July 03, 2006

Belleville field day set for July 13

by K.C. Jaehnig

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- There is such a thing as a free lunch — at least where Southern Illinois University Carbondale's annual Belleville field day is concerned.

"In the past, we've always had a Dutch lunch provided by the 4-H," said John S. Russin, associate dean in the College of Agricultural Sciences, which has hosted the summer event for the last 40 years.

"But the dean (Gary Minish) and I are strong fans of feeding people well, so this year we're going to provide a free barbecue lunch, cooked up on the spot."

That's not all that's new. This year, organizers have tweaked everything from the name — it's now the "Belleville field day" instead of the "farmers' field day" — to the topics talked about. The changes, Russin says, reflect a new focus.

"When it was the farmers' field day, everything was about crops — corn and beans primarily," he said.

"These days, there aren't that many farmers in Fairview Heights. We're beginning a push to more closely meet what we perceive to be the emerging needs of all our clientele in the region. So while there are still presentations on corn and beans, we are branching out."

This year's field day will take place Thursday, July 13, at the Belleville Research Center on Illinois Route 161, south of Scott Air Force Base's Mascoutah gate.

Farmers who come for the first-ever "early bird program" at 8 a.m. will hear Brett Roberts, state conservation agronomist for the Natural Resources Conservation Service, talk about conservation practices that also provide opportunities for increased profits.

"As people in urban areas push into rural areas, they're coming up close and personal with farmers for the first time," Russin said.

"Soil and water quality issues are important to urban folks, so it's important that farmers become more sensitive to conservation practices."

The revamped field day also includes a presentation aimed at livestock owners, who have identified pasture-based forage systems as a key interest.

"We are having for the very first time ever a presentation on an important topic — the toxic nature of tall fescue, which is the predominant pasture grass in our area," Russin said.

SIUC animal scientists Sheryl S. King and Karen L. Jones have found that while a fungus common in fescue causes both mares and cows to miscarry or fail to conceive, an experimental drug developed for horses could help cows, too. Jones' talk will focus on dealing with fescue toxicosis in both species.

"Since urbanites living near rural areas often own horses, this topic should have broad appeal," Russin said.

Plots devoted to turf recently have joined the Belleville center's research acreage planted in corn, beans and wheat, and SIUC turf specialist Kenneth L. Diesburg will be on hand to discuss ways to get grass growing better, a topic of keen interest to professionals whose livelihood depends on grass, such as golf course superintendents, and to lawn-loving homeowners, too.

"Our goal is to make Belleville a center where research really reflects the activities of interest and the needs of clientele both urban and rural," Russin said.

Along that line, SIUC landscape horticulturist Paul H. Henry will hold court under the tent from 9 a.m. to noon with a plethora of plants and bunches of answers to all those pesky gardening puzzles. Is having thrips as bad as it sounds? Why do I get this itchy rash when I try to transplant this three-leaved groundcover? Why does everyone hate Japanese honeysuckle when it has such a nice smell?

Lunch will be served at noon. Russin said they'll have enough food to feed as many as 350 guests.

"If we get more than that, then good for us — even if we have to water the soup," he said with a grin.

Reaching out is among the goals of Southern at 150: Building Excellence Through Commitment, the blueprint the University is following as it approaches its 150th anniversary in 2019.