By TIM ALEXANDER
LEXINGTON, Ill. — Dozens of agronomists, farmers and Illinois State University Department of Agriculture educators met at the ISU Research Farm to learn about current research and day to day operations at the 440-acre facility.
Located around 18 miles west of the Bloomington-Normal campus of ISU near Lexington, the ISU Farm played host on July 12 to a Nutrient Stewardship Field Day sponsored by the McLean County Farm Bureau. Attendees were treated to a farm tour of current research plots seeded with cover crops along with saturated buffers, which feature a subsurface drainage control structure that diverts water flow from tile outlets to a perforated drainage pipe running along the buffer. The water table is raised in the buffer where the soil filters nutrient removal before naturally entering ditches or streams, classifying the buffer as an edge-of-field practice.
The cover crops under study by ISU researchers include pennycress, which can now be planted as a cash-yielding cover crop in between regular commercial rotations. The field day focused on how conservation measures such as cover crops and saturated buffers can be employed by farmers in the sensitive Lake Bloomington and Evergreen Lake watershed areas, where a substantial nitrate presence is often detected.
The ISU Farm, located at 25578 ISU Farm Lane, has been managed by Jason Lindbom since 2017. Lindbom was raised on a diversified row crop and livestock farm near Galva, Illinois, and graduated from ISU’s College of Agriculture in 1993.
“The crops that we raise here are your corn and soybeans, and we’re doing a lot of work with cover crops like cereal rye, a lot of clovers and rye grass, and a lot of forage weeds for our animal feed. Our professors have also been studying pennycress,” said Lindbom, who hosted the tram tour of the ISU Farm.
While the research farm was a center of activity during the recent field day (Illinois Agriculture Director Jerry Costello was a surprise guest), Lindbom described a “normal” summer day on the farm as much more laid-back. According to Lindbom, only a handful of ISU agriculture students are employed during summer months to assist his five-person staff with chores and activities on the farm, where compost is sold to surrounding communities for $40 per ton and $25 for smaller loads. The students who are employed by the farm come from a wide variety of agriculture-related academic disciplines and backgrounds, he said.
“They come from Ag Business, Ag Communication, Ag Leadership, Ag Education, Animal Industry Management, Animal Science, Crop and Soil Sciences, Food Industry Management, Horticulture and Landscape Management and also our Pre-Veterinary Medicine program,” Lindbom said. “In addition to row crops we have cattle, sheep and swine. These students are filling in wherever we are needing them to work, in all aspects of the farm as well as the composting site.”
ISU’s composting site relies on yard waste material provided by the town of Normal in spring and fall. Formerly going to a landfill, the delivery of Normal’s yard waste to ISU’s composting area allows the farm to provide a student-involved environmental service for its community.
“Several hundreds of tons of material they bring out here each year is kept from going to the landfill. We break down those rows, we add our swine slurry or our beef manure to help break those rows down, and once they are broken down we screen that material to take out the heavy debris before we offer it for sale to the public,” Lindbom said.
Presenting on the benefits of pennycress as a cash cover crop during the tour was Dr. Bill Perry, a biologist with the ISU Department of Agriculture. Perry said that agriculture has the potential to solve problems such as water quality and global climate change through research such as that taking place at the ISU Farm.
“We can improve soil quality and water quality and increase revenue,” Perry said. “One of the things we’ve been working on is pennycress. You probably know it as stinkweed because it smells terrible, but it is edible. It’s kind of like canola. You’ve probably heard of Crispr…they’ve knocked out many of the agronomic traits that made it not a good cover crop or oilseed crop. In 10 years we’ve made a new cash crop that fits in between corn and soy -- or soy and corn -- and it terminates itself in the spring.”
Recent ISU research shows that pennycress can take up nitrates at a rate similar to cereal rye, Perry added. Also speaking to the benefits of pennycress was Nathan Smith of St. Louis-based CoverCress, which offers a hybrid pennycress that can be harvested as a winter oilseed and sold at their facilities within Illinois.
To learn more about the ISU Research Farm, visit www.agriculture.illinoisstate.edu/facilities/farm/.