. He loves helping others with his work and truly cares about what the future holds for agriculture.


I am Christian Melby I am a Senior at Western Illinois University from Platteville, WI. I am going to graduate with a Bachelors degree in Agriculture Science with an emphasis in horticulture. I have a passion for agriculture and horticulture, and hope to pursue a dream in landscaping after college.


The Life of a Crop Scout

“Scouting fields for weeds, disease and pests is one of the best investments you can make during the growing season to protect crop yield potential.” – Missy Bauer, Farm Journal associate field agronomist.

For those of you that don’t know what a crop scout does, they monitor corn and soybean crops to ensure that the field doesn’t have any weeds, insects, or disease pressure.

Picture from Dreamstime.com

In the beginning of the year after planting has happened I will receive my field assignments which typically ends up being 10-15 different fields per day. Throughout the day I will travel to these fields and I will do stand counts, this means I will count how many plants within a 17.5 ft. row and figure out an estimate of what the population will be. After doing the counts I input my data into the iPad so the growers can see an idea of what they will be working with. Also while doing my stand counts I will be looking out for different weed species that may be present. Once the crop has begun to emerge we will scout for a pest known as the Black Cutworm. We have to keep a watchful eye out for this insect because they will lay their eggs in the foliage (leaves) of the crop and once they hatch the larvae will feed on them. This isn’t a huge problem in the beginning but if the problem isn’t spotted and taken care of, they will travel to the bottom of the plant and feed on the stems of the seedlings which causes them to wilt and die. If I spot a cutworm issue in a field I will report the issue to my supervisor so that he can let the farmer know, who will then spray the field accordingly.

Towards the middle of the season is when a crop scout is busiest, this is when the crop is roughly waist high and I will be primarily going to fields to look for insects, weeds, and diseases, pretty much anything that could harm the plants. In northern Illinois I

Northern corn rootworm (picture from Iowa State)

am mostly scouting for rootworm beetles, earworms, Japanese beetles, armyworms, and European corn borer. These insects are the most common and will cause the most damage to a farmer’s crop. I am also looking for weeds such as waterhemp, common lambsquarters, ragweed, marestail, velvet leaf, and morning glory. These weeds will invade a crop and take away nutrients and water that are essential for proper growth. The main diseases that I am scouting for at this time are northern corn leaf blight, gray leaf spot, common rust, anthracnose, and gosses wilt. When looking for diseases you have to make sure they are spotted before they reach above the ear leaf because that is when substantial yield loss is likely to occur.

At the end of the growing season towards harvest is when I will be doing yield counts. This is when I will grab 5 corn ears from each corner of the field and count the number of kernels length wise and width wise. This will give the farmer a good estimate of how his crop did throughout the growing season. Once this is done we will bag the ears of corn and take them to the correct plant for further inspection. During this time of the season I am pretty much finished looking for pests in the field and am focusing on yield and harvest.

I thoroughly enjoy being a crop scout because it is a way for me to be hands on involved in the growing process instead of being stuck in an office all day. I believe that it is a great learning experience for anyone who wants to go into the agriculture field and it has prepared me well for the Ag work force.

My name is Dylan Eisenberg and for the last 4 summers I have interned as a crop scout with various companies in Illinois. I am from Amboy, Illinois, a small town upstate. I am a senior this year at Western Illinois University majoring in agricultural science. I decided to transfer into the ag program after working a few summers with Pioneer. After graduation I plan to continue to work in the industry as a crop supervisor.

Being a Tiny Girl in Ag

Growing up like most kids, I wanted to be a teacher, or a doctor; not once did I want to become a farmer. As a kid I was always on the smaller size, and having seen my father work full time and be a farmer on the side I knew that it was not something I would be able to do. Fast forward a few years to when I started high school, I joined FFA. This is something I did because my sister seemed to enjoy it and it filled in my extra time slot. I never realized how much of an impact this class would make on my life. After going to different contests I found I loved agronomy, something I had been around my whole life. As the years went by, I continued learning more about agriculture and even became an officer of my FFA chapter for the last three years of high school.

As it came closer to graduation, I knew I needed to start figuring out what I wanted to do from there. My parents have always been my biggest supporters and tried naming things that they could see me doing, and signing me up for different college visits. Though they would never tell me what to do they would definitely help push me in the direction I wanted to go. On my visit to Western I got to see the agriculture program, where I decided this was the place for me. After applying and being accepted, I started telling friends and family that I was going to be going to the school for Agriculture, specifically to become a plant breeder. There were many people who were surprised that I would go into the field of agriculture. I was not what they considered the typical look. I was so young and tiny that many could not even believe I was old enough to go to college, and even if I was they would have never guessed that I was going into agriculture.

Despite all the odds I came to Western and took an “intro to agronomy class”. I remembered the first few labs being  unsure if I was in the right major. All of these kids seemed to know what they were looking for in labs, and seemed to understand most of what was going on. In one of the first labs we were learning how to take stand counts cornusing a tape measure. I was locking mine at 17.5 feet and set the tape on the ground, I remember how the tape rolled up and the teacher walks over and said there is a lock on the tape let me show you. Was I asked because I was a tiny girl? This had made me frustrated that someone thought that I could not even do a simple task. Come to find out the tape measure had been broken and would not lock and I was apologized to. A few months later this same teacher asked me to come work for him at the school’s farm. I did have to turn him down though because I already had an internship for the summer. That summer I was a crop scout for CHS Inc. I was partnered with a boy who was fairly large, when I asked myself: Do they think I am unable to do this on my own because I am tiny and will they not believe me as a girl?.

Once back at school my professor, Dr. Mark Bernards, again asked if I would work for him. I finally agreed and started working with him. One day he told me that:

“he did not enjoy the equipment side of agriculture like many of the people do, he loved the science behind it all.”

This statement I could not have agreed more with. This inspired me, because like me Bernards was on the smaller side, yet had become very successful in what they were doing. While working at the farm I even worked on some of the projects the men would typically be doing. I would be asked to help since I was tiny and able to fit in small spaces which made it easier for me to accomplish. Being tiny can have its advantages, and it should not stop anyone from accomplishing their goals.

Having always been a tiny girl in agriculture I know that there is still a long way to go for me to be accepted as not the typical farmer type. With each coming new day women become more of an excepted part in agricultural community. Maybe one day people will not look at young tiny women as crazy when they say they are majoring in agriculture. As well as have young girls dream to one day become women in agriculture and not just doctors and teachers. To all of the young tiny girls out there, dream big and do not let others tell you, you are to tiny to do something.
professional pic 2016My name is Kelsey Bergman, I am currently a senior at Western Illinois University. My major is Agriculture Science with a focus in agronomy, and I am minoring in both plant breeding and ag economics. I am on Weeds Team, in Agronomy Club, part of the Sigma Alpha sorority, and work on the WIU Research Farm. This summer I have an internship as a plant breeder with AgReliant Genetics. After this internship I will be back at Western to finish out my senior year. Once graduating I will hopefully be accepted into a grad program of my choice to get my masters.

Get the Most Out of Your Fertilizer

As the weather starts to warm up, farmers everywhere are getting restless to start work in the field. Putting seed in the ground is at the top of the to-do list for a majority of farmers at this point in time. In the spring it is easy to put other aspects of a cropping system to the side. One of the most important inputs in any cropping system is fertilizer. Producers should have a plan for nutrient management before the seed goes into the ground. However, due to unexpected events, the initial plan may change throughout the growing season. It is important to have a backup plan in case this happens.

When planning for nutrient management, it is helpful to analyze the four R’s of nutrient management. The four R’s refer to the right source, right rate, right time, and right place. Sticking to the four R’s allows producers to utilize their inputs more efficiently, while minimizing their environmental impact.

Image Credit: http://www.nutrientstewardship.com/4rs


Right Source

The right fertilizer source can vary based on the crop, crop rotation, tillage, and soil characteristics. The fertilizer needs to meet the nutrient needs of the crop. Fertilizers can come in solid and liquid forms. Each form has its own benefits. Nutrients in liquid fertilizers are dissolved, or suspended, in water and are readily available to the plant at the time of application. Liquid fertilizers are great for side dressing or starter applications. Dry fertilizers are excellent for preplant applications. Controlled release nitrogen fertilizers can be used in wet fields that are prone to denitrification, leachable soils, and areas that will need a constant nitrogen supply. Blended fertilizers allow producers to fine tune their nutrient inputs by controlling the levels of nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K) in the blend. Blends must be properly mixed and handled to ensure a uniform application.

Right Rate

Choosing the right fertilizer rate can save the producer money on input costs and decrease the amount of nutrients leaving the soil through runoff and leaching. Yield and nutrient intake are directly related. The goal is to provide the crop with enough nutrients to produce an economic yield. For corn, nitrogen rates are typically based off of potential yield. Generally, corn requires 0.7-1.0 lbs. of nitrogen per acre to produce one bushel of grain. Tissue tests and canopy sensing technology are relatively new ways to assess plant health and nitrogen needs during the growing season. These technologies allow producers to adjust nitrogen rates more precisely and get the most benefit from their input. Phosphorus and potassium rates can be determined by analyzing soil samples and nutrient removal from grain and biomass.Unlike nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium persist in the soil and levels can be built up over several years. If the P and K reserve levels are adequate, the nutrient coming into the field should not exceed the nutrients leaving the field as yield.

Illinois Agronomy Handbook
Image Credit: University of Illinois Extension


Right Time

Nutrients should be applied when plants will utilize them the most. Timing of application plays a bigger role for nitrogen than phosphorus or potassium due to denitrification. All or a majority of the nitrogen for the growing season can be applied before planting. This ensures that all the nitrogen that the corn plant needs is in the field. However, there is a higher risk of losing nitrogen to denitrification during wet conditions when all the nitrogen is applied at one time. Nitrogen application can be split throughout the growing season to decrease nutrient loss. With a split application, a majority of the nitrogen is applied preplant and the rest is applied when the corn plant reaches V8 and is taking in nutrients at a higher rate. The first application acts as a buffer to protect the producer from adverse weather events that can delay the second application. The benefit of a split application is the ability to adjust nutrient rates based on real time field and plant conditions.

Right Place

Fertilizer must be placed near the root system in order for crops to fully utilize the nutrient inputs. Broadcast application followed by tillage will put the nutrients deeper in the soil profile near the root zone. Starter fertilizer is placed directly in the seed bed and provides nourishment for the young plant as soon as it germinates. Sidedress applications place nutrients in the root zone or next to the base of the plant, which allows the plant to access readily available nutrients when it needs them the most. Placing fertilizer below the soil surface dramatically decreases nutrient loss from erosion, runoff, and volatilization. For a no-till system, fertilizer injection is the best option due to crop residue preventing soil contact for surface applied fertilizers.

 Learn more about the 4R Nutrient Stewardship Here


About the Author:

My name is Tanner Carlson and I am from Roseville, Illinois. I am a graduate of Monmouth-Roseville High School and I am currently a senior at WIU majoring in Agriculture Science and minoring in Agronomy. In addition to my education at WIU, I have an A.A.S. in Agribusiness Management from Black Hawk College.

CRP: Low-Maintenance Conservation

In the constantly evolving field of agriculture, it can be hard to keep up with all all the seed technology, improving equipment, new techniques, changing regulations and different cultures that exist today. While things seem to be rapidly changing, one thing that has held constant is the need for good land and healthy soil. The Conservation Reserve Program, or CRP is a valuable tool that can be utilized to improve the quality of the land in sensitive areas and improve soil health. Dedicating portions of one’s property to CRP will have benefits that will last for many years.

Photo from Stephanie Mercier

The Conservation Reserve Program is a government program introduced in 1985 designed to help conserve our soils, to avoid agricultural disasters like the Dust Bowl that crippled the United States in the 1930’s. The Conservation Reserve Program allows farmers to remove parts of their property from agricultural production for a designated period of time (usually 10 years) to restore the soil health. While the property is out of production, the farmer will receive annual rent payments as compensation. This can be especially attractive to today’s farmers as they face extremely low corn prices. With that said, there are limits to how many acres of one’s land can be on CRP with the county limit set at 25%. As the CRP land returns to its natural state, it has many environmental and ecological impacts.

Maintaining the physical, biological and chemical components of soil can be a difficult task for any farmer, even with the help of soil professionals. Converting land to CRP will restore soil health by increasing biodiversity. Decades or even centuries of mono-culture farming can really take its toll on the soil. Restoring the soil to a natural, more biologically diverse environment will rejuvenate the soil by establishing a proper balance that we find in undisturbed soil.

In recent years agriculture production’s environmental impacts have been a focus of public attention. The effects that production has on water systems is arguably the largest concern in the eyes of the general public. CRP along waterways, especially adjacent to production areas, can keep soil and a large portion of what is within the soil from ending up in lakes and rivers. In general CRP property is covered in very dense grasses, which act as a natural filter or a buffer for any water that is draining from the production areas. This filter helps minimize soil erosion which keeps the production areas healthier, but it also helps keep major waterways from being polluted by any runoff.

The Conservation Reserve Program is also a very effective tool for improving or sustaining land for all kinds of wildlife. These natural environments can become a haven for everything from insects to large mammals like deer. CRP property becomes a haven for wildlife to flourish as the area remains untouched by man for an extended period of time. This also creates opportunity for sportsmen to enjoy hunting on the renewed property.

The Conservation Reserve Program continues to prove itself as one of our government’s great success stories. The program is a viable option for farmers to help take care of the land that they care about, without losing large amounts of income. CRP improves soil health, water quality, and wildlife protection without requiring much input from the farmer. Programs like CRP are important for ensuring that future generations enjoy the fertile soil and productive lands that today’s farmers and their families have enjoyed for generations.



My name is Mick Nelson and I am currently a senior majoring in Agriculture Business at Western Illinois University. I am from Saint Paul, Minnesota and hope to move back there when I finish my education. I am also involved in athletics at WIU going into my final season of NCAA Division I football next Fall. I hope to continue my education at WIU by enrolling in the MBA program before finding a career in agriculture sales.