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100 Years of Service – Illinois Crop Improvement Association



We all view the history of the Illinois Crop Improvement Association from our personal experiences. Its history is infinitely more complex than any treatise can address when considering how many people worked for and with the organization over the years. Many who guided the organization have left us. Fortunately, the thoughts and dreams of four generations of Illinois Crop Improvement visionaries, members, leaders, and staff remain in the history books provided by J. C. Hackleman, W. O. Scott, A.L. Lang, and James R. Shearl. In recent times, newsletters and related publications have documented the history of the association. What emerges from these works is a monument to Illinois Crop Improvement's singular purpose of improving agriculture.

With this online timeline history, we hope you can see the purpose and accomplishments of the Illinois Crop Improvement Association. We encourage you to share any stories, photos, or insights into the association's history. In developing our 100-year timeline, we have found a commonality between the published histories of related organizations. The authors look back at the state of affairs that preceded the current subject, providing a history before history.

A fascinating example of the history before history comes from Richard Gordon Moores' Fields of Rich Toil, a history of the College of Agriculture at the University of Illinois. Chapter One starts with several insights into farming in the 1800s, including persisting superstitions and a lack of mechanization. "Corn planted during the new moon would have large stalks but bear only a few ears; corn planted when the moon was old would yield heavily even if the stalks were small."

Moores asserts that despite significant advances in other areas of science, "there was no agricultural science worthy of the name, and the very richness of the soil in Illinois worked against the development of that science." While farmers in other states were essentially sustenance farmers, the prairie farmer only needed to "tickle the earth with a hoe, and it would laugh with a harvest."

A History of Seed Certification in the United States and Canada by J. C. Hackleman and W. O. Scott rightly points out how "hazy" the concept of varietal identity and purity was before seed certification. Hackleman describes the practice of congressional seed distribution, where members of Congress would furnish new crops or varieties in the form of small packets of seed to farmers in their districts. We should feel fortunate that this is over two centuries removed from current practices. But regardless of the source, varieties were more often than not contaminated beyond recognition within a few seasons of farm-based seed production before seed certification.

Fifty Years of Service- A History of Seed Certification in Illinois 1922 to 1972 by A. L. Lang notes that seed for planting was "first inspected in Illinois in 1921 by the Illinois Corn Breeder's Association." But despite merging with this organization, we don't count it towards our years of service. Perhaps subjective by today's standards, the standards used were evidence of a desire to improve seed quality nonetheless. Subsequent seed certification standards evolved to include production requirements designed to maintain the identity and purity of what plant breeders and experiment stations had released to the public.

Honoring an Era –A History of Illinois Crop Improvement Association, Inc. 1973-1997 by James R. Shearl rightly states that it is not a rehash of the first 50 years of the association but a tribute to the members and staff from 1973 to 1997. Chapter one looks back at the Plant Variety Protection Act of 1970 and its importance to this era of family seed businesses, public varieties, and additional programs offered by Illinois Crop Improvement, including Quality Assurance services, the winter farm, grain lab, and greenhouse.

Professor J. C. Hackleman is rightly considered the driving force behind the founding of Illinois Crop. He once wrote that "a Crop Improvement Association itself is a semi-public organization that accepts custody of a new variety or strain as it comes from the plant breeder. These plant breeders are, in most cases, in public employ and have therefore produced this grain at public expense. The members of the Crop Improvement Association then obligate themselves to have it inspected for purity, genuineness, and quality."

One of Professor Hackleman's more memorable dissertations states, "Seed grain is not like pig iron or buckshot, in that its real value is merely a matter of determining its weight. The seed problem is much more complicated because in every seed, there is the possibility of good-or-bad-quality and high-or-low yield, depending upon the breeding behind it. The real value of seed cannot be determined entirely by its weight, its appearance or mechanical condition. Of equal importance is the breeding or the germ of life that is represented in that bulk of golden grain which may or may not look like many other lots. It is this indistinguishable value which was placed in this variety or kind of seed by the breeder which the Crop Improvement Association is endeavoring to perpetuate through its inspection and certification service."

It is heartening to see the dramatic improvements in agriculture and the freedom Illinois Crop Improvement has exercised to meet the challenges of change. Therefore, with the encouragement of its past, the Illinois Crop Improvement Association looks to the future and celebrates 100 years of service to the seed industry under its sweeping vision of improving agriculture through quality and dependability.

As a tribute to the past 100 years, this history focuses on the very concept that the value of seed cannot be entirely determined by its weight. Above and beyond the weight of the association, we will share the mission, core values, and goals, which are some of the most essential pieces of history that can be carried forward. This timeline includes out-of-the-ordinary stories and shares the pivotal moments that shaped the organization. It is provided here as an interesting look at the past. If you have any stories, photos, or insights into the association's history, we encourage you to share them with us at

Doug Miller, CEO of the Illinois Crop Improvement Association, Inc.

The 1920s

1921 First Seed Certified

What is likely lost to history is whether the association sprang to life as part of the roaring 20s or quietly joined the seed certification movement that began in earnest at the turn of the century (1900). The first year seed was certified in Illinois was actually 1921 by the Illinois Corn Growers Association. Professor A.L. Lang's 50-year history includes the "Proposed Methods of Seed Certification-Season 1921" in Appendix B. The 1921 acreage was considered "insignificant." By 1923, the Illinois Corn Growers Association voted to transfer its membership roll and remaining funds to the newly formed Illinois Crop Improvement Association. Since the modern-day Illinois Corn Growers Association proclaimed its inception in 1972, there appears to be no connection between the organizations beyond using the same name.

1922 First Paying Member

The first paying member of the Illinois Crop Improvement Association was "L. K. Ellsberry." A.L. Lang, the author of Illinois Crop's 50-year history may have assumed that Ellsberry's name would forever stir a memory in the minds of its readers. But who was Lloyd Ellsberry of Mason County, Illinois?

In the early days of the seed corn business, companies such as W. T. Ainsworth and G. D. Sutton hand-picked and rack-dried ears of corn. By 1922, W. T. Ainsworth & Sons had "14 years of successful growth." In this pre-hybrid era, seed corn catalogs promoted the ability "to supply seed from the highest yielding strains of the best varieties." Guarantees of "germination 95 percent or better" allowed the customer 12 days to test and return the seed if unsatisfied.

A fourth-generation Illinois seedsman, Tom Ainsworth recalls the stories of friendship and shared business interests of G. D. Sutton and W. T. Ainsworth. It was mainly through the ability of Mason City's pioneers in the seed corn industry that modern drying and processing methods have developed. Adding to the process of rack-dried ears, forced-air driers in the 1930s were an early glimpse of modern seed corn production. While others may now claim the title "seed corn capital of the world," Mason City, Illinois, was likely the first. According to Mason City's 125-year history, the seed corn business was built on trial and error, experienced unprecedented growth, and generated tremendous changes in agriculture.

When Mr. Sutton became interested in other ventures, he delegated a large share of his company management to Lloyd G. Ellsberry. Mr. Ellsberry appeared to be a proactive community member. He was also the chairman of a committee that celebrated the opening of 81 miles of hard road between Peoria and Springfield in 1920. He also served on the University of Illinois Board of Trustees. We can assume Lloyd's motivation for joining Illinois Crop Improvement was work-related, but his feelings about the new association are forever his own.

1923 Why Seed Certification?

The answer to the question "Why seed certification?" requires a general understanding of farming history. In the 1920s, a survey of Illinois wheat growers struggling at the time showed no efforts to sow uniform seed. In one field, more than 20 different varieties of wheat were discovered. Lack of uniformity creates difficulties that will not be detailed here as they should be evident to anyone with a passing interest in agronomy. The solution to the uniformity issue was to produce seed of known identity and superior purity through seed certification. To this end, Fulhio wheat was "standardized." The wheat industry, from growers to millers, was dramatically improved under this standardization effort. The story of the Manchu soybean and its success also tells the story of early seed certification efforts. First introduced in 1922, several Champaign County farmers advanced a superior strain of Manchu soybean, eventually reaching 2,000 acres of seed production. Field inspected by Illinois Crop, the variety was "standardized" and became Grand Champion at the 1924 International Hay and Grain Show. By 1926, four additional Championship titles had been achieved, and by 1927, nearly 75% of all known soybean growers in Illinois were using the Illinois-Manchu cultivar.

1924 Incorporation by James R. Shearl Manager 1978-1997

Looking back over 100-plus years, the single most important decision for Illinois Crop Improvement was its incorporation as a nonprofit association. In 1922, Professor J.C. Hackleman and a handful of business-minded agriculturalists formed Illinois Crop and launched it toward its responsibilities to develop a robust certified seed industry in Illinois focused on quality.

If those leaders had shrugged off the details of incorporation and just made it a University of Illinois service or a State of Illinois entity, the resulting seed industry organization would have been much different. What were they saying? That Illinois Crop should stand alone and earn its way. Other crop improvements that chose university or state relationships may have gotten funds for staffing, facilities and equipment, but they gave up their flexibility.

Flexibility – IL Crop has flexed or changed direction many times over 100 years. First, in its ability to certify different seeds. In the beginning, Illinois Crop had a significant acreage of certified oats. Then, corn came to the front, followed by soybeans. All those changes were agronomic, and it was expected that a seed association would be able to make those changes. However, with seedsmen as the board of directors, the change was quicker and with achievable standards. Then came the years of the 1980's when certified seed was being pushed aside in favor of non-certified brands. As an incorporated stand-alone entity, Illinois Crop could flex and deliver service through the Quality Assurance program. Other agencies were not able to make that change. They lost contact with their seed customers.

The changes went on with Illinois Crop adding services for grain quality testing and herbicide tolerance, a Puerto Rico winter farm for variety testing and development, and then the seed lab services for testing grass, flower, and vegetable seeds. None of the seed certification agencies organized with university or state ties could make these changes promptly and robustly. Illinois Crop Improvement Association stands strong today because of the smart business minds of the first board of directors.

1925-1929 Independence Grows

In 1925, the USDA declared that extension personnel could no longer consider time and travel expenses for such organizations as part of their job. Professor J.C. Hackleman, Illinois Crop's Founding Father, was part of Extension, and as a result, the duties of secretary passed to elected board members. Illinois Crop's 50-year history states that the change "was welcomed by all as seed organizations of this kind were reaching maturity, commercial in nature and meeting the goal of being a service that was self-sustaining." This policy change "set many crop improvements on a path to independence." In 1926, the Illinois Corn Breeders Association also joined the Illinois Crop Improvement Association. Starting in 1929, the Illinois Crop Improvement Association Certification Committee met with University of Illinois Agronomy staff members. This group made variety recommendations, set certification procedures , and was later known as the Advisory Committee. Seed certification was now integral to maintaining what plant breeders were developing and disseminating to farmers.

The 1930s

1930s Genuineness and Quality

The 1930s were a difficult time for seed associations and the nation. At the ninth annual meeting in 1930, William Burlison, head of the Department of Agronomy at the University of Illinois, spoke about "Crop Improvement Associations and Their Place in State Agriculture." His predictions proved to be a guiding light as hybrid corn began to influence the association and agriculture. Quality and yield contests developed by the association demonstrated the benefits of hybrid corn and seed certification in general. The continued standardization of seed production practices, with the benefits shown through contests and educational efforts, laid the groundwork for a modern seed industry. An industry focused on delivering "genuineness and quality" to seed buyers.

1930 Reids Yellow Dent Dominates

The following article, Roots of Hybrid Corn Trace Back to Tazewell County by Daniel Grant appeared in the August 1, 2023 edition of FarmWeek. Those who drive by the northeast side of Delavan on Springfield Road might notice a carved stone that serves as a historical marker. But while the field where the marker sits looks quite common for the area, the events that took place there in the 1800s were quite remarkable and had a significant impact on production agriculture that are still felt today.

The Tazewell County farm is where Robert and James Reid just happened to mix two different types of corn that transformed the industry. The site is designated as the "birthplace of open-pollinated corn production," according to Matt Shipton, a descendent of the Reids and a seed industry representative.

The historical marker, erected in 1955, was established by the Tazewell County Farm Bureau and other local groups, the Illinois Department of Agriculture and the Illinois Seed Dealers Association along with the University of Illinois and Michigan State University.

"It's just fascinating to think of Delavan's place in the middle of the Corn Belt," Shipton told FarmWeek.

Shipton recently discussed the history recorded at the site and his ancestors' role modernizing corn production during Kansas State University's Grain Export and Supply Chain Expedition. The tour was organized and led by Guy Allen, senior ag economist at K-State and a Delavan native.

Robert Reid (1813-1888) moved to Illinois from Ohio in the mid-1800s and brought some of his own corn. But it wasn't very good for processing and he had production issues, so he planted some local seeds known as "little yellow" Indian corn in the same field. "He had missing hills (of corn), so he grabbed some local seed and filled in those missing hills," Shipton said. "And by happenstance those two pollinated at the same time and created the open-pollinated corn." Then, for the next 60 to 70 years, Robert and James Reid (1844-1910) selected the best ears from this new line of corn, which kept improving its agronomic ability each subsequent season.

"They selected the best plants and best ears as they continued that lineage of the open-pollinated line," Shipton said. The end result came to be known as Reid's Yellow Dent Corn. The open-pollinated variety not only dented, but it greatly outproduced most varieties of the late-1800s. "Common corn yields for that time were around 25 to 35 bushels per acre," Shipton said. "But by 1877 it was documented James reached 125 bushels per acre." Scott Jeckel, a Delavan native currently farming the former Reid property, noted the field produced a yield near 250 bushels last year. But it took nearly 150 years to double the production from what Reid's Yellow Dent Corn achieved nearly a decade after the Civil War.

"We've constantly improved (crop potential)," Jeckel said. "But we're talking a five-times jump (with what the Reids accomplished in the late-1800s). It was enormous." The Reids entered their corn in grain contests and it eventually became a sensation at the 1893 World's Fair in Chicago. Reid's Yellow Dent Corn took top honors at that event, officially known as The World's Columbian Exposition to celebrate the 400th Anniversary of Christopher Columbus's arrival in the New World in 1492.

James Reid subsequently began receiving numerous requests for his corn from around the world. It's said he fulfilled many of those requests by mailing Reid's Yellow Dent Corn seed from the local post office in Delavan. "By 1920 it was grown in every state and by 1930 an estimated 75 percent of corn grown in the US could be traced back to Reid's Yellow Dent Corn," Shipton said. "Many reported it increased productivity in local areas where it was planted. "But (James Reid) never became wealthy off the process," he noted. "It sounds like he was more willing to give the seed away to help others have additional yield on their farms."

Hybrid corn varieties were then introduced in the 1920s and overtook their open-pollinated predecessors, constituting nearly 100 percent of cultivation in the Corn Belt by the end of the 1930s. But the source of a number of inbred lines used as parents of many present-day corn hybrids still have roots to the accidental discovery of a lifetime, when the Reids inadvertently created their open-pollinated, yellow dent corn.

This story was distributed through a cooperative project between Illinois Farm Bureau and the Illinois Press Association. For more food and farming news, visit

1935 Tomato Seed Certification

The tomato seed certification program was developed in cooperation with the University of Illinois Horticulture Department to fight seed transmitted diseases. From 1935 to 1940, the program supported Illinois's rapidly growing tomato canning industry. At the time, the worst diseases of tomatoes were seed-transmitted. Like many that have come and gone, the tomato program was performed "in addition to the well-known certification procedures, the Illinois Crop Improvement Association has offered many other services as the need has arisen." - Fifty Years of Service 1922-1972.

At its 100th Anniversary, the Illinois Crop Improvement Seed Laboratory counted tomatoes as a significant part of its germination work. The lab now tests over 800 species for germination, vigor, and purity. Illinois Crop continues to provide confidence to a wide range of stakeholders with the time-honored tradition of applying standards and methods without bias or undue influence. As an independent third-party our laboratories participate in various validations and proficiencies. Check out our accreditations and affiliations on our new website under about us.

Tomato Seed Certification\100-Years of Illinois Crop Improvement (#2)

1938 First Manager

Bernice Michael holds the title of "original staff person." Because of the growth of the Illinois Crop Improvement Association, Mrs. Berniece R. Michael became Prof. Hackleman's secretary in 1936, a position she kept until 1938. In January 1938 Mrs. Michael was appointed as Assistant Secretary-Treasurer and Office Manager, a capacity she cherished and fulfilled until her death in November 1963. Mrs. Michael saw the need for additional help when ICIA moved from the Old Ag Building to the lower lobby of the Urbana-Lincoln Hotel in 1938. Her staff increased as the Illinois Crop Improvement Association continued to grow. Soon she was the office manager of ten full-time employees. It was Mrs. Michael's unflagging spirit and efforts to prevail that helped see the Illinois Crop Improvement Association through the dark depression years, and for the last ten years of her life, 1953-1963, she served under the deserved title of Manager and Assistant Secretary-Treasurer of the Association, a position which enabled her to supervise and coordinate all aspects of an association which had grown large enough to demand such full-time supervision.

Source - 50 Years of Service — A History of Seed Certification in Illinois by A.L. Lang

University Ties

ICIA started in the Department of Agronomy at the University of Illinois, in the office of Prof. J. C. Hackleman. Hackleman gave leadership to ICIA for 16 years without remuneration. The relationship with the U of I was nearly continuous. Professor W. O. Scott(Scotty) served as Chair of the U of I Advisory Committee to ICIA for many years. Scotty, a President of AOSCA, wrote the History of the International Crop Improvement Association along with Hackleman. Scotty was also the author of the Title V section of the U.S. Plant Variety Protection Act.

The 1940s

1940s Yield Contests

During the 1940s, hybrid corn continued to make significant yield gains. Richard Crabb's book, The Hybrid-Corn Makers, references the Illinois Crop Improvement yield contest of 1942 and the previously unheard of 191 bushels per acre of presumably ear corn in Christian County, Illinois. The 1940s also saw the introduction of the soybean contest in Illinois. This contest was one of the state's longest-running quality and yield endeavors. The Baltimore and Ohio Railroad sponsored the soybean contest, with Swift & Company helping to move the contest to yield-based in 1963. The program continued until 1984 as an extension program with the University of Illinois and Crop Improvement support. Notable entities supporting the soybean contest over the years included the Illinois Agricultural Association, the Land of Lincoln Soybean Association, and Elanco. The ten-acre corn contest continued until 1953 in conjunction with the University of Illinois College of Agriculture's Farm and Home Week, which ended in 1957.

1949 Ten Thousand Miles with J. Hackleman

The following article, "Hackleman To Study Seed And Pasture Improvement Programs," appeared in the March 2, 1949 edition of the Farmers' Weekly Review.

J.C. Hackleman, Illinois College of Agriculture extension agronomist, plans to start early in March on a six-month leave of absence. He will tour at least 20 states to study their seed and pasture improvement programs. Hackleman will discuss methods of increasing and distributing new seed varieties with agronomists and cooperating farmers in each state. He will also contact organizations which produce and distribute foundation seed, as well as crop improvement associations.

By observing seed improvement programs in other states and trading ideas, Hackleman expects to bring home some new ways to improve the Illinois system of increasing seed supplies. In the eastern states, he also plans to spend some time studying pasture improvement programs to learn possible ways to improve that work in Illinois.

By September 15 Hackleman will probably have covered at least 10,000 miles in Kentucky, Tennessee, North and South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Utah, Wyoming, the Dakotas, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. Hackleman's special interest in Arizona and Pacific coast states will be clover and legume seed production methods. He is chairman of the clover committee of the International Crop Improvement Association (now known as AOSCA). One of his duties in this group is to gather foundation seed stocks for increase in western states. Producing clover seed under irrigation has made it possible to increase supplies much faster there than elsewhere.

-Farmers' Weekly Review, March 2, 1949 Archive

The 1950s

1955 Official Recognition

In 1955, the Illinois State Legislature codified the role of Illinois Crop Improvement as the official seed certification agency. Illinois Crop Improvement was previously recognized by regulation under the State Seed and Weed Law. During this same timeframe, several other states also found that they were recognized but not authorized to perform seed certification to the satisfaction of those interpreting and enforcing the Federal Seed Act. The Illinois Legislature granted authority to the University of Illinois Agricultural Experiment Station and the Illinois Crop Improvement Association as the certifying agent. The 1950s saw several other organizational changes, including the end of the corn and wheat contests , and interstate-certification, now known as interagency-certification, began in earnest in 1950 with oat seed produced in Illinois and processed in New York State.

1958 Drill Box Survey - Oat

While not the first state to conduct drill box surveys, Illinois' cooperative efforts in assessing seed quality started with small grains in the late 1950s. The association's 1958 drill box survey for oat showed a wide range of quality. Half of all farmers surveyed were using homegrown non-certified seed. Laboratory analysis of the non-certified seed samples were shown to have six times the weed seed content, 30% more inert matter, and six times as much seed of other crops as certified. Indeed, it demonstrated the value of certification, but unfortunately, it was a sign that seed certification had not been universally accepted by year 36 in the association's history.

1959 Pedigrees

An interesting footnote is that until 1959, blue-certified seed tags for hybrid corn always included the pedigree. The association adopted a plan to certify seed production and seed-processing practices only, thus creating a "supplemental" program in addition to the traditional pedigree-based certification system.

The 1960s

1963 Standardization

In the 1960s, the association moved to a limited generation system and established five certified seed classes. Breeder, Foundation, Registered 1, Registered 2, and Certified classes. Starting in 1963, seed growers could not certify seed unless Foundation or Registered seed stock was used. Varieties of wheat, oat and soybean released before 1963 could continue to grow "Certified-to-Certified." The certification of blends started in 1961 with Bluegrass varieties. In 1968, the Registered 2 class of certified seed was dropped. In 1969, crop improvement associations began using a uniform color system for the recognized classes of certified seed. White seed tags are for Foundation, purple is for Registered, and blue is for Certified. The association also followed neighboring states in the certification of soybean blends. At the risk of an unwanted language lesson, "Certified with a capital C" is a seed class within the "little c certification system".

1965 Drill Box Survey

The 1965 soybean survey was a collaborative venture of the University of Illinois Agriculture Extension Service, Illinois State Department of Agriculture Seed Control Division, Illinois County Farm Advisers, and Illinois Crop Improvement Association. Of the 456 samples collected across 41 counties almost 80 percent was non-certified seed. Results for Germination ranged from 77 to 84 percent and pure seed ranged from 94.92 to 98.67 percent (1.33 to 5.08, weed seed, other crop and inert matter).

In 2022, Illinois Crop offered one complimentary annual meeting registration to the first person to correctly identify the Illinois Crop Improvement employee in the 1972 Soybean Drill Box Survey picture. Richard Denhart, one of our 2022 Honorary Members, was recognized by Bill Carol of Victor Envelope Company. Richard later identified the farmer in the photo as Marvin Little.

Drill Box Surveys\100-Years of Illinois Crop Improvement (#1)

1969 Landmark Status - Morrow Plots

Established in 1876, the Morrow Plots are considered "America's oldest experimental field." In 1969, the plots were officially designated as a registered National Historic Landmark, thus ensuring that the University of Illinois would always have a cornfield in the heart of campus. Illinois Crop Improvement contributed to the "permanent placement of the plaque, a permanent green fence , and an appropriate gate entrance." According to the Univeristy of Illinois "Research on the plots was instrumental in gaining knowledge on crop rotation, soil nutrient depletion, and the effects of synthetic and natural fertilizers. With more than 100 years of research, records of the Morrow Plots continue to provide valuable information for a variety of topics, including soil carbon sequestration and long-term effects of fertilizers on soil bacteria. Corn, wheat, soybeans and other crops are still grown on the plots to this day." While the plots have often been cited as the reason for building the undergraduate library underground this appears to be an Urbana legend. The library's dedication proceeding cites the "desire to keep an open air aesthetic" as the primary reason. Both reasons hold merit. All we can say is "the plot thickens."

The 1970s

1970 Hackleman's Legacy

Jay Courtland (JC.) Hackleman was instrumental in founding the Illinois Crop Improvement Association in 1922. The Indiana Crop Improvement Association awarded him the Soils and Crops Award, and he remains the only non-resident to have been honored. He served the organization directly or indirectly for almost 50 years. In 1970, his contemporaries shared, "In his passing, agriculture, and society lost a man, who by his presence and action, left things better than they were when he arrived." The following biography can be found in A.L. Lang's - Fifty Years of Service- A History of Seed Certification in Illinois 1922 to 1972.

Prof. Jay Courtland Hackleman was born on a farm near Carthage, Indiana, June 24, 1888. He graduated from Carthage High School in 1906, from Purdue University with a BS degree in 1910 and received his MS degree from the University of Missouri in 1912. While an undergraduate at Purdue University, he was president of the Agriculture Society, editor-in-chief of the Purdue Agriculturist, associate editor of the Purdue Daily Exponent, organization editor of the Purdue year book and president of the Emersonian Literary Society. From Purdue, Prof. Hackleman went to the University of Missouri where he served as instructor in farm crops 1910-1917 and assistant professor of crops extension 1917-1919. He was secretary-treasurer of the Missouri Corn Growers' Association 1914-1919. In 1919 Prof. Hackleman came to the University of Illinois, Department of Agronomy, as assistant professor in charge of crops extension. He was made professor in 1923 and served as crops extension specialist in the Department of Agronomy until his retirement in September 1956.

Prior to his retirement, Prof. Hackleman helped organize the Illinois Crop Improvement Association in 1922. He served as its secretary and treasurer for 15 years, after which he served as Chairman of the College of Agriculture and Agricultural Experiment Station Advisory Committee to that organization until his retirement. Prof. Hackleman was an Honorary Member of the Illinois Crop Improvement Association and after retirement from the University of Illinois, he remained on the association's staff as Director of Public Relations and editor of their newsletter. From 1922 he served actively on the International Crop Improvement Association Board of Directors and was secretary-treasurer for four years, and president one year. He was made an Honorary Member in 1955, and chaired a committee which wrote a very detailed, comprehensive history of the International Crop Improvement Association 1919-1961.

Prof. Hackleman, founder of the American Soybean Association and secretary and president to the association, was instrumental in convincing Illinois farmers that there was great potential in soybeans. He was also a renowned grain judge, serving for many years as one of the corn judges at the International Grain and Hay Show in Chicago. He was also on the wheat judging committee for the Pillsbury national show and judged grain at many state and county fairs during his extension activities. In 1932 he served as a judge at the world's wheat congress in Canada, and as crop production specialist for the Mutual Security Agency in European countries, May 1, 1952 to September 1, 1953. He was an active member on many committees of the American Society of Agronomy and chairman of Section IV—"Crops Seed and Technology" in 1947, as well as a fellow in the Society. He was a member of Acacia and Alpha Gamma Rho Social Fraternities and Alpha Zeta, Epsilon Sigma Phi, and Gamma Sigma Delta Honorary Fraternities as well as Masonic Orders and Urbana Exchange Club. Honors bestowed include the Award of Merit by the Indiana Crop Improvement Association on January 21, 1965. Each year this organization gives this coveted award to some agriculturist who has rendered outstanding service to the state of Indiana; Prof. Hackleman was the first man from outside of Indiana to receive this award. In October 1969, the International Crop Improvement Association, at its golden anniversary meeting in St. Louis, Missouri, awarded Prof. Hackleman a plaque of merit as a charter member of that organization. At the annual Soybean Conference of the Illinois Crop Improvement Association, January 26, 1970, he was again honored with a certificate of appreciation for many years of valuable service to agriculture, signed by Governor Richard B. Ogilvie and Director of Agriculture John W. Lewis. During his active career, Prof. Hackleman published many scientific articles, station bulletins and circulars. His main literary contributions, however, were the hundreds of popular, comprehensive farmer mimeograph newspaper releases and national farm magazine articles. With his death on April 15, 1970, Prof. Hackleman left an enviable legacy of service and leadership in the agricultural world.

1970 Plant Variety Protection Act

The Plant Variety Protection Act of 1970 was pivotal for the association and deserves its place in history for its impact on the industry. One option under the act allows seed to be sold by variety name only as a class of certified seed. What is now referred to as "PVP Title V" served to increase seed certification for a time. Approximately one-third of all PVP applications at the time specified the certified option. It is also important to note that the act was amended in 1994 to prohibit farmer-to-farmer sales of protected varieties. Much of the work on the amendment was done by University of Illinois Professor Walter O. Scott, along with Illinois Crop Improvement and the Illinois Seed Dealer's Association. The idea of assessments started in the early 1970s and was adopted in Illinois in 1973. In what former association manager Jim Shearl called "an idea too good to ignore," soybean and small grain research assessments followed what was being done in Indiana. A per-bushel assessment was authorized by the board of directors and approved by the membership. By 1975, a newly formed Research Committee voted to invest over $100,000 in five research projects proposed by the Illinois Agricultural Experiment Station. At an assessment rate of 5 cents per bushel, this represented over 2 million bushels of certified seed being reinvested in research.

1970 Illinois Crop Improvement's Bylaws

"The objects of this association shall be to promote the agricultural interests of Illinois, emphasizing especially those of crop improvement in general and seed improvement in particular, by

  • encouraging the breeding and general improvement of farm crops;
  • stimulating the growing and dissemination of pedigreed or improved seeds in every section of the state;
  • husbanding, propagating, and maintaining the purity of adapted new varieties or improved strains produced by the Plant Breeder;
  • supporting and fostering local, county, district, state, and national shows where purebred seeds are to be shown."

1972 Golden Anniversary

In celebration of the association's golden Anniversary, Illinois Crop published 50 Years of Service — A History of Seed Certification in Illinois by A.L. Lang in 1972. Dedicated to the late Professor J.C. Hackleman in honor of his outstanding service to the seed industry, Mrs. Hackleman received one of the first copies of the book in December 1972. The 1970s were a period of growth for the association, with 375 members and an increase in the number of acres in certification.

1972 Identity and Purity Only

In 1972, the Illinois Crop Improvement Association board of directors voted to certify crops for "varietal purity and identity." Seed must meet the standards that apply to varietal identity and varietal purity only. Mechanical standards such as germination, weed seed content, other crops, inert matter, etc. may be applied to selected crops or classes of seed with board approval. In other words, our tag certifies the varietal purity and identity of the seed. All other factors must appear on the label and are subject to regulatory action if found out of tolerance. Walter O. Scott supported the change by stating, "as conditioning equipment became more sophisticated and producers and conditioners more experienced the need for seed quality standards lessened."

1978 James R. Shearl Becomes Manager

George Keith announced in February of 1978 his desire to retire on September 30, 1979, after 17 years of service. The long lead time was intended to provide for the appointment of a worthy successor to work alongside George for about a year. George Keith had come to ICIA after a long career in the field seed industry. From previous experiences, he understood how seeds were sold and appreciated the importance of seed certification. During his time, he joined with the ICIA staff, board of directors, and U of I College of Ag Advisory Committee members to develop and deliver a first-class seed certification program.

One of the highlights of his career was the "two-tag system" which provided for the early issuance of certified seed tags so that the tags could be sewn into the seam of the bag at closing. The analysis tag was then attached at a later date after seed conditioning and testing was complete. The "two-tag system" made tracking their identity in the seed warehouse easier and streamlined the process of tagging for members.

James R. (Jim) Shearl was selected in the spring of 1978 to replace the retiring George Keith as Manager of the Association. From 1970-78 Shearl was actively engaged as a County Extension Advisor, first in Madison County, IL near St. Louis and then from 1974-78 in Ford County just north of Champaign-Urbana. Shearl describes the experience this way. One day in the spring of 1978 he received a letter from the Director of the Cooperative Extension Service Dr. H. B. `Pete' Petty. In the letter Dr. Petty referred to the ICIA vacancy that was coming up and said he was recommending Shearl for the job. Shearl tossed the letter thinking it was a bulk mailing to all agents.

Later that day, he spoke with Ken Bolen, the County Agent in Vermilion County. Bolen's brother Carol was President of the Pioneer Brand Hi-Bred of Illinois. Shearl asked Bolen if he had "received the bulk mailing from the head-shed about the IL Crop job?" Bolen said no and suggested Shearl get it out of the file and read it again. After further investigation and a talk with Director Petty, Shearl applied for the ICIA job, and a month later he was selected as the winning candidate.

He knew he had a good position from comments by his friend, Extension Agronomist Dr. W. O. Scott, but it did not come to light until he, his wife Brenda, and two kids attended their first annual meeting that June. The warmth and extension of friendship by the members were great. As a further bonus, the staff treated him royally. In the days ahead, the staff would patiently share details of upcoming key events and bring him up to speed on what needed to be done. Being a former County Agent, he understood the approach of sharing information with the membership and helping them succeed in their businesses. Shearl was amazed at the popularity of Illinois Certified Seed. Seedsmen from neighboring states would call and ask for the Illinois Seed Grower's Directory. It was a compilation of seeds produced by each member by variety and told of their acres produced. There was a robust wholesale market for Illinois-certified seed, including soybeans, wheat, and oats. When Shearl went to the Western Farm Seed Conference, held each fall in Kansas City, he would fill his suit pockets full of directories before walking out onto the sales floor area. The first thing people would do was ask for the Illinois Seed Directory!

Source - Honoring an Era – A History of Illinois Crop Improvement Association, Inc. 1973-1997

The 1980s

1982 Dr. Richard Bernard - Acres of Success

Into the early 1980s, the University of Illinois had a strong breeding program generating public varieties that fed into the seed certification and assessment programs. In 1982, Illinois certified over 138,000 acres of Williams, Williams 79, Will, and Williams 82 soybean cultivars, all versions of University of Illinois Professor Richard Bernard's original release. As detailed in Jim Shearl's book, Honoring an Era – A History of Illinois Crop Improvement Association, Inc. 1973-1997, these were the best of times for public varieties and family seed businesses. At the time, the main competitors were bin-run or farmer-saved seed and private breeding programs.

1985 Move Over Certified - Quality Assurance

In response to the changes in the seed industry, a quality assurance program was established in 1985 for private soybean lines. The AOSCA Quality Assurance (QA) program was initiated after several member agencies started to offer services for non-certified seed and non-certified seed producers. With the assistance of these agencies AOSCA developed and trademarked the QA logo. The QA program's objectives were to: 1) provide coordinated, professional, unbiased field inspections, laboratory testing and post control growouts for quality control in seed production, conditioning and marketing. 2) To provide an unbiased record system for use in meeting state and federal seed law requirements, for use in assessing royalties or research fees; and to help solve potential problems with customers and seed suppliers. 3) To provide a retail or wholesale marketing image of sound quality control assurance for selling seed products not using the certification program. 4) To provide seed buyers with assurance that a designated seed product has met genetic purity standards related to a known description across lots and years of production, to facilitate product identification, and to provide a liaison between genetic suppliers and producers.

1986 Phytosanitary Field Inspections

In 1986, the Illinois Department of Agriculture offered a joint agreement to cooperate on phytosanitary field inspections on seed fields. Illinois Crop Improvement became accredited under the National Seed Health System in 2003 as an extension of the agreement with the department.

During this same time frame, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Seed Schemes created some opportunities for Illinois Crop in Illinois and Puerto Rico. The seed industry continued to position itself to take advantage of export markets - a trend that would continue into the late 2000s.

1986 Puerto Rico

The Illinois Crop Improvement Puerto Rico farm had its first paying customers during the winter of 1986-87 after a rough start with a 0.6-acre test plot of corn planted in 1985. The farm owes its existence to the post-control requirements of the OECD Seed Schemes. There was also a desire to grow out results before the next temperate growing season and a need for counter-season breeding and seed production activities. Despite the challenges of the tropics, the farm was established as a provider of grow-outs, followed by nursery and seed increase services. By the decade's end, the farm had grown to 159 acres. Initially a corn-only operation, the farm expanded to soybean, peanut, sorghum, and other crops. The farm has also added and subtracted acres, stabilizing at 200 in the mid-2010s. The farm operates 12 months a year, providing a continuous breeding program and "winter" services to northern and southern hemisphere clients. Crops include corn, soybean, spring grains, sunflower, peanut, sorghum, millet, cowpea, tobacco , and dry beans.

1988 Identity Preserved Grain Lab

In 1988, the Identity Preserved Grain Lab was founded with some incubator space on campus and a grant from the Illinois Department of Commerce and Community Affairs. The lab developed grain-processing tests, NIR-calibrations and performed wet-chemistry analysis that both processors and breeders were interested in. One of these tests was the small batch tofu test. The new test reduced the amount of soy needed for testing from 135 kilograms (5 bushels) to a few hundred grams. With the development of new tests and a new direction for the organization, more and more grain and agri-food entities came to know Illinois Crop Improvement. Hard endosperm corn, commonly referred to as "food grade" or shortened to "hard endo," was also of particular interest to the laboratory. A multitude of characteristics needed to be measured by an unbiased third-party resource. The industry's characteristics of interest included color, percent horneous endosperm, density, crown, dent, pericarp removal, and grit-to-germ ratios. The laboratory attracted plant breeders and grain merchandisers interested in specialty grains and identity preservation for improved products, feeds, and foods. In its 100th year of service and for the foreseeable future, the laboratory offers Alkaline Cooker, Basic Food Grade, and Dry Miller test bundles.

The 1990s

1994 Greenhouse Opens

The greenhouse program began as herbicide tolerance traits started to emerge. STS soybean, Roundup Ready, and similar crops needed purity testing. The greenhouse offered a rock-solid bioassay post method. Herbicide was applied to seedlings using the label field rate. The former United Agri-Seeds headquarters in Savoy, Illinois, was being converted to a technology incubator facility, and the site boasted an 8,000-square-foot greenhouse that was available for lease. The new endeavor sought any test or service to assist seed companies, including phytophthora and brown stem rot resistance screening. The ability to test for traits led to related work in trait introgression services for corn and soybean, requiring hand pollinations and efforts to increase the number of breeding cycles achieved. In 1999, the Board of Directors approved a new, purpose-built greenhouse located at the Research Road headquarters, dedicated to herbicide tolerance purity testing.

1996 Biotechnology Launches

The introduction of Roundup Ready soybeans in 1996 and Roundup Ready corn in 1998 initiated a monumental shift in the seed industry. Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) became a significant opportunity and a driver of international disagreement. The term Identity Preservation (IP) shifted from products with desirable composition or processing characteristics to any variety or hybrid provided it was non-GMO. Illinois Crop tested seeds for purity regardless of intent. Trait purity was essential for the seed producer and their customers, and non-GMO purity was important to the IP producer and their grain customers.

1997 Change in Leadership

In 1997, Dr. Dennis Thompson joined Illinois Crop Improvement, and Jim Shearl moved to an executive seed industry position with Golden Harvest. Dennis recalls that "the US corn and soybean grain and seed industries had set themselves up to face unanticipated international reluctance and product rejection of biotechnology-derived crop improvement."

The Bylaws of Illinois Crop Improvement have long recognized the value of a broad-based agri-food sector as necessary to undergird a robust seed industry. Those Bylaws and the Board of Directors long-established freedom-to-operate approach to management allowed Illinois Crop to explore and test newer business areas.

Out of necessity, Illinois Crop rapidly deviated from the historical norm in operations and began to stretch existing capabilities while exploring companion avenues to utilize existing company talents and resources. While some initiatives worked better than others, Illinois Crop gained and maintained organizational stability during those difficult times. This included competitive research and working with organizations like C-FAR and other funding sources. Much of the work utilized Dr. Steve Mbuvi's talents in the Identity Preserved Grain Lab.

On the seed certification side, the organization contracted with AOSCA agencies across the US to perform specific field activities and projects designed and operated by Illinois Crop to leverage our business development capacity and technical expertise and to generate revenue by operating beyond Illinois' boundaries. International work was performed in Canada, Japan, China, Malaysia, Thailand, Ukraine, and Moldova. AOSCA Quality Assurance (QA) and Identity Preserved (IP) programs and compositional analysis were the central focus for crops such as oats, soybeans, and corn. Additional work with non-AOSCA entities to conduct large-scale projects (see 2005 PASS  and TRAC programs).

1998 Identity Preserved in New Terms

The biotech revolution redefined the seed and grain industries. Where identity preservation had once meant striving for higher oil, more protein, or a desirable characteristic, the grain industry wanted to accept anything other than biotechnology. One of the first multi-state AOSCA Identity Preserved programs was started in Illinois by Lynn Clarkson of Clarkson Grain. The Fresh Pure Green program delivered food-grade non-GMO soybeans to Clarkson Grain's overseas customers. The program included all the points used by the seed industry to ensure varietal identity and purity. Seed sources were verified and tested, and field inspections looked for admixtures and isolation issues. Educating farmers and verifying clean bins was also part of the process. The AOSCA trademarked IP logo and official certificates communicated to the buyer that Clarkson had followed a valid process monitored by a third-party with the test results to back it up. In the program's first year, soybeans were produced in five states, eventually reaching two more for a total of seven states. The multi-state program required a cooperative effort between Illinois Crop and its sister agencies in AOSCA. Illinois Crop hosted tours for buyers and sellers as part of the changes in the identity-preserved landscape.

1999 Tropical Trends

Within the monumental changes coming from biotechnology and the reaction of international markets, the Illinois Crop Improvement's scope for OECD maize certification authority expanded beyond the State of Illinois and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. At the request of the OECD and the US Designated Authority, the Illinois Crop Improvement worked with the State of Hawaii on seed and certification procedures. In response to unique industry needs and concerns, the nations of Costa Rica and Barbados also leaned on Illinois Crop Improvement as the seed industry continued to globalize.

The 2000s

2000 George Keith and T-cytoplasm Remembered

Illinois Seed News Article - July-Aug 2000 George Keith was manager of ICIA from January 1, 1965 until his retirement on August 31, 1979. Keith was well known in the seed industry. During his tenure as ICIA manager he created the Illinois Soybean Conference and the Five-Acre Yield Contest, a statewide soybean yield contest sponsored by the Land of Lincoln Soybean Association and ICIA with support from the University of Illinois Cooperative Extension Service. ICIA developed a special services program to allow the early testing and identity of superior seed lots after harvest during his tenure. The program included a two-tag system. The certified tag identified the seed lot and variety with the second tag including the analysis.

In 1970, Illinois and much of the Midwest corn crop was devastated by southern corn leaf blight. Dr. Art Hooker, then a plant breeder at the University of Illinois, figured out that the problem was associated with Texas male sterile cytoplasmic corn. By switching to normal cytoplasm corn, the problem was eliminated. The predicament was that nearly all corn companies had switched to male sterile corn.

To be ready for the 1971 planting season, Illinois seedsmen had to germinate all corn in cold storage that did not have T-cytoplasm to make sure it was worthy to sell to farmers. George Keith and ICIA Lab Supervisor Martha Hatchett were at the lab seven days a week reading germinations to get data back to seedsmen as quickly as possible.

George Keith passed away on May 16, 2000 after a short illness. Keith was named an honorary member in 1979.

—Source Illinois Seed News Volume IX, Number 1 July-Aug 2000.

2001 InnovaSure® Illinois Cereal Mills

Illinois Cereal Mills (ICM) engaged Illinois Crop in an audit and inspection role for its InnovaSure® branded corn product program. The clean bin inspections for selected growers occurred pre-harvest, and in-season isolation checks and an audit of the growers records were also conducted. This program also marked the shift from a seed certification model for identity preservation to a documented systems approach that relied on audits of the company's activities. Programs would go before the AOSCA IP Sub-Committee for approval. Once authorized, the lead agency and participating company were able to utilize the trademarked AOSCA IP logo.

2001 SCN Project

This project would not have been possible without the approximately 90 inspectors the association employed at the time and the thousands of acres of Illinois Crop-inspected seed production fields across Illinois. The project's full title was "Sampling for the Presence of Soybean Cyst Nematodes (SCN) in Illinois Soybean Seed Production Fields." Approximately 3,500 fields in 86 counties were sampled over the three-year life of the project. The final report was submitted to the Illinois Soybean Association in July 2001. The resulting database was transferred to the University of Illinois for future reference and research. Illinois Crop also allowed seed companies to access the data collected from their fields. This included the ICIA field number, the number of cysts found per sample, and, in some cases, the estimated number of eggs in 100cc of soil.

2002 Soybean Inspection Changes

When Monsanto changed its Roundup Ready® Soybean seed field inspection requirements, the association saw a 90% decline in Roundup Ready acres for inspection. While many inspections continued, this was the high water mark for the number of inspectors employed in Illinois. Just over ninety inspectors were needed to inspect Illinois corn, soybean, and small grain seed fields before major changes in the seed industry. By its 100th year of service in 2022, the number of inspectors employed was half as many at approximately forty-five.

2003 Truetrait and Genetrue Service Marks

2004 OECD Administrative Change

The US OECD Seed Schemes administration transitioned from the Association of Official Seed Certifying Agencies (AOSCA) to the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) in 2004. New cooperative agreements were implemented between AMS and individual seed certification agencies as part of the transition. Perry Bohn, USDA AMS, reported a smooth transition during the ASTA Seed Industry Relations Committee at Chicago's ASTA Seed Expo and Conferences. He also noted that USDA AMS added over 411 new entries to the US list of approved varieties since the administrative transfer. The 70 percent increase was attributed mainly to companies waiting for the administrative transfer to be completed and the weak dollar increasing international sales.

The accreditation of company labs was seen as the next step in the progress gained under field inspection accreditation. Yet in what will sound like today's headlines “A universally recognized and unified lab accreditation system for the US continues to be an elusive animal.” Mark Condon of ASTA reported that a seed testing accreditation discussion paper was under review for publication the following year (2005). As researched by an ad hoc ASTA committee, the paper aimed to discuss domestic and international lab accreditation systems. The group felt that “questions of scope, purpose, and equivalency for the various lab accreditation proposals and programs” were expected to continue in the foreseeable future.

2005 Weed-Free Program

Illinois Crop added the weed-free forage and mulch program to its portfolio under a program administered by the North American Weed Management Association. Today, accreditation is done through the North American Invasive Species Management Association (NIASMA). Illinois Crop has expanded with the program and now includes quarry inspections for weed-free rock and construction materials. The NAISMA Certified Weed Free Products program is the only program in North America that provides federal, state, tribal, and local land managers a way to mitigate noxious weeds spread through the movement of forage, hay, mulch, gravel, or compost brought into a managed property.

2005 Strategic Alliance

Illinois Crop continued to navigate biotechnology issues throughout the 2000s, resulting in access to new collaborators and a strategic alliance with GeneScan. PASS, or the Producer Audited Supply System was the first joint program to bear fruit. The program provided a multi-national seed company with a seed and grain stewardship program that protected export markets from traits lacking global regulatory approval. Mike Russell and Dennis Thompson led the alliance efforts and, in 2006, developed the TRAC, Tracking Residue and Contaminants, a program in cooperation with RQA, Copesan, and later Degesch America.

2005 Laboratory Accreditation

Today's agriculture has a greater expectation regarding the performance of seed products and technology delivered through seed improvements. Because of this, Illinois Crop Improvement began participating in a wide range of validations and proficiencies as part of a broader quality management commitment. Illinois Crop Improvement maintains its ISO/IEC 17025 accreditation and maintains staff with analyst accreditations such as Registered Seed Technologist and Registered Genetic Technologist. Illinois Crop has and continues to offer a unique set of accredited services to support an industry. This role requires good science and strong partners in advancing seed products and technology.

2007 A Decade of Consolidation

In many ways, 2007 marked a decade of seed industry consolidation that started with Monsanto and Holden's Foundation Seed in 1997. In 2007, the mergers and acquisitions trend struck closer to home with Syngenta's Golden Harvest group purchase. This round of consolidation continued to adjust the Illinois Crop Improvement membership list and, as a result, how it generated revenues. The seed industry consolidation was driven mainly by rapid changes in biotechnology, which brought a chemistry and manufacturing mindset to the industry. These changes also altered seed company demand for traditional services from Illinois Crop. As Illinois seed company ownership effectively moved out of state, the Illinois Crop Improvement Association continued to aim for a stronger position in providing services to the industry. Still, the rapid industry consolidation negatively affected the bottom line.

2007 Another End of an Era

A well-respected and prolific member of Illinois Extension once quipped that he could remember when the annual meeting was "a four-day event with hundreds of people." The unspoken response was that we could recall when public varieties were released to a foundation seed organization and certified by the state crop improvement association. As Illinois Foundation Seeds exited its traditional role for soybean and small grains and the University stopped releasing new and improved varieties, the association worked to make Coldwater Seed Farm, Wilken Seed Grains, Bohl Brothers, John Remmers, and Hamel Seed & Farm Supply "designated maintainers." Varieties without maintainers like Loda, Linford, Pana, Rend, and Yale ceased to exist in Illinois' seed certification program. Thus, 2007 marked the end of an era of public varieties, family seed companies, and seed certification for domestic markets.

2007 Policing IRM

It's not often that Illinois Crop is mentioned in publications such as Prairie Farmer. The March 2007 cover story included Insect Resistance Management (IRM) and complying with the structured refuge requirement for Bt Corn. Everyone was excited; any press is good, even if we were labeled the "IRM Police." While the technology provider is ultimately responsible, we were proud to be part of the process. Inspectors and Field Services staff served as data collectors within a broad industry-led effort to ensure the long-term availability of insect-resistant products. Integrated refuge products such as Refuge in the Bag (RIB), a blend of resistant and non-resistant corn, effectively ended the need for structured refuges applied by the farmer in rows or adjacent blocks of non-resistant corn. The need for on-farm audits ended as well.

2008 OECD Corn Evaporates

In 2008, the OECD program changed Illinois Crop dramatically as Europe continued to resist biotechnology. Major companies no longer saw a need to position seed corn for export channels. Illinois Crop's seed corn inspection program boasted 117,446 acres under active inspection or audit status. The following year, seed corn acres dropped to 2,515 due largely to resistance to biotechnology in export markets for seed. Quality assurance acres remained, but the number of corn acres intended for Association of Official Seed Certifying Agencies (AOSCA) or OECD labels evaporated overnight.

2008 New Ventures

As the organization looked down the road and saw shrinking export markets for certified seed, it made every effort to leverage the biotechnology trend that created it. The Puerto Rico farm and its nursery and seed production activities were promoted as an ideal site for trait introgression, version testing, and seed increase. The farm hosted donor and recipient materials as a bridge between trait developers and their licensees. No more did the two parties need to share genetics or demand stewardship requirements of the other directly.

Marketed as Global Seed Solutions, the effort to gain more trait introgression customers across more corps demonstrated Illinois Crop's unique position in the industry and its ability to bring together trait developers and breeding programs. While the endeavor did not survive the decade, it solidified the farm's role as a third-party platform for soybean trait introgression. Its demise was due to numerous factors, such as the resistance to biotechnology and the quasi-public role of the farm in stark contrast to the proprietary nature of the business. Eventually, the Global Seed Solutions brand was shelved along with service marks such as TrueTraitSM and GeneTrueSM testing and auditing services (2003). The age of the unique had arrived: unique management strategies, unique marketing plans, and unique relationships that seemed to consolidate an already consolidated industry.

The Field Inspection Emergency of 2008

Since 1952, Puerto Rico has been a commonwealth of the United States. In many ways, Puerto Rico is like any other state. In many ways, Puerto Rico is its own country. In February of 2008, USDA APHIS noted that Puerto Rico's growing season inspections lacked Federal oversight to meet international trade expectations. PRDA's policy was to establish an MOU with seed companies, allowing them to conduct phytosanitary inspections. ASTA communicated USDA's position to the industry, which immediately raised concerns. Would the seed be ineligible for export from the US without a USDA APHIS-recognized growing season inspection?

Of the four major companies on the island, only one was accredited under the NSHS for field inspections. Dennis Thompson, Illinois Crop Improvement CEO from 1996-to 2012, reached out to ASTA, USDA, and the Puerto Rico seed industry to see if the association's services would be recognized on this scale. A complicating factor to this solution was that Illinois Crop Improvement's winter farm was not staffed to provide inspection services at the level needed to replace the PRDA process in March of 2008.

An "I'll go" comment from then-Assistant Field Services Director Dave Rambow quickly became a workable solution. "I said I would go on Wednesday, and on Saturday, I was heading to Chicago to catch a flight." Dave conducted phytosanitary inspections on soybean, corn, sorghum, and cotton for all four major seed companies on the north and south sides of Puerto Rico. Samples were analyzed by the University of Puerto Rico and the University of Illinois Plant Clinics, both members of the National Plant Diagnostic Network (NPDN) recognized under the NSHS. Much of the work was in soybeans for one major Company, but as Dave recalls, "it snowballed from there."

When asked what other highlights he could recall from the trip, Dave shared that he flew first class along with Bears Offensive Coordinator Ron Turner. The average field size he was used to seeing dropped from 30 to 40 acres to 0.3 acres. "More paperwork, but the view was better!" In addition to working throughout the island, "I was invited to a high school reunion." Somewhere in the archives is a picture of a well-tanned Dave Rambow, now Head of Sales at AgDia, taking in a high school reunion as part of his Puerto Rico experience. Flying down on Easter weekend was another logistical hurdle to overcome since Illinois Crop closes for Good Friday.

Today, Illinois Crop's NSHS-accredited phytosanitary field inspections are still part of the service profile in Puerto Rico. Our dedication to serving the seed industry can be seen in the emails between industry members and policymakers who ultimately counted on a dedicated employee who spent an intense ten days of sun-up-to-sun-down phytosanitary field inspection work in Puerto Rico. We are thankful for all of Illinois Crop's field inspectors and staff - past, present, and future.

Field Inspection Emergency\100-Years of Illinois Crop Improvement (#4)

2008 IPG Ethanol Method

Illinois Seed News Article - July-September 2008. DuPont announced in June it has received an external independent validation from the Illinois Crop Improvement Association (ICIA) which shows that its Ethanol Yield Potential (EYP) near infrared (NIR) calibration reliably predicts the ethanol output of whole corn grain.

The calibration, developed by DuPont business Pioneer Hi-Bred, allows ethanol plants to rapidly and consistently evaluate incoming grain, helping both plant managers and growers determine which corn hybrids and management practices can improve ethanol production. It provides a measurement of the gallons of EYP per bushel of corn.

"Rapid determination of EYP of corn can be a valuable step in improving ethanol plant efficiency," said Dennis Thompson, ICIA chief executive officer. "ICIA recognizes the need for rapid measurement tools based on standardized reference lab methods. Our initial validation procedures have shown a strong correlation between the Pioneer EYP calibration and our laboratory method."

The ICIA laboratory fermentation method uses the procedure developed by Dr. Kent Rausch and others at the University of Illinois Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering to evaluate ethanol yield potential in the conventional dry-grind ethanol process. Further collaboration to evaluate and compare the ICIA and Pioneer laboratory methods is planned.

The technology allows ethanol producers to use analytical data to manage the corn grain feeding for their ethanol production process through rapid analysis and grading at the point of grain receiving.

Farmers will be able to take this information and combine it with their on-farm agronomic performance data to tailor the corn hybrids they plant and apply management practices to maximize the ethanol yield on every acre.

Source -July-September 2008 edition of Illinois Seed News.

2008 Seed Lab Expansion

In 2008, under the leadership of Steve Beals, RST, the Illinois Crop Improvement seed laboratory began a dramatic expansion of species tested by the seed laboratory. Today, the lab tests over 800 species ranging from traditional row crops to vegetables, flowers, forage, and turf. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency recognizes the laboratory as a foreign laboratory, and its staff are accredited by the Canadian Grading System. The seed lab’s activities and accomplishments directly show how we diminish apprehension by applying standards and methods without bias and undue influence. Our "honest assessment of purity, composition, viability, and vigor" comes from our third-party role.

2009 Corn Quality and Cargo Export Reports

The corn quality and export reports funded by the US Grains Council and managed by Centrec Consulting are some of Illinois Crop's longest-lasting projects. The reports are used worldwide to promote the composition and physical characteristics of the US corn crop. As of May 2004, the project continues as a win for Illinois Crop Improvement and its Identity Preserved Grain Lab.

As posted on their website, "The US Grains Council is committed to helping ensure global customers have accurate, consistent and comparable information about US grain quality. Improved information will facilitate increased trade – and when trade works, the world wins. In this effort, the US Grains Council issues two reports annually, the Corn Harvest Quality Report and Export Cargo Quality Report, to help international buyers of US corn understand the initial quality of US yellow commodity corn as it enters the merchandising channel and as it is assembled for export." Learn more at Corn Reports Archive - US GRAINS COUNCIL.

The 2010s

2012 CEO Dennis Thompson Retires

Looking back, Dennis shared that "my tenure as CEO (1996-2012) occurred during unsettled times. The broad US agriculture food complex functioned in a high state of flux. On the global front, consumers, policymakers, regulatory bodies, consumers, traders, processors, and retailers grappled with whether to accept products developed by various means of biotechnology, repeatedly asking themselves if they should or could use these products for human food, animal feed, fiber, and industrial purposes. And if so, under what degree of oversight? Developing, understanding, and accepting science would have been difficult enough without an ongoing need to sort fact from fiction and sort out stakeholder's feelings."

Directly facing the rapid changes and challenges to the seed industry, with new ideas and unique efforts, allowed the association to navigate the new reality more orderly.

2013 BQMS Recognition

The USDA's Biotechnology Quality Management System (BQMS) was to be a comprehensive mitigation effort aimed squarely at those conducting field trials. Excellence Through Stewardship was portrayed as "a mile wide but only an inch deep." Along with being relatively pricy for service providers, universities, and non-corporate entities, ETS was not meeting customer expectations. The farm moved to a more focused program and officially gained recognition in 2013. Services in support of the program slowly faded, and the USDA eventually made the program unofficially available for use. In 2023, the Illinois Crop Improvement Association rejoined the Excellence Through Stewardship (ETS) program.

2017 Canadian Grader

The Illinois Crop Seed Lab became a Canadian Food Inspection Agency Officially Recognized Foreign Seed Testing Laboratory in 2017. Registered Seed Technologist (RST) Steve Beals, Illinois Crop Improvement's Seed Lab Director, also became an accredited US Canadian Grader.

2019 AOSCA Celebrates 100 Years

Seed Today Online 2019 - In 1919, representatives from 13 states and Canada met in Chicago to discuss how they could develop an organization that would uniformly maintain the identity of seed varieties and promote the growing seed trade across North America. Out of that meeting came the International Crop Improvement Association. Its name was changed to AOSCA in 1968.

During the century following that first meeting, seed certification standards adopted by AOSCA and administered by its member agencies have become the foundation for global seed production systems. Seed customers for generations have benefited from a consistent supply of pure, high quality seed. AOSCA's Standards are an integral part of Federal and State seed laws and served as the blueprint for global seed certification programs.

The organization has grown in its international reach. Flags of eight countries were displayed on stage during the Annual Meeting in Chicago, representing where AOSCA has member agencies. The countries include Argentina, Brazil, Chile, New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, Canada, and the United States.

The purpose of the 100-year anniversary celebration was to commemorate a century of service to the global seed industry and look forward to the opportunities for service in the years ahead.

"We want to be positive and forward thinking," AOSCA CEO Chet Boruff says. "It's simply a matter of how we get there. We want to work collectively to keep being a vital part of the global seed industry so 50, 100 years from now, they might appreciate the path we prepare for them."

Sources – Seed Today AOSCA Celebrates 100-Year Anniversary During Annual Meeting In Chicago (

The 2020s

2020 Pandemic

If we have learned anything from COVID-19, it is that time and people are precious resources. The farm and laboratories remained operational throughout the pandemic. The seed, grain, field, and greenhouse services operated at capacity with minimal backlogs. The organization was profitable, and the reserve showed positive growth.

2022 One-Hundred Years of Service

The 100th annual meeting of the Illinois Crop Improvement Association brought together members and friends of the association, past and present. CEO Doug Miller shared memorabilia exhibits and presented a brief organization history. President Dale Wehmeyer introduced two new Honorary Members: Richard Denhart, Retiring Illinois Seed Trade Association Executive Secretary-Treasurer, and Dr. Brian Diers, Soybean Breeder and Professor Emeritus, University of Illinois. Meeting presenters included Germán Bollero, University of Illinois ACES Dean of Research, Mr. Chuck Cawley, Illinois Director of Agriculture, and Mr. Pat Miller, Director of State Legislative Affairs, American Seed Trade Association. The Members, Staff, and Friends of the Illinois Crop Improvement greatly appreciate those who participated and shared their views on an organization that has worked to improve the identity, purity, and quality of seeds and grains for the past 100 years.



Imagine a seed industry that has transcended all challenges—the challenge of weather, the challenge of equipment, the challenge of cleaning, the challenge of treatment, and the challenge of storage. When the perfect seed is in the perfect container with the perfect label, we can sit back and watch the perfect farmer plant the perfect crop, and we will mark the day and fade away entirely, satisfied that we were part of the journey to the perfect life.



James R. Shearl

James R. Shearl was raised in two great agricultural communities, Williamsville, and Franklin, IL.

He holds a BS from Kansas State University, an MS from the University of IL in Extension Education and an Advanced certificate in Administration of Higher Education also from the University of IL.

Shearl began his career as a County Agent serving as Extension Adviser Agriculture in Madison and Ford counties. He was selected as Manager of IL Crop improvement Association in 1978 and served until 1996. From 1996-2024, he was Executive Vice President of Golden Harvest Seeds brand. He was CEO of Technology Transfer, Inc. (TTI)from 2004-2006. TTI did business development work for inventors. From 2006-2018, he served as Director of Quality Assurance for AgReliant Genetics, LLC.  In 2018, Shearl formed JR Shearl & Associates, Inc. the company writes Quality Management Systems (QMS) for the seed industry.

Accomplishments: while at IL Crop Improvement Jim was a collaborating professor in the U of I Departments of Agronomy, Ag Engineering and Plant Pathology. He served on the U of I Variety Review Board from 1979-1996. He was on the college of ACES Advisory Committee and is still a member of the U of I President’s Council. He is the author of Honoring an Era, a history of IL Crop Improvement Association from 1973-1997. He is co-author of the publication on Component Pricing in the Soybean Industry and a chapter author of the Oat Monograph, 1990, an American Society of Agronomy publication. He has also written various seed industry newsletters.

Professional Training:

ISO 9001-2008 Lead auditor Training, ETS auditor training, BQMS document and auditor Training.

Professional Organizations:

Association of Official Seed certifying Agencies (AOSCA) President 1995-1996; National Speaker’s Association 1985-1996; ASTA division chairs corn and sorghum 2004, soybeans 2014, ASTA conference speaker 1988,2010,2012. Excellence Through Stewardship (ETS) board Secretary 2016-2018.

Dennis Thompson

Dennis R. Thompson was raised near Arcola on a Douglas County, Illinois farm and actively involved in animal and crop production via 4-H and FFA. He served six years as a member of the Illinois Army National Guard.

BS and MS degrees were earned from Southern Illinois University respectively in Animal Industries (1972) and in Agricultural Education and Mechanization (1980). A Ph.D. in Vocational and Technical Education was earned from the University of Illinois (1996).

Professionally, Thompson was primarily employed by the University of Illinois Cooperative Extension Service from 1972-1996 holding a variety of agricultural and administrative county, area, state, bi-state and international agricultural positions. However, during a short period of that time he worked for the Land of Lincoln Soybean Association.

During his tenure as CEO of Illinois Crop Improvement Association (1996-2012) he was an active member of AOSCA, the US OECD program and of ASTA. Following establishment of the official AOSCA IP program (the organization's first non-seed certification program) served as the inaugural chair. He also served as the first Northern Region AOSCA Internal Auditor. He chaired the US OECD Working Group for Maize (corn) during the challenging times of great concern over biotech maize pollen flow with respect to the adequacy of established certification distance isolation standards. Representing AOSCA, he worked with ASTA to bring about a US industry participatory research Meta study lead by Dr. Joe Burris, Iowa State University focused on learning more about corn pollen flow patterns and distances traveled with respect to the adequacy of distance isolation standards. Thompson also served as program chairman for the Thirty-Second Soybean Research Conference.

Upon retirement from Illinois Crop he transitioned to a professionally active retirement (2013-present day 2024) applying knowledge and expertise gained throughout his extension and seed industry career to bolster food security in developing economies. Having recently completed his 23rd in-country assignment in retirement (Liberia, Niger, Mali, Kenya, Uganda, Malawi, Ghana, and Tanzania in Africa and Pakistan in Asia). Representative client groups include African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF); United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO); Church of the Brethren (COB); Seed Programs International (SPI); Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation; International Potato Center (CIP); and International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA). He served as Seed World magazine's International Development Columnist (2013-18) and established and served as Principal Investigator "Seed Systems" for US Feed the Future Innovation Laboratory for Soybean Value Chain (2014-18).

Doug Miller

Mr. Doug Miller is currently the Chief Executive Officer of the Illinois Crop Improvement Association, an independent not-for-profit organization designated by law as the seed certification agency for the State of Illinois. In addition to domestic seed certification, the association offers services under the OECD Seed Schemes in cooperation with the USDA Agriculture Marketing Service. Building on its seed certification role, the association operates a full-service seed lab that tests over 800 kinds of seed, a greenhouse program, and an identity-preserved grain lab. All labs are ISO/IEC 17025:2017 accredited to ensure accuracy in testing. Doug has been with Illinois Crop Improvement since 1994, serving in various roles, including greenhouse, field inspection, and Puerto Rico services, before becoming CEO in 2014. Doug has an MS in Plant Pathology from Kansas State University and a BS in Botany from Eastern Illinois University. He is a past President of the Association of Official Seed Certifying Agencies (AOSCA) and represents AOSCA on the Policy and Procedures Advisory Board of the National Seed Health System (NSHS). Previous service to AOSCA includes the Certification Requirements and Standards Council, Corn and Sorghum Committee, and the now inactive AOSCA Pathology Committee. Doug is also a past president of the Society of Commercial Seed Technologists (SCST) and was the first Registered Genetic Technologist to serve as president. He has also served as the Chair of the Seed Quality and Testing group for the Seed Science Foundation and is the Executive Secretary-Treasurer of the Illinois Seed Trade Association. Mr. Miller is an ISO lead auditor trained NSHS Auditor and has worked with field inspection and laboratory quality management systems throughout his career. His experience in field inspection, testing, and certification makes him uniquely adapted to continue the vision and mission of the Illinois Crop Improvement Association in the constantly changing world of agriculture.