51st Agronomy Day looks to the future

51st Agronomy Day looks to the future

URBANA – In 1991, Ellery Knake donned an Uncle Sam hat and brandished a fake firearm to dramatize the "shotgun marriage" between farmers and the government.

In another classic Agronomy Day performance at the University of Illinois' South Farm, Marshall McGlamery wore a badge and stood on his head to get across his message – police your fields or lawless weeds will steal your profits.

Concerns in the farm community change from year to year, but some things stay the same – hay wagons will roll Thursday, beginning at 7 a.m. on South Farm, and College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences scientists will introduce farm visitors to new concepts in agriculture and academia.

And as the college moves test plots south to make way for athletic and business interests in its test farm, the 51st consecutive Agronomy Day seems likely to be one of the last when farmers can visit fields adjacent to campus to see what's new at ACES.

Chairman Pat Tranel said the theme, "Growing Our Future," hits home on at least two fronts.

"We're talking about alternative energy, growing our own energy, and that's a hot topic," Tranel said. "We have a tour focused on that issue.

"The other way it's relevant is, because of bioenergy and other new things, we have a lot of need for new students trained in agronomy, and we feel we need to grow in size to fill employers' needs," he said. "People don't associate bioenergy with agronomy but in fact, a lot of it is basic crop science research. "

Tranel said increased demand and higher prices also create a hot market for agronomy graduates.

"It's an optimistic time in agronomy and we need to grow our students," he said.

Crop sciences department head Bob Hoeft agreed.

"We'll be set up to talk to students and their parents," Hoeft said. "We have really good news for them. Last year our crop sciences students were hired for the highest average salaries of any department of the college. Agriculture isn't a pitchfork and shovel any more. We're a high-tech operation. We have GPS and satellites out there working for us. We have biotechnology in plant breeding. It's the most exciting time in my career."

Kevin Steffey, an entomologist who will be stationed by his plots to talk to visitors, said he's going to address a current concern – soybean aphids.

"We're in the midst of an outbreak, aphids close to home," he said. "We're talking about economic levels, about the fact that there can't be any blanket recommendations about spraying. Beans are getting close to the stage where spraying may not be beneficial."

Hans Blaschek, whose specialty is biofuels, said he's put together information about bioenergy to help visitors understand the systems that produce it better.

"We're defining terms and describing a cycle, a production process for biofuels," Blaschek said. "We need to simplify starting with biomass, how you break it down, what research focuses are and producing products like fuel and byproducts. "

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