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Outstanding accomplishments recognized at ABE Spring Awards Banquet

Published April 27, 2017

URBANA, Ill. - The 2017 ABE Spring Awards Banquet was held Sunday, April 9 at the I-Hotel and Conference Center in Champaign. Faculty, staff, students, and alumni attended the celebration. Christine Ansani and Jacob Vandermyde were the student emcees for the evening. Alan Hansen, Interim Department Head, ABE, and Kim Kidwell, Dean of the College of ACES, gave opening remarks.

Jeremy Ross, ’95 AgE, was recognized as the ABE 2017 Distinguished Alumnus. Ross is the founder and CEO of First-Light USA, a company that designs and manufactures high-end tactical flashlights used primarily within the military and federal law enforcement agencies.

Congratulations to all of our award winners. It is an honor and a privilege to recognize our accomplished students, faculty and alumni! Following is a complete list of the 2017 ABE awards.

John Deere Foundation Minority Student Scholarship– Lydia Tanner

Bernard C. Mathews/Mathews Company Scholarship – Allison Nowak

Steve Eckhoff and Pioneer Hi-Bred International Agricultural Engineering Scholarship – Roberta Toepper

Douglas L. Bosworth Agricultural and Biological Engineering Endowed Scholarship – Zhenwei (Salina) Wu

Loren Bode Memorial Scholarship – Jordan Blake Banks, Jacob Vandermyde

Larry and Lola Huggins Scholarship – Johnathan Finegan

Wendell Bowers Agricultural and Biological Engineering Student Scholarship – Nikou Pishevaresfahani

Bauling/Pershing Memorial Award – Christine Ansani, Alex Brauman, John Henderson, Calli Sebok

E.W. Lehman Award – Dana Brecklin, Adam Kozuszek, Matthew Mote, Rachel Tham

H. Paul Bateman Congeniality Award – Lucia Dunderman, Lane Simpson

Frank B. Lanham Award – Madeline Poole, Camden Yoder

Richard C. and Helen Coddington Design Team Award – Viraj Bagaria, Jon Goebel, Tymon Kukla, Brandon Mills

Ben and Georgeann Jones Undergraduate Student Scholarship – Patrick Dziura, Justin Young

J.A. Weber Outstanding Freshman Award – Aiden Kamber

K.J.T. Ekblaw Outstanding Sophomore Award – Daniela Markaz

C.E. Goering Award for Excellence –Leyton Brown

Robert J. Gustafson Endowed Scholarship – Gabe Stoll

Ryan Tucker McGinn Memorial Award – Lane Simpson

Loren R. Maxey Scholarship – Alex Brockamp

ASABE Central Illinois Section Future Leaders Scholarship – Kara Brockamp

ABE 100 Best Overall Award
1st Place – OMG GMO! – Charles Dochoff, Brad Gorenz, Anne Reardon, Brent Ruan

2nd Place – Hunger Heroes – Emily Gorman, Taylor Peebles, Maddie Poole

3rd Place – Tie – GMOd – Claire Hanrahan, Elisa Kim, Xuhao Meng, Dhun Patel

3rd Place – Tie – The Urbanitor – Kyle Bright, Sarah Gardner, Dan Marshall, Emma Sementi

Club Awards
Illini Pullers Outstanding Member – Tanner Koehne
Illini Pullers New Outstanding Member – Leyton Brown

Teaching Awards
J. Kent Mitchell Teaching Excellence Award – Paul Davidson
Ben and Georgeann Jones Excellence in Teaching Awards – Tony Grift, professor; Jaime Thissen, teaching assistant

Alumni Awards
Distinguished Alumni Award – Jeremy Ross, founder and CEO of First-Light USA

Travel Awards
Philip and Carol Buriak Award – Alex Brockamp


News Source:

Leanne Lucas

Ross recognized with 2017 Distinguished Alumni Award

Published April 26, 2017
Jeremy Ross with Interim Department Head, Alan Hansen

URBANA, Ill. - Jeremy Ross is the recipient of the 2017 Distinguished Alumni award for the Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering. Ross, a 1995 graduate in agricultural mechanization, is the founder and CEO of First-Light USA, a company that designs and manufactures high-end tactical flashlights.

First-Light USA is located in Seymour, Ill., and Ross founded the company in September of 2004. Their products are primarily sold to customers within the military and to federal law enforcement agencies.

“Our lights are standard issue for Army combat medics and combat lifesavers and are widely accepted throughout special operations,” said Ross. “We supply Abrams tank and aviation crews, EOD (explosive ordnance disposal) soldiers, Air Force security forces squadrons, National Guards, and Marine Corps elements.  Since our founding, we’ve delivered over 150,000 lights to the U.S. military.”

In addition, First-Light’s products have gained the favor of the FBI and U.S. Border Patrol and are popular among state and local law enforcement officers as well. “Our lights are extremely versatile, replacing a traditional flashlight, headlamp, and weapon-mounted light with a single device.”   

Ross said budget challenges in the federal government over the last few years encouraged them to find an economical alternative to their most popular flashlight. “We took what was being well-received at a higher price point and came up with a polymer version that runs off simple AA batteries. It has a little less brightness, but a lot of the same functionality as our more expensive offering. It’s turned out to be a good move.”

The next step is to try and broaden their market by bringing their innovative products to the general public, said Ross. “We want to help people work in the dark at a higher level than they do today.”

Although Ross is no long directly involved in the agriculture industry, his life and training in agriculture have enabled him to carry the ag mindset into everything he does. “My background in ag engineering taught me the logical way things work. The ag industry is the most common-sense industry out there,” he said. “And the department at Illinois had a warm, almost family-like feeling to it. I credit men like Loren Bode, Phil Buriak, and Mike Hirschi with that. They really helped some of us shell-shocked, small town kids adapt to a big university.”

Ross and his wife, Sarah, have three children, Mary Grace, William and Rachel. Sarah is also an Illinois graduate and was the Director of Alumni Relations for the College of ACES from 1998 to 2006.

Ross said he and his extended family are in the middle of renovating an 1880 farmhouse on the family farm outside of Tuscola. “We’re really doing this in memory of my grandparents, and also to connect the next generation to the farm. We want it to be a special place for our kids, and eventually their kids, to enjoy.”

The Department is proud to recognize Jeremy Ross, and we congratulate him as the recipient of the 2017 Agricultural and Biological Engineering Distinguished Alumni Award.

News Source:

Leanne Lucas

Meet Krti Tallam: Self-starter, motivated, passionate about the environment, Udall Undergraduate Scholarship recipient

Published April 26, 2017
Krti Tallam
Krti Tallam

Krti Tallam is finishing her sophomore year at the University of Illinois in the College of ACES Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences with a concentration in fish and wildlife. She has already completed three internships in India and just landed a prestigious scholarship—none of which fell in her lap. She accomplished these feats on her own using what she calls, “self-exploration.”

First, about the scholarship. Up to 60 current college sophomores and juniors, out of several hundred, are chosen annually for the Udall Undergraduate Scholarship.  Each student receives up to $7,000 to use toward their education.   

Krti wanted to find a way to pay for tuition, so she searched for programs, found Udall, then spent several months applying.

“I was looking at several scholarship programs,” says Krti. “The way I approached the search was to ask, if a program fits morally with my ethics and my values.”

Krti says one program didn’t make her cut because the organization’s approach to sustainability didn’t match hers. Udall did.

“To be able to accomplish anything in wildlife conservation you have to have a focus, a plan, an idea, a dedication, because there’s very little monetary reward for work in wildlife conservation. Everything Udall does matches my vision for environmental stability. It’s a scholarship that is aligned with my values.”

The application form is not for the faint of heart. In addition to the usual questions about internships, work experiences, and community service activities, the Udall application requires nine short essays—on topics such as career goals, leadership, and significant public service experiences—and one 800-word essay relating to the work of the scholarship namesakes Arizona Congressman Morris K. Udall or Secretary of Interior Stewart L. Udall. The Udall’s careers had a significant impact on Native American self-governance, health care, and the stewardship of public lands and natural resources.

“One of the things that echoed with me is Udall’s ethics and the value it places on the environment. We take it for granted, that trees will last forever. But the reality is that they won’t unless we put effort, money, and thought into conserving trees, ameliorating the situation that we’ve put our planet in. That was a core value that stuck out with me. I want to be among people who care about the environment. They may not make a lot of money and have a very comfortable life. But the work will be rewarding for the planet and not necessarily for the self.”

Krti says human-wildlife conflict mitigation is her passion—a passion she has already put into practice. Using her own “self-exploration,” not a traditional study abroad program, Krti created opportunities for herself. She worked in India when she was in eleventh grade, during her freshman year in college, and again over winter break this past January.

“The area I was working in was very rural, where farmland and wildlife overlap. I was working with Asian elephants. They’re actually very gentle animals. They walk through crops and never damage them.  But if people startle the elephants, deaths occur. Governments might then say, then let’s get rid of the elephants. But that can’t be the case. Working with stakeholders, farmers, the forest department, conservationists—people who are on the ground level—taught me so much.”

Although Krti didn’t get any academic credit for the internships, she says the experience was invaluable.

“It showed me the core meaning of wildlife conservation and what it means to work with people whose lives depend on land and the wildlife that lives alongside them. Even if you don’t care about wildlife, if you care about your crops, wildlife play a part in that system, sustaining that environment. You have to figure out how to work with both.”

New study deems dairy “excellent” source of protein for children

Published April 26, 2017
Milk splash

URBANA, Ill. – Researchers at the University of Illinois are using pigs as a model to study the best way of evaluating protein quality in foods eaten by children, a method that was proposed by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations in 2011.

"Plant proteins are the primary sources of amino acids in many parts of the world, whereas animal proteins are the primary sources in other parts of the world. However, the composition and digestibility of these types of proteins differ," says Dr. Hans H. Stein, professor of animal sciences at U of I and principal investigator of this research.

Researchers in Stein's lab conducted a study to calculate protein scores for eight sources of protein, derived from both plants and animals.

Protein scores compare the amount of digestible amino acids in a food with a "reference protein," a theoretical protein which contains fully digestible amino acids in the proportions required for human nutrition at a particular stage of life.

The score which has been used for more than 20 years is the protein digestibility-corrected amino acid score, or PDCAAS. PDCAAS is calculated using the total tract digestibility of crude protein. However, this method has certain shortcomings.

"The total tract digestibility fails to take into account nitrogen excretion in the hindgut," Stein says. "The PDCAAS also assumes that all amino acids in a foodstuff have the same digestibility as crude protein, but in reality, amino acid digestibilities differ."

These flaws led to the development of a new measure, called the digestible indispensable amino acid score (DIAAS). The DIAAS is calculated using ileal digestibility values, because all absorption of amino acids takes place in the small intestine. It also uses values calculated individually for each amino acid.

Stein and his team determined standardized ileal digestibility of crude protein and amino acids in eight sources of animal and plant protein: whey protein isolate, whey protein concentrate, milk protein concentrate, skimmed milk powder, pea protein concentrate, soy protein isolate, soy flour, and whole-grain wheat. They derived DIAAS scores from those ileal digestibility values. They also calculated PDCAAS-like scores by applying the total tract digestibility of crude protein in the ingredients to all amino acids.

All dairy proteins tested in the study met Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) standards as ”excellent/high”-quality sources of protein for people six months of age or older, with DIAAS values of 100 or greater. Soy protein isolate and soy flour qualified as ”good” sources of protein, with a score between 75 and 100. With scores below 75, pea protein concentrate and wheat did not qualify to make recommendations regarding protein quality.

"Compared with DIAAS, PDCAAS calculations tended to underestimate the protein value of high quality protein sources, and overestimate the value of lower quality sources," says Stein. "Thus, to better meet protein requirements of humans, especially for people consuming diets that are low or marginal in digestible amino acids, DIAAS values should be used to estimate protein quality of foods."

Stein acknowledged certain limitations in the study. "The protein sources used in this experiment were fed raw, and foods processed as they typically are for human consumption might well have different protein values." However, he says, it represents a step forward in determining protein quality.

Funding for the research was provided by National Dairy Council, the non-profit organization founded by America’s dairy farmers and funded by the national dairy checkoff program. The organization had no input into the experimental design or analysis.

“The results of this pilot study indicate that dairy proteins may be an even higher quality source of protein compared to vegetable-based protein sources than previously thought,” said Dr. Greg Miller, chief science officer at NDC. “While using DIAAS is a newer concept and more research will be needed, one thing rings true — milk proteins are high quality and milk as a beverage has protein plus eight other essential nutrients, which is especially important when it comes to kids, because they need quality nutrition to help support their growth and development.”

The paper, "Values for digestible indispensable amino acid scores (DIAAS) for some dairy and plant proteins may better describe protein quality than values calculated using the concept for protein digestibility-corrected amino acid scores (PDCAAS)" was published in the February 2017 issue of the British Journal of Nutrition. The co-authors were John Mathai and Yanhong Liu of the University of Illinois.

News Source:

Hans Stein, 217-333-0013

News Writer:

Jennifer Roth, 217-202-5105

Illinois under siege: Experts discuss invasive species threats

Published April 25, 2017
Fig buttercup
Fig buttercup

URBANA, Ill. – Fig buttercup may have an innocent-sounding name, but it is anything but sweet. The small yellow flowering plant creeps across forest floors, crowding out native spring ephemerals and other understory plants. Try to pull it out, and you are more likely than not to leave its fleshy tubers in the soil, where they lie in wait for the right moment to resprout. And now, fig buttercup is in Illinois.

Chris Evans, forestry extension and research specialist with University of Illinois Extension, says that fig buttercup and another aggressive understory invader, Japanese chaff flower, are looking like the next big threats to Illinois forests. They join common buckthorn, bush honeysuckle, Japanese stiltgrass, and garlic mustard as the state’s top plant pests.

Evans and Eric Larson, assistant professor in the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences at U of I, recently answered questions in a public Twitter chat and podcast about the threat of invasive species in Illinois. They stressed that being non-native is not enough to render a species invasive – it needs to cause some sort of harm to the environment or community it inhabits. Unfortunately, there are plenty of examples of harmful invaders in the state, in nearly every habitat type.

Larson’s research focuses on invaders of freshwater ecosystems. He ranks silver and bighead carp, zebra mussels, and Asian clams as the top freshwater invaders in Illinois. He’s keeping his eye on emerging threats, too, using modern molecular methods and predictive models to anticipate where new species could get a foothold in the Great Lakes. For example, in a recent study, Larson proved that hidden invaders such as rusty crayfish could be detected from bits of their DNA floating in lake water samples.

Many small, less-obvious organisms also threaten natural resources. “Some of our worst invaders are insects and pathogens that have completely removed foundational tree species. For example, emerald ash borer is in the process of completely removing ash trees from our ecosystems in Illinois,” Evans says.

Invasive species do not just make life harder for native plants and wildlife; they are expensive to control. Evans says the costs to control forest invaders range from $100 to $1,000 per acre, depending on the species, the degree of infestation, and the surrounding environment.  

“The most cost effective thing we can do is prevent new invasions from happening, and try to contain the spread of invaders,” Larson says. “In fresh waters, that means being really conscientious about cleaning, draining, and drying your fishing gear and boats before you move between waters, and not releasing live bait in the water. These steps are going to protect our waters, our ecosystems, and save costs down the road from trying to manage these species.”

Evans adds, “Most people now understand the concept of invasive species. What they choose to put in their homes and landscaping has an impact. Everybody has a role to play.”

For more information, listen to the podcast with Larson and Evans at

Current corn market price factors for 2017

Published April 24, 2017

URBANA, Ill. –  The July corn futures price closed over the past week at the low end of the price range, between $3.60-$3.80, which it has fluctuated within since early March. According to a University of Illinois agricultural economist, lower corn prices appear to reflect mixed expectations regarding demand factors and the potential for large supplies coming out of South America. In the near term, corn prices look to remain range bound as old-crop inventories move into the market. Looking forward to the new-crop season, the potential for strengthening corn prices is present due to the possibility of a decline in stocks associated with lower corn acreage in 2017.

“Ethanol and export markets currently support demand for corn,” says Todd Hubbs. “Ethanol production recently ended a long run of producing more than a million barrels per day. The current USDA projection of 5.45 billion bushels of corn used for ethanol production appears attainable with corn used for ethanol sitting at approximately 3.46 billion bushels as of April 14.  Ethanol exports continue at a robust pace and look to provide more support for corn use in ethanol.”

Corn exports continue to show a steady pace. As of April 13, corn inspected for export came in at 1.41 billion bushels and is at 63.5 percent of the USDA projection of 2.25 billion bushels for the 2016-17 marketing year. Hubbs says the large corn crop in South America provides caution on export numbers.

“Currently, the USDA projects corn production in Brazil and Argentina at 3.68 and 1.52 billion bushels respectively,” Hubbs says. “Approximately 28.5 million acres of Brazilian corn production is in the second crop, which constitutes 68 percent of planted corn in Brazil. Current weather indicates favorable conditions and high yield potential. The influence of this large second crop on corn exports looks to arrive in the summer as harvest and shipping commence.  Domestic corn exports should maintain a steady pace into the summer months but could lead to lower projected corn exports during the 2017-18 marketing year. In contrast, domestic feed demand for corn, while still strong, is not performing to initial USDA projections for the marketing year.”

Feed and residual use for corn during the first half of the marketing year is 3.8 billion bushels, which is a 5 percent increase over last year’s feed and residual use pace. Despite this increase, the USDA lowered the feed and residual use projection by 50 million bushels to 5.5 billion bushels for the marketing year in the May World Agricultural Supply report. Large supplies of distillers grains and other feed grains reduced the corn used for feed.

“As the 2016-17 marketing year continues, the uncertainty surrounding the final amount of feed and residual use for corn will continue,” Hubbs says. “The recent appearance of vomitoxin in 2016 corn across many states will not help corn and distillers grains feeding in the near term and adds another level of uncertainty.”

Currently, the USDA projects feed and residual use during the last half of the marketing year is at 1.70 billion bushels, which would account for 31 percent of the marketing-year total.  Last year, feed and residual use totaled 1.506 billion bushels, accounting for 29 percent of the marketing-year total. Because the residual component of feed and residual use can be large, total marketing-year use will not be known until the release of the Sept. 1 Grain Stocks report. 

“When examining the current factors as a whole, the prospect of corn prices making a significant movement in either direction appears to depend on new-crop yield potential and looks to remain within the range in the near term,” Hubbs says.

According to Hubbs, the prospects for corn prices in the next marketing year is supply driven at this point. The supply of corn for the 2017-18 marketing year will consist of carryover supplies of old-crop corn and the 2017 harvest. The USDA currently projects the carryover of old-crop corn at 2.32 billion bushels. “Given the uncertainty surrounding feed and residual use, the prospect of a larger 2016-17 ending stocks number is a distinct possibility. The potential size of the 2017 harvest will develop over the next several months.”

The USDA's March 31 Prospective Plantings report indicated intentions to plant 89.996 million acres of corn this year, 4.01 million fewer acres than planted last year. An estimate of actual planted acres arrives with USDA's June 30 Acreage report. 

The short-term focus will be on yield prospects for the 2017 corn crop. For now, Hubbs says, the discussion focuses on the rate of planting progress and yield potential. “Normally, the larger percentage of the crop that is planted in a timely manner leads to higher U.S. average yield potential. However, summer weather will determine the magnitude of yield. Unless an unusually large or small percentage of the crop is planted late this year, yield expectations should continue to focus on trend value in the range of 168 to 171 bushels per acre. The USDA will report an expected yield in the May 10 WASDE report.

“Uncertainty about the size of the 2017 corn crop will continue for the next few months,” Hubbs says. “Similarly, the strength of corn demand and the influence of the large South American crop on exports will be revealed over time. As we continue into the marketing year, monitoring the weekly pace of exports and ethanol production will provide timely indications of demand changes. The USDA's estimate of June 1 stocks that gives a signal of third-quarter feed and residual use will also be an important indicator of demand strength.”


Some cows may be predisposed to subacute ruminal acidosis

Published April 24, 2017
Holstein cow
  • Cattle with subacute ruminal acidosis suffer from a number of low-level ailments that affect productivity.
  • A research team led by University of Illinois scientists has documented changes in pH, microbiome, and rumen epithelial cells in SARA-affected cows.
  • Results indicate that some animals may be predisposed to SARA because of an overabundance of certain bacteria.

URBANA, Ill. – Scientists are not sure why some cows develop the condition known as subacute ruminal acidosis, or SARA, but producers know it causes a number of minor symptoms that add up to major problems over time.

“Subacute ruminal acidosis is what happens when the pH of the rumen – the large compartment of a cow’s stomach – gets too low. It’s not severe, but it’s lower than ideal. It’s difficult to detect. Because of that, we don’t have a great understanding of how it happens and what are the contributing factors,” says assistant professor of animal sciences Josh McCann.

Left untreated, cows can develop inflammation, laminitis (a hoof issue related to lameness), or liver abscesses. Constantly fighting low-level ailments leaves cows with fewer resources to invest in milk or meat production, and McCann says that leads to higher culling rates in dairies.

To get a handle on what is happening in the rumen during SARA, McCann and his collaborators tried to induce the condition in dairy cows by simulating the behavior of rapid feeders – the cows that are most often affected by SARA. They fed the SARA cows a restricted diet followed by full feed, measuring rumen pH and sampling the microbial community before and six days after initiating the feeding treatments. It turned out that their treatments did not always predict which cows developed SARA.

“Differences between animals on day six were observable on day one,” McCann says. “Bacteria in the phylum Bacteroidetes and the genus Prevotella were overrepresented in some cows on day one; those were the ones that were going to get SARA, regardless of what we fed them. These bacteria may be a marker for SARA or are actually contributing to it happening in some animals.”

The researchers observed that the epithelium, or lining of the rumen, also changed as a result of SARA. Within 24 hours of SARA induction, they saw genetic evidence that the epithelium was responding to the SARA challenge; the genes for proteins holding epithelial cells together were more active compared with the healthy animals.

“The epithelium is a barrier, it’s the fence that keeps bacteria out. I think our data shows that the epithelium ‘sensed’ the challenging conditions and sent the defense signal to attempt to maintain barrier function. When it fails to do that in more prolonged cases of SARA, bacteria can enter the bloodstream to cause liver abscesses or other problems,” McCann says.

Liver abscesses can be treated with antibiotics, but the condition is costly. McCann says the feedlot industry loses upwards of $400 million per year due to liver abscesses stemming from SARA.

The average producer is not going to test for rumen pH, microbial community, or gene expression of epithelial proteins, but the research takes us a step closer to better detection and possible prevention of SARA. For example, McCann hopes that his research team will be able to develop a relatively inexpensive blood test for the condition. He also thinks a key to detection and prediction lies in understanding individual feeding behavior.

“If we can identify animals that are at risk – maybe those that vary a lot in their feed intake – we can look at some nutritional measures of prevention. Maybe adjusting their diet, or a targeted feed additive like a probiotic,” McCann suggests.

The article, “Induction of subacute ruminal acidosis affects the ruminal microbiome and epithelium,” is published in Frontiers in Microbiology. The work was a collaboration with other U of I animal sciences faculty, Phil Cardoso and Juan Loor, as well as Ehsan Khafipour at the University of Manitoba. The research was supported in part by the American Jersey Cattle Association Research Foundation.




News Source:

Josh McCann, 217-300-5016