College of ACES
College News

Beef Selection and Reproduction Management Seminar scheduled for late January

Published January 17, 2019

URBANA, Ill. – University of Illinois Extension has announced it will hold its annual Beef Selection and Reproduction Management Seminar on Jan. 29 at the American Legion in Lincoln. The meeting will start at 5:15 p.m. and conclude at 8:30 p.m.

The program will include experts sharing practical knowledge on a range of topics.

  • Travis Meteer, Beef Extension Educator: selection and development of replacement heifers and the Illinois Performance Tested Bull Sale
  • Teresa Steckler, Beef Extension Educator: successful synchronization programs
  • Doug Parrett, Department of Animal Sciences at U of I: incorporating EPDs into bull selection and future use of EPDs in selection
  • Justin Adcock, Boehringer Ingelheim: extending parasite control in the cattle herd
  • Shandy Bertilino, VitaFerm: advantages of a breeding-season focused mineral program
  • Barney Gehl, Zoetis: genetic testing opportunities for advancing selection of desired traits
  • Kevin Devore, ABS: future trends in the beef industry

“The program covers important information that producers can directly implement and turn into dollars in their pocket,” Meteer says. “Come join fellow cattlemen in Lincoln and equip yourself with the knowledge and management strategies to increase profits.”

Pre-registration is suggested; the cost of the meeting is $10, payable at the door. Please RSVP to Travis Meteer by calling 217-430-7030 or email by Jan. 25, 2019.  Meeting details are available at

A meeting flyer is available at

New conservation practice could reduce nitrogen pollution in agricultural drainage water flowing to the Gulf of Mexico

Published January 15, 2019
Saturated buffer
Aerial view of a saturated buffer in Knox County, Illinois

URBANA, Ill. – Every summer, a “dead zone” forms in the Gulf of Mexico. Plumes of oxygen-robbing algae, fed by excess nitrogen coming in from the Mississippi River, kill off marine life and threaten the livelihoods of those who fish the Gulf. States bordering the Mississippi River are putting strategies in place to limit nitrogen from wastewater treatment plants, surface runoff, and agricultural fields. In a new study, University of Illinois scientists have estimated that a new conservation practice known as saturated buffers could reduce nitrogen from agricultural drainage by 5 to 10 percent.

“It might not sound like much, given that agricultural drainage only represents a portion of the nitrogen getting into the Mississippi. But 5 to 10 percent is pretty good for an inexpensive, passive system that farmers can put in and forget about,” says Reid Christianson, research assistant professor in the Department of Crop Sciences at U of I and co-author of the study, published in Agricultural and Environmental Letters.

Saturated buffers are vegetated strips of land – as little as 30 feet across – between tile-drained agricultural fields and waterways. Ordinarily, tile pipes carrying drainage water from the fields empty directly into ditches or streams. With a saturated buffer, the water is re-routed to a perforated pipe running below the surface and parallel to the stream. Water then flows through the soil of the saturated buffer into the stream. Along the way, soil microbes naturally remove up to 44 percent of the nitrogen.

“Saturated buffers don’t take a lot of land out of production, and are fairly inexpensive at $3,000 to $4,000 to treat drainage from a field-sized area (roughly 30 to 80 acres). Farmers have to be willing to not farm right up to the creek, but in terms of edge-of-field conservation practices, I think saturated buffers fit easily with farming and provide additional benefits like wildlife and pollinator habitat,” says Laura Christianson, assistant professor also in the crop sciences department and co-author of the study.

To arrive at their nitrogen reduction estimate, the Christiansons and doctoral student Janith Chandrasoma looked at publicly available digital maps of crop, soil, and stream types to estimate the total number of saturated buffers that could be installed across the Midwest: 248,000 to 360,000, which could treat up to 9.5 million acres of drained land. With other studies showing average nitrogen removal rates between 23 and 44 percent, this number of saturated buffers would reduce the total nitrogen load in agricultural drainage by 5 to 10 percent.

Laura says the approach required a lot of assumptions. For example, there are no satellite images or maps for tile drainage systems across the entire Midwest, so the researchers made the assumption that corn or soybeans fields on soil characterized as “poorly drained” were most likely tiled. However, Reid notes tile drainage systems are installed under many corn and soybean fields in the Midwest, not just poorly drained ones.

“Overall, our assumptions were relatively conservative. We probably underestimated our figures as a result,” he says.

Saturated buffers are a new conservation practice, with the first Natural Resources Conservation Service standard published in 2016. So far, they have not been adopted on anywhere near the scale shown possible in the Christiansons’ study. For example, Laura estimates there are probably fewer than 50 saturated buffers currently operating across the entire Midwest region.

“Adoption on the scale we estimated in the paper is likely a long way off,” she says, “but anything we can do to reduce nitrogen flowing to the Gulf, especially if it fits relatively easily with current on-farm management practices, warrants attention.”

The paper, “Saturated buffers: What is their potential impact across the US Midwest?” is published in Agricultural and Environmental Letters [DOI: 10.2134/ael2018.11.0059]. Authors include Janith Chandrasoma, Reid Christianson, and Laura Christianson, all from the Department of Crop Sciences in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences at U of I. The work was funded through the USDA Farm Service Agency.

Adolescent sleep problems linked with being bullied

Published January 11, 2019

URBANA, Ill. – When adolescents don’t get enough sleep or experience sleep problems over time, parents may start to see their children struggle with difficulties with emotions, behaviors, and attention. Although a number of factors are linked with sleep, new research is showing that for some kids, negative interactions with peers may be a contributing factor behind poor sleep quality.

A new study from a University of Illinois researcher provides strong evidence that kids who have been victims of bullying from their peers, also known as peer victimization, are more likely to have increasing sleep problems—such as difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep—over time.

“Peer relationships, especially peer acceptance and peer status, are important to adolescents,” says Kelly Tu, an assistant professor in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies at U of I. “So being victimized by peers can be a really negative, distressing experience for kids at this age when they just want to fit in.”

In her previous research, Tu has studied the consequences of peer relationship problems, as well as factors that might protect against the negative effects of peer problems, such as parental involvement and friendship quality. Another area of Tu’s research—sleep—has included looking at sleep as a protective or risk factor within the family environment.

Considering what a prominent stressor peer problems are for adolescents, Tu began to question how they could be associated with their sleep. “We often think about feelings of anxiety, depression, and anger associated with peer victimization. But we may not think about sleep as an outcome, although we know that stress, among other factors, affects sleep. In this study we brought these two areas together to specifically examine the link between peer victimization and sleep.”

The current study, conducted by Tu and colleagues from Auburn University, and published in the Journal of Early Adolescence, shows that adolescents who self-reported having been bullied or victimized by peers, had increases in sleep problems approximately one year later.

For the study, 123 fifth and sixth grade students and their parents and teachers participated. Adolescents, parents, and teachers filled out questionnaires asking about adolescents’ experiences with peer victimization. They were asked questions such as, “How often do you get pushed or shoved by other peers at school?” or “How often have other kids said mean things about you to keep other people from liking you?” Adolescents were also asked questions about their sleep quality (e.g., had a good night’s sleep; difficulties falling or staying asleep) at two time points, about a year apart.

In this study, overall peer victimization was examined, but there are different forms of peer victimization, such as overt and relational victimization. “Overt victimization could be physical, such as being shoved against a locker or wall, or verbal, like being called names. Whereas relational victimization refers to being socially excluded or having rumors or gossip spread about a person,” Tu says.

“A lot of the literature has focused on self-reports of peer victimization, which makes a lot of sense. You would know best about your own experiences. But, one of the things we were interested in was whether the same association with sleep would be evident across adolescent, parent, and teacher reports of peer victimization,” Tu explains. “Both inside and outside of the school setting, what do teachers and parents know, respectively, and does that predict adolescent sleep problems?”

But it was the adolescents’ own reports, not parents’ or teachers’ perceptions, about their experiences with peer victimization that predicted their sleep problems over time. After all, the kids themselves may be more aware of the full range of victimization.

“For instance, overt victimization is more obvious and observable, which may be easier for teachers to witness. But there could also be relational victimization occurring, and the teachers may not be aware that it’s happening,” Tu says. “There is also research indicating that parents may not be aware of their children’s peer victimization experiences. Adolescents aren’t always sharing or disclosing these experiences, and so an important question here is, why?” 

Tu and her colleagues also asked the adolescents in the study about their experiences with feelings of depression and anxiety because of their known links with both peer victimization and sleep. “Even after accounting for general anxiety and depressive symptoms, we still had a unique effect of peer victimization predicting increases in sleep problems over time,” Tu says.

“Now that we’ve established that there is this relationship, as a next step we can examine sleep as a potential mechanism to explain how peer victimization may be linked to mental health problems.”

Tu says the findings point to the need for promoting positive peer relationships as one way to improve adolescent sleep quality over time. “We need to think about what we can do in schools or at the community-level to try to create an environment or culture where kids are looking out for one another and helping one another versus putting one another down.” Helping kids who tend to ruminate on negative experiences find ways to relax or take their mind off their worries at night could be another way to promote better sleep, Tu adds.

The research was conducted at Auburn University and supported in part by a grant from the National Science Foundation (BCS 0921271) awarded to Stephen Erath.  

The paper, “Peer victimization predicts sleep problems in early adolescence,” is published in the Journal of Early Adolescence [DOI: 10.1177/0272431617725199] and is available online. Co-authors include Kelly M. Tu, of the Department of Human Development and Family Studies in the College of Agricultural Consumer and Environmental Sciences at the University of Illinois, and Clayton W. Spencer, Mon El-Sheikh, and Stephen A. Erath of Auburn University.  

News Source:

Kelly Tu

Illinois Extension researchers publish 2018 field research results

Published January 9, 2019
Japanese beetles on corn
Japanese beetles and other insect pests on corn

URBANA, Ill. – A team of Extension researchers from the University of Illinois College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental sciences has published its 2018 field research results related to crop pests and diseases in Illinois.

The report, “Applied research results on field crop pest and disease control,” is available online and includes evaluations of plant varieties, management practices, and products for insects, nematodes, and diseases in corn and soybean, as well as results of statewide pest surveys.

Report author Nathan Kleczewski, a plant pathologist and Extension specialist in the Department of Crop Sciences at U of I, says the report serves multiple purposes.

“It is a repository for applied disease and pest management studies and data. Too often, we see applied research trials go unpublished for various reasons, or data disappear into the ether,” he says.

Kleczewski notes the report also includes information on management practices that didn’t work. “In applied research, the lack of an effect of a management practice is just as important as if a practice has an effect. Why?  Because management costs money and we want our producers to be as profitable as possible. If something doesn’t work, we want that information out there just as much as if something works,” he says. 

The report contains the first year’s results from a two-year corn nematode survey across the state. A similar survey was done about a decade ago, but Kleczewski says the results were never published.

“There are many new seed treatments being advertised in corn, but we really don’t even know what nematodes we have in the state and their relative abundances,” he says.

As Kleczewski points out, producers need to know what pathogenic nematodes they have before deciding whether to purchase seeds with expensive nematode-protectant coatings.

“In this year’s survey, we saw that nematode abundances were generally low, and most species present are not considered to be especially damaging. Lesion nematodes were fairly prevalent, but different species of lesion nematodes can vary in their ability to damage corn roots. We plan to do more research into these organisms in 2019,” says Kelly Estes, report co-author and agricultural pest survey coordinator for Illinois Natural History Survey.

The report also contains insect control evaluations for western corn rootworm and Japanese beetles, headed up by Nick Seiter, an entomologist in the Department of Crop Sciences. “These are two of the most important pests of field crops in Illinois, so I think this information will be valuable to many producers,” he says.

The team plans to release an annual report each year.

Environmental greenness may not improve student test scores, study finds

Published January 4, 2019
Matthew Browning
Matthew Browning

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Researchers at the University of Illinois and the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service suggest in a new study that environmental greenness may not be associated with higher test scores in schoolchildren after all.

In a study that involved more than 400 public schools in Chicago, the Illinois-led team found that there was “no convincing evidence for a positive relationship between greenness and academic performance.” The study was published recently in the journal Landscape and Urban Planning.

U. of I. recreation, sport and tourism professor Matthew Browning and natural resources and environmental sciences professor Ming Kuo replicated the methodology used in a leading study on the topic, published in 2014. According to the researchers who conducted that study, third-grade students at 905 Massachusetts public schools performed significantly better on English and math tests if their schools were surrounded by greater amounts of green foliage in the spring.

Similar to the Massachusetts study, the Illinois researchers examined the density of healthy foliage in the neighborhoods surrounding Chicago elementary schools and whether greenery was associated with higher math and reading scores over a six-year period.

Browning and Kuo’s team obtained math and reading scores for third-grade classes at the Chicago Public Schools and downloaded greenness data for those schools’ neighborhoods from a NASA website.

Based upon the NASA data, they calculated the normalized difference vegetation index – the amount of visible and near-infrared light reflected by foliage within 250, 500, 1,000 and 2,000 meters of each school.

Regions with greater amounts of vigorously growing trees and plants have higher NDVI values because healthy vegetation absorbs most of the visible light that strikes it and reflects most of the near-infrared light, Browning said.

Using the same variables and equations as the Massachusetts study, the Illinois researchers tried to predict the Chicago schools’ math and reading scores based upon their neighborhoods’ NDVI values for the months of March, July and October from 2006-12.

However, Browning and Kuo’s team found that the methodology used in the Massachusetts study was not statistically sound, producing high intercorrelations among the predictor variables, which invalidated the findings.

After tweaking the equation to address this problem, “no matter how many ways we sliced and diced it, we were finding negative relationships between green space and academic achievement in all 24 of our models,” Browning said.

The Illinois team hypothesized that its inability to replicate the original study’s findings may have had to do with the differing levels and types of vegetation found in the Chicago and Massachusetts neighborhoods. Because the Chicago neighborhoods had relatively low levels of tree cover, their NDVI values were about half of those of the Massachusetts study and primarily represented grass, which could have a different effect on academic outcomes than trees, Browning and his co-authors wrote.

Or, the relationship between greenery and academic performance might have been moderated by differences in the study populations’ socioeconomic statuses and race, they wrote. The proportion of low-income students in the Chicago study was 83 percent – twice that of the Massachusetts study – while the proportions of African-American and Hispanic students were three times higher in Chicago, at 45 percent and 48 percent, respectively.

The Illinois study is novel in that replication studies are seldom conducted in disciplines such as geography and environmental psychology, the two fields that the current study falls into, Browning said.

“About 10 years ago, there was a wave of replication studies in psychology and a number of important studies were debunked because they didn’t hold up in different populations,” Browning said.

In recent years, research on green space and academic outcomes has “become something of a cottage industry,” said Browning, who currently is conducting a systematic review of about a dozen studies on the topic. Alessandro Rigolon, a professor in the same department, is co-writing that paper.

Browning said they are finding similar methodological problems among those studies too, “and that the researchers’ conclusions that green cover improves student test scores are not well-grounded on the actual findings. The evidence for this beneficial relationship between green space and academic performance is not that strong.”

Sonya Sachdeva and Lynne Westphal, both of the USDA Forest Service, were co-authors of the recent study, along with graduate student Kangjae Lee of the Illinois Informatics Institute.

Additional Images:
  • Ming Kuo

Scientists engineer shortcut for photosynthetic glitch, boost crop growth by 40 percent

Published January 3, 2019

URBANA, Ill. – Plants convert sunlight into energy through photosynthesis; however, most crops on the planet are plagued by a photosynthetic glitch, and to deal with it, evolved an energy-expensive process called photorespiration that drastically suppresses their yield potential. Today, researchers from the University of Illinois and U.S. Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service report in the journal Science that crops engineered with a photorespiratory shortcut are 40 percent more productive in real-world agronomic conditions.

“We could feed up to 200 million additional people with the calories lost to photorespiration in the Midwestern U.S. each year,” said principal investigator Donald Ort, the Robert Emerson Professor of Plant Science and Crop Sciences at Illinois’ Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology. “Reclaiming even a portion of these calories across the world would go a long way to meeting the 21st Century’s rapidly expanding food demands—driven by population growth and more affluent high-calorie diets.”

This landmark study is part of Realizing Increased Photosynthetic Efficiency (RIPE), an international research project that is engineering crops to photosynthesize more efficiently to sustainably increase worldwide food productivity with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR), and the U.K. government’s Department for International Development (DFID).

Photosynthesis uses the enzyme Rubisco—the planet’s most abundant protein—and sunlight energy to turn carbon dioxide and water into sugars that fuel plant growth and yield. Over millennia, Rubisco has become a victim of its own success, creating an oxygen-rich atmosphere. Unable to reliably distinguish between the two molecules, Rubisco grabs oxygen instead of carbon dioxide about 20 percent of the time, resulting in a plant-toxic compound that must be recycled through the process of photorespiration.

“Photorespiration is anti-photosynthesis,” said lead author Paul South, a research molecular biologist with the Agricultural Research Service, who works on the RIPE project at Illinois. “It costs the plant precious energy and resources that it could have invested in photosynthesis to produce more growth and yield.”

Photorespiration normally takes a complicated route through three compartments in the plant cell. Scientists engineered alternate pathways to reroute the process, drastically shortening the trip and saving enough resources to boost plant growth by 40 percent. This is the first time that an engineered photorespiration fix has been tested in real-world agronomic conditions.

“Much like the Panama Canal was a feat of engineering that increased the efficiency of trade, these photorespiratory shortcuts are a feat of plant engineering that prove a unique means to greatly increase the efficiency of photosynthesis,” said RIPE Director Stephen Long, the Ikenberry Endowed University Chair of Crop Sciences and Plant Biology at Illinois.

The team engineered three alternate routes to replace the circuitous native pathway. To optimize the new routes, they designed genetic constructs using different sets of promoters and genes, essentially creating a suite of unique roadmaps. They stress-tested these roadmaps in 1,700 plants to winnow down the top performers.

Over two years of replicated field studies, they found that these engineered plants developed faster, grew taller, and produced about 40 percent more biomass, most of which was found in 50-percent-larger stems.

The team tested their hypotheses in tobacco: an ideal model plant for crop research because it is easier to modify and test than food crops, yet unlike alternative plant models, it develops a leaf canopy and can be tested in the field. Now, the team is translating these findings to boost the yield of soybean, cowpea, rice, potato, tomato, and eggplant.

“Rubisco has even more trouble picking out carbon dioxide from oxygen as it gets hotter, causing more photorespiration,” said co-author Amanda Cavanagh, an Illinois postdoctoral researcher working on the RIPE project. “Our goal is to build better plants that can take the heat today and in the future, to help equip farmers with the technology they need to feed the world.”

While it will likely take more than a decade for this technology to be translated into food crops and achieve regulatory approval, RIPE and its sponsors are committed to ensuring that smallholder farmers, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia, will have royalty-free access to all of the project’s breakthroughs.


Realizing Increased Photosynthetic Efficiency (RIPE) is engineering staple food crops to more efficiently turn the sun’s energy into yield to sustainably increase worldwide food productivity, with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR), and the U.K. government’s Department for International Development (DFID).

RIPE is led by the University of Illinois in partnership with the Australian National University; Chinese Academy of Sciences; Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation; Lancaster University; Louisiana State University; University of California, Berkeley; University of Essex; and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service.

News Source:

Don Ort

Weekly Outlook: Anticipating the January USDA reports

Published January 3, 2019

URBANA, Ill. - The ongoing partial government shutdown halted the release of many key USDA reports. If the USDA releases the reports as scheduled on Jan. 11, they hold implications for forming expectations on corn and soybean prices in 2019, says University of Illinois agricultural economist Todd Hubbs.    

“The final estimates of the size of the 2018 corn and soybean crop, winter wheat seedings, and the Dec. 1 corn stock estimate provide critical information impacting current marketing year supply and demand estimates and acreage allotments in 2019,” Hubbs explains.

A general expectation for 2018 corn and soybean production moving lower in the January production report is based off of decreasing yields in the later part of the year. Poor harvest conditions look to impact both yield and acreage. The USDA forecast for the 2018 U.S. average corn yield in November sits at 178.9 bushels per acre, down from 180.7 bushels in October. Using data since 1997, the change in the yield forecast from October to November declined in five of those years. The decline exceeded 1 bushel in four of those years and dropped more than 2 bushels once. The subsequent corn yield in January declined in all five of those years with an average reduction of 1.7 bushels per acre. If this pattern held this year, a January corn yield estimate of 177.2 would materialize, Hubbs says.

Similarly, the USDA forecast for the 2018 U.S. soybean yield in November came in at 52.1 bushels per acre, down from 53.1 bushels in October. Since 1997, the change in the yield forecast from August to September declined in seven of those years. The decline exceeded 0.5 bushels in two of those years.  The subsequent soybean yield in January dropped in four of those years with an average reduction of 0.27 bushels per acre. If the average deviation calculated above came to fruition this year, the national average soybean yield would be approximately 51.8 bushels per acre.

“While yield continues to attract the focus for a potential reduction in production this year, acreage adjustments may alter production estimates as well,” Hubbs says. “A slight decrease in 2018 corn and soybean acreage remains possible due to the difficult harvest in many areas. While reduced corn and soybean acreage for the 2018 crop lowers production estimates, the impact on winter wheat seedings could be just as consequential for 2019.”

Weather issues substantially delayed or prevented winter wheat planting in many areas of the Southern Plains. Last year, planting of winter wheat came in at 32.5 million acres with approximately 60 percent of these acres in Kansas, Texas, Oklahoma, and Colorado. Kansas, Texas, and Colorado appear to have declines in winter wheat planted this year. The acreage reported in the Winter Wheat and Canola Seedings report provides the first indication of 2019 acreage allotments. A reduction in winter wheat acreage near 1.5 percent from last year appears probable given the issues with the harvest this fall.

The Dec. 1 corn stocks reveal the feed and residual use category for the first quarter of the marketing year and provide a clearer picture of corn consumption. “It is difficult to predict the stocks number since the final estimate of the size of the 2018 crop and the level of consumption during the first quarter of the marketing year remain unknown,” Hubbs says. “If the November forecast for corn production is correct at 14.626 billion bushels and the consumption level for feed and residual use is on pace to meet the USDA’s current projection during the marketing year, a Dec. 1 stocks estimate can be calculated using known consumption data.”  

Export calculations during the first quarter of the marketing year rely on Census Bureau export estimates and USDA cumulative weekly export inspection levels. Cumulative export inspections for September, October, and November totaled 564 million bushels. Census Bureau estimates through October exceeded cumulative export inspections by 54.6 million bushels. Assuming the same difference continued through November, corn exports during the first quarter of the marketing year came in close to 619 million bushels.   

Based on estimates in the USDA Grain Crushings and Co-Products Production reports, corn use for ethanol production came in at 907.6 million bushels in September and October. By using the Energy Information Administration (EIA) ethanol production estimate for November, 456 million bushels of corn were used for ethanol and co-product production. Corn use during the quarter is estimated at 1.364 billion bushels.

For the marketing year, the USDA projects domestic corn consumption for the production of food, seed, and industrial products other than ethanol at 1.48 billion bushels. The projection is 2 percent larger than use during the previous year. “Quarterly consumption for those products is relatively consistent in most marketing years. A 2 percent year-over-year increase in the first quarter this year would have resulted in corn use of about 360 million bushels,” Hubbs says.

For the year, the USDA projected feed and residual use of corn at 5.5 billion bushels. If the USDA projection is correct, feed and residual use in the first quarter should be near 2.33 billion bushels. Corn consumption during the first quarter of the marketing year is estimated to be near 4.673 billion bushels.  Stocks of corn at the beginning the marketing year totaled 2.14 billion bushels and imports during the quarter were likely near 7 million bushels. With a crop of 14.626 billion bushels, the corn supply totaled 16.77 billion bushels. The calculation for the Dec. 1 stocks estimate is 12.1 billion bushels at current production levels.

“The January USDA reports, when issued, provide substantial information for developing expectations about corn and soybean prices this marketing year. Crucial information on supply, consumption, and acreage estimates for 2019 get revealed with these reports and hold the potential to be supportive of prices in the near term,” Hubbs says.

Discussion and graphs associated with this article available at or

News Source:

Todd Hubbs

Home-packed lunches include more vegetables if children help, study finds

Published December 20, 2018
Carolyn Sutter. Photo by L. Brian Stauffer.

URBANA, Ill. — Nearly half of the home-packed lunches that children brought to school each day rarely or never included vegetables, a University of Illinois researcher found in a new study of families in California.

However, the number of vegetables in kids’ lunches increased if they participated in deciding what foods to pack, said Carolyn Sutter, a postdoctoral research associate with the U. of I.’s Family Resiliency Center and the lead author of the study.

“When the child was more involved in deciding what to pack, their lunches contained more fruits and vegetables across the week and additional servings of vegetables on Mondays,” Sutter said. “Having the child help decide what they’ll eat for lunch may allow the parent and child to work together to choose fruits and vegetables the child is interested in eating.”

Even when vegetables were included in children’s lunchboxes or bags, they usually constituted just one-third to one-half of the recommended half-cup serving, the researchers found.

The children and their parents were significantly better at incorporating fruits, however, packing them in the child’s lunch nearly every day and providing about a full half-cup serving each time. About one-third of the families packed a fruit in the child’s lunch every day.

The study was based on 90 parent-child pairs from three elementary schools in California. All of the students, who were in the fourth, fifth and sixth grades, took home-packed lunches to school each day during the study. Prior to the lunch period at each school, the researchers met with each child individually, unpacked their lunch and recorded the contents.

The parents also completed surveys that assessed the potential influence of several factors in the home environment, including the child’s involvement in deciding what to bring in their lunch, the parents’ nutritional knowledge and use of authoritative parenting behaviors, and financial stress within the family that might constrain parents’ ability to provide nutritious food.

Children whose parents scored higher on authoritative parenting practices – such as showing warmth and involvement and being responsive to their child’s needs – brought greater numbers of vegetables servings in their lunches throughout the week, except on Mondays.

“Parenting practices that provide structure and support the child’s growing autonomy in dietary behavior have been found to be the most beneficial for promoting healthy habit development,” Sutter said. “These parents may create guidelines and limits around what their child can pack in their lunch, such as requiring them to include a vegetable some days, but also be responsive to their child’s needs and dietary preferences.”

When parents had greater knowledge of nutrition, their children’s lunches included more fruit servings the entire week and more servings of vegetables on Mondays. However, the number of vegetable servings declined across the week, the researchers found.

While having greater awareness of nutritional guidelines may encourage parents to pack a healthy lunch for their children at the beginning of the week, it may not be enough to buffer against conflicting factors throughout the week, such as work stress and budgetary constraints, the researchers wrote.

“Families that had financial stressors were more likely to never pack a vegetable during the week and packed fewer servings on Monday, perhaps because they don’t have access to healthy food available at home,” Sutter said.

Financial constraints may prompt parents to use their limited resources to provide fruits and vegetables at shared family meals rather than packing them in one child’s lunch, especially if the parents suspect the child won’t eat them, the researchers hypothesized.

“Providing these parents with nutrition education and suggestions on affordable vegetable options that can be easily packed in lunches or prepared to make them more appealing to the child might help increase the number of vegetable servings children consume across the week,” Sutter said. “In addition, it may be helpful to encourage families to use the National School Lunch Program some days or all of the week as a more affordable, healthy option to increase children’s consumption of vegetables.”

The study, which has been accepted for publication in the journal Appetite, was co-written by human development and family studies professor Adrienne Nishina, Cooperative Extension specialist Lenna L. Ontai, and postdoctoral research associate Jennifer C. Taylor, all of the University of California, Davis.

The Fault Lines of Farm Policy: New book traces political history of the farm bill

Published December 20, 2018
Jonathan Coppess

URBANA, Ill. – Just as a new farm bill sailed its way through the U.S. Senate and House last week, a newly released book by a University of Illinois law and policy expert explores the 100-year history of the farm bill, tracing the political evolution of American farm and food legislation.

In “The Fault Lines of Farm Policy,” published by University of Nebraska Press, author Jonathan Coppess, clinical assistant professor in the Department of Agricultural and Consumer Economics, offers a narrative history of how the very first farm bill came together, what led to the need for such a bill throughout the 1920s, and the political journey our country has been on since the first farm bill was passed in 1933. He also highlights lessons to be learned from how past bills have come together in a changing society over the years and how those lessons can help inform future farm bills.

Coppess has spent much of his career working on farm bills, starting with the 2008 bill when he worked in the U.S. Senate. For over eight years in Washington D.C., he worked on policies and legislation, negotiating provisions, and eventually implementing a farm bill with the USDA Farm Service Agency.

“While working on the Hill on the last farm bill in 2014, a lot of questions started coming up for me. You might get in a fight over a policy, and then you question why a group even wanted what they wanted in the bill. Of course, there’s always the issue about the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program [SNAP] and why food assistance is in the bill. So I started to do some digging into some of these questions,” Coppess says.

When Coppess began teaching a class on the farm bill in 2015 in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences at U of I, he started pulling that research together in order to present some of the information in his class. Eventually, that’s how the book came together.

And in the telling of the history of the farm bill, Coppess says the book provides an even greater look at how Congress gets legislation passed, in general, in a partisan society.

“The book really goes through the legislative history of all farm bills, and if you think about how policies are put together, it could almost be one big case study of how Congress works. This current farm bill will be the 23rd time we have written a farm bill and pushed it through Congress—at least one that is somewhat omnibus, somewhat comprehensive—over the last 85 years. There’s a lot of history and policymaking that goes into it. I hope it has some value for that.”

For that, Coppess says he can see interest in the book both from farmers and from those working on policy in Washington D.C.

“Because of the way the farm bill has been put together over time, it’s really a window into Congress and government. When you step back, you see, historically, how regional interests came into play. For example, maybe the South and the Midwest had to agree to something, and they fought to a stalemate on an issue. And then all of the sudden the urban interests get involved. Seeing that form out over time is when it hit me, the amount of perspective this history provides on Congressional procedure and process.

Coppess has described the farm bill as a “food security bill” that authorizes a variety of programs that support farmers, conserve natural resources, help rural communities, invest in agricultural and food research, and help lower-income families put food on the table through food-assistance programs like SNAP.

The intersection of where each of those pieces must come together in order to get the bill passed every five years is the origin of the book’s title: fault lines, as Coppess calls it. He highlights the importance of coalitions and the intricacies of how, often, competing interests must come together to keep a bill moving forward. 

“It feels like a fairly standard metaphor that we use in political discussions, but one of the things I found over and over going through this, is that part of the process to pass a bill is needing enough votes to get through the House and the Senate and on to the president. To do this, you need a coalition. We know that corn, cotton, and wheat [interests] came together in the 1920s and started trying to come up with ways to help their farmers. Over time, though, there are these conflicts among the interests. So when the coalition comes together, there are these fault lines where they meet on policy.

“You can see points of time in history—the 1950s and 1960s—when they were fighting and tearing each other apart, the bills get more and more difficult. You see those big pieces moving, those interests moving, colliding, and pushing. There’s just a lot of pressure.”

While the starting point of the farm bill is 1933 with FDR’s New Deal and the Great Depression, in the book Coppess looks back at the period before and after World War I. “We had closed the frontier out west, and we settled that land in the Great Plains and were giving away free farm land. They were plowing it to produce wheat; we had to produce a lot of wheat for the WWI fight.”

Coppess adds, as the war ended and prices collapsed, the country hit a farm depression that lasted most of the 1920s before the Great Depression. “It’s at that point that you start to see these regional interests—starting with wheat, then corn and cotton—come together and they could not get a bill together. They had four or five attempts at running legislation in the 1920s that either lost in Congress or was vetoed by the president. And then it was the Great Depression that got it all through. So it’s over a hundred years, the history of this bill.”

What does a historical look back at farm policy have to say about the new bill just passed?

“Looking back really raises questions as we look ahead,” Coppess says. “What do we take from history in order to think about what may be coming up or what some of these policy debates may look like? I don’t have those answers, but there is food for thought in that. We are coming into multiple years of lower food prices, as we saw in the 1980s, so what went on then? This partisan fight over SNAP? What have we seen in the past and how has this bill survived various attempts to end it? It has survived a lot of that, so how does it continue?

“I hope that there are lessons in there that help us think through what’s next.”

“The Fault Lines of Farm Policy” is now available from University of Nebraska press.

Coppess is a clinical assistant professor of law and policy in the Department of Agricultural and Consumer Economics in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He previously served as chief counsel for the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, under Sen. Debbie Stabenow (Michigan), working on the 2014 farm bill.  Prior to that he was appointed to the USDA Farm Service Agency, eventually as administrator, implementing the 2008 farm bill, which he worked on as a legislative assistant to Sen. Ben Nelson (Nebraska).

News Source:

Jonathan Coppess

Corn ethanol production has minimal effect on cropland use, study shows

Published December 20, 2018
Yijia Li and Madhu Khanna

URBANA, Ill. – Ethanol production has increased sharply in the United States in the past 10 years, leading to concerns about the expansion of demand for corn resulting in conversion of non-cropland to crop production and the environmental effects of this. However, a new study co-authored by a University of Illinois researcher shows that the overall effects of ethanol production on land-use have been minimal.

The research, published in the American Journal of Agricultural Economics, looks at the effects of ethanol production capacity and crop prices on land use in the U. S. from 2007 to 2014.

The increase in corn ethanol production has led to concerns that it would raise the price of corn and the demand for cropland; thus making it worthwhile to bring land that was not previously cultivated (such as grasslands) into production, says Madhu Khanna, a professor of agricultural and consumer economics at U of I.

“Studies have simulated the crop price effects of producing 15 billion gallons of corn ethanol and shown that they could lead to large expansion in crop acres,” Khanna says. “We now have actual data on land-use change that has occurred since the ethanol expansion began in 2007 and can test whether the predictions of these models have held up. Interestingly, the raw data shows that although corn ethanol production more than doubled between 2007 and 2014, total cropland acres in 2014 were very similar to those in 2007 and the crop price index was lower in 2014 than in 2007.”

Khanna and her co-authors, including Yijia Li, a graduate student at U of I and Ruiqing Miao from Auburn University, analyzed cropland data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service to explain the extent to which changes in cropland acres could be causally attributed to changes in crop prices and proximity to ethanol plants.

“Establishment of an ethanol plant in a county can increase corn acres and total cropland acres by reducing grain transportation costs and increasing the net revenue from corn production, creating an incentive to plant more corn,” Khanna says. “Additionally, higher crop prices that accompany the expansion in ethanol production can also create incentives for increasing crop acres even in locations that do not have an ethanol plant in their vicinity.”

Khanna adds that in examining the causes of changes in cropland acres that have taken place it is important to consider both of these effects. Previous studies have looked at one of the other, but not simultaneously at both.

“Corn ethanol capacity went up from about 6 to 14 billion gallons between 2007 and 2014 and the number of plants doubled, from about 100 to about 200, so it’s a pretty dramatic increase,” Khanna says. There was also a sharp upturn in corn prices between 2008 and 2012, but by 2014 the prices were almost down to 2007 levels again.

Khanna and her co-authors found that while crop prices had a greater effect than plant proximity, overall changes in land use were minimal over the seven years included in the study.

And while the higher corn prices did lead to an 8.5 percent increase in corn production, most of that increase came from conversion of other crops rather than non-cropland.

Total cropland increased by 2 percent between 2008 and 2012, so in the aggregate it was relatively small, Khanna says. “In fact, by 2014 a lot of the land which did convert into crops actually went back into non-crop, so the change in cropland, if you look at 2008 to 2014, was only by half a percent. We find that land use does respond to prices, but not by a lot.”

Studies using satellite images of cropland to compare acres in 2008 and 2012 have suggested that there was a significant and irreversible increase in those acres, all attributed to corn ethanol. But a careful analysis of the data all the way to 2014 shows that the overall impact of corn ethanol production on increasing total crop acreage was very negligible.

Moreover, the impact of crop price varied over time; it was a bit higher up to 2012 but then reverted almost back to previous levels in 2007-2008 by 2014 as crop prices dropped, Khanna concludes. “Our study shows that changes in land use should not be considered irreversible; as prices dropped after 2012, land reverted back to non-crop uses close to levels in 2007 and 2008.”

The paper, “Effects of Ethanol Plant Proximity and Crop Prices on Land-Use Change in the United States,” was published in the American Journal of Agricultural Economics and is available online. Authors include Yijia Li and Madhu Khanna, Department of Agricultural and Consumer Economics in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences and the Center for Advanced Bioenergy and Bioproducts Innovation, University of Illinois, and Ruiqing Miao, Department of Agricultural Economics and Rural Sociology, Auburn University.

News Source:

Madhu Khanna, 217-333-5176

News Writer:

Marianne Stein