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Grad students in monogastric nutrition at U of I make the most of international opportunities

Published December 22, 2014

URBANA, Ill. - Hans H. Stein, professor of animal sciences at the University of Illinois, knows the value of overseas travel for study and professional development.

"I like to say that there are two kinds of graduate students in the Stein lab: those who have traveled abroad, and those who will travel outside the country," Stein said. "The reason international experiences are so important is that all our students after graduation will get jobs where they either will be travelling abroad or they will be doing business with people from abroad.

“An important part of graduate education is to prepare students for the challenges they will encounter after graduation and there is no better way to do that than to provide international opportunities for the students,” he added.

This year, four students from Stein’s lab had the opportunity to travel outside of the United States.

Kelly Sotak-Peper, a doctoral candidate, spent the summer conducting an experiment on metabolizable energy in soybean meal fed to broiler chicks at the University of Los Baños, the Philippines.

Though the experiment went well, it wasn't entirely without challenges. "On the last day of the study, I wasn't able to make it to the farm because Typhoon Glenda arrived and knocked down some trees that got in the way," Sotak-Peper said. Fortunately the farm research crew was able to get there by motorcycle and collect the samples she needed to complete her experiment.

Sotak-Peper also gave four presentations about soybean meal at the 20th Southeast Asian Feed Technology and Nutrition Workshop in Manila in August.

In April, doctoral student Caroline González-Vega received the Wilson G. Pond International Travel Award from the American Society of Animal Science. She used the funding from that award to travel to the annual meeting of the European Federation of Animal Science (EAAP) in Copenhagen in August, where she gave a presentation about her research on calcium digestibility in pigs.

González-Vega also visited the United Kingdom and the Netherlands, where she gave presentations at feed companies AB Vista and Agrifirm.

"I feel like you grow every time you travel. You learn something new, and that's what I want," she said. "I'm so happy that my Ph.D. program doesn’t just involve sitting in the office or in the lab or on the farm, but that I get a chance to grow as a person and as a professional. I'm so thankful Dr. Stein supported me with this opportunity. My goal was only to go to the EAAP, but he opened up more doors to me."

Another doctoral candidate in the Stein Lab, Diego Navarro, also attended the EAAP conference in Copenhagen this summer, where he gave a presentation on amino acid digestibility and energy concentration in soybean and rapeseed products fed to pigs.

Prior to the EAAP conference, Navarro went to Horsens, Denmark to give a presentation on the digestibility of soy products in pigs at the Hamlet Protein company. Not only were Hamlet employees on hand to hear the talk, but they invited some of their customers – and some of their competitors.

Navarro also traveled to Aarhus, where he met up with Niels Geertsen, who was a visiting scholar in the Stein lab in 2013-2014.

Oscar Rojas was one of three Young Scholars selected by the Spanish Foundation for the Development of Animal Nutrition (FEDNA) to receive an all-expenses-paid trip to present their research at the annual FEDNA meeting in November. The FEDNA meeting is the biggest conference on animal nutrition in Spain, and is attended by people from all over Europe. It is also an opportunity for nutritionists, producers, and professors to give input on the FEDNA tables, the Spanish version of the NRC tables.

While in Spain, Rojas visited former Stein lab visiting scholar Pilar Guzmán. He met with Guzmán's professor, Gonzalo G. Mateos, and members of his lab. He said that meeting new people was the highlight of his trip.

"Every time Dr. Stein gives us the opportunity to go somewhere, we have the chance to learn things outside of the U.S. system and meet new people,” Rojas said. “I had the chance to meet with Dr. Mateos' lab, so I met people from South America, Pakistan, Iraq, and Iran. I think that's the most important thing.”

Research in obesity and weight gain prevention: Identifying the X-factors

Published December 19, 2014
Dr. Shelly Nickols-Richardson
Dr. Shelly Nickols-Richardson

Caloric reduction, or taking in less energy than typically consumed, is a weight-loss strategy that is essentially guaranteed to work in the short term. But in the long term, this singular approach is impractical. Sharon M. (Shelly) Nickols-Richardson, Department Head and Professor in the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, notes that dietary interventions that only restrict caloric intake for body weight loss are “monumentally ineffective” because within three to five years, most adults return to their previous weight (or perhaps worse, move to a higher weight). In response, Dr. Nickols-Richardson’s approach to obesity and weight management research moves beyond a sole emphasis on diet to incorporate other factors that, in combination with diet, can lead to positive health outcomes. More than just diet matters, in Dr. Nickols-Richardson’s perspective; it is ‘diet + x’, where ‘x’ represents psychosocial and personal variables that interact with diet to impact obesity and weight management. Hunting for influential x-factors is only the first step; once identified, the next step in research is to understand how these variables can be adapted to reduce body fat, lower obesity, and improve the overall clinical picture of human health. With 67 to 75% of the U.S. population classified as overweight or obese, and thus susceptible to numerous obesity-related diseases, research that addresses obesity and weight gain prevention is critical to the nation’s health.

The goal of Dr. Nickols-Richardson’s research program is to identify determinants of obesity prevention and body weight regulation across the life span. By identifying optimal food intake and physical activity patterns that promote healthy body weight regulation, chronic diseases, ranging from metabolic syndrome to osteoporosis, can be reduced or prevented. In fact, it was Dr. Nickols-Richardson’s early research on osteoporosis that led to her interest in obesity research. The widespread notion that higher body mass was equated with better bone density did not hold true across all individuals with excess fat mass. Understanding these unusual findings led to early studies on weight loss and bone health in overweight and obese women. Dietary patterns, such as incarnations of the popular low-carbohydrate diets, can impact both osteoporosis and body weight and not always in a positive manner. As Dr. Nickols-Richardson was drawn further into obesity and weight regulation research, the influence of other factors (e.g., self-efficacy, self-regulation, habits, family, social support, internal motivation, near environment, food policy) on diet became increasingly apparent. Dr. Nickols-Richardson employs multiple theories of behavioral change – such as Social Cognitive Theory, the Theory of Planned Behavior, and the Health Belief Model – to explore multiple x-factors influencing weight management. Recognition of Dr. Nickols-Richardson’s research program is reflected her move from an Assistant Professor position at Virginia Tech to Associate Professor at both Virginia Tech and Penn State, then to Professor at Penn State and now to Professor and Department Head at the University of Illinois. Along the way, Dr. Nickols-Richardson has earned a variety of honors, such as the Emily Quinn Pou Professional Achievement Award from the University of Georgia. She has contributed to several committees and activities for federal organizations, including the Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine, U. S. Department of Defense’s American Institute of Biological Sciences, and the United States Department of Agriculture’s 2010 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee.

Dr. Nickols-Richardson’s research program has identified a number of x-factors influencing weight management – including nutrition education, sleep, culinary skills, consumption of snacks, and online resources. Surprising results from her latest study (along with her graduate student Catherine Metzgar) indicate that being accountable to others and social support are important factors in maintaining weight loss – a conclusion that stands in contrast to the common perceptions among popular weight loss program that personal accountability is sufficient for weight management. Also surprising are Dr. Nickols-Richardson’s future research plans. Rather than study weight loss in obese individuals, she will study weight gain prevention strategies in people who have never been overweight or obese and how to prevent further weight gain in individuals with higher body mass. Hidden within this research may be the x-factor(s) critical to obesity reduction and weight management for everyone.

More about Dr. Nickols-Richardson’s research can be found here

Related Links:

Shelly Nickols-Richardson Faculty Directory Page
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  • Dr. Shelly Nickols-Richardson

Orange and blue football jocks go green

Published December 18, 2014
plastic water bottle

URBANA, Ill. –When football players train, they consume a lot of bottled water and protein drinks. In fact, it is estimated that the 115-member University of Illinois football team consumes as many as 10,350 cans and bottles in one semester—about 3,450 of those in the weight room alone. That’s a lot of empty bottles. Due to the efforts of a class project, rather than settling in at a landfill, many of those bottles are now being recycled.

Four U of I students decided to tackle recycling in just one of the sports facilities for their final project in an environmental sciences course in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences. “Students in the class learn about how to create organizational change and are charged to make something happen in the community,” said course instructor Ming Kuo.

With 115 football players consuming three or four bottles of water or sports drinks during each training session, the students believed that targeting this relatively small population could make a sizeable recycling difference.

“The Division of Intercollegiate Athletics at the U of I is a separate entity,” explained graduate student Meagan O’Grady. “Although there’s optional game day recycling at the football stadium and other recycling programs on campus, there wasn’t a program in place in the locker rooms or the weight room.” O’Grady also works as an athletic trainer for the training room, making her a natural liaison with both a personal connection and stake in the success of the project.

A bit of bureaucracy was one of the environmental team’s first obstacles – and a standard barrier to organizational change. “We contacted a number of different people to enlist support for the project,” said Xin Sun. “Our best contact was Freddie Walker. He’s the associate football strength and conditioning coach. We weren’t allowed to have direct contact with the football players so we relied on Freddie to convey information to them about the project and encourage the players to recycle.”

O’Grady said that Walker wanted to see the recycling project succeed so they knew they could count on him to give regular reminders to the football team.

Lack of funds for fancy recycling bins didn’t stop them. “At first, we got a bid for $152.98 to purchase one special recycling bin — way out of our budget,” said Chinedu Nwoko. “But we learned that there were more than enough trash bins already in the weight room so we repurposed a couple of those with blue recycle liners and special signs.”

Probably one of the more significant problems the students encountered was that because they started the project eight weeks into the semester, habits—which are hard to change—had already been established. Previously only all-purpose trash containers had been in the weight room so the players were accustomed to throwing all of their trash in the same bin rather than separating it.

Kuo complimented the students on their attention to determining the best location for the recycle bins and signs. “They had to think about where players are when they finish the drink because that’s the most convenient place to throw away the empty bottle,” Kuo said. “That’s human nature. They’re not likely to carry the empty bottle to another room.”

O’Grady said that they also had to move the recycle-only bin farther from the water cooler with its paper cups.

“Even though the bin was directly under the “plastics only” recycling sign, the environment was telling the players to throw their paper cups in the closest bin to the cooler,” Kuo said. When the group moved the recycle bin and sign away from the cooler, the new proximity helped reinforce the new recycling behavior.

O’Grady said she hopes this project provided what was needed to motivate more recycling in the athletic facilities.

Kuo said that O’Grady’s sentiment is one she hears frequently from the students in this particular environmental class. “They say that through these class projects, they’ve not only learned about sustainability in organizations but left a legacy in their time here — making the U of I just a little bit better than when they arrived.”


2015 U of I Corn and Soybean Classics agenda announced

Published December 15, 2014

URBANA, Ill. – Registration is now open for the 2015 University of Illinois Corn and Soybean Classics.

“We look forward to welcoming back many who have attended one or more of our previous meetings and extend a warm welcome to those who will attend for the first time,” said Aaron Hager, a U of I associate professor of weed science.

The program, which runs from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at various dates and locations throughout January 2015, will feature eight presentations that emphasize crop production, pest management, economics, and the interactions among them.

Market updates will be provided throughout the day, and communication between speakers and participants is encouraged. Question and answer sessions are scheduled for both morning and afternoon sessions. 

The dates and meeting locations for the 2014 Corn & Soybean Classics are:

  • Wednesday, Jan. 7 - Peoria Par-A-Dice Hotel
  • Thursday, Jan. 8  - Moline iWireless Center
  • Friday, Jan. 9  -  Malta Kishwaukee College
  • Monday, Jan. 12  -  Springfield Crowne Plaza
  • Tuesday, Jan. 13  -  Champaign I Hotel and Conference Center
  • Wednesday, Jan. 14  -  Mt. Vernon Holiday Inn

The following list of speakers applies to each conference date. Travel schedules may require a change in the order of speakers. Program speakers and topics of discussion include:

  • Jim Angel - Weather conditions in 2014 and the outlook for 2015
  • Richard Cooke - Optimizing drainage systems to improve yields and water quality
  • Gary Schnitkey - Crop economic outlook and responses to that outlook
  • Mike Gray - Inputs and insect management: Considerations for 2015
  • Carl Bradley - Getting to know the foliar diseases of corn
  • Emerson Nafziger - Nitrogen on corn
  • Aaron Hager - The best laid plans for weeds by man sometimes go awry
  • Scott Bretthauer - Evaluating drift reduction technologies for making applications of dicamba and glyphosate

A noon lunch and a proceedings booklet containing synopses of all presentations will be provided to each registrant. Registrations received Dec. 6 – 19 and all on-site registrations are $75.00.

Register for the 2014 University of Illinois Corn and Soybean Classics at

For more information call 1-800-321-1296 or 217-333-4424.

Corn price strength continues

Published December 15, 2014

URBANA, Ill. – The March 2015 corn futures traded to a high of $4.115 on Dec.15, the highest level since July 10 and 80 cents above the low reached on Oct. 1. The average spot cash price at South-Central Illinois elevators was reported at $3.785 on Dec. 12, $1.01 above the low on Oct. 1.

According to University of Illinois agricultural economist Darrel Good, a number of factors have contributed to the strength in corn prices over the past six weeks. First, the USDA’s October and November production forecasts were well below the expectation of nearly 15 billion bushels that was being widely discussed in early October.  A second supportive factor comes from prospects for corn consumption that have improved modestly since September. The USDA now projects 2014-15 marketing-year corn consumption at 13.67 billion bushels, 65 million bushels above the September projection. The recent pace of consumption in some categories, however, has been above the average rate projected for the year. That pace has contributed to the post-harvest strength in both futures prices and basis levels.

“Domestic ethanol production during the first quarter of the marketing year was about 5 percent larger than in the same quarter last year, compared to the 0.3 percent increase for the year implied by the USDA forecast of corn consumption for ethanol production,” Good said. “Ethanol production remained large during very early December, reported at a record 290.5 million gallons for the week that ended Dec. 5. While a continuation of sharply lower crude oil and gasoline prices might eventually slow the pace of U.S. ethanol exports, domestic ethanol consumption will remain well supported and ethanol production is expected to remain large well into the second quarter of the corn marketing year,” he said.

According to Good, the pace of export inspections remains below the weekly average rate needed to reach the USDA’s projection of 1.75 billion bushels for the year. “Some have argued that the pace of corn exports has suffered due to record-large weekly soybean exports that have tied up export infrastructure,” Good said. “Soybean export inspections averaged 93 million bushels per week for the seven weeks that ended Dec. 4. Corn export inspection averaged only 22 million bushels per week during that period. If the large soybean exports explain the slow pace of corn shipments, corn shipments should begin to accelerate as soybean exports slow. The expectation for a more rapid pace of corn exports is supported by the recent level of new export sales. Those new sales averaged 39 million bushels per week during the four weeks that ended Dec. 4 and shipments plus outstanding sales now account for 53 percent of the USDA’s export projection for the year. New sales need to average only 21 million bushels per week for total export commitments to reach the projected 1.75 billion bushels,” he said.

Good said that the pace of corn consumption for ethanol production and the magnitude of export sales suggest that consumption for the year in those categories will reach, or perhaps exceed, the USDA projections. Substantial uncertainty about the magnitude of feed and residual use of corn will persist until the release of the USDA Grain Stocks report on Jan. 12. 

A third factor that may have contributed to the more recent strength in corn prices is speculation that the USDA’s production estimate, to be released on Jan.12, 2015, may be smaller than the current forecast of 14.407 billion bushels.

“Expectations of a smaller production forecast reflect modest yields reported for late-harvested corn in parts of Iowa and the northern Corn Belt,” Good explained. “In addition, the corn market is revisiting the issue of the magnitude of planted and harvested acreage of corn this year. Questions about the accuracy of the current USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) forecasts of planted and harvested acreage stem from the small corn acreage relative to NASS acreage forecasts that had been reported to the Farm Service Agency (FSA) through November,” he said.

Today, FSA released an updated report of total planted acreage of corn that has been certified by producers. That report showed corn acreage of 86.3 million acres, only 443,000 more than reported in November and 4.6 million less than the current NASS estimate of 90.885 million acres.

“It should be expected that the difference will eventually narrow to a bit less than three million acres,” Good said. “If the NASS harvested-acreage estimate is reduced by 1.6 million acres next month, with no change in the yield estimate, the 2014 production estimate would decline by 277 million bushels.

“The Jan. 12 USDA stocks and production estimates will settle much of the uncertainty about 2014-15 marketing-year corn supplies,” Good said. “For now, corn prices are expected to remain firm to slightly higher.”


2015 Perennial Plant of the Year Geranium x cantabrigiense ‘Biokovo’

Published December 15, 2014
Photo by Todd Boland

URBANA, Ill. - The Perennial Plant Association membership has voted, and the 2015 Perennial Plant of the Year is Geranium x cantabrigiense ‘Biokovo’. 

“That is a big name for this excellent groundcover-type perennial that only reaches 6 to 10 inches high,” said Martha Smith, a University of Illinois Extension educator.

’Biokovo’ is a cultivar of Cambridge Geranium and is a naturally occurring hybrid found in the Biokovo Mountains of the Dalmatia region of present-day Croatia. 

Blooming in late spring, ‘Biokovo’ has delightful masses of five-petaled white flowers, that are about 3/4 inch diameter, and are tinged pink at the base of each petal and have darker pink center stamens.

“The overall effect is that of a blushing pink geranium,” Smith said. “An interesting attraction is the flower ‘bud’ is somewhat inflated as it is actually made up of the sepals, which are redder than the petals. When the flower opens, the lightly tinged pink flowers provide a handsome contrast to the sepals and stamens.”

She added that the aromatic foliage has rounded leaf edges, is a medium green color, and is semi-evergreen in most climates. “This geranium is a spreading, rhizomatous plant, meaning it does spread by sending out runners. However, not being a deeply rooted perennial, removal is not strenuous. Best garden placement is as a ground cover or in the front of the border.  It also does well in rock gardens,” Smith noted.

‘Biokovo’ does well in average, medium, well-drained soil in full sun to part shade. Smith said it is easy to grow and only requires deadheading (removing old flowers) to keep it looking good. “It forms an attractive mound that offers scarlet and orange fall colors to your garden. Cut away any dead foliage in the spring and ‘Biokovo’ is ready for the garden season,” she said.

Plant ‘Biokovo’ next to Japanese painted fern. Pick up color echoes between the pink flowers and maroon foliage tones that contrast with the silver streaks in the fern fronds. Smith also noted that this flower pairs nicely with late-spring blooming Penstemon such as ‘Prairie Dusk’ with clear purple flowers or ‘Pink Rock Candy,’ offering bright pink flowers on compact stems.

News Source:

Martha A. Smith

News Writer:

University of Illinois Extension

Cultural practices in the dormant season reduce disease in apple trees

Published December 12, 2014

URBANA, Ill. - Apple trees are susceptible to a number of disease problems that can affect fruit quality and the tree’s health. Part of successful apple production includes continued good management practices even after the crop has been harvested, said University of Illinois Extension educator Elizabeth Wahle. 

“Because some pests overwinter on fruit trees, one of the best times to manage these pests is during winter when the trees are dormant—after leaves fall but before visible growth in the spring,” Wahle said.  

One key management practice during the dormant season is sanitation to remove and destroy mummified fruit on the tree and diseased fruit and leaves from the ground. Apple scab is a good example of a disease that overwinters in infected leaves and fruit on the ground and if left in place can serve as a source for tree reinfection the following spring. “By simply removing and destroying all fallen infected leaves and apples, early-season scab infection the following spring can be greatly reduced. Another component of sanitation is to prune out dead, diseased, and broken branches,” Wahle said.

Bitter rot, black rot, and white rot are all fungal diseases that can survive season to season on mummified apples just like apple scab but also in cankers on the tree. “By removing these over-wintering sources of inoculum, early season infection can be greatly reduced,” she said.

Fire blight is a bacterial disease that can result in significant injury in certain apple cultivars like Jonathan, Braeburn, Fuji, and Gala. The most obvious symptom of a fire blight “strike” is flagging or wilting of the shoot tip accompanied by black or brown discoloration of the twig and leaves.

Because the bacteria overwinter in living tissues at the margins of cankers, pruning cuts made at least 6 inches below the last visible point of infection during the dormant season will remove a significant amount of primary inoculum.

News Writer:

University of Illinois Extension

Tips for planning next year’s vegetable garden

Published December 11, 2014

URBANA, Ill. - It’s always a good idea to have a plan before you start digging up your yard, said a University of Illinois horticulture educator.

“Sometimes a location seems like the perfect site for a garden until you start digging and find the soil is like concrete,” said Chris Enroth. “Or you start growing and realize the water supply is way out of reach. Now you’re hauling buckets of water!”

Enroth suggested four basic items that will help in having a more successful garden next season.

Soil - A very common item that is overlooked by many beginner and experienced gardeners alike is soil health and fertility, he said. Most homeowners rely solely on store-bought fertilizers for their plants’ nutrition with little worry about soil health or the actual nutrient composition of their soil.

So how do we give our soil a checkup?

“If you are serious about growing good vegetables, you need to know the nutrient composition and basic properties of your soil,” Enroth explained. “A soil test is a way to find that out. Collect samples of soil from your proposed gardening sites, mix them together and bag them up to be sent to a nearby soil testing laboratory. If you would like to compare two different garden locations, in the same manner take samples from each location, but do not mix one with the other.Therefore, you can compare the results when you get them back from the lab. Also make sure to specify to the soil lab you are a home vegetable gardener and would like the results tailored to your needs.”

Sun - Most of the summer vegetables we know and love to eat require at least six hours of sunlight per day. That means the garden needs a full-sun location. “Plants feed themselves through photosynthesis, and each plant leaf is a food factory,” Enroth said. “By restricting the amount of light, you lessen the amount of sugars the plant can make for itself, and it will be unable to perform to its optimum capabilities.

“Provided you meet the full-sun minimum of six hours, afternoon shade can be beneficial. Shade late in the day offers a good spot to work during hot summer afternoons, and some of your veggies do like a bit of respite from the sun during the hottest part of the day, especially for gardeners in southern Illinois,” he added.

Water Supply - Hauling water in 90 plus degree weather is hard work. Therefore, you should site your garden so that you don’t have to. Don’t make the mistakes many other gardeners have made. Many vegetable gardeners think that they can supplement with buckets of water, but unless you have a bucket brigade, Enroth said most plants are only watered enough to barely keep them alive.

“Ideally you want some form of permanent irrigation system. I highly recommend some type of drip or soaker hose system. Drip irrigation works great to minimize water lost to evaporation and applies water very slowly so runoff does not occur. Plus, drip irrigation takes a lot of the guesswork out of watering,” Enroth said.

“If possible, investigate harvested water options. By using water harvested in an above- or below-ground cistern, you can save yourself some backache and lower your own potable water usage. Rain barrels are a great notion, but you would need a lot of water storage for a large vegetable garden,” he said.

Tools - Gardening can be a lot like cooking; they both require tools, and companies are out there to sell all kinds of gadgets. “Don’t get suckered by gimmicks,” Enroth warned.

Tools that are popular in the garden include:

  • A sharp shovel – A sharp blade on the end of your shovel is critical to easy digging. Once you have your blade sharpened, you will keep up the habit every year.
  • A pair of pruners – “When I’m outside gardening, my pruners are always in a sheath attached to my belt, notably because I always seem to tear my plants apart when picking their fruit or leaves. Pruners account for a clean cut,” Enroth said.
  • A collinear hoe – This is used for cultivating weeds or slicing them off at the soil line. A collinear hoe is not a digging hoe; it is a hoe that can be used while standing upright and using a sweeping motion to cultivate small weeds. Have a file on hand to keep this blade sharp after use.
  • A soil knife (trowel) – “If you are planting a lot of smaller transplants and your soil is relatively friable, I prefer to use a soil knife” Enroth explained. “It is a pointed blade with a handle. Simply stab the soil, pull it back, drop in the transplant, and remove the knife and firm up the soil around the new plant.”
  • A bucket – Good for storing and moving tools, gathering up plant material, harvesting the fruits of your labor and sitting. Make sure to label which bucket is for harvested vegetables and which one is for carrying manure to the compost pile.
  • A good wheelbarrow – “You never know when you will need to move something heavy to the other side of the yard. And a sturdy wheelbarrow can come in mighty handy. There are also several different types of garden carts on the market that may make maneuvering around the garden a little easier,” Enroth said.

News Source:

Chris Enroth, 309-833-3019

News Writer:

University of Illinois Extension

Collaboration creates online financial planning course for the public

Published December 10, 2014
toy person on play money

Urbana, Ill. – A collaboration between the University of Illinois Department of Agricultural and Consumer Economics and University of Illinois Extension in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences and Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards, Inc. will result in a free online financial planning course that will begin in spring 2015.

Although not designed to replace any portion of the education requirement for CFP® certification, this course (known as a Massive Open Online Course or MOOC) will include basic elements of financial planning as well as provide an introduction to the career of financial planning – and specifically CFP® certification – as a potential career opportunity. The course will feature seven modules that reflect the core elements of financial planning, such as debt management, investments, budgeting, and retirement planning. One of the modules will be devoted to the benefits of becoming a financial planner and how to earn the CFP® certification.

“This partnership between the University of Illinois and CFP Board reflects our commitment to finding ways to educate the public about the values of financial planning and help them with their own financial lives,” said Charles R. Chaffin, CFP Board’s Director of Academic Programs and Initiatives. “At the same time, this free course is a great way for a large number of people to learn more about how they can make financial planning a career.”

In addition to Chaffin, U of I Associate Professor of Agricultural Economics Nicholas D. Paulson and University of Illinois Extension Consumer Economics Educator Kathy Sweedler are developing the course.

“The online course format will allow us to package curriculum in an engaging format and talk about financial issues in a way that’s practical and real-world,” Paulson said. “We will use role playing to bring financial scenarios and decisions to life. The course will also give students guidance and examples of how to manage their money and prepare for their futures.”

The U of I has worked with CFP Board in the past and offers a bachelor’s degree in financial planning. Students study finance and economics as they apply to individuals, households, and small businesses in the course of accumulating and using financial resources. All students who graduate with a degree in financial planning from U of I’s Department of Agricultural and Consumer Economics are eligible to sit for the CFP® certification exam.

The free online course will be open to the general public and will be available through Coursera, an education platform that partners with universities and organizations worldwide to offer courses free of charge.


Branches in the buff

Published December 10, 2014

URBANA, Ill. – It’s winter, and the deciduous trees outside are bare. It’s a perfect time to examine your trees “au naturel”, said Diane Plewa, a University of Illinois Extension diagnostic specialist.

“Because the trees are ‘in the buff,” it’s a great time to look for damage to limbs and branches that become hidden once leaves cover the tree,” she said.

One common problem often seen with oaks is twig galls. These galls appear as round swellings on the branches of affected trees and are caused by a variety of parasitic wasps. There are a number of types of galls, caused by an even greater number of species of tiny wasps. Two very common oak twig galls are horned-oak galls and gouty oak galls, Plewa explained

Galls are tumor-like structures formed from tree tissue. Tiny, non-stinging wasps induce the tree to form the galls, which act as protection for the wasp eggs and developing larvae. While galls may not be aesthetically pleasing, they usually aren’t harmful to healthy, well-established trees, she added.

“The galls can be pruned out of the tree, though that quickly becomes impractical as the tree grows,” Plewa explained. “The general recommendation for oaks infested with galls is to maintain good tree health through watering during dry periods, fertilizing when needed, and responding quickly to other insect or pathogen problems.”

Witch’s brooms are another common problem. A witch’s broom is a section of a branch or stem with a proliferation of slender, closely spaced twigs. This symptom can be seen on both herbaceous and woody hosts and can be caused by a wide variety of pathogens.

In trees, it’s usually seen on sycamore trees and is caused by a pathogenic fungus. This disease, known as anthracnose, is a common disease that affects a wide variety of plants, though it doesn’t always cause witch’s broom in other hosts. On sycamores, anthracnose can also cause lesions on the leaves and cankers on branches.

“Twigs in witch’s brooms tend to be thin and poorly spaced; as a result, they don’t leaf out well and tend to break easily,” Plewa said.  “Much like oak galls, witch’s brooms usually don’t cause much injury to a healthy plant.”

Management of these problems includes sanitation, or the removal of infected plant tissue (in this case, raking and bagging or mowing leaves, and removing twigs affected by the pathogen), and maintaining good tree health.

Plewa pointed out that trunks should be inspected for insect borer holes.

“There are a number of different borers in the state, some native and others invasive,” she said.

“Probably the most (in)famous is the Emerald Ash Borer, an introduced pest that has decimated native ash trees across the Midwest. Emerald Ash Borer (or EAB) produces a distinct, D-shaped hole approximately 1/8 inch in diameter. Other native borers produce larger, O- or oval-shaped holes.”

All American Ash trees should be scouted for EAB, according to Plewa. Additionally, EAB has been tentatively identified on white fringe trees in Ohio, a native tree to the United States. All fringe trees should also be examined for EAB holes.

Some systemic insecticides have been shown to be effective at protecting susceptible trees from EAB. Ideally, treatment is started before the tree is infested with the insect. If caught early, the insecticides can still be used to prolong the life of affected trees. The public can contact their local Extension office or the U of I Plant Clinic for a list of recommended insecticides.

Yellow-bellied sapsucker damage is often seen in winter. These migratory woodpeckers create large holes in trees, usually in evenly spaced lines around a branch or trunk. Initial holes are approximately 1/4 inch in diameter, and they may be enlarged over time. The damage looks dramatic and can negatively impact the health of the plant.

Plewa said hardware cloth or burlap can be wrapped around tree limbs or trunks to protect them against sapsuckers. Sticky bird repellants can also be used on trees to discourage sapsucker activity.

“Examining their naked trees can give owners a better idea of the overall health of the plants,” she said. “This is also an excellent time to prune out dead or damaged limbs, branches that are crossing and rubbing against each other, and branches that attach to the tree at a small angle. So remember:  don’t be a prude; look at your trees nude!”

News Source:

Diane Plewa, 217-300-3441

News Writer:

University of Illinois Extension