Crop Sciences

Revisiting corn and soybean planting date

Published March 28, 2017

URBANA, Ill. – Unusually warm, dry weather in the past month has led some central Illinois growers to get a jump on fieldwork. While there is nothing wrong with getting fields in shape early, University of Illinois crop sciences professor Emerson Nafziger says that planting well ahead of normal is unlikely to result in higher yields.

“We know that some corn and possibly some soybeans were planted as early as February this year,” Nafziger says. “While there were reports in 2016 of higher yields from early- compared to late-planted crops, ‘the earlier the better’ typically doesn’t work well when it comes to planting corn or soybeans. Yields are usually no higher for crops planted in March or early April compared to those planted in late April or early May, so there’s little reward for taking the risk of very early planting.”

The primary cause of stand loss in both crops is heavy rainfall soon after planting; Nafziger says stand problems due to wet soils are as common with May planting as with April planting. The danger of frost damage, which was once a major reason to delay planting, is not as significant for either crop these days, but it is higher with very early planting.

Planting very early also affects insurability and, if the crop needs to be replanted, can increase production costs. For corn, the earliest insurable dates for planting are April 10, April 5, and April 1 for northern, central, and southern Illinois, and for soybean they are April 24, April 20, and April 15.

Nafziger’s recent research shows that, on a percentage basis, yield penalties from delayed planting are almost identical for corn and soybean. That is a departure from earlier findings that showed corn yield declined faster than soybean yields as a result of planting delays through May.

“Our long-held idea of planting corn first and then starting to plant soybean requires rethinking and possible adjustment,” Nafziger says. “One approach is that those with more than one planter might start planting both crops at the same time rather than finishing corn first. If planting is delayed past mid-May, though, then planting corn becomes a higher priority because corn yield declines more quickly than soybean yield when planting is very late. Of course, we hope that we can get both crops planted by early May so they can get off to a good start.”

Visit the Bulletin for more details and help in making planting decisions.

Farming becoming riskier under climate change

Published March 27, 2017
Dry conditions will impact yield late in the growing season.
  • Climate change is predicted to impact agriculture, but a new study puts these changes in terms that are directly applicable to farmers.
  • For Illinois, the corn planting window will be split in two to avoid wet conditions in April and May. 
  • Each planting window carries increased risk – the early planting window could be thwarted by frost or heavy precipitation, and the late window cut short by intense late-summer drought.
  • Farmers and crop insurers must evaluate risk to avoid losing profits.

URBANA, Ill. – Scientists the world over are working to predict how climate change will affect our planet. It is an extremely complex puzzle with many moving parts, but a few patterns have been consistent, including the prediction that farming as we know it will become more difficult.

Scientists infer the impact on agriculture based on predictions of rainfall, drought intensity, and weather volatility. Until now, however, the average farmer may not have been able to put predictions like these into practice. A new University of Illinois study puts climate change predictions in terms that farmers are used to: field working days.

“Everything else flows from field working days,” says U of I and USDA Agricultural Research Service ecologist Adam Davis. “If you’re not able to work, everything else gets backed up. Workable days will determine the cultivars, the cropping system, and the types of pest management practices you can use. We’re simply asking, ‘Can you get in to plant your crop?’”

In a previous study, the group developed models that reliably translated past climate data into field working days for Illinois. In the new study, they coupled those models with climate change scenarios to forecast field working days into the future.

The group ran the models for nine crop districts in Illinois for two time periods, mid-century (2046 to 2065) and late-century (2080 to 2099), using three climate scenarios ranging from mild to extreme. 

The models suggest that the typical planting window for corn will no longer be workable; April and May will be far too wet to work the fields in most parts of Illinois.

“Going forward, we’re predicting warmer and wetter springs, and drier, hotter summers,” Davis says. “The season fragments and we start to see an early-early season, so that March starts looking like a good target for planting in the future. In the past, March has been the bleeding edge; nobody in their right mind would have planted then. But we’ve already seen the trend for early planting. It’s going to keep trending in that direction for summer annuals.”

Those drier, hotter summers are likely to change farming practices too, particularly in southern Illinois.   

“Drought periods will intensify in mid- to late-summer under all the climate scenarios. If farmers decide to plant later to avoid the wet period in April and May, they’re going to run into drought that will hit yield during the anthesis-silking interval, leading to a lot of kernel abortion. That second planting window is probably pretty risky,” Davis says.

Risk is the key word. If farmers bet on the early planting window and get hit with a frost or more March precipitation than expected, are they out of luck? Davis says they will have to choose to mud the seed in, plant a different hybrid, or even scrap corn and go for winter wheat later in the season. But given that many farmers choose hybrids and purchase seeds the previous fall, they’re unlikely to have that kind of flexibility come spring. Any miscalculation will be incredibly costly.

“It will come down to whether crop insurers will move planting dates earlier in the spring. They’re going to need enough years of empirical evidence that this early window exists before they are likely to make that change,” Davis notes.

The researcher suggests three strategies to cope with the changes. Farmers could plant early with long-season cultivars to maximize yield potential, betting on a pollination window to open up before the drought kicks in. Or farmers could choose shorter-season cultivars, planting early and then harvesting before the drought, possibly sacrificing yield.

The last strategy will require a more radical shift.

“Create cropping systems that can deal with increased volatility by conserving soil moisture. Most of the effort in yield stability and resilience focuses on genetic improvement of crops. That’s good, but I think we’ve fallen behind in the cropping system management side. If you’ve got an elite cultivar that’s drought resistant in the same old cropping system that’s not shifting with environmental changes, then we’re not doing full justice to that cultivar,” Davis says.

Given the weather in Illinois this late winter/early spring, this work seems particularly timely.

“All this weird weather? It’s part of a trend,” Davis says. “Now is the time to prepare, because the future is here.”

The article, “Changes in field workability and drought risk from projected climate change drive spatially variable risks in Illinois cropping systems,” is published in PLOS One. Lead author Bradley Tomasek is at Duke University. Marty Williams and Adam Davis are research ecologists with the USDA Agricultural Research Service, and faculty members in the U of I crop sciences department. Funding was provided by the USDA Agricultural Research Service.

News Source:

Adam Davis, 217-333-9654
Apr 25 Monsanto Room, ACES Library, Information & Alumni Center ACES Town Hall and Reception with Dean Kidwell

Soybean farmers can earn reward for helping UI researcher

Published March 16, 2017

URBANA, Ill. – In January, the University of Illinois leader of a multi-state soybean research project put out a call to farmers to help gather data for the project. Few participants have signed on, so he is putting the call out again.

“We only need two or three producers in each soybean-growing county in Illinois to get the job done,” says U of I crop sciences professor Emerson Nafziger.

Nafziger and his team are asking producers to provide information for up to four soybean fields on a simple form (one per crop year, 2014 to 2016), located at The form requests about 20 pieces of information for each field, including field location, planting date, variety, and seeding rate. Most farmers will be able to record information for a field in 10 or 15 minutes.

To provide an incentive, anyone who fills out information forms and returns a gift card request form along with the information sheets will receive a $50 gift card.

“This project can be described as a search to find what we should work on next with regard to soybean research. The goal is to have thousands of fields in a large database, then to see how soil, weather, and management interact to produce yield,” Nafziger explains.

Nafziger encourages FFA and college students to participate, giving them experience with scientific studies and a reward for their efforts.

“The more fields we’re able to get information on, the more useful this effort will be,” Nafziger explains. “As the largest and best state for soybean production, we are hoping to produce the largest and best set of information of all states involved in this effort.”

Farmers who want to participate can fill out the form posted at the link given above, or can contact Nafziger at or to have forms sent by email. The project is also described on the Bulletin.



What makes farmers try new practices?

Published March 14, 2017
Perennial grasses can be a source of biofuel
  • A new study from the University of Illinois surveyed farmers to uncover the factors that influence adoption of new types of cropping systems.
  • Farmers were more likely to adopt multifunctional perennial cropping systems if they were young, educated, and interested in improving soil and water quality.

URBANA, Ill. – Change is never easy. But when it comes to adopting new agricultural practices, some farmers are easier to convince than others.

A group of researchers at the University of Illinois wanted to know which farmers are most likely to adopt multifunctional perennial cropping systems—trees, shrubs, or grasses that simultaneously benefit the environment and generate high-value products that can be harvested for a profit.

“We surveyed farmers in the Upper Sangamon River Watershed in Illinois to learn their attitudes about growing MPCs on marginal land. We then looked at their demographic data to classify people into different categories related to their adoption potential,” says University of Illinois agroecologist Sarah Taylor Lovell.

Using statistical clustering techniques, the team discovered that survey respondents fell into six categories. The “educated networkers” and “young innovators” were most likely to adopt MPCs. On the other end of the spectrum, survey respondents classified as “money motivated” and “hands-off” were least likely to adopt the new cropping systems.     

The goal of categorizing farmers was to tailor strategies for each group, given their general attitudes. “If they’re very unlikely to adopt at all, we probably wouldn’t spend a lot of time worrying about those groups,” Lovell explains.

However, Lovell thinks some low-likelihood adopters could be swayed. “One of the groups—the one we called “money motivated”—was really connected with GPS in their yield monitoring, so we thought we could target that. We could review high-resolution maps of their farms to point out the areas that are unproductive for corn and soybeans. We’d try to make the case that alternative perennial systems could bring in profits,” Lovell says.

High-likelihood adopters were motivated by environmental concerns, and were especially interested in converting marginal land to bioenergy crop, hay, or nut production systems. “Farmers were probably most familiar with bioenergy grasses and hay,” Lovell explains. But it was important to them that an existing market was in place for MPCs products.

Another major factor was land tenancy. Considering that most MPC crops don’t mature for years after planting, rental contracts would need to account for the long-term investment.

“The person leasing the land might be really interested in agroforestry or perennial cropping systems,” Lovell says. “The lease arrangement has to be long enough that the farmer will get back their investment in that period. For example, some of the nut crops take a long time to mature. But if you integrate some of the fruit shrubs, they’ll become productive in maybe 3-4 years. You could get an earlier return on investment in those cases.”

Lovell’s graduate students—housed in the crop sciences department at U of I—are now following up with several of the farmers who were interested in MPCs and offering custom designs to establish the new cropping systems on their land.

“That was part of the overall goal for this study. We wondered if the barrier to adoption is a lack of information about design options and the economic potential,” Lovell says. “If we overcome that barrier by developing good planting plans, projecting the market economics, and providing them with that information, will that help them implement the change?”

Stay tuned.

The article, “Identifying barriers and motivators for adoption of multifunctional perennial cropping systems by landowners in the Upper Sangamon River Watershed, Illinois,” is published in Agroforestry Systems. Lead author Chloe Mattia and co-author Adam Davis are also in the Department of Crop Sciences at U of I. Funding was provided by the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

Apr 03 Heritage Room, College of ACES Library “The Emerging Fertilizer Value Chain in Africa”

The marvels of spring ephemerals

Published March 8, 2017
White trout lily

URBANA, Ill. – Spring will be arriving soon, and with the new season comes brand new foliage followed by a burst of flowers. Gardeners poking around the yard may discover plants emerging here and there.

“Some of the earliest of these plants are native spring ephemerals,” notes Nancy Kreith, University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator. She says that ephemerals, or short-lived plants, are often misunderstood and refers to them as the mystery plants of the Eastern U.S. deciduous forest. That is because they seem to emerge suddenly and vanish almost as quickly as they came.

“Gardeners find themselves wondering if they did something wrong,” explains Kreith. “Many of these mysterious plants emerge, flower, set seed, and die back within two months.”

Most ephemerals begin growing in very late winter to early spring before trees develop leaves. During this time, they are able to take advantage of the moist conditions and sunlight hitting the forest floor. Once trees begin growing leaves, many ephemerals enter dormancy and remain unseen until the following spring.

Kreith cautions gardeners not to confuse ephemerals with spring flowering bulbs, such as tulips or daffodils, although they may have similar underground structures. Energy reserves are stored in their fleshy roots, corms, and tubers, and allow ephemerals to grow very quickly as warmer temperatures arrive. One major difference is that many spring ephemerals will completely die back to the ground, unlike the leaves of bulbs, which remain well into late spring and summer. That said, if environmental conditions are favorable, attractive foliage will remain on some ephemerals well into summer.

“For example, when planted in moist shaded areas, the leaves of the native fringed bleeding heart (Dicentra eximia) tend to remain into early summer,” Kreith says.It also goes the other way around: if warmer temperatures are delayed, ephemerals may remain hidden until conditions are just right, as in the case of mayapple (Podophyllum peltatum) and celandine poppy (Stylophorum diphyllum).” Kreith notes that celandine poppy can be very aggressive.

The earliest of the ephemerals, emerging in February, is skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus). The foul-smelling, tiny yellow flowers held on a spadix generate enough heat to melt surrounding snow and attract flies as pollinators.

Spring beauty (Claytonia virginica) is one of the most plentiful of the native ephemerals, forming dense stands from February through May. “It even tolerates mowing,” Kreith says. “The low-growing and grass-like foliage is adorned with bubblegum-pink petals with dark pink stripes.”

Virginia bluebells (Mertensia virginica), with their floppy leaves, appear in March. These plants are known for colonizing bottomland soils. The clusters of bell-shaped flowers are nearly erect over the foliage and the plant quickly dies back after blooming.

Prairie trillium (Trillium recurvatum), which also appears in woodlands, emerges in May and is the most versatile of the three native trilliums. “Prairie trillium has deep burgundy flowers, while leaves are distinguishable by the dappled light and dark green variations,” Kreith notes. 

Typically blooming around June, white trout lily (Erythronium albidum) has leaves that appear two to four weeks before the flower. The lily-like white flowers grow downward, hanging on a bare stalk over the two green or mottled leaves. “Amazingly, it can take trout lilies up to seven years to get their second leaves,” Kreith points out.

“This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the variety of spring ephemerals,” Kreith says. “Be sure to explore the many plant options before incorporating these into the garden.”

A good place to begin is Illinois Extension’s wildflower directory, found at Beyond researching the internet, Kreith encourages gardeners to take a walk in the woods, notice the first signs of spring, and be inspired to learn the varieties of these early blossoms. Remember these beautiful bloomers not only benefit people with their carpet of colors, they also serve as an important and necessary early food source as wildlife become active after a long, cold winter. 

News Source:

Nancy Kreith, 708-679-6889

News Writer:

University of Illinois Extension

Rhubarb’s mysteries revealed

Published March 7, 2017

URBANA, Ill. – As the season warms up, many gardeners begin looking forward to their first rhubarb harvests. Although it was first cultivated in central Asia more than 2,000 years ago for its medicinal properties, rhubarb is best known today as an ingredient in our early-summer pies.

Rhubarb forms thick red, pink, or green stalks—or petioles—with large, extravagant green leaves. It grows best where plants will receive full sun in fertile, well-drained soils that have good organic matter.

“Plant rhubarb in the early spring while plants are dormant,” says University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator Jennifer Fishburn. “Avoid harvesting the plants the first year, and only lightly harvest for 1 to 2 weeks during the second year. Full harvest may begin the third or fourth year depending on the plant size. At that point, you can go on to harvest for 8 to 10 weeks.”

Rhubarb’s sour, tart, tangy flavor is sometimes described as mouth-puckering. Fishburn says that most people find it necessary to sweeten rhubarb with sugar, honey, or fruit juice to minimize the tartness. Rhubarb is often combined with strawberries, especially in pies.

“The flavor depends on the cultivar,” Fishburn notes. “Reliable red-stalked cultivars include: Canada Red, Cherry Red, Crimson Red, MacDonald, Ruby, and Valentine. Victoria is a reliable green-stalked cultivar. Generally, the deeper red the stalk, the more flavorful. Medium-size stalks are generally more tender than large ones.”

Fishburn says to harvest 10- to 15-inch stalks by snapping them, rather than cutting them off. “Grab a stalk down where it emerges from the ground, and pull up and slightly to one side. Harvest only one-third of the stalks from a plant at one time. Immediately after harvesting, cut off and discard the leaves. If purchasing rhubarb, look for flat, crisp stalks, and leave any curled or limp ones behind.”

Rhubarb leaves should never be eaten. They contain oxalic acid, a toxin that can cause poisoning when large quantities of raw or cooked leaves are ingested.

Rhubarb can be stored in the refrigerator for two to four weeks, if the refrigerator is set between 32 to 36 degrees Fahrenheit and at 95 percent relative humidity. For best results, Fishburn says, store unwashed stalks in perforated plastic bags in the crisper drawer.

“Rhubarb is 95 percent water, and one cup of diced rhubarb contains about 26 calories, 2 grams dietary fiber, and 351 milligrams of potassium. Due to its acidic nature, avoid cooking rhubarb in reactive metal pots such as aluminum, iron, and copper,” Fishburn says.

Rhubarb can be prepared and served many different ways – pies, tarts, breads, cobblers, cakes, jams, sauces, puddings, and salads.

For more information on growing and using rhubarb, visit the University of Illinois Extension Watch Your Garden Grow website at

News Writer:

University of Illinois Extension

Nothing fishy about new solution for aquaculture wastewater treatment

Published March 6, 2017
  • Fish farming creates waste that can be difficult and costly to clean up, an issue that impedes the growth of the industry in the United States.
  • A new study shows that simple woodchip bioreactors can effectively and inexpensively remove nitrate pollution and solids from aquaculture wastewater.
  • Bioreactors, along with pre-filtration of solid waste, could encourage growth in the domestic aquaculture industry.

URBANA, Ill. – Aquaculture, or fish farming, is one of the fastest growing sectors of agriculture in the world today. However, farmers in the United States who wish to capitalize on this momentum face regulatory hurdles when dealing with fish waste. But new research shows that a simple, organic system can clean aquaculture wastewater effectively and inexpensively.

Researchers built bioreactors—long containers filled with wood chips—to treat wastewater from a fully operational recirculating aquaculture system in West Virginia. The idea is simple: water from the fish tank enters the bioreactor at one end, flows through the wood chips, and exits through a pipe at the other end. Along the way, solids settle out and bacteria housed in the wood chips remove nitrogen, a regulated pollutant.

Laura Christianson, assistant professor of water quality at the University of Illinois and lead author of the study, is a bioreactor expert. Her research has shown just how effective they are at removing excess nitrogen from tile-drained agricultural fields across the Midwest. But this project was a different kettle of fish.

“The bioreactors that we usually promote in Illinois are for taking nitrogen out of tile drainage,” Christianson explains. “Wastewater from a fish farm is a lot gunkier. It looks brown and can be smelly. We wanted to see if we could get a bioreactor to take the nitrogen out of that kind of water without the bioreactor clogging up with solids.”

The team set up four identical bioreactors, varying only in retention time, or the amount of time it takes for water to travel from end to end. “Retention time varied from 12 to 55 hours in the four bioreactors. If you’re trying to treat a lot of water, you want a lower retention time so you can keep it moving through. But the more time you give those bacteria to take the nitrogen out, the more effective they are. We were trying to find a balance between moving water through quickly and making sure it’s staying in there long enough to get treated properly,” Christianson explains.

Solid waste in the water presented another complication. At high flow rates, more solids were entering the system, settling out, clogging the spaces between wood chips, and impeding flow. The researchers found that the optimal retention time to both treat the water and avoid immediate clogging was 24 hours.

“The long and the short of it is that the bioreactors worked great,” Christianson says. “They worked as a filter for the solids and took nitrates out. But for systems that need to move a lot of water in a short amount of time, we recommend an additional microscreen filter to settle some of the solids out before they enter and clog up the bioreactor.”

At face value, a study about clogging potential of aquaculture bioreactors might not seem revolutionary, but the results could play a part in the evolution of the agriculture industry.

“In the U.S., we import more than 80 percent of our seafood—mostly from southeast Asia and China—so it’s an important industry. If we want to increase our food security, especially around this great source of protein, we should raise more fish domestically. But to do that in an environmentally responsible way, dealing with the wastewater from fish farms will be really important,” Christianson says.

The article, “Denitrifying bioreactor clogging potential during wastewater treatment,” is published in Water Research. Christianson’s co-authors, Christine Lepine, Kata Sharrer, and Steven Summerfelt, are at The Conservation Fund’s Freshwater Institute in West Virginia. The study was supported by the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service and Tides Canada.

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Decoding the secret language of flowers

Published March 6, 2017
Roses of many colors

URBANA, Ill. – Do you give flowers to your loved one on holidays and birthdays? Flowers are a great way to communicate your love and affection, and some can convey a specific message, according to a horticulture educator with University of Illinois Extension.

“Flowers can represent everything from friendship to true love,” says Rhonda Ferree. “For example, chrysanthemums show friendship. Gardenias represent secret love. Give a primrose to say, ‘I can’t live without you.’ Lilies, a traditional wedding flower, convey chastity, innocence, and purity, while Stephanotis shows happiness in marriage. Tulips are given to the perfect lover, and a red tulip declares your love. Orchids are commonly given as corsages to show love and beauty.”

But, Ferree says, no other flower shows more meaning than a rose. All roses symbolize love, but certain colors of roses have special meanings. “What’s more, when several colors in various stages of bloom are combined in one arrangement, your floral bouquet can speak a whole sentence instead of just one thought!”

Here are some of the most widely accepted meanings for different rose colors, blooms, and arrangements:

- Red roses show love, respect, or courage.

- Yellow roses represent joy, gladness, or freedom.

- Pink/peach roses exude gratitude, appreciation, admiration, or sympathy.

- White roses demonstrate purity or secrecy.

- Two roses joined together display engagement.

- Red and white roses together indicate unity.

Additionally, rosebuds say, “you are young and beautiful.” A single rose stands for simplicity. In full bloom, a rose means “I love you” or “I love you still,” and a bouquet of roses in full bloom signifies gratitude.

If you receive fresh flowers from your loved one, follow the following guidelines to ensure the longest vase life. Add water containing floral food to the vase every day. The best flower food can be obtained from your floral retailer.

Once the flowers are past their prime, discard them or make the memory last by creating a potpourri out of your rose petals. You can also press and dry the flowers for your memory book. “The uses of flowers are endless,” Ferree says.

For a complete fact sheet on the meaning of flowers, visit the horticulture program page at

News Source:

Rhonda Ferree, 309-543-3308

News Writer:

University of Illinois Extension