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OIP announces seed grant recipients for Fall 2016

Published October 25, 2016

The Office of International Programs (OIP) congratulates its International Seed Grant recipients for Fall 2016. The goal of the Seed Grant program is to support awardees in establishing a strong international relationship that will continue to expand and flourish into a larger and substantial international collaborative effort that will ultimately benefit departments, programs, the College of ACES, and the University of Illinois.

The funding of the International Seed Grants program is made possible through support provided by the Arlys Conrad Endowment Fund, and the applications are reviewed by the College of ACES International Programs and Policy Committee. OIP issues requests for seed grant proposals once a semester.

This semester’s recipients are:

Benjamin Crost, Agricultural and Consumer Economics: “Using Microcredit to Facilitate the Adoption of Postharvest Technologies: A Randomized Control Trial” (Partnering with International Rice Research Institute in The Philippines)

Erik Sacks, Crop Sciences: “Identifying genes that confer flowering‐stage heat‐tolerance in rice” (Partnering with International Rice Research Institute in The Philippines)

Matthew Wheeler & Marcello Rubessa, Animal Sciences: “New strategy for embroyo freezing” (Partnering with University of Naples, Federico II, Italy)


Soybean Innovation Lab urges farmers to adopt improved soy seeds

Published October 25, 2016

At a soybean kick-off event in Ghana, the Principal Investigator for the USAID-Feed the Future Soybean Innovation Laboratory Value Chain Research, Dr. Peter Goldsmith, has urged farmers to adopt improved soy seeds to improve plant population.

The story appeared on NEWS1 in Ghana:

From the video:

"Goldsmith revealed that high soybean plant population on ridges has proven to suppress weed population and minimize the use of chemicals for weed control in soybean fields. The event served as a platform that engaged soybean farming communities and other stakeholders in the value chain on SMART research fields. It is a platform to learn and share ideas on the season's production outlook and critical intervention needed to build best practices to improve soybean yields under Soybean Innovation Laboratory Value Chain Research. The event is aimed at improving the soybean agronomic and production interventions in the three regions of the north among more than 23,000 women smallholder farmers. Dr. Goldsmith, who spoke about the various research findings on the SMART Farm revealed that plant population, has played a key role in reducing the weed and amount of chemical application on most soybean fields."

Soybean prices remain strong

Published October 24, 2016

URBANA, Ill. – December 2016 corn and wheat futures have recovered about 12 percent and 7 percent, respectively, from the early September lows, but remain at relatively low levels. November soybean futures have recovered about 7 percent from the late September low and remain higher than expected based on the record large U.S. harvest, prospects for larger stocks by the end of the marketing year, and expectations of increased acreage in 2017.

According to University of Illinois agricultural economist Darrel Good, the recent recovery in soybean prices has been led by soybean oil prices, with December 2016 futures now 22 percent above the late July low and above the previous high price established in April. December soybean meal futures are about 6 percent above the late September low and 25 percent below the June peak.

“Soybean oil prices have been supported by expanding world vegetable oil trade and consumption and higher prices of competing vegetable oils,” Good says. “Both soybean oil futures and palm oil prices have reached the highest level in more than two years. Soybean prices have also received support from strong nearby export demand for U.S. soybeans stemming from the shortfall in South American production this year and from continued large purchases by China.”

Export inspections during the first seven weeks of the marketing year are estimated at 384 million bushels, 37 million above the total inspections a year ago. Unshipped export sales as of Oct. 13 were reported at 884 million bushels compared to 703 million a year earlier. China accounted for about 41 percent of the unshipped sales and unknown destinations, which may also be dominated by China, accounted for 44 percent of the unshipped sales.

“Soybean prices may have also received some support from the September domestic soybean crush that was larger than expected,” Good says. “The National Oilseed Processors Association reported that its members crushed 129.4 million bushels of soybeans in September, 2 percent more than crushed in September 2015. The USDA’s Oilseed Crushings, Production, Consumption and Stocks report to be released on Nov. 3 is expected to confirm that the September crush was the largest since 2007.

As U of I economist Todd Hubbs pointed out in last week’s Weekly Outlook, soybean prices for the remainder of the marketing year will be heavily influenced by the strength of export demand, particularly from China, and prospects for South American production. Production prospects will be influenced by the unfolding estimates of planted acreage and by weather and yield prospects.  Some are expecting Brazilian soybean acreage to exceed the current USDA projection, but there is also increasing chatter about the prospects for a strengthening La Niña episode and the potential for unfavorable growing season weather in South America.

Good says in the near term, soybean prices will also be influenced by the USDA’s U.S. soybean production forecast to be released on Nov. 9. The October forecast was for a crop of 4.269 billion bushels, 68 million bushels larger than the September forecast and 209 million bushels larger than the August forecast. The U.S. average yield forecast increased from 48.9 bushels in August to 50.6 bushels in September and 51.4 bushels in October.

“Based on widespread yield reports, there is a general expectation that the yield forecast will increase again in November,” Good says. “History supports that expectation as well. In the previous 40 years, the U.S. average yield forecast increased in September and again in October, as was the case this year, in 12 years. In 11 of those 12 years, the November yield forecast exceeded the October forecast. The increase ranged from 0.2 to 1.1 bushels and averaged 0.7 bushels. The lone exception was in 1981, when the November yield forecast was 0.5 bushel below the October forecast.”

According to Good, in those 11 years when the yield forecast increased in November, the yield estimate released in January after harvest exceeded the November forecast in seven years, was unchanged once, and declined in three years. The January increase ranged from 0.3 to 0.7 bushel and the decline ranged from 0.1 to 0.3 bushel.  In 1981, when the November forecast was below the October forecast, the January yield estimate was 0.4 bushel above the November forecast.  

“History points to a November U.S soybean production forecast that is 20 to 90 million bushels above the October forecast,” Good says. “If soybean production in South America rebounds as forecast, any increase in the U.S production estimate is likely to result in a forecast of year-ending stocks to exceed the current projection of 395 million bushels. The impact of larger year-ending stocks would be compounded by an increase in soybean acreage in the U.S. next year. 

“There will continue to be a lot of moving parts to the soybean price picture with the potential for a wide trading range over the next several months,” Good says. “From a risk management standpoint, current prices offer a relatively good return for producers who benefitted from above average yields this year. November 2017 futures approaching $10 per bushel also deserve a look, particularly by those intending to increase soybean acreage in 2017.”



Report provides options for organic soybean growers

Published October 20, 2016
edamame pods
Edamame pods
  • Although soybeans are one of the most widely grown crops in the U.S., few soybean farmers are using organic practices.
  • A new University of Illinois report details organic products and practices to combat pathogens and insect pests.
  • New growers may be motivated by a strong profit margin for organically produced soybeans.

URBANA, Ill. – Soybeans were planted on nearly 84 million acres in the U.S. in 2016, but only a tiny fraction—less than 1 percent—were grown organically. This number has been increasing in recent years, and a group of University of Illinois researchers wants to give organic growers the tools they need to combat pathogens and insect pests.

“We wanted to give organic growers some opportunities. We summarized some practices to fight diseases and pests organically. It’s not an easy task, but it can be done,” says U of I and USDA ARS crop pathologist Glen Hartman.  

Hartman, along with colleagues in the Department of Crop Sciences, produced a comprehensive report summarizing the disease and pest problems faced by soybean growers in the United States. For the first time, the report compiles specific organic management practices and products tailored for each scenario. By detailing the tools needed to successfully grow organic soybeans, the researchers hope more growers will give it a try.  

“There is a movement for organic agriculture, but so far, soybeans haven’t been a major player,” Hartman notes.

The researchers want to encourage small-scale vegetable farmers that are already using organic practices to add soybeans to the mix. The expansion of the organic meat and dairy markets, combined with strong consumer interest in organic soy-based foods like tofu and edamame, are increasing the demand for organically grown soybeans. Over half of organic soybeans are imported, but several companies and entrepreneurs are working to increase the domestic supply.

Those who are selling organic soybeans today are getting almost twice as much per bushel compared to conventional soybeans. “Organic meat is probably double or triple the price compared with conventionally raised meat. And that’s partly from the cost of organic feed. Whoever’s producing this is going to make some money,” Hartman says. “Bags of frozen edamame sell for about $3 at the grocery store, and there might be 40-50 pods per bag. That’s equivalent to one or two plants. You can grow maybe 100,000 plants in an acre. You can do the math, and that’s a rough calculation, but there could be a lot of profit involved.”

Graduate student Theresa Herman also sees the potential for increased edamame production in the United States. “I have talked to school food service companies about incorporating edamame in school lunch programs. It’s a good source of protein, and kids eat the beans voraciously. They’re crazy about edamame,” she notes.

Soybeans grown for edamame appear to be more prone to insect and disease problems than grain soybean, and non-GMO grain varieties available to organic growers may not have the disease and pest resistance that is present in many elite conventional cultivars. However, there are organic solutions for both. In the report, the researchers lay out strategies in a number of categories, including biological control, cultural practices, breeding priorities, and organic pesticide products.

“Rotations to different crops are commonly used by organic growers,” Hartman says. “Organic producers have cover crops and alternative crops that are not used in most corn and soybean systems. They might have a four- to six- to eight-year rotation, which is one of the best ways to reduce diseases.”

Although the researchers point to the promise of longer rotations and cover crops, they would like to know more about the effectiveness of organic products and practices in real-world settings.

“We want to be able to experimentally test some of the products growers are using in organic soybean systems. We want to learn what their constraints are, and how we can help them,” Hartman says.  

Herman adds, “A lot of people are happy with the way they do things, but they want to know more about why and how their system is working.”

Current and potential organic soybean growers can contact Hartman directly, and can read the new report, “Organically grown soybean production in the USA: Constraints and management of pathogens and insect pests,” published in Agronomy.

Choline deficiency during pregnancy influences milk composition in sows

Published October 20, 2016
Ryan Dilger and Austin Mudd
  • Choline, an essential nutrient, is used by the body in many ways, including in the makeup of cellular membranes and neurodevelopment.
  • Choline deficiency during pregnancy has been shown to delay brain development in pig studies.
  • A new study shows choline deficiency during pregnancy also affects the nutrient composition of sow milk up to 19 days after birth.
  • The study also shows similarities in choline metabolites in sow and human milk composition.

URBANA, Ill. – Choline is an essential nutrient that is used by the body in a number of ways. However, nearly 90 percent of adults do not get the recommended amount in their diets. For pregnant or lactating women, this is especially significant, as choline, much like folate or folic acid, has been shown to play a role in early brain development.

Researchers at the University of Illinois who study the impacts of nutrition on brain development using the piglet as a model have conducted a series of studies related to choline deficiency in sows during pregnancy. One such study reports that choline deficiency during pregnancy delays brain development in pigs.

In a more recent study published in The Journal of Nutrition, the researchers look at the impact choline deficiency during pregnancy has on the nutrient composition of sow milk up to 19 days after birth. Surprisingly, they found that when mothers did not have enough dietary choline during pregnancy, alterations in choline metabolites, fatty acids, and amino acids, for example, were occurring by the end of lactation.

If milk composition is altered, due to choline deficiency during pregnancy, this could have implications on the quality of nutrition the mother’s offspring receives.

Ryan Dilger, a U of I animal nutritionist and a co-author on the paper, says the study provides new information about milk composition. “We did a lot of analyses not typically done on sow milk. The findings are pertinent to both human clinicians and animal scientists,” Dilger explains.

“In humans, many women of child-bearing age are not getting sufficient choline in their diets. While many countries have mandatory fortification programs to get the nutrient folate into the diets of women, those programs don’t exist for choline. Choline is another nutrient we should definitely be looking at and it has been gaining emphasis since the Institute of Medicine officially recognized this nutrient as being essential in 1998,” he adds.

Austin Mudd, a doctoral student and lead author of the study said another surprise in the study was seeing striking similarities in the overall choline metabolite composition in sow milk compared to human milk. Metabolites are molecules that play a critical role in metabolism in the body.

“When we look at the nutrient profiles, those compositions are very close to what we would see in humans, which is different than what we would see in rodent and bovine milk. This helps in establishing the pig as an excellent model for studying choline deficiency, especially in terms of lactation, because there are similar proportions of choline metabolites that likely have similar physiological importance,” Mudd says.

During the study, pregnant sows were provided a choline sufficient or choline deficient diet. Milk was then collected after sows gave birth at days 0 (colostrum), 7-9 (mature milk), and 17-19 (pre-weaning).  The milk was analyzed for concentrations of choline metabolites, fatty acids, and amino acids.

The researchers analyzed seven choline metabolites, and observed that free choline and betaine—from the oxidized product of choline—was lowered by the end of lactation (18 days).

Choline and its derivative metabolites are considered “methyl donors.” Methyl groups aid in many functions in the body, in both animals and humans, and are important in gene expression. Choline can be obtained in the diet—through foods like milk, eggs, poultry, fish, and grains—and is supplied in human and animal milk. It is typically included in infant formula.

In addition to changes in the choline metabolite profiles, the researchers also saw changes in milk fatty acids and milk amino acids by the end of lactation. Both showed a pattern of increasing by day 19.

“Fatty acids showed the same pattern, that if the sow was provided adequate choline throughout gestation and lactation, between days 0 and 7, fatty acids increased and then plateaued by day 19, versus in those that were deficient, we observed a linear increase,” Dilger explains.

“If we had followed these sows beyond 19 days of lactation, we could learn just how long perinatal choline deficiency may influence fatty acid composition of the milk.”

Although the study did not explore what more long-term effects of alterations in the milk compositions would mean for piglet, or human development, Mudd did stress that the takeaway is that choline deficiency affected more than just choline in milk composition.

“This shows doctors and breast-feeding mothers why choline is so important,” Mudd says. “If you’re deficient in choline, you’re not only altering choline or its metabolites in the milk, but also the fatty acids and the amino acids. It’s not just one thing that’s being impacted. That’s really where our work differs from what’s been done in rodents and, to some extent, in pigs. Most other studies just look at choline metabolites. But we understand that babies drink milk not just for choline, but for everything. So if a mother is deficient in choline, what else is being impacted and how will that affect later development?  This could be used a stepping stone for future studies, especially those where we look at the epigenetic implications of the altered diet.”

Dilger adds that the changes they saw in milk composition is only piece in understanding how what affects an infant’s development.

“We are altering a single nutrient in choline, and understanding how that affects the production and composition of that milk. There are slight changes we can show. But in the end, the composition of that milk is only one factor,” Dilger explains. “Other factors, such as the genetics and physiology of the infant, in addition to the microbiota, which includes all microbes in and on the body, comes into play. This is just one of a number of complex components influencing the baby.”

In a previous study, Mudd and Dilger look at brain development in piglets when the mother has had a sufficient or deficient choline supply. After being born, piglets were either put on choline-sufficient or choline-deficient milk replacers. They found that whether the mother had adequate choline during pregnancy mattered more for piglet brain development than what diet the piglet was put on after being born, when the only dietary factor being altered was choline. Also, they found that a limited supply of choline during pregnancy profoundly affects brain maturation.

“That paper speaks to the developmental role of choline in brain growth and overall function. In that study, we learned that differences in perinatal choline intake influence structural development of the brain, including maturation of white matter in brain regions that develop relatively late in the postnatal period. Studying the effects of diet on neurodevelopment by focusing on brain regions experiencing significant growth and development postnatally is a major reason we use the pig in our laboratory,” Dilger says.

In two other recent studies related to nutrition and brain development, the researchers explore brain development between piglets that have been artificially reared versus sow-reared, as well as examine concentrations of oligosaccharides, a bioactive compound known to influence neonatal development, present in sow milk during lactation.

But the current paper, Dilger describes as having a more utilitarian piece. “If we want to understand how to use the pig as a model for studying human infants, we need to learn how to optimize the diet. This current study gives us a baseline of what is in sow milk and how we can alter the composition of infant formula designed for piglets to test brain development.  We are asking, ‘What are the norms?  What are the differences?’ 

“These two pieces of work on choline deficiency provide pivotal evidence to justify the inclusion of more choline in prenatal supplements and diets of lactating mothers,” he says.  

“Perinatal dietary choline deficiency in sows influences concentrations of choline metabolites, fatty acids, and amino acids in milk throughout lactation,” is published in The Journal of Nutrition. Co-authors include Austin T. Mudd, Lindsey S. Alexander, Stacey K. Johnson, Caitlyn M. Getty, Olga V. Malysheva, Marie A. Caudill, and Ryan N. Dilger. The study is available online at

The research is funded by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

Other referenced articles:

“Perinatal choline deficiency delays brain development and alters metabolite concentrations in the young pig”

“Comparison of brain development in sow-reared and artificially reared piglets”

“Porcine milk oligosaccharides and sialic acid concentrations vary throughout lactation”


Study Confirms Long-Term Effects of 'Chemobrain' in Mice

Published October 19, 2016

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Women undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer have long complained of lingering cognitive impairments after treatment. These effects are referred to as "chemobrain," a feeling of mental fogginess. A new study from the University of Illinois reports long-lasting cognitive impairments in mice when they are administered a chemotherapy regimen used to treat breast cancer in humans.

The results are published in the journal Behavioural Brain Research.

“Cancer survival rates have increased substantially and continue to improve due to both earlier detection and better medical treatments,” said Catarina Rendeiro, a postdoctoral scholar at the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology. The study’s lead author, Rendeiro collaborated with an interdisciplinary group at Illinois, including Justin Rhodes, a professor of psychology and a Beckman Institute affiliate; and William Helferich, a professor of nutrition in the department of food science and human nutrition.

"Quality of life after chemotherapy is critically important, and chemobrain is significant in these survivors," Helferich said.

Patient complaints and clinical observations after chemotherapy spurred an interest in chemobrain. While many researchers have examined these effects in humans as well as animals, most such studies do not assess long-term effects. The physical toll of chemotherapy is great and accounts for the short-term cognitive impairments, Rhodes said.

“The question is, after they completely recover from the acute assault of chemotherapy, many months or years later, do they still have cognitive impairments?” he said.

Drugs can be developed to address these cognitive impairments, but side effects and negative interactions of these drugs with the chemotherapy medications could cause patients to suffer even more, Rhodes said. The researchers hope to find nonpharmaceutical interventions that are widely available and have fewer complications.

"A dietary intervention that could improve cognitive function after chemotherapy could benefit a lot of cancer patients," Rendeiro said.

The researchers used female mice bred to mimic post-menopausal women, the group most affected by breast cancer.

“We wanted a model that represents the human population so we have the best chance of having results that translate to humans,” Rhodes said.

The team’s first goal was to confirm that chemobrain was a long-lasting phenomenon. They assessed the long-term effects of chemotherapy on learning and memory, as well as the formation of new neurons in the hippocampus, a brain region known to contribute to those abilities.

"We need to have good animal models of these long-term cognitive problems following chemotherapy to understand what is going on and how to treat it," Rendeiro said.

The researchers tested learning and memory using the Morris Water Maze, which trains mice to find a hidden platform in a maze. The mice that had received the chemotherapy regimen took longer to find the platform and were slower to learn the task compared with the control group. The chemotherapy group also had 26 percent fewer surviving hippocampal neurons born during the chemotherapy treatment and generated 14 percent fewer hippocampal neurons in the three months following chemotherapy. Three months for a mouse corresponds to about ten human years, Rhodes said. Together, these results show long-term detriments to both the brain and behavior of the chemotherapy-treated mice.

The researchers also were interested in the efficacy of a diet enhanced with omega-3 fatty acids in reversing these cognitive impairments. However, they found no beneficial effect of the supplemented diet on mitigating chemotherapy-induced cognitive impairments.

This study provides one of the first animal models to demonstrate the long-term cognitive deficits resulting from a chemotherapeutic treatment used in treating humans for breast cancer.  Although the omega-3 diet did not improve cognitive outcomes in the mice, the researchers expect their model will be useful for studying alternative lifestyle interventions to ameliorate the chemobrain phenomenon.

This research was funded by private grants from the U. of I. Center for Nutrition, Learning and Memory.

Editor’s notes:

To reach Catarina Rendeiro, email

To reach Justin Rhodes, call 217-265-0021; email

To reach William Helferich, call 217-244-5414; email

The paper “Long-lasting impairments in adult neurogenesis, spatial learning and memory from a standard chemotherapy regimen used to treat breast cancer” is available online and from the News Bureau.

DOI: 10.1016/j.bbr.2016.07.043

Large U.S. corn and soybean crops place emphasis on foreign markets

Published October 17, 2016

URBANA, Ill. – Corn and soybean harvest future prices moved higher after the release of the USDA October World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates report on Oct. 12. December corn futures closed the week ending Oct. 14 at a 3-month high of $3.54 per bushel, while November soybean futures moved up to close at $9.62 per bushel. According to University of Illinois agricultural economist Todd Hubbs, price movements through harvest in the United States can still be impacted by the domestic crop prospects for both corn and soybeans. In particular, yield forecasts for soybeans may be poised for an increase in November.

“Increasingly, the prospects for major price changes in both markets are linked to South American production outcomes and the ability to export corn and soybeans into foreign markets,” Hubbs says. “Pricing opportunities can occur as South American crop conditions change and export markets respond to importer demand and prices.”   

Corn production in the United States is forecast to be 15.06 billion bushels in marketing year 2016/17 and is down 36 million bushels from the September World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates forecast. Although acres harvested forecast has increased by 200,000 acres, the one bushel per acre yield reduction to 173.4 lowered the production forecast number. Domestic use numbers remained stable from the Sept. 12 forecast.  As a previous report indicated, there is strong domestic demand currently for corn use in ethanol production. United States exports for corn are forecast to increase by 50 million bushels over the September forecast.

“Although strong export shipments through the first few weeks of the marketing year look promising, weekly export sales numbers through Oct. 6 indicate a need to sell 29.26 million bushels per week for the rest of the marketing year in order to reach the USDA projection of 2.225 billion bushels,” Hubbs says.

World supply and demand projections for corn in the 2016/17 marketing year moved lower due to U.S. production numbers. Brazil’s forecast production increased by 39 million bushels. For the marketing year, South American production is set at 5.16 billion bushels, which is a 962 million bushel increase over 2015/16 production estimates and signifies recovery from the poor crop last year. Argentina and Brazil are forecast to export an additional 39.37 million bushels each above the September WASDE forecast. South American corn exports for the marketing year are forecast to be 2.08 billion bushels.

“Given the increase in South American production and exports, the evolution of crop conditions in the region may provide pricing opportunities for corn producers under the current strong export demand for U.S. corn,” Hubbs adds.

Prior to the release of the October WASDE report, an increase in the U.S. soybean yield forecast was expected. The report forecast 2016/17 marketing-year yield at 51.4 bushels per acre with only a minor change in harvested acres.

“The yield increase of 0.8 bushels per acre leaves some room for growth in the yield forecast in November based on many yield reports around the country,” Hubbs says.

U.S. soybean production is forecast to increase by 68 million bushels to 4.3 billion bushels. Forecasts of soybean exports by the United States increased by 40 million bushels to 2.025 billion bushels for the marketing year. Current weekly export inspections for soybeans are strong. To meet the marketing-year forecast, 19.8 million bushels a week need to be sold. Ending stocks in the United States were forecast to be 395 million bushels, up 30 million from the Sept.12 forecast.  

World production forecasts for the marketing year increased 102 million bushels on the larger U.S. crop and a Brazilian production forecast to increase by 36.74 million bushels over the September forecast. South American soybean exports are forecast to be 2.64 billion bushels over the marketing year. China is forecast to import 3.16 billion bushels of soybeans over the marketing year. On Oct. 13, the Foreign Agricultural Service released a Global Agricultural Information Network on China Oilseed Products report indicating Chinese domestic expectations for domestic production vary but are estimated at 478 million bushels. 

“Additionally, soybean imports could be helped by solid, but weakening, profit margins for Chinese hog producers and a reduction in DDGS imports due to the recently imposed tariff,” Hubbs says. “At a national level, recent Chinese economic data provided no clarity on economic growth in the country as one report showed growth in factory output while another indicated weak exports despite recent depreciation of the yuan.

“In assessing the prospects for corn and soybean prices in the current marketing year, South American production and the ability for the U.S. market to meet export forecasts provide key supply and demand indicators,” Hubbs concludes. “Because the South American planting season is off to a good start and current U.S. export levels are significantly higher than in the 2015/16 marketing year, poor weather in South America or strong economic growth indications in major importer markets should provide pricing opportunities for this record crop in the next few months.”