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UIUC Agricultural Science Education Seniors Experience Puerto Rican Agriculture

Published May 13, 2015

Seniors from the UIUC Agricultural Science Education Program recently spent a week in Puerto Rico to expand their knowledge of tropical agriculture, Caribbean history and ecology, and the Puerto Rican economy. From May 3 through May 9, Dr. Erica Thieman, accompanied by Mr. Gary Ochs and Dr. Cecilia Suarez, led a study abroad experience for a group of 10 UIUC students as they toured farms, el Yunque National Park, and points of cultural interest on the island of Puerto Rico. Through cooperation with Wanda Perez from the Farm Service Agency (FSA), a division of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), the group toured five farming operations and a coffee processing facility along the southern coast and central mountainous regions. Also included were tours of a university agricultural experiment station, a grain mill, and a university tour. Additionally, students visited an Indigenous Culture Center, beach, and closed out their week with a two-day stay in the rainforest.

Through visiting the farming operations, the group observed and learned about the different approaches producers take in the production of a variety of fruits and vegetables. Producers in Puerto Rico are very diversified and possess a wide range of skills to produce crops requiring vastly different production methods. Bananas and plantains are a large component of Puerto Rican agriculture in the regions visited, as evidenced by every farm producing one or both crops. At the Jose Fabre Laboy farm in Sabana Grande, students visited the fields where bananas, plantains, avocado, and lemons are grown, in addition to observing bananas being harvested and then processed. At the Fabre farm, practices utilized in the production of organic bananas were a focus with legume cover crops in use and special bags impregnated with pepper and garlic place over bananas on the trees to repel pests. While visiting Finca Vicenta, Inc and the associated William Mattei Papavius coffee processing facility in Adjuntas, the group saw coffee tree production integrated with plantains in the central mountainous region of Puerto Rico. A contract farming operation of government-owned land by Fernando Machado having numerous wind turbines in the windy and flat region of Santa Isabel reminded the group of Central Illinois. At this farm, pineapple and papaya were the focus crops; the tour closed out with a treat of freshly harvested and sliced papaya and pineapple. At Fulgencio Rodriguez’s operation, Rico Banana, in Guayanilla, large-scale banana production and processing were observed along with greenhouse production of mint specifically raised for use in the mojito drink. The group finished their tour of producer fincas (farms) with a visit to Erick Torres Calcerrada’s operation, also located in Guayanilla, which is one of the few large-scale producers of Spanish Limes (quenepas) on the island. Erick and his sons also produce hydroponically grown lettuce in greenhouses. Mango, guava, taro root, star-apple, and cherry production were included in the tour of the University of Puerto Rico Agricultural Experiment Station in Juana Diaz where students tried many of the over 150 varieties of mangos, guava, cherries, and star-apples grown on the farm.

A tour of Molinos de Puerto Rico, a grain mill that is a subsidiary of Con-Agra, featured a visit to the harbor. This is where grain arrives and milled products are shipped out via barges going to Miami, FL. Breakfast pastries and lunch were provided at Molinos, both of which included baked goods made fresh by the on staff baker who utilizes a test kitchen to provide directions to bakeries on specific properties of the flours they purchase. The land-grant and agricultural University of Puerto Rico in Mayaguez provided students an opportunity to visit with current students of the University and meet Dean Monroig from the College of Agriculture.  

The Indigenous Ceremonial Center in Tibes was visited for the group to learn more of the history of the inhabitation and settlement of Puerto Rico. Our guide of the ceremonial grounds utilized by the Tainos and Inari peoples shared his knowledge of practices of the early inhabitants of the island specific to the native trees and other plants. The final experience of the trip included a two-night stay at Casa Cubuy Ecolodge in el Yunque National Park, the only rainforest in the U.S. National Parks system. The group went on an approximately 9 mile hike with tour guides who provided historical information on the uses and importance of the rainforest along with a wealth of horticultural information on the plants of the rainforest. The hike included several stops to swim in reservoirs and pools created by waterfalls, with rock climbing of several hundred feet of a waterfall. Students remarked on how interesting it was to see tropical house plants common in greenhouses growing wild and reaching sizes and proportions they did not know were possible of plants like philodendron, ferns, and bromeliads. Students returned from the trip with many photos, a much deeper knowledge of fruit and vegetable production, and lesson plans utilizing information from their experience for the agriscience classrooms they will be teaching in beginning Fall 2015.

Claire Geiger, one of the students who participated in the experience, said, “The trip to Puerto Rico was an amazing opportunity to see different agricultural practices in use. Being immersed in the culture also gave me a better understanding for the reasons they produce the variety of produce they do. During my time here at the University of Illinois, I've learned and researched practices like using nitrogen fixing cover crops and irrigation, but I haven't seen them used in the industry often. This trip provided me the chance to see both implemented in the production of plantains.  We also visited one of the University Research Farms trying different varieties of mangoes and how each variety is marketed to different consumer types based on their needs. What an experience!”



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Debra Korte, 2172448086
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Wetlands continue to reduce nitrates

Published May 12, 2015
grad student working in wetland
U of I graduate student Tyler Groh marking greenhouse gas sampling sites in a wetland on the Embarras River in Illinois.

URBANA, Ill.– Wetlands created 20 years ago between tile-drained agricultural fields and the Embarras River were recently revisited for a new two-year University of Illinois research project. Results show an overall 62 percent nitrate removal rate and little emission of nitrous oxide, a potent greenhouse gas.

“Slowing down the rate of flow of the water by intercepting it in the wetland is what helps to remove the nitrate,” says Mark David, a University of Illinois biogeochemist in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences. “The vegetation that grows in the wetland doesn’t make much of a difference because the grasses don’t take up much nitrogen. It’s just about slowing the water down and allowing the microbes in the sediment to eliminate the nitrate. It goes back into the air as harmless nitrogen gas.”

David was involved with research on these same wetlands from 1994-98 but didn’t take any measurements after that. He has spent much of his career studying the runoff from tile-drained fields and methods to reduce losses of nitrate and phosphorus. The runoff, particularly nitrate, from fields in the upper Mississippi River basin, is believed to be the major cause of the hypoxia in the Gulf of Mexico.

“The USDA requested proposals on the effectiveness of wetlands and woodchip bioreactors to reduce nitrate losses from fields, but was also concerned about greenhouse gas emissions,” says David. Working with graduate student and lead author Tyler Groh, “We found the greenhouse gas emissions were really quite low. Nitrous oxide was not a problem. The other good news is that this research confirms that wetlands really do work to reduce nitrate runoff, and they work long term.”

David says that, along with fertilizer management, cover crops, and bioreactors, wetlands are an integral part of the Illinois Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy. Building a wetland costs about the same as installing a bioreactor. One of the reasons David prefers wetlands to help solve the nitrogen pollution problem is that they work reasonably well in the winter when the water temperatures are low.

What’s the drawback?

“Farmland along the river may be flood prone, but depending upon the landscape, it could be farmable land,” says Lowell Gentry, senior research specialist and co-principal investigator on the project. “In this case, it was pasture so the wetlands didn’t reduce the row-crop acreage, and the landowner was able to use it as hunting grounds. Our project included funds to build new wetlands, but we couldn’t convince anyone to do it. Wetlands have been a hard sell.

“Farmers generally prefer to install bioreactors because they don’t take up much space,” Gentry says. “A wetland requires about 3 to 4 percent of the drainage area. So, for a 100-acre field, you’d need about 4 acres in wetland. Although bioreactors don’t use up much land, they also don’t slow the water enough during high flows. Research on their performance is still underway. Because water tends to be in the wetlands for a much longer time period, they are more effective.”

David says there has been a push from environmental groups for years to build more wetlands to help lower the nitrate levels. There are a few in the Lake Bloomington watershed but not in the Embarras River watershed, even after all this time.

“No one wants to mandate a certain practice—wetlands, bioreactors, cover crops, adjusting the timing of applying fertilizer–all of these things that we know help reduce nutrient loss,” says David. “But, because of this research, we know that wetlands are a long-term nitrate removal method that keeps on working with little greenhouse gas emission. By building a wetland, farmers have an opportunity to make a substantial nitrate reduction in the transport of nitrate from their fields to the Gulf.”

“Nitrogen removal and greenhouse gas emissions from constructed wetlands receiving tile drainage water” is published in the May/June issue of Journal of Environmental Quality. The research was conducted by Tyler Groh, Lowell Gentry, and Mark David. It was partially funded by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture.










Research Findings on Soil Productivity Presented on River Boat Mississippi

Published May 12, 2015
Ken Olson standing near Mississippi river boat
USACE Mississippi docked at New Madrid, MO


On March 23, 2015, Dr. Ken Olson of NRES presented research findings, related to the soil productivity loss as a result of the induced levee breach at the New Madrid floodway, at a Mississippi River Commission (MRC) public hearing. The public hearing was held on USACE boat named the Mississippi and docked at New Madrid, Missouri. Ken presented O'Bryan Ridge gully field damage assessment, provided a statement for the record and distributed reprints of a team published Journal of Soil and Water Conservation article related to permanent soil productivity loss on the 195 acre O'Bryan Ridge gully field (see link). Approximately 90 USACE, MRC, local Drainage District leaders, Senators, Congressmen, Floodway farmers and Mayors from 5 states were in attendance. Dr. Olson recommended that the MRC, USACE and USDA, NRCS sign an agreement to update the soil survey immediately after every levee breach and subsequent flooding event. One hundred and forty Floodway farmers supported by the Missouri AG have filed suit in federal court (case is now in a Washington, D.C. court) claiming soil damages as a result of the 2011 New Madrid floodway use and the US Justice Department is defending the federal government against the soil damage claims.

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Prevent foodborne illness with safe food preservation practices

Published May 12, 2015

URBANA, Ill. - Recent news on the botulism outbreak at a church potluck in Ohio has made us aware that foodborne illness remains a concern. No matter the size of a city or an event, where there is food, there is the risk of foodborne illness. The likely cause of the foodborne botulism outbreak in Ohio has been identified as potato salad made with home-canned potatoes, said a University of Illinois Extension nutrition and wellness educator.

“Botulism, which is caused by the bacterium Clostridium botulinum, and other foodborne-related illnesses remain a concern not only for food manufacturing facilities, but also for those who preserve their own food,” said Diane Reinhold.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the most common cause of foodborne botulism outbreaks in the United States occur from home-canned vegetables. In fact, between 1996 and 2008, there were a reported 48 foodborne botulism outbreaks caused by home-prepared foods with 18 of those outbreaks due to home-canned vegetables. 

Home food preservation has become a growing trend over the past few years motivated by the local foods movement and rising food costs. How popular has it become? The CDC reports that one in five U.S. households is canning their own foods, with a reported 65 percent canning vegetables. “It’s great to see so many people getting into home food preservation,” said Reinhold, a registered dietitian. “However, it is critical that everyone has a good understanding of safe and up-to-date food preservation practices.” 

The general goal of food preservation is to prevent food spoilage. This is done by controlling the conditions that encourage the growth of molds, yeasts, bacteria, and enzyme activity. “Being able to control the conditions during food preservation activities remains an important factor in controlling food spoilage, especially because many microorganisms involved in foodborne illnesses are not visible to the naked eye and food may contain toxins without showing any signs,” stated Reinhold.

“One thing many people do not realize is that low-acid foods, such as asparagus, green beans, and carrots (or potatoes in this case), must be processed using a pressure canner. Low-acid foods must be heated to a temperature of 240 degrees Fahrenheit and held there for a specified amount of time. This time will depend on the type of food being processed and the recipe being used. The combination of high temperature and prolonged processing time destroys the bacteria and the toxic bacterial spores that are produced by Clostridium botulinum,” Reinhold explained.

It was once thought that the longer you cooked canned goods before water-bath canning them, the safer the food would be. However, advances in science show that this is no longer the case. When processing low-acidic foods at home, a pressure canner is the only way to safely achieve the intense temperature required to ensure that your food will be safe.

University of Illinois Extension offices will soon offer several food preservation workshops throughout the state. Classes are scheduled to start in mid-May and will run through early July. The two food preservation classes offered will focus on freezing summer produce and water-bath/pressure canning. Participants attending the canning class will have the opportunity to have their pressure canner lids inspected and pressure gauges tested.  For more information on summer food preservation classes, visit or contact your local U of I Extension office.

News Source:

Diane Reinhold

Review of export progress for corn, ethanol, and distillers grains

Published May 11, 2015

URBANA, Ill. – The focus in the corn market has mostly turned to 2015 production prospects and implications for the magnitude of stocks at the end of the 2015-16 marketing year. According to a University of Illinois agricultural economist, the pace of old-crop consumption will determine the magnitude of carryover stocks into the new marketing year. In addition, the magnitude of consumption of corn, ethanol, and distillers grains shed some light on the strength of demand heading into that new year.

What follows is Darrel Good’s review of the recent pace of exports for those three commodities.

The pace of corn exports during the first half of the current marketing year exceeded the pace of a year earlier, but lagged the pace needed to reach the USDA projection of total marketing-year exports. The weekly rate of export inspections, however, accelerated beginning in the last week of February so that cumulative inspections as of May 7, 2015, totaled 1.134 billion bushels. Cumulative Census Bureau export estimates from September 2014 through March 2015 exceeded cumulative export inspections by 59 million bushels. If that margin has persisted, exports through May 7 totaled 1.193 billion bushels. With 16.6 weeks left in the marketing year, an additional 607 million bushels of exports, an average of 36.6 million bushels per week, will be needed to reach the current USDA projection of 1.8 billion bushels for the year.  For the six weeks ended May 7, weekly export inspections averaged 42.8 million bushels per week.

As of April 30, 519 million bushels of U.S. corn have been sold for export but not yet shipped. It appears that additional sales of about 88 million bushels, or about five million bushels per week, will be required in order for total export commitments to reach 1.8 billion bushels. For the five weeks ended April 30, new sales averaged 29.7 million bushels per week. While the export demand for U.S corn for the remainder of the marketing year is uncertain, the recent pace of export inspections and new export sales are certainly supportive of the projection of 1.8 billion bushels for the year.

The U.S. corn market also depends to some degree on the strength of export demand for ethanol and distillers grains. On a corn marketing-year basis, U.S. ethanol exports reached a peak of 1.087 billion gallons in 2011-12, accounting for 8 percent of U.S. production. Exports were exceptionally large that year due to a sharp decline in Brazilian ethanol production resulting from a small supply and high price of sugar. While Canada is the largest market for U.S. ethanol in most years, Brazil was the largest importer in that year. U.S. ethanol exports declined to 554 million gallons in 2012-13 as U.S. ethanol production was limited by the smaller supply and record-high price of corn.  Exports rebounded to 792 million gallons in 2013-14, accounting for 5.6 percent of U.S, ethanol production. Through the first seven months of the current marketing year, the Census Bureau reports cumulative ethanol exports of 540 million gallons, nearly 9 percent more than exported during the same period last year. That increase reflects much larger shipments to Brazil. Exports so far this year have accounted for 6.4 percent of domestic ethanol production. While there is no publicly available information on ethanol export commitments for the remainder of the year, exports are on pace to be the second largest, behind only those of 2011-12.

Since 2010, China has been the largest export market for U.S. distillers grain, with Mexico a distant second. On a corn marketing-year basis, exports of distillers grains reached a peak of 13.3 million tons in 2013-14. Until recently, official estimates of the magnitude of domestic production of distillers grains have not been available. Historical production estimates are based on the USDA estimates of the amount of corn used for ethanol production and assumptions about the average yield of co-products, including distillers grain, per bushel of corn. That rough methodology suggests that distillers exports accounted for about 30 percent of U.S. production during the 2013-14 marketing year. 

Export demand for U.S. distillers grains suffered from late 2014 through early 2015 due to Chinese import restriction. Exports to China averaged about 595 thousand tons per month in May, June, and July 2014. That average dropped to 107 thousand tons from September 2014 through January 2015. Exports recovered to 517 thousand tons in March 2015. As a result of the Chinese import restrictions, U.S. distillers grains exports during the first seven months of the 2014-15 marketing year totaled only 6.67 million tons, 18 percent less than during the same period in the previous year.  Last year, exports were also quite large from May through August. While the pace of exports is recovering, shipments will likely continue to lag those of a year ago into the summer. Large year-over-year increases will be registered beginning in September.

The strength of export demand for U.S corn, ethanol, and distillers grains is not completely revealed by the magnitude of shipments since quantity demanded presumably varies with price. However, the current robust pace of corn and ethanol exports and prospects for further improvement in the pace of distillers grains exports are encouraging. A continuation of modest  corn prices suggests that export quantities will remain large.



Health in Africa

All Day Event
Hawthorne Suites, 101 Trade Center Dr., Champaign

Health in Africa: A Symposium
May 20-22, 2015

Faculty, staff, and students are invited to a 3-day symposium focused on health in Africa and the post-2015 Millennium Development Agenda.

The event will be held from May 20th-22nd, 2015 at The Conference Center at Hawthorn Suites. 101 Trade Center Drive, Champaign, Illinois 61820.

Panelists and presentations on several health topics will be featured at the symposium.

The link to the conference website is here:

Health in Africa Conference in the Illini News:

UN Sustainable Development Knowledge Platform: