Are Micronutrients Depleting in Illinois Soils?

Row crop production in Illinois has gained efficiency by growing more with less. As yields have steadily increased due to genetics and agronomics, the search has been on for the next weakest link. Micronutrients like boron, copper, molybdenum, iron, manganese, and zinc, have been proposed to be this next weakest link. Specialty fertilizers introducing a mixture of micronutrients have been offered by many companies and have come with a substantial price. So I believe the next question is, will soils actually be depleted of micronutrients?

With grain prices as low as they currently are, it is clearly important for farmers to be as efficient as possible. Through a discussion with Dr. Joel Gruver, I asked his opinion on certain occasions where micronutrient fertilizer packages may be used and he explained, “We are mining manganese from soils, however, production could be improved with manganese packages at site specific locations.” Soil types and organic matter are a large part of deficiencies. Central Illinois has a vast amount of organic matter, which eliminates most deficiencies of micronutrients in this area. Symptoms of deficiencies still appear within Illinois fields even though soil fertility is very high. The next step in this scenario, is to test soil pH.

Soil pH will be a large player in tying up micronutrients within fertile soils. A soil pH of 6.5 is considered the target. This is the optimum pH for macro and micro nutrients. Acidic pH soils (>6.5) offer availability of most micros and alkaline soils(<6.5) favor most macros. Nutrients are not depleted, but rather unavailable at certain pH conditions. A larger problem surrounding depletion, has to do with Sulfur, a secondary macronutrient.

Pictured is a mound of elemental sulfur with an analysis of 0-0-0-90S
Due to regulations surrounding the burning of low-sulfur coal and other fuels, less sulfur has entered the atmosphere and returned into the soil. Ironically, cleaner fuels have depleted the sulfur content and crops have recently began showing symptoms of deficiencies. Corn identifies shortages in sulfur by delayed maturity, and interveinal yellowing or “leaf striping,” Many scouts have observed early signs of this throughout Illinois. The USDA shows sulfate consumption around 534,000 tons in 1960 to 1,5000,000 tons in 2011. Many farmers are making the move toward sulfates to maintain soil fertility and yields. For additional information, a trustworthy source can be found at

Hayden Swanson, Ag Business major at Western Illinois University from Galva, Illinois. Member of Black Hawk East soil judging team from 2015-2016 with interest in pursuing a career surrounding soil science.


Rye should I plant cover crops?

Today, the topic of cover-crops is everywhere, from popular no-till magazines to groups of very traditional farmers giving it a try because of its perks. We have been researching the use of Cereal Rye as a cover-crop on our farm for 4-5 years with a lot of positive results and positive aspects we enjoy from using this somewhat progressive system.

About My Farm

As a 5th generation farmer in the Fulton, Warren, and McDonough County area who’s family farm has never had the reputation of being on the progressive side of agriculture, it may seem shocking that our operation is testing the use of anything besides a disk ripper and field cultivator. Our area has both ends of the spectrum when it comes to progressive operations; mainly differentiated by size, capacity, and in my opinion, work ethic.

At 2000 acres, we’re toward the larger size of farms in the area and like every large farm around, we conventionally work every acre, every year. We have tried No-Till and reduced-till styles of farming but neither allows us to get crops in first or grow the highest yielding crops around. We have one 24 row planter and one 35” cultivator so when it comes to eating through acres in the spring, we aren’t at an advantage against the weather. Conventional tillage allows for soils to warm up, dry out, and start out young plants faster than no-till and reduced till, and with todays racehorse hybrids and Varieties, we want to be the first planter rolling in the field because 90% of the time, the early-bird gets the worm. Esspecially with today’s seed treatments and good overall plant vigor bred into hybrids and varieties, there’s no reason to wait until your neighbor starts.


A field of cover crops in early spring that got a good establishment in the fall.**^

Our System

Like stated before, we conventionally till every acre of corn ground going to beans and vice versa but since we are only using cover crops before beans, I’ll stick to describing that system.

We start out our cover crop system like every other conventional till-er; after a corn field in harvested, we wait for stalks and residue to dry out 2-3 days and go in and disk the field fairly deep. We like to see as much mixture of soil, root-balls, and trash as possible. After we get every acre disked, which is usually not until we are done harvesting, we go out and disk rip every acre as well. This is where the first deep disking really helps bury as much residue as we can. This is where most systems end unless soil tests were taken and the field needs dry fertilizer or lime, in this case, applications are done before initial disking usually but sometimes before ripping if you have time constraints.

Our first step in the cover crop seeding process is knocking down the ripped ground with a soil finisher wherever our Terra-Gator dry spreader will go. We do this because you can’t spread fertilizer on ripped ground without giving yourself future and current lumbar problems…   We set our Auto-Steer to work a pass every 60 feet, which is the width our terra-gator spreads, so we are driving on nice smooth soil. This extra working also helps evenly “pack” the freshly ripped soil so it’s not so soft next spring where the planter tractor will be driving on.


This is a muncher that is very similar to the one we use.**^

Second, we mix our cover crop of choice, cereal rye, with potash with our fertilizer blender, we apply 200 lbs/acre of potash and 1 unit of rye/acre. So for a 10 acre field we would mix 2000 lbs potash with 10 bushels(units) of cereal rye. We spread this on the field and right behind our spreader, we pull our 1990’s John Deere 30” mulcher, also known as a “packer”. This is a tool that farmers don’t use around here anymore because field cultivators have grown in popularity but they do a similar job, designed to be used before planting in the spring. We set the shanks to just barely scrape the top ½” of soil and let the 2 sets of rollers, roll in the small seeded rye, while at the same time, smoothing out the entire field so when planting into the rye next spring, we will have a nice, level seedbed that is not compacted but also isn’t too “wishy washy” when planting.

Our Results

We have had both great results and have had no results in our test strips on multiple farms but after having a lot of positive results and impacts on our farms, we have decided to plant cover crops on roughly half of our ground going to soybeans. Starting out with the bad, we applied rye to some of our flat, un-tiled, black silt loam ground and during the spring of 2014, we couldn’t get in to burn it down with roundup and 2-4D until the rye was over 2 feet tall, resulting in a wet, mat of residue that we had to disk in order to plant into. The same spring we also had trouble getting into our more rolling fields that we were able to burn-down, but it wouldn’t dry out enough to plant it, resulting in a late planting and surpressed yields.

Despite these downfalls, we still continue to use this system because on our H.E.L (Highly Erodible Land) needs to be reduced-till and this system allows us to disk and rip that ground in the fall, giving us proper decomposition on residue, and reduced compaction while still maintaining ground cover to satisfy the reduced-till requirements. Our favorite aspect of planting Rye as our specific cover crop, is the alleopathy effect the killed off rye has on small seeded broadleaves and grasses for months after the burn-down. We do burn-down the rye with Roundup, 2-4D, and Zidua. The Zidua is a Seedling Shoot Growth Inhibitor that works in junction with the alleopathy effect the rye gives off to surpress seed germination as well.

This system is a huge aspect of our weed control program and with the new added tool of Xtend Soybeans, we have been able to limit our number of passes through the field to a single pass in many circumstances. We plant some Liberty beans as well and the effect that the rye has on weeds to surpress growth really helps Liberty kill them because of the small amount of surface area needed to come in contact with Liberty vs a large weed that has more surface area.

Future of Rye as a Cover Crop for other crops

I truly believe in time, almost all farmers will be planting some sort of cover crop and because of our area’s large problem with weed control in beans specifically, rye will be a leader in the field. I also believe that some people will try different systems of using the cover-crop than we do and find success in even more areas that we already have. I also believe that someday we will plant other cover crops in front of corn that will not hurt the young corn plants like rye. My father, Gary Cooper, a Certified Crop Advisor, farmer, and Pioneer sales rep, stated “If rye has such a bold alleopathy effect on grasses in my soybean field, it must have a negative effect on young corn plants.”

If a very early harvest comes and you are able to plant you cover crop early and it gets established very well, I believe that if the rye is able to be killed off very early, you could possibly plant corn behind it without a bad effect. This system would have a great nitrogen storage system especially if used in tandem with a corn-on-corn rotation that has extra usable nitrogen hanging around after harvest that would just go to waste that rye would uptake a store all fall-spring and when killed off, that decomposing rye would store even more rye that you applied for your upcoming corn crop until later in the year when it would release slowly and would provide a lot of nitrogen during the corn ear fill-out that corn-on-corn sometimes needs help with.

Last reason Rye

Rye is cheap. We have bought both commodity rye from a neighbor who sometimes plants and harvests rye to mix for feed, and we have also bought rye from seed companies who clean the rye and use a very straight line of rye without much variation. We would like to purchase a seed cleaner someday so we can clean our own rye that we might harvest ourselves and sell to neighbors who want to get in on all the hype of “CerverCrerps” We pay $11/unit (bushel) from a seed company and have paid $8 for commodity rye which is similar to the market price of rye. If we apply one unit/acre of rye, that is around $10/acre plus application and In our operation’s opinion, a well spent $10 that helps with weed control and nutrient uptake, storage, and relocation for plant availability.

If you ever have a neighbor or land tenant ask you to plant cover crops, don’t be afraid, they are well worth the small amount of money they cost to plant.



Spencer Cooper; Senior majoring in Agricultural Business from Avon, IL. Plans to Farm after graduation.


Farming: Plan, Plant, Harvest, Repeat

Year after year,  farmers all around the country, have one main goal:  plant a crop and have a successful harvest. While each farm may be a little different in how they achieve this goal, there are main steps that all farmers will complete during each time of year, every year. By growing up and being active on my family’s farm in Western Illinois, I have experienced the steps that are taken to try and achieve that yearly goal.


Farmers have just completed harvest and all fall activities. During the winter, farmers will be planning for the next year’s crop. They will be actively looking at yield maps, or other crop data to see how the hybrids/varieties of crops they planted the last season performed. The most successful crop hybrids/varieties will most likely be implemented back on the farm for the next growing season. Hybrids/varieties that underperformed will be looked at to be removed and for others to take their place. Once the farmer makes their decisions on seed, they will place their seed orders. Herbicide programs will also be put into action. Farmers will be selecting the herbicide programs they want to implement for the next growing season based off the previous season’s weed issues. Farmers will also haul grain from on-farm storage to fill any grain selling contracts they have made that take place during that time.


Row crop planting- Photo credit: John Deere

In the early spring, farmers will begin to get their planting equipment ready. The seeds have all arrived and have been sorted for the fields in which they are going. Farmers will begin to plant by early April. Some farmers will apply anhydrous in the spring, just before planting. Farmers will also be doing spring tillage such as running field cultivators before the planter.  This will allow for a good seed bed, which allows for good seed-soil contact. Farmers who practice no-till will have most likely applied a burn down, which kills weeds such as winter annuals, a few weeks before planting. Pre-emergence herbicides are being applied immediately behind a planted field. This will allow for some residual cover in order to keep weeds from germinating for as long as possible.  Days have become longer for a farmer as planting the crop is an important task to get completed.


Planting has come to an end and the growing season is in full swing. Farmers will be applying side-dress nitrogen to their corn and pesticides such as herbicides, insecticides, or fungicides to all their crops. Farmers will be actively mowing ditches and keeping up the maintenance of their individual farms. They will also be fixing any equipment such as spring tillage tools before storing them away for the season. Any grain that is still being stored in on-farm grain bins will be hauled off to make room for the new crops. As summer nears an end, farmers are actively preparing for harvest. They are getting equipment ready and calibrated. They want to make sure everything is prepared and is ready to run efficiently for harvest.


Harvest 1
Soybean harvest – Photo credit: Albion News

Fall is one of the busiest times of the year for the farmer. During the fall, harvest begins. Again, harvest is a very important time of year for farmers and long days are, once again implemented. Famers spend most of their time working in the fields bringing in the new crop. After harvest ends, farmers will begin doing any fall tillage that they may implement. Anhydrous is applied once the soil temperatures have lowered. Soil tests are taken to show what condition the soils are in and help figure out what rates of fertilizer are needed for certain farms. Fertilizer is then spread and lime is applied (if lime is needed). Once all of the fall field activities are completed, equipment is washed and stored for the winter. Preparations for the next year begins.

Final thoughts:

Farmers will ultimately follow these steps to achieve the over-rising goal of farming: plant a crop and have a successful harvest. Farmers can also take other steps such as planting cover crops to help with soil health or strictly use technology to create their own prescription maps for fertilizer/seed rates. No matter what farmers do, farming is a busy occupation that consumes a lot of extra time. Overall, farming is a great occupation, just like many other occupations of your liking, and as long as you make wise, conscious decisions you can achieve any set goal.


My name is Kody Bowman and I am a senior at Western Illinois University.   I am from Blandinsville, IL, where I was born and raised on a crop and livestock farm. I am majoring in Agriculture Business with a minor in Agronomy. Down the road, I look to come back to the family farm as a 4th generation farmer.


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

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. 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. 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!

Image may contain: 1 person, sitting

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.


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

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.