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Illinois FFA convention news

[JUNE 17, 2002]  As the 74th state FFA convention got under way last week, Section 14 members gained recognition for their outstanding achievements from the past year.

At the second session three Section 14 members were recognized for winning their respective proficiency areas. Kent Leesman of Hartsburg-Emden won in the Grain Production Entrepreneurship area for his work on the family farm. Chelsea Frost of Porta won in the Safety area for her work as a lifeguard, and John Sullivan of Porta won in Wildife Production and Management Entrepreneurship. 

Also, Kate Wrage of Hartsburg-Emden was recognized for being a Section 14 American FFA Degree candidate.

Robin Niehaus, the national FFA secretary, gave the keynote address entitled "Full Speed Ahead."  She challenged FFA members and guests to sing in the car, put the pedal to the metal and turn on their headlights for a journey of a lifetime.

We wish all the members who received awards the best of luck in national competition.

[Natalie Coers, Section 14 FFA reporter]

Bt corn doesnít harm
earthworm populations

[JUNE 17, 2002]  URBANA ó Creatures in the soil, such as earthworms and mites, have a positive effect on soil quality and, in the long run, farmers may want to manage their soils to protect and nurture these creatures. This is the focus of a new study at the University of Illinois and the Illinois Natural History Survey.

"We know soil invertebrates are beneficial," said Ed Zaborski, a soil invertebrate ecologist with the Illinois Natural History Survey. "They have a positive impact on the soil system and, ideally, we would like to manage farmland to produce the best possible benefits from them."

Zaborskiís study looks at earthworms and mites as possible indicators of soil condition and how they respond to insect control strategies. He makes up bags of crop residues and buries them in field plots consisting of three different corn hybrids, each with a Bt line and a non-Bt line. Half of the plots are treated with insecticides. Every few weeks, some of the bags are collected and the invertebrates extracted. Through the process, he can discover the numbers and species of invertebrates that are decomposing the residue.

"We can determine the impact of insecticides, the growing crop and the quality of the residues. After analyzing the residues, weíll know the rate of decomposition for several points in time. So, we can look at the effect of insect control strategies on the soil process and decomposition."


Zaborski says there doesn't seem to be any negative effect to earthworms caused by the Bt endotoxin.

"For the lines of corn used in our study, it looks like the impact of genetically engineering corn to produce the Bt toxin was no greater than the genetic differences between various corn hybrids."

He has also discovered that certain soil mites might respond to a particular residue based partially on their reproductive strategy. Invertebrates that reproduce quickly and in large numbers when food is plentiful are known as "r" strategists. In one corn variety, mites with these characteristics were more abundant on residue containing the Bt gene than on the non-Bt variety.



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"One reason could be that, if the plant could not break down the Bt toxin, some residues would be slightly higher in nitrogen. That means thereís a greater amount of protein available there to support a rush of microbial activity, and mites would benefit from feeding on these microbes."

Zaborskiís approach is a unique way to study the effect of Bt crops on the soil.

"Often, researchers test a very small set of animals. Iím looking at a couple hundred different species. Itís a whole interacting, functioning community. And Iím measuring the community, instead of individual species, which offers a much better chance of finding any risk associated with the technology," he said.

Initial results also show that, in crops treated with insecticides, juvenile night crawlers were more abundant than in crops not sprayed with insecticides.

"Weíre not sure why this happened," he said. "One hypothesis is that the insecticides killed spiders and beetles that would be predators of earthworms. So the spraying improves the reproductive success of earthworms. Unfortunately, those predators can also help control crop pest."

[Gary Beaumont,
University of Illinois College of ACES]

Not out of the woods yet?

[JUNE 10, 2002]  Farmers know that you donít count your yield until it is in the bin. This year makes it especially tough to even think about yield prospects. Most of the corn that went in late has popped right out of the ground and has a good stand. Same goes for the soybeans. One potential problem now is some late-season insects showing up.

Normally we think of black cutworms as early-season insects. Cutworms are working in cornfields now, with some corn as tall as 12 inches being cut. Corn cut above the growing point will regrow and be fine, while corn cut below ground or below the growing point will be a loss for the plant cut. In addition to cutting corn, cutworms can spot feed and damage the growing point causing a loss.

Rescue treatments for cutworms should be applied when 3 percent of the plants are cut and there are larvae present. Several insecticides provide good control of cutworms when moisture is adequate, so that cutworms arenít just cutting below the soil surface. Also, you need to know what type of cutworm is causing damage. Variegated cutworms cut leaves and plant tops but donít completely cut plants off. Black, sandhill, and clayback cutworms usually cut entire plants.


[Photo provided by John Fulton]

We have also seen delayed damage from wireworms, grubs and grape colaspis. Many of these insects developed slower due to the very cool soil conditions this year during the spring months. By now, most of the grubs and colaspis have pupated ó meaning they will soon change to adult stages, if they havenít already.


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There are many weeks before the reproductive stages begin for corn, and then months before the combines roll. When crop reports are seen at this time, you have to take them with a grain of salt since a lot of things can happen. Just ask the Freeport area with 7 inches of water in a weekend. As for our prospects, they look OK at this point, but time will tell.

Plots and research in the county

Each year the Extension office coordinates many demonstration and research plots in the county. This year these would include: "Nitrogen and Manure Rate Study on Corn," "Amino Sugar Soil Analysis and Nitrogen Application on Corn," "Value-Added Traits Yield Plot ó Corn," "Perennial Weed Control Programs For Corn and Soybeans," and the "Commercial Corn Variety Yield Plot."

Information from many of these plots goes into the University of Illinois Research System and is distributed in many ways. The commercial variety corn plot will have local information as well as a fall field day. If you would like more information on any of these demonstration and research efforts, please feel free to e-mail fultonj@uiuc.edu

[John Fulton]

U of I launches new center for
studying soybean pathogens

[JUNE 10, 2002]  URBANA ó Although considerable research money has been spent to combat a wide range of soybean diseases, there has not been any systematic effort over the years to preserve and collect samples of the various pathogens that cause those diseases. As researchers retire or move on to other projects, there is a real danger of losing isolates of the pathogens that could be used to help control major soybean diseases ranging from cyst nematode to sudden death syndrome.

"Assembling an extensive and genetically diverse collection of soybean pathogens in one location would provide an invaluable resource for identifying new genes for resistance in soybeans and understanding the genetics of the pathogens that cause major soybean diseases," said Glen Hartman, USDA plant pathologist at the University of Illinois. "In recent years, it has become abundantly clear that such a collection is essential if we are to protect the long-term productivity of the soybean in the U.S."

To meet this need, Hartman and other collaborators across the country have recently begun assembling just such a collection at the U of Iís National Soybean Research Laboratory. The National Soybean Pathogen Center will focus on collecting, maintaining and studying a wide range of bacterial, fungal, nematode and viral pathogens.

Initial support for the project came from the United Soybean Board, the American Seed Trade Association and the USDA Agricultural Research Service. Recent funding includes a grant from the USDA-IFASF Program.

"The main function of the center is to provide soybean pathogens to researchers who are working on host resistance as a means of reducing yield losses caused by disease," Hartman said. "The center also will widely disseminate information about the accessions in the collection and present workshops so that researchers can work more efficiently with the pathogens."

The center is committed to maintaining the soybean pathogens in a viable and stable state, while maintaining all original properties. The collection will serve as a reference collection for researchers in both the public and private sectors.

"We will describe and document the variations in the soybean pathogens from our collection," Hartman said. "All that information will be made readily available to other interested researchers. We also will assist other scientists in identifying soybean pathogens and studying variations among the samples in the collection as they relate to understanding pathogen biology and the interactions with the hosts."


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Hartman notes that the collection will include living pathogens, representing the range of genetic diversity within bacteria, fungi, nematodes and viruses that are considered important for improving soybean germplasm. Other programs at the center will focus on training in germplasm screening and developing research strategies for better understanding pathogen diversity.

"An accession number will be allocated to each incoming strain," he said. "Those that are further purified or selected will be assigned a new accession number. A top priority will be to maintain the identity and viability of the strains in the collection. Some pathogens will be maintained as frozen stock, while others may be kept on living plant material."

Accessions in the collection will be distributed through an online catalogue without any charge. The collection will housed at the National Soybean Research Center at the U of I. Other cooperators on the project will maintain duplicate collections at several different locations.

He further points out that the location of the center at the NSRC provides ready access to the USDA Soybean Germplasm Collection at the U of I.

"This unique collection contains more than 16,000 soybean accessions and more than 1,000 accessions of the progenitor of the soybean," Hartman said. "The germplasm collection also has about 1,000 accessions of the wild perennial Glycine species. We expect to have strong collaboration between the curator of the germplasm collection and the scientists working with the pathogen collection, all of which should prove of great benefit for soybean producers as new resistant soybean varieties are developed and released."

[News release]

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