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Illinois Extension investing in the future of farming across the state

Cattle and crops

URBANA, Ill. — Helping Illinois farmers grow thriving crops and livestock has always been at the heart of University of Illinois Extension’s mission. Using feedback received from farmers and other agricultural stakeholders through a 2022 survey, Extension is currently implementing responsive changes and staffing additions that will further enhance the ability to provide real-time solutions and support across the agricultural landscape of the state.

Gaining Insights

Throughout 2022, Extension’s Assistant Dean and Agriculture and Agribusiness Program Leader Travis Burke and a team of Extension educators initiated a statewide survey on agricultural needs to gain valuable insights on the current and expected programming, educational, and training needs across agricultural topics. Over 300 survey respondents, including farm owners, workers, and advisors, shared their priorities for research and education along with their preferences for Extension programming format, timing, and content.

Extension educators are now developing programs based on the issues and priorities identified by Illinois farmers, particularly with respect to row crops, specialty crops, and livestock management. According to Commercial Agriculture Educator Talon Becker, “Soil health and quality emerged as a top outreach priority for both row crop and specialty crop producers. Extension is now working with the university’s Regenerative Agriculture Initiative on a series of programs on soil, including a field day this fall in which we will partner with the Illinois Sustainable Ag Partnership to provide an overview of the current ecosystem market landscape as well as provide an update on some of the research being done at the University that helps us better understand and hopefully improve methods for estimating and measuring carbon sequestration.” Local Foods Educator Bronwyn Aly has incorporated specialty crop producer needs into upcoming education and research as well. “The survey confirmed that there is widespread interest in using high tunnels, and our research and education will continue to focus on identified priority areas such as plant nutrition needs, pest identification, biological controls, and cover crops.”

More broadly, survey results will be used to shape statewide hiring in the future. Burke notes, “We heard loud and clear that agricultural stakeholders throughout Illinois would like a greater presence from Illinois Extension, and so we have hired seven new commercial agriculture and local foods and small farms systems educators, with plans to fill at least 10 positions by the end of the 2023-24 fiscal year."

Several departments within the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences are also expanding capacity related to agriculture, with the addition of recent hires related to plant pathology, agricultural water quality, Extension agronomy, entomology, soybean breeding, economics of sustainable agriculture, swine behavior and management, and agricultural finance and risk management. Future Extension faculty specialists are expected to join the College and Extension in the next two years.

Responsive Action and Increased Capacity

University of Illinois Extension employs 37 agriculture educators and specialists throughout the state to serve the existing and emerging needs of the farming community. These staff are housed both at the campus level, including as faculty members in the College of ACES, as well as within Illinois Extension’s 27 multi-county units. To contact an Extension agriculture expert, visit:

Illinois Extension is pleased to announce that seven new staff have been added, with plans for filling 10 more positions to address the needs identified through the survey process, including:

  • Carolyne Banks: Cook County, Chicago High School for Agricultural Studies
  • Katie Bell: Richland, Lawrence, Wayne, Wabash, Edwards counties, Local Foods and Small Farms
  • Kevin Brooks: Fulton, Mason, Peoria, and Tazewell counties, Farm Business Management
  • Rachel Curry: Henry, Mercer, Rock Island, and Stark counties, Commercial Agriculture
  • Meagan Diss: Northwestern Illinois Agricultural R &D Center, Monmouth, Commercial Agriculture
  • Kathryn Seebruck: Jo Daviess, Stephenson, and Winnebago counties, Commercial Agriculture
  • Jamie Viebach: DuPage, Kane, and Kendall counties, Horticulture

Associate Dean and Director Shelly Nickols-Richardson emphasized the importance of these additions, sharing, “Agriculture is the bedrock of our Illinois economy, and being able to transfer knowledge and discoveries from our campus to farmers, producers, ranchers, their families, and the food and agricultural industry is mission critical to Illinois Extension’s efforts to drive innovations in the future of farming. Ensuring that we have the experts to translate research and provide unbiased evidence is important to supporting Illinois agriculture.”

Resources at the ready, research for the future

Ongoing agricultural programs include the Pesticide Safety Education Program (PSEP), the annual Crop Management Conference, beef cattle events,  CropFlix continuing education for producers, advisers, and agronomists; resources such as the Illinois Plant Clinic, the Cattle Connection blog, the Illinois Variety Testing Program, Certified Livestock Management Training, and the timely WILL radio/Illinois Public Media Market and Commodity Reports, the Illinois Pesticide Review Newsletter (published in six editions each year) and the Illinois Fruit and Vegetable Newsletter; as well as critical information on Farm Mental Health.

The College of ACES/Extension farmdoc program offers timely analysis, tools, webinars, and data to drive better farming decisions. Listeners can tune in to Commodity Week and the Closing Marketing Report from Illinois Extension Farm Broadcaster/Host Todd Gleason on WILL Illinois Public Media’s AM-580. Todd’s relevant, accessible content is used by over 70 broadcast outlets that reach over three million stakeholders each week.

Illinois Extension and the College of ACES also house five agricultural research centers: Northwestern Illinois Agricultural R&D Center, Orr Agricultural R&D Center, Dixon Springs Agricultural Center, the Dudley Smith Initiative, and the Crop Sciences Resource and Education Center for the active exploration of soil chemistry, weed science, plant pathology, herd management, cover crops, high tunnels, agricultural technology, invasive species, and more.

Farm Progress Show 2023

The upcoming Farm Progress Show, held in Decatur, Aug. 29-31, will provide an opportunity for Illinois Extension to further connect with constituents and share the latest news and resources. Visitors to the College of ACES/Illinois Extension tent can view the pollinator plant display and the plant clinic activity, learn about Illinois pumpkin production, take part in hands-on enviroscapes, and discover current research taking place in the Illinois tick program. In addition, farm safety, targeted toward youth, will be featured, including power take-off (PTO) demonstrations. Crop production displays will include growing season weather updates, artificial intelligence, and the farm of the future. Farmers can also learn how to utilize the maximum return to nitrogen information in their corn production management and recognize weed resistance. Extension colleagues from 4-H and programs and services from Extension’s Family and Consumer Sciences team will also be featured. 

About Extension

Illinois Extension leads public outreach for University of Illinois by translating research into action plans that allow Illinois families, businesses, and community leaders to solve problems, make informed decisions, and adapt to changes and opportunities. Illinois Extension is part of the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences.