Illinois: Home to the Oldest Experimental Research Plots in the Americas
The “I” states are indispensable to American agriculture. Iowa, Illinois, and Indiana have some of the most productive soils on the planet. The states are either adjacent or in close proximity to the mighty Mississippi River, which can be conveniently used to affordably transport the region’s impressive yields around the world. For corn production, Iowa (2.6 billion bushels / $9.8 billion USD) and Illinois (1.8B bu / $7.1B) ranked number one and number two in the United States in 2019, respectively, according to the USDA National Agricultural Stastics Service (NASS). The two states trade places for soybeans, with Illinois (532 million bushels / $4.9 billion USD) ranked number one and Iowa (502M bu / $4.4B) ranked number two. Indiana ranked fifth in corn production (815 million bushels / $3.3 billion USD) and fourth in soybean production by value and fifth by yield (273M bu / $2.5B USD).
For today’s post, we’ll focus on the Land of Lincoln--Illinois--because it will be celebrating its 202nd birthday tomorrow, December 3. Illinois is home to the University of Illinois, the state’s only land-grant university (LGU) and the next stop on our LGU tour. Worth noting is that the Morrill Land-Grant College Act that established the foundation for the network of LGUs in the United States was signed by none other than our nation’s 16th president, Abraham Lincoln. Although he was born in Kentucky and raised in Indiana, President Lincoln’s political career began in Illinois.
The University of Illinois system has campuses in Chicago and Springfield, but its primary campus is located in Champaign and is known as the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC). The Champaign campus is also the principal home of the system’s College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences (ACES), which offers 12 majors, 12 master’s degrees, and nine doctoral degrees, among several other offerings. One of the areas of emphasis within ACES’ Department of Crop Sciences is Crop Genetic Improvement for corn, soybeans, small grains, bioenergy feedstocks, and horticulture/vegetable crops.
According to USDA NASS, as of 2019 Illinois has 71,400 farming operations encompassing 27 million acres of farmland. Between corn (10.5 million acres) and soybeans (9.95 million acres), more than 75 percent of Illinois’ farmland is devoted to the production of these two principal crops. Thus it should not be surprising that corn and soybeans are a critical area of research focus for ACES. In fact, the university has partnerships with the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS) to operate the Maize Genetics Cooperation Stock Center. The university also partnerships with national and regional soybean industry associations, the ARS, and others to manage the National Soybean Research Laboratory. Graduate students also have access to the Illinois Plant Breeding Center.
Finally, what would an LGU tour be without a brief stop to look at the variety testing activities conducted within the state? As expected, Illinois has a robust network of variety testing locations for corn, soybeans, small grains (wheat and oats), some forage crops, and new for 2020, hemp. But before we conclude this post, we must highlight the Morrow Plots.
Established in 1876, the plots are the oldest experimental crop field in the Americas and the second oldest in the world – after the Rothamsted research station in England, established in 1843.
We encourage you to check the Morrow Plots link above to learn more about the unique history there. So unique, in fact, that the site was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1968.