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Keating wins College of ACES Teaching Associate Teaching Award

Published February 2, 2016

Dr. Kari Keating, Teaching Associate in the Agricultural Education Program, was selected as the 2016 recipient of the University of Illinois College of ACES Teaching Associate Teaching Award. Keating will be recognized during the College of ACES Awards Banquet in April.

Keating was selected as the winner of this award through an extensive application process. Supporting materials for the application included a summary of her contributions at the program, college, and campus levels towards instruction, student success, and other campus initiatives. Several faculty and students provided letters of support and comments about the overall impact she made on their experiences at the university and in their careers. The application also included a summary of students’ ratings for her courses, a report of her educational philosophy and career goals, and six letters of support from former students and faculty. Based on the criteria for the award, Keating was selected as the recipient because of her consistent teaching performance, her impact on students, the innovative approaches she uses for teaching, the numerous contributions she has made to improve instruction, and the professional contributions she has made to the academic community.

Keating is in her fifth year as a Teaching Associate for the Agricultural Education Program. Prior to her employment at the University of Illinois, she worked for 11 years as the Executive Director on the Economic Development Council for the St. Johns County Chamber of Commerce in Florida. In that role, she was in charge of growing commercial investments, jobs, wages, and the leadership capacity in St. Johns County. Keating earned her Doctorate at the University of Illinois in Human and Community Development, her Masters at the University of Iowa in Educational Psychology, and her Bachelors in Marketing at Bradley University. She is responsible for teaching six courses in the Agriculture Leadership Education concentration of the Agricultural Education Program.

“As a Teaching Associate in the Agriculture Education Program, I am thankful each day to work in a campus and college community that inspires excellence.” Keating says, “My coworkers, colleagues, and especially the Illinois students empower me to take pedagogical risks. I enjoy connecting students to practical, real-world projects and professional pursuits.”

News Source:

Debra Korte, 217-244-8086

ACES’ graduate grantees making international impacts

Published February 2, 2016

Using funds awarded by the Office of International Programs, the recipients of last year’s ACES international graduate grants have already made significant contributions towards addressing such global challenges as food security and environmental protection.

The international graduate grant program is made possible through generous donations from Bill and Mary Lee Dimond and the Arlys Conrad Endowment Fund. Proposals for the Spring 2016 program are due on February 12.

Updates from selected projects are included below.

Improving crop productivity in Nepal and India

Alex Park, pictured above with local farmers and villagers, used the awarded funds to travel to Bihar and New Delhi, India to study how different technologies have affected measures of productivity of the rural-poor. 

“I was able to visit 15 service providers and met over 100 local farmers across four districts in Bihar over a three-week period. With this information, I can translate what may have become a more academic question into one that can actually make a difference in a farmer’s production, and thus hopefully improve his or her livelihood. This experience has also facilitated the implementation of an experimental design for next year’s wheat crop to determine how different technologies interact across different environments in India and Nepal,” said Park.

Park partnered with The International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center’s (CIMMYT) Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia (CSISA), which has sought to improve the productivity of the rice-wheat cropping system in India and Nepal over the past 10 years. His PhD research will help identify which technologies pair best with particular environments, thereby improving food security in new locations.

“I chose wheat as a focus crop because of its considerable scope for improvement in productivity under unfavorable environments that are characterized by environmental stresses,” said Park.

Specifically, Park is investigating three key agronomic improvements, which are promoted by CSISA and have improved yields: early sowing of wheat, zero-tillage, and propagation of advanced wheat genotypes.     

Park, also funded under the United States Agency for International Development's Borlaug Fellowship, is advised by Dr. Adam Davis in the Department of Crop Sciences.

Addressing malnutrition in India

Shashank Gaur used the funds to travel to India to work with Mansinhbhai Institute of Dairy and Food Technology (MIDFT) and Dudhsagar Dairy (DSD) where he furthered his team’s work to develop a functional lipid-based nutrient supplement (LNS) to alleviate chronic malnutrition, parasitic infections, and gut inflammation among at risk populations in India.

“LNS are compact foods designed with India’s staple ingredients that contain the right balance of nutrients such as fat, carbohydrate, proteins, vitamins, and minerals with added functional ingredients to provide additional benefits for malnourished Indian children,” Gaur explained.

The goal is to develop a product that is accepted among Indian consumers. Then, improve its impact with the addition of functional ingredients.

“We found that our product is either more or equally acceptable to other commercial supplementary products available in India and the United States. The survey participants said the taste of the product closely resembled that of sweets and candies generally consumed in India. The success of the product was covered by local press. At present, the product is pipeline for production and distribution among rural communities by our Indian partners,” Gaur said.

Gaur, a PhD student in Food Science and Human Nutrition, is advised by Dr. Juan Andrade.

Funds were also received from MIDFT.

Identifying conservation priorities for migratory birds

Antonio Celis Murillo used the funds to conduct a survey of migratory birds at Isla Contoy National Park in the northeastern Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico and in the Guanacahabibes Peninsula in southwestern Cuba.

Murillo, who worked in collaboration with researchers from the Cuban Ministry of Science, Technology and Environment; the Cuban Center for Research and Environmental Services ECOVIDA; University of Illinois; and Eastern Illinois University, said, “This study was the first intensive survey conducted on migrating birds in Cuba and the first coordinated survey of migratory birds in the Caribbean region after crossing the Gulf of Mexico. Additionally, I assisted in a training workshop organized by my Cuban colleagues to train 27 Cuban students and researchers on how to operate mist nets and process birds to collect data on age, sex, body condition, and size.”  

The team captured, marked, and released more than 4,000 birds in Cuba and Mexico to quantify spatial and temporal patterns in bird species composition, abundance, age ratios, and physical condition. The results of this study will provide essential knowledge and pilot data for designing future research projects aimed at expanding their understanding of birds’ ecological requirements during migration through the Caribbean.

Widespread decline of songbirds has stirred concern among biologists because these species perform critical ecosystem services such as insect control and assist in the reproduction and distribution of fruit-bearing plants. 

Murillo is a PhD student in the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences advised by Dr. Michael Ward.

Reducing postharvest losses

As previously reported here, Marin Skidmore and Hemant Pullabhotla traveled to Bihar, India twice during 2015 to gather information on postharvest losses through a farm household survey. Their research aims to reduce postharvest losses and increase farmers’ returns in this region, where most farmers live in extreme poverty.

Skidmore, a MS student, and Pullabhotla, a PhD student, are both working under the supervision of Dr. Kathy Baylis in the Department of Agricultural and Consumer Economics. 


Click here for a full list of previous graduate grant awardees. 


National politics shape the impacts of park law enforcement

Published February 2, 2016
park guards
Park guards at W National Park, Benin. Photo: Daniel C. Miller
  • Conservation efforts restrict the use of natural resources. This can affect the livelihoods of poor families who live on national park borders and rely on those resources.
  • Evidence from West African countries Benin and Niger suggests that more responsive governance can blunt the negative effects of law enforcement in national parks. Benin saw positive conservation outcomes while local livelihoods were not as negatively affected as Niger, where the national government has been unstable and decentralization reforms have stalled.
  • Understanding a country’s national political context can help direct and manage aid for conservation efforts in developing countries.

URBANA, Ill. – Conservation efforts are designed to restrict activities in protected areas, but the restrictions can have unintended consequences. A University of Illinois researcher examined the results of a multi-million dollar European Union aid project in West Africa and found that a country’s national governance quality can affect the livelihoods of families who rely on resources from national parks and other protected areas.

U of I’s Daniel Miller, who studies environmental politics and policy, was intrigued by a conservation intervention that took place from 2001 to 2008 in the W National Park region in Africa. The purpose of the project was to help reverse natural resource degradation and conserve biodiversity so as to benefit local people.

Miller conducted interviews from 2010 to 2011 with 300 households in villages adjacent to the W National Park in Benin and Niger. He used the original data from the interviews to explain how and why the same conservation project led to different outcomes in the two national political contexts.

“We have this rare situation where there is a transboundary aid project and two very different political systems,” Miller says. “Benin and Niger differ in governance quality and the extent of decentralization reform. Niger has more instability, Benin being relatively more stable and better governed. This allowed us to compare the effects of a blanket conservation aid project.”

Miller says that an aerial map of the area shows a stark divide showing the greener grass inside the park. “The soil is richer and there is more fauna,” Miller says. “On the outskirts of the park, much of the land has been used for agriculture or grazing. So people sometimes sneak into the park to hunt, graze their animals, or even plant crops. They can get a large windfall, but the risks are high if they’re caught: huge fines, prison, and sometimes worse.”

In comparison to national parks in the United States or other high-income countries, these parks are difficult to access and very poorly staffed. The funding from the project was used to ramp up enforcement, build infrastructure like roads, park guard posts, and watering holes to attract animals—all efforts to help reinforce the area and delineate the perimeters more clearly.

“The park was like a supermarket for poor families,” Miller says. “All of a sudden, with this international aid project the supermarket was closed. In Benin, where they had better governance and more local voice they could mitigate the effects of the ‘supermarket’ closing.”

The results of the study showed that there were indeed negative consequences for people’s livelihoods, but in Niger the impacts were much greater, particularly for the poorest people and those who saw the most severe reduction in their access to park resources. 

“We believe it’s because they didn’t have a voice to resist or to shape what the enforcement would look like,” Miller says. “Benin had hunting associations that become co-management entities with the park so the local people affected by the park and the project had at least some a voice to shape how the park was managed. Benin also had significant increases in mammal species abundance.”

By contrast, Miller says, greater levels of enforcement in Niger’s national park were associated with sharply decreasing income levels among park neighbors but did not have as statistically significant effect on wildlife populations.

“Governance matters,” Miller says. “In this case, Benin’s better government and more decentralization led to better social and ecological outcomes. These results highlight the importance of national political context to the outcomes of aid-funded conservation efforts.”

Miller describes the broader picture of the democratic decentralization processes unfolding across more than 60 countries in the developing world, since the late 1980s and early 1990s.

“Some have stalled out like Niger and others have continued,” Miller said. “As a political scientist, I want to know how and why governance matters. The future will tell if these same affects are also at play in other national parks and with other aid projects.”

The research paper, “The importance of national political context to the impacts of international conservation aid: Evidence from the W National Parks of Benin and Niger,” was written by Daniel Miller, Michael Minn, and Brice Sinsin. It is published in Environmental Research Letters.

A fellowship from the Social Science Research Council in New York provided funding for the research.



Additional Images:
  • aerial of cattle grazing

Robust beef expansion will slow

Published February 1, 2016

URBANA, Ill. – The latest USDA cattle report shows a rapid expansion is underway with cattle and calf numbers up 3 percent and beef cow numbers up 4 percent in the past year. According to Purdue University Extension economist Chris Hurt, record-high cattle prices in the last half of 2014 and first half of 2015 raised excitement among beef cow producers.

“They heard the market’s expansion call,” Hurt said. “During that 12-month period, Nebraska finished steer prices averaged $162 per hundredweight. Since May 2015, cattle prices have fallen sharply and averaged just $126 in the final quarter of 2015.

“Further evidence of the rapid expansion is shown in the 3 percent increase in the number of beef heifers being retained to be added to the cow herd. In addition, the number that is expected to calve in 2016 is up 6 percent,” he said.

Hurt said the beef expansion is widespread across the country as all regions increased their beef cow numbers. However, leading the expansion have been the Central and Southern Plains states with 60 percent of the nation’s total expansion over the past two years. Drought in those regions through 2013 had been an additional reason for massive reductions of beef cow numbers. “Some of the current expansion in those regions represents restocking as the grass returned.”

The Southern Plains is the nation’s largest beef cow region, expanding by 9 percent over the past two years. Other important beef cow regions and their magnitude of beef cow expansion over the past two years are: the Central Plains up 5 percent; the Western Corn Belt up 5 percent; the Eastern Corn Belt up 5 percent; the Southeast up 1 percent; and the Northern Plains up 1 percent.

According to Hurt, feeder cattle supplies will be rising as well. The number of steers and heifers weighing over 500 pounds that are not being retained for breeding purposes is up 4 percent. This is a sizable increase in the feeder cattle supply that can go into feedlots and therefore add to slaughter supplies in the last half of 2016 and 2017.

With the industry two years into beef cow expansion, the question is, how long will this expansion phase last?”

“Historically, beef cattle expansions lasted five to six years,” Hurt said. “However, history is not likely to be a very good guide on this cycle. The reasons are that the current expansion has already been quick and of large magnitude. The profit outlook for brood cow operations is already providing much less incentive than a year ago. And, with beef production in the rest of the world also expanding, other countries are able to ship increasing supplies of beef to the U.S. and to our foreign buyers.  Finally, U.S. pork and poultry supplies are also expanding rapidly providing heightened competition. My best guess is that U.S. cow numbers will continue to rise for only one or two more years, making this a relatively short expansion phase of three or four years,” Hurt said.

Available beef supplies in 2015 were higher than had been anticipated at the start of the year. USDA inventory data one year ago indicated that the number of cattle available for slaughter would be down about 5 percent.

“In reality, the amount of beef available in the U.S. in 2015 was actually up 1 percent,” Hurt said. “How did we go from 5 percent lower slaughter numbers to 1 percent more beef? The answer is in higher weights and in higher beef imports. Each added about 3 percentage points and thus the amount of beef available was up 1 percent. 

“For 2016, beef production is expected to rise by 4 percent,” Hurt continued. “However, USDA analysts believe that trade, particularly beef imports, will be down this year. That is possible because beef prices will be lower and will provide less incentive for large imports. A counter argument is that the exchange rate of the U.S. dollar is currently stronger than for most of 2015. The dollar is particularly strong versus Brazil who is the second largest world beef exporter. These relationships at least suggest some uncertainty for U.S. beef trade in 2016.”

Hurt said the live cattle futures market is not optimistic for finished cattle prices. An estimate of 2016 finished cattle prices derived from current futures suggest yearly averages of around $125. This compares with actual prices of $126 for calendar 2013, $155 in 2014, and $148 in 2015.

The annual 2016 pattern of prices from these estimates for the four quarters of 2016 are $132, $128, $117, and $120 in the final quarter.

“Live cattle futures have had extreme volatility in the past two years, so their accuracy at predicting forward prices should be suspect,” Hurt said. “However, live cattle futures are the hedging mechanism for cattle feeders and must therefore be taken as the current opportunity to forward contract finished cattle prices.”

Steer calves weighing 500 to 550 pounds at Oklahoma City reached record-high prices in May 2015 at $290 per hundredweight. By December, those prices had fallen to $194, a level that provides only modest profits above total costs of production, and therefore small incentives for continued brood cow expansion.

“The current futures market estimate of 2016 finished cattle prices might provide prices for those Oklahoma City calves of $185 to $205,” Hurt said. “This would probably signal small potential profits above all costs. Under this price situation the industry would continue further beef cow expansion plans this year, with the expansion phase more likely to begin leveling off in 2017.”


U of I conference explores nutrition, health, and gender in Sub-Saharan Africa

Published February 1, 2016

As the United Nations standing committee on nutrition states, “Malnutrition in all its forms amounts to an intolerable burden not only on national health systems but the entire cultural, social and economic fabric of nations, and is the greatest impediment to the fulfillment of human potential.”

The gendered dimensions of roles, resources, rights, and responsibilities in a society have a critical impact on health and nutritional opportunities and outcomes. To explore the range of disciplinary perspectives on the relationship between gender and health in Sub-Saharan Africa, with a particular emphasis on nutrition and the role of agriculture, a two-day international conference on Nutrition, Health and Gender in Sub-Saharan Africa took place at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign this past November. The range of topics included access and equity in agriculture and agricultural services, the role and impact of micro-finance, empowerment, opportunities for big data, maternal-child health, and gender-based violence.

Both presenters and attendees left with new ideas, an expanded network of people to collaborate with, and papers to add to their libraries. The conference was well attended with 17 presenters and an average of 66 participants at each session. Speakers included: Margaret Mangheni, Makarere University, Uganda; Adolphus Johnson, Njala University, Sierra Leone; and Amparo Palacios-Lopez, World Bank, as well as several professors from the University of Illinois and keynote speaker Cheryl Doss, Yale University.

Resources such as presentations, photos, and more details can be found here:

The ACES Office of International Programs co-sponsored this event.

News Source:

Katy Heinz

AgReliant Genetics gift allows for updated state-of-the-art instructional space

Published January 29, 2016

URBANA, Ill. – As new methods of instruction and analysis dramatically change teaching and research in crop improvement, students at the University of Illinois in the crop sciences and natural resources and environmental sciences departments will soon have the opportunity to learn in a more modern space in Turner Hall.  A recent gift from AgReliant Genetics will make the complete renovation of an outdated lecture hall into a state-of-the art instructional space possible.

“The University of Illinois has always been an excellent source for both plant breeding research and agronomic training,” said Dr. Tom Koch, AgReliant Genetics vice president of research. “AgReliant Genetics is excited to play a part in this project by creating a unique learning environment for students and developing a closer relationship with the university.”

Plans for the new centrally located first floor lecture hall feature modern electronic and presentation capabilities. New lighting and furniture will also be added to the tiered room, one of Turner Hall’s most heavily utilized spaces.

The upgrades will replace outdated technology and furnishings first added when Turner Hall was built in 1963. No significant educational upgrades have been made to the facility since its construction.

“Turner Hall is the center for agricultural research and education in crop and soil sciences at the University of Illinois,” said Robert Hauser, dean of the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences. “This project allows us to transition from today’s outdated traditional classroom to a state‐of‐art space that is critical to our goal of remaining a premier university where learning, discovery, and engagement are enhanced by the very spaces in which those goals occur.

“The renovated space will enhance the learning environment and enable students to visualize the rewarding careers in agriculture that await them,” he added.

Design of the space is underway, with construction planned for 2017.

Turner Hall is named for Jonathan Baldwin Turner who was instrumental in establishing the University of Illinois and the Morrill Act, which created land grant universities. The Turner Hall Transformation Project is renovating all teaching laboratories and classrooms in the building. The project has met over 80 percent of its fundraising goal of $5 million. These private gifts help leverage campus-based funding, now totaling an additional $16 million, bringing the total investment in Turner Hall classroom/teaching lab renovations to $21 million.