You say tomato

Jul 14
Stephanie Henry, ACES Media Specialist
  

Nothing says summer, like homegrown tomatoes, right?

During the summer months, many ACES students are learning a lot about tomatoes. There are students not only growing and harvesting tomatoes right on campus, but also learning how to safely process them into products and creating delicious recipes from them.

Through a partnership between the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition, the Department of Crop Science’s Sustainable Student Farm, and University Housing Dining Services, students are involved in every step of the process of creating “locally grown” tomato-based sauces for the dining halls on campus. In fact, assuming a good tomato harvest this year, the Illinois Sustainable Food Project will provide 100 percent of the pizza sauce served on campus.  That is a lot of sauce and a lot of pizza!

And the project is expanding to include wheat milling and cold-pressed fruit juices from crops also grown on campus.

Aside from the delicious products that are being produced, the project is allowing an excellent educational opportunity to students as they learn to use industrial grade equipment to make real products in large quantities, like 2,000 pounds of tomatoes large.

It’s not only a great partnership between ACES and the dining halls, but also a great model of sustainable food production.

Read more about the project  here

tomato plant

Bevier Cafe: Where everybody knows your name

Jul 11
Brianna Gregg, ACES Coordinator of Transfer Recruitment
  

Sometimes You Want to Go... 

Where everybody knows your name, and they're always glad you came. Now that you have the Cheer's theme song stuck in your head, I'll get to my point.

ACES is part of a bigger campus- a campus close to 45,000 students - that's crazy big! Chances of you running into someone you know on a typical day walking on the quad are slim, but not impossible. What's nice about this is that there is some solace in being anonymous, but sometimes, you want people to know who you are and ask 'how's it going?'

Well, my friends, Bevier Cafe is the place for you! Bevier Cafe is a home away from home on the ACES campus- they offer great food (I strongly recommend the cookies AND the awesome sauce, just not together), a warm environment and great company. Not only that, if you become a true regular, you may even have a dish named after you - oh the days of Martensen Mocha Cake- a true legacy. 

So, friends, when you are looking for a welcoming environment on a large campus, Bevier Cafe is the place to go!
 

Fresh face, fresh ideas for farmers

Jul 3
Lauren Quinn, ACES Media Specialist
  

As a writer for the crop and animal sciences departments in the College of ACES, I have learned a lot about the kinds of stories the ag audience wants to hear. My articles about the departments’ transformative research activities are well received, but lately the ag readership is all abuzz with rumors of a new addition to the crop sciences department. Fortunately, I recently got an exclusive sneak peek at the man himself. Nick Seiter won’t join the department officially until September, but I was able to sit down with him for a few minutes on a recent visit to campus. Read on to find out what I learned about the man everyone’s talking about.

ACES Marketing and Communications: Tell us a little about your background.

Seiter: I’m from southeast Indiana originally. I did a bachelor’s and a master’s in entomology at Purdue, working on row crop insects and specifically on the western corn rootworm for my master’s. I went to Clemson University in South Carolina to do a Ph.D. starting in 2011. I developed preliminary management practices for the kudzu bug, which was a new invasive species in soybeans. In 2014, I took a position at the University of Arkansas as an extension entomologist working on various insect pests in cotton, soybeans, sorghum, corn, and occasionally in rice.

ACES: What got you interested in row crop entomology in the first place?

Seiter: I’ve always been interested in science and always liked being outdoors more than in the lab, so agriculture was a good melding of those interests. I started working in row crop entomology as a summer job. I enjoyed it and kept going from there.

ACES: Why Illinois?

Seiter: The fact that it is closer to home is one great reason for me to come here, but also the ag industry here is booming. Illinois is a great place to work in agriculture. It sounds like there’s a tremendous need here since they haven’t had an applied entomologist in this position for a while. It’s an opportunity to build a program and to do some impactful work, I hope.

ACES: Do you have specific projects in mind yet?

Seiter: I think there will be a lot of need to work with western corn rootworm, but western bean cutworm is another one that’s emerging. I think there will be some opportunity to work on that, as well as some of the soybean defoliators, stink bugs, and other pests that come up on a recurring basis.

I like to choose projects based on need, taking a problem-solving approach. That’s what motivates me in my work, that problem-solving aspect. It’s why I’ve worked in applied research throughout my career.

ACES: What are you looking forward to most?

Seiter: I’m looking forward to meeting the other people working in this area, meeting my clientele, and hitting the ground running.

Seiter will seek funding from industry, regional commodity groups, and the USDA to pursue his research plans. He officially joins the department on September 16, 2017. Can’t wait that long? Follow him on Twitter @nick_seiter and stay in touch with the Department of Crop Sciences and the College of ACES to hear about more visits in advance of his start date.

Nick Seiter

Running to the Goal

Jun 29
Debra Korte, Teaching Assistant Professor, Agricultural Education
  

I have a love-hate relationship with the exercise of running. Although I hate the thought of running, I love to use running as a chance to set aside the worries of life, step away from technology, and focus on the task at-hand. When it comes time to self-motivate, I tell myself these five rules for running (go ahead, count on one hand)…  

  1. Watch your step. Each step is important. We may encounter large rocks, small rocks, and mud. Focus. Prepare for anything that may come along the path.
  1. Look ahead with an eye on the prize. Sometimes we become so focused on the steps that we lose sight of the end goal. Details are important – no one wants to turn an ankle – but never lose sight of the end goal.
  1. When it’s comfortable, try a new path. The known path is comfortable because we know what to expect. When we take a different route to look at surroundings from a unique perspective, we often recognize opportunities from a new vantage point.  
  1. Run the hill. Any goal worth pursuing includes an uphill climb. The hills always appear when we are exhausted and worn. There are two options – walk the hill or run the hill. Either way, we have to climb the hill to reach the goal. RUN the hill. The end reward is worth it.
  1. Finish strong. We always have the choice to stop pursuing the goal. Yet somewhere inside we find the courage and the energy to meet or surpass the goal. Muster up everything remaining to finish strong.

We often find ourselves “running” in one or more aspects of life – summer classes, internships, or “vacations” (which feel more stressful than they were intended to be).

Whatever big goal you are staring down this summer, I hope this quick handful of hints helps you get there. 

 

Beneath the Southern Cross

Jun 27
Richard Vogen, Director, Planning and Research Development
  

Guiding navigators for millennia, the Southern Cross is a bright constellation in the southern sky.   Cultures of the southern hemisphere adopted it as their symbol, and the stars of the “Crux” feature prominently on several national flags. Sometimes known as sons and daughters of the Southern Cross, pioneers made their way to Aotearoa, the Maori name for the island nation of New Zealand.

Beneath the Southern Cross in the middle of May, twenty of our finest Illini landed in Queenstown on the south island, framed by the soaring peaks of the Southern Alps. International business immersion was the reason for the journey – with agriculture, food, and fiber as the frame. To illustrate New Zealand’s innovative approaches to agribusiness, the students traveled value chains ranging from Merino wool, to grass-fed lamb and beef, to Kiwifruit, to dairy.

Directly engaging students with the professionals who lead important industry segments is a primary goal of the International Business Immersion Program (IBIP), and for two solid weeks that happened every day. Real-world interactions with people who live and work in a culture greatly enrich the study abroad experience. In New Zealand, the Illinois students also met ACES alumni, like Jack Cocks, who operates the Mt. Nicholas high country sheep station with his wife, Kate; Jo Stevenson, an expert in business resiliency in the aftermath of the Christchurch earthquake; and Trent Jesso, a former IBIP participant who is making his career and life down under in transportation logistics.

From a Maori cultural evening, to an afternoon in “Middle Earth”, to super rugby competition between the Auckland Blues and the Waikato Chiefs, a taste of the Kiwi nation whetted the students’ appetites for more international adventures. Upon reflection, they said things like this.

“I have grown more as a professional, and I am now more than ever, ready to go out into the world of business.”

 “While we went to New Zealand to seek answers, I felt that I learned much more about asking questions and looking at situations from different angles.” 

“This trip pushed me to step out of my comfort zone by interacting with intelligent individuals in a professional manner.” 

“Participating in the International Business Immersion Program taught me so much more than I could have ever imagined…I can say without a doubt that traveling to New Zealand has made me a better student, agriculturalist, professional, and person.”

In IBIP, students critically evaluate important opportunities, constraints, and drivers for businesses in their international contexts.  For this class, student teams gathered primary data to inform their research about innovative responses to consumer demand, disruptive natural events, and growth of tourism, as well as innovative uses of advanced technologies and competitive advantages of pastoral livestock systems.  As an overarching bonus, students discovered new ways of creative thinking at the heart of New Zealand’s culture of innovation in food and agriculture.

After the ACES Career Fair in October, this group of budding professionals will share their stories from beneath the Southern Cross.

“When you see the Southern Cross for the first time, you understand now why you came this way.…”

Crosby, Stills, and Nash

students in New Zealand
Richard Vogen and his students enjoy the scenery in New Zealand.

For Better Crops

Jun 26
Germán Bollero, Head, Department of Crop Sciences
  

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations predicts that food production will need to increase by 70% to fulfill the requirements of 9.1 billion people by 2050. More importantly, food production will have to double in the developing world. Much has been said about these goals and the need to achieve them by reducing agriculture’s environmental impact. In synthesis, agriculture is challenged one more time to continue producing abundant and nutritious food while protecting the environment. 

Arguably the most exciting challenge for future generations of students interested not only in food production, but also in biology, environmental sciences, genetics, bioinformatics, and data analytics. If you want to make a meaningful impact that will benefit billions of people, join the Department of Crop Sciences. Through education, research, and outreach we have been solving the food production challenge locally and globally since 1867. Since then, a multidisciplinary group of scholars in plant sciences have been passionate about advancing our knowledge of crop improvement, cropping systems, and plant protection.

The history and future of the University of Illinois are intimately connected with our department. In 1870, Thomas J. Burrill became the first professor of botany and horticulture at the University of Illinois. Dr. Burrill was a pioneer in bacterial diseases of crops. In 1896, P.G. Holden was the first professor of agronomy in the United States. The oldest continuous research fields in the U.S. were established in 1876 by M. Miles, C.W. Silver, and G.E. Morrow. In 1896, Cyril G. Hopkins started the longest on-going genetic selection program in plants (The Illinois long-Term Selection Experiment) to modify levels of protein and oil in corn. These are just a few examples of forward-looking scholars that established basic and applied sciences as the foundation for improving agriculture. 

I invite you to investigate how scientists continue to look forward and work on the next challenges in food production. Today, our department is excited to be part of the latest scientific advances in genetics, genomics, bioinformatics, crop production, plant protection, water quality, and sustainable food systems. Our undergraduate and graduate programs prepare our students to lead the teams that will tackle tomorrow’s challenges. Our newest major, a combination of Computer Science and Crop Sciences, targets the increasing need to integrate data analytics into food production. 

In 1911, C. G. Hopkins and other scientists wrote the book entitled “For Better Crops” where the future of soil fertility, cropping systems, and crop genetics is presented. This title, “For Better Crops,” is why we passionately believe in continuing to build the future of research, teaching, and outreach in crop sciences.

Scientist in the lab

Living and learning in Dixon Springs

Jun 22
Lucas Neira, Intern at Dixon Springs Agricultural Center
  

Interning at Dixon Springs Agricultural Center (DSAC) has given me the unique opportunity to work on a research ranch that mirrors the real environment of a production ranch. DSAC functions like a real ranch: we have the same size, conditions, facilities and difficulties as any production ranch.

I had never been on the inside of a research farm before coming to DSAC. My point of view about how a research ranch works before was completely different than it is now. I had never thought about how hard it must be to keep track of different treatment groups, conditions, and instructions. Each project requires the technical team to give doubled attention just to keep up! Researchers know they can rely on our team to address everything with a scientific approach.

DSAC also supplies researchers with amazing facilities. The abundant pasture, where cattle can graze during the grass season, offers comfortable shade from trees. When the cattle need feed, DSAC has an on-site stock of feed so we can mix the feed rations according to the specific research plans. DSAC has 5 corrals equipped with scales so we can easily track and measure the progress of any research treatments.

One of the things DSAC offers that caught my eye when I first arrived were the four-wheelers. We use these “little horses” to handle the cattle to check on the necessary daily stuff. I was so surprised at how easy, fast, and efficient the work could be with the four-wheelers!

The opportunity to stay here and to work in these facilities and with the research crew has improved my skills and the way I look at research ranches. I’ve been enjoying this opportunity, and I can thank living and learning here for making my progress possible.

black cows

Engineering on earth, to the moon, and back!

Jun 20
Alan Hansen, Interim Head, Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering
  

Since joining the Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering in 1988 as a visiting scholar, my understanding and appreciation has definitely grown for the remarkable record of ground-breaking contributions of ABE faculty, staff, and students. I’ll admit that my knowledge of ABE’s breadth of work and impact skyrocketed when I recently became interim head of the department. ABE truly embraces and lives out its mission to integrate engineering, technology, and life sciences for enhancement of complex living systems in global agriculture, food, energy, water, and the environment. ABE has a unique advantage in its relationship with not one, but two internationally recognized colleges--ACES and Engineering. This allows us to leverage opportunities for interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary collaborations in furthering our mission as a department.

First, teaching—

ABE courses provide breadth and depth for students, not only for majors in our department but for the whole campus. For example, we have general education courses that address “Water and the Global Environment” and “Humanity and the Food Web.” On the engineering side, our curriculum meets ABET accreditation requirements, but provides flexibility to allow students to pursue many specializations from nanoscale biological engineering to large scale ecological systems engineering; from designing systems for optimal indoor environments to developing systems for addressing needs for outdoor environments; and from food and bioprocess engineering to renewable energy systems engineering. Appropriate scale mechanization is addressed through off-road equipment engineering. Our Technical Systems Management program was created in 1996, evolving from an agricultural mechanization program, providing a broader base related to the bridging of technology and business. Students acquire a strong foundation in the technology arena coupled with knowledge and skills to be effective managers.

Turning to research—

ABE has a remarkable portfolio of projects with competitive and broad sources of funding, including federal, state and corporate. And, those projects have demonstrated impact not just on the local, national, and international dimension, but also extra-terrestrially. ABE has recently had an undergraduate research project to send a miniature greenhouse to the moon! Our technology research ranges from appropriate scale mechanization interventions in developing countries to robots, including drones, equipped with sensors that traverse agricultural fields collecting data regarding plant growth and physiological traits. Some of our researchers develop optimized indoor housing environments for livestock while others investigate the climate-water-food-energy nexus. We’re developing stored thermal energy systems for cooking without fuel, fire, or emissions while designing and building zero energy solar houses. An overarching research topic that is rapidly gaining momentum is data analytics. We are using the strong systems engineering core of our discipline to develop these decision-making tools.

Last, but not least, outreach—

Our extension and outreach efforts and local relevance are noteworthy. We have provided leadership in addressing agricultural safety and health, not only in Illinois but other states, for almost 30 years; drainage and soil conservation impacting nutrient transport to the Gulf; livestock facilities and manure management including certified training; and internationally recognized certified testing of agricultural fans.

Please visit abe.illinois.edu to learn more about us.

rice seed planter in field
On a recent visit to Cambodia, I had the opportunity to operate a prototype rice seed planter that had been developed locally as part of the Appropriate Scale Mechanization Consortium project, a sub-award under the Sustainable Intensification Innovation L

Agriscience Fair mentors coach young researchers

Jun 20
Courtney Walker, ACES Communications Graduate Intern
  

Each year, hundreds of students across the country get their feet wet in research through the National FFA Organization’s AgriScience Fair . Some of the nation’s most curious young agricultural researchers select, propose, and complete projects that highlight the science, technology, engineering, and mathematic (STEM) components of agriculture, including:

•    Animal Systems
•    Environmental Services/Natural Resource Systems
•    Food Products and Processing Systems
•    Plant Systems
•    Power, Structural, and Technical Systems
•    Social Science

To bolster these young researcher’s inquiry skills, the University of Illinois Agricultural Education Program piloted a researcher mentorship program this year. Erica Thieman, assistant professor in agricultural science education, matched research methods graduate students with high school agriscience fair participants through the research proposals process. The volunteer mentors and agriscience fair contestants focused on preparing posters and proposals to submit to the state competition. 

Abigail Petersen, graduate student in agricultural leadership education, explains why she volunteered to work with an agrscience fair participant this spring. “Mentoring students has always been a passion of mine,” she says. “Plus, it’s really fun to see what high school students are up to these days!”

Petersen adds that she hopes her coaching allowed her mentee to communicate his research’s proceedings and results more clearly at the state competition. “My student did some amazing work studying allelopathy in plants. Working with him to improve his research and writing skills will help him on his project and in his future in agriscience.”

Petersen, a pre-doctoral fellow in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences , understands the importance of clear communication in research writing. “Academic writing is very specific,” she says, “therefore, it is not easily done.” 

Petersen’s role as an agriscience fair mentor is to edit her mentee’s research paper to ensure the paper is both scientific and succinct. “Academic writing is a special type of writing that clearly discusses the process in which scientific research occurs and the findings and conclusions that come out of that process,” she says. “Mentors help teach these students how to communicate their research clearly and scientifically.”

According to Petersen, clearly communicating research is not an easy task. “Writing in an academic fashion takes practice and mentorship, which is where we come in,” she says.

Petersen knows the value of an academic mentor first-hand. “In the STEM field, there are specific checklists you have to follow to ensure sound scientific findings. It’s a very steep learning curve,” she says. “It helps if you have someone who’s gone through the process to coach you along the way.”

“Everyone goes through a time when they don’t feel as if they are smart enough or organized enough to be successful in a STEM field, but having a good mentor to help you along the way helps dissipate those doubts,” she says.

That’s why Petersen says she’ll continue to volunteer to mentor students. “I know I wouldn’t be where I am today without the mentors who said they believed in me,” she says.

Last week, Illinois students in grades 7 through 12 competed in their age division and topic category at the state contest held at the Illinois FFA Convention. Those students who won in their division and category are set to move on to compete at the National FFA Convention in October. You can find a list of these winners on the Illinois Association FFA’s website later this month. 
 

agriscience fair dinner paper
Participants and judges in the 2017 Illinois Association FFA AgriScience Fair celebrated a year of hard work at a dinner Tuesday night.

Seeing the unknown as opportunity

Jun 13
Sara Tondini, Animal Sciences senior
  

Since the start of my graduate school research project, I've been reminded each day of how little I know.

I use to be discouraged about what I didn’t know. I thought it meant I wasn't smart enough or I didn't learn enough or I didn’t pay attention enough. I'm starting to realize that not knowing is not a bad thing.

Not knowing means the new paths you've decided to take are being met with new challenges and chances to learn every day.

I didn't know how to collect rumen fluid (basically just cow stomach juice) a couple of weeks ago, but I do now. I didn't know what a spectrophotometer was (and I still don't really know) but I know how to use it.

I didn't know there were so many people waiting to help me out and support me on my new journey, but there are lots! So that's why I'm excited about the unknown.

There will always be new things to explore and research, and I think my main goal isn't to find the answers to everything: It’s to keep finding the unknown.  

Girl in lab testing samples

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