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New alternative to whey proteins in calf milk replacers

Published July 13, 2017
Holstein cattle

URBANA, Ill. – We see a lot of whey protein on the supermarket shelves these days. The high-protein, low-carb diet trend has been highly profitable for cheese makers and whey processors, who once used the cheese byproduct as fertilizer or in animal feed. With more whey going to the human market, animal feed manufacturers are looking for alternative protein sources that maintain animal health while saving costs.

“Since whey protein is the major milk component that goes into milk replacers, it’s the most expensive nutrient ingredient in the formula. There’s long been a search to find alternatives that the very young calf can tolerate and grow well on without allergy problems or poor digestibility,” says Jim Drackley, dairy nutritionist in the Department of Animal Sciences at the University of Illinois.

In a recent study, Drackley and graduate student Sarah Morrison may have found a near-ideal replacement for whey in calf milk replacers: spray-dried plasma protein, supplemented with amino acids threonine and isoleucine. “In previous studies, we’ve found plasma protein is well tolerated when replacing up to a third or a half of the whey protein in milk replacers. There are some limitations in the amino acid profile relative to the ideal protein, though. We wanted to see if we could improve performance by adding those back,” he explains.

The research team fed milk replacer to preweaned calves from birth to eight weeks. Calves were either fed standard whey-based milk replacer with methionine, or milk replacer with methionine and a portion of the whey replaced with plasma protein (5 or 10 percent). In addition to methionine, half of the plasma protein formulations were also supplemented with threonine and isoleucine.

Over the eight-week study, the calves were evaluated for growth and health status. Overall, calves that were fed plasma protein plus the amino acids did just as well as those that were fed standard milk replacer. Without threonine and isoleucine, however, calves that received the higher level of plasma protein did not perform as well.

The results indicate that plasma protein can be used to replace a large portion of whey in milk replacers as long as the amino acid profile is maintained similar to whey proteins. This is good news for those looking to cut costs on farm. “Plasma protein is more expensive than some other sources like soy proteins, but it can be economical compared to whey,” Drackley says.

The benefits of plasma proteins don’t end there. Drackley points to health improvements in the calves that were fed the plasma diets, including lowered rates of diarrhea. “Plasma proteins contain immunoglobulins that have positive effects on the immune system and antimicrobial effects in the animal. The spray-drying process preserves those so they still have some activity in the digestive tract,” he says.   

Drackley points out that alternative nutrient sources in animal feed often get a bad rap as byproducts. Instead, he says, we should celebrate the cow’s ability to recycle products humans can’t eat, turning them into wholesome and nutritious foods we can.

The article, “Amino acid supplementation of calf milk replacers containing plasma protein,” is published in the Journal of Dairy Science. First author Sarah Morrison is a graduate student in the Department of Animal Sciences at U of I. Co-author J. Campbell is from APC Inc. Support for the research was provided by the Illinois Agricultural Experiment Station and APC Inc., in Ankeny, Iowa. Jim Drackley was recently interviewed about milk and byproducts in animal feed by the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences at U of I.

“Big Muddy” Missouri River needs a plan

Published July 11, 2017
Missouri River
Confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers north of St. Louis showing visible debris and sediment.

URBANA, Ill. – As the Missouri River flows across the Great Plains to where it meets the Mississippi River at St. Louis, it accumulates such a large sediment load that it has earned the nickname “Big Muddy.”  A recent University of Illinois study looks at the history of the river, damages and changes from the 2011 flood, and its current post-flood condition. The study concludes that the river needs a comprehensive plan with multi-state cooperation.

“Flooding, particularly near infrastructures, residences, and cropland can be extremely destructive. We see it again and again, and continue to observe the damaging effects to the river and surrounding landscape from the 2011 flood—erosion and sedimentation,” says U of I researcher Ken Olson. He and his colleague from Iowa State University, Lois Wright Morton, have studied the seasonal Mississippi River and tributary flooding for over a decade.

Olson has observed much of the damage firsthand.

“The Missouri River and its tributaries are dynamic and continually changing, moving coarse stones, gravels, sands, and silts,” Olson says. “Its power caves in streambanks and erodes river islands, and redeposits them further downstream. When the river overflows its banks, it carries the soils from the floodplain and eroded upland agricultural soils down-stream creating sand dunes, mud flats, and deltas.”

Olson cites human activity as a contributing factor to the changes in the river. “Dams on Missouri River tributaries have changed rural livelihoods and the economics of the basin by reducing downstream flooding, generating hydro-electric power, and irrigating agricultural crops,” he says. “These river structures and levees have increased the stream velocity that keeps sediments suspended but also during flooding increase peak flows in downstream areas. Balancing economic and environmental aspects of the river is a challenge continuing into the future.”

Six dams, built in the 1940s and 60s on the main stem of the Missouri River couldn’t control flooding in 2011. “There is a need for the Mississippi River Commission and the US Army Corps of Engineers to develop a Missouri River and upper Mississippi River plan similar to their lower Mississippi River and tributary plan to address both the upper Mississippi and Missouri river flooding and navigation issues,” Olson says. “Such a plan is possible if the northern states adjacent to the Missouri and Mississippi rivers are willing to contribute and participate in the development of the management plan. This plan is essential to address the current waterway infrastructure restoration issues.”

The study, “Sedimentation, navigation, and agriculture on the lower Missouri River,” is written by Kenneth R. Olson and Lois Wright Morton. It appears in the Journal of Soil and Water Conservation. Olson is a researcher in the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences at the University of Illinois.

A pdf of the full paper is available online.

Partial support for this research was provided by the Iowa Agriculture and Home Economics Experiment Station, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Iowa State University and in cooperation with North-Central Regional Project No.1190, Catalysts for Water Resource Protection and Restoration: Applied Social Science Research, and from the College of Agriculture, Consumer, and Environmental Sciences at the University of Illinois.



Weather clouds pork outlook

Published July 10, 2017

URBANA, Ill. – Pork producers are watching the weather forecast almost as intently as crop producers. Higher feed prices driven by weather forecasts are now a new threat to their returns. According to Purdue University Extension economist Chris Hurt, current feed prices are already high enough to turn the 2018 outlook into expectations for losses.

In the June Hogs and Pigs report, pork producers reported to USDA they were continuing to increase the breeding herd by 1 percent. With continued increases in the number of pigs per litter, pork production has been growing at about 2 to 3 percent per year. The market herd was reported to be up 3.6 percent, with pigs coming to market in the third quarter up 4 percent and those coming to market in the fourth quarter up 3 percent. What about farrowing intentions this summer and fall?

“Producers told USDA they were going to keep farrowings at the same level,” says Hurt. “If so, the supply of pigs to be marketed in the winter and spring of 2018 will be around 1 percent higher.”

What are the states to watch?

Hurt says over the past two years the most rapid breeding herd growth has been in Missouri with 45,000 new animals and Illinois with 40,000 additional animals. Iowa has added 30,000 head. “It is interesting to see that the recent growth is back in the heart of the traditional hog/corn belt. This is most likely being driven by new packing capacity in the traditional pork production areas.”

Pork production has been up 2 percent in the first half of 2017 and hog prices have been 5 percent higher. “Higher production and higher prices is an unusual combination that I have been discussing this year,” Hurt says. “The reasons are strong demand in the pork export market and lower retail prices in the domestic market that are helping to spur consumption.”

Pork exports are having a good year, Hurt adds. Through May, pork exports are up 14 percent, led by increases to Mexico and South Korea. So far this year the United States is exporting 23 percent of domestic production. Mexico became the number one destination for exported pork in 2015 and reminds the industry that opening NAFTA negotiations is especially important to U.S. agriculture and to the pork industry in particular. “Because of strong pork exports, the 2 percent higher pork production has moved into the export market. This means that the amount of pork available for U.S. consumers is about the same as last year. Given that there are more people in the country, per capita supplies are actually down this year.”

According to Hurt, packer and retail margins have been very high for pork. Retail margins have already started down and packer margins are expected to come down in the last half of the year with more processing capacity. Retail pork prices in 2017 have been down 2 percent. Thus, lower grocery store prices for pork are also stimulating consumption and helping hog prices be higher even with more production.

“Looking forward, pork supplies are expected to be 4 percent higher in the third quarter, then drop to 3 percent higher in the last quarter of 2017. Pork production is expected to be up 1 to 2 percent in the first half of 2018 if producers follow through with unchanged farrowing levels this summer and fall,” Hurt says.

Hog prices are expected to stay above year-previous levels in the last half of the year. Live weight prices are expected to average in the high $50s in the third quarter and then drop to the high $40s for the final quarter of 2017. Live prices are currently expected to average in the very low $50s for the first half of 2018.

“Feed prices have suddenly become an important concern,” Hurt says. “Drought conditions in the upper Great Plains have been the lead story with the anticipation of that drought spreading.” At this writing, weather forecasts out to July 23 are for above normal temperatures and below normal precipitation for the Central and Northern Great Plains and all of the Corn Belt. “This suggests that the majority of the nation’s corn crop will be pollinating under stressful weather conditions.”

December 2017 corn futures are currently at $4.12 and December 2017 soybean meal futures are $345 per ton. “At these levels, costs of producing pork are distinctly higher,” Hurt says. Over the past year, the estimated total costs of production have been near $50s per live hundredweight. With the current price levels, those costs rise to about $53 over the coming 12 months. Most of the increase comes from corn. In the past 12 months the U.S. average corn price received by farmers was $3.38 per bushel, and current futures markets are suggesting that could rise to $3.99, a 61-cent increase. Soybean meal prices at Decatur, Illinois averaged about $329 over the past year, and current futures markets suggests around $343 for the coming 12 months.

“Higher feed costs will cut pork producer margins,” Hurt says. “Returns are strong this quarter, with an estimated $18 per head profit above all costs. But margin prospects turn negative in the final quarter this year at $11 per head. Prospects remain negative for 2018 with an estimated average loss of $10 per head. Losses in 2018 would be the result of lower hog prices in combination with higher feed prices. These are the good times for the pork industry with strongly positive margins this summer. However, lower hog prices into the fall and winter along with continued higher production into 2018 will lower hog prices.”

According to Hurt, feed prices are a new concern, driven by anticipated harmful weather in coming weeks. “The weather that does unfold will determine how high feed prices go,” he says. “There is a bit of comfort for ingredient buyers based on large world inventories of feed ingredients that will temper the upside in prices. Weather markets tend to peak around the period of harmful weather and then moderate as weather improves or as we move through the marketing year. This likely suggests more of a hand-to-mouth buying strategy for now and caution in buying large amounts of feeding needs for the 12 months right now.

“If feed prices should continue to rise, some breeding herd liquidation could begin this fall and winter and that would help increase hog prices for the last half of 2018. But it is too early to predict this outcome right now,” Hurt says.

University of Illinois Alum Returns Home from Ghana

Published July 7, 2017

ACCRA, GHANA. With his work boots on, University of Illinois Alum, Clayton Carley, walks out to the farm in Ghana. For the past 11 months, Clayton Carley has been living and working for AgriCorps in Koforidua, Ghana.

Clayton has worked as the AgriCorps Liaison to 4-H Ghana. Clayton took the reins on developing the 4-H National Leadership, Education, Agriculture, and Development (LEAD) Contests.  The LEAD Contests involve public speaking, debate, and parliamentary procedure competitions.

"I've seen the change and impact you can make when you take the time to truly understand each other.  You quickly discover what differences can be made when you work together,” says Carley.  "I have discovered a strong desire to continue working with international agriculture which is why I chose to pursue my doctorate degree when I return to the US."  In August, Clayton will start his doctorate program in Plant Genetics and Genomics at Iowa State University.

AgriCorps, a US-based non-profit, sends young, American agriculture professionals into developing countries to share the agricultural education models of 4-H and the Future Farmers of America that transformed American agriculture over the past century. Texas rancher and AgriCorps Founder, Trent McKnight, said, “AgriCorps Fellows shift perceptions of agriculture in young people by teaching them how to make money through farming.”

Clayton grew up in Crescent City, Illinois where he was involved in FFA.  Clayton attended the University of Illinois where he received a double major in Plant Biotechnology and Agricultural Education.

AgriCorps is a Peace Corps type organization that connects young, American agriculture professionals to the demand for experiential, school-based agricultural education in developing countries. AgriCorps is based in Throckmorton, Texas. For more information on AgriCorps, visit


News release provided by AgriCorps, Inc.

News Source:

Debra Korte, 2172448086
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NRES professors receive education awards from NACTA

Published July 7, 2017
NACTA Awardees
Drs. Tony Yannarell (on the left) and Yuji Arai (not pictured) were awarded NACTA Educator Awards

NRES congratulates professors Yuji Arai and Anthony Yannarell, who recently received the 2017 NACTA (North American Colleges and Teachers of Agriculture) Educator Award. This honor was given to them at the 63rd Annual NACTA Conference held at Purdue University from June 28th – July 1st.  The full list of award recipients is shown in the following video:

News Source:

College of ACES

Bonus tours for Agronomy Day 2017 offer something for everyone

Published July 7, 2017
DK Lee examines switchgrass at the U of I Energy Farm

URBANA, Ill. – Returning Agronomy Day attendees know the event offers a wealth of information on traditional crop production issues, but this year, a couple of extra tours will be available for farmers looking for something different on August 17.

Want to see an agricultural robot in action? The University of Illinois Energy Farm tour might be for you. Girish Chowdhary will be demonstrating the newest technological advancement in agriculture at his stop. Don Ort will share the stop, showcasing some of the work his group is doing to revolutionize photosynthesis, with the goal of feeding the world more efficiently. The Energy Farm tour will also feature a stop at the university’s “agroforestry for food” plots. Sarah Taylor Lovell will explain how perennial trees and shrubs can provide critical ecosystem services while also generating edible and profitable harvests. Additional stops will include a look at the farm’s biomass boiler and a presentation on regulating greenhouse gases with soil amendments.

The Energy Farm tour will be concurrent with the four main Agronomy Day tours, with departures at 8 a.m., 9 a.m., and 10 a.m. Attendees can learn more and sign up in the morning at the registration table or contact Sue Overmyer at to register early.

Attendees with an interest in vegetable production will want to stick around for the tour of the Vegetable Crops Research Farm from 1:30 to 3 p.m., following the main Agronomy Day tours. The tour will feature presentations on pumpkins, squash, cucumbers, peppers, tomatoes, and basil, as well as a demonstration of a new method of mushroom production. Agronomy Day participants will need to travel down the road to 2921 First St., Champaign, Illinois, on their own. Registration is not required, and the tour is open to home gardeners, commercial producers, and the public (no need to attend Agronomy Day). For more information, contact Mohammad Babadoost at

Agronomy Day 2017 is hosted by the Department of Crop Sciences and the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences at the University of Illinois. Main tours and the Energy Farm tour will depart from 4202 South First Street in Savoy. For up-to-date information on speakers, displays, and location, join Agronomy Day 2017 on Facebook or visit the Agronomy Day website.

The 2017 corn crop heading into pollination

Published July 6, 2017

URBANA, Ill. – After a tough start to the season, including an unusually cool, wet May followed by hot, dry weather in early June, the Illinois corn crop has rebounded a bit, with 65 percent of the crop in good or excellent condition by July 2. That’s up from the May ratings, but still lower than ideal, leaving many wondering how the season’s slow start might affect silking and yield potential.

“One consequence of the spring weather as corn enters the critical pollination period is the short plant height in many fields, especially in central Illinois,” says Emerson Nafziger, professor in the crop sciences department at the University of Illinois. “Plants in many fields are 1 to 2 feet shorter than normal as tassels begin to emerge. Later-planted (including replanted) fields have a few weeks to go before they pollinate, and can still get to their normal height if they have enough water.”

Plants are short for this stage of development due to an unusual combination of factors. May’s cool, wet soils caused slow root growth, and when warm, dry weather hit in early June, the smaller-than-normal root systems couldn’t keep up with the evaporative demand from leaves. This caused many fields to show leaf-rolling in the afternoon on hot days. “Having leaves roll signals a shortage of water in the plant,” Nafziger says. “Cells in the stem internodes that were developing during stress did not compete well for water, and so couldn’t elongate as much as usual. After the cell walls hardened, that part of the stem stayed short.”

Nafziger says that although good yields are possible on short plants, really high yields—250 bushels per acre or more—are more likely on plants that are at or above normal height. Tall corn is not always high-yielding, though. “Late-planted corn often grows taller than early-planted corn because it’s warmer when the stem is elongating,” he says. “Such plants tend to have less dry weight than those that were planted earlier, though, and that means less capability to produce high yields.”

Despite heavy rain earlier in the season, soil nitrogen levels were nearly as high in June as they were in 2016, and leaf color remains good. It is unlikely that the crop will run out of nitrogen as long as there is adequate water in the soil to carry the nutrient to the roots. Having water in the soil also helps to maintain the process of mineralization, which makes nitrogen from soil organic matter available to the crop.

“The largest concern now, as it almost always is at this time of year, is having enough water and sunshine to maintain photosynthetic rates in order to get the high kernel numbers needed to produce high yields,” Nafziger says. “Very good pollination conditions – plenty of rainfall, good sunshine, and average temperatures – can overcome some of the negative effects of the season so far, but will need to last for two weeks or so after pollination in order to keep kernels from aborting. We simply can’t know how this will end until we can count kernels and assess the state of the canopy by the time kernels start to add dry weight, about a month from now. We remain optimistic.”

For more information, please visit Nafziger’s original post on the Bulletin.