Russel Higgins, Northern Ilinois Agronomy Research Centre – 17th June 2015

So when I finished my last post I was waiting for my flight to Philidelphia. I had a 50 minute window at Philidelphia to change terminals and connect to my Chicago flight. The Harrisburg plane was there but there was no crew, they were on another plane! So my window kept going down and I was starting to get worried. Once the plane got to Philadelphia I had a long run between flights, I wanted some exercise to run off all the American food but didn’t need the stress too. Once I reached Chicago, I picked up my car and went to my motel. Not the nicest place, not sure the no smoking signs had been adhered too! Also when I woke up there was a dead cockroach on my floor. Lesson learnt, don’t go for the cheapest option!

This morning my first meeting was with Russel Higgins in Shabbona about an hour from Chicago

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Chicago has been very wet recently and this morning was no different as it poured down while I travelled there.there is lots of water lying in low places in fields

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I found Russel by looking up intercropping on the Internet as they have been intercropping pumpkins with corn. What they do is plant the pumpkins which attracts the Western Root Beetle which is a major pest, so they have a good population to then do trials on.

Also at the centre they do herbicide trials where they actually plant the weeds as seen in rows below

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They do trials for chemical companies but they are not allowed to tell farmers the results!

We chatted about water issues in the UK and the US and they are facing major challenges here. The water that comes off these fields end up in the Mississippi and then the Gulf of Mexico, which has the dead zone due to nitrates. At the moment Des Moines city are taking farmer run drainage boards to court over nitrate pollution and the costs they incur removing them. If they are successful this could have major implications nationwide. This will mean that authorities could have control over what farmers apply and how they apply it and also impose restrictions.

At the moment cover crops and no till are not widely practiced in the area. In the spring the soils ( which are fantastic) are damp and cold so no till seems to struggle. Also in the last few years their harvest has been late and so their has been little chance to get covers established. This means they have struggled in their trials to show a yield benefit. Also the soils are very forgiving and productive and farmers are struggling to see the need to change. Russel thinks this change will come eventually but through regulation.

Also technically they can plant crops right to the top of ditch banks

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Though many waterway banks do have conservation ground next to them which they get paid for.

Russel is an Extension Agent and these agencies are coming under pressure from govt as they need to justify their funding. They are like the old ADAS but now farmers can get info from many other places and the Internet, they really have to prove their value.

It was a really good morning chatting to Russel and getting an insight into the challenges of farming in       Illinois. Their problems are very similar to ours. Farmers rents have gone up as the commodity prices rose but have not gone down as they have dropped, they have a massive regulatory pressure coming in the future. The one thing we don’t have is RR Palmer Amaranth, this weed is now in Illinois and seems to be the one that everybody fears. There are also about another seven RR weeds in the state.

Thank you very much to Russel. It was great to get an insiders view of local agriculture.

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