College of ACES
College News

International Summer Immersion Program offers outstanding experience while deepening ACES’ strategic partnerships

Published September 29, 2015

Twenty-four undergraduate students hailing from both China’s Zhejiang University and South Korea’s Chungnam National University successfully completed the 2015 International Summer Immersion Program (ISIP) on August 14.  

The five-week ISIP program coordinated by the ACES Office of International Programs included a research apprenticeship with an ACES faculty member as well as a series of topical seminars, language classes that focused on English for graduate students, and cultural field trips. The program culminated with a poster session, where the students had the opportunity to showcase their research experiences.

The students left with new skills, fond memories and strong friendships. Many of them hope to return to the University of Illinois for graduate study.  

“This unforgettable experience helped me decide what I should do after graduation,” said Jingwen Cai, who was mentored by Dr. Pawan Takhar and is now considering a graduate program in the College of ACES.

Cai named the great access to faculty mentors and the responsibility of producing a research poster as key reasons why the program is so valuable.   

Yiqi Wang, mentored by Jeffrey Matthews, is also considering applying to graduate school at the University of Illinois and said, “The program improved my research and English skills. Dr. Matthews taught me so much about soils, methods to analyze problems, and how to deal with unexpected experiment results.”

In addition to the research work, the students enjoyed an active social program that included cultural activities in Springfield, Chicago, St. Louis, and on campus.

Yohan Kim, mentored by Mohammad Babadoost, reflected, “I learned to balance work and play, which will be important in life. I also learned the importance of learning another language and of having an international outlook.”  

The ISIP evolved from the annual summer program formerly known as the Zhejiang University Research Apprenticeship Program. The program expanded this year to include students from Chungnam National University (CNU) as a result of the growing ties between ACES and CNU, which were reinforced by Associate Director Suzana Palaska’s visit last fall. The program will likely include students from additional universities in the future.

In the past six years, more than 120 students have graduated from this unique program. Its quality and value have been repeatedly recognized by faculty and students at our key partner universities. At Zhejiang University, the program has repeatedly received the “Best Summer Group Program” award.  

Two 2014 ISIP alumni, Qingyan Xiang and Jing Jin from Zhejiang University, joined the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition in “3+2” program this past August. 

OIP is also thankful for our ACES faculty mentors and their graduate students without whom this program would not be possible:

Agricultural & Biological Engineering: Dr. Xinlei Wang, Dr. Kaustubh Bhalerao, Dr. Rabin Bhattarai and Dr. Richard S. Gates, Dr. Alan C. Hansen, Dr. Prasanta Kalita

Animal Sciences: Dr. Juan Loor

Crop Sciences: Dr. Erik Sacks, Dr. Youfu 'Frank' Zhao, Dr. Maria Villamil, Dr. Cameron Pittelkow, and Dr. Mohammad Babadoost

Food Science and Human Nutrtion: Dr. Zeynep Madak-Erdogan, Dr. Juan Andrade, Dr. Hao Feng, Dr. Keith Cadwallader, Dr. Pawan Takhar, Dr. Yong-Su Jin, Dr. YoungSoo Lee and Dr. Elvira DeMejia

Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences: Dr. Jeffrey Wayne Matthews

The program is greatly assisted by Danni Chen, OIP graduate assistant, who is an alumnus of Zhejiang University.

For more information about the ISIP, visit:


News Source:

Suzana Palaska

News Writer:

Leslie Myrick, 217-244-5373

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture speaks on food security at U of I

Published September 29, 2015

The United States Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack spoke to more than 400 people at the Alice Campbell Alumni Center on the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign campus Thursday, Sept. 10 about the university’s role in addressing international food security.

Vilsack expressed his admiration for Illinois’ existing initiatives, outlined the great challenges associated with climate change and the world’s growing population, and inspired the students to do whatever they can to make sufficient, safe, nutritious food accessible to everyone.  

In reference to existing work on food security at U of I , Vilsack said, “You have a remarkable set of initiatives. As I speak about what we are doing [at the United States Department of Agriculture] you will be mentally checking off a list of the extraordinary work you are simultaneously doing.”

Speaking about alleviating hunger in the context of a changing climate, Vilsack said, “We will need to change everything we know, including the crops we grow, where we grow them, and growing seasons. We will need to consider double planting. Additionally, we will be embarking on a series of strategies to reduce greenhouse gases.”

As strategies for adjusting to changing climate, he listed 1) soil health, replenishing, nourishing, and managing nutrients; 2) rotating grazing of livestock, and 3) irrigation methods. He said that all of these technical approaches can have greater impact with the use of precision agriculture. By using Global Positioning Systems, drones and other equipment to customize farming inputs can be targeted to the specific needs of specific plots of land and improve yield. “Like every person sitting in this room, every acre is different. We have to understand the difference.”

Looking beyond the United States, Vilsack said “Our international strategies have found their way into the Feed the Future program.” He used Kenya as an example of where he has seen crop rotation introduced and farming practices made more sustainable and profitable.

Vilsack envisions a world where the food produced is stored and managed properly and where farmers are fairly compensated. Mentioning food waste several times, Vilsack said he wanted to campaign against this issue in the same way they did against littering during his childhood. “We put all these inputs in and one third of our food doesn’t get used as intended. This is not acceptable,” he said.

He mentioned the USDA FoodKeeper app as one tool to help reduce waste by enabling consumers to determine what stored foods really need to be discarded and what is safe to eat.

Vilsack then took questions from the audience, not leaving until all of the questions were answered. To some controversial questions, he added, that unfortunately “too often in this country we don’t have conversations, we have debates.”

In his answers, he continued to refer to the capacity of U of I.  Reflecting on his earlier tour of the campus Energy Farm, he said, “There’s not a citizen in this country who wouldn’t be impressed by what I walked through today.”

Vilsack concluded by admitting he had never known hunger, even when he was adopted from an orphanage as a “plump boy.” He urged the audience to think of those who do know hunger and inspired the students in the audience to meet the challenge global hunger presents.

“There are so many opportunities for bright young people,” he said. “It’s a great time to be a part of something that will save and change the world. Being here at this university right now is not just an opportunity but a responsibility. Your generation can become the first generation to ensure food security here and abroad.”

The event was hosted by the International Food Security at Illinois (IFSI) initiative and the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences (ACES).


Tom Vilsack serves as the Nation's 30th Secretary of Agriculture and leader of the U..S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). In more than six years at the department, Vilsack has worked to implement President Obama's agenda to put Americans back to work and create a stronger economy. USDA has supported America's farmers, ranchers, and growers who are driving the rural economy forward, provided food assistance to millions of Americans, carried out large conservation efforts, made record investments in rural communities, and helped provide a safe, sufficient, and nutritious food supply for the American people. Prior to his appointment, Vilsack served two terms as the Governor of Iowa, in the Iowa State Senate and as the mayor of Mt. Pleasant, Iowa.

The International Food Security Initiative (IFSI) is a program of the Office of International Programs in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences (ACES) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign that seeks to focus the expertise and resources of the university to address the global challenge of ensuring that all people at all times have access to sufficient, safe, and nutritious food to achieve their human potential.


ACES cross-disciplinary study aims to reduce postharvest losses and increase farmers’ value in India

Published September 29, 2015
India Grain
Harvest in Bihar, India.

ACES economists and engineers are working together to reduce postharvest losses and increase farmers’ value in Bihar, one of the most populous and poorest regions of India. 

Kathy Baylis, associate professor in the Department of Agricultural and Consumer Economics, is leading a team that is currently surveying 50 households in each of 64 villages in Bihar as well as all traders active in those villages to get a complete picture of the region’s grain economy. The survey results will help inform which technologies a team of engineers, led by Kent Rausch, associate professor in the Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering, will test and demonstrate in this area to mitigate postharvest losses.  The study is funded by the ADM Institute for the Prevention of Postharvest Loss.

“We want to first understand what circumstances people are facing. For example, there is very little storage available, especially public storage. At the same time, the farmers have little incentive to store grain because they have to pay back their input costs right at harvest, so just dropping in storage technology will not necessarily help. Some other post-harvest technologies are available but aren’t being used. We are trying to understand not only what people are doing but why,” Baylis explained.  

In addition to asking about technology, the surveys cover alternate cropping possibilities and the supply chain including traders. Her three graduate students, Marin Skidmore, Pallavi Shukla, and Hemant Pullabhotla, are in constant contact with the local survey enumerators and are interpreting the information. 

“This survey is huge. For example, this is not a sampling of traders. We are literally surveying all of the traders in these 64 villages in Bihar who buy and sell grain. Also, we have merged the baseline survey with a colleague at the India School of Business to include a total of 10,000 households,” she said.

Baylis wants to know who are farmers are selling to and who are the end users? Do these people care about quality; and how much are they willing to pay for quality?

“We are finding out that much corn from Bihar is going to poultry producers and biscuit manufacturers. We know these end users care about quality but we want to know how much they are willing to pay, for example, for lower moisture content, and other quality characteristics,” Baylis said.

As an economist, Baylis has expanded her consideration of postharvest loss to include value, and most important to her is that smallholder farmers gain value. 

“I am not only thinking about the grain that literally gets lost but also the value and quality that get lost. Also, you can have really high-quality grain being produced but if that particular quality attribute is not demanded then that’s also a loss. The goal of this for me is to help smallholder farmers. If they are providing high-quality grain in a timely manner, they should gain the benefits from that. If instead someone else is getting compensated for the value they are producing, then that is a problem for me. There seems to be a miscommunication happening in the supply chain, and farmers are not getting much of a premium for delivering a higher quality product, so I want to know why,” Baylis said.  

Using the survey results, Rausch will be collaborating with faculty from two Indian Institutions, Rajendra Agricultural University and Bihar Agricultural University, to develop experimental plans for the first round of testing in October. The collaboration will pinpoint how many and which technologies to test and which location to test them with the end goal of decreasing losses and increasing value.

 “We do have some technologies in mind based on previous studies in the state of Haryana. At this point, we are planning to try three storage methods, three drying methods, and three locations. We will be helping them include suppliers from the region for these technologies. Overall, we are looking at four different crops that have four different harvest seasons so we are making sure the study does not get to big too fast. ”

Specifically, Rausch plans to introduce a technology, hermetic storage bags, that has proved useful elsewhere in India. Read more here:

The experiments will start in October and continue with additional harvests in April and again next fall. 

News Sources:

Kathy Baylis
Kent Rausch

News Writer:

Leslie Myrick, 217-244-5373

ACES studying motivations and incentives for reducing postharvest losses in Brazil

Published September 29, 2015
Harvest in Parana, Brazil.

ACES faculty are investigating the perceptions of Brazilian farmers – both large and small holders – towards postharvest loss with the goal of helping the country maximize its agricultural production. Two separate studies showed that while large-scale farmers accept some postharvest losses to maximize overall production, smallholders may require revised incentives to further minimize their losses.

Both projects are funded by the ADM Institute for the Prevention of Postharvest Loss.

“Postharvest loss is broadly defined as grain lost from harvest up until grain is sold to commercial buyers,” explained Dr. Peter Goldsmith, associate professor in the Department of Agricultural and Consumer Economics. Specifically, he separates postharvest losses into three stages: 1) harvest (combine related losses); 2) short haul (during transport from field to storage or market); and 3) storage losses (that occur during storage, either on-farm or public storage).

As the world’s largest exporter of soybeans and home to the largest and fastest growing agricultural state in the world (Mato Grosso), Brazil is a critical component in feeding the world’s growing population. ACES faculty found it necessary to look at Brazil’s two types of farming operations, small and large scale, separately to see what policy changes, if any, they would recommend to minimize the country’s losses and/or maximize gains.  

 “The nature of postharvest loss is very different when comparing the small farmers in Paraná to the large commercial farmers in Mato Grosso, and the Brazilian government has separate policies and incentives for small and large scale agriculture,” explained Dr. Mary Arends-Kuenning, associate professor in the Department of Agricultural and Consumer Economics.

Large farmers accept some losses for greater good

“While we understand that policy’s goal is to reduce postharvest losses, we had not previously looked at the micro-economy of loss,” Goldsmith said.

He surveyed some of the world’s largest farmers in Mato Grosso, whose perceptions about postharvest losses were previously unknown, and learned these farmers perceive a certain level of postharvest loss as acceptable to increase their total production and profit.

“This study provides evidence that farmers are rational profit maximizers and trade some postharvest losses for grain production. In the case of double-crop systems in tropical regions where time and rain events are critical variables, managers accept a controllable loss. They perceive the economic benefits of double-cropping as compensation for the profit they lose from hastening, and therefore losing some of, their soybean harvest. Specifically, the results showed that farmers will accept soybean harvest losses of at least 6% and short-haul losses of at least 2% as an opportunity cost for not delaying the planting of a second crop, maize. In these cases, increasing their loss of soybeans postharvest does actually increase their total grain output per hectare,” Goldsmith said.

So what does this mean for policies directed at reducing postharvest losses for large scale farmers?

“Policymakers may want to focus on the public drivers of postharvest losses, such as infrastructure, including road construction and quality, and regulation, grain standards, and vehicle inspection,” Goldsmith said.  

Goldsmith, Peter D.; Anamaria Guadencio Martins, and Altair Dias de Moura, “The economics of post-harvest loss: a case study of the new large soybean- maize producers in tropical Brazil” Food Security, 2015, Vol. 7. Number 4.

Smallholders need additional support  

Smallholder farms in Brazil, which produce 41% of the country’s corn and 14% of the country’s soybeans, have great potential for progress and might be more inclined to mitigate postharvest losses.

In a recently-completed pilot study, Arends-Kuenning and her team examined smallholders’ perceptions of postharvest loss. Her study also assessed how government policies and incentives might impact these losses. She focused on the state of Paraná because it accounts for a significant share of Brazilian smallholder production.

“The Brazilian government has invested considerable resources in providing credit for smallholders to purchase new harvesting equipment and storage facilities. The state government extension agency has an annual competition to measure how much grain is left on the ground; the prizes include a TV and much fanfare is made of who wins,” said Arends-Kuenning.

Her pilot survey confirmed that smallholder farmers perceive postharvest loss as a significant problem and that their main losses are harvest and short haul related. “It’s usually related to improper maintenance of the combine and harvesting too quickly,” she said.

Arends-Kuenning said, “The government-sponsored competitions may have helped because the average losses of the competitors have gone down over time. The reports indicate that a significant numbers of farmers who enter the competition are below the maximum losses recommended by the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation (EMBRAPA). However, the incentives are still not working as they are intended overall. The Brazilian government has invested considerable resources into providing credit for smallholders to purchase new harvesting equipment and storage facilities, but the credit is not being used in a way that minimizes postharvest loss. For example, on-farm storage for animal feed remains primitive and results in loss from spoilage and rodents.”

Her upcoming project will quantify postharvest loss, determine its causes, and investigate the incentives that smallholders face to minimize postharvest loss. She will collect another round of data during the February 2016 harvest.

Measuring and documenting losses

Another ACES research team from the Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering including Grace Danao, Richard Gates, and Marvin Paulsen, has previously collaborated with three universities in Brazil to measure and document postharvest losses of soybeans and corn. This study, also funded by the ADM Institute for the Prevention of Postharvest Loss, installed probes in trucks to monitor GPS coordinates, time, temperature, relative humidity, and carbon dioxide buildup in grain in trucks during transportation during harvest. Read more here:

The team published a report concluding that by operating a combine carefully and making proper adjustments to the combine, an operator can save about 2 bags per hectacre of soybeans which translates to an operator hourly value of $238-$277 in U.S. dollars. 

Paulsen, M.R. et al. (2014) Measurement of combine losses for corn and soybean in Brazil. Applied Engineering in Agriculture, 30 (6): 841-855.

Study concludes that added enzyme makes phosphorus in rice co-products more digestible in pig diets

Published September 29, 2015

URBANA, Ill - Rice is the third most widely grown cereal grain worldwide with over 700 million tons produced per year. Co-products from the processing of rice for human consumption are an abundant feed source for livestock. Research conducted at the University of Illinois is helping producers make the most of these ingredients.

Rice co-products include rice hulls, rice bran, broken rice, and rice mill feed. Rice hulls primarily consist of lignin and ash and have no nutritional value. Rice bran is the outer part of the grain after the hulls have been removed. The bran is removed from brown rice to make polished white rice and makes up 8 to 10 percent of the weight of paddy rice. It can be fed as full fat rice bran (FFRB) or defatted rice bran (DFRB).

Broken rice consists of kernels of polished rice that have been broken during the milling process. Rice mill feed is a combination of rice hulls, rice bran, and rice polishings.

"Most of the phosphorus in rice co-products is hard for pigs to digest because it's bound to phytate," explained Hans H. Stein, a U of I professor of animal sciences. "About 84 to 88 percent of the phytate is in the bran layer so rice bran is a good source of phosphorus if we can get it into a form that pigs can absorb."

Microbial phytase, an enzyme produced by specially engineered microbes such as bacteria or yeast, breaks the bonds holding phosphorus to phytate. Microbial phytase has been used for years to improve phosphorus digestibility in U.S. swine diets based largely on corn and soybean meal. Stein, along with Ph. D. student Gloria Casas, set out to test its effects on the digestibility of phosphorus in rice co-products fed to pigs.

First, they fed a group of growing pigs diets containing rice co-products with no added phytase. The standardized total tract digestibility of phosphorus was greatest in broken rice at 75.6 percent. The digestibility of phosphorus in FFRB, rice mill feed, brown rice, and DFRB ranged from 26.4 to 33.1 percent.

Adding phytase greatly improved phosphorus digestibility in some of the rice co-products. When phytase was added to the diets, the digestibility of phosphorus increased to 64.5 percent in brown rice, 41.3 percent in FFRB, and 46.7 percent in rice mill feed. The digestibility of phosphorus in broken rice and DFRB was not increased by the addition of phytase.

"Broken rice contains no bran so it has less phytate-bound phosphorus, but also much less phosphorus overall than co-products with bran," said Stein. "Using microbial phytase in combination with brown rice, rice mill feed, or full fat rice bran makes these ingredients valuable sources of phosphorus in diets for growing pigs."

He added that with the use of microbial phytase, producers can also decrease the amount of phosphorus excreted by pigs. "So this not only reduces the cost of adding supplemental phosphorus to the diets, but it also has benefits for the environment."

The paper, "Effects of microbial phytase on the apparent and standardized total tract digestibility of phosphorus in rice coproducts fed to growing pigs" was published in a recent edition of the Journal of Animal Sciences. The full text is available online at

Maegan Reilly
I use the knowledge gained through U of I’s challenging science courses on a daily basis.
Tinley Park, IL

Working with patients who are undergoing cancer treatment can be a tough job. Some professionals, including Food Science and Human Nutrition graduate Maegan Reilly, enjoy the challenge because of the positive impact they’re able to make on their patients’ lives.

“My favorite part of being an oncology dietitian is having the opportunity to form meaningful relationships with my patients and their families to help them through a very challenging time,” Maegan says.

Maegan is a senior clinical dietitian at Boston’s Dana Farber Cancer Institute. Her daily role is working with patients to improve or maintain their nutrition status during and after cancer treatment. She is also a board-certified nutrition support specialist and works with patients who require tube feeding or intravenous nutrition. 

The dietetics program at the University of Illinois provided the tools and information needed to succeed in one of the most challenging combined dietetics internships and master’s program in the country, Maegan says.  She has continued to use the building blocks provided at U of I in her current role at Dana Farber.  

“Having a strong science background has proven to be very beneficial in the world of clinical nutrition,” Maegan says. “I use the knowledge gained through U of I’s challenging science courses on a daily basis.”

Beth Peralta
I love the flexibility and creativity that my job allows.
Mundelein, IL

The Illinois experience teaches many vital skills, including time management, teamwork, and a foundation of knowledge in one’s specific field. Now a U of I Extension media/communications specialist, registered and licensed dietitian Beth Peralta learned many of these skills, along with her foundation in dietetics and consumer education, at the University of Illinois. 

U of I also prepared her for her communications work in family and consumer sciences, which she loves.

“I love the flexibility and creativity that my job allows,” Beth says. “My favorite days are when I’m responsible for cooking, plating, and photographing recipes for our website and calendar. I also enjoy visiting with staff and clients, and helping to tell the story of how Extension’s Illinois Nutrition Education Programs positively impact the people of Illinois.”

Pairing those skills with her passion for nutrition education, her adventurous personality, and the desire to improve and learn are key characteristics that allowed Beth to excel after graduation.

“These traits served me well in the early part of my career as a hospital dietitian, then as a program coordinator in adult weight management, and now in my current job,” Beth says.

Limited pork expansion

Published September 28, 2015

URBANA, Ill. – The pork industry has largely overcome the impacts of the 2014 PED virus, and pork producers have been disciplined in limiting expansion after record 2014 profits, according to Purdue University Extension economist Chris Hurt. As a result, he said that pork supplies should be only modestly higher in 2016 and provide prices that cover all costs of production. However, there are some concerns for the longer run as global meat and poultry supplies continue to expand with a weak world income base. 

“The number of pigs per litter has set new quarterly highs in each of the three quarters so far this year,” Hurt said. “In the most recent summer quarter, the number of pigs per litter reached an all-time high of 10.39.

“So although the PED virus left a deficit in market hogs a year ago, that deficit will rapidly close by the end of this year. This can be seen in the current count of market hogs compared to year-ago levels,” Hurt said. “Pigs that were 180 pounds or larger on Sept.1 were up 10 percent. Although 10 percent higher is a large increase, it is a reflection of the deficit of market hogs one year ago. The number of market hogs weighing 120 to 179 pounds that will come to market in October and early November was up 8 percent, but the number of 50- to 119-pound pigs that will come to market from late November to early January was up only 3 percent. Finally, pigs under 50 pound that will be the foundation of the first quarter 2016 supplies were down modestly.”

In USDA’s September Hogs and Pigs report, producers indicated that they had expanded the breeding herd by just 1 percent. In addition, they were going to decrease fall farrowings by 2 percent and winter farrowings by 1 percent. 

“Pork supplies are expected to be up 4 percent in the final quarter of 2015 with a combination of 5 percent more hogs and 1 percent lower weights,” Hurt said. “For 2015, pork supplies are expected to be 7 percent higher than supplies in 2014. Supplies for 2016 should be about 1 percent higher than in 2015 with the first three quarters being down 1 percent, unchanged, and up 1 percent, respectively.”

Hog prices averaged near $55 per live hundredweight for the third quarter of 2015 and are expected to drop to an average in the higher $40s in the final quarter. Prices are expected to average near $50 in the winter and then move up seasonally to the mid-$50s in the second and third quarters of 2016. Prices in the final quarter of 2016 are anticipated to be in the mid to higher $40s.

Hurt said that for the 2015 calendar year, hog prices are expected to average about $51 on a live-weight basis. Current projections for 2016 are for a similar average price. These prices are in sharp contrast to the $76 record high prices of 2014 when PED reduced pork supplies.

Costs of production in both 2015 and 2016 are expected to be similar, at around $51 per hundredweight. Costs for both years are the same as the projected price, and thus at break-even point. These cost projections include costs for full depreciation and a normal rate of return for all capital and labor. Therefore, at the breaking-even point, all costs are covered.

“After the record profits of 2014, there has been concern that the industry would over-expand,” Hurt said. “At this point, that concern has not developed with supply and demand anticipated to be in balance for the coming 12 months. This also serves as a warning to the industry to make sure that further expansion plans remain moderate.  

“There seem to be growing threats in the future for the meats sector,” Hurt added. “Those include continued expansion of total meat supplies into 2016 and 2017 with rapid expansion of poultry and increased beef supplies. The large drop in finished cattle prices in recent weeks suggest that retail beef prices could begin to drop this fall and provide added competition for pork. In the longer run, beef supplies will continue to expand for multiple years. Potential weakness of meat and poultry exports is also a concern with slowing world economic growth and a strong U.S. dollar.”

According to Hurt, feed prices will remain low for the next nine months due to strong yields for 2014 and 2015 crops and weakened exports. “Animal product producers will want to take advantage of harvest price lows this fall. However, longer term, managers need to remain aware that low feed prices are not guaranteed if weather should turn more adverse in some important growing areas.”