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Students at two-year colleges and vocational schools more likely to be hungry

Published August 2, 2017
Craig Gundersen

URBANA, Ill. – For the majority of college students, having enough food is not on the list of challenges they face in their education. However, a recent study shows that, for some college students, hunger is definitely one of the problems they face and this can impede their ability to succeed in college.

“Consistent with what most people probably believe intuitively, food insecurity is not a major issue at elite four-year campuses,” says University of Illinois agricultural economist Craig Gundersen. “For example, here at Illinois, the median family income is $109,000 and only 6.1 percent of the entire student body are from the bottom twentieth percentile of national income levels. In fact, over half of the students at U of I come from the top 20 percent. I don’t mean to say that none of the students at U of I has this problem, but it is quite rare.”

This, however, is not a rare problem at two-year colleges and vocational schools, Gundersen says. “The data show students who attend these schools are generally from poorer households. They don’t have to live on campus in dorms with required meal plans in dining halls. In fact, they are more likely to be still living at home with their parents. If their parents are food insecure, then so are they.

“There is also a greater percentage of students at two-year and vocational schools who are going back to school later. They are perhaps 25 years old and already heads of their own households, working to pay for their own tuition as well as their own family’s needs,” Gundersen says.

Gundersen believes the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as the Food Stamp Program) is the best social safety net to combat food insecurity in the United States. And this effort should be extended to college students, especially community college students.

“Nearly one in five two-year college students live in a food-insecure household, but eligibility and take-up rates among college-age students are low,” Gundersen says. “Policy makers may want to consider lowering the minimum number of off-campus work hours that are necessary for otherwise-eligible students to receive SNAP benefits.”

Gundersen says previous studies on this topic surveyed college students visiting food pantries and through voluntary online surveys. Not surprisingly, those studies found much higher percentages of students, as high as 60 percent, being food insecure on four-year campuses.

“With a rigorous study like the one my colleagues and I conducted, the numbers are not as dramatic, but they are more descriptive of what’s actually going on,” Gundersen says. “Some 13 percent of college students at four-year schools are food insecure, which mirrors the national average of the entire population. And 21 percent of students in two-year and vocational schools are food insecure. These data tell a more complete story.”

For this study, Gundersen and his colleagues use data from the October and December supplements to the Current Population Survey. It is a survey conducted by the Census Bureau that gathers information from questionnaires from approximately 60,000 households nationwide. The October supplement includes questions about education and members of the household who are enrolled in school. The December supplement addresses questions about SNAP benefits and food insecurity.

Gundersen adds that people on four-year campuses who are really struggling with food insecurity are not the students. “…it’s the people cleaning up after our students, cooking, and serving food in the dining halls. Those are the people with low incomes who are at severe danger of food insecurity and have high rates of food insecurity.”

The study, “Assessing food insecurity on campus: A national look at food insecurity among America’s college students,” is written by Kristin Blagg, Craig Gundersen, Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach, and James P. Ziliak. It is published online by the Urban Institute. This report was funded in part by the Lumina Foundation and the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

Gundersen is the Soybean Industry Endowed Professor in Agricultural Strategy and professor in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences Department of Agricultural and Consumer Economics at the University of Illinois and a member of the Division of Nutritional Sciences.



Hover flies: Garden warriors

Published August 1, 2017
Hoverfly adult
Hoverfly adult

URBANA, Ill. – Hover flies (aka syrphid flies or flower flies) are likely buzzing about any nectar-producing flower in your garden this summer. These flies, commonly mistaken for bees, are one of the most prolific pollinators in the Illinois garden, according to University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator Kelly Allsup. In addition to their pollinator services, their larvae are voracious meat eaters.

Hover flies are excellent fliers, flying backwards and forwards and hovering over their beloved flowers. Hover flies are yellow and black bee-mimics that feed on pollen, nectar, and honeydew (frass of phloem feeders like aphids). They mimic bees and or wasps for protection against predators such as birds. Allsup says they can be easily distinguished from bees because they are shiny and bees are fuzzy. They can be distinguished from wasps in that they have two wings and wasps have four. Sandy Mason, state Master Gardener coordinator, simplifies it with the saying, “Count the wings. Two wings: fun; four wings: run!”

With many generations per growing season, hover flies are here to stay. The female hover fly will usually lay her eggs on or near aphid colonies and in two to three days the larvae will hatch. “The larva, which is technically a maggot, is muted green, legless, worm-like, and can be found on the undersides of leaves eating aphids, thrips, scale, caterpillars, and mealy bugs,” Allsup says. “These larvae are great garden warriors and can be put in the same category as ladybugs and lacewing larvae in terms of the effectiveness in demolishing an aphid population. The larvae grasp the prey with their jaws, hold them up in the air, suck out their body contents and toss the exoskeleton aside.”

According to Cornell University, the larvae can eat up to 400 aphids. The larvae feed for about seven to ten days before they pupate, which takes about 10 days. “Therefore, if you see an aphid or mealy bug infestation in your garden, be sure to turn over the leaves to look for these beneficial maggots before you spray,” Allsup says. 

The University of Minnesota just released a trial garden report on flowers that attracted pollinators and listed several annuals as excellent additions to lure hover flies to your garden. Zinnias were number one in attracting these fly pollinators, followed by ‘Tangerine Dream’ and ‘Bambino’ marigolds. The list also included Salvia ‘Coral Nymph,’ Rudbeckia ‘Irish Eyes,’ sunflower ‘Lemon Queen,’ and snapdragons as top attractors.

News Source:

Kelly Allsup, 309-663-8306

News Writer:

University of Illinois Extension
Additional Images:
  • Hoverfly larvae

How do dads fit in? Engaging fathers in family-centered early intervention services for children

Published July 31, 2017

URBANA, Ill. - Early intervention services for children with disabilities or developmental delays are focused on being family centered and are ideally conducted in the home setting. Even so, fathers—custodial or noncustodial—are often left out of the process.

Brent McBride, a professor in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies at the University of Illinois wanted to find out how early intervention providers perceive fathers and their role in such services. McBride also wanted to learn about possible barriers, from the providers’ perspective, that keep fathers from being engaged or included in intervention services for their children.

In a study published in the Journal of Early Intervention, McBride found that while therapists or providers see the potential that fathers may have in positively affecting their children’s development, providers are also hesitant to include fathers in intervention services because of significant, perceived barriers.

Ultimately, McBride says he hopes the study will help to break down some of the barriers, and inform future training needs of service providers to better target or include fathers in intervention plans.

“The whole idea of doing this study was to find out from the voices of people working in the field their perceptions of what’s going on. As much as possible, services should be provided in the most naturally occurring environment. For the birth to 3 years population that would be the home setting. And providers want parents to be engaged and to receive those services, not just the child.

“A physical therapist, for example, can do things with the kids, but if you can teach the parents to do the same thing that you’re doing as a PT, the same thing will be replicated when the PT is not there. The whole premise of early intervention is family-centered programming, but that is a misnomer. It’s not family centered, it’s mother-centric programming. We wanted to start unpacking why that is and what are the barriers that limit it,” McBride says.

Early intervention service providers include physical therapists, nutritionists, speech therapists, mental health professionals, and others. When services are not provided in the child’s home setting, McBride says they are provided in child care centers or schools, which is one possible barrier in involving fathers: availability issues due to work schedules.

Research over the last few decades has shown that not only does father involvement have a positive impact on typically developing children, but more recent research shows that father involvement also has a positive impact on children with disabilities or developmental delays and their families.

One reason this is true, McBride explains, is the partnership in sharing in the challenging context of parenting a child with a disability or developmental delay. 

“It’s tough to parent a child with a disability or developmental delay. We know from literature on family functioning and family well-being that mothers bear a disproportionate brunt of the burden of that challenging context. When mothers are raising children with disabilities they tend to be more isolated and experience greater levels of stress and depression. They typically drop out of the workforce, which adds further to their isolation and contributes to their own lack of feeling like a fully functioning, contributing member of the family. When that happens, the quality of the mother’s parenting goes down.

“And we really need optimal parenting because of the challenges the disability is presenting. Anytime you can get men engaged in that process, it is going to have an impact.  Not only will it impact the child, positive engagement—whether that man is the parent, a cousin, extended family member, or a neighbor—has an impact on the child but it also has such a huge impact on the family context, which then helps smooth things out.”

Citing previous research from his lab, McBride adds that the higher the level of engagement men play in parenting tasks, the lower the depression and stress mothers experience. “In that paper we present a very powerful argument for why men can’t be on the sidelines and why they can’t be forgotten about as we think about supporting, because they play such a critical role. When confronted with the challenging parenting contexts, men do change their parenting behaviors. So the stereotype that they will absent themselves from the context is just that, a stereotype.”

In the current study, results from surveys of over 500 early intervention service providers show that the providers predominantly agreed with this; that fathers do play an important role and should be involved in services.

So why aren’t fathers more involved with these services?

McBride says there is a disconnect between perception and reality. Regardless of the type of service they perform, providers affirmed the potential of fathers in such services, but were hesitant to target fathers in these interventions because of several barriers.

Some of the perceived barriers include father absence—whether it was because fathers were at work, disengaged, or noncustodial. Some providers cited traditional gender roles, in that men work and women care for the children, and social norms and societal expectations that mothers (women ) are better equipped to take care of young children’s needs. Some providers don’t believe that fathers understand the developmental processes a child goes through or that they are willing to recognize that their children have a disability.

McBride says that he hopes the results of the study can help inform training of early intervention service providers as to how they can better involve fathers in the process. One example he gives, is specifically writing instructions a father will perform, as opposed to just writing “parents,” in a child’s individualized family service plan, a 6-month plan in which all therapists or providers state goals for the child.

“The idea is to take this information and make recommendations for professional development and training on how to break down some of these barriers. Like the quantitative data suggested, these providers, no matter who they are, whether speech therapist or developmental therapist, they all think that fathers or men can make a difference in the lives of the children.”

The paper, “Father involvement in early intervention: Exploring the gap between service providers’ perceptions and practices,” is published in the Journal of Early Intervention. Co-authors include, Brent A. McBride, Sarah J. Curtiss, Kelly Uchima, Daniel J. Laxman, Rosa M. Santos, Jenna Werglarz-Ward, Wm. Justin Dyer, Laurie M. Jeans, and Justin Kern. The Department of Human Development and Family Studies is in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences at the U of I.

The research was funded in part by a grant from the Institute for Education Sciences of the U.S. Department of Education.

Old-crop soybean consumption and weather

Published July 31, 2017

URBANA, Ill. – Soybean prices continue to reflect weather and crop conditions. The volatility in price movements associated with weather will continue for the next six to eight weeks, according to University of Illinois agricultural economist Todd Hubbs. An initial indicator of price direction will be provided by the USDA reports to be released on August 10.

“USDA’s Drought Monitor, released on July 25, indicated 14 percent of soybean acreage is currently experiencing drought conditions,” Hubbs says. “Large areas of the western Corn Belt and a significant portion of Iowa soybean acres represent the majority of acreage under drought conditions. Portions of Indiana and Ohio are currently experiencing excess moisture issues impacting the soybean yield potential as well. Soybean crop condition ratings moved lower for the week ending July 23. The deterioration in crop conditions in the recent report continues a five-week trend.”

The soybean crop rated in good-to-excellent condition came in at 57 percent, a 4 percent decline from the previous week and 14 percent below last year’s condition report. Illinois’ good-to-excellent ratings declined 8 percent to a total of 57 percent. Nebraska, South Dakota, and Kansas declined by 4 percent. North Dakota, South Dakota, and Indiana have the lowest soybean condition ratings and comprise 20 percent of total planted acreage.

“Declines in good-to-excellent ratings in many southern states provide confirmation to the view that below-trend yield in this year’s soybean crop looks more likely,” Hubbs says. 

The current 6- to 10-day weather outlook indicates lower-than-normal temperatures and the possibility of 1 to 3 inches of rain in the Midwest. “Although the current USDA yield projection for the 2017 crop year is at 48 bushels per acre, the likelihood of reduced soybean yield projections in the August 10 crop production report is increasing,” Hubbs says. “The current USDA yield forecast is based on trend analysis, while the August 10 forecast is based on USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service yield forecasting procedures. The August 10 yield forecast will set the benchmark for the market to evaluate the potential impact of August weather on final yield estimates. Using crop condition ratings from July 23, my yield forecasting model currently projects national soybean yield at 46.6 bushels per acre.”

Hubbs says the USDA may also revise the forecast of use and ending stocks for soybeans during the current marketing year, but the impact on prices will likely be minimal. Current USDA projections for the 2016-17 marketing-year crush sit at 1,900 million bushels. Estimates of monthly soybean crush from the Oilseed Crushings, Production, Consumption and Stocks report through May totaled 1,443 million bushels. On July 17, the National Oilseed Processors Association crush report indicated a June crush of 138.1 million bushels.

“For this marketing year, USDA monthly crush numbers have run approximately 6 percent above NOPA crush report estimates,” Hubbs says. “At this rate, June crush equaled 146.5 million bushels and brought the total crush for the first 10 months of the marketing year to 1,589 million bushels. Crush during the last two months of the marketing year needs to total 311 million bushels to reach the USDA projection, 5.7 percent more than crushed last year over the same period. If the current marketing-year crush pace continues through August, total crush for the year would be approximately 1,885 million bushels, 15 million bushels short of the USDA projection.”

Current USDA soybean export projections for this marketing year are 2,100 million bushels. Cumulative soybean export inspections through July 20 totaled 1,980 million bushels. Through May of this marketing year, Census Bureau exports outpaced soybean export inspections by approximately 40 million bushels. Hubbs says if this pace continued, soybean exports through July 20 totaled 2,020 million bushels. Soybean exports over the next six weeks need to average 13.3 million bushels per week to reach the USDA projection. Soybean export inspections over the previous four weeks averaged 14.9 million bushels. The current pace of exports appears to be on track to meet the USDA projection.

“Following the large price increase in early July, November soybean futures prices have traded in a range between $9.84 and $10.35,” Hubbs says. “Although the potential for a small increase in ending stocks exists, prices will continue to respond to weather and crop conditions. A continued decline in crop condition ratings and a confirmation of lower yields on August 10 may provide the basis for prices moving above recent highs.

“In the short term, weather factors will dominate prices. As we move into the 2017-18 marketing year, weak crush numbers combined with large soybean stocks could provide obstacles to maintaining those large price movements associated with weather. It will depend on the magnitude of yield loss for the 2017 crop year.”






New system could remove two water pollutants from ag fields

Published July 31, 2017
Laura Christianson
Laura Christianson stands near new bioreactor at Dudley Smith Farm.

URBANA, Ill. – Algae blooms in the Gulf of Mexico use up the majority of the oxygen in the water, leading to massive “dead zones” that cannot support fish or other wildlife. The culprit? Nitrate, running off agricultural fields through tile drainage systems. But nitrate is only part of the problem. Algae in freshwater lakes and ponds flourishes when exposed to a different pollutant, phosphorus, and the tiniest amount is enough to trigger a bloom.

Illinois and the 11 other states that send the majority of the water to the Mississippi River set aggressive goals to reduce nitrate and phosphorus pollution in the Gulf of Mexico. To achieve those goals, large point sources of phosphorus, such as wastewater treatment plants, will need to invest in new infrastructure. But new research suggests there could be a role for farmers, as well.

Laura Christianson, assistant professor of water quality in the Department of Crop Sciences at the University of Illinois, is an expert in woodchip bioreactors. She has done extensive work to demonstrate the potential of the woodchip-filled trenches in removing nitrate from tile drainage water in Illinois croplands.

“The woodchips and the nitrate are necessary for the bacteria to complete their life cycles. As they consume the nitrate, it is removed from the water. It’s a biological process,” Christianson explains.

In a recent study, Christianson and several colleagues looked at whether they could also remove phosphorus by adding a special “P-filter” designed to trap the fertilizer-derived pollutant. The team tested two types of industrial waste products in the P-filters: acid mine drainage treatment residual (MDR) and steel slag. Phosphorous binds to elements such as iron, calcium, and aluminum contained in these products, removing it from the water.

Rather than mixing MDR or steel slag with woodchips in one big nitrate- and phosphorus-removing machine, the team placed a separate P-filter upstream or downstream of a lab-scale bioreactor. They ran wastewater from an aquaculture tank through the system and measured the amount of nitrate and phosphorus at various points along the way.

Nitrate removal was consistent, regardless of P-filter type and whether the P-filter was upstream or downstream of the bioreactor. But MDR was far superior as a phosphorus filter. “It removed 80 to 90 percent of the phosphorus at our medium flow rate,” Christianson says. “That was really, really good. Amazing.”

Steel slag, on the other hand, only removed about 25 percent of the phosphorus. “But steel slag is a lot easier to find in the Midwest. And according to the Illinois Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy, we’re only trying to remove 45 percent of the phosphorus we send downstream. Since agriculture is only responsible for half of that, 25 percent would be pretty good,” Christianson says.

The system clearly shows potential, but several unknowns remain. Paired bioreactors and P-filters have yet to be tested in real-world conditions, although a handful have been installed in the United States. Perhaps more importantly, researchers don’t have a good handle on how much phosphorus is running off agricultural fields in tile drainage.

“We suspect our tile drainage in Illinois doesn’t have much phosphorus in it, but we know there is some,” she says. “We’re getting a better handle right now on just how much phosphorus we have.

“We know that phosphorus moves more readily in surface runoff. When you have soil eroding and the water is murky and brown, there’s generally phosphorus attached to the soil. The easy way to sum it up is if you have tile drainage, you should be more concerned about losing nitrate in that water, but if you have hillier land, you should be more concerned about soil erosion and losing phosphorus.”

Christianson will be demonstrating a model woodchip bioreactor at this year’s Agronomy Day at the University of Illinois, on August 17 at 4202 South First Street in Savoy, Illinois.

The article, “Denitrifying woodchip bioreactor and phosphorus filter pairing to minimize pollution swapping,” is published in Water Research. The research was supported by the USDA Agricultural Research Service and the Oklahoma State Agricultural Experiment Station.

Additional Images:
  • Experimental setup

Food banks respond to hunger needs in rural America

Published July 28, 2017
sunset over farmland

URBANA, Ill. – Many images of rural America are food-related—a fresh-baked apple pie cooling on the windowsill, a roadside produce stand brimming with sweet corn and tomatoes, or a Norman Rockwell print showing a family sitting down to dinner. But the reality is that many people in rural America face hunger and don’t always know where their next meal is coming from.

“Just because rural communities are surrounded by fields of corn and soybeans, it doesn’t mean residents can walk by and eat it. It’s not available in that sense. It would be like saying that people living in Silicon Valley must have really great cell phones or that cars are cheaper in Detroit,” says University of Illinois economist Craig Gundersen who studies food insecurity. “We find that food insecurity exists in rural areas just like it does in urban areas.”

Gundersen’s recent research on the subject sheds some light on hunger-relief efforts in rural America. According to his research, Feeding America has a substantial presence in rural communities, providing food assistance through member food banks and the food pantries with which they partner.

“There has been a perception that food pantries are mainly located in urban settings, while rural communities are isolated places where food assistance is not being provided to people in need. We didn’t find that to be true. In fact, we find that, based on certain measures, food banks are doing a great job at reaching rural areas,” Gundersen says.

This research combined data from two of Feeding America’s studies: county-level food-insecurity rates from Map the Meal Gap, and information about the programs that provide charitable food assistance across the country from Hunger in America.

“Due to the work of Map the Meal Gap, many food banks have become more cognizant of needs in their area and have been reaching out to fill the need. Hunger in America helps tell the story of that reach. They’ve been doing a lot of novel things with mobile food pantries, for example,” he says.

Does this report mean we can sit back and relax knowing that people in rural America are getting what they need? Gundersen says, “No.” Meeting the need is not as easy as simply making food available, especially in rural areas where long distances and transportation barriers can keep some from accessing such services. He also stresses the continued need for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as the Food Stamp Program).

“This is still an urgent situation. The most critical social safety net against hunger in the United States continues to be SNAP. We need to maintain its effectiveness. Another key component of our safety net is the work done by Feeding America. They have a limited amount of food and face challenges. We did this study to better understand the need in rural counties and the extent to which services are offered in rural areas.

“Federal programs like SNAP and charitable programs like those operated across the Feeding America network provide critical resources to food-insecure people in rural areas,” Gundersen says, “Despite this, the social and economic conditions in these areas have not improved as much as they have in other parts of the country. If they were, we wouldn’t have, by the most recent count, more than 42 million people who are food insecure nationwide.”

The study, “Food insecurity across the rural-urban divide: Are counties in need being reached by charitable food assistance?” is written by Craig Gundersen, Adam Dewey, Monica Hake, Emily Engelhard, and Amy S. Crumbaugh. It is published in The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science.

Gundersen is the Soybean Industry Endowed Professor in Agricultural Strategy and professor in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences Department of Agricultural and Consumer Economics at the University of Illinois.