CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — John Pike’s career took some unexpected turns and he’s loved every bit of it.
Pike was awarded the 2023 ILSoyAdvisor Soybean Master Adviser Award and was recognized at the Illinois Soybean Association’s Soybean Summit Feb. 2.
The award honors one special Certified Crop Adviser each year for their passion for soybean management.
“It was quite an honor. I had no idea I was even considered. I was shocked to get the call,” Pike said.
“I’ve worked with the Illinois Soybean Association for a long time and with the folks that are involved in that organization and the other projects that I’m involved with and to have somebody that thought enough of me to make the nomination was really humbling.”
Pike grew up on a Williamson County farm and operates Pike Ag LLC, Marion, providing agronomic consulting and contract research services for the ag industry.
He is the southern Illinois coordinator for the Nutrient Research Education Council nitrogen management research conducted by the Illinois Fertilizer and Chemical Association and is also involved in various cover crop research projects and educational efforts.
“One of those is the on-farm nitrogen trails involved with the (Maximum Return To Nitrogen) project that’s led by IFCA and funded through NREC. That involves working with cooperator farmers across my region which is roughly I-70 and south,” Pike said.
“I identify farmers to cooperate in replicated field scale nitrogen trial work across the region and that goes into the MRTN database to fine-tune the nitrogen recommendation tool for that region of the state.
“I’m also involved in a water quality project at SIU that’s funded by the Illinois Soybean Association, led by Jason Bond, to look at the interactions of nematodes with cover crops. So, I’ve got some long-term cover crop trials in fields that are in strip trials and various trials where we gave longer term cover crops established. We’re taking soil samples of that and following through the rotation to look at that.”
He also does a lot of work with cover crops and their management systems.
“I’ve worked across the rotation to figure out nitrogen management within the cover crop and the influences of that and then the system of planting into that and handling all of those things. I also do some training involved with that,” he said.
“A lot of that is for the retail fertilizer and chemical industry to make sure that their CCAs and sales staff are familiar with cover crop management because as we have the challenges meeting the goals of the Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy and then also farmers interested in taking part in the many carbon programs that are out.
“There are a lot of opportunities with this and we want to make sure the industry has the knowledge and the background that they need moving forward and that’s not something that is readily available through a lot the training. So, that’s more of a specific type of service that we’re providing.”
Pike said his career path that led into education and research “was kind of by accident.”
After graduating from Southern Illinois University Carbondale, he worked in the retail business for a couple of years at Piatt County FS Service Company in Monticello. He enrolled in graduate school and then worked as a Certified Crop Specialist/Certified Crop Adviser for Christian County FS.
“I did a lot of the precision variable rate application at Christian County FS and that led to an opportunity to be the agronomy instructor at Lake Land College in Mattoon. I really enjoyed that, and I never thought that I would be involved in teaching or education or anything like that. I then got an opportunity to move close to home and I worked at SIU for a while,” Pike said.
Pike served as University of Illinois Extension educator from 2001 to 2012 concentrating on aspects of value-added agriculture and specialty crop marketing where he had statewide responsibility in some ag-related projects.
He became crop sciences superintendent and research agronomist for the U of I at the Dixon Springs Ag Center until crop sciences research was terminated at four locations across the state in April 2016 and then went to work in private business, forming Pike Ag.
He continues to collaborate with staff at U of I, SIU and University of Kentucky to maintain research capacity in southern Illinois related to nutrient management and water quality, along with other industry research and product testing related to corn, soybean and wheat production.
Pike has been in the business for over 30 years, working across southern and central Illinois.
“I’ve spoken at conferences and done training from Kentucky to Kansas to South Dakota, Indiana and Michigan. It’s funny how you end up places because I really never thought I’d teach and ended up teaching and the last thing I ever thought I’d do is work for the University of Illinois as a researcher and I was able to do that,” Pike noted.
“I guess everything happens for a reason. It’s been an interesting career. The best thing about it is I’m doing what I like because I’ve always enjoyed farming and being involved in agriculture.
“I still farm some at home, but all of the involvement with the commodity groups and the research and things that I’ve done have allowed me to be involved with a lot of different aspects of the industry and especially being involved with farmers.”