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Rural, low-income moms rely on nature activities to promote family health but don’t always have access to resources

Published May 17, 2016
  • Research shows that time in spent in nature can promote health and well-being.
  • Like many moms, rural, low-income moms rely on family outdoor activities to keep themselves and their children healthy.
  • Financial limitations and other availability factors pose obstacles for rural, low-income families to access nature resources in their community.

URBANA, Ill. – Research shows that spending just 20 minutes in nature can promote health and well-being. Although the assumption may be that living in rural areas provides ample opportunities for recreation in nature, many rural, low-income mothers, who rely on outdoor activities to promote health and well-being for themselves and their families, face obstacles in accessing publicly available outdoor recreation resources.

In interviews from an initial project referred to as “Rural Families Speak about Health,” low-income mothers from rural communities in 11 states were asked how they and their children stay healthy, as well as what resources were available in their communities to support health. Almost every mom gave the same response: participating in outdoor activities.

Researchers at the University of Illinois, who study families and the benefits of participating in family-based nature activities, were interested in these responses. Using data from the rural families study, Dina Izenstark, a doctoral student in family studies at the U of I and colleagues conducted a follow-up study to further explore how and why moms use the natural environment to promote health for themselves and their families. The researchers also wanted to learn what health benefits they experienced.

The new study, published in the Journal of Leisure Research, also examines how living in the context of rural poverty affects the ability of mothers to utilize family-based nature activities to promote their families’ health. The mothers interviewed for the study had incomes at or below 185 percent of the federal poverty level, lived in selected rural counties, and had at least one child under the age of 13. Their family structure/co-parenting situation was not considered.

“During the interviews, moms weren’t specifically asked about their experiences in nature,” Izenstark says. “They were asked, ‘how do you and your family stay healthy?’ Yet almost every single mom in the study, on their own, said they use nature to promote their health. 

“When we started to dig deeper, we noticed that because they didn’t always have the financial resources to support their health in other ways, access to natural spaces in their community provided them the opportunity,” she adds.  

Rural geography also played a role. “Some of the moms lived near mountains or beaches or corn fields. Some lived in subsidized housing,” she says. Rural living doesn’t automatically mean easy access to green space. “For the moms that did have access, it was a lot easier for them to promote their health.” 

U of I professor of family studies Ramona Oswald is a co-author. She worked on the initial rural families study, and says this study shows that community investment is important in making resources accessible.

“You might live in rural Illinois, surrounded by cornfields, all of which are privately owned. You could walk down a county road or a highway, but unless there was community investment in a park or a playground, a walking trail, or some kind of a facility at a local school, moms didn’t have access to nature, even though they were surrounded by it.

“It speaks to the importance of that infrastructure for families on low incomes who are not able to drive to the next community or pay for a gym membership, or something else that might be available for people who have more money,” Oswald says.

The most common activity mentioned by moms was walking in nature. It was something the whole family could do together, regardless of the kids’ ages or their financial constraints. After walking came going to the park for exercise, picnics, sports, or free movies.

Izenstark points out how even routine, day-to-day activities in nature can be sources of bonding for families. Many moms mentioned the importance of walking the family dog together. Other examples included picking blackberries every summer, family camping trips, and staying on the beach while visiting extended family. 

The moms cited reasons such as wanting to be a good role model, limit television exposure, and promote healthy physical development as motivators for participating in outdoor activities with their kids.

“Moms described how getting outside not only helped them improve their physical health and motivation to exercise or lose weight, but once outside, the moms experienced psychological health benefits as well,” Izenstark says. Social health benefits are also important. “The moms said their children don’t always get to see other children [living in a rural area], so it’s really important to go to the park with friends or extended family, for example.  

“Although they didn’t always say they were going outside to promote their family relationships, the data suggested that being outside was a great place for families to laugh, bond, and create memories – these social health benefits influenced their family relationships,” she adds.  

Oswald and Izenstark both hope park and recreation practitioners, as well as other community officials, will see the importance of resource access, especially in built natural environments such as parks and playscapes for low-income families in rural areas. Beyond just providing programs, Oswald wants practitioners to meet low-income families where they are to spread the message.

“The moms in this study know about health and what to do to be healthy,” Oswald says. “It’s not a lack of education. It has to do with barriers and access to resources. Especially in rural communities, regardless of income, you struggle with distance between people and resources. If families with low incomes in rural communities are going to go, maybe food pantries, then that’s a good place to hang a flyer that says ‘get out with your family and have a picnic.’ Encourage them to take the next step, framing it in a way that is gratifying rather than punishing or grueling. These moms know, they just struggle with how to make it happen,” she says.

“Rural, low-income mothers’ use of family-based nature activities to promote family health,” is published in the Journal of Leisure Research. Co-authors include Dina Izenstark, Ramona F. Oswald, Elizabeth Holman, and Shawn N. Mendez, all of the University of Illinois, and Kimberly A Greder of Iowa State University. The paper is available online at

This work was supported by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

Cancer-fighting properties of horseradish revealed

Published May 17, 2016
horseradish root
Horseradish plant
  • Horseradish contains cancer-fighting compounds known as glucosinolates.
  • Glucosinolate type and quantity vary depending on size and quality of the horseradish root.
  • For the first time, the activation of cancer-fighting enzymes by glucosinolate products in horseradish has been documented.

URBANA, Ill. – The humble horseradish may not be much to look at, but a recent University of Illinois study shows that it contains compounds that could help detoxify and eliminate cancer-causing free-radicals in the body.

“We knew horseradish had health benefits, but in this study, we were able to link it to the activation of certain detoxifying enzymes for the first time,” says U of I crop scientist Mosbah Kushad.

Kushad’s research team had previously identified and quantified the compounds responsible for the cancer-fighting compounds, known as glucosinolates, in horseradish, noting that horseradish contains approximately 10 times more glucosinolates than its superfood cousin, broccoli.  

“No one is going to eat a pound of horseradish,” Kushad points out. Luckily, a teaspoon of the pungent condiment is sufficient to get the benefit.

In the new study, Kushad and his team looked for the products of glucosinolate hydrolysis, which activate enzymes involved in detoxification of cancer-causing molecules. They compared the quantity and activity of these products in 11 horseradish strains rated U.S. Fancy, U.S. No. 1, or U.S. No. 2. The USDA puts fresh-market horseradish in these categories based on diameter and length of the root.

“There was no information on whether the USDA grade of the horseradish root is associated with cancer preventive activity, so we wanted to test that,” Kushad explains.

The group found that the higher-grade U.S. Fancy accessions had significantly more glucosinolates than U.S. No. 1. Concentrations of various glucosinolate hydrolysis products differed according to USDA grade, with U.S. Fancy having greater allyl isothiocyanate (AITC) and U.S. No. 1 having greater 1-cyano 2,3-epithiopropane (CETP).

The two compounds differ, with CETP being a comparatively weaker cancer-fighter than AITC. Still, the detection of CETP in horseradish is noteworthy, according to Kushad. “To our knowledge, this is the first detection and measurement of CETP from horseradish,” he says.

The team suggests that AITC is a good dietary anti-carcinogen, not only because it activates the enzyme responsible for detoxifying cancer-causing molecules, but also because a large proportion of it, 90 percent, is absorbed when ingested.

Bottom line? Next time horseradish is on the menu, pick up a spoon.

The article, “Correlation of quinone reductase activity and allyl isothiocyanate formation among different genotypes and grades of horseradish roots,” appears in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, and online at Co-authors K-M Ku, E.H. Jeffery, and Jack Juvik are also researchers at the U of I.

Methionine could be key to improving pregnancy rate in dairy cattle

Published May 16, 2016
  • Rumen-protected methionine (RPM) added to the diet of Holstein cows improves the survival rate of preimplantation embryos.
  • Cows fed methionine have more lipid droplets inside the preimplantation embryo, which could be used as energy by the embryos.
  • Embryonic death has been shown to drop from 19 percent to 6 percent in cows fed methionine.

URBANA, Ill - Research at the University of Illinois has shown that adding methionine to the diets of Holstein cows during the prepartum and postpartum periods may impact the preimplantation embryo in a way that enhances its capacity for survival.

“Methionine is the first limiting amino acid for dairy cattle,” says U of I animal scientist Phil Cardoso. “We know that the lack of methionine limits cows in producing protein in the milk. Now we’re beginning to understand that it affects more than just the milk protein. We want to learn more about the biological effect it has on the cow, and in this case, on the embryo.”

Because cows cannot produce methionine, it needs to come from the diet. “But anything I feed to a cow is first going to come in contact with, and be digested by, the bacteria in the rumen,” Cardoso explains. “If I give crystal methionine to a ruminant animal, it gets used up by the bacteria. So we supplement the diet with rumen-protected methionine (RPM), and 85 percent of that is absorbed in the duodenum and goes into the blood stream. Fifteen percent still gets used by the bacteria, but now the cow has methionine.”

In the study, researchers began supplementing the diets of one group of cows 21 days before they gave birth and continued the supplement through 72 days after birth. The control group did not receive methionine. “Sixty days after the cows gave birth, we artificially inseminated them,” says Cardoso. “In the first group, the oocytes that came into contact with the semen came from an environment with higher blood methionine concentration than the second [control] group. Approximately seven days later, we harvested the preimplantation embryos of both groups.”

The team at Illinois then sent half of the embryos to their colleagues at the University of Florida. Their analysis showed that the preimplantation embryos from cows that were fed methionine had more lipid droplets inside the embryo. Lipids are molecules that contain hydrocarbons and make up the building blocks of the structure and function of living cells. Examples of lipids include fats, oils, waxes, certain vitamins, hormones, and most of the non-protein membrane of cells.

“It gets interesting when we attach our findings to other research,” Cardoso says. “A study done at the University of Wisconsin showed that cows, treated or untreated, became pregnant at the same rate, but in the cows treated with methionine, embryonic death was much lower. In untreated cows, embryonic death was around 19 percent, but in treated cows, it dropped to around 6 percent. We think the methionine is allowing the embryo to have more lipids which can be used as energy to help them survive more stress.” Cardoso says the research also showed that the embryos of the treated cows were larger, which could also be a result of lipids used as energy.

The team at Illinois now hopes to study the remaining embryos to try to determine why the treated embryos have more lipid droplets. “What are the processes that may be changing in that embryo that allows it to have more fat? Gene expression analysis will allow us to go more in depth on why this is happening.”

This research has been funded in part by Adisseo NACA, in Alpharetta, Georgia, and the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture (Washington, DC; W-2112). The study, “Effects of rumen-protected methionine and choline supplementation on the preimplantation embryo in Holstein cows,” has been published in the June issue of Theriogenology and can be found at

News Source:

Phil Cardoso, 217-300-2303

News Writer:

Leanne Lucas, 217-244-9085

Corn and soybean demand improving

Published May 16, 2016

URBANA, Ill. – Soybean, and to some extent corn prices, continue to recover from the recent lows.  July 2016 soybean futures increased $2 per bushel, or 23 percent, from the close on March 1 to the close on May 13.  July 2016 corn futures increased 35 cents, or 10 percent, from the close on March 31 to the close on May 13. According to a University of Illinois agricultural economist, soybean basis levels have generally weakened over the past two and a half months so that cash prices have increased less than futures prices. Corn basis has been variable, but generally steady since late March.

“A number of factors have contributed to the price rally,” says Darrel Good. “The most recent support came from the USDA’s May World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates (WADSE) report.  As expected, that report contained smaller forecasts of the size of the South American corn and soybean crops. The forecast of combined soybean production in Brazil and Argentina was reduced by almost 130 million bushels, or just over 2 percent, from the April forecast.  The forecast of combined corn production for the two countries was reduced by 157 million bushels, or nearly 4 percent. It seems likely that the forecast size of the Brazilian corn crop will decline further as drought conditions continue to intensify in northern growing areas, even as southern areas receive heavy rainfall.”

The lower South American production forecasts contribute to prospects for larger U.S. corn and soybean exports during the current marketing year as well as during the 2016-17 marketing year. The USDA now forecasts U.S. corn exports during the current year at 1.725 billion bushels, 75 million more than forecast last month. 

“The pace of shipments and new sales certainly support the larger forecast,” Good says.

Exports during the 2016-17 marketing year are projected at 1.9 billion bushels, slightly above the average magnitude of exports of the past 41 years. Soybean exports during the current year are forecast at 1.74 billion bushels, 35 million bushels above the April projection. Exports during the 2016-17 marketing year are projected at 1.885 billion bushels, 42 million bushels larger than the record exports during the 2014-15 marketing year. The large forecast for 2016-17 reflects expectations for only a modest increase in South American soybean production in 2017 and continued strong import demand from China. Chinese soybean imports from all sources during the upcoming marketing year are forecast at 3.2 billion bushels, up from the record 3.05 billion expected this year. China is expected to account for 64 percent of total world soybean imports, representing 28 percent of the soybeans produced outside of China.

In addition to larger exports, domestic consumption of corn and soybeans is expected to increase during the 2016-17 marketing year. The domestic soybean crush is expected to increase by 35 million bushels from the record crush of 1.88 billion bushels during the current marketing year on the strength of expanding livestock production and slightly larger exports due to less competition from South America.

Corn used for ethanol during the upcoming year is forecast at 5.3 billion bushels, up 50 million bushels expected for the current year. “The increase reflects expectations of continued increases in domestic gasoline consumption and less competition from sorghum as an ethanol feedstock,” Good says. Feed and residual use of corn is projected at a 9-year high of 5.55 billion bushels, 300 million above the forecast for the current year. The large forecast reflects expectations of abundant corn supplies, increasing livestock production, and a small reduction in feed use of other grains.

With planted acreage at the level indicated in the USDA’s March 31, Prospective Plantings report and yields at trend levels, the May WASDE report forecast that year-ending stocks of soybeans will decline from 400 million bushels this year to 305 million bushels next year. Year-ending stocks of corn are expected to increase from 1.8 to 2.15 billion bushels. Projections for both crops are much smaller than generally expected.

“With demand for U.S. corn and soybeans expected to be bolstered by smaller crops in South America, robust Chinese demand for soybeans, and expanding livestock production in the United States, the focus will once again turn back to the prospective size of U.S. crops,” Good says. “The first issue is the magnitude of planted acreage, with two unsettled questions.  The first question is whether the magnitude of total acreage of spring-planted crops will exceed intentions reported in March. The second question is about the magnitude of corn and soybean acreage. With soybean prices increasing more than corn prices since the planting intentions survey was conducted, and with the delay in corn planting in some areas, expectations are for there to be some switching from corn to soybeans. The most likely areas for that to happen are where corn planting is expected to be the most delayed, including Ohio and Indiana. Planting intention for those two states were reported at 9.35 million acres for corn and 10.2 million acres for soybeans. The USDA’s Crop Progress report indicated that only 22 percent of those 19.55 million acres had been planted as of May 8.

“Within a fairly wide range of acreage, the size of the 2016 U.S. corn and soybean crops will mostly depend on the nature of the growing season and average yields,” Good says. “For much of the winter and early spring, the consensus seemed to be that without a weather issue this summer that resulted in below-trend yields, corn and soybean prices would continue to decline. If the USDA’s demand projections are correct, it now seems appropriate to reverse that thinking. Without large U.S. crops this year, prices will likely move higher.”

Challenges of springtime weeds

Published May 12, 2016
yellow rocket and butterweed

URBANA, Ill. – The springtime color scheme provided by winter annual weed species in many no-till fields has shifted from the hearty purple of flowering henbit and purple deadnettle to the bright yellow flowers of two species. Yellow rocket and cressleaf groundsel (a.k.a. butterweed) both produce bright yellow flowers and are common across much of the southern half of Illinois. 

University of Illinois weed scientist Aaron Hager explains the difference between butterweed (Packera glabella) and yellow rocket (Barbarea vulgaris), both winter annual species.

“Most of the yellow-flowered plants currently in fields are butterweed, which is in the same plant family as daisies. The flowers are bright yellow and grouped in clusters on several flowering stalks of the plant. Seeds are easily dispersed via wind due to the fluffy white hairs that catch the breeze,” he says.

Yellow rocket is a winter annual species in the mustard plant family. Flowers are produced on spike-like stalks and consist of four petals that form a cross. Seed pods are about 1 inch long and nearly square in cross section.

Hager points out that because plants are at the flowering stage in many fields, farmers should not skimp on burndown herbicides to control seed spread.

“The yellow flowers mean the plants are close to completing their lifecycle, and their sheer size will make them more challenging to control compared to when the plants were still in the vegetative stages. Complete control is important to reduce seed production which will be helpful for many future seasons,” Hager says.

Butterweed and yellow rocket are not the only weeds farmers must contend with now. Marestail (Conyza canadensis), also in the daisy family, produces small white flowers and numerous tufted seeds at maturity. Farmers know it as one of the most challenging weeds to control prior to planting no-till soybean. 

“Already this season, some have reported poor marestail control following applications of glyphosate plus 2,4-D. Poor control can be caused by several factors, including large plant size and resistance to glyphosate,” Hager explains. 

Hager says to avoid relying solely on 2,4-D for glyphosate-resistant marestail.

“Adding Sharpen or metribuzin to glyphosate plus 2,4-D can improve marestail control. Include MSO with Sharpen and be sure to adhere to planting intervals in treated fields where another soil-applied PPO inhibitor will be used. Glufosinate (Liberty, Interline, etc.) or Gramoxone SL are other options to control marestail before planting,” Hager says. 

Control is often improved when these products are tank-mixed with metribuzin and 2,4-D.  Both glufosinate and Gramoxone are contact herbicides, so Hager suggests adjusting application equipment (nozzles, spray volume, etc.) to ensure thorough spray coverage.

Another option to control emerged marestail is tillage. Hager says farmers should delay tillage until field conditions are suitable and till deep enough to completely uproot all existing vegetation.

More information on the biology and control of these spring weeds can be found at and

News Source:

Aaron Hager, 217-333-4424

VIDEO: Syngenta Foundation and Soybean Innovation Lab sponsor soybean field day in Kenya

Published May 10, 2016

In collaboration with the Soybean Innovation Lab, a soybean field day event was sponsored by Syngenta Foundation For Sustainable Agriculture at the Thika Practical Training Centre (PTC), Kenya in February 2016.

This is a Syngenta Foundation Seeds2B initiative in collaboration with the Soybean Innovation Lab.

View the new video here:

News Source:

Pete Goldsmith

News Writer:

Leslie Myrick, 217-244-5373