School of Agriculture

Research Crops

pennycress plant

Pennycress - Thlaspi arvense

Researchers in Illinois at Western Illinois University and the USDA-National Center for Agricultural Utilization Research (NCAUR) in Peoria, have identified the potential new crop, field pennycress (Thlaspi arvense), that can grow slowly over the winter and spring months with harvest in late May to early June. With pennycress's early harvest date, a full season soybean can be grown on the same acreage immediately following harvest. Learn more about the Pennycress Resource Network.

cuphea flower

Cuphea - New Oilseed Crop for Western Illinois

One goal of the Alternative Crops Research Program at Western Illinois University is to commercialize Cuphea production in the McDonough County area of Illinois. WIU researchers are collaborating with investigators from Oregon State University, USDA-ARS, and the University of Georgia to adapt Cuphea’s unique traits for agronomic cultivation. The first field trials occurred at WIU in the summer of 2001 with continuing experiments to evaluate stand establishment, weed control, planting date, and inter-specific hybridization.

kenaf flower

Kenaf - Potential New Fiber Crop

Kenaf (Hibiscus cannabinus L.) is an annual fiber crop related to cotton and okra that researchers at Western Illinois University are evaluating as a cropping alternative for the region. Initial research found kenaf grew rapidly, but the plants were unable to produce seed in this area of Illinois. Research into kenaf's feasiblity is ongoing.


Milkweed - New Cash Crop for Local Farmers

Common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) is a perennial crop traditionally considered a nuisance weed by farmers throughout the Midwest. However, the Alternative Crops Research Program at Western Illinois University is currently seeking to add milkweed to the list of agronomic crops grown in the western counties of Illinois. The production of milkweed for floss and seed could provide local farmers with a new crop option that provides annual returns with minimal maintenance.


Niger - High Value Birdseed for the Midwest

Niger (Guizotia abyssinica) is a new crop alternative with potential for cultivation in the Midwest. Investigators with the Alternative Crops Research Program at Western Illinois University are studying niger as a possible new addition to the current cropping regime in the western part of Illinois. Niger is most known in the United States as a high dollar birdseed for use in finch and other feeders.


Okra - Alternative for Farmers with Severe SCN

Okra (Abelmoschus esculentus) is best known as a vegetable crop in the southern region of the United States. However, current research shows okra's potential as an alternative to soybeans in areas where the soybean cyst nematode (SCN) severely reduces yields. The market for okra could be similar to soybeans, and okra could be grown using the same planting and harvesting equipment.


Alternative Crops Demonstration Plots

In addition to the primary research crops of Cuphea, niger, okra, kenaf and milkweed, WIU is also evaluating other potential new crops for the state of Illinois. Plants grown in the 2004 demonstration plots were: black-eyed peas, canola, crambe, flax, pearl millet, rapeseed, NuSun sunflowers, sesame, and sunn hemp. All plants were direct seeded in mid - late May.

Contact Information

Winthrop Phippen, Professor
Office: Knoblauch Hall 304A
Phone: (309) 298-1251

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