More than half of winter wheat crop harvested

A roundup of agriculture news:

SPRINGFIELD — The Illinois Department of Agriculture served up more proof this week of how early the growing season came this year.

As of Sunday, 53 percent of the state's winter wheat crop had been harvested. Normally, at this time, only 1 percent of the crop has been harvested, based on averages from the last five years.

Meanwhile, the lack of precipitation has taken its toll on corn and soybeans.

The department said many counties are reporting signs of stress in both crops.

Statewide, 9 percent of the corn crop is rated excellent, 47 percent good, 34 percent fair, 8 percent poor and 2 percent very poor.

For soybeans, 5 percent of the crop was rated excellent, 45 percent good, 38 percent fair, 9 percent poor and 3 percent very poor.

In the eastern region of Illinois, which includes Champaign-Urbana and Danville, only 32 percent of the topsoil had adequate moisture. Fifty-eight percent was deemed "short" and 10 percent "very short."

About 39 percent of the subsoil had adequate moisture, while 45 percent was short and 16 percent was very short.

Average corn height in eastern Illinois was 25 inches — far shorter than the crop in other parts of the state, except for in the northwest and northeast.

Soybean researchers look to genes from China to boost yields

URBANA — Agricultural researchers at the University of Illinois are testing genes from Chinese soybean lines to see whether they can help boost yields of U.S. crops, according to an Illinois Soybean Association release.

Researchers have used exotic soybean lines to develop varieties with resistance to disease and insects, but not specifically to increase yields, the release said.

Teams headed by UI professors Randall Nelson and Brian Diers have identified locations of genes from Chinese lines that boost yield in U.S. varieties.

Gains were 1 to 2 bushels an acre, but when genes were stacked together, gains were 8 to 9 bushels an acre, Diers said.

Young women forming teams for skills competition

LANARK — Women ages 14 to 19 are invited to form teams of five to compete in the Duct Tape and Fencing Wire Challenge, sponsored by Illinois Agri-Women.

Teams will be given four tasks that require skills in science, technology, engineering and math.

Activities include building a doghouse, applying for a community improvement grant, computer programming, and exploring all careers involved in making the ingredients of a Big Mac sandwich.

The winning team will get an all-expenses-paid trip to the 2013 Women Changing the Face of Agriculture career event in Carbondale. The top three teams will get a cash donation to the youth agency of their choice.

Rules are at http://www.womenchanging thefaceofagriculture.com.

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