Allison Organic Research and Demonstration Farm

Uploaded by WesternIllinoisU on 13.12.2010

[Joel Gruver:] The goal was to start a pesticide-free research program. [background music]
[background music; natural sound of cultivating tractor running]
[on-screen text]: In the Field… Allison Organic Research and Demonstration Farm. WIU School of Agriculture
[background music; natural sound of cultivating tractor running]
[Narrator:] North of Macomb -- home of Western Illinois University -- and a few miles into Warren County, you'll find the WIU School of Agriculture's Allison Organic Research and Demonstration Farm.
Located on what was formerly the homestead and farm of the Allison Family, this 80-acre plot is one of the largest organic research farms in the United States.
[Joel Gruver:] For a number of years, the program was just, kind of, characterizing the soils and looking at pesticide-free practices.
[Narrator:] In 1989, the year the University started the farming operation, this particular land provided an opportunity for WIU.
[Joel Gruver:] This piece of ground was really unique in that the farmer, Mr. Allison, had never used conventional farming practices.
So this really is a piece of ground that never has received pesticides. And that is a very unusual thing in Illinois.
So the University did a search, and they found this piece of ground.
[Narrator:] According to Gruver, when the Allison Farm operation started, the faculty and staff in the School of Agriculture (which, at the time, was known as the agriculture department) were not specifically focusing on organics.
Soon after the University started renting the farm, a faculty member in the ag department, Dr. Jerry Vigue, took up the responsibility of managing the Allison Farm.
[Joel Gruver:] He was teaching the soil science classes, and then when he retired in the fall of 2006, then I came on in the spring of 2007.
[Joel Gruver:] He was teaching the soil science classes, and then when he retired in the fall of 2006, then I came on in the spring of 2007.
So I took over teaching most of the classes that Dr. Vigue was teaching, and I also took over the responsibilities for the organic research program.
[Narrator:] Helping Gruver manage and work Western's organic farm is Andy Clayton, a WIU alumnus.
Clayton, who earned his bachelor's degree in agriculture, began working on the Allison Farm as a student worker in 1996.
In addition to working on his family farm, Clayton now works full time for the School of Ag's Allison Farm.
[Joel Gruver:] Andy has been now working on this project for… This is his fourteenth year, and the project completed its twentieth year overall last year.
[Andy Clayton:] I was raised on a family farm down in Schuyler County. And while conventional farming is very challenging, organic farming is even more challenging.
But I think it's more rewarding, too. It is more labor intensive. And you have to think a little more creative to accomplish the same thing, or try to accomplish the same thing.
You are not going to have as clean crops as you would on a conventional farm, because, as you saw earlier when we cultivated and we still left a few weeds along the rows, or right in the rows.
If you get too close, you're going to take out a lot of the crop. The fertilizer, usually, is not the easiest to find. You might have to ship it a couple hundred miles.
And then, of course, it has to be certified organic. It's very important to make sure that the fertilizers are, or anything that's applied on the organic farm is, certified organic.
[Narrator:] Twenty years after Western started operating the Allison Organic Research and Demonstration Farm, Gruver and Clayton continue to work to achieve the goals set for the pesticide-free farming project.
That includes objectives related to the practical and economic impacts of utilizing alternative soil, crop-management strategies for pesticide-free farming systems, and the feasibility of organic crops for west central Illinois.
Most of the Allison Farm's acreage is utilized for growing corn, soybeans, small grains and some forages -- such as alfalfa and other hay crops.
But, according to Gruver, they have also started to diversify with other types of crops.
[Joel Gruver:] The few other value-added crops that we can sell directly… The purple and gold popcorn, which this will be our fourth year.
For the little amount of acres, it still is a big chore to grow that popcorn.
But it is, by far, the number one way that we connect with the community. We have diversified into the microwave popcorn now.
And that was a student, Jason Quaglia, who brought that idea to our attention.
[Narrator:] In addition to Rocky popcorn, the School of Agriculture is also selling organic food-grade soybeans, soft red wheat, hard red wheat, and purple and gold -- which are WIU's colors -- Irish and sweet potatoes.
For the August 2010 Field Day event, an annual tour the School of Ag hosts to showcase the Allison Farm, Gruver hoped to utilize the potatoes for the lunch that precedes the Field Day event.
[Joel Gruver:] So I have a number of different varieties. These are the ones I think I'm going to use for the potato salad, because I think they will be the prettiest.
But I have other purple and other gold varieties that, you know, in the future, we'll have to select the ones we want to keep growing.
[Narrator:] In 2010, Gruver and Clayton started experimenting with a sunflower crop on the Allison Organic Farm.
Gruver noted sunflower seeds can be crushed into oil and the resulting fuel can be utilized as a bio-fuel to help run farm machinery, providing farmers with the possibility of a homegrown alternative to petroleum.
The sunflower crops at the Allison Farm were planted shortly before the 2010 Field Day event on August 12.
[Joel Gruver:] The purpose of the Field Day is to showcase what we're doing here and to basically provide a forum for some additional expertise to come and share with this community.
And, when I say this community, we really cater to two communities. We cater to the local farm community here, which, essentially are all conventional farmers.
But we collaborate with them closely. We rent most of our equipment from the area farms. And so, they have a connection to this place, and they are interested in what we're doing.
And so, many of them come out just to support the program and to hear about what we're up to and to hear some of the experts.
And then we have organic farmers that are spread far across Iowa and Illinois and maybe even Missouri, maybe a few might come from Wisconsin or even Indiana.
So they might average well over an hour of driving to get here.
And the program is oriented toward an organic audience, but we know that we have conventional farmers coming, too. So we try and speak to them, as well.
[Narrator:] The Allison Farm Field Day is held annually in the mid to late summer months.
For more information about the Allison Organic Research and Demonstration Farm
[on-screen text:] ...or the Allison Farm Field Day event, contact the WIU School of Agriculture at (309) 298-1080.
[Credits] Production by University Relations Camera/Editing by Teresa Koltzenburg Still Photos by WIU Visual Production Center and Teresa Koltzenburg Macomb Video by Western Illinois University Television Special Thanks to Dr. Joel Gruver and Andy Clayton