College of ACES
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FAS representative discusses opportunities for trade capacity building in agriculture

Published May 3, 2017
Jocelyn Brown discusses building trade capacity.

As part of the College of ACES International Seminar Series, the Office of International Programs hosted Jocelyn G. Brown, a Deputy Administrator for the Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS), who spoke to students, faculty, and staff about “Trade Capacity Building in Agriculture and Opportunities for Engagement with the FAS.” She was joined by Jim Suits, an International Program Specialist with FAS.

The Foreign Agricultural Service leads the United States Department of Agriculture’s efforts to help developing countries improve their agricultural systems and build their trade capacity. The agency also administers food assistance programs that benefit people in need around the world.

Brown explained, “The FAS links U.S. agriculture to the world to enhance export opportunities and global food security through three strategic pillars: Trade Promotion, Trade Policy, and Trade Capacity Building.”

What exactly is Trade Capacity Building?

Brown defined “trade capacity building” as “technical assistance that results in an improvement in the ability of a beneficiary country to participate in international markets and trade.” She said trade capacity building is “mutually beneficial” because it allows access to broader markets, increased efficiencies, and greater food security.

An explosion in global middle class and their demands for better quality of food and more protein have revolutionized agricultural systems, she said.

“Opportunities exist abroad because the gross domestic product for developing countries is projected to grow at more than double the rate of developed countries,” she said.

To build trade capacity, the FAS has identified five thematic priorities: Post-harvest loss reduction (including food waste), climate-smart agriculture, nutrition, market information systems (improving quality and analysis of data), and compliance with international policies and trade organizations to protect from spread of pests, diseases, and contaminants.

She noted some additional emerging challenges including how to get electricity to farmers in developing countries and the increasing number of displaced people (refugees) in the world and the resulting strain on resources, for example, water resources in Jordan.

FAS uses the best technical skills available, Brown said, to implement its programs to achieve its priorities and address emerging issues. These resources may include universities, like Illinois, international organizations, foreign governments, and consulting firms.

The FAS links with universities for short and long term technical expertise, to implement activities, or innovative applied research, and to train the next generation.

Brown mentioned the following three programs specifically (click titles for more information) as of interest to faculty members: 

Quality Samples Program (QSP)

The QSP enables potential customers around the world to discover the quality and benefits of U.S. agricultural products. The program focuses on processors and manufacturers rather than consumers, and QSP projects should benefit an entire industry or commodity rather than a specific company or product. Projects should focus on developing a new market or promoting a new use for the U.S. product.

Emerging Markets Program (EMP)

The Emerging Markets Program (EMP) helps U.S. organizations promote exports of U.S. agricultural products to countries that have -- or are developing -- market-oriented economies and that have the potential to be viable commercial markets.

Technical Assistance for Specialty Crops (TASC)

The Technical Assistance for Specialty Crops (TASC) program provides funding to U.S. organizations for projects that address sanitary, phytosanitary and technical barriers that prohibit or threaten the export of U.S. specialty crops. Eligible activities include seminars and workshops, study tours, field surveys, pest and disease research, and pre-clearance programs. Eligible crops include all cultivated plants and their products produced in the United States except wheat, feed grains, oilseeds, cotton, rice, peanuts, sugar and tobacco.

A comprehensive list of FAS programs can be found here:

Brown and Suits concluded the presentation by encouraging researchers to reach out to the USDA about their ideas for furthering trade capacity building.

“We greatly value continued and new connections between institutions and researchers, and even if we don’t have funding or a relevant program, we will try to make connections,” Brown said.


U of I professors win prestigious awards in agricultural education

Published May 3, 2017

URBANA, Ill. – Eight professors in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences at the University of Illinois have been recognized as among the best in the nation in agricultural education.

North American Colleges and Teachers of Agriculture, a professional society dedicated to scholarship in teaching and learning in agricultural disciplines, gave its Educator Award to Tony Grift in agricultural and biological engineering; Kari Keating in agricultural leadership and science education; Dan Shike and Phil Cardoso in animal sciences; Brian Ogolsky in human development and family studies; and Yuji Arai and Anthony Yannarell in natural resources and environmental sciences.

On winning the award, Dan Shike, who teaches courses in beef production, management, and evaluation, said, “I am passionate about being an educator and strive to instill the same passion in my students. I am very proud that several former students I have mentored, advised, and instructed have chosen to be educators.”

Brian Ogolsky, who teaches courses on families and relationships added, “For me, helping students overcome obstacles and succeed is the most rewarding experience in academia.”

Kari Keating prepares the next generation of agriculture teachers in the agricultural leadership and science education program. “As someone who focuses on the people-development aspect of agriculture, I am honored and energized to be included,” she said.

Alan Hansen, professor in agricultural and biological engineering, won the NACTA Teaching Scholar Award. Less than 1 percent of NACTA members receive this award, which recognizes special commitment to the society and to agricultural education. Hansen is interested in high-impact learning practices in higher education, and is a strong advocate for global learning opportunities. He leads a summer study-abroad course in South Africa to develop engineering solutions to meet local community needs, such as biomass stoves and flood irrigation systems.

“I tell incoming new students that what you choose to learn outside the classroom is likely to be as important as what you learn inside the classroom,” Hansen said. “I have seen firsthand the value of high-impact learning experiences, such as study abroad, undergraduate research, and participation in student organizations.”     

An awards ceremony will occur during the annual NACTA conference, June 28 through July 1 at Purdue University.

News Source:

Anne Stites, 217-333-3380

Dealing with cool and wet conditions

Published May 2, 2017
flooded field

URBANA, Ill. – April showers and cool temperatures hit Illinois with a vengeance recently, with more to come through the first week of May. Corn and soybean growers are nervously watching the forecast, wondering what the cool, wet weather means for planting and for new seedlings. Emerson Nafziger, professor in the crop sciences department at the University of Illinois, breaks it all down.

Emergence. Before the drop in temperature, corn was emerging within 7 or 8 days of planting. “Although not much corn has been planted since April 26, it will take at least 2 weeks for corn to emerge under current temperatures,” Nafziger says.

Chilling injury. Rain and cool temperatures have raised some concern about “imbibitional chilling injury” that can accompany such conditions. “We don’t think there should be much of this because seeds took up warmer water after planting,” Nafziger notes. “But growers should check seeds when 100 growing degree days (GDD) have accumulated after planting. They should look to see if corn seedlings show any of the corkscrew growth that often goes along with this injury. Soybeans may not show this, but may still fail to emerge.”

Flooding. Nafziger says a larger concern is how seeds and seedlings might be affected by heavy rainfall, especially where standing water has developed. “Seeds will usually not survive the low oxygen levels in saturated soils for more than a few days,” he warns. “They will survive longer in cool soil, because that slows growth and lowers oxygen demand, and also because cool water carries more oxygen into the soil.”

Emerged corn plants can survive flooded soils a little longer, especially with cool and cloudy conditions. But those submerged for more than 4 or 5 days may not survive. Soybean seeds and seedlings typically do not fare as well as corn in flooded soils, Nafziger says, adding that ponded areas in planted fields may need to be replanted.

Nitrogen. The fate of nitrogen fertilizer is another concern. Nitrogen from fall or early spring applications was still present before the rains came, but Nafziger explains that the longer it has been in the soil, the more ammonium-form fertilizer has converted to nitrate. “About 75 percent of fall-applied nitrogen was nitrate in samples taken in mid-April,” he says. Unlike ammonium, nitrate can move with water as it percolates down in the soil. Nitrate can also be lost to denitrification in saturated soils, but that process is slow when soils are cool.

Although growers are concerned about nitrogen leaving the rooting zone, Nafziger cautions it is too early to decide whether to apply extra nitrogen. “Water that runs off the field normally carries little nitrogen if the fertilizer was incorporated or injected, or if it moved into the soil with rainfall before runoff started. Water movement down through the soil in tile-drained fields is not very fast, and a return to drying conditions will further slow this movement.”

A return to warmer, drier conditions will also mean a resumption of mineralization, which will help provide nitrogen to emerging or growing seedlings. “Any ammonia or urea-based fertilizer nitrogen that was applied this spring should still be mostly in the ammonium form, which should remain in the soil after the heavy rain that fell,” Nafziger says.

Bottom line. Growers are itching to get the rest of their crop planted. According to USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service, 37 percent of the corn and 87 percent of the soybeans remain to be planted as of April 30. “Planting is ahead of normal, especially for corn, but progress will be slow this week. The sooner warmer temperatures arrive to dry things out to allow planting and to get the planted crop growing, the better,” Nafziger says.

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

NAFTA trade is important for meat industry

Published May 2, 2017

URBANA, Ill. - The 2016 election cycle created a lot of confusion about the importance and benefits of trade in general. In particular, a good bit of the election year rhetoric focused on trade within the NAFTA trade bloc (United States, Canada and Mexico)

In a recent farmdoc daily article (April 28, 2017), Gary Schnitkey, Kathy Baylis, and Jonathan Coppess highlighted the importance of trade with Canada and Mexico for U.S. corn and soybean farmers, focusing specifically on imports of corn and soybeans by those two countries. However, in addition to examining feed grain and oilseed trade, it’s important to examine meat trade as well, explains Purdue University Extension agricultural economist James Mintert.

“Growth in the trade of animal products has been quite dramatic over the last three decades and U.S. agricultural producers, those engaged in animal agriculture, and those engaged in feed grain and oilseed production, have benefitted,” Mintert says. “In particular, U.S. crop producers have benefitted because the increase in U.S. meat exports has encouraged expansion of U.S. animal agriculture and boosted demand for U.S. produced feed grains and oilseeds.”

To see this more clearly, Mintert says it’s helpful to examine how dramatic the shift has been in U.S. meat exports. In the mid-1980s, U.S. beef exports to all destinations totaled less than 500 million pounds. In 2016, U.S. beef exports were 2.55 billion pounds and are projected to hit 2.7 billion pounds in 2017. Individual country data from USDA indicates that about 12 percent (308 million pounds) of all U.S. beef exports were shipped to Canada in 2016. The U.S. shipped even more beef to Mexico than Canada as beef exports to Mexico totaled 394 million pounds, about 15 percent of all U.S. beef exports, in 2016. Combined, the two NAFTA trading partners absorbed 27 percent of all U.S. beef exports in 2016. Looking at rankings of U.S. beef export customers, Japan (26 percent) was the largest beef export customer and South Korea (18 percent) was the second largest. Mexico and Canada were the third and fourth largest U.S. beef export customers, respectively, in 2016.

In the mid-1980s U.S. pork exports were even smaller than U.S. beef exports, totaling just 129 million pounds. By 2016 U.S. pork exports were more than 40 times as large as in 1985, reaching a total of 5.2 billion pounds. In 2016, approximately one out of five pounds of pork produced in the United States was exported. “And the U.S. pork industry was much larger than it was in 1985—14.7  billion pounds compared to 26.1 billion pounds in 2016, so pork exports were absorbing a much, much larger share of a much larger industry,” Mintert says.

Looking at the individual country data, the largest single customer for U.S. pork in 2016 was Mexico. U.S. pork exports to Mexico totaled 1.6 billion pounds during 2016, which was almost 31 percent of U.S. pork exports. Pork exports to Canada in 2016 totaled 537 million pounds, approximately 10 percent of U.S pork exports. On a combined basis, Mexico and Canada absorbed approximately 41 percent of U.S. pork exports. In comparison, the next largest U.S. pork customer, Japan, received 23 percent of U.S. pork shipments in 2016.

“Growth in poultry exports as a source of demand for an expanding poultry industry has been phenomenal as well,” Mintert says. “In 1985, ready-to-cook exports of chicken and turkeys, as a percentage of production, was less than 3 percent. By 2016 poultry exports were 7.4 billion pounds, approaching 15 percent of total production. And, like pork, this represented an increasing percentage of an industry that had grown much larger over the course of three decades. In 1985 chicken and turkey production, combined, totaled 16.9 billion pounds. By 2016, combined chicken and turkey production was nearly three times as large as it was in 1985, totaling 47.2 billion pounds.”

Examining the individual country trade data reveals that the largest single customer for U.S. poultry exports in 2016 was Mexico followed by Canada. Mexico was the recipient of 21 percent of all U.S. poultry exports in 2016 while Canada was the destination for over 5 percent of U.S. poultry exports. Combined, the two NAFTA trading partners purchased over one-quarter of all U.S. poultry exports in 2016.

“Trade benefits both importers and exporters. This cursory examination of recent U.S. meat trade patterns focused on exports alone, but that is not intended to downplay the value to consumers of increased product choices provided by imports,” Mintert says. “However, this review does make clear how important meat trade has become to U.S. animal agriculture producers and the potential impact a disruption in trade with NAFTA partners Canada and Mexico would have on the U.S. animal agriculture sector and, in turn, producers of feed grains and oilseeds.”

Lush green grass presents nutritional challenges for cattle

Published May 1, 2017
cows in grass

URBANA, Ill. – It is a little counterintuitive: Cattle standing knee-deep in spring grass may not be getting the nutrition they need from the lush young forage.

“During the winter, most cattle are fed a balanced ration of dry forages, grains, and co-products,” says Travis Meteer, University of Illinois Extension beef cattle educator. “Then spring comes along and cattle are put out to grass. While green grass solves certain problems associated with winter feeding – manure, pen maintenance, calf health, and labor demands – it can cause nutritional issues.”

Meteer says spring grass presents three major challenges.

Dry matter. Young grass can be below 25 percent dry matter, making it hard for the cow to consume a sufficient amount to meet energy demands. At 20 percent dry matter, a lactating 1,400-pound cow with average milk would need to consume 138 pounds of fresh grass per day to meet her energy requirement. Higher milking cows will need even more. “In most cases, the cow fills up her rumen between 100 and 125 pounds,” Meteer says. “Physical fill can be a limiter on performance when grazing washy grass.”

Protein/energy balance. Lush forages are often high in protein but have only moderate energy content (fats, sugars, and other carbohydrates). When presented with this type of diet, rumen microbes will break down the excess proteins to produce energy, leading to ammonia byproducts that can enter the bloodstream.

Meteer says excess protein has been well documented by the dairy industry as a detriment to reproductive performance. “Some researchers argue that excess protein is not a problem. I would suggest that producers must have adequate or above-adequate energy in the ration before excess protein is okay. Even then, I would prefer if excess protein was mostly in a rumen undegradable form,” he says.

Meteer notes that protein/energy balance problems may have physical symptoms that producers can watch for. “I have observed cattle panting after a few days feeding on lush, green grass. It was not due to heat stress either; the temperature was in the high 60's. These cattle were panting because they needed more oxygen. Red blood cells carry oxygen to organ cells, and they also carry ammonia away from the cells to the liver. The panting I observed was due to too much ammonia in the system. I challenge you to watch your cattle on lush, green grass.”

Fiber. Low fiber content of immature forages results in very high passage rates and an unsatisfied cow. “It seems odd that cows would be unsatisfied while knee-deep in green grass. However I have observed this several times,” Meteer says. “Cows will readily consume a low level of dry grass hay with lush pasture. This can help the dry matter problem and add fiber.”

While there are many solutions to remedy this short-term problem, the main goal needs to be supplying cattle with a balanced ration. Meteer suggests delaying turnout until grass matures a bit more, supplying palatable, dry-baled forage that is low or moderate in protein (not alfalfa hay), supplementing with grains (not over 0.5 percent of body weight), or grazing only the top one-third of the grass plant.

As a final thought, Meteer says, “Turnout frequently coincides with breeding season. Make sure you are balancing your pasture ration so cows breed-up quickly and don't fall out of your breeding season.”

For more information, subscribe to Meteer’s blog and watch a video discussion of lush green grass, featuring Meteer and Dr. Dan Shike of the Department of Animal Sciences at U of I.

Outstanding accomplishments recognized at ABE Spring Awards Banquet

Published April 27, 2017

URBANA, Ill. - The 2017 ABE Spring Awards Banquet was held Sunday, April 9 at the I-Hotel and Conference Center in Champaign. Faculty, staff, students, and alumni attended the celebration. Christine Ansani and Jacob Vandermyde were the student emcees for the evening. Alan Hansen, Interim Department Head, ABE, and Kim Kidwell, Dean of the College of ACES, gave opening remarks.

Jeremy Ross, ’95 AgE, was recognized as the ABE 2017 Distinguished Alumnus. Ross is the founder and CEO of First-Light USA, a company that designs and manufactures high-end tactical flashlights used primarily within the military and federal law enforcement agencies.

Congratulations to all of our award winners. It is an honor and a privilege to recognize our accomplished students, faculty and alumni! Following is a complete list of the 2017 ABE awards.

John Deere Foundation Minority Student Scholarship– Lydia Tanner

Bernard C. Mathews/Mathews Company Scholarship – Allison Nowak

Steve Eckhoff and Pioneer Hi-Bred International Agricultural Engineering Scholarship – Roberta Toepper

Douglas L. Bosworth Agricultural and Biological Engineering Endowed Scholarship – Zhenwei (Salina) Wu

Loren Bode Memorial Scholarship – Jordan Blake Banks, Jacob Vandermyde

Larry and Lola Huggins Scholarship – Johnathan Finegan

Wendell Bowers Agricultural and Biological Engineering Student Scholarship – Nikou Pishevaresfahani

Bauling/Pershing Memorial Award – Christine Ansani, Alex Brauman, John Henderson, Calli Sebok

E.W. Lehman Award – Dana Brecklin, Adam Kozuszek, Matthew Mote, Rachel Tham

H. Paul Bateman Congeniality Award – Lucia Dunderman, Lane Simpson

Frank B. Lanham Award – Madeline Poole, Camden Yoder

Richard C. and Helen Coddington Design Team Award – Viraj Bagaria, Jon Goebel, Tymon Kukla, Brandon Mills

Ben and Georgeann Jones Undergraduate Student Scholarship – Patrick Dziura, Justin Young

J.A. Weber Outstanding Freshman Award – Aiden Kamber

K.J.T. Ekblaw Outstanding Sophomore Award – Daniela Markaz

C.E. Goering Award for Excellence –Leyton Brown

Robert J. Gustafson Endowed Scholarship – Gabe Stoll

Ryan Tucker McGinn Memorial Award – Lane Simpson

Loren R. Maxey Scholarship – Alex Brockamp

ASABE Central Illinois Section Future Leaders Scholarship – Kara Brockamp

ABE 100 Best Overall Award
1st Place – OMG GMO! – Charles Dochoff, Brad Gorenz, Anne Reardon, Brent Ruan

2nd Place – Hunger Heroes – Emily Gorman, Taylor Peebles, Maddie Poole

3rd Place – Tie – GMOd – Claire Hanrahan, Elisa Kim, Xuhao Meng, Dhun Patel

3rd Place – Tie – The Urbanitor – Kyle Bright, Sarah Gardner, Dan Marshall, Emma Sementi

Club Awards
Illini Pullers Outstanding Member – Tanner Koehne
Illini Pullers New Outstanding Member – Leyton Brown

Teaching Awards
J. Kent Mitchell Teaching Excellence Award – Paul Davidson
Ben and Georgeann Jones Excellence in Teaching Awards – Tony Grift, professor; Jaime Thissen, teaching assistant

Alumni Awards
Distinguished Alumni Award – Jeremy Ross, founder and CEO of First-Light USA

Travel Awards
Philip and Carol Buriak Award – Alex Brockamp


News Source:

Leanne Lucas

Ross recognized with 2017 Distinguished Alumni Award

Published April 26, 2017
Jeremy Ross with Interim Department Head, Alan Hansen

URBANA, Ill. - Jeremy Ross is the recipient of the 2017 Distinguished Alumni award for the Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering. Ross, a 1995 graduate in agricultural mechanization, is the founder and CEO of First-Light USA, a company that designs and manufactures high-end tactical flashlights.

First-Light USA is located in Seymour, Ill., and Ross founded the company in September of 2004. Their products are primarily sold to customers within the military and to federal law enforcement agencies.

“Our lights are standard issue for Army combat medics and combat lifesavers and are widely accepted throughout special operations,” said Ross. “We supply Abrams tank and aviation crews, EOD (explosive ordnance disposal) soldiers, Air Force security forces squadrons, National Guards, and Marine Corps elements.  Since our founding, we’ve delivered over 150,000 lights to the U.S. military.”

In addition, First-Light’s products have gained the favor of the FBI and U.S. Border Patrol and are popular among state and local law enforcement officers as well. “Our lights are extremely versatile, replacing a traditional flashlight, headlamp, and weapon-mounted light with a single device.”   

Ross said budget challenges in the federal government over the last few years encouraged them to find an economical alternative to their most popular flashlight. “We took what was being well-received at a higher price point and came up with a polymer version that runs off simple AA batteries. It has a little less brightness, but a lot of the same functionality as our more expensive offering. It’s turned out to be a good move.”

The next step is to try and broaden their market by bringing their innovative products to the general public, said Ross. “We want to help people work in the dark at a higher level than they do today.”

Although Ross is no long directly involved in the agriculture industry, his life and training in agriculture have enabled him to carry the ag mindset into everything he does. “My background in ag engineering taught me the logical way things work. The ag industry is the most common-sense industry out there,” he said. “And the department at Illinois had a warm, almost family-like feeling to it. I credit men like Loren Bode, Phil Buriak, and Mike Hirschi with that. They really helped some of us shell-shocked, small town kids adapt to a big university.”

Ross and his wife, Sarah, have three children, Mary Grace, William and Rachel. Sarah is also an Illinois graduate and was the Director of Alumni Relations for the College of ACES from 1998 to 2006.

Ross said he and his extended family are in the middle of renovating an 1880 farmhouse on the family farm outside of Tuscola. “We’re really doing this in memory of my grandparents, and also to connect the next generation to the farm. We want it to be a special place for our kids, and eventually their kids, to enjoy.”

The Department is proud to recognize Jeremy Ross, and we congratulate him as the recipient of the 2017 Agricultural and Biological Engineering Distinguished Alumni Award.

News Source:

Leanne Lucas