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.

Image result for drone in agriculture
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.



Detasseling Seed Corn

It’s the middle of summer and you see big yellow school busses parked in seed corn fields. Crews of adolescents are walking up and down the rows pulling tassels from the corn. This task is simply the final step in the seed corn detasseling process. Have you ever wondered why this is necessary? Or why there is not a better way to do it?

Before we can go into the detasseling process of seedcorn I will first describe what seedcorn is, and why it is necessary. Seedcorn is what is sold to farmers to plant in their field the next crop year. It is a cross of two different hybrids that have been selected to be crossed together, this cross is specific to each variety and will have unique traits from other varieties. In seed corn there are so called male and female rows. Generally this seed corn is planted in a 4 – 1 pattern. this means that four female rows are planted followed by one male. This planting pattern is then repeated across the field. The detasseling process is what determines what rows will play the part of a male row and will pollinate the female rows. It is important that only the desired male rows pollinate the female rows. Self pollination of the female rows will degrade the purity of the desired male row female row cross and will not result in desired seed result. Self pollination of the male rows is not a concern, this is because after the pollination cycle is complete but before the seed corn is harvested the male rows are destroyed.

The detasseling process starts when a machine called a “cutter” goes through the field and cuts the flag leaves off the plant to expose the tassel. This results in a level appearing field through regulating its height. This machine is driven in between the corn rows by an operator. For every two rows of corn the machine is covering there is a cutting head. This cutting head is essentially a lawn mower deck that is hydraulically driven by the machine. How does the machine know just how deep or shallow it needs to cut in order to be efficient? Well, each cutter head has a set of photo eyes on it, or two eyes positioned vertically so one is above the other. These eyes send signals to a control box in the machine that movcutteres the cutter head up and down in relation to the height of the plant. Each field has a different tassel height which means these eyes have to be properly adjusted for every field. When cutting a field you generally want to remove around one third of the average tassel, along with any foliage above that. It is critical to perform this step correctly in order for the next step to be as effective as possible.

rollerThe second step in this process is to “roll” the field. Rolling the field is the first step in the actual removal of the tassel from the corn. In this step, a machine called a roller is moved across the field. This machine is almost identical to a cutter, however there is one key difference. Instead of having heads that resemble mower decks, these machines have sets of opposing spinning wheels that grab and pull the tassel out of the plant as the machine travels across the field. This process is far from perfect. The machine is considered to have done a good job if it removes 85 percent of the tassels or better from a field. Each percent left in the field is roughly 400 more tassels that will need to be removed by hand.

In the final step of the detasseling process, crews are brought to fields to hand pull the remaining tassels. This is when you see the classic yellow school busses parked on the ends of the field. Because this process is very labor intensive, it is essential to do a good job with the machines prior to the crew’s arrival. The crews typically walk the fields the day after it is rolled, and then again two days later. Fields must walked until 99.7 percent of the tassels are removed in order for the field to be considered pure. Only the resulting pure fields are then sold as seed to farmers.

It is important that all of these steps are done properly so that only the best product possible is sold to farmers. Many people do not realize how many steps there actually are in the process of detasseling. Hopefully this brief description has shed some light on a small portion of seed corn’s production journey.


Hello my name is Christopher Anderson, I am a senior at Western Illinois University, and also a member of Alpha Gamma Rho. I am majoring in agriculture science and minoring in precision agriculture. I come from a small town in north central Illinois. I grew up working on my grandparents farm and showing hogs. I was active in our local 4-H club and our high school FFA. I have spent the last five summers operating detasseling equipment for various companies. Upon graduation this spring I plan to move back home and find a job in the agricultural field.

The Importance in Agricultural Field Tile

When people think about agriculture the first few things that will pop into their head will be cows, pigs, corn, and tractors. When a farmer thinks about agriculture they might think of things like yields, weight averages, GMO’s and what they can do to better their operation at the end of the day. When looking at the commercial farming side of agriculture and dealing with yields, erosion problems and weather one thing pops into my head and it is tile.
Tiling systems are the combination of private and public draining systems allowing the landscape of the Midwest to become one of the most fertile and nutrient controlling farmlands in the world during the crops growing season. Most people do not realize that Illinois use to be an extremely wet and swampy area. The one way that the issue was fixed was by using drainage practices. Millions and millions of feet of tile have been placed throughout the state allowing the people of Illinois to travel in vehicles and farm without getting stuck in mud everyday. “I think the naysayers need to re-evaluate their politically correct thoughts about tile today. Don’t complain about farmers tiling and keeping good outlets and then forget your own residence is reliant on good drainage around the house.”(Jeff Van Loon)

“Jeff is the District Manager for the Medina SWCD since 2006. Before that he was an area representative with the ODNR Division of Soil and Water Conservation through out Northeast Ohio for most of his career. He worked closely with District Boards of Supervisors and staffs on programs and capacity building.”

Today the majority of field tile use is for creating higher yields in a farmer’s field crop. This is important when we look at issues like world hunger because it allows a farmer to have some hope the they will produce a higher yield than what they would have if they were just working in wet soils. The tile also helps a farmer when they are working and harvesting the crops. The tile helps drain the soils making it easier to harvest when planned and it helps with soil compaction.
When looking at the overall plant health of a field that has a proper drainage system hooked up there tends to be a better plant stand with fewer diseases. The plant stand can depend usually on the stress that the plant encounters in its growth periods. With good drainage the plants roots and base will not be submerged under water for a long period of time which will allow the plant to breathe easier and get the right amount of water it needs. Farmers see a lower increase of diseased plants in the field when drainage systems are installed. Most diseases thrive near or close by saturated areas.
Tile in a field is more than just a quick way to get water off of the property, it can be a long-term investment as well. Tiling a field can increase the field’s overall value and quality. But most importantly a proper drainage system can help the field breathe and it will increase the crop’s ability to produce at an optimal level.

Matthew McCoy. Lewistown, IL. Senior at Western Illinois University.

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.