Land Lab gives hands-on experience

The J.F. Richards Land Laboratory provides many opportunities to JJC students interested in agriculture. The lab also conducts agricultural research.
The Land Lab, which began its operations in 1983, consists of approximately 88 acres of tillable land on main campus, as well as approximately 15 acres of tillable land at the Weitendorf Agricultural Education Center.
According to the J.F. Richards Land Laboratory Demonstration and Research Report from 2022, “The objective of the farm is to provide an instructional setting for students to observe crop growth and development by performing various farming practices in real-time growing situations. The farm also provides unbiased and sound agronomic research information to crop producers and contributors as well as the local community.”
The Land Lab is run by Julie Barr, who has been its manager since 2020, and is a JJC alumna from the class of 2011.
As manager, Barr has several duties including: “planning, planting, and harvesting all of our fields, which are broken down into small plots to execute a variety of studies and trials.” Barr also gets to “perform the maintenance on all of the equipment such as tractors, implements, combines” and more.
The lab grows several types of crops including soybeans, hemp for fiber production, alfalfa, and a variety of corn including yellow corn, white corn, and a non-GMO corn plot. There is also a small pumpkin patch.
When discussing the crops grown on campus, Barr explained that the plots are “Mainly corn on corn because that’s what the deer allow me to grow.”
“They like to eat a lot of it. Not only the small plants when it first comes up, but then once it actually has an ear on it, they will eat right off the stalk.”
With the growth of all this corn, students are usually curious as to where it ends up.
“I have so many folks ask me ‘where does the corn go’ once I harvest it,” Barr said. “I sell it over in Minooka… locally to a grain elevator and from there it either goes to ethanol production or livestock from what I understand. We actually do not grow any sweet corn, it’s all field corns.”
The lab performs several studies, and in the 2022 growing season, they conducted studies on how different nitrogen rates or different sulfur treatments will affect crops, the impact of different tillage practices, the use of insecticide in soil to prevent corn rootworms, and more.
Several courses at JJC also utilize the lab as a part of their classes. Classes that are involved with the Land Lab include: crop protection, crop production, and soil science.
“Those are the key ones that I seem to see the most,” Barr said.
The Land Lab allows the students to get real, hands-on experience in several different ways.
“In the fall we have labs that come out that do nitrate testing in our nitrogen plot, we have soil pits dug so that way the soil science classes can come out. We also have a tillage plot where… the students will use a penetrometer to measure the density of the soil,” Barr said.
“[For the] fertility plot, the students are looking at not on the top of the ground, the plants on top, but rather underneath. They yield check, so they come out and they pull ears of corn and can determine what the projected yield of the field will be. In crop protection they’re coming out, they’re looking at any disease, any insect infestation, mainly that’s crop scouting, that’s what we would call it.”
Another thing Barr does is sets up malfunctioning rows so students can determine what went wrong with the planting.
“I rearrange the planner so that different rows are malfunctioning, so the students have to dig to see behind the row and see… what went wrong with the planter so they can fix the planter,” Barr said. “We also have our stages planting where I start planting in July and we have different vegetative growth stages of the corn all through reproductive stages so it goes from anywhere, 8 inches tall up to 6 feet tall.”
JJC student and Land Lab student employee Zachary Zwiebel has found his time working at the Land Lab to be beneficial. He came to JJC from Ohio to get involved in the agriculture program and Land Lab.
“One of the reasons that I came to Joliet was because of the hands-on experiences that the ag department offers, and I think they do a tremendous job at that, whether it’s the Weitendorf Center with the livestock, the different competitions we travel to as an ag department…and then with the Land Lab as well it really is an extension of the classroom,” Zwiebel said.
Zwiebel feels he has been able to learn a variety of different skills during his time here.
“Through it [the Land Lab] I’ve learned different things… whether it’s no-till, different varieties [of crops]… competition between different brands and performance, that’s all kind of things we do as a part of the Land Lab. It’s really diverse and I’ve gotten a lot of learning out of the Land Lab in my crops and soils class.”
Currently, the lab has some upcoming events as well as new developments and improvements.
According to Barr, the lab recently “received a grant from Compeer Financial to outfit our planter with Precision Planting equipment. This is top of the line planting parts and computers utilizing cutting-edge technology.”
The lab is also having a field day on Wednesday, Sept. 13 at 4 p.m. This day will include three key speakers to talk about crop issues and current events. There will also be a dinner included for free.
“Everybody’s actually welcome to join in on that, it’s a fun evening,” Barr said.
Barr also wanted to encourage people to check out the Land Lab and ask questions if they are curious.
“If you see me out working in the Land Lab, feel free to stop in to chat,” Barr said. “I am happy to discuss what is taking place in the plots and answer any questions you may have about growing row crops!”

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