College of ACES
College News

Agricultural robot may be ‘game changer’ for crop growers, breeders

Published February 28, 2017

A robot under development at the University of Illinois automates the labor-intensive process of crop phenotyping, enabling scientists to scan crops and match genetic data with the highest-yielding plants. Agricultural and biological engineering professor Girish Chowdhary, right, is working on the $3.1 million project, along with postdoctoral researcher Erkan Kayacan. Read more at the Illinois News Bureau


News Source:

Sharita Forrest

2017 Illinois Performance Tested Bull sale results

Published February 28, 2017

URBANA, Ill. – The Illinois Performance Tested Bull sale was the lead-off event of the 2017 Illinois Beef Expo held on Feb. 23 at the Illinois State Fairgrounds in Springfield, Illinois. The sale averaged $3,400 on 54 lots.

"This sale continues to be one of the best sources for total performance genetics in the Midwest," says Travis Meteer, IPT sale manager. "During the past 49 years, the sale has sold 4,717 bulls valued at over 8.4 million dollars."

There were three breeds represented in the 2017 sale: Angus, Simmental, and Polled Hereford. Meteer says a senior Simmental bull was the top seller, selling for $6,500. The bull, DAF Cadillac Style C4, was sold by Diamond A Farms, from Altamont, Illinois, to Lukach Cattle, Grand Ridge, Illinois.

The top-selling Angus bull was consigned by Kramer Farms, Keith and Brady Kramer. He was the high-indexing Angus bull in the sale. He sold for $5,500 to Chris Bruns, from Carthage, Illinois. Other high sellers included Lot 43 consigned by Osborne Simmentals who sold for $5,300 to Eugene Stufflebeam of Lewistown.

Three Angus bulls tied for the second-high selling Angus bull at $4,700. Lot14 and Lot 18 were consigned by Murphy’s Angus LLP and were selected by Charles Hunt, Oakford, and Lukach Cattle, Grand Ridge, respectively. Evans Angus consigned Lot 31, who also sold for $4,700 to Dusty Farms, Rushville.

Arlyn Rabideau consigned the two high-selling, and also high-indexing, Hereford bulls. Rabideau’s lot 66 brought $3,000 and lot 63 brought $3,000 as well. Travis Hagen selected lot 66. Triple J Farms, Shumway, took home lot 63.

The University of Illinois Extension, U of I Department of Animal Sciences, and consigning breeders sponsored the sale. Also, Vita-Ferm, ABS, Merial, Zoetis 50K, Illinois Angus Association, and Illinois Simmental Association provided industry support, Meteer says.

Producers interested in viewing a breakdown of all the prices can visit the IPT Bull Sale website at Also included on this site are the individual bull prices from the 2017 sale and the numbers and averages from the previous 48 sales.

Seed-stock breeders interested in consigning to the 2018 IPT Bull Sale should contact Travis Meteer at 217-430-7030 or to request a copy of the rules and regulation and nomination form. Nominations need to be made by Dec.15, 2017, for the 2018 sale.

News Source:

Travis Meteer, 217-823-1340

News Writer:

University of Illinois Extension

“Commercial Agriculture in the Tropical Environments” is theme of Third Annual Food Security Symposium

Published February 28, 2017

The theme of the Third Annual Food Security Symposium is  "Commercial Agriculture in Tropical Environments."

The symposium will kick off on Monday, April 3 with a 4 p.m. keynote lecture by Dr. Pedro Sanchez, Research Professor of Tropical Soils, from the University of Florida. A reception will follow. The symposium will continue with a full day of sessions on Tuesday, April 4. The session titles are: Agricultural Intensification in Tropical Environments; Soil and Water; Tropical Agriculture and the Environment: Europe’s Role; and Biodiversity and Climate Change. 


Visit the event page for more details and links for registration to attend in person or view via GoToWebinar.


Late winter nitrogen fertilizer application

Published February 28, 2017

URBANA, Ill. – The unseasonably warm and dry weather this February has prompted some corn growers to begin applying ammonia, according to University of Illinois crop sciences professor Emerson Nafziger.

“While we don’t often have the option to apply this early due to frozen or wet soils, late February and early March is an acceptable time to apply ammonia, as long as we do it carefully,” Nafziger says. “Compared to fall application, late winter application introduces nitrogen a little closer to the time the crop will need it, so it’s slightly safer. Still, a warm, wet spring will mean a lot of nitrate present when plant uptake kicks in. So using a nitrification inhibitor with ammonia applied now makes sense.”

After application, ammonia converts to ammonium, which attaches to negative charges on soil and organic matter, and does not move in the soil. When soils warm up, bacteria begin to convert ammonium to nitrate, which can hitch a ride with water moving through the soil. In this way, nitrate can end up in tile lines and out of the field. This is why it is important to keep nitrogen in its ammonium form as long as possible.

Nafziger says that soil samples taken after ammonia application last fall are showing that soil nitrogen levels held up well through late January. With little rainfall in February, he expects that is still the case.

“Late January samples showed that a little more than half of the nitrogen we recovered following fall application was in the nitrate form, and that this percentage was a little lower where we used an inhibitor. There is less nitrate now than we found a year ago following warm, wet weather at the end of 2015. Nitrogen should stay in the soil as long as the soils stay cool and the weather does not turn unusually wet.

“Some producers prefer to wait to apply ammonia until closer to the time the crop will need it. Having dry soils now increases the chances of having soils dry enough to allow application later,” Nafziger says. “Fertilizer materials that contain nitrate, like UAN solution or urea, should not be applied this early; their application should be close to or after planting. Applying nitrogen close to the time the crop needs it is one of the best ways to limit the potential for loss of nitrogen.”

For more information on this topic, visit Nafziger’s Bulletin post.

Study shows Americanization may be fueling unhealthy eating in Jamaica

Published February 27, 2017

URBANA, Ill. – Previous research has shown that viewing high amounts of media can negatively impact dietary habits, and these unhealthy habits are a driving force behind obesity and its associated health complications. Even though previous research has linked increased TV consumption with unhealthy eating habits, not much research has focused on the impact that media consumption may have on individuals from different cultures.

A study published recently in Child Development by University of Illinois researcher Gail Ferguson, an assistant professor in human development and family studies, explores whether globalization and the spread of U.S. media could be influencing behaviors and eating habits in developing regions.

Part of Ferguson’s work revolves around the concept of remote acculturation, or the way in which youth and families from around the world are internalizing American culture and how this affects their identities and behaviors. Ferguson points out, “If you start to think and act like people in another country, then maybe you’ll start to take on their health behaviors as well.”

Ferguson has since launched remote acculturation research in the Caribbean island of Jamaica, and over the past several years, has found that two out of three adolescents in urban areas of Jamaica identify only with traditional Jamaican culture. However, one in three adolescents identify with both Jamaican and American cultures—essentially “Americanized Jamaicans” as Ferguson calls them, or “Jahmerican” as some youngsters in one of her studies suggested.

With this in mind, Ferguson’s research team set out to determine the extent to which youth and families from developing regions are incorporating American culture into how they think, feel, and behave, and how this may be associated with their health. “We really wanted to know what this looks like for an individual,” says Ferguson. “Would feeling somewhat American be linked to watching more American cable TV, and would this bring along unhealthier eating habits?”

To explore this idea, Ferguson’s team focused on 330 randomly selected adolescents in Jamaica, ranging in age from 11 to 18, and their mothers. The participating families completed questionnaires to gain a sense of how much they identified with and enjoyed Jamaican culture, American culture, or a combination of the two; how much U.S. cable TV they watched every day; and what their eating habits were.

What they found is that adopting a part-American identity was linked to watching more hours of U.S.-produced TV per day, which was then linked to eating more unhealthy foods. Ferguson and her team found that it was more likely that feeling American predicted watching American cable, rather than the other way around. For example, adolescents and mothers in Jamaica who felt more American tended to consume more processed foods, prepackaged meals, sodas, and American-style fast food (some of which are viewed as a status symbol), and the link between their American identification and their unhealthy eating was partially explained by their U.S. cable-viewing habits. Additionally, there was a stronger mother-daughter connection because mothers’ U.S. cable viewing was associated with their daughters’ unhealthy eating but not their sons’.

These results have health implications not just for Jamaica, but also for any developing region where youth and families are heavily exposed to American media and are rapidly becoming remotely acculturated. Ferguson points out that any developing regions could experience the effects of this type of acculturation because both American media and food are easily exportable.

But, she stresses, people shouldn’t seek to avoid other cultures, nor can they. “Globalization is like a current,” Ferguson points out. “You can’t stop it; there is no way to pull anyone out of it, but instead we want to teach people to swim, to hold their own, so that they are not swept away without realizing what is happening.”

Ferguson is taking these research findings and using them to help inform the development and evaluation of the JUS Media? Programme, a food-focused media literacy intervention for families in Jamaica targeting food advertising on U.S. cable that is jointly funded by the Christopher Family Foundation Food and Family Program and the National Institutes of Health. Through this project, Ferguson and other researchers are seeking to implement an effective global family health intervention program in developing regions, starting with Jamaica as a case study. By acknowledging remote acculturation and addressing U.S. media influences in their nutrition intervention, the project has the potential to make a substantial contribution to improving diet and decreasing risk for chronic disease in developing regions.

“Feel American, Watch American, Eat American? Remote Acculturation, TV, and Nutrition among Adolescent-Mother Dyads in Jamaica” is published in Child Development. Additional co-authors of the paper were Henna Muzaffar, visiting research coordinator in food science and human nutritionMaria I. Iturbide, assistant professor in psychology at Humboldt State UniversityHui Chu, assistant professor in psychology at Purdue University, Northwest; and Julie M. Meeks, deputy principal of the University of the West Indies Open Campus.

News Source:

Gail Ferguson, 217-300-0365

News Writer:

Tyler Wolpert

Hog prices outperform expectations

Published February 27, 2017

URBANA, Ill. – The pork industry outlook has experienced a major shift to the upside. Pork producers are pleased to see 2017 hog prices higher than expected. The low point for the industry was in late November when hog prices dropped to near $32 per hundredweight on a live weight basis. According to Purdue University Extension economist Chris Hurt, recent live prices have reached the mid-$50s and have pulled the industry out of deep losses into profitability.

“The leading reason for the more favorable outlook is lower retail pork prices,” Hurt says. “Some have mentioned how strong pork consumption has been this year. One reason for that strength is lower retail pork prices. The ‘law of demand’ says that people will buy more when prices are lower, and retail pork prices have moved lower.”

Retail pork prices peaked in 2014 because of reduced supplies due to the porcine epidemic diarrhea virus and have generally been falling since 2015. In the final quarter of 2016, retail pork prices dropped 26 cents per pound from the same period one year earlier. The downward movement continued in January of this year with retail pork prices down 22 cents per pound from one year earlier.

“Another issue contributing to the extremely low prices for pork producers last fall was the small portion of the retail dollar getting back to producers,” Hurt says. “Another way of saying this is that the margins for the processors and retailers remained substantially higher than normal. As a result, the portion of the retail pork dollar that got back to the producer dropped to 17.5 percent. This was lower than the previous record low of 18.4 percent in the financially tragic final quarter of 1998.”

Data this year are only available for January, but in that month the producer share increased to 22 percent. In cents per pound, the hog producer received 15 cents more per retail pound. That amounts to about $9 per hundredweight higher prices on a live hog. Lower retail prices are moving more pork and the pork producer is getting a higher percentage and a higher total value from the pork being sold.

According to Hurt, for the rest of 2017, there is room for even lower retail prices and a higher percentage of that retail price getting back to the hog producer.

“Probably the biggest opportunity for hog producers is the advent of new processing capacity coming on line in the last half of 2017,” Hurt says. “The added competition for hogs will likely reduce the farm-to-wholesale margins with much of that reduction bid into higher hog prices. In 2016, for example, USDA reported the farm-to-wholesale margin as 70 cents per retail pound compared to 58 cents in 2015. Export demand remains a positive for the 2017 hog price outlook as well. USDA expects a 4 percent increase in exports with little change in imports.

“Pork supplies are not the reason for higher hog prices in 2017,” Hurt continues. “So far this year, pork production has been about 3 percent higher than for the same period last year.”

Live hog prices are now expected to average near $51 for 2017, up from $46 in 2016. Live prices are expected to average in the very high-$40s in the first quarter, then move to the low-to-mid-$50s in the second and third quarters, and then finish the final quarter in the mid-$40s.

Total costs of production for 2017 are expected to be near $50 per live hundredweight, similar to the annual forecast price of hogs. If so, Hurt says this means pork producers will recover full costs of production in 2017. Losses in the first and fourth quarters would be offset by profits in the second and third quarter.

“There has been an overall improvement in prospects for animal and animal product prices since last fall,” Hurt says. “That’s true for beef, pork, and milk markets. The source of that improvement may well be related to the general improvement in the anticipated economic growth rates for the United States. Think of the stock market increases since the election. These increases are largely based on anticipated policy that will stimulate the economy, including tax cuts, infrastructure spending, and reduced regulations.”

Hurt says markets for animal products remain vulnerable to at least three outcomes that could differ from current optimism: 1) The anticipated economic stimulus is not implemented, 2) The strength of the U.S. dollar slows agricultural export sales from anticipated levels, and 3) The United States moves in a direction of more protectionism that increases trade barriers and reduces our agricultural export sales potential.

“Each industry is trying to figure out what the new administration means for them,” Hurt says. “Agriculture incomes are importantly influenced by the domestic economy, by the global economy, by exchange rates, and by trade. Agriculture, like other industries, must take a ‘wait- and-see’ attitude.”


Andres Ham studies impacts of minimum wage in Honduras

Published February 27, 2017

As part of the ACES International Graduate Grants research program, Andrés Ham, a PhD student in Agricultural and Consumer Economics advised by Dr. Kathy Baylis, traveled to Honduras to study the consequences of minimum wage policy in a developing country.

“Minimum wages in developing countries tend to be sizable, are less likely to be rigorously enforced, and labor markets are often segmented into formal and informal sectors with minimum wage policy only covering formal workers. Given that most developing countries implement minimum wage policies, understanding their consequences on labor markets is critical for economic growth, developing effective labor policy, and poverty alleviation,” says Ham.

While in Honduras, Ham consulted with the National Statistics Institute, the Director of Wages in the Ministry of Labor, as well as sources outside the government including employers’ and workers’ organizations, and various other stakeholders.

“Together these viewpoints provided a comprehensive understanding of minimum wages in Honduras from the perspective of government, employers, and workers. This insight allowed me to qualify my results and better explain my findings,” says Ham.

Considering formal and informal sector jobs, Ham’s findings suggest that the costs of increasing minimum wages outweigh the benefits in this developing country. “The policy implication is that setting high minimum wages has detrimental effects on labor markets, well-being, and compliance,” says Ham.

His research was featured in the World Bank’s Development Impact blog (link here:, was shared on social media by the World Economic Forum, and was reported by a local newspaper in Honduras.

The impact of Ham’s work continues:  

“The exposure received by the study prompted the government, employers, and unions to verbally commit towards increased cooperation to help solve some problems with minimum wage policy in Honduras. Currently, I am assisting the Ministry of Labor to help design a formula to measure changes in worker productivity, a key input to decide minimum wage changes. This addresses one of several jointly identified priorities: a systematic way to decide annual increases in minimum wages, improving enforcement, and creating safeguards to mitigate the negative effects from minimum wage hikes,” says Ham.

Ham is one of twelve ACES graduate students who received funding as part of the third round of the Graduate Student International Research Grants Program.

The Office of International Programs is currently accepting proposals for the 2017 program; proposals are due March 6. Click here for more information.