Crop Sciences

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Farmers are asking: How much nitrogen is left?

Published May 19, 2017

URBANA, Ill. – Early this week, a brief respite from heavy rains allowed for some corn and soybean planting (or replanting) to resume in many parts of Illinois. But, given the amount of recent precipitation, many farmers are concerned about nitrogen loss and wondering if they need to apply more. Emerson Nafziger, professor in the Department of Crop Sciences at the University of Illinois, provides some insight. 

“The return of cooler weather along with the rainfall slowed nitrification - the conversion of ammonium to nitrate - slightly, and also slowed the denitrification process,” Nafziger explains. “Both nitrification and denitrification are biological processes, so they happen faster at higher temperatures. We know from finding nitrate in the soil that there has been a lot of nitrification. Denitrification requires both saturated soils and warm soils, and there has been less of it.”

Soils with standing water are slow to warm up, limiting the rate of denitrification. But it is happening in some areas where water is still standing. In those locations, it will be some time before a crop can be planted, and Nafziger says adjustments to fertilizer nitrogen may be in order as the crop gets established.

Ammonium moves little in the soil, but when it is converted to nitrate, it can move. “We know from our research that nitrogen applied last fall was about 70 percent nitrate by early May, and ammonia applied in March or April was more than half nitrate when the weather turned wet,” Nafziger says.

Somewhat surprisingly, Nafziger found little change in soil nitrogen levels from the unusually heavy rainfall, “We sampled six trial sites both before and after the heavy rainfall of late April and early May, and found virtually no change in soil nitrogen content. We expect that mineralization of soil organic matter added some nitrogen between samples, and that is no longer around, so some nitrogen moved out. The good news is that most of the nitrogen added as fertilizer is still in the soil. That may not be the case in every part of every field, but we don’t see any reason to imagine that most of the nitrogen we applied has been lost.”

Soil drainage is an important factor in movement of water and nitrate. Soil texture is a critical component of drainage, but field tiles change the relationship between texture and water movement.

“As an example, a typical Drummer silty clay loam soil in eastern Illinois allows hardly any water to move through it unless the soil is tile-drained. Tile becomes the exit route for soil nitrogen into surface waters, replacing denitrification as the main way nitrogen is lost in such soils. So, tile drainage changes the assumption that heavy-textured soils will lose nitrogen to denitrification while lighter-textured soils lose more to leaching,” Nafziger explains.

While it’s possible that some nitrogen may be lost before crop uptake begins in a few weeks, Nafziger says that a decision to apply more nitrogen than planned is premature. As soils dry, rainfall returns to normal, and plants grow, roots will begin to draw water and dissolved nitrogen towards the surface, and mineralization will kick into high gear. “Last year,” Nafziger recalls, “under good temperatures and without unusually heavy rainfall, we saw mineralization provide as much as 150 pounds of nitrogen per acre to the crop.”

One indication that the topsoil has not been stripped clean of nitrogen is the recovery of green leaf color that has been happening as the soil dries out. “Most fields are not as dark green as we saw at this point in 2016, but as the root system starts to expand and as soils continue to warm, this will change,” Nafziger says. “The corn crop at this point looks the way it does not because of lack of nitrogen, but due to the effects of temperature and rainfall on crop growth and early development.”

While it is premature to revise nitrogen management based on what has happened so far, farmers shouldn’t rule out the possibility that the crop may need more nitrogen. The good news is that farmers still have time to make such decisions. As long as soil conditions continue to improve, a crop provided with normal amounts of fertilizer nitrogen rarely runs out during vegetative development. According to Nafziger, this year will be no exception.

Nafziger plans to continue soil sampling to learn more about the status of soil nitrogen over the next two months. But, he says, because similar weather patterns have not happened this early in the season in recent years, he cannot easily predict what will happen later in the season.

“Nitrogen deficiency develops over time, and is almost always more related to current soil moisture than to the amount of soil nitrogen. So, if soils do not get extra wet or extra dry over the next month, this season could turn out to be much more typical than we expect.”

For more information, see the Bulletin.

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Blue and purple corn: Not just for tortilla chips anymore

Published May 17, 2017
blue corn

URBANA, Ill. – Consumers today insist on all-natural everything, and food dyes are no exception. Even if food manufacturers are willing to make the change, current sources of natural dyes are expensive and hard to come by. Now, a large University of Illinois project is filling the gap with colored corn.

“Most natural colors come from things like wine skins, red carrots, and beets. The problem with that is most of the product is wasted in extracting the coloring. It’s not good value,” says Jack Juvik, a geneticist in the crop sciences department at U of I.

Juvik and an interdisciplinary team have been experimenting with purple and blue corn varieties, noting that health-promoting pigments known as anthocyanins are located in the outer layers of the corn kernel. That makes a big difference, economically.

“You can process corn in different ways to remove only the outer layer. The rest can still be fed into the corn supply chain to make ethanol or grits or any of the other products corn is already used for. That outer layer becomes a value-added co-product,” Juvik says.

The team has covered a lot of bases since the $1.4 million project began in 2014. For example, they identified the optimal milling process and demonstrated that corn-derived anthocyanins remain stable in food products. What’s left is to find the most potent sources of the pigments for future corn breeding. 

In a recent study, Juvik and his colleagues looked at anthocyanin type and concentration in nearly 400 genetically distinct lines of colored corn. They grew these lines in Illinois to see if anthocyanin concentration stayed constant from generation to generation – a critical quality for breeding new varieties.

Peruvian types had some of the highest anthocyanin concentrations, and they held up throughout multiple generations. “That’s good news. It means we can select for the trait we’re interested in without worrying whether it will be expressed in new environments,” Juvik says.

The next step will be getting those mighty Peruvian genes into high-yielding corn hybrids selected for production in the Midwest. If Juvik is successful, blue or purple corn could come to a field near you.

The article, “A survey of anthocyanin composition and concentration in diverse maize germplasm,” is published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. Co-authors Michael Paulsmeyer and Laura Chatham are graduate students and Talon Becker a post-doctoral scholar in the crop sciences department at U of I. Megan West and Leslie West worked for The Kraft Heinz Company, which supported the project. Additional support came from the Illinois Corn Grower’s Association and Monsanto.

News Source:

Jack Juvik, 217- 333-1966

New study sheds light on origins of life on Earth through molecular function

Published May 17, 2017
  • Debate exists over how life began on Earth, but a new study provides evidence for a “metabolism-first” model.
  • Scientists at the University of Illinois mined the Gene Ontology database to trace the origins and evolution of molecular functions through time.
  • The study shows metabolism and binding arose first, followed by the functional activities of larger macromolecules and cellular machinery.

URBANA, Ill. – In the primordial soup that was early Earth, life started small. Elements joined to form the simple carbon-based molecules that were the precursors of everything that was to come. But there is debate about the next step.

One popular hypothesis suggests that ribonucleic acid (RNA) molecules, which contain the genetic blueprints for proteins and can perform simple chemical reactions, kick-started life. Some scientists refute this idea, however, saying RNA is too large and complex a molecule to have started it all. That group says simpler molecules had to evolve the ability to perform metabolic functions before macromolecules such as RNA could be built. This idea is appropriately named “metabolism-first,” and new evidence out of the University of Illinois backs it up.

“All living organisms have a metabolism, a set of life-sustaining chemical transformations that provide the energy and matter needed for the functions of the cell. These metabolic transformations are assumed to have occurred very early in life, in primitive Earth. Organisms probably replaced chemical reactions already going on in the planet and internalized them into cells through development of enzymatic activities,” says Gustavo Caetano-Anollés, bioinformatician and professor in the Department of Crop Sciences at U of I.

Caetano-Anollés and Ibrahim Koç, a visiting scholar in the department, found evidence for the “metabolism-first” hypothesis by studying the evolution of molecular functions in organisms representing all realms of life. For 249 organisms, their genomes – or complete set of genes – were available in a searchable database. What’s unique about this particular resource, known as the Gene Ontology (GO) database, is the fact that for each gene product – a protein or RNA molecule – a set of terms describing its function goes with it.

“You can take an entire genome that represents an organism, like the human genome, and visualize it through the collection of functionalities of its genes. The study of these ‘functionomes’ tells us what genes do, instead of focusing on their names and locations. For example, we can find out what kinds of catalytic, recognition, or binding activities a gene product has, which is much more intuitive,” Caetano-Anollés notes. “The best way to understand an organism is through its functions.”

According to Caetano-Anollés, the number of times a function appears in a genome provides historical information. So the team took the GO terms describing all of the molecular functions in each organism and counted them up. The idea was that an ancient function, such as the catalytic activity of metabolism, is likely shared by all organisms and will be found in large numbers. On the other hand, more recent functions are found in lower numbers and in smaller subsets of organisms.

The team used the information and advanced computational methods to construct a tree that traced the most likely evolutionary path of molecular functions through time. At the base of the tree, close to its roots, were the most ancient functions. The most recent were close to the crown.

At the base of the tree, corresponding to the origin of life on Earth, were functions related to metabolism and binding. “It is logical that these two functions started very early because molecules first needed to generate energy through metabolism and had to interact with other molecules through binding,” Caetano-Anollés explains.

The next major advancements were functions that made the rise of macromolecules possible, which is when RNA might have entered the picture. Next came the machinery that integrated molecules into cells, followed by the rise of functions allowing communication between cells and their environments. “Finally, as you move toward the crown of the tree, you start seeing functions related to highly sophisticated processes involving things like muscle, skin, or the nervous system,” Caetano-Anolles says.

The research doesn’t just shed light on the past. Knowing the progression of these molecular functions through time can help predict where life on Earth is headed. “People think of evolution as looking backwards,” Caetano-Anollés says. “But we could use our chronologies and methodologies to ask what novel molecular functions will be generated in the future.”

The work has applications for bioengineering, an emerging field that uses biological information and computation to produce novel molecules. Engineered molecules could combat disease and improve the quality of everyday life, according to Caetano-Anollés. “The best way to reengineer biological molecules with novel and useful molecular functions is to learn principles from clues left behind in their past,” he says.

The article, “The natural history of molecular functions inferred from an extensive phylogenomic analysis of gene ontology data,” is published in PLoS One.

Herbicide considerations for replanted corn

Published May 16, 2017
wet corn field

URBANA, Ill. – Following recent and excessive precipitation, many Illinois corn producers are now scrambling to replant before the final planting date on June 5. While there are many agronomic considerations associated with replanting, University of Illinois weed scientist Aaron Hager says farmers should keep weed control/herbicide issues in mind.

“Herbicide-resistance traits in the replanted hybrids should be taken into account,” says Hager, an associate professor in the Department of Crop Sciences at U of I. “For example, if you initially planted a glyphosate-resistant corn hybrid and have areas that need to be replanted, you can replant with a similar glyphosate-resistant hybrid or choose to replant with one that’s not glyphosate-resistant. If you take the second option, you will have to take special precautions to reduce drift with any postemergence glyphosate application, as these plants will be extremely sensitive to glyphosate.”

Hager says farmers should consider the interval between the last herbicide application and corn replanting. “For soil-applied corn herbicides, replanting can proceed whenever field conditions are feasible,” he says. “However, for some postemergence corn herbicides, there are intervals between application and replanting. If replanting a corn field previously treated with Spirit, for example, four weeks must elapse between the herbicide application and planting. For NorthStar, the interval is 14 days. For Permit or Yukon, you need to wait one month.”

While most soil-applied herbicides allow more than one application per season, a few, such as Acuron and Resicore, can be applied only once. In instances where small areas of a field will be replanted, Hager says some farmers may elect to simply replant without applying any additional residual herbicide. “However, if you decide to make a second application of a particular corn herbicide, keep in mind that many product labels indicate a maximum per-acre rate that can be applied during one growing season,” he notes.

If farmers need to control corn from the first planting, Hager recommends tillage as an effective first choice. Several herbicides can control existing corn plants if tillage isn’t an option, but Hager says careful attention must be given to what, if any, herbicide resistance trait(s) the existing corn plants contain.

“As you might imagine,” Hager says, “glyphosate is very effective for controlling existing stands of corn sensitive to glyphosate. Corn replanting can occur immediately after application, but control might be improved if at least 24 hours elapses between application and replanting. Glyphosate also would control sensitive weeds that might have emerged with the initial stand of corn. Be very cautious to avoid drift when spraying glyphosate, especially if spraying around wet holes.”

Other herbicides to control emerged corn include paraquat and glufosinate (only hybrids sensitive to glufosinate), although previous research with these herbicides has demonstrated that complete control is not always achieved. Performance of these products can be improved when applied in combination with atrazine or metribuzin. Paraquat and glufosinate would also control a broad spectrum of emerged weeds.

Corn hybrids resistant to glyphosate, glufosinate, or both can be controlled with Select Max prior to replanting field corn. According to label specifications, farmers should apply 6 fluid ounces per acre to control glyphosate-resistant field corn up to 12 inches tall.

“Applications should include NIS and AMS (do not use a COC or MSO in this particular use), and care must be taken to avoid in-field overlaps or excessive injury to the replanted corn might occur. Glyphosate can be tank-mixed with the Select Max to control emerged broadleaf weed species. Do not replant fields treated in this way sooner than six days after application or severe injury to the replanted corn can occur,” Hager says.

Product labels of ACCase-inhibitors including Poast, Poast Plus, Fusion, Fusilade, Select, and Assure II require an interval between application and rotation to or replanting with grass crops such as corn. These intervals range from 30 (Poast, Poast Plus, Select) to 60 (Fusion, Fusliade) to as many as 120 (Assure II) days, making these products unlikely choices for this particular use. Severe injury to replanted corn can occur if soil residues of ACCase-inhibiting herbicides are taken up by emerging corn plants.

For more information and handy reference tables, please visit the Bulletin.

News Source:

Aaron Hager, 217-333-4424

Soybean sleuth and researcher to be keynote speaker

Published May 12, 2017
Dr. Hymowitz in the lab

URBANA, Ill. – The email addresses of most of the faculty and staff at the University of Illinois are the first initial and a portion of their last name. Not so for U of I Professor Emeritus Theodore Hymowitz. His email address speaks to his passion and lifelong pursuit: soyui.

Hymowitz will be a keynote speaker at the World Soybean Research Conference, Sept. 10-15 in Savannah, Georgia. How appropriate, as this year’s conference is celebrating 250 years of soybean in North America. Hymowitz hasn’t been studying the soybean that long, but he is as well, or even better, known as a soybean historian than a crop scientist. On an unfunded, freelance basis during his career, he traveled the world sleuthing the soybean and its roots.

In 1983, Hymowitz and his colleague J.R. Harlan published a paper attributing the introduction of the soybean to North America to Samuel Bowen in 1765. Later, Hymowitz pinpointed the entry of the soybean to the United States to be Savanah. But it wasn’t until Jan. 2016 that the Georgia Historical Society recognized his discovery. A historical society marker was erected at the Skidaway Institute of Oceanography to commemorate the soybean’s arrival.

After receiving his Ph.D. from Oklahoma State University, Hymowitz joined the faculty at the University of Illinois in the Department of Crop Sciences in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences. He spent his entire career at Illinois working on breeding, genetics, and the history of the soybean.

While at the University of Illinois he conducted research on the variation in and genetics of biologically active and anti-nutritional components of soybean seed and conducted plant exploration trips to Asia, Oceania, and Australia to locate potential germplasm resources for soybean varietal improvement.

In 2015, Hymowitz completed a decade-long effort with University of Arizona scientists Monica Schmidt and Eliot Herman. The team of researchers yielded a new soybean with significantly reduced levels of three key proteins responsible for both its allergenic and anti-nutritional effects. The work is described in a paper published online in the journal Plant Breeding.

For more about the conference, visit


Modified soybeans yield more in future climate conditions

Published May 4, 2017
SoyFACE facility
Soybeans grown in fields that simulate 2050 temperatures show signs of stress. Researchers have discovered modified soybeans that yield more than current varieties in 2050 field conditions.
  • By 2050—in the midst of increasing temperature and carbon dioxide levels—we will need to produce 70 percent more food to meet the demands of 9.7 billion people.
  • Researchers have modified soybeans to yield more when both temperature and carbon dioxide levels increase, which suggests that we might be able to combat heat-related yield loss with genetic engineering.
  • Simplistically, carbon dioxide increases yield and temperature cuts yield; however, this work illustrates that these complex factors work together to influence crop photosynthesis and productivity.

URBANA, Ill. By 2050, we will need to feed 2 billion more people on less land. Meanwhile, carbon dioxide levels are predicted to hit 600 parts per million—a 150 percent increase over today’s levels—and 2050 temperatures are expected to frequently match the top 5 percent hottest days from 1950-1979. In a three-year field study, researchers proved engineered soybeans yield more than conventional soybeans in 2050’s predicted climatic conditions.

“Our climate system and atmosphere are not changing in isolation from other factors—there are actually multiple facets,” says USDA/ARS scientist Carl Bernacchi, an associate professor of plant biology at the Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology at the University of Illinois. He is affiliated with the Department of Crop Sciences in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences. “The effect of carbon dioxide in and of itself seems to be very generalized, but neglects the complexity of adding temperature into the mix. This research is one step in the right direction towards trying to figure out a way of mitigating those temperature-related yield losses that will likely occur even with rising carbon dioxide concentrations.”

Published in the Journal of Experimental Botany, this study found the modified crop yielded more when subjected to both increased temperature and carbon dioxide levels; however, they found little to no difference between the modified and unmodified crops grown in either increased temperature, increased carbon dioxide, or today’s climate conditions.

This work suggests that we can harness genetic changes to help offset the detrimental effects of rising temperature. In addition, Bernacchi says, it illustrates that we cannot deduce complicated environmental and plant systems to increasing carbon dioxide levels increase yields and increasing temperature reduce yields.

“Experiments under controlled conditions are great to understand concepts and underlying mechanisms,” says first author of the study Iris Köhler, a former postdoctoral researcher in the Bernacchi lab. “But to understand what will happen in a real-world situation, it is crucial to study the responses in a natural setting—and SoyFACE is perfect for this kind of study.”

SoyFACE (Soybean Free Air Concentration Enrichment) is an innovative facility that emulates future atmospheric conditions to understand the impact on Midwestern crops. These findings are especially remarkable because the crops in this SoyFACE experiment were exposed to the same environmental conditions (i.e. the sun, wind, rain, clouds, etc.) as other Illinois field crops.

“It’s actually a bit of a surprise,” Bernacchi says. “I’ve been doing field research for quite some time, and variability is one of the things that’s an inherent part of field research. Of course, we did see variability in yields from year to year, but the difference between the modified and unmodified plants was remarkably consistent over these three years.”

These modified soybeans are just one part of the equation to meet the demands of 2050. This modification can likely be combined with other modifications—a process called “stacking”—to further improve yields. “When we’re trying to meet our food needs for the future, this specific modification is one of the many tools that we’re going to need to rely upon,” Bernacchi said. “There is a lot of research across the planet that’s looking at different strategies to make improvements, and many of these are not mutually exclusive.”

The paper, “Expression of cyanobacterial FBP/SBPase in soybean prevents yield depression under future climate conditions,” is published by the Journal of Experimental Botany (10.1093/jxb/erw435).

Co-authors also include: Ursula M. Ruiz-Vera, postdoctoral researcher at the University of Illinois; Andy VanLoocke, assistant professor at Iowa State University; Michell Thomey, USDA-ARS Research Plant Physiologist and postdoctoral researcher at Illinois; Tom Clemente, Eugene W. Price Distinguished Professor of Biotechnology at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln; Stephen Long, Gutgsell Endowed Professor of Plant Biology and Crop Sciences at Illinois; and Donald Ort, Robert Emerson Professor of Plant Biology at Illinois.

Donald Ort among four Illinois professors elected to National Academy of Sciences

Published May 3, 2017
Don Ort

URBANA, Ill. — Donald Ort, professor in the University of Illinois Departments of Crop Sciences and Plant Biology, has been elected to the National Academy of Sciences, one of the highest professional honors a scientist can receive. Ort and three additional U of I professors are among 84 new members and 21 foreign associates announced by the Academy on May 2.

Ort’s research focuses on the growth and photosynthetic performance of plants in the context of commonly occurring environmental conditions, such as low temperatures and drought. Ort and his colleagues also are interested in the response of plants to increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide and surface ozone levels.

Ort is a member of the Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology and director of the SoyFACE facility at U of I, and holds an appointment as a physiologist with the USDA ARS’s Photosynthesis Research Unit. He also served as the editor-in-chief of Plant Physiology and as associate editor of Annual Review of Plant Biology. Ort has received numerous awards and recognitions, including being listed as one of Thomson Reuters’ “Most Influential Scientific Minds.”

"The entire campus community is celebrating the election of our colleagues to the National Academy of Sciences," said Robert J. Jones, chancellor of the Urbana-Champaign campus. "This is one of our nation’s highest honors for scientific achievement, and we are proud to see four more of our distinguished faculty taking their places in this prestigious institution."

U of I professors John CronanJeffrey Moore, and Gary Parker join Ort in achieving this prestigious honor. To learn more about them, visit the Illinois News Bureau.

News Source:

Molly Galvin, 202-334-2138

ACES Global Academy in Cuba: Exploring academic partnerships

Published May 3, 2017

The College of ACES Global Academy program for 2016/2017 provided some faculty members with their first glimpse of a country that contains immense potential to study environmental, agricultural, and social topics.

With a communist regime and pristine natural beauty, Cuba is an island of mystique for many Americans who are geographically so close (Cuba is only 90 miles from Florida) but unable to travel there due to the U.S. embargo, which bans purely touristic travel.  The political tensions that made cultural exchange difficult also inhibited academic cooperation, but as relations between our countries begin to thaw, opportunities for research and education partnerships may be emerging. To explore linkages between Cuban research institutions and the College of ACES, a Global Academy cohort of 13 people, including two department heads, and one member from the College of Engineering, traveled to Cuba during spring break.

 “The visit allowed us to get a lay of the land in terms of Cuba’s academic landscape and structure of higher education as well as their strengths and the challenges they are facing. Given the complicated circumstances in Cuba, what we were able to accomplish on this trip was significant,” said Suzana Palaska, associate director for the ACES Office of International Programs (OIP) who coordinates the Global Academy program. 

ACES building partnerships in Cuba

A highlight of the Academy’s itinerary was visiting the University of Pinar del Rio, with which the University of Illinois has recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding.

“ACES has great overlap with this particular university, and the scholars enjoyed fostering this connection. They have a strong forestry department that corresponds to our own Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences (NRES) as well as many possibilities for crop scientists and other research areas to engage,” said Palaska.

The itinerary also included visits to the Agrarian University of Havana, the Instituto National de Ciencias Agricolas and the Instituto de Ciencias Animales, as well as the Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences (FLACSO) and the Nunez Jimenez Foundation for Nature and Society.

ACES is moving forward to establish official ties with all of these organizations. In the interim we will invite Cuban scholars to visit us on the Urbana-Champaign campus so conversations can continue between researchers,” said Palaska.

Although research collaborations will be complicated – American scholars are not allowed to send funds or equipment to the island– members of the Global Academy returned from the trip positive that they developed connections that can eventually benefit both countries. In the short term, ACES will be exploring potential for faculty led study abroad opportunities that might focus on Cuba’s unique natural environment. 

“From perspectives of teaching and discovery, Cuba presents a remarkable experiment that raises a multitude of questions about society, nature, culture and agriculture.  ACES OIP is eager to help Illinois students and faculty members take advantage of any emerging opportunities to apply themselves in that rapidly changing country,” said Alex Winter-Nelson, director of the ACES Office of International Programs.

Cuba’s ecological value

Due to its lack of industry, Cuba’s pristine habitats are of great interest to Academy Fellow and NRES Professor Mike Ward. The visit allowed Ward to spot several endemic (found only in Cuba) bird species, including the smallest bird in the world. Ward had previously visited Cuba, a key rest stop for migrating birds, as part of his ongoing work on trans-Gulf of Mexico bird migration. (Link to Previous article on Ward studying trans-Gulf migration through Cuba.)

“Cuba is an important ecological area that will soon be developed. We need to help maintain the environmental integrity of the island as that happens,” said Ward.

Another Academy scholar Daniel Miller, assistant professor in NRES, has traveled widely around the world but was visiting Cuba for the first time. Miller said the experience was eye-opening through both environmental and political lenses.

“I study environmental issues but socio-cultural issues also often pique my interest to work in different countries. What stood out to me in Cuba was the people, their creative vitality and the generally high level of education. Also, I have not previously seen a developing country without obvious extreme poverty. There were no beggars. There were people we would think of as poor but not desperately poor. The government has prioritized food security and also education. For me, the relatively low level of inequality was also really striking. I’d really be interested to explore how these socio-cultural characteristics affect environmental management,” Miller said.

100 years of transformation happening in 20 years

Academy Scholar Peter Christensen, assistant professor in agricultural and consumer economics, looks at Cuba as a unique opportunity to study economics.

“Cuba provides an opportunity to observe a developing country undergoing a reform-based economic transition in the 21st century. Environmental economists are watching to see how the government develops regulations to balance the development of the country's private sector alongside the management of sensitive environmental resources. For example, farmers can now develop private enterprises and we expect to see farmers using different inputs and more mechanization. These are huge questions in many developing countries, but what is happening in Cuba is unique in the sense that the transformation is highly managed. It has been occurring within particular sectors, though substantial shifts could occur within a relatively short span of 10-20 years. Cuba has been an early adopter of certain sustainable development strategies and will continue to experiment with how to grow its economy. The country's transition will occur in an era of rich data and data-driven policy. One big question is what the role of data and analysis will be in this transformation. This requires data sharing and a high level of domestic and international openness/collaboration.” Christensen said.

ACES Global Academy cohort

Miller said an unforeseen benefit of the academy trip was the opportunity to spend time with colleagues, specifically visiting Zapata Peninsula (where the famous Bay of Pigs is located) National Park with Ward and NRES Department Head Jeff Brawn. 

“Traveling to the field with colleagues who I usually only see at the office was a great benefit. While at Zapata, Mike Ward and I came up with an idea for a course on eco-tourism as a means to mesh biodiversity conservation with human development goals. The course would culminate in a field trip to this particular area in Cuba. For Americans, this place obviously holds historical interest, but it is also an outstanding place for environmental studies and wildlife,” Miller said.

“One of the main benefits of going with a group like the Global Academy is that it allowed us to engage as an institution rather than as individuals,” Christensen added.

For 10 years, the ACES Global Academy training program has promoted greater internationalization of the College by providing a platform and support to ACES faculty who wish to further their global research. The Academy’s previous capstone immersion experiences have included The Philippines, Taiwan, Ghana, India, Europe, and Mexico.

The cohort for the 2016/2017 Global Academy Cuba trip included:

Jeff Brawn, NRES (Dept. Head)

Hannah Christensen, Civil and Environmental Engineering

Peter Christensen, ACE

Sandy Dall’Erba, ACE

Daniel Miller, NRES

Suzana Palaska, ACES-OIP

Cameron Pittelkow, Crop Sciences

Marcela Raffaelli, HDFS

William Million, Extension

Sharon Nickels-Richardson, FSHN (Dept. Head)

Chance Riggins, Crop Sciences

Mike Ward, NRES

Alex Winter-Nelson, ACES-OIP


Read more about the ACES Global Academy here:

We will be uploading photos from the Cuba trip to our Facebook page.


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News Writer:

Leslie Myrick, 217-244-5373