College of ACES
College News

Natural lawn care

Published June 7, 2016

URBANA, Ill. – Do you assume a lush, green lawn requires heavy application of fertilizers and pesticides, or hours of back-breaking weed pulling? Kim Ellson, a University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator, says there is a way to maintain an attractive lawn with environmentally friendly methods that don’t require major effort.

“There are some simple changes you can make that will reduce the environmental impact of your lawn, and help keep your lawn attractive,” Ellson explains. “These include using organic fertilizers and pesticides, grasscycling, mowing methods, alternative grass species, and achieving healthy soils.”

Turf grass in northern Illinois is typically made up of cool season grasses that actively grow when temperatures are lower in spring and autumn. Fertilizer applications should be made during these times.

“The simplest change to reduce chemicals in one’s environment is by replacing synthetic fertilizers with organic fertilizers,” Ellson suggests. “Organic fertilizers are naturally slow-release and add organic matter to the soil with every application.” 

Another easy change is “grasscycling,” the practice of leaving lawn clippings on the lawn to break down naturally and serve as a soil amendment.

“For many people, the thought of leaving grass clippings on their lawn is frightful,” Ellson admits. “But if the grass is cut frequently, the clippings will be short enough to fall between the existent grass blades and break down rapidly.” 

She says a dried hay appearance on the lawn means the clippings are too long and the grass should be cut more often.

Proper mowing is a critical factor for management without chemicals. Grass should be kept at 2 to 3 inches in height, and should not be cut more than a third of its height when mowing. Lawns cut too short become stressed and vulnerable to drought stress, weed competition, pests, and diseases.

Mower blades should be kept sharp to ensure a clean cut and to avoid shredding the grass. This allows grass to heal efficiently and be less susceptible to diseases.

“No-mow lawns are starting to enter the market and offer an attractive, environmentally friendly alternative, especially suitable for areas in your yard that are not heavily frequented,” Ellson says.

If grass clippings do not decompose quickly, this is a sign that soil microbes and earthworms may be suffering from an overuse of synthetic pesticides. Ellson recommends discontinuing use of these pesticides in such cases.

For gardeners that do have trouble with lawn pests, organic pesticides are available. These introduce fewer environmental risks than their synthetic counterparts. For example, corn gluten is an organic pre-emergent herbicide that is safe for established plants and provides nitrogen fertilizer. Ellson says to apply it prior to weed growth and reapply annually. 

“As with all forms of gardening, one has to remain on top of things,” Ellson advises. “Do not allow weeds to get out of control or set seed. A single weed plant can produce incredible amounts of seed.”

A more comprehensive or sustainable approach to lawn care looks at both turf and soil health. Achieving optimal soil health is a long-term project that will require repeated applications of soil amendments and avoiding the use of synthetic chemicals. 

“Healthy soils have a high percentage of organic matter and microorganisms, even though we tend to forget about the latter,” Ellson explains. “Adding a thin layer of fine compost to your lawn at least annually is an excellent way to amend your soil. Organic fertilizers and grass clippings also add organic matter, which feeds and sustains the microorganisms that support grass naturally.”

For new lawns, the selection of suitable grass types can ensure a turf that is more resilient to weather, weeds, pests, and diseases. 

“Ultimately the endurance and success of natural lawn care will be determined by people’s mindset and their acceptance of lawns with a slight difference in character,” Ellson says. “Is the convenience of chemicals worth the environmental and health implications for our family and pets?”

News Source:

Kim Ellson, 847-818-2905

News Writer:

University of Illinois Extension

Hog profits: Battle between higher hog prices and higher feed prices

Published June 6, 2016

URBANA, Ill. – Higher feed prices are once again the main story reducing prospects for profitability in pork production. In the first quarter of 2016, corn prices received by U.S. farmers averaged $3.60 per bushel and high protein meal at Decatur averaged $276 per ton. Today, those prices are closer to $4 per bushel for corn and nearby meal futures are above $400 per ton. Will higher feed prices erase hog profits?

According to Purdue University Extension economist Chris Hurt, it is fortunate that lean hog futures have also received a recent boost due to prospects for additional pork exports to China. “In 2014, Chinese pork producers reduced herds due to poor margins. Now there is a shortage of pork, resulting in record-high retail prices. China’s pork imports have been growing and China will likely displace Japan as the world’s top pork importer this year. This is no small feat because Japan has been the largest pork importer since 1989,” Hurt says.

USDA analysts have forecast total U.S. pork exports to grow by 5 percent this year to 5.2 billion pounds. However, weekly export data this year points to even larger growth. Total export commitments for 2016 are 17 percent higher than last year at this point. Export commitments include the amount already shipped this year plus undelivered sales. With the prospects for Chinese imports to expand this summer, Hurt says total export growth may be stronger than the current 5 percent USDA forecast.

“Pork producer margins are currently caught between the good news of potentially higher pork prices from growing exports and the bad news of higher feed prices from reduced South American corn and soybean production and weather concerns for 2016 U.S. crops,” Hurt says. “Both pork prices and feed prices are in a period of upward dynamics right now. How these two issues ultimately work out will have a great deal to do with margins for the remainder of 2016 and 2017.”

Hurt says hog price prospects have improved somewhat.

Prices in 2016 are expected to be near $52 per live hundredweight, compared to an average of about $50 last year. Prices are expected to be in the mid-to-upper $50s in the second and third quarters and then seasonally drop to the higher $40s in the fourth quarter this year and first quarter of 2017. Although hog prices for 2016 are expected to be about $2 higher, the cost of production is also expected to rise by nearly $2 per live hundredweight with current feed price estimates based on futures markets for the rest of the year.

“This means that margins will be similar in 2015 and 2016,” Hurt says. “Small losses of $3 per head are estimated for last year and projections for this year are for losses of $2 per head. These are small losses, so one could characterize the industry as operating near  breakeven costs for both years. Breaking even covers all costs including depreciation, labor cost and an equity return,” he explains.

According to Hurt, the seasonality of hog prices will continue to be an important determinant in the profitability by quarter. Hog prices tend to be the highest in warm weather months and the lowest in cool weather months. Following this pattern, profits are expected to be $10 per head in the second and third quarter this year and losses of $16 per head are expected in the fourth quarter of 2016 and first quarter of 2017. 

“Higher feed prices have raised the red flag on expansion,” Hurt says. “Producers well remember the extreme feed prices experienced in 2008 and again in 2011, 2012, and 2013. That unpleasant memory should help keep expansion plans on hold for now.”

Hurt adds that two important factors determining margins this year are 1) the potential for higher pork exports and thus higher hog prices and 2) the potential for higher feed prices.

“These are tugging at margins in opposite directions,” Hurt says. “Who is going to win the battle? So far, the impact of higher hog prices has been roughly offset by higher feed costs.”


Twelve reasons to prepare your garden

Published June 6, 2016
peppers growing in garden

URBANA, Ill. – Garden preparation can play a vital role in the success of your garden, according to University of Illinois horticulture educator Andrew Holsinger. It will take some effort to give each vegetable its maximum potential for growth and productivity, but the rewards justify the work involved. Holsinger breaks down garden preparation into 12 categories.

Insects – Insect damage can either be tolerated or prevented.

“Be prepared to scout your garden for good and bad bugs,” says Holsinger. “Proper identification is critical in preserving beneficial insect populations and managing pest insects. Certain insect pests are more easily controlled if detected early in their life cycle.”

A combination of strategies can be used in reducing insect damage. Planting early may assist in avoidance of insect pests when their populations are highest. Holsinger says that insecticides should be used as a last resort. If insecticides are used, he urges gardeners to follow label instructions and rotate through different products to avoid developing pesticide resistance. Holsinger also points out that gardeners should avoid applying insecticides at bloom, when beneficial insects are visiting flowers.

Disease – All vegetables are susceptible to several diseases.

“Pathogens may be lurking in garden debris. Cull diseased vegetables from the garden and dispose of them to prevent further sources of infection. If you compost garden debris, keep diseased plants out of the compost,” Holsinger says.

Holsinger recommends growing varieties that have been selected for their disease resistance, and suggests that gardeners ensure proper spacing to enhance air circulation around plants.

Frost – Damage can be prevented.

Holsinger recommends gardeners gauge temperature in the garden using a thermometer in a sheltered location.

“Pay attention to frost/freeze dates for your area, as they vary across the state. Some cool season vegetables are hardy in lower temperatures and will tolerate frost. Trapping heat from the soil by covering plants can prove to be important when frost comes early,” Holsinger says.

Rodents and deer – Animals can be destructive to the garden.

It’s not easy to avoid plants preferred by deer or rodents. Instead, gardeners can use barriers to exclude pests, if placed according to the habit of the animal. According to Holsinger, building a raised bed is a good way to protect plants from many nuisance animals. Curtail nesting and hiding places for rats, mice, and voles by eliminating habitat, such as piled plant debris, near the garden.

Weeds - Weeds produce seeds that cause misdeeds.

Holsinger says there are a number of ways to reduce weed problems in gardens. Minimize the amount of tillage that can bring weed seeds to the surface of the soil where they can germinate. Be careful when adding organic matter to the garden, as sources that are not composted properly may contain weed seeds. Laying down cardboard before adding organic matter can help create a barrier to keep weed emergence to a minimum. Also, correct weed identification will assist in targeting the right methods for weed elimination.

As with insecticides, Holsinger urges gardeners to always follow herbicide label instructions and keep chemicals out of reach of children in a locked cabinet.

Variety selection – Select the right plant for your space.

“Planting varieties that can be grown within the frost free growing season for your area can be determined by consulting the seed packet for maturity date,” Holsinger says. “Selecting different varieties can extend your harvest with succession planting. Some varieties are also more compact and can be used well in small spaces or container gardens.”

Soil health – The foundation of a healthy garden begins with healthy soil.

Healthy soil provides the nutrients needed to grow plants that are more resistant to insects and disease.

“It’s a good idea to have your garden soil tested in order to see what the pH and nutrient levels are like,” Holsinger says. “Also, provide adequate walkways to help ensure less compaction in the garden.”

Irrigation – Water is a necessity in the garden.

Having a close water source can be a back saver. Holsinger recommends targeted watering to ensure only desirable plants are watered – not weeds.

Light – Keeping the garden green.

Most vegetables require eight to ten hours of sunlight. “Think full sun for a full fruiting garden,” Holsinger says.

Planting near trees – Chemical and shade inhibition in the garden.

Black walnut trees can cause problems when it comes to vegetable gardens, due to inhibitory chemicals released by the roots. Trees can also cast excessive shade and compete with vegetables for moisture.

Crop rotation – The right approach is a changing sequence.

Rotating crops can help reduce disease, as some diseases overwinter in the soil.

“Different vegetables remove certain elements more than others from the soil,” Holsinger notes. “Rotation can help balance nutrient uptake.”

Size – Select the right size for your gardening needs.

Beginners should start small. Even the most prepared gardener will experience pitfalls. “Lessons learned will help guide you for future growing seasons,” Holsinger says.

News Writer:

University of Illinois Extension

NASA Career Award for NRES Faculty Member

Published June 3, 2016
Dr. Kaiyu Guan
Dr. Kaiyu Guan

NRES congratulates Dr. Kaiyu Guan, assistant professor in ecohydrology and geoinformatics, on receiving a NASA career award. The program is designed to support outstanding scientific research and career development of scientists and engineers at the early stage of their professional careers. Guan’s project was selected for the New (Early Career) Investigator Program in Earth Science. His proposal was one of 22 selected from 115 entries. Guan proposes to use the novel satellite information from plant fluorescence to improve crop monitoring and yield estimation for US and Brazil. Guan has a joint appointment as a Blue Waters professor affiliated with the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA).

News Source:

College of ACES Office of Research
Being a student at the U of I was where I really developed my passion for pursuing a career in crop sciences.

Growing up on a farm set the stage for Dr. David Marburger’s profession as the Small Grains Extension Specialist at Oklahoma State University.

“My farming background has been instrumental to my career,” he says. “Getting into the mindset of a grower and understanding his or her production practices is essential for making recommendations to a farmer or stakeholder.”

Exposing himself to new experiences outside of his family’s farm allowed David to advance his knowledge and grow as a crop sciences student and professional. His classroom studies, internships, and field experiences at the University of Illinois provided him with technical information and developed his network of people in the industry. Working and interacting with other crop sciences students and professionals provided David with the collaborative skills needed to accommodate the specific needs of Oklahoma producers.

“Agriculture is a small world,” he says. “It is important for graduates to feel comfortable and confident to turn to their professional peers, seeking and offering assistance to create a collaborative work environment.”

David credits the University of Illinois for laying the foundation for his career.

“Being a student at the U of I was where I really developed my passion for pursuing a career in crop sciences,” he says. “What I learned in class ignited a fire in me to keep learning more, making it clear to me that I wanted to pursue a career where I would be able to apply that knowledge to help others while doing something I truly enjoy and am passionate about.”


USDA-NIFA North Central Region Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (NCR SARE) Visit

12:00 PM - 1:00 PM
Heritage Room, ACES Library



Dr. Beth Nelson, Regional Director, NCR-SARE Research and Education Programs
Dr. Rob Myers, Regional Director, NCR-SARE Extension Programs
Joan Benjamin, Associate Regional Coordinator NCR-SARE and
Coordinator of Farmer Rancher and Youth Educator Grant Programs

Please join us for a complimentary pizza lunch and an information session on funding opportunities available through the USDA-NIFA SARE program. A presentation of approximately 30 minutes will be provided by Beth Nelson, Rob Myers and Joan Benjamin on grant opportunities offered through North Central Region SARE, including information on sources of technical information available through the SARE program. The USDA SARE program is currently funded at $25 million per year nationally. This presentation should be of interest to a wide range of faculty, staff and graduate students working on agriculture, food, and rural issues. Following the presentation there will be time for questions and discussion about SARE. Laura Christianson, Andy Larson, and Mary Hosier with the Illinois SARE program will also be available to answer questions.

Questions: Contact Dr. Laura Christianson (, Illinois state SARE co-coordinator.

Event is open to faculty, staff, graduate students with interests in funding for agriculture, food, and rural issues.


ACE Departmental Seminar - Dr. Dean Jolliffe

12:00 PM - 1:00 PM
426-428 Mumford Hall

The Department of Agricultural and Consumer Economics
Seminar Series is proud to present

Dr. Dean Jolliffe
Senior Economist, Poverty and Inequality Unit
Development Economics Research Group, The World Bank
(CV attached)

Seminar Title:  "A Global Headcount of Extreme Poverty: A Review of Data, Assumption and Methods used by the World Bank to Count Poor People"
ABSTRACT: One of the main goals of the World Bank is to help bring an end to extreme poverty by 2030, understood as less than 3% of the world population living in extreme proverty by that time. This presentation is about how the Bank monitors progress towards this goal, and the assumptions and data inputs used to estimate global poverty. In 2012, the latest reference year for the global count, we find that 897 million people (12.7 percent of the world's population) are living in extreme poverty, defined as living on less than $1.90 per day. The presentation will include an explanation of how the new $1.90 international poverty line was established, along with a discussion of how incorporating the most recent purchasing power parity conversion factors (PPPs) from 2011 have changed the value of this line and our understanding of the profile of global poverty. The discussion will also cover several methodolgocial decisions taken in the process of updating both the poverty line and the consumption and income distributions at the country level, including issues of inter-temporal and spatial price adjustments.

Friday, September 30, 2016
12:00 - 1:00 p.m.
Room 426-428 Mumford Hall

***Pizza will be served***


INGENAES Global Symposium and Learning Exchange

All Day Event
Lusaka, Zambia

How do we apply new knowledge and resources so extension services will provide more equitable support to both men and women farmers and contribute to improved nutrition? Does this question cause you to sit up and want to engage? Then read on because there is an upcoming opportunity to join us in Zambia in January 2017 (Save the Date).

This is not your average symposium. It’s three days of sharing past experiences, human-centered design, and innovations in gender and nutrition issues in extension. Bring your questions, knowledge, enthusiasm, and even your skepticism. Leave with a holistic sense of the patterns and values of gender equity in agricultural extension and its connection to nutrition. In your “pocket” you will have new ideas, as well as the newly honed skills, access to resources and tools, and connections needed to put these ideas to work. Together we will build our confidence and be ready to implement specific improvements in our work.

Conference Day one will set the context with presentations, roundtables, and expert interviews with leaders in the field. We will prioritize needs and identify what has and has not worked. Days 2 and 3 will consist of hands-on workshops to consider the issues and needs, and prototype solutions to test in the context of your work. Expect to be fully engaged!

Is this event right for you? Are you….

  • …an agricultural development specialist or extensionist looking to understand how to integrate gender and/or nutrition into your current work?
  • …in a position to transform an organization? Influence policy?
  • …someone who has helped transform an organization to better serve both women and men farmers?
  • …questioning whether agricultural extension actually has a role to play in improving nutrition?
  • …someone who knows what competencies extension field staff need in order to address nutrition in their day-to-day work in the context of their region and their organizations?
  • …a person who wonders or knows how to get buy-in on nutrition and gender issues from men in households, both formally and informally?

If you answer positively to two or more of the previous questions, attending this conference is important for you! Please click 'Register' below to join our symposium mailing list and receive further information on the symposium or go directly to

Symposium Webpage: