Prairie Research Institute


With some of the best farmland in the country, Illinois has a competitive advantage over other states in the agriculture sector. PRI is leveraging this advantage, investing in Illinois’ agriculture economy by offering programs, tools, and research projects to support producers and address current farming issues.

PRI scientists are now focusing on decreasing crop plant pests, tracking weather and soil conditions, and reducing the economic and environmental costs of nutrient losses. 

Crop Plant Pests

PRI arms Illinois growers with information and tools to maintain sustainable, profitable crop production despite longstanding and emerging agricultural pests. 

Corn Rootworm Management

Corn rootworms inflict more than $1 billion in annual yield losses and management costs across the U.S. Corn Belt. For over 25 years, PRI has studied the ecology, behavior, biology and resistance of corn rootworm to the toxins expressed in Bt corn hybrids and examined integrated pest management techniques to develop sustainable rootworm management tactics for farmers. 

Detection of New Pests

PRI’s Illinois Cooperative Agricultural Pest Survey Program focuses on the early detection and surveillance of harmful or economically significant exotic plant pests, diseases and weeds that have eluded first-line defense inspections or have been identified as threats to U.S. agriculture or the environment. The program’s goal is to safeguard our nation’s food and environmental security from exotic pests and to detect and prevent the spread of invasive species such as the Asian longhorned beetle, spotted lanternfly, sudden oak death and others. 

Pest Degree Day Calculators

PRI’s two pest degree day calculators help Illinois commodity and specialty crop growers plan pest control and management efforts more efficiently. These tools feature seven-day forecasts, graphs and maps to track accumulated degree days and estimate pest activity. With PRI’s Illinois Climate Network data, growers can calculate growing degree days in their region for specific pests, such as corn rootworm and spotted wing drosophilia.

Weather and Soil Monitoring

Thousands of Illinoisans, particularly those in the agricultural industry, visit PRI’s Water and Atmospheric Resources Monitoring Program (WARM) website every day for information on the state’s cropland soils and weather. Nineteen stations across the state collect data on soil moisture and temperature and weather conditions as part of the Illinois Climate Network. Soil temperatures are available hourly for specific soil depths and daily minimum and maximum temperatures are provided. Other WARM networks monitor suspended sediment transport in the state’s rivers and streams and water levels for reservoirs and shallow groundwater.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the Illinois Drought Response Task Force use the information for research, program support, and long-term planning. The National Weather Service uses the data to assist in forecasting and tracking severe weather.

The monthly Illinois Water & Climate Summary reports on current and trending water and weather conditions in Illinois and their impacts on other water resources.

Growing Degree Day Calculator

PRI’s growing degree day calculator tallies heat accumulation throughout the growing season, comparing maximum and minimum temperatures with a base temperature for each crop. The calculator is updated daily through local weather stations for users to calculate projections on crop development and maturity specifically for their location.

Nutrient Analysis

Nitrogen Availability in Corn Fields

Knowing when to apply supplemental nitrogen to corn fields is difficult for producers to determine since there is a lack of knowledge on how spring rainfall affects early-season nitrogen application. Excess applied nitrogen is costly and adversely affects the environment. 

PRI scientists developed a user-friendly online decision support tool that estimates real-time soil nitrogen availability by simulating crop growth, crop nitrogen uptake, and nitrogen losses. The tool uses soil data from the USDA soil database and hourly weather data from the National Weather Service. Farmers enter their own crop management information into the online tool. The tool helps to increase nitrogen use efficiency and decrease fertilizer costs and water pollution.

Capturing Nutrients from Tile Drain Runoff

PRI scientists are creating a designer carbon-based biochar that captures phosphorus from tile drain runoff water and recycles it in soils to improve crop growth. A bioreactor is installed in the field with a biochar-sorption filter so that water running through the tile system is filtered to remove nutrients before they reach lakes and streams. The filter holds biochar—a biomass product that looks like charcoal and is made mostly of carbon with high calcium and magnesium—which traps fertilizer nutrients.

After the fertilizer season, biochar pellets are removed from the channel, and the phosphorus-captured biochars are applied to the fields where they will slowly release phosphorus and other nutrients into the soil. As a result, producers can keep fertilizer costs down and increase crop yields when applying biochar pellets at optimal times in the growing season.