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Sunflower field

Allison Organic Research & Demonstration Farm

In 1989, the Agriculture Department at Western Illinois University identified a historically pesticide-free, limited-fertilizer, 80-acre farm located near the WIU campus. From 1989 through 2002, we have completed systematic sampling and characterization of many chemical, physical, and biological properties of these Sable-Muscatine soils, with the cooperation of scientists from several institutions. We have also completed a characterization of soil invertebrates, and maintained this benchmark field in a pesticide-free condition to serve as an agricultural scientific reserve, for the purpose of conducting research related to soil health and sustainability.

An immediate goal is to develop and test the practical and economic impacts of alternative soil, and crop management strategies for pesticide-free farming systems, and the feasibility of organic crops for west central Illinois. While there is an increase in farmer interest in organic procedures, there is very little university research on organic practices (Duram, 1998 and 1999). A long-term objective is to evaluate fundamental changes in soil properties and population dynamics of biological associations important to soil health and crop production.

Several questions in regard to organic farming remain to be addressed: How does one achieve reliable weed control? What are the most practical methods to meet the fertility needs of organically grown crops, with and without the use of manure? Can growers without livestock manures obtain adequate amounts of nitrogen for organic production? What are the economic opportunities and risks for organic farmers? Relevant research on the above questions requires a holistic approach through several 2 and 3 year crop rotations. Consequently, the accomplishment of many objectives requires a 3-6 year period of data collection for scientific analyses.

The overall approach to our research strategy includes current and past studies that address various agronomic challenges of organic/sustainable farming. This includes: weed control, using ridge-till operations, propane weed flaming, cover crops, and different planting dates. We also have different fertility systems that are being compared and include: commercial organic fertilizers, hog manure, potassium sulfate, and conventional commercial fertilizers. The conventional commercial fertilizers are used only on the non-organic section. Another study involves the economics comparison of a two year and three year crop rotation in the non-organic section, that utilizes the conventional market, verses a three year crop rotation (corn, soybeans, small grain/clover) in the organic section, that utilizes organic premiums. Studies have also been conducted growing different food grade soybean varieties to observe seed quality and yield differences.

According to the ERS (Economic Research Service/USDA), organic farming was one of the fastest growing agriculture segments during the 1990's. In recent years, organic food markets have had a remarkable growth rate of 20-24% annually. U. S. producers are exploring certified organic production for its potential to lower input costs, enter into high value markets, and boost farm income. Research into organic farming is in great demand as more and more people seek answers about management decisions regarding organic/sustainable agriculture. Western Illinois University intends to continue its contributions into the field of organic and sustainable agricultural research.

References Cited:

  • Durham, L. 1998. Organic agriculture in the United States: Current status and future regulation. Choices 2:34-38
  • Durham, L. 1999. Factors in organic farmer's decision making: Diversity, challenge, and obstacles. Am. J. Altern. Agric. 14:2-9.
  • Green, C. and C. Dimitri. 2002. ERS/USDA. Briefing room. Organic farming and marketing.
    http://www.ers.usda.gov/briefing/Organic

Contact Information

Dr. Joel Gruver
Office: Knobluch Hall 302
Phone: (309) 298-1215
Email: J-Gruver@wiu.edu

Mr. Andy Clayton
Office: Knoblauch Hall 303
Phone: (309) 298-1172
Email: AW-Clayton@wiu.edu

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Dr. Joel Gruver with Doris and Joe Foust-owners of the Allison Farm

Dr. Joel Gruver (center) with Doris & Joe Foust, owners of the Allison Farm