morrowplotsThe College of Agricultural Sciences on the campus of the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign is home to the oldest and largest experimental crop field in the United States and the second oldest in the entire world. The plots were established in 1876 and continue to be used today, although now with three plots of much-reduced size, instead of the original ten half-acre lots. Some of the land formally included in the plots was used to build the campus observatory or tuned into green space. Now only three plots remain, but they are protected as a National Historic Landmark. The Morrow Plots is one of two such landmarks on campus, achieving its status in 1968. The neighboring observatory also achieved the status of National Historic Landmark in 1989.

The Morrow Plots were started in 1876 by Professor Manly Miles, who established three half-acre fields with different crop schemes. These were expanded to 10 plots in 1879 by George E. Morrow. At first, record keeping was not of the highest caliber, but by the turn of the 20th century, it was clear that crop rotation was a useful component in preventing the depletion of soil quality. In the early 20th century, the number of plots were reduced, and their size was also reduced, in order to facilitate expansion of the university facilities. The northernmost plots are the only ones that date to Miles' 1876 establishment-his other plots are now occupied by the University of Illinois Observatory.

Alumni of the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign will be pleased to learn that the Morrow plots were instrumental in in gaining knowledge on crop rotation, soil nutrient depletion, and the effects of synthetic and natural fertilizers. With crops being consistently grown in the same place for well over 100 years, research and records on 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.