I noted several vehicles slowing as they passed the field, curious about what was happening in the Grundy County cornfield. In the field, a pickup with five 15-gallon containers, a small area with a number of stakes and flags, and a lot of activity. Wouldn’t they be surprised to learn that the contents in the containers was raw milk, and it was part of a nutrient study for the corn crop?
Welcome to on-farm research in Illinois during the planting season of COVID-19. Across the state, Extension commercial agriculture educators annually coordinate research projects. Some are located on University of Illinois Research Centers or farms. Others are coordinated in partnership with local farmers. These projects, frequently paired with or under the supervision of campus specialists, allow data to be collected across the state and to address localized issues. Examples include tar spot and northern corn rootworm beetles in northern counties. fusarium head blight, frogeye leaf spot, dectes stem borer and slugs, often more of an issue in southern Illinois.
Unfortunately, some planned projects had to be abandoned in 2020. With mandated social distancing and spring planting taking place in unison, the availability of plot equipment and personnel did not mesh. Frustrated that these projects had been postponed, I looked for a cropping issue of relevance or interest that could be addressed in a small plot format.
At that time in the decision making process, Dr. Carrie Laboski from the University of Wisconsin had shared recommendations for the surface application of milk, necessitated by bottlenecks in demand or processing capacity in the dairy industry. Had this issue been field tested?
Utilizing the expertise of Dr. Emerson Nafziger we have laid out a replicated plot with nine treatments that will have nitrogen rates of 0, 50, 100, 150 and 200 pounds per acre. For the treatments with nitrogen, the source will include raw milk, urea, or a combination of the two. The raw milk will not exceed 50 pounds of nitrogen per acre in a treatment and was surface applied. This rate of nitrogen is roughly equivalent to 1,000 gallons of raw milk per acre.
It was during the pouring of the milk on top of the planted corn that we garnered the most interest from those who happened to drive by. The urea was applied with a hand spreader. The nitrogen has been applied and the study will be evaluated through the growing season. Yields will be determined through selective hand harvesting of the plots.
While we in Extension are looking forward to the day we can visit in person, contingency plans are being explored for summer virtual field days and new agronomy podcasts. Regardless of the format, I’ll be looking forward to sharing updates and the results of this study and others during the summer and post-harvest.
Russ Higgins is a University of Illinois Extension educator, commercial agriculture.