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New crop scouting competition tests student field skills

URBANA, Ill. – In a corn or soybean field, knowing how crops are progressing or being able to identify an insect can mean the difference between a profitable harvest and a bad year.

The first-ever Illinois Crop Scouting Competition is a one-day on-campus contest in August that tests teams of students from across the state on their hands-on field scouting knowledge with agricultural professionals from University of Illinois.

“We’re excited to provide the competition to Illinois students for the first time,” says competition coordinator Chelsea Harbach with University of Illinois Extension. “It will be a challenging, team-building exercise that also gives these future ag professionals the chance to engage with their peers from around the state and agriculture researchers and experts.”

Harbach, an Illinois Extension Agriculture Educator, says crop scouting is an important skill for farmers that can help lead to higher yields and increased profit per acre. Scouting keeps farmers clued into what is happening in the field with crop growth or yield stealers, including diseases, insects, and weeds. With such information, growers can strategically make the best management decisions to maximie yield and profit. 

In the competition, teams of students will rotate through 10 stations to test their knowledge on topics including the weeds, insects, and diseases identification, corn and soybean growth stages, abiotic injury, pesticide application, and scouting an important Illinois crop other than corn or soybean.

“We want to help students apply what they’ve learned in the classroom with field experience that will give them skills that will be useful for future careers in agriculture and environmental sciences,” Harbach says.

University staff will judge the teams and the top three teams will win cash prizes. The top two teams will advance to represent Illinois at the Midwestern regional competition.

This is the first time Illinois is participating in the youth Crop Scouting Competition and it is modeled after the Iowa State Extension program.

The competition will be 8 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. August 4 at University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana South Farms corn and soybean fields located at the Crop Sciences Research & Education Center, 4202 South 1st St., Savoy, IL 61874.

The 2021 competition is open to high school students in grades 9-12 who will form teams of two to five students led by an adult coach. Teams can register for free through July 15 online at

For more information, contact Harbach at

SOURCEChelsea Harbach, Commercial Agriculture Educator, Illinois Extension
WRITER: Emily Steele, Media Communications Coordinator, Illinois Extension

ABOUT EXTENSION: Illinois Extension leads public outreach for the University of Illinois by translating research into action plans that allow Illinois families, businesses, and communities to solve problems, make informed decisions, and adapt to changes and opportunities.