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Agricultural Engineering on the Prairie: Illinois Style
A History of the University of Illinois Department of Agricultural Engineering
1921-1997

Before the University of Illinois opened in 1868, engineering problems for agricultural production were solved by inventive individuals who designed and built new machines or structures. From 1870 through 1920, several courses were established with engineering emphasis. In 1921, the Department of Farm Mechanics was formed with E. W. Lehmann serving as Head. In 1932, the department name changed to Agricultural Engineering with the first B.S. Agricultural Engineering degrees awarded in 1934. The first M.S. degree was awarded in 1948 and the first Ph.D. was granted in 1966.

A book of the complete history of the Agricultural Engineering Department from 1921 through 1997 is available, including a list of all the faculty, staff and students during that period. Agricultural Engineering has contributed many improvements in Illinois agriculture. Engineering principles have been applied to a large number of farm processes to improve quality and increase efficiency of producing, harvesting, and handling farm products. Agricultural Engineers have also found better ways to use our natural resources while protecting the environment. There are many specific examples of innovations and contributions by the Department. Three are being highlighted.

Research related to conservation tillage for corn and soybean production helped farmers change tillage systems. Although the concept of minimum tillage was not new to farmers, adoption was slow. By the early 1980’s, it was estimated that at least 95 percent of the 9.5 million acres of soybean stubble and 50 percent of the 11 million acres of corn were no longer moldboard plowed. Chisel plowing became the norm and no-till is now a common practice.

Before 1955, most pigs were raised on pasture. Confinement swine facilities became popular with the engineering of early slotted floors and liquid manure handling systems. Many commercial swine producers converted to confinement systems and slotted floor designs were gradually improved over the years. Modern designs now allow production with efficient manure handling systems.

Originally, large areas of the state were flooded river-bottom lands, swamp, or marsh. Drainage systems had to be installed to convert these areas to productive agricultural land. Before the 1960’s, clay and concrete were the primary materials used for subsurface drainage. In the early 1960’s, extruded corrugated plastic drain tubing (CPT) was introduced. The practice of using subsurface drainage systems to control the water table was introduced many years ago, but has now become economically feasible and appealing for sub-irrigation.

Loren E. Bode, Professor and Head
(217) 333-3570, bode@illinois.edu

Ted L. Funk, Extension Specialist
(217) 333-9313, funkt@illinois.edu


Michael C. Hirschi, Professor
(217) 333-9410, mch@illinois.edu

Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering
338 Agricultural Engineering Sciences Building
1304 West Pennsylvania Avenue
Urbana, IL 61801
http://abe.illinois.edu

 
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