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Illinois Agronomy Handbook now available via Web, cellular and print

Illinois Correspondent

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — There’s more to the Illinois Agronomy Handbook than a compendium of common diseases or successful corn breeds.
There’s a legion of researchers whose lives rotate around these sometimes mundane handbook topics to improve agriculture. For the first time, this edition also comes in two formats – a published edition and a digital edition. And if that’s not enough, practically all of the content is new.

Now appearing as the 24th edition, the $35 book published this year by the University of Illinois Publications Plus has been fully revised and updated, said Emerson Nafziger, University of Illinois crop sciences professor.

“Many sections and even whole chapters from the previous version were essentially scrapped and replaced by new versions. Up to 2000, we revised the handbook every two years, but these revisions were often slight, and parts had not changed, or had changed little, over many years. This is the 11th revision I have been involved in during my career (starting in 1982), and this one was far more thorough than what was done over all 10 revisions that preceded it,” Nafziger said.

Nafzinger offers a word of caution about the previous editions, noting that whole chapters have been replaced, accurate prices added and methodology updated. They are simply out-of-date.

The book

Besides new content on research-based guidance on crop production, the book has a new design. There are redesigned pages and graphics, full-color printing, a first for the publication. It’s also shorter by 100 pages of tables, which mostly cited outdated information about herbicides for a variety of crops.

Among the new content is a new chapter on nitrogen (N) that completely replaces the corn-yield-based N recommendation with a system that generates guideline N rates using recent data and taking into account changes in N and corn prices. The chapter on insect management is also entirely new, as well as the chapters on corn, soybeans, small grains and weed management.

The publishers also claim the book “covers the best management practices for Illinois conditions, offering information to increase yield and lower production costs.”

Other book highlights include the book’s first-ever color photos and illustrations, a comprehensive index of contents, new planting date and plant population information for today’s hybrids, soybean seeding rates and stands, details on tillage and stand establishment, management guidelines for crop sequences and new cropping alternatives (including biofuel crops) and a new approach to nitrogen rate guidelines for corn, based on current data rather than yield.

The editors even include a thoughtful word or two about statistics used in the book, offering a reminder that “doing statistical analysis is not always simple.” They ask readers in the book’s opening comments to keep an open mind: “Research designed ‘to prove what we already know’ is not research, but a rather sterile exercise. At the same time, applied research almost always represents ‘work in progress.’ Researchers and farmers can benefit a great deal from the confidence such research in progress provides for a decision to adopt new production practices or continue more traditional ones.

Web version

Just a quick look at the book’s website will reveal a powerful tool offering current details on climatology, corn, soybeans, small grains, grain sorghum, cover crops, alternate crops, hay and pasture, seed, water quality, soil testing and fertility, nutrient management, tillage systems, water management, weed control, insects, diseases and even more topics.

At the user’s fingertips are special pages for all 102 Illinois counties, including historical yield and climate data as well as ‘real time’ weather info for the past 10 days from the nearest reporting station.

Robert Hoeft, a professor in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences at the University of Illinois said the online handbook could be handy when a farmer may be out in the field, checking base levels of insect infestation or counting the number of plants per acre and wanted to know whether replanting is necessary or not.

“The online version takes the printed handbook a step further,” he said. “The online version has incorporated calculators into it so that users can just plug in the values for their situation and the calculations are made for them – telling how much fertilizer to apply, for instance.”

There are a number of calculators accessible when the user clicks on “C-FAR Toolbench” in the center of the home page. The Toolbench includes AgMath, which is an online calculator that walks the user through step-by-step conversions for area, yield, volume, length, temperature and mass.

Another tool on the bench is Agriweather, allowing creation of customized climate data and predictions for various areas of Illinois.

Another advantage that the online version has over the printed version of the handbook,” says Hoeft, “is that the online version is searchable. It’s much more complete than the table of contents in the printed copy.”

The website is also equipped as a wireless feature, one of the first allowing farmers to connect with any wireless, Web-ready cell phone. Work continues to make the site accessible, also to personal digital assistant devices, such as Palm Pilots and Pocket PCs.

To reach the wireless site, the user enters the following address into their wireless Web-ready cell phone:

Note: This wireless Web address will only work on a cell phone, not on a personal computer.

The Online Illinois Agronomy Handbook is a project led by Hoeft and Nafziger, Department of Crop Sciences at the University of Illinois. Funding is provided by the C-FAR Strategic Research Initiative in Information Systems and Technology.

“I’ll admit to some bias, but I believe that this edition of the Illinois Agronomy Handbook is a publication that everyone who works with field crops in Illinois should have,” said
The Illinois Agronomy Handbook will not be available free on the Web, so that some of the costs of producing and printing the publication can be recovered.

To order the Illinois Agronomy Handbook, 24th Edition, call 800-345-6087 or visit the University of Illinois Publication Plus website,