SAVOY, Ill. — While much of the research presented at the annual University of Illinois Agronomy Day is of practical use, information about broom corn was mostly for curiosity — unless the crop does return here commercially someday.
The crop, a part of the sorghum/milo family, has a strong history here, said Jessica Bubert, a graduate student working in plant breeding and genetics. Arcola and Paxton, Ill., were centers for the crop in the late 1800s.
Broom corn harvest is labor intensive. Production moved in the mid-1900s from the Midwest to Texas and Mexico, where more labor was available.
Today, the university is breeding plants that could be used with commercial harvesters, solving the labor challenge. Broom corn in the south is now being threatened by the sugarcane aphid. If the pest can’t be managed, production could grow again elsewhere, and the Midwest will be ready if that happens, Bubert said.
“We want to have varieties back here if that bug continues to devastate the crop,” she said.
The varieties being developed have shorter height so they can be harvested more easily.
Much of the research is funded by the Nolan Broomcorn Trust, Buber said. The Nolan family, which was active in the broom corn industry, preserved seed for the crop for years. Stored seed only remains viable for about three years, so the university continues to grow seed to preserve the crop.