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Robert Dunker Robert Dunker
Agronomist & Superintendent
Department of Crop Sciences
(217) 244-5444; r-dunker@illinois.edu
M. Gene Oldham

M. Gene Oldham
Agronomist & Superintendant
1965-1994
jgoldham@illinois.edu

Continuing a Legacy of Agronomic Research

On November 18, 1851, at the Putnam County, Illinois Farmers Convention, Jonathon Baldwin Turner delivered a speech on developing public colleges to teach agriculture and mechanics as part of it’s curriculum. He lobbied Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas while they were running for Congress and convinced Vermont congressman Justin Morrill Smith to introduce a bill on Turner’s idea. The Morrill Land Grant Act was passed on July 2, 1862 and signed by President Lincoln. Thus,

Jonathon Baldwin Turner

Jonathon Baldwin Turner

the Illinois Industrial College (changed in 1885 to the University of Illinois) was chartered by the legislature in 1867 and opened in Urbana. In 1867, the Board of Trustees established the Agriculture Department made up of the School of General Agriculture, and the School of Horticulture. It was formally recognized as a College and Dean George E. Morrow’s office established in 1877. The Agronomy Department was established in 1899 with Dr. Perry Holden as it’s first Department Head. Agronomic research has been conducted on or near the campus of the University of Illinois since the early days of the University. It is enlightening to read copies of letters written many years ago. In 1922 Dean H.W.

Agriculture Students 1867

Agriculture Students 1867

Mumford, while attempting to preserve the Davenport Plots (a set of 50 experimental plots laid out by Eugene Davenport), wrote of the Davenport Plots as "Having been laid out in 1895 as a part of a much larger system of Agronomy Plots which extended from Mathews Avenue east to the forestry, and south to the limits of the North Farm (the cemetery road)." These plots were directly east of the of the Morrow Plots. A photograph of the "Agriculture Building" (Davenport Hall) taken shortly after its completion in 1900 shows that most of the land for some distance south and east of the building was in research plots. It is well to remember that when the Illinois Industrial College was established in 1867 the first buildings were located along University Avenue, about where the Beckman Center now stands, so this area of research plots was a mile or more away from the first buildings on campus.

Davenport Hall ca. 1900

Davenport Hall ca. 1900

The development of the present research farm can be traced back to around the turn of the century. The minutes of the Board of Trustees meeting of June 8, 1903, (page 74) indicate that President Draper recommended ". . that Agriculture withdraw from the plots near the Observatory as rapidly as practicable." President Draper's recommendation was referred to both the Committee on Buildings and Grounds and the Committee on Agriculture for study, and on June 25, 1903, this resolution was adopted by the Board: "That the Agriculture Experiment Station start permanent plats on the South Farm, and that it discontinue the use of all plots on the South Campus, excepting the north series of the permanent plats, 8 in number, now in use, which are reserved for the continued use of the Station." It is apparent from reviewing early records of the present farm that some of the faculty had anticipated President Draper's recommendation, because an elaborate system of plots was laid out on the present south farm in 1903. It is also apparent that it was not practical to move all field operations, except those on the Morrow Plots, to the South Farm immediately, since the farm headquarters building (for the North Farm) was built 2 years later (1905) and still stands today just southwest of Turner Hall. The Davenport Plots were operated through 1930, when they were sacrificed to allow Goodwin Avenue to be extended southward to join an extension of Gregory Drive from the west. The women's residence halls were completed along Nevada Street in the mid 20's, and the Women's Gymnasium and athletic fields were constructed on the east side of Goodwin Avenue in the early 30's.

Research was initiated on our present farm location in 1904 on the 80 acres that lie immediately south of the Seedhouse. This tract was completely tiled during the fall of 1903 (hand dug every 66 ft) and the spring of 1904. A system of crop rotations was started on the eight series of plots that were laid out from west to east. It is interesting to note that one of the rotations was made up of sugar beets, corn, vetch, and potatoes, not all of which are common agronomic crops today. The original work crew under the direction of O.D. Center, the farm manager, varied in size from four to as many as twenty who worked 10 hour days 6 days a week.

Draft Horses

The South Farm has expanded slowly but steadily in size during the intervening 100 years to its present 1,000 acres. It is unclear just when the 30 acre tract that reaches northward to St. Mary's Road and contains the present buildings was added to the original 80 acres, but early photographs indicate that it must have been sometime before 1925. The Mumford Tract, 80 acres just south of the original tract, was added in the early 30's primarily to accommodate the soil science projects that were displaced from the Davenport Plots and other areas of the North Farm. Acreage additions to the farm were acquired in 1949, early 1960’s, 1976, 1980, 1983, 1992, 1996, 2001, 2003. The currently-used three story brick Seedhouse was completed in 1929, and other buildings and equipment were added to the facility as demand increased and resources were made available. The first power equipment appeared on the Farm around 1930, and draft horses were phased out over the following 20 year period. The horse barn has been used for other purposes since then.

Agronomy Day 1959

Agronomy Day 1959

The name of the farm was changed to “Agronomy-Plant Pathology South Farm” - resulting from formalizing in 1984 the arrangement that had been in place since the Department of Plant Pathology was organized in 1955. The Plant Pathologists that worked with field crops have always conducted much of their research on this Farm. The Agronomy and Plant Pathology Departments were combined to form the Department of Crop Sciences in 1995 as part of the reorganization of the College, resulting in a name change of our facility to “Crop Sciences Research & Education Center” (CSREC). It is impossible to list all of the people who have been involved in the operation of this research farm over the years. There have been many. Examining past record books, it is apparent that the permanent work force varied in size over the years, ranging in size from about 6 to 10 full time employees. Many of the names appeared in the record books for many years, led by C.C. Chapman, who worked on the farm in one capacity or another for more than forty years; serving as manager for the last eight.

In 1995, Robert E. (Bob) Dunker became the 12th Superintendent of the South Farm. He followed M.G. (Gene) Oldham, who completed a record 29 year tenure, and C.H. "Dusty" Farnham who had served the previous twenty years. One of the more interesting names on the list of previous farm Superintendents is that of W.L. Burlison, who served from 1915 until 1930. Dr. Burlison also served as head of the Department of Agronomy from 1920 to 1951, so there was a 10 year period in which he held both positions concurrently. One wonders which was more challenging.

C. C. Chapman

C. C. Chapman

G. H. Dungan

G. H. Dungan

W. L. Burlison

W. L. Burlison

L. H. Smith

L. H. Smith

“Dusty” Farnham

“Dusty” Farnham

Agronomy-Crop Sciences Farm Managers/Superintendents:

A. D. Shamel March 13, 1900 - Sept. 12, 1902
O. D. Center Sept. 13, 1902 - March 31, 1911
G. McDonald April 1, 1911 - Dec 30, 1911
L. Hegnauer Jan. 1, 1912 - Aug. 7, 1914
L. H. Smith Aug 10, 1912 - May 29, 1915
W. L. Burlison June 1, 1915 - Dec. 31, 1930
G. H. Dungan June 8, 1931 - Oct 9, 1931
C. C. Chapman October 10, 1931 - October 13, 1939
W. Freeman October 14, 1939 - August 14, 1945
C. H. Farnham Aug. 15, 1945 - Dec. 15, 1965
M. G. Oldham Dec. 16, 1965 - Dec 31, 1994
R. E. Dunker Jan 1, 1995 - Present

We will also not attempt to delineate all of the research efforts that have been carried out on the Farm, because there have been so many. However, some examples should be mentioned. The soybean breeding programs carried on by University and USDA scientists has developed and released to growers many very important soybean varieties. The small grain breeding program has been productive, as have the historic long-term corn selection experiments initiated in 1896 by Dr. C.G. Hopkins and continued here for 100 years as one part of a very large corn breeding program. L. H. Smith, Experiment Station Corn Breeder and Farm Superintendent was in charge of the selection program from 1900-1921. Weed science research was started here almost 60 years ago and the South Farm has probably provided field training for more Weed Scientists than has any other such facility in the world. The field work for the development of widely-grown "super sweet" corn (marketed as "Illini Extra Sweet") was conducted on the South Farm and is one of many unique accomplishments for which the facility is known.

phosphorus test

Research in soil fertility and crop production have resulted in significant findings that have directly impacted production agriculture. Dr. Roger Bray developed and patented his phosphorus test in 1929, and later collaborated with Dr. L. T. Kurtz to develop the Bray-Kurtz P1 and P2 soil tests. Pathologists have identified and developed resistance to many of the diseases plaguing farmers.

Dr. Cyril G. Hopkins

Dr. Cyril G. Hopkins
“Bread from Stones”

Each year, faculty members from many Departments of the University conduct research projects on the CSREC. New technologies will continue to emerge and impact the way we produce our crops. One of the most important roles of the South Farm involves the research and education of graduate students. It is mindboggling to think of the impact that scientists trained here during the past ten decades have had on crop and soil science around the world. There are deans, department heads, farmers, company presidents, scientists, teachers, public officials, and many other productive and influential people in the group.

The mission of the Crop Sciences Research & Education Center is to provide land, equipment, and facilities for plant/soil research through a field laboratory setting close to the University of Illinois campus. CSREC assists scientists and extension personnel by providing a central place to plan coordinate, and conduct field research. On-campus teaching is supported by providing field laboratory facilities for graduate students, as well as educating undergraduates through work and field-trip experiences.

mike gray

Extension and international agricultural efforts are strengthened by organized field days, special tours, and training sessions to meet the needs of the agricultural community. Agronomy Day provides a direct link between the agricultural grower, the consumer, and the research scientist.

south farms

This year Agronomy Day celebrates our 100 years of research on the South Farm. We hope you enjoy your visit and invite you to return at any time to view ongoing research projects.

 
Department of Crop Sciences
College of Agriculture, Consumer and Environmental Sciences
University of Illinois Extension
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