Emeritus Professors Recall Crop Research to Improve Accuracy of Hail Damage Claims

Emeritus Professors Recall Crop Research to Improve Accuracy of Hail Damage Claims

October 3, 2022

MACOMB, IL – It wasn’t the weird looks they got for intentionally damaging their corn crop, or the hundreds of pounds of ice they had to haul around campus to throw at their corn plants – it was the industry-changing research that resulted in two emeritus members of the Western Illinois University faculty of agriculture being recognized for creating more accurate hail damage charts for the insurance industry, tables that are still used today.

The School of Agriculture’s emeritus professors, Ed Breece and Dean Wesley, worked on the project under a research grant from the Hail Insurance Adjusters Research Association. The purpose of the grant was to develop a more accurate method for determining yield loss when hailstorms hit crops. The WIU research was conducted on unirritated corn plants, while the University of Nebraska conducted the tests on irrigated corn crops.

“They were looking for better data for the experts, like what to look for in the field 10 to 14 days after a storm,” Wesley said. “There are different types of damage to plants at different stages of growth: stand reduction and plant defoliation.”

During the research period in the late 1960s and early 1970s, nine acres of University Farm land, translating to 900 study plots, were devoted to research on corn plants at different stages of growth. The area that was used for planting is now the first nine holes of the University’s Harry Mussatto Golf Course.

“We were involved in training adjusters, most of whom worked as adjusters in the summer and were teachers the rest of the year,” Breece said. “We damaged special plots with ice, which were set up to simulate the hail damage to the corn crop. We created the hail damage by transporting 400-pound blocks of ice to WIU and having the students break them into basketball-sized pieces, they were then placed in a harvester to chop them into hail-sized pieces to throw the chunks of ice at the corn plants We also had to orient them on farming practices so that they could better communicate with the farmers.

Breece and Wesley, and their student workers, used scissors to defoliate the plants and a hoe to cut down the stand to simulate hail damage.

Wesley said the research gathered from the different ways of simulating hail damage considered a variety of factors, including plant population per acre and the impact of a loss of leaf area (sunlight) on the ability of hail-damaged plants to recover from the loss.

“We harvested each plot and mathematically determined the associated yield to modify the tables given to fitters,” Wesley said. “The data we collected was turned into graphs used by experts to determine yield loss.”

Breece said the work looked strange when those not working on the study found out what it entailed.

“One of our students told his dad that we were cutting the leaves off the corn plant and he almost didn’t let his son back on campus,” he said.

During part of the research, Breece interrupted his work at the University in 1970, to spend two years pursuing his doctorate at Iowa State University. While studying at Ames, IA, Breece worked with a professor who had built an ice machine to simulate hail damage to soybeans as part of the same research pool.

“The machine had a fan and a four-inch tube, so it was a lot more sophisticated than what we had done,” Breece said.

While at WIU, Breece and a group of his students also hosted the first agricultural mechanization show in 1970, at one end of Western Hall. The idea originally came from a student who had seen a similar show at another school and the first event included an agricultural mechanization skills competition for high school students and evolved from there.

The show has become the largest student-run agricultural show in the nation, with the primary goals of bringing the latest agricultural technology to the region and state, providing manufacturers with an opportunity to introduce new product lines. , offering students the opportunity to meet potential employers and promote the University and the School of Agriculture.

The Farm Expo has been canceled for the past two years due to COVID-19.

For more information about the WIU School of Agriculture, visit wiu.edu/ag. For more information on the annual Ag Mech Show, visit facebook.com/WiuAgMechFarmExpo.

Posted by: Jodi Pospeschil ([email protected])
University Communications and Marketing Office

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