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WIU Emeritus Agriculture Professors Dean Wesley and Ed Breece.
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Emeriti Professors Recall Crop Research to Improve Accuracy of Hail Damage Claims

October 3, 2022

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MACOMB, IL – It wasn't the strange looks they got for intentionally damaging their corn crop, or the hundreds of pounds of ice they had to haul to campus to hurl at their corn plants – it was the industry-changing research that resulted that brought two Western Illinois University Emeriti Agriculture faculty members acclaim for creating more accurate hail damage tables for the insurance industry, tables which are still used today.

School of Agriculture Emeritus Professors Ed Breece and Dean Wesley worked on the project as part of a research grant from the Hail Insurance Adjusters Research Association. The purpose of the grant was to develop a more precise way to determine yield loss when hail storms strike crops. The WIU research was conducted on non-irritated corn plants, while the University of Nebraska conducted the tests on irrigated corn crops.

"They were looking for better data for the adjusters, such as what to look for in the field 10-14 days after a storm," said Wesley. "There are different types of injury to the plants at different stages of growth: stand reduction and defoliation to the plants."

During the research period in the late 1960s and early 1970s, nine acres of University Farm ground, translating to 900 study plots, was dedicated to the research on corn plants at various stages of growth. The area that was used for the plantings is now the front nine holes of the University's Harry Mussatto Golf Course.

"We participated in the training of insurance adjusters, most who worked during the summer as per-diem adjusters, and were teachers the rest of the year," said Breece. "We damaged special plots with ice, which were set up to simulate hail damage on the corn crop. We created the hail damage by hauling 400-pound blocks of ice to WIU, and having student workers break them into basketball-size pieces. They were then put into a forage harvester to chop them into hail size pieces to launch the pieces of ice at the corn plants. We also had to orient them about agricultural practices so they could communicate better with the farmers."

Breece and Wesley, and their student workers, used scissors to defoliate the plants and a hoe to reduce the stand to simulate hail damage.

Wesley said the research gathered from the various ways of simulating hail damage took into consideration a variety of factors, including the population of plants per acre and how a loss of leaf area (sunlight) impacted the ability of hail-damaged plants to recover from the loss.

"We would harvest each plot and determine the yield related mathematically to modify the charts given to adjusters," said Wesley. "The data we collected was made into charts used by adjusters to determine yield loss."

Breece said the work came with some strange looks when those not working on the study found out what it involved.

"One of our students told his dad we were cutting the leaves off the corn plant and he just about didn't let his son come back to campus," he said.

During part of the research, Breece paused working at the University in 1970, to spend two years pursuing his doctoral degree from Iowa State University. While studying in Ames, IA, Breece worked with a professor who had constructed an ice machine to simulate hail damage to soybeans as part of the same pool of research.

"The machine had a blower on it, and a four-inch tube, so it was a lot more sophisticated than what we had been doing," said Breece.

While at WIU, Breece and a group of his students also organized the first Agriculture Mechanization show in 1970, on one end of Western Hall. The idea originally came from a student who had seen a similar show at another school and the first event included an agriculture mechanization skills contest for high school students and evolved from there.

The show has grown into the largest student-run farm show in the nation, with the core goals of bringing the latest in agricultural technology to the region and state, providing an opportunity for manufacturers to introduce new product lines, providing students the opportunity to meet potential employers and to promote the University and the School of Agriculture.

The Farm Expo was cancelled for the past two years due to COVID-19.

For more information about the WIU School of Agriculture, visit For more information about the annual Ag Mech show, visit

Posted By: Jodi Pospeschil (
Office of University Communications & Marketing