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Campus Chatter - May 2, 2018

U of I receives grant to reduce nutrient loss in waterways

URBANA, Ill. — University of Illinois extension has received a five-year, $1.5 million grant from the Illinois EPA to help farmers and landowners reduce nutrient loss into Illinois waterways.

Extension will use the award to hire two watershed coordinators, who will work in high-priority areas and help producers implement best management practices identified in the Illinois Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy (NLRS).

The coordinators will focus on four watersheds beginning in early 2018. A coordinator in the Embarras River and Little Wabash River watersheds will work closely with farmers to reduce nutrient loss, with an emphasis on phosphorus. In the Lower Rock River and Mississippi North Central River watersheds of northwestern Illinois, a coordinator will work to reduce nutrient loss, with an emphasis on nitrogen.

Members of the agricultural community have already been heavily involved in nutrient loss education, reaching nearly 39,000 people at agricultural outreach events in 2016. According to the USDA, 70 percent of Illinois farmers were aware of NLRS conservation practices in 2016.

The grant also provides funding for an agricultural water quality science team composed of researchers from the U of I College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences. The team will provide technical support and serve as a university resource to help develop new approaches for protecting water quality, and include faculty Laura Christianson, Reid Christianson, Cameron Pittelkow and Maria Villamil in the Department of Crop Sciences; Jonathon Coppess in the Department of Agricultural and Consumer Economics; Paul Davidson in the Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering; and Suzanne Bissonnette, assistant dean of Agriculture and Natural Resources in extension.

Jackwood receives Beard Research Excellence Award

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TUCKER, Ga. — USPOULTRY and the USPOULTRY Foundation are proud to recognize Dr. Daral Jackwood as the 2018 recipient of the annual Charles Beard Research Excellence Award.

Jackwood is a professor in the Department of Veterinary Preventive Medicine at The Ohio State University and is stationed at the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center in Wooster. The award is named in honor of Dr. Charles Beard, former director of the Southeast Poultry Research Laboratory and former vice president of research at USPOULTRY.

The USPOULTRY Foundation Research Advisory Committee selected Jackwood based on his exceptional research on infectious bursal disease. He is recognized for his contributions to the understanding of the genetic diversity of infectious bursal disease virus, the genetic basis for antigenic drift in the virus, development of detection methods for very virulent infectious disease virus and development of a genetic classification system for infectious bursal disease virus variants.

“Dr. Jackwood’s research program is a great example of how USPOULTRY research funds can be directed toward important applied research to find solutions to current problems faced by the poultry industry,” said Dr. John Glisson, vice president of research programs for USPOULTRY.

Jackwood earned a B.S. in animal science from the University of Delaware in 1978, an M.S. in infectious diseases from OSU in 1980 and a PhD in molecular virology from OSU in 1982. He joined the faculty at OSU in 1986. As the recipient of the award, he received a $1,500 cash prize.

UT AgResearch administrator honored by research center peers

RALEIGH, N.C. — The Research Center Administrators Society (RCAS) honored past president Barry D. Sims, associate director of University of Tennessee AgResearch, with its Distinguished Service award.

RCAS President Jeff Chandler made the presentation to Sims during the association’s annual winter meeting. Sims served as RCAS president from 2016-17 and also served as former president of the Southern Weed Science Society.

Sims was named associate director of UT AgResearch in 2016 after 18 years as center director of the Highland Rim AgResearch and Education Center in Springfield, Tenn. As associate director he oversees the system’s 10 centers and coordinates faculty research at the centers.

Before joining UT AgResearch, he worked for the University of Missouri as an extension specialist and as a field research biologist in the private sector. He is currently the national president of the Research Center Administrators Society and a former president of the Southern Weed Science Society.

Sims, a native of Tennessee, earned his B.S. in plant and soil science from UT-Martin, his master’s in plant and soil science/weed science from UT-Knoxville and his PhD in agronomy and weed science from the University of Arkansas.

UT Agriculture selects Blasingame Chair of Excellence

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — The University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture welcomes Dr. Andrew Muhammad as the recently named Blasingame Chair of Excellence in Agricultural, Food and Natural Resource Policy.

Muhammad brings considerable experience and research to the position, where his focus will be assisting the state’s and nation’s agricultural decision makers in the evaluation of potential policies and programs dealing with agricultural commodities, food and nutrition, natural resources and international trade, as well as advocating for state and regional agricultural opportunities.

Previously serving as the associate director of the Market and Trade Economics Division and the chief of the International Demand and Trade Branch at the USDA Economic Research Service, he has developed a large network of trade policy experts and forged solid working relationships with decision makers in the public and private sectors.

Muhammad has written 49 refereed journal articles and approximately 30 reports and other publications, and has served as the principal investigator or co-PI on funded research and outreach activities totaling $2.7 million. His accolades include the professional contribution award from the Southern Agricultural Economics Assoc.

He earned his doctorate in food and resource economics from the University of Florida, a master’s of science in agricultural economics from the University of Missouri and a bachelor’s in agribusiness from Southern University. The Blasingame Chair of Excellence was made possible by Bernard and Margaret Blasingame who established the endowment in 1989.

DOE grants $10.6M to U of I for more biodiesel, biojet fuel

URBANA, Ill. — The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) awarded the University of Illinois a $10.6 million, five-year grant to transform two of the most productive crops in America into sustainable sources of biodiesel and biojet fuel.

The new research project, Renewable Oil Generated with Ultra-productive Energycane, or ROGUE, kicked off on Feb. 25 with a team meeting held in conjunction with the 2018 Genomic Sciences Program Annual Principal Investigator Meeting in Tysons, Va.

“The U.S. continues to enjoy cheap, abundant energy but more than 80 percent of it is derived from natural gas, coal and petroleum,” said ROGUE Director Stephen Long, an Ikenberry Endowed Chair at Illinois. “Heavy, diesel-powered semi-trailers and the aviation industry desire other options, but electric batteries are not feasible, and current biofuel crops cannot meet demands for biodiesel and biojet fuel.”

ROGUE will engineer energycane, a bioenergy crop derived from sugarcane, and miscanthus to produce the oil that is used to create biodiesel and biojet fuel. The work is guided by computer models, which project that these crops can achieve 20 percent oil content in the plant – a dramatic increase from natural levels of less than a tenth of 1 percent.

“If fully successful, these crops could produce as much as 15 times more biodiesel per unit of land compared to soybeans, a food crop that currently produces half of our nation’s biodiesel,” said Long, who leads the project’s efforts at the Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology.

Previous work, funded by the DOE Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), achieved 8 percent oil accumulation, and now ROGUE will further increase oil production and target oil accumulation in the stem where it can be accessed more easily with ROGUE’s patented extraction technologies.

“According to our models, ROGUE crops will be much more productive and profitable per acre than corn or soybeans,” said Vijay Singh, director of the Integrated Bioprocessing Research Laboratory, who will lead the project’s techno-economic analyses and processing technologies.

ROGUE is a collaboration amongst researchers from Illinois as well as Brookhaven National Lab, University of Florida and Mississippi State University, with support from the DOE Office of Science (Office of Biological and Environmental Research).

Agunga awarded grant to improve ag extension in Pakistan

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Dr. Robert Agunga, associate professor in Ohio State University’s Department of Agricultural Communication, Education and Leadership (ACEL) in the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES), has been awarded a grant for $455,239 from The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine for an international development research project titled "Improving Agricultural Extension in Pakistan through Communication for Development.”

The purpose is to pilot-test a communication strategy for improving aid effectiveness. Agunga’s award was one of 14 projects awarded grants under Phase 7 of the Pakistan-U.S. Science and Technology Cooperation Program and 220 proposals reviewed for funding in 2017.

This project, which seeks to improve agricultural extension in Pakistan through communication for development, is in partnership with Pakistan partner Dr. Badar Siddiqui, head of the Department of Agricultural Extension Education at the Pir Mehr Ali Shah (PMAS) Arid Agriculture University at Rawalpindi near Islamabad.

The project is aimed at finding a strategy for improving the effectiveness of international development aid. Success will require the inclusion of communication strategists in development programming under the rubric of Communication for Development (C4D), an emerging science aimed at addressing human dimension elements in development, such as participation, integration and capacity building. This new cadre of development professionals is currently nonexistent and will be trained.

In this project, Agunga and his Pakistani counterparts will implement a social science-based master’s degree program in C4D at the university level to improve development performance and strengthen agricultural extension in the field by promoting participatory development strategies.












I-BELIEF grant will train Illinois leaders in beef cattle nutrition

URBANA, Ill. – A new grant from the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture will provide over a quarter million dollars to train 20 undergraduate students in beef cattle nutrition research over the next four years. The unique program, known as the Illinois Beef Experiential Learning and Industry Exposure Fellowship (I-BELIEF), pulls underrepresented students from four public agricultural universities across the state to leverage the research resources available within the University of Illinois system.

“One of the things we’re excited about is strengthening the relationship with our partner institutions: Illinois State University, Western Illinois University, and Southern Illinois University. Illinois is unique in having four public institutions with programs in animal science and beef cattle,” says Josh McCann, assistant professor in the Department of Animal Sciences at U of I, and co-principal investigator on the grant. 

Dan Shike, associate professor in the department and co-principal investigator on the grant, adds that they’re hoping the program will diversify beef cattle industry leadership in the long term. “For example, we have a huge population of female undergraduates in the department, but there are very, very few female faculty members in beef nutrition and a pretty small number of female scientists in industry. We’re lucky to have female mentors in the program, but that trend has to change.”

The program will admit five rising juniors and seniors each year, two from U of I and one each from the other three universities. The heart of the program is a 10-week summer research experience at the Urbana Beef and Sheep Research Field Laboratory, Dixon Springs Agricultural Center, or Orr Agricultural Research and Demonstration Center. But McCann says the students will actively participate in the program throughout the year.

“The students are spread out across the state, but we’ll bring them together on the U of I campus multiple times each year. In May, they’ll come together for our launch program, which includes research training, team building, and leadership development activities to start getting them prepared for their summer,” he says. “During their summer research experience, they’ll go to the Illinois Beef Association summer conference as a group, which will give them some good industry exposure. At the end of the summer, they’ll come back together to recap the summer, but we’ll also bring in alumni that are industry experts to help students figure out a career action plan.”

Students will develop a research abstract and present their work at the Midwest Animal Science meeting the following spring. “I think the intensity of the summer and getting to a point where a student can present data publicly will require them to grow and stretch in ways they haven’t before,” McCann says.

The result, according to Shike and McCann, will be well-prepared graduates ready to launch into graduate school or a career in beef nutrition. “I think we’ve created a pretty elite undergraduate research experience that can really prepare them to be successful in anything they choose,” McCann says.

Shike adds, “I think a student who successfully completes this fellowship would be well positioned to be accepted as a grad student in a top-tier research institution.”

Students have been accepted to the program for 2018, but interested students can contact McCann, Shike, or faculty at the partner institutions to learn how to apply for the summer of 2019. Collaborating mentors include Keela Trennepohl of Western Illinois University; Rebecca Atkinson of Southern Illinois University at Carbondale; Justin Rickard of Illinois State University; Travis Meteer and Teresa Steckler with Illinois Extension; and Frank Ireland, Wes Chapple, Miles Redden, at U of I.


Sources: Josh McCann, 217-300-5016,

Dan Shike, 217-333-0322,

News writer: Lauren Quinn, 217-300-2435,

Date: Apr. 20, 2018