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Just like the previous 145 years, the University of Illinois Morrow Plots were planted Monday, May 11, 2020, this time with alfalfa, corn and soybeans.

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URBANA — The University of Illinois Morrow Plots were planted this year — just like the previous 145.

This year’s crop, planted Monday, has rows of alfalfa, corn and soybeans ahead of next year’s all-corn crop, said Allen Parrish, who oversees the UI’s South Farms.

As the oldest experimental crop field in the country, the plots have helped show the importance of crop rotation, effects of different types of fertilizers and how nutrients get depleted from soils.

“If we don’t get planted in the spring, we lose an entire year of research, and that’s not good for anyone,” he said.

The Morrow Plots won’t be impacted by the coronavirus, nor will most crop research on the UI’s South Farms, Parrish said.

Compared to last year, when farmers had trouble finding a dry day to plant, “the weather has been pretty cooperative,” he said.

Stephen Long, the director of the Realizing Increased Photosynthetic Efficiency project, said his work has been affected.

“At present, we are allowed to go ahead with field experiments, as long as social distancing can be maintained,” he said. “Some of our measurements cannot be undertaken with social distancing, so those have to be canceled.”

The project, which aims to improve photosynthesis through gene editing, typically brings in 10 undergraduates from Oxford University to help research alongside UI undergrads.

“This year, the Oxford students cannot travel and some of our own are electing to stay with their families, so we will likely be short-handed,” Long said. “We will have some field trials, but at a considerably reduced level.”

Despite these challenges, he said RIPE’s projects at the Research Park, including a new $3.2 million greenhouse, are on schedule for a mid-August opening.

COVID-19 is having a larger impact on the UI’s research on farm animals, said Jonathon Mosley, the UI’s director of animal sciences farms and research centers.

“Basically, all of our non-essential research has stopped,” he said.

Research typically ramps up during the summer when students aren’t in class, Mosley said.

“Most of those have been postponed, as nothing has been able to start new,” Mosley said. “Some project we were able to finish out if they had a reasonable conclusion. … Others that were longer term, whenever we were able to bring them to a stopping point, we did that.”

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