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U of I one of 13 universities calling for increased federal investment in agricultural research

Published June 20, 2016
worker in field

URBANA, Ill. – In an effort to call for a surge in federal support of food and agricultural research, 13 research institutions in the United States joined the SoAR Foundation. The report released by this coalition highlights recent scientific innovations and illustrates how U.S. agricultural production is losing ground to China and other global competitors.

Retaking the Field includes research at U of I that addresses farmers’ needs for timely information. “Farmers tell us that they need to access information in their tractors—which are now GPS-guided. This is where they do their office work today,” says Illinois agricultural economist Scott Irwin. Irwin and his team developed a website called Farmdoc to serve the agricultural community in the Corn Belt.  Updated daily, it now has over one million annual visitors.

“Farmdoc is a portal to information and decision tools,” Irwin says. “For example, when the most recent Farm Bill cut subsidies programs and expanded crop insurance, the Farmdoc team developed an interactive online tool to help farmers make sense of the new system.“

The report looks at the importance of agriculture and its related industries to the U.S. economy. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, this sector was responsible for nearly 1 in 10 jobs in 2014 and contributed $835 billion to the U.S. gross domestic product. Although every public dollar invested in agricultural research provides $20 in economic returns, the federal budget for agricultural research has remained flat for decades. Today, the U.S. trails China in both agricultural production and public research funding.

“Researchers are discovering incredible breakthroughs, helping farmers produce more food using fewer resources, and keeping our meals safe and nutritious,” says president of the SoAR Foundation Thomas Grumbly. “However, the science behind agriculture and food production is starved of federal support at a time of unprecedented challenges. A new surge in public funding is essential if our agricultural system is going to meet the needs of American families in an increasingly competitive global market.”

Farming has never been an easy endeavor and today’s challenges to agricultural production are daunting. The historic California drought continues and U.S. production is threatened by new pests and pathogens, such as the 2015 Avian Influenza outbreak that led to the culling of 48 million birds in 15 states and $2.6 billion in economic damages.

“Every year, the director of national intelligence testifies before Congress that our national security is threatened by hunger in unstable regions,” says Grumbly. “As the number of people on our planet continues to grow, we must produce more food. This cannot be done with yesterday’s science. We need a larger infusion of cutting-edge technologies.”

The other 12 institutions are: Cornell University, Iowa State University, Kansas State University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, North Carolina State University, Purdue University, Stanford University, Tuskegee University, University of Florida, University of Nebraska-Lincoln,  University of California- Davis, and Washington University in St. Louis.

News Source:

Scott Irwin, 217-333-6087

Does the corn crop need more nitrogen?

Published June 17, 2016
dark green corn

URBANA, Ill. – The 2016 corn crop is off to a very good start in Illinois; fields in most areas have excellent stands, good uniformity, and very good leaf color, according to University of Illinois crop scientist Emerson Nafziger.

“The dark green color is in contrast with what we saw with the high rainfall in June of 2015,” Nafziger says. “Conditions of low sunlight and saturated soils mean pale green leaves.”

This year, starting in mid-May, warm temperatures, bright sunlight, and soils with adequate—but not excessive—moisture have allowed the corn to grow rapidly and take up plentiful soil nitrogen. Nafziger reports that in plots at Urbana’s South Farm, corn without fertilizer nitrogen is slightly smaller than corn fertilized with 200 lb of nitrogen, but both show dark green leaves.

Nitrogen management

“With warm temperatures and the crop just entering its rapid growth and nitrogen uptake phase, it seems highly likely that the crop growing in soils with the normal (nitrogen rate calculator) amount of fertilizer nitrogen should be able to take up all the nitrogen it needs. If soils dry out, that might reduce the amount of nitrogen taken up, but at this point there is little danger of developing nitrogen deficiency,” Nafziger says.

In 2015, well-fertilized corn had a total of 45 lb of nitrogen per acre in the crop when it was about 30 inches tall. When it tasseled about four weeks later, it had nearly 160 lb of nitrogen in the crop. Soil nitrogen over this period fell from 240 lb to 93 lb per acre, and total (plant plus soil) nitrogen fell from 285 to 242 lb per acre. Nafziger clarifies that this was under wet conditions, with some 8 inches of rainfall during the same period. Even with the drop in soil nitrogen to a relatively low level by the time of pollination, the crop in this treatment yielded 235 bushels per acre.

“At the estimated 1 lb of nitrogen taken up for each bushel of yield, the 2015 crop would have taken up about a third of its nitrogen after tasseling,” Nafziger states. “Given the low amount of soil nitrogen at tasseling, this additional nitrogen had to have come from mineralization and, possibly, from nitrogen deeper in the soil profile as the crop drew up water during dry weather late in the season. In any case, it’s clear that low soil nitrogen at tasseling did not result in low yields due to nitrogen deficiency.”

Nafziger cautions that it is premature to draw a strong parallel between 2015 results and what we might expect this year, but a number of signs point to a lower chance for nitrogen loss, and little danger of deficiency this year.

Despite the dark green color of most Illinois corn fields and moderate rainfall amounts this year, Nafziger says he has been hearing about producers and retailers gearing up to apply more nitrogen, some in fields that have had a full amount of nitrogen applied and where soils have not been saturated this spring.

“In fields that have already received their full complement of nitrogen, with most or all of the nitrogen applied this spring, there is no justification for adding more nitrogen,” Nafziger warns. “This does not appear to be one of those years when ‘just in case’ justifies adding more nitrogen fertilizer. It’s highly unlikely that a corn crop that is deep green at knee- to waist-high will experience nitrogen deficiency due to lack of soil nitrogen.

“While fear that the crop will run out of nitrogen has been a common theme, nitrogen deficiency symptoms that develop in the late vegetative or reproductive stages usually result from the crop running short of water. What is called ‘firing’ and looks like a shortage of nitrogen is really loss of lower leaf area as the plant dries out. As lower leaves start to shut down, they move nitrogen out to younger parts of the plant, including the ear, to keep the plant going as long as possible. Adding more nitrogen neither prevents nor cures this,” Nafziger explains.

If some or all of the nitrogen was applied at modest rates last fall or in early spring in an area that has gotten wet several times since, and if soil nitrogen sampling shows less than 15 ppm of nitrate-N in the top foot, then adding more nitrogen might be indicated. But even if soil nitrogen numbers don’t look very high, a deep green and rapidly growing crop is getting enough nitrogen, and as its root grow it will continue to get access to what’s in the soil. So adding more nitrogen may not benefit the crop.

“The crop is always a better indicator of soil nitrogen sufficiency at a given growth stage than are soil nitrogen tests,” Nafziger says. “As long as leaves keep their good, green color through pollination, we needn’t be too concerned that the crop will run out of nitrogen this season.”

More detailed information can be found on The Bulletin, at

Weed science field research tour announced

Published June 17, 2016
Aaron Hager with weeds
Aaron Hager shows off waterhemp

URBANA, Ill. – Farmers with questions about weed management will find answers at this year’s annual weed science field research tour, hosted by the University of Illinois. The tour will be held Wednesday, June 29th at the U of I Crop Sciences Research and Education Center, located immediately south of the main Urbana campus at 2008 Wright St. Extended.

“Similar to past years, we will carpool to the fields where participants can join in a guided, but informal, tour. The tour will provide ample opportunity to look at research plots and interact with weed science faculty, staff, and graduate students,” says U of I weed scientist Aaron Hager.

Participants can compare their favorite corn and soybean herbicide programs to other commercial programs and get an early look at a few new products that soon will be on the market.

Coffee and refreshments will be available under the shade trees near the seed house beginning at 8 a.m. A catered lunch will follow the tour at noon. Cost is $10, which covers the field tour book, refreshments, and lunch.

Please call Aaron Hager at 217-333-9646 with any questions.

News Source:

Aaron Hager, 217-333-4424

Invasive Asian carp respond strongly to carbon dioxide

Published June 15, 2016
  • Bighead carp and silver carp are species of invasive Asian carp that threaten the Great Lakes.
  • Both carp species avoided CO2-infused water in a USGS research pond.

URBANA, Ill.  – Adding carbon dioxide gas to water, a process similar to making carbonated soda water, could help control the movement and behavior of invasive carp in the Great Lakes basin, according to a recent study.

“This study demonstrates the ability of carbon dioxide to act as a non-physical barrier on a large scale,” says University of Illinois researcher Cory Suski.  “ Work on this topic to date has primarily been performed in small, laboratory studies, and so this work showed the potential for CO2 to be effective at larger scales more relevant to field applications.”

Bighead carp and silver carp are species of invasive Asian carp that threaten the Great Lakes. Scientists with the University of Illinois and U.S. Geological Survey tested the effectiveness of infusing water with recycled CO2 gas to discourage the movement of bighead and silver carp. Both carp species avoided CO2-infused water in a research pond at the USGS Upper Midwest Environmental Sciences Center in La Crosse, Wis.

“These fish responses provide evidence that CO2 could be used as a tool to deter the movement of bighead and silver carp,” says Michael Donaldson, a U of I researcher and the study’s lead author. “The results are encouraging because there is a need for additional methods to prevent the entry of Asian carp into the Great Lakes.”

The scientists gradually added light plumes of CO2 gas to one end of the USGS test pond. They monitored the behavior of individual bighead and silver carp, as well as the behavior of native fish species such as bigmouth buffalo, channel catfish, paddlefish, and yellow perch before, during, and after the addition of CO2.

The findings include:

•           Each fish species except for paddlefish avoided the areas of the pond with CO2-infused water.

•           Certain bighead and silver carp movements slowed down after CO2 was injected.

•           Bighead carp used a smaller area of the pond furthest from the injection sites after CO2 was added.

“Further tests are needed before CO2 can be used in Asian carp management,” says Jon Amberg, a USGS scientist and co-author of the study. “Understanding the effects of long-term, elevated CO2 exposure on fish and other organisms can help assess its risks to native species.”

The next research step is to test the usefulness of CO2 gas in controlling bigheaded carp movement in a natural river.

Non-native Asian carp have the potential to damage ecosystems in the Great Lakes basin by competing with native fish and mussels for food. Large silver carp are also hazardous to boaters because they can leap up to 10 feet out of the water when startled.

“Carbon dioxide as a tool to deter the movement of invasive Bigheaded Carps” co-authored by Michael Donaldson, Shivani  Adhikari, Adam Wright , and Cory Suski from U of I; and Jon Amberg, Aaron Cupp, Nathan Jensen, Mark Gaikowski, and Jason Romine from the U.S. Geological Survey. The study is published in Transactions of the American Fisheries Society and is available online.

The study was supported by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources through funds provided by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.




News Source:

Cory Suski, 217-244-2237

How can a family function better? Get outside together

Published June 14, 2016

URBANA, Ill. – Getting out in nature, even for just a 20-minute walk, can go a long way toward restoring your attention. But does it have the same effect when you make it a family activity?

Family studies researchers at the University of Illinois have looked at the benefits of spending time in nature as a family, and theorize that families who regularly get outside together tend to function better.  

“When your attention is restored, you’re able to pick up on social cues more easily, you feel less irritable, and you have more self-control. All of these are variables that can help you get along better with others,” explains Dina Izenstark, a doctoral candidate in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies at U of I, and lead author of a recent study published in the Journal of Family Theory and Review.

Although research has already shown that exposure to natural environments can improve attention, Izenstark says the research is limited in that it is primarily focused on individuals and very short-term nature exposures. 

“Our research adds to that by asking, ‘what happens if you’re in nature and not alone, but you’re with a family member?’ We’re asking because we know that time spent in nature is often with one’s family, especially for children,” Izenstark says. “Our research takes into consideration the family unit, and if and how improved attention from being in nature transfers to family outcomes. We theorize that when your attention is restored, it transfers to your family relationships and allows you to get along better with your family members.”   

Izenstark and co-author Aaron Ebata, an associate professor in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies at U of I, reviewed existing studies on how families use natural environments under the frameworks of attention restoration theory and family routines and rituals perspective. Attention restoration theory, first developed by Rachel and Stephen Kaplan, describes how interaction with natural environments can reduce mental fatigue and restore attentional functioning. Izenstark and Ebata’s goal was to develop a new theoretical approach to studying the benefits of family-based nature activities.

Izenstark explains, “There is a growing body of literature that utilizes attention restoration theory to show how exposure to nature can restore attentional functioning. Kaplan and Kaplan propose that the natural environment is a unique context because it often has the four characteristics that encourage restored attention: being away, fascination, extent, and compatibility.

“Everyone only has a finite amount of attention. Especially in today’s society where we are constantly looking at our cellphones or working on our computers and our email keeps popping up; we are constantly fatiguing our directed attention, but we’re not always aware that we’re doing it. It’s so important that we incorporate moments into our everyday lives that we can look into nature and experience soft fascination to restore our attention. When you’re at an amusement park or watching a sporting event, you’re using your hard fascination. Your brain does not have the opportunity to relax or restore itself. Even though you enjoy the activity, it’s still fatiguing you.”

Ebata agrees, “There’s this notion that watching TV is relaxing. All the research we know shows that in fact it may not be as restorative as other things that might be even more beneficial.”

The concept of feeling like one is getting away from the day-to-day also benefits the family. “Coming from experience, when you are a parent, especially with young active children and you’re feeling a little stressed, there is something about going to a park and letting them run off and be able to take a breath and watching them have fun,” Ebata says. “When you’re home and still in charge, that doesn’t feel like being away. But when you’re out, there is something about natural places that almost releases parents from feeling like they are on duty in the same way they are at home. They are still on duty, maybe in a different way.”

So in addition to nature’s ability to restore attention, which in turn helps family members get along better, the researchers see how important it is for families to have nature-based routines or rituals that they participate in regularly. A common example for families might be walking the dog together almost every evening. This might be a simple activity, but one that brings a sense of belonging and identity to family members, the researchers say.

Ultimately, when the family can communicate “who we are” to each other, through their routines and rituals, it also helps with family functioning.

“Say a family goes to a park every Sunday. If you look at the long-term effects of family-based nature activities, you will see over time that the experience can foster a sense of identity and belonging. Because they go regularly or repeatedly, it’s a family ritual, and in addition to the benefits of short-term exposure enjoyed during visits, they have a shared experience which helps make them who they are as a family, something that can be passed down through generations,” Izenstark explains. “Even if you have a bad day during a visit, say you get rained on and everyone gets soaked, the total benefit of that ritual for the family becomes larger than just individual, short term benefits. The whole becomes greater than the sum of the parts.”

Ebata recognizes that some families just don’t like to be outside. “There is research that shows that families that spend time in joint activities tend to have better relationship later on. But people tend to lump any kind of activity together, including watching TV,” Ebata says. “We would argue that if you only watch TV together, that may not be as beneficial for the relationship as other kinds of more interactive activities. I have recommended watching TV together really as a stimulus for being able to talk to each other about different types of things. If that goes together, it can enhance relationships.”

Izenstark agrees, “Many different types of leisure activities are associated with a variety of family functioning outcomes. We are saying we agree with that, but our study proposes that activities in nature have the potential to have greater positive outcomes than other leisure contexts. Leisure activities are one of the few contexts where families spend time together today. We want to encourage families, even if you only have 20 minutes to spend together and you want to maximize the benefit of that time for your family, go take a walk in nature together.”

In a continuing study, Izenstark is testing their theory. For the experiment, moms and daughters are asked to take a 20-minute walk at the mall, as well as a 20-minute walk at the park. Izenstark is looking at whether attention restoration for the mom and daughter happened more after a walk at the park or a walk at the mall.

“Theorizing family-based nature activities and family functioning: The integration of attention restoration theory with a family routines and rituals perspective,” is published in The Journal of Family Theory and Review and is available online at online Co-authors are Dina Izenstark and Aaron T. Ebata.