Our researchers improve food security, protect wildlife, ensure a clean water supply, develop climate change solutions, and bolster the health and sustainability of natural and managed systems. Public and private investments, legislator support, institutional partnerships, and the dedication of our faculty and students make this work possible. 

Below, we showcase recent examples of our most impactful research in the area of agriculture and the environment. You can view and download a pdf version and also subscribe to one of our ACES e-newsletters to stay abreast of new developments in ACES research.

Discover Our Agriculture & Environment Research

New Perennial Rice Saves Time, Money, and the Environment

Drawing of a person planting rice

Following decades of work by ACES scientists and partners across the globe, annual paddy rice is now available as a long-lived perennial. The advancement means farmers can plant just once and reap up to eight harvests without sacrificing yield, leaving behind the cost and drudgery involved with planting twice per year, the current standard. Already, the retooled crop has been deployed throughout southern China and Uganda and is changing the lives of more than 55,750 smallholder farmers. A recent ACES study evaluated the impact of the new crop, finding farmers put in 60% less labor and spent about half on seed, fertilizer, and other inputs. The high-yielding crop also generated 17 to 161% greater profits than annual rice, all while increasing soil quality and avoiding significant carbon emissions.

Funding: This work was supported by the Land Institute, the National Natural Science Foundation of China, the Yunnan Provincial Science and Technology Department, the National and Yunnan Provincial Administration of Foreign Experts Affairs, and the China Postdoctoral Science Foundation.

ACES researcher:
Erik Sacks, Crop Sciences

Related news story:

Farmers in China, Uganda move to high-yielding, cost-saving perennial rice

ACES Researchers Lead Innovative Cover Cropping Project

Drawing of ag robot amid grasses

Cover cropping benefits farmers and the environment by ensuring more carbon in the soil year-round and keeping greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere. ACES researchers received nearly $5M from USDA to address the main obstacles to adoption. The iCOVER project will utilize autonomous farming and sensing technologies to reduce the cost and labor burden of cover crop planting and to enable accurate, rapid, low-cost soil measurements. At sites in Alabama, Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, and Iowa, the team plans to scale up robotic cover-crop planting from 1,000 to 20,000 acres over four years, bringing the cost to less than $10 per acre. Additionally, the team will partner with Tuskegee University, a Historically Black Land-Grant University, to enable climate-smart markets for minority, underserved farmers growing specialty crops and animal products.

Funding: USDA’s Partnerships for Climate-Smart Commodities

ACES researchers:
Girish Chowdhary, Agricultural and Biological Engineering
Shadi Atallah, Agricultural and Consumer Economics

Related news story:

$5M USDA grant funds Illinois-led innovative cover cropping project

ACES Research Proves Canada Geese Aren't Going Anywhere

Canada goose looks up at a passing flock against an urban skyline

Canada geese collide with aircraft, intimidate unassuming joggers, and leave lawns and sidewalks spattered with prodigious piles of poop. They’re widely considered nuisance birds, and municipalities invest considerable time and money harassing geese to relocate the feisty flocks. But new ACES research shows standard goose harassment efforts aren’t effective, especially in winter when birds should be most susceptible to scare tactics. Researchers fitted geese with FitBit-like activity trackers, then watched how they behaved and where they went when annoyed by resource managers clacking boards together. Geese not only came back to the area after being harassed, they came back twice as fast as when they left on their own. Bottom line: Nuisance geese need new scare tactics if managers want flocks gone for good.

ACES researchers:
Mike Ward, Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences
Ryan Askren, Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences

Related news story:

Study: Canada geese beat humans in longstanding territory battle

From Pig Manure to Pavement

Drawing of a pig next to a paved road

Many daily-life products, including fuel, lubricants, heating oils, asphalt, and plastics are created from crude oil. As petroleum becomes scarce, we need to find renewable alternatives. A team of ACES researchers received a $2.5 million USDA grant to explore conversion of food waste and swine manure into pavement binder and transportation fuels. The researchers use a hydrothermal liquefaction (HTL) reactor system to convert biowaste into biocrude oil through high temperature and pressure. This mimics petroleum formation in nature, where the process can take millions of years. But in the HTL reactor, it takes less than an hour. Creating bioproducts from food and agricultural waste can also help reduce the high costs of managing waste, mitigate adverse environmental impact, and sustain economic development.

Funding: USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture’s (NIFA) Bioproduct Pilot Program

ACES researchers: 
Yuanhui Zhang, Agricultural and Biological Engineering
Paul Davidson, Agricultural and Biological Engineering
Cody Allen, Agricultural and Biological Engineering

Related news story:

U of I researchers receive major USDA grant to convert biowaste into pavement