College of ACES
College News

Mark McKown
From students to faculty, I was surrounded by individuals who drove me to success, encouraging me to take on experiences within my major to experiences halfway around the globe.
Sullivan, Illinois
As a middle school agricultural science teacher, Mark McKown is always able to try new things. He uses skills he learned in the U of I ag education department to teach two 9-week classes on various agricultural topics. In teaching, he is able to experience the same hands-on learning as his students, and he enjoys being able to interact with students in both formal and informal education settings. He especially emphasizes using his first few years of teaching to reflect on the teaching methods he used and what was most effective in his classroom.
The University of Illinois prepared Mark for his teaching job by fostering a widespread sense of collaboration. He might find himself working with 7th graders on conservation practices one day and alongside U of I Extension county directors the next. Working with others helps him create high-quality, meaningful experiences for his students and community.
While a student at the U of I, Mark was involved in many facets of the College of ACES. He was a member of Agriculture Education Club, Alpha Tau Alpha Illinois Chapter, Field and Furrow Club, Student Advancement Committee, ACES Council, and FarmHouse fraternity. He also got to volunteer as an intern in Cape Town, Africa for an entire summer. In all of these activities, Mark says, the greatest part was the network of people who supported him at every step. 
“From students to faculty, I was surrounded by individuals who drove me to success, encouraging me to take on experiences within my major to experiences halfway around the globe,” Mark says. “Meeting different people and making new connections redefined my future and the goals I was setting for myself.” 
Jennifer Shield
It was obvious that the most important objective was fostering knowledge, and all of the tools I needed to achieve the academic success I wanted as an undergraduate were easily accessible.
Kildeer, Illinois
Food is a very important topic today. People want to know where their food was grown, how livestock was raised and who is growing it; most of all, they are concerned about the safety of products they are eating.
ACES graduate Jennifer Shield deals with safety legalities every day as an associate attorney for Amin Talati & Upadhye. She handles several regulatory, transaction, and litigation matters for the food, dietary supplement, cosmetic, and over-the-counter drug industries. Jennifer says these areas involve very complex issues that have a widespread effect on consumers. 
Her work requires Jennifer to excel in critical thinking, understanding, and manipulating intricate subjects. She must also have a solid foundation of scientific knowledge.
“At the University of Illinois I was constantly asked to apply knowledge I had gained from one class in another,” Jennifer says. “This not only gave me deeper understanding of a concept, it also taught me to start viewing problems in a broader context and helped me master applying knowledge across numerous topics.”
Learning concepts and topics in depth was something she found intriguing. Jennifer says at some schools you can skate through and get a degree, but at U of I, everyone is committed to learning.
“Every professor was an expert, and most were currently working on research,” Jennifer says. “It was obvious that the most important objective was fostering knowledge, and all of the tools I needed to achieve the academic success I wanted as an undergraduate were easily accessible.”
Andy Gusmano
I have grown as a leader and a food scientist, and I have explored various careers in my future industry.
Food Science and Human Nutrition
Andy Gusmano loves science: his favorite high school classes were chemistry and biology. He also loved cooking in his spare time. When looking into college majors, he found that food science fit his two interests together best.
“Most of my inspiration came from watching ‘Good Eats’ on Food Network,” Andy says. “Host Alton Brown would examine food from its science basis and make cooking a science experiment.”
Once Andy made it to the University of Illinois, he loved his food science classes. Rigorous, but fun and enjoyable, they led him to get involved with extracurricular activities in food science and human nutrition to help him prepare for his career. The Association of Food Technologists (AFT) was a great jump start.
“The most meaningful experience that I had in college was with AFT,” Andy says. “I have met university academic professionals, professionals in industry, and students that are curious about food science. I have grown as a leader and a food scientist, and I have explored various careers in my future industry.”
Andy served as president of AFT his senior year, and he has taken away many things away from the group and his leadership role.
“I lead the executive board of AFT to accomplish our goal of fostering the relationship between the food science and human nutrition department, food science students, and the food industry,” Andy says. “In addition, I serve as the external representative of AFT. I spend much of my time communicating with food industry professionals to organize company info sessions. These sessions allow industry professionals an opportunity to recruit food science students, and they let students ask questions and learn more about industry.”

Beef industry dancing to a different drummer this year

Published May 4, 2015

URBANA, Ill. – The beef industry stands alone in 2015 in its continued reduction in supplies available to consumers. The year 2014 was a special year for the animal production industries with record-high farm-level prices for cattle, hogs, broilers, turkeys, milk, and eggs. For 2015, a surprisingly fast expansion of poultry, pork, and milk production will cause lower prices for those commodities. Purdue University Extension economist Chris Hurt says beef stands alone in the continuation toward lower production, but prices remain uncertain.

“In the first four months of this year, beef production was down by 5 percent, with slaughter numbers down 7 percent but market weights up 2 percent,” Hurt said. “The reduction is the result of a beef cow herd that had been in decline from 2006, reaching its low point in 2014. Expansion of the beef cow herd began in the last half of 2014, and current indications are that the expansion continues. Producers can increase cow numbers both by retaining heifers and by keeping older cows for another cycle when they normally would have gone to market. Slaughter of females so far this year indicates producers are doing both. Heifer slaughter last year was down 8 percent. So far this year heifer slaughter remains down 7 percent. Beef cow slaughter in 2014 was down 18 percent and remains down 17 percent so far this year. While these producer behaviors will build the beef cow herd and eventually increase beef production, the impact for this year is to pull down beef production,” Hurt said.

According to Hurt, meat availability per person had fallen by about 20 pounds from 2007 to 2014, but is making a sharp comeback in 2015. Current USDA estimates are that per capita meat availability could surge by nearly nine pounds this year. Chicken and turkey lead the way with over five pounds of increase. Pork adds an impressive increase of nearly four pounds per person. “This means that the meat industry in one year has restored about 45 percent of the lost meat availability from 2007 to 2014,” he said. The impacts of avian influenza will likely reduce poultry meat production in 2015 but are not included here.

The recent Cattle on Feed report from USDA also shows some of the adjustments the beef industry is making. The number of heifers in feedlots as of April 1 was down 10 percent from previous year levels, most likely confirming a high rate of heifer retention for herd expansion.

As a result of record-high calf prices and weak live-cattle futures prices, fewer lightweight calves are moving to feedlots as producers keep those calves on forage diets and background them for longer. The number of calves under 700 pounds entering feedlots in March was down 11 percent, but the number over 800 pounds was up 16 percent. Hurt said 40 percent of all placements in March were older calves that were 800 pounds and higher. Improved pasture conditions in the Central and Southern Plains provides some of the explanation, but there were also reports of calves staying on winter wheat pasture further into the spring this year.

What are the implications for cattle prices this year?

First, a review of the unusual year of 2014, when finished steers averaged a record high $155 per hundredweight.

“The normal seasonal price pattern for finished cattle is to peak in late March or early April, then move lower into mid to late summer, with a rally into the end of the year,” Hurt said. “In 2014, finished steer prices began the year at $140 and pretty much moved higher throughout the year, peaking above $170 in late November. So far this year, finished steers have averaged $161.50 compared with $146 for the same period in 2014.”

Live cattle futures are suggesting a return to a more normal seasonal price pattern this year.

“Peak finished steer prices in 2015 to date came in early April in the mid-$160s and have declined since,” Hurt said. “The futures tone stays weak through summer with prices falling to the middle $140s by the end of summer and then rallying to the low $150s toward the end of the year. With prices so far this year and futures estimates for the remainder of the year, finished steers would average $153, a couple of dollars lower than 2014.”

USDA forecasters in the April 9 World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates (WASDE) report have taken a much more bullish path with $163.50 at the mid-point of their annual estimated range.

Also of note is that USDA analysts increased the potential range of prices as the year progresses, Hurt said. “One reason to increase a price forecast range is because of greater uncertainty. Ultimately, prices may be somewhere between these two. Current high $150s prices could drop to the very low $150s by late summer and recover to the mid-$150s by the end of the year, with annual prices near last year’s $155. One thing seems certain—2014 was an extraordinary year for the animal industries. Consequently, comparing this year’s prices to last year’s prices may bring inherent dangers. But the beef industry is the only one that will not increase production this year and therefore has a reasonable chance of seeing annual price averages near 2014 levels.

Hurt said the wide difference of opinions about cattle prices for the remainder of this year point out the large price risks for cattle finishers.

“Cattle feeders already have record amounts of money invested in the cattle in their feedlots,” Hurt said. “Even with the lowest feed prices in five years, they are vulnerable to weak live cattle prices as the futures market is currently suggesting. Feedlot managers should strive to price calves based on budgets using current futures prices and then should look to hedge those cattle with either futures or put options. If feedlot managers find themselves bidding so much for calves that they have to have a sizable rally in the live cattle futures to cover costs, they may want to rethink buying the calves in the first place,” he said.


Are we exterminating one African elephant by not recognizing two?

Published May 4, 2015
Associate Professor of Animal Sciences Alfred Roca, left, with Research Specialist Yasuko Ishida. Photo by Kathryn Coulter.

URBANA, Ill. - Within the past week, Thailand officials seized seven tons of ivory, representing the slaughter of hundreds of African elephants for illegal trade. While recent reports say that poaching far exceeds population growth, some conservation groups contend that population growth in some regions compensates for poaching losses in others, despite the fact that each area is populated by a different species of African elephant. 

“By not recognizing two species, these organizations may be condemning the African forest elephant to extinction,” said University of Illinois animal sciences professor Alfred Roca, who co-authored the recent literature review, “Elephant Natural History: A Genomic Perspective.” Roca is also a member of the Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology.

“The two African elephants diverged about six million years ago,” said Roca, a leading expert in the genetic differences between the two species. “It's like saying, ‘We increased the lion population, which will more than make up for the fact that tigers are going extinct.’”

To put that six-million-year difference in perspective, humans and chimps diverged about the same time (some experts estimate six to eight million years ago), while humans and Neanderthals split just half to three quarters of a million years ago.

Citing a need to protect hybrids and encompass all populations, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) recognizes one species of African elephant (Loxodonta africana), which is listed as vulnerable. Yet the IUCN goes on to imply that population growth in Eastern and Southern Africa outweighs losses in Central Africa.

Although elephant populations may at present be declining in parts of their range, major populations in Eastern and Southern Africa, accounting for over two-thirds of all known elephants on the continent, have been surveyed, and are currently increasing at an average annual rate of 4.0 percent per annum (Blanc et al., 2005, 2007). As a result, more than 15,000 elephants are estimated to have been recruited into the population in 2006 and, if current rates of increase continue, the number of elephants born in these populations between 2005 and 2010 will be larger than the currently estimated total number of elephants in Central and West Africa combined. In other words, the magnitude of ongoing increases in Southern and Eastern Africa will likely outweigh the magnitude of any likely declines in the other two regions (IUCN Red List account of Loxodonta africana).

“They are not recognizing the forest elephant as a separate species despite all the research that has definitively established this,” said Roca, referring to 15 years of genetic and morphological (physical) studies that have confirmed that there are two species of African elephants, dozens of which are cited in the literature review.  

“Many other conservation groups do not differentiate between the two species,” said Ronald Nowak, author of Walker’s Mammals of the World, which will include the two species in the next edition. “The species are not shown as separate entities on the official United States List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife or on the appendices to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).”

Today experts recognize African savanna elephants, or Loxodonta africana, which are found in Eastern and Southern Africa, and African forest elephants, or Loxodonta cyclotis, which are found in Central and West Africa where poaching pressures are the most severe.

“To my knowledge, all the evidence, now a very large amount, supports two species, and no evidence supports one or more than two species,” said Nick Georgiadis, a co-author of the review and research scientist at the Puget Sound Institute. “And it’s not as if the DNA evidence contradicted prior non-DNA evidence. There never was any objective evidence supporting one species, just a few subjective preferences that became dogma.”

The review’s authors argue that the two species of African elephants must be “treated as distinct units for conservation” and go on to discuss how genetics can influence conservation, including the use of DNA forensics to trace the origin of confiscated ivory.

More than 20,000 African elephants are killed every year for their ivory, according to an analysis by CITES MIKE Program (Monitoring the Illegal Killing of Elephants). In the last decade, one study has shown that Central Africa has lost 62 percent of its elephants; that’s more than half of the forest elephant species.

“While the IUCN continues to recognize only one species, such deep genetic divergence makes it very easy to distinguish forest from savanna elephant ivory,” said Georgiadis.

Researchers use DNA forensics to help conservation and law officials understand the strategies used to smuggle ivory across borders to black markets in Asian countries, including Thailand, Vietnam, and China. Officials can use this knowledge to allocate limited funds for interventions in areas under poaching pressure or along the trade route.

“But until China and other countries do something to crack down on the ivory trade,” Roca said, “all the forensics in the world aren't going to stop elephants from being poached.”

“Elephant Natural History: A Genomic Perspective,” is available online (DOI: 10.1146/annurev-animal-022114-110838) and was also co-authored by University of Illinois’s Yasuko Ishida, a research specialist; Adam Brandt, a postdoctoral research associate; Neal Benjamin, a veterinary student; and Kai Zhao, a graduate student.

News Source:

Alfred Roca, 217-244-8853

News Writer:

Claire Sturgeon

Illinois Wheat Association hosting wheat tour

Published May 4, 2015

URBANA, Ill. - The Illinois Wheat Association will host the Southern Illinois Winter Wheat Tour Thursday, May 21, giving Illinois wheat growers an opportunity to tour winter wheat fields and make observations that will factor into yield estimates of the 2015 winter wheat crop.

Fred Kolb, University of Illinois professor of small grain breeding; Emerson Nafziger, U of I professor and Extension agronomist; and Robert Bellm, U of I Extension educator in commercial agriculture and crops, will be on hand to discuss wheat development and wheat diseases.        

The tour will include field checks during the day with an evening report session at Brownstown Agronomy Research Center in Fayette County. Prior to the evening meal, yield estimates will be calculated, and attendees will have an opportunity to view wheat variety and seed treatment trials. 

Tour participants will meet at 9 a.m. at one of four locations:

  • Siemer Milling Co., 111 W. Main St., Teutopolis, 217-857-3131
  • Mennel Milling Co. of Illinois, 415 E. Main St., Mt. Olive, 217-999-2161
  • Wehmeyer Seed Co., 7167 Highbanks Rd., Mascoutah, 618-615-9037
  • Wabash Valley Services Co., 1562 Illinois 1, Carmi, 812-483-2966

Participants are asked to call in advance with the location from which they would like to depart.  Reservations can be made for dinner by contacting Charlene Blary at 309-557-3619 or by May 15. 

Those wishing to bring samples of their own and join the group for the dinner and wrap-up are asked to RSVP by May 15. The Illinois Wheat Association will provide the tour instructions to those bringing independent samples to ensure sampling procedures are consistent. Instructions can be found on the Illinois Wheat Association website at

Should you go gluten-free? May is Celiac Disease Awareness Month

Published April 30, 2015
rice noodles

URBANA, Ill. – Many people adopt radical eating patterns—green-foods-only diets, juice diets, no-sugar diets, and gluten-free diets—in hopes of a quick weight fix. Gluten-free diets have become increasingly popular in the past decade, but do they actually do more harm than good?

“Unless there is a medical need, researchers say that removing gluten from the diet may not result in weight loss. Gluten-free foods often contain a higher amount of fat and carbohydrates so they are higher in calories,” said Lisa Peterson, a University of Illinois Extension nutrition and wellness educator.

Eliminating gluten unnecessarily can cause deficiencies in nutrients such as folate, magnesium, calcium, iron, fiber, zinc, and B-complex vitamins, she added.

“However, people who have been diagnosed with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity need to follow a strict gluten-free diet. It’s the only treatment,” Peterson explained.

May is National Celiac Disease Awareness month, she added. The American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy defines celiac disease as an autoimmune disorder that damages the small intestine and interferes with nutrient absorption when gluten is consumed. People with a gluten sensitivity may experience symptoms that are similar to celiac disease, but they do not experience digestive damage or develop other long-term health complications.

“Gluten is a protein found not only in wheat, but in rye, barley, and triticale, a wheat-barley hybrid, as well. When a person with celiac disease consumes gluten, it damages the villi, small hair-like projections in the small intestine that help with nutrient absorption,” she said.

Fewer than 1 percent of Americans have celiac disease and symptoms can vary, Peterson said.

“Symptoms for celiac disease could include weight loss, joint pain, tiredness, anemia, rashes, and other gastrointestinal discomfort such as nausea, stomach pain, and vomiting,” she noted.

Undiagnosed celiac disease can lead to long-term health effects, including malnutrition, infertility, nervous system disorders, early-onset osteoporosis, and gastrointestinal cancers. Diagnosis can be made through a blood test and an endoscopy in which a small sample of the small intestine is taken for testing, she said. 

Individuals with celiac disease must follow a gluten-free diet to allow their small intestine to heal and reduce the risk of long-term health effects, she added.

“Read food labels to make thoughtful food choices. Products labeled certified gluten-free contain less than 20 parts per million of gluten. And, keep in mind, just because a product is labeled wheat-free does not guarantee that it is gluten-free. Don’t be afraid to contact the product manufacturers with questions,” Peterson advised.

Research charts a course for increasing edamame acreage in the Midwest

Published April 30, 2015

URBANA, Ill. – While consumer demand for edamame or vegetable soybean remains on the rise in the United States, it’s not widely grown in this country. Nearly 85 million acres of grain-type soybean were grown in the U.S. in 2014, yet edamame imported from Asia appears to dominate what we eat in this country, said a University of Illinois crop scientist.

There have been limitations to growing edamame in the U.S. Midwest, including little research on the cultivars that could be used here and how to grow the crop sustainably, explained Marty Williams, who is also an ecologist with USDA-Agricultural Research Service.

But interest among U.S. vegetable processors in edamame prompted Williams and his team to take a closer look at the differences in growth and development between grain-type soybean and edamame, with the intent to identify specific improvements needed to grow more edamame in the Midwest.

Edamame seeds contain all the essential amino acids, which is unique to a vegetable crop. It is high in dietary fiber and most of the fats in edamame are unsaturated. Often marketed as a healthy snack food, edamame requires minimal processing and preparation.

“Vegetable growers are largely borrowing practices used in grain-type soybean production. We were curious how edamame plants compare to soybean in terms of field performance metrics such as emergence, growth, and development,” Williams said.

“Also, in order to sustain edamame production on a commercial scale, certain downstream criteria must be met. For instance, consumers demand large, tasty seeds.  The last few years, we’ve assembled a diverse collection of edamame germplasm available for use in the U.S., so we decided to identify which lines met criteria essential for domestic, commercial production,” he added.

During three years of field trials using 136 edamame lines from 22 different commercial and private sources, Williams observed that seed germination and emergence of edamame is poorer than that of grain-type soybean. “That’s a real challenge,” Williams said. “What makes a seed delicious to eat can make for a miserable seed to produce a plant.”

Interestingly, the researchers found that seedlings of edamame, once or “if” emerged, tend to grow quicker than grain-type soybean. “This is also good to know as it may have implications related to weeds,” Williams said. “We know from previous research that larger seeds of grain-type soybean tend to be more competitive with weeds.  While in recent years we’ve made progress on broadening the suite of weed management tools available to vegetable growers, crop interference with weeds is a valuable component of multi-tactic weed management systems.”

The edamame crop is harvested near the “full seed” stage, when the plant is still completely green and the seeds fill the pods to capacity.  By that point in time, compared to grain-type soybean, Williams said edamame plants tend to be smaller. This is beneficial for commercial production because shorter plants are needed for mechanical harvest.  

Soybean is photoperiod sensitive, meaning that day length influences development time and plant size. In Illinois, some cultivars produce too large and bushy of a plant for effective machine harvest, Williams explained.

Along with emergence, plant size, and seed traits, the edamame lines also underwent a basic “sensory evaluation.” This included characteristics essential to keeping the discriminating consumer happy: two to three seeds per pod, green pods and seeds, no blemishes, a smooth seed texture, and seeds with a sweet, nutty flavor.

Of the 136 lines tested, twelve lines from eight different sources passed all criteria: above-average field emergence, suitable plant size for mechanical harvest, large seeds, and passing the sensory evaluation. “This process identified edamame lines that might be most promising for use in the Midwest,” Williams said.

Williams said his team will continue to work on the emergence issue. “Emergence must be improved,” he said. “Some of that may require efforts in plant breeding, but it may also mean we need to grow the crop a bit differently than grain-type soybean, too.”

“Phenomorphological characterization of vegetable soybean germplasm lines for commercial production” was recently published in Crop Science.


Alex McBratney: Global Soil Security Initiative

2:00 PM - 3:00 PM
Monsanto Room

Dr. Alex McBratney is Pro-Dean of the College of Agriculture and Environment, Professor of Soil Science and Head of the Department of Environmental Sciences, University of Sydney, and the International Union of Soil Science’s 2014 VV Dokuchaev Medal in Soil Science recipient.

The lecture will be followed by Q&A.

Team Illinois named Grand Winner Finalist in US DOE Race to Zero Competition

Published April 27, 2015
Team Illinois in Race to Zero Student Design competition
Left to right: Xinshi Zheng, HVAC/Energy Analysis Lead; Ryan Christensen, Architecture Lead, Matthew McClone, Project Manager, Connor Bogner, Ass't. Project Manager

URBANA, Ill. - The Illinois Solar Decathlon team has been named one of five Grand Winner Finalists in the 2015 U.S. Department of Energy Race to Zero Student Design Competition. The competition took place April 18-20, 2015, at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colorado.

Thirty-three teams from 27 universities competed to design, analyze, and document a net-zero energy and net-zero water ready home that is cost-effective and consistent with mainstream builder construction practices. The total amount of energy used in a net-zero energy home on an annual basis is equivalent to or less than the amount of renewable energy created on the site. A net-zero water home means the home is certified for treatment of rainwater to potable standards. 

The Illinois team consisted of 28 students from four different colleges in the University of Illinois (Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences, Business, Engineering, and Fine and Applied Arts) and eight different departments (agricultural and biological engineering, business, architecture, civil engineering, electrical engineering, industrial and general engineering, materials science and engineering, and mechanical engineering). 

Matthew McClone, a master’s student in civil engineering, is president of the Illinois Solar Decathlon team and project manager for the Race to Zero competition. He said they began work on the project in September 2014. “Derek Peterson, the associate director of park operations at Allerton Park, approached us to design and build a net zero energy retrofit of a 1940s farmer’s cottage that was slated for demolition. Everyone at Allerton has been very helpful throughout the project.”

The team named their project the Sun Catcher Cottage, and McClone said all 28 students participated in the preparation of the 60-page report (with 500 pages of appendices). The report included full construction documents, financial analysis, and information about the engineering systems. 

Kevin Fuller, a junior in civil engineering and treasurer for the organization, said, “You could take the packet and hand it to a contractor and they would have everything they needed to complete the work. Our retrofit design is completely ready to build.”

One of the requirements in the competition was to work with an industry partner. The team worked with Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, a world-class architectural firm based in Chicago. 

“They were very helpful during the design process,” said McClone. “We visited their offices twice, and they did a final review of our construction documents and engineering drawings.”

Xinlei Wang, a professor in agricultural and biological engineering, is the team’s faculty advisor. Wang has worked with the Illinois Solar Decathlon team since 2006 on four solar decathlon competitions (U.S. 2007, 2009, 2011, and China 2013) as well as the Race to Zero competition.

“Solar Decathlon is a great opportunity for our students,” said Wang, “and that’s why I’m willing to continue to work with them. We always want to see our students succeed.”

McClone has been involved with the organization since 2012 and said, “The Solar Decathlon in general is the most valuable thing I’ve done in college. The experience is tremendous, it opens doors to work with industry partners, and you meet people you’d never meet otherwise. It was pretty exciting to meet people in leadership at the DOE.”

Fuller agreed, saying, “You can do a lot of theoretical work in college, but doing something this concrete that you know makes an impact can help you understand where you want to go and what you want to do in the area of sustainability.”

The team received funding for the project from a variety of sources, including the Engineering Council, the U of I Student Organization Resource Fee board, and the departments of agricultural and biological engineering, civil and environmental engineering, and electrical and computer engineering.

Illinois Solar Decathlon is currently establishing a team, recruiting advisors, and brainstorming concepts for the Solar Decathlon 2017 competition. 

News Source:

Xinlei Wang, 217-333-4446

News Writer:

Leanne Lucas, 217-244-9085