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Cover Crops Waste Not! Sky High Farming Welcome Back Otters! Tree Tutor


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S o ut h e r n I l l i n o is U n i v e rsit y C arb o n da l e C o l l e g e o f A gricu ltura l S ci e n c e s



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Foreword Cover Crops Waste Not! Sky High Farming Welcome Back Otters! Tree Tutor Where Agriculture is Life Trailblazers The Research Experience Passing The Research Baton


College of Agricultural Sciences Mickey A. Latour, Dean Karen Midden, Associate Dean Ira Altman, Chair, Agribusiness Economics William J. Banz, Chair, Animal Science, Food and Nutrition James J. Zaczek, Chair, Forestry Karen L. Jones, Chair, Plant, Soil, and Agricultural Systems Clay Nielsen, Director of Graduate Programs Susan Graham, Assistant to the Dean and Contributor University Communications & Marketing Rae Goldsmith, Director Andrea Hahn, Writer Nathan Krummel, Designer Russell Bailey, Steve Buhman, Photography Send Comments and Letters to: College of Agricultural Sciences AgriSearch Magazine Southern Illinois University Carbondale 1205 Lincoln Drive Mail Code 4416 Carbondale, IL 62901

foreword S

cholar – by definition, “a person of deep wisdom or learning” or “one who attends school”. The title of this issue is a fitting word for the diamond anniversary of the college as we celebrate 60 years of recognition as a degree-awarding college. The stories in this issue of AgriSearch all highlight a scholar (or scholars) in diverse fields from within the College of Agricultural Sciences. From identifying trees with QR codes, to converting campus waste to compost, and incorporating new agricultural technology into the classroom, this issue highlights a few of the many research initiatives that our faculty, graduate students, and even undergraduate students are undertaking every semester in the quest for deeper knowledge. The goal of the college today is the same as at its inception when it served the generations before us: to prepare our students to play crucial roles in improving the world, globally and locally. Accordingly, our ideas to investigation (i2i) program in the college continues to grow and complement other undergraduate research programs at SIU. Programs such as REACH (Research Enriched Academic Challenge), Saluki Rookies, and the Undergraduate Assistant program continue to engage our students beginning early in their undergraduate careers. Our graduate programs, both masters and doctoral, continue to grow as well. Our college has come a long way. What started in 1911 as a 39.3 acre parcel of land known as “Simons Farm,” purchased by the university to form the base for “hands-on” work and research opportunities for faculty and students, has expanded to more than 2,000 acres of crop land and pasture and serves more than 1,000 students annually. We’ve expanded our fields of research as well, entering such areas as nutrition and health, specialty crop production, food safety and security, tourism, and the protection and enhancement of the environment. We recently remodeled and updated our Human Nutrition and Dietetics kitchen labs to better serve our students, and we continue to update research labs in the Agriculture Building in our constant drive to provide the best facilities to prepare our students for leadership careers in the many agricultural industries. We welcome you to this issue of Agrisearch and hope you enjoy a look inside the College of Agricultural Sciences!

Printed by the authority of the State of Illinois, X/X, XM, and printing order number. Produced by University Communications & Marketing, Southern Illinois University Carbondale 618 /453-2276,

Mickey A. Latour, Dean

2015 College of Agricultural Sciences




i2i is a College of Agricultural Sciences initiative that places both undergraduate and graduate students in touch with faculty mentors for the purpose of industry-specific research or creative projects. There have been 18 i2i students since the program launched in 2013.


SIU is taking a leading role in the next phase of game-changing agricultural technology – unmanned aerial vehicles, otherwise known as drones. A course introducing students to agricultural UAVs is being offered beginning Fall 2015. Students in the program may be ready for new careers in agriculture that industry professionals expect to develop.

The College of Agricultural Sciences received $4,405,805 in research grants in fiscal year 2014. Source: Office of Sponsored Projects Administration, Awards Processed During Fiscal Year 2014 through June 2014



The university owns 2,000 total acres, some of which is forest, where our faculty and students engage in ecological research, including fire management, forest management and forest hydrology.

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SIU is home to the Illinois Soybean Center, a research initiative that draws on faculty and staff from the College of Agricultural Sciences, the College of Science and the School of Medicine.

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The Agronomy Center includes 70 acres dedicated to small and large plot crop research, including plant breeding and genetics, plant pathology and nematology, soil fertility and surface hydrology.


Students, even at the undergraduate level, are contributing to apparent ruminal digestibility of nutrients in feedstuffs for cattle. One of their tools is the fermentation lab. The lab looks like a combination of vessels, tubing, and pumps, but it mimics ruminal digestion in cattle. While SIU researchers still test digestibility and feed efficiency on live animals, the fermentation lab makes the testing more cost and time efficient.


REACH awards (Research Enriched Academic Challenge) are one-year grant awards of up to $1,500 and an undergraduate assistantship for students to conduct individual, mentored research or creative projects. Since 2001, 26 students from the College of Agricultural Sciences have participated in the competitive, university-wide, program.



Creative and Scholarly Saluki Rookies is a university-wide program aimed at freshman and sophomore students, presenting them with the opportunity for mentored research or creative projects at the beginning of their college careers. Since the program launched in 2009, 13 students from the College of Agricultural Sciences have participated in this competitive, university-wide program.

The College is an important force in the “green� movement on campus at SIU. The newest addition is the forced air composting system, which, when at full capacity, will turn 87 tons of food scraps into compost annually. The facility is the largest of its kind in the Midwest. For more information, see the article on pages 8-9. 2015 College of Agricultural Sciences


agricultural benefits

“How we utilize the available farm land is an increasing concern�


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ebecca Atkinson wants to know how cover crops nourish what eats them. Rachel Cook is interested in how cover crops protect what’s beneath them. Both agree: cover crops can be a multi-purpose, multi-benefit factor in a healthy, efficient, sustainable agricultural program. Atkinson, associate professor of animal science, food and nutrition, gets about two phone calls a week, maybe fewer in the winter, from farmers seeking her advice about using cover crops as forage for beef cattle. Some of the phone calls are follow-ups, with farmers reporting their experiences. She keeps track. The concept is simple; application can be more difficult. The benefits, however, may be well worthwhile. Cover crops, putting it simply, are crops planted between periods of regular cash crop. Many farmers use forage crops, either for grazing or for harvest as animal feed, as a cover crop. The biggest advantage to this practice is extension of the grazing season, sometimes by several months. That means less labor, both in feeding and in harvest and storage. It can also mean added weight. Atkinson said some farmers with fall-weaned calves report to her they are able to add additional pounds

above and below ground

to those animals consuming the cover crop compared to others simply grazing on pasture during the grazing season. “We try to promote cover crop forage for a number of reasons,” she said. “The extended forage season is part of it, but also, the cover crops return nutrients to the soil, and there is the reduction in harvested forage-related labor.” Atkinson said one farmer explained to her that he uses corn as his forage crop. He harvests in 12-row sections, leaving some corn standing. After harvest, he fences sections of the corn field, leaving the cattle to eat the corn from the stalk. It’s corn they would have received anyway, as feed. Putting them directly in the field saves him labor, and the partial harvest brings some market dollars as well. An added bonus: naturally spread manure fertilizer. Another popular forage cover crop is turnips, Atkinson said. Turnips have the added advantage of aerating the soil – a particular concern because cattle foraging can lead to soil compaction. Other farmers prefer buck-oats, or small grains. Atkinson’s specialization – and the reason why farmers call her – focuses on forage soybeans. At 20 to 26 percent, soybeans have a

“Diversifying farm management practices with cover crops has the potential to be a win-win situation”

2015 College of Agricultural Sciences






Improved soil aeration, overall pest control, nutrient capture

Soil improvement, nitrogen fixation, weed suppression

Nutrient capture, erosion control, good in mixtures

protein level equivalent to alfalfa, making them a high quality forage crop. In addition, they are perfect for silage. Cover crops offer other advantages, too. Many farmers plant them to manage soil erosion and water run-off, increase soil fertility, and prevent rampant weed growth. They can also contribute to biodiversity. Atkinson and a student researcher, Lacey Armitt of Carbondale, planted small grains – wheat, rye and oats – as forage to determine which would appeal most to both cattle and deer. While they didn’t find a strong mutual favorite, they observed that deer seemed to favor the three different forage varieties of wheat. Farmers who hunt on their property or lease hunting rights might consider, therefore, incorporating wheat into their food plot rotation. “How we utilize the available farm land is an increasing concern,” Atkinson said. “With less farm land and growing populations, dualpurposing land is a must.” With all the advantages and options for cover crop forage feeding, what’s the catch? Management, mainly. Effective forage feeding demands rotational grazing, partly for nutritional balance and partly for optimal forage


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crop growth, and to reduce the risk of soil compaction. Each forage crop has different benefits and challenges, so farmers would do well to learn beforehand what and how to incorporate a new cover crop into their forage system. “It’s not cost effective for everyone,” Atkinson said. “You have to have the ability to put the cover crop in, and not all cattle producers plant crops. You need to consider water access and temporary fencing, and you have to have time for the management and monitoring required. However, there is steady interest in using cover crops for forage feeding. A farmer who already plants corn or beans could save money by planting three or four acres with a cover crop for additional forage for their livestock or to rent out to a livestock producer.” – Rachel Cook, assistant professor of soil fertility, studies how cover crops enhance soil properties such as soil organic matter, and can even be part of an effort to improve water quality. She explains the advantages to cover crops as a three-tier set of positive effects. The main advantage to cover crops from a soil fertility




Subsoil improvement, deep nutrient capture, weed/ nematode control

Improving soil stability, nitrogen fixation, weed suppression

Nutrient capture, weed suppression

point of view are: protection of the soil surface, soil aeration, water infiltration, and as a food source for helpful microbes. Cook agrees with Atkinson that cover crops that include forage can improve land efficiency and sustainability. She, too, is interested in the biodiversity benefits of planting cover crops that also appeal to deer. She also studies the possibility that soil carbon can increase crop yield. Tilling the field to dispose of the cover crop and prepare for the cash crop can undo some of the benefits of the cover crop. Cook recommends that farmers use cover crops they can terminate by mowing or, spraying with herbicide. The residue from the dying cover crop is a crucial part of the soil fertility benefits. A portion of the decaying organic matter from the cover crop remains in the soil as organic matter. Presence of organic matter, or organic carbon, is what gives topsoil its rich brown or black color. More importantly, it is also crucial for soil fertility. The decaying cover crop contributes to efficient production of polysaccharides in the cash crop – which is to say, starch, the carbohydrate humans consume most. Increased organic matter enhances soil fertility by increasing

the nutrient-holding capacity of the soil, and also by releasing nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorus and sulfur slowly over the growing season for the cash crop to absorb. In turn, this means that a farmer may able to prevent the loss of any excess nitrogen fertilizer to groundwater following harvest, and that may lead to greater plant production while reducing environmental impacts. In addition, the presence of the cover crop and its roots reduces soil compaction, preserves soil aeration and lets a necessary supply of oxygen get to the root system of the plants. In protecting the soil from erosion, the cover crop also reduces standing water in most fields (flood plains excepted), which keeps healthy soil in place and helps water to penetrate the soil rather than sit on top of it. “Diversifying farm management practices with cover crops has the potential to be a win-win situation,” Cook said. “The things we can do to enhance soil fertility – adding organic materials, not disturbing the soil, planting a cover crop – are the very things we can do to enhance long-term soil productivity. It’s beneficial both to the environment and to the farmer.”

2015 College of Agricultural Sciences


Waste Not! Forced Air Composting Facility Makes ‘Green’ Sense


ighty-seven tons of food scraps is a lot of waste -- until it’s turned into a marketable byproduct. Southern Illinois University Carbondale increased its commitment to sustainability with the construction of a new composting facility expected to be in full operation in fall 2015. The facility has the potential to annually take 87 tons of dining hall, livestock and landscape waste and turn it into compost. The university is awaiting an Environmental Protection Agency permit for full operations.


Southern Illinois University Carbondale

“The great thing about this facility is that it will be used for research, for recycling waste, and it’s for the community as well,”

The facility utilizes forced air composting, also known as aerated static pile composting. The system is ideal for large-scale food service waste management such as that produced by residence halls. What makes it ideal? Volume, in part. SIU’s facility is comprised of eight bins, each 12 feet in length by 10 feet wide and 6 feet deep, and capable of holding 240,000 pounds of waste if filled to capacity. It’s twice the size as the facility after which it was modeled and is now the largest in the Midwest. It’s not just the quantity that makes this system top grade -- it’s also the efficiency. From drop off to finish, the composting process will take 60 to 70 days. The aeration process is key. The forced air, which enters the bin from the floor, eliminates the need to turn over or rake the compost for oxygen-exposure. In addition, site personnel and researchers can regulate the temperature, moisture and oxygen flow, manipulating the decomposition process that leads to compost. The natural process is also environmentally sound, with no fossil fuels in use, and with a product that has low odor and a low incidence of pests.

Site manager and College of Agricultural Sciences faculty member Myron Albers was among several people from SIU to visit Appalachian State University where a similar system is in place. Albers along with Kris Schachel, sustainability coordinator, and Phil Gatton and Justin Harrell from Physical Plant Services, took notes, asked questions, and made a few changes to accommodate SIU’s specific needs when construction time came. Some of the SIU innovative alterations include a gutter and storage system that will make rainwater the main source of added water for the facility. That innovation, Albers said, is part of the plan to make the facility almost completely self-sustaining. Albers said the system can break down all organic waste. While that now means mostly dining hall waste, livestock and landscape waste will also be recycled into compost. Other innovations SIU incorporated -- namely, putting the bins in a single row rather than in double rows facing each other -- will make it easier to bag the final compost product. Rachel Cook, assistant professor in the Department of Plant, Soil and Agricultural Systems, said the compost will be useful for local gardeners, and perhaps larger-scale organic farmers, as well. “The great thing about this facility is that it will be used for research, for recycling waste, and it’s for the community as well,” she said. “This is something where people can see what we are doing, how we are using research to promote sustainable practices and in a way that can directly benefit people in the area.” Mickey A. Latour, dean of the College of Agricultural Sciences, agrees with Cook’s hopes for the facility. “Research is a high priority for this college,” he said, “ and so is sustainability, including economic sustainability. We want to build relationships within our college community and within the Southern Illinois region; we want to build a bridge between academics and entrepreneurship; and we want our students to benefit from all this.” Two bins were loaded at the start of the fall 2014 semester, and the first turnover of finished compost appeared excellent, Albers said. The student-supported Green Fund paid $103,000 for construction of the new facility, supplemented by an Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity grant of $50,000.

2015 College of Agricultural Sciences



Southern Illinois University Carbondale







eginning this fall, agriculture students at Southern Illinois University Carbondale have the opportunity to learn about the next game-changing agricultural tool before it takes off – literally. Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) – or drones as they are popularly known -- are in hover mode and poised to change farming. Christopher Clemons and Dennis Watson, faculty members in the College of Agricultural Sciences, are preparing a course of study to help SIU students become leaders in the newest agricultural technology. Beginning this fall, students can take a course introducing them to unmanned aerial vehicles and applications, including learning about UAV types for agricultural use; maintenance and repair; remote sensing attachments and use of lens filters for UAV scouting; and operating and application of the data gathered for agricultural use. Clemons and Watson expect the course of study will supplement the agricultural systems and education major.

2015 College of Agricultural Sciences


“The most obvious application is for precision agriculture,” Clemons said. “But UAV technology has applications for all our majors.” Unmanned aerial vehicles come in three main varieties: fixed wing, multi-rotor and hybrid. SIU is beginning its foray into UAVs with multirotor models. These models can hover, which contributes to more stable pictures and a closer inspection of a field or pasture. In addition, they take off and land without a landing strip. They tend to be shorter range, however, than the fixed wing counterparts. Most of the discussions about unmanned aerial vehicles and agriculture center on precision agriculture. Precision agriculture uses global positioning system (GPS) and other data to allow farmers to manage smaller units


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within their fields, enabling them to customize fertilizer, water and disease-control for the areas of the field that need it. Right now, most unmanned aerial vehicles intended for agricultural use are data-gatherers. Equipped with a high definition camera and the specific lenses and filters, UAVs gather information on stress-level in plants, calculate areas of weather or disease damage and help farmers predict yield. Other applications for agriculture include assisting livestock producers by assessing forage health for grazing rotation, or measuring canopy health or tree density for foresters. Watson demonstrated the ease with which an operator can control an unmanned aerial vehicle using a tablet screen and a controller

that looks like a video game controller. The 3D Robotics Solo model that SIU uses flies straight up to a level of about 10 feet and hovers until the controller establishes a flight plan. The controller can fly manually, establish an automatic-flight, GPS-based or engage a “follow-me” mode. The UAV carries a camera that takes a series of pictures. Watson said he uploads the images into a software program that stitches them together to make a large image of the entire flight pattern area. Some farmers might invest in UAVs of their own, while others might hire out to precision agriculture consulting companies, several of which are already taking off. The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, the trade group representing UAV

“We are at the brink of the next technological revolution for agriculture,” Clemons said.

manufacturers and users, predict that 80 percent of the commercial UAV market will eventually be agriculture. Similar predictions forecast more than 100,000 jobs in the UAV market by 2025 and an economic impact in the hundreds of millions of dollars. “We are at the brink of the next technological revolution for agriculture,” Clemons said. “This is similar to the time when farmers first began using GPS technologies to improve farming techniques and efficiency. We want our students to be ready for this. We want them to graduate ready to walk into a career already knowledgeable about UAVs. It’s going to be the fastest-growing area for agricultural professionals.”

At present, unmanned aerial vehicles and unmanned aerial systems (the drone and its controls) occupy an uncertain position within Federal Aviation Administration rules. Section 333 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 permits the Secretary of Transportation to authorize, on a case-by-case basis, operations for unmanned aerial systems for commercial use. So far, the FAA has granted 822 petitions. Unmanned aerial vehicles for agricultural purposes typically have the advantage of intended use in low-risk, low population environments. Still, the FAA’s proposed rule calls UAV operators “pilots” and requires a current aeronautical knowledge test and unmanned aerial systems operator certification. While the rules are not yet final, the SIU College of Agricultural Sciences is preparing for the inevitability of UAVs on farms and agricultural industries. “We’re reaching out to our SIU aviation program to see if they can help our students take the course that leads to the aeronautical knowledge test,” Watson said. “Our students, and farmers generally, meanwhile can use UAVs as a hobby, steering clear of the commercial use that would be a violation of the FAA regulations, and they can learn about the different models, UAV operation, photography and other data

collection and the software that will help them tie it all together.” “We’re developing students and future agricultural professionals who make decisions based on data,” Clemons said. “We’re still teaching what we call ‘ground truthing’ because there isn’t a substitute for that. But these UAVs will change the scope of agriculture for all of our students. We’re anticipating even that agricultural educators will need to be able to teach UAV technology in high school, and we are taking steps to develop curriculum for secondary agriculture education programs. “The aerial data is going to be an extension of the GPS data that is already available in planters and combines and tractors,” Clemons added. “Flying a UAV is very little different from playing X-box. Our incoming students are already aware of the technology.” Watson said industry partners are crucial to keeping the hottest, newest agricultural technology in students’ hands. In turn, he said, the university will turn out students who are immediately ready to step into leadership positions. “We’re not going to wait, we’re going to begin preparing our students now,” he said. “The technology is here and it is advancing, and we want our students in the front of it.”

2015 College of Agricultural Sciences


Welcome Back,

Otters! SIU field researchers study the Illinois river otter population Every species of animal presents its own challenge for researchers. For a team at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, the river otter poses several, including: How do you monitor an animal too sleek to wear a tracking collar?


team of researchers is at the beginning of a four-year project, funded by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, to investigate the status of the river otter in Illinois. They hope to include at least 60 otters in a study that will help determine future management practices for the species. They’ll do this by radio tracking the animals to learn more about their individual home ranges, their role as the newly re-introduced top predator in aquatic ecosystems, causes of death, and the impact of a sanctioned trapping season. But first the research team has to catch the otters. And outfit them with radio transmitters. “An otter is not the easiest animal to capture,” Clay Nielsen, professor of wildlife ecology and conservation with the Department of Forestry and the Cooperative Wildlife Research Laboratory at SIU, said. “They are clever, and they are mobile and they can travel a long way in a short time.”


Southern Illinois University Carbondale

Lontra Canadensis (river otter)

Fig. A

Fig. B

Fig. D

Fig. C

Fig. E

Fig. A Lontra Canadensis in its environment Fig. B Head Fig, C Skull Fig. D Front Foot Fig. E Hind Foot

2015 College of Agricultural Sciences


“I think 20 years ago, no one would have thought otters would take off as they have.” Eric Schauber, wildlife ecologist with the Cooperative Wildlife Research Laboratory and associate professor of zoology, concurred. He and Nielsen are the principal investigators of the research team. “Otters cannot carry a powerful radio transmitter because it would be too heavy for them; they are low to the ground and often underwater so the signal does not carry very far; and they move long distances for their size,” Schauber said. For the capturing part of the problem, Nielsen and Schauber recruited graduate student Andrew Rutter, an experienced trapper from Chanute, Kan. Rutter graduated from Emporia State University with a bachelor’s degree in biology and some experience with field research. On this project, he’s had good success already. Rutter’s field research team


Southern Illinois University Carbondale

caught 10 otters in the first five weeks of the research project and hoped to double that number before the end of 2014. Rutter explained that one of the challenges to capturing otters is their unpredictable and independent nature. “They don’t really respond to bait,” he said. “They catch their own fish, and they are very good at it. They really do their own thing. You have to guess where they will be and where they will go. Because they have such large home ranges, they may pass by our traps only rarely.” The only sure thing about otter behavior, he said, is that they will always swim when given the option. When water levels are lower, that can be an aid to the research team. Higher water levels that temporarily change water courses can wreak havoc on even the best-laid plans.

And then there is the problem of tracking. The team is using a fieldtested, minimally invasive technique to insert a small transmitter under the animals’ skin. At the same time, they record measurements and take tissue and DNA samples. The team expects to do most of its tracking from the ground, but Nielsen said they may enlist the aid of the SIU aviation program for some aerial tracking, owing to the otters’ mobility and adaptability. The main purpose for all this capturing and tracking is to assess otter ecology and response to harvest. The winter of 2012-2013 marked the first Illinois trapping season for river otters since 1929, when the animals were first protected by law. River otters had been abundant in the state, but beginning in the early 1900s, their numbers here began to decline due to a combination of fur harvest and habitat loss. They didn’t rebound, even with legal protection. In 1977, the State of Illinois listed the river otter as a “state threatened” species, and then as “state endangered” in 1989.

Andrew Rutter holds a river otter recovering from surgery. This animal will be returned to the wild upon awakening.

Even with such protections, the river otter did not recover as ecologists had hoped. Finally, the IDNR brought in 346 otters from Louisiana, releasing them at sites in central Illinois from 1994 to 1997. That did the trick. By 2004, the population was well on its way to recovery and Illinois removed the otter from state lists of endangered and threatened animals. “I think 20 years ago, no one would have thought otters would take off as they have,” Nielsen said. “We are studying otter survivability and causes of mortality – this is the first time otters have been studied in this way in Illinois. It’s an opportunity for us to study the re-introduction of a top predator into an ecosystem.” Nielsen noted that SIU’s partnership with the IDNR on this and other research projects statewide provides enhanced research and mentoring opportunities for graduate students, introduces undergraduate students to field research and provides the agency with the data it needs for informed wildlife management. He regularly involves students in his research projects to help them gain the field experience research teams seek. “The IDNR relies on us to be able to work statewide, and we’re proud of that,” Nielsen said. “This is another avenue for SIU to burnish its already wellestablished position as a leader in research on river ecosystems,” Schauber said. The team is already looking at opportunities for spin-off research. “I am very interested learning more about how interactions between otters may change as the environment fills in,” Schauber said. “River otters are essentially the top of the aquatic food chain here, and I am interested in finding out what, if any, level of control they have on populations of their prey. We are currently investigating how much otters eat invasive silver carp. This is an enormous potential prey base for otters that was not present in the past when otters were abundant.” The team will catch otters this year and the next two years. While they will analyze data as they receive it, the major analysis comes in the year following the three catch and tag years. The river otter is a member of the weasel family. Adult otters are 35 to 53 inches long tip to tip; approximately 30 to 40 percent of that length is tail. They weigh 10 to 25 pounds, with the males about a third bigger than the females on average. Their sleek bodies are perfect for agile swimming; they use their tails as rudders to help them navigate. Known for their cleverness and playful personalities, otters are also voracious predators. Their thick, water-repellent fur is dark brown to reddish brown, silvery or tan on the throat and belly.

2015 College of Agricultural Sciences


QR Codes are Tree I.D.s


orestry students in a tree identification course have a surprising new tutor at Southern Illinois University Carbondale -- the trees themselves. Jon Schoonover, associate professor of forestry, and a team of graduate students placed high-tech name badges on trees, and near shrubs and vines, in Thompson Woods and around Campus Lake. The “name badges” are small, white rectangles printed with a QR codes. The codes, when scanned by a smartphone with a code scanning application, link to a dedicated website that tells the user about the tree, shrub or vine. The program is the only one like it in the state, and one of very few at colleges and universities nationwide. Schoonover calls it “Tree Trainer.”


Southern Illinois University Carbondale

The team marked the QR codes at about four and a half feet high on the side of the tree most visible to the nearest walkway, using aluminum nails that do not hurt the trees. Marking the vines and shrubs was more challenging, but plant markers and aluminum plant ties solved the problem. The QR code guides identify examples from each of the species of tree, shrub and vine taught available on campus that are included in the tree identification course. Students learn 135 species, and most are available on campus. “The website gives the common name of the tree, the Latin botanical name, and identifying information such as leaf shape, twigs and buds, bark, and fruit,” Schoonover said. “It’s important for students to get out and

see the tree where it is, to touch the bark and smell and feel the tree. You can’t get that from a website or a textbook.” Student feedback has been positive. “As a busy student, I have found Tree Trainer to be a great alternative study guide. It’s been an extremely helpful source that has helped me learnt he many different varieties of trees easily,” Taylor Ardisson, a junior forestry major from Palos Park, said. “Tree Trainer has been a life saver,” according to William Hansche, a sophomore forestry major from Palatine. “Whether I’m walking to class or up late studying, I know Tree Trainer has my back.” Ultimately, Schoonover hopes to include up to three examples per species to help

students recognize normal variations in life stages of the plants and trees. A comprehensive tree map helps students find species examples directly rather than by chance wandering. Ultimately, he’d like an application that ties into GPS and gives an alert when the user is near a tagged tree. Any smart phone can read the codes. Schoonover said he hopes members of the community who walk the loop trail at the lake will take advantage of the program as well. “We’re still making improvements,” he said. “We’re getting inquiries from other universities who’ve heard about this and want to make their own programs. That’s inspired us to think about making programs for different regions. For example, we could make one that

identified Western species, or coastal species.” And Schoonover is thinking about improvements closer to home as well. He’s noticed that identifying oak species is a challenge for students, so he’s considering the possibility of making a guided tour of oaks on campus to accompany the QR coded program. “We’ve put a lot of work into this, and we want to keep it fresh, make improvements where we see we can,” he said. Schoonover credited the Center for Teaching Excellence on campus with the technological assistance. “I just had the idea, I didn’t know how to build an application. They took my idea and made it work,” he said.

2015 College of Agricultural Sciences


where agriculture is life:

teaching and learning in the gambia


he six days that College of Agricultural Sciences professors Karen Midden and Alan Walters spent training agricultural technicians in The Gambia rank among the strangest and most rewarding of their careers. Midden, associate dean of the College of Agricultural Sciences and Walters, professor of plant, soil and agricultural systems, accepted an invitation to The Gambia to train agricultural technicians in vegetable farming techniques meant to improve both sustainability and food production. They were in The Gambia Jan. 23-Feb. 2, 2015, as part of the “Women’s Green Yard” project, sponsored by the OCP Foundation, the Foundation Mujeres Por Africa and the Future of Our Country charitable organizations. The focus was women’s farming cooperatives in The Gambia, particularly the more advanced and larger cooperative known as the Katakorr garden. The Gambia is a small West African country surrounding the Gambia River from the downstream half to the Atlantic Ocean. The Gambia is otherwise surrounded by the country of Senegal. It is roughly twice the size of Delaware. Not quite 40 percent of the land is considered arable. Even there, the soil is sandy. Deforestation and desertification have contributed to agricultural challenges. Agriculture constitutes about 20 percent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The top commercial agricultural industry is peanut production. Other agricultural products include rice, millet, sorghum, sesame, cassava (manioc and tapioca) and palm kernels, with livestock production including cattle, sheep and goats. The women’s cooperatives grow vegetables, which provide a source of food and extra income for the families of the women who share in the task of growing and tending the crops in the community. Midden described the ten agricultural technicians they trained as the equivalent of university extension advisors here. The Gambia Ministry of Agriculture employs them, and their jobs include assisting the women’s farming cooperatives. The cooperatives are run entirely by the women in the predominately Muslim communities. Each woman owns a plot of land within the cooperative, but the women work together to share the farming chores. The women grow vegetables -- including tomatoes, peppers, onions, eggplant, lettuce and cabbage -- during the dry season, and rice during the wet season. 20

Southern Illinois University Carbondale

Karen Midden leads a training session inside a classroom hut at Katakorr Garden.

A co-op farm owner fertilizes with wood ash at Katakorr Garden.

The Katakorr garden, thanks to the assistance of the charitable foundations, is relatively advanced compared to other cooperatives in The Gambia – particularly when it comes to water distribution. Solar panels provide the energy to pump water into a water tower, and, from the tower to reservoirs located near the gardens. Spigots and hoses are new additions as well. Most of the cooperative farms feature deep wells and watering by bucket. Mechanized farming is simply not part of the picture there. The lack of mechanization is only one problem, however. Outmoded and detrimental farming practices also hamper farming production. “We found that they planted the same crops year after year, watered everything the same, fertilized the same way,” Walters said, adding that the sandiness of the soil made it less fertile and also a challenge to water appropriately. The SIU team had several topics on the teaching agenda, including building soils, fertility and nutrition in soil, irrigation and pest management – and only six days in which to cover these topics. “We knew it wasn’t going to work if we just lectured for six days,” Midden said. “The agricultural technicians needed handson learning.” Accordingly, they opened the first day of instruction with technical discussions about the fundamentals of soil science, mulching, cover crops for barren seasons, and crop rotation, and then proceeded to hands-on instruction on building and maintaining compost bins. They also scouted the garden plots at Katakorr to identify pests already present, and discussed measures to control pests, including managing some of the cultural practices detrimental to pest control. “One of the problems we saw is that the farmers were reluctant to remove and destroy a diseased plant because they didn’t want to lose a plant,” Walters said. “We talked about how one diseased plant can lead to diseases in other plants. We talked with them about practices meant to maximize water efficiency and reduce plant diseases. And then we had them problem-solve. We presented several case scenarios we’d encountered at the farms, and had them develop management plans for those scenarios.” The team also covered organic and chemical fertilizers, irrigation methods and efficient watering and overall crop and farm management. Midden noted that, in keeping with the cooperative nature of the farms, these problem-solving case study exercises were group exercises, with the agricultural technicians in groups of two or three. “We knew we wouldn’t be there to help them once the training was complete, so we wanted them to know they could work together, to share information and to discuss possible solutions,” Midden said.

Sponsors brought several innovations to Katakorr Garden. Katakorr Garden used a water tower with solar panel power to store and distribute water to small reservoirs on the farm. Since they’ve returned home to SIU, Midden and Walters have received emails from the agricultural technicians and others involved with the training program assuring them that the agricultural technicians were working with the cooperative farms to incorporate the techniques they’d learned. And, they’d like the SIU professors to return for more training sessions in the future. “It takes preparation and a certain personality for this sort of training mission,” Walters said. “You have to be able to go with the flow and to adjust your expectations to the reality of the situation. Our guide left for another assignment three days into our training sessions, and though we had other people affiliated with the organization, we suddenly had to be responsible for feeding the trainees at lunch. You have to be able to cope with the unexpected. It was a rewarding experience, I felt like we learned as well as taught.” Midden agreed, saying, “I felt like we really, genuinely contributed to the well-being of the people we went to help. Agriculture is their life, literally. I knew that we were helping real people in a real way. It was a very rewarding trip.” The project organizers and the trainees have said they hope to see SIU return to The Gambia for future training sessions, and perhaps longer visits. Neither professor has ruled out the possibility. 2015 College of Agricultural Sciences






TRAILBLAZERS Conservation social scientist returns to Ghana to analyze the effects of forest management on communities


ofi Akamani, assistant professor of forest recreation and conservation social science at SIU, wondered how changes to forest management policy had affected forest-dependent communities in his native Ghana. His meticulous study of a pair of representative communities in Ghana’s Ashanti Region yielded findings that could influence future resource management policies. In 1994, Ghana enacted new forest and wildlife management policies and a collaborative forest management program. The program was meant to increase sustainability of forests and of the forest-dependent people living near them. Akamani was one of the first researchers to undertake a close look at the Ashanti region communities using the concept of community resilience – the ability of the communities to adapt successfully to changes -- to see if the policies helped them as intended. Akamani’s work was, in part, a study in methodology. He established markers by which to analyze the relative success of collaborative forest management (CFM) program. To do this, he identified various categories of “capitals.” Capitals could be counted as good roads, schools, employment opportunities, wealth, availability of other natural resources, and so on. In Ghana, the CFM program designated parcels of land in degraded forests for food production farming. Participants in the program could use the farming land, and would also assist in and share in the profit of tree planting efforts. Akamani found, however, that implementation of the CFM program was not truly collaborative


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in practice. Government and forest management officials were reluctant to transfer power to the local level. As a result, participation in the program was uneven – some community members were not invited to participate, some were unable to do so, and some never learned they had the opportunity. In addition, many community members didn’t fully understand their rights in the program, and were skeptical about possible benefits. In fact, the capitals before and after the CFM did not denote substantial benefits to the communities, and even less so to most households. Akamani’s in-depth analysis resulted in policy recommendations. He suggests, first, that local institutions ought to be involved with policy making. In addition affected communities should receive assistance to develop local forest management organizations to represent them, and for education and community outreach. He also recommends

CFM programs that are broader in scope, focusing not just on one issue but rather on several, including expanding employment opportunities and availability of job training. As with the Pacific Northwest communities, he suggests that successful communities in the Ashanti region of Ghana will be those willing to adapt, even if that means leaving behind some traditional ways of life. Akamani continues to develop his methodology for analyzing the effects of forest management policy on communities. “We need to look at sustainability in this dynamic and unpredictable context,” he said. “Communities in developed countries are perceived as being more resilient to change than communities in developing countries. Capitals and institutions are some of the reasons why. We need a broad perspective when we make policy decisions, we need to know what will keep a community thriving in the face of unpredictable change, especially as we see the effects of climate change.” Akamani joined SIU in fall 2011 as a visiting assistant professor, becoming a full member of the faculty in 2014. Among the courses he teaches are: Advanced Park Planning, Social Influence in Forestry, Natural Resource Conflict Management, and Urban Ecosystem Management. He teaches in the classroom, in the field and online. Akamani’s current teaching project is working with the Department of Animal Science, Food and Nutrition to develop a new course in sustainable tourism.

The Research Experience: Freeze-dried rumen fluid, late nights and hot wire fences— the investigations of student researcher Lacy Armitt


acey Armit knew she’d learn Maneuvering under the all sorts of things when she electric fence to get to her food undertook her first major plots was one challenge. Another research project as a sophomore was removing the cameras she’d at Southern Illinois University installed to spy on deer visiting the Carbondale -- like, for example, food plots. how to laugh at herself. It’s a skill “I had the motion cameras that’s come in handy, even as mounted on posts, and sometimes she has honed her expertise in they’d freeze to the brackets. I’d collecting data and making sense have to remove the camera in order of it. to replace the memory card or the Armit, a senior animal batteries. I’d be out there tugging science major from Carbondale, on a camera, taking off my gloves Lacey Armitt, a senior from Carbondale majoring in animal science, is currently engaged in a and wondering why I picked an holds a sample of the research material she’s been working with digestibility study with cattle. In outdoor research project. There -- freeze dried rumen fluid. She is working with Rebecca Atkinson, an earlier stage of this project, were a lot of moments when I had associate professor of animal science, on a digestibility study pertaining she worked with the university’s to laugh at myself.” to beef cattle and small grains forage grazing. cannulated cattle – beef cattle And plenty of interesting with a “window” in the rumen of moments, too. The camera picked their digestive track – collecting samples of rumen fluid. She fed the up some amusing incidental photos in addition to the ones that samples to the fermenters in an animal science lab -- fermenters contributed to the research project. that are modeled after cow rumens. The rumen is the first “The fawns loved the camera,” she said. “I have a few of baby compartment in a cow’s four-compartment stomach. deer noses, some coyotes, and some close-ups of a bird checking “I had to go feed my laboratory stomachs three times a day,” his reflection. I also became familiar with the herd. If I drove by the Armit recalled. “I was feeding them at midnight and checking them food plot and saw them in the field, I’d refer to them as ‘my deer’ at 6 a.m.” and recognize individuals – like the buck with the broken antler.” Armit is freeze-drying the fermenter digested samples now, The upshot of that study was that deer seemed to gravitate and analyzing them as another step toward determining what naturally toward more nutritious small grains (wheat), while cattle nutrition benefits the cattle derive from various sample feeds. seemed to have particular favorites (rye) they will eat down to the Her first research project at SIU also involved what cattle root. However, there is a variety of small grains that do grow later eat. She conducted a comparative study of small grains that were in the season and can extend the grazing season, and that will bred to produce forage rather than grain in a food plot study to also benefit deer. Armit presented her findings at the Illinois Louis determine what forage might work both for extending the grazing Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (ILSAMP) conference in season for cattle and for improving deer habitat. This means her Chicago, and at the undergraduate research forum at SIU. food plots were removed from the road and situated back along When she’s not hanging around food plots in cold weather a tree line. For part of the time, when cattle were feeding on the or laboratories, Armit is active as a College of Agricultural Sciences food plots, an electric fence surrounded the area. That, and cold, Agbassador, a registered student organization that represents the icy weather, Armit said, made for some funny moments – which university at area high schools and assists with college events. mercifully only she witnessed.

2015 College of Agricultural Sciences



Ideas to Investigation


tudents come to SIU full of ideas and enthusiasm. The i2i: Ideas to Investigation initiative capitalizes on this energy. Students in the program work with a faculty mentor to test their ideas and to engage in research to answer practical questions faced in agricultural industries. The i2i program kicked off in the spring 2014 semester with these students. Rachel Barry, mentor Jon Groninger (Forestry) – Continued Database of Reclamation with Trees in Southern Illinois 1978-2014 Rachel created a database showing how trees thrived or failed under different reclamation plans. Victoria Braner, mentor Rebecca Atkinson (Animal Science, Food and Nutrition) – The Effects of Fertilizers with Various Amounts and Releases of Nitrogen on Acremoniumum coenophialum Alkaloid Production Tall fescue can cause reproductive and performance problems for horses. Victoria studied the effect of fertilizers on the grass and the endophyte that resides in it. Michael Halpin, mentor Erin Venable (Animal Science, Food and Nutrition) – Barley Based Feed for the Treatment of Equine This experiment looked into the qualities of barley in dark beer as a potential treatment for equine anhidrosis. Equine anhidrosis reduces or inhibits the ability of the animal to sweat, which left untreated can cause permanent damage to the internal organs which may eventually lead to death of the animal. Ashani Hamilton, mentor Brian Small (Fisheries and Illinois Aquaculture Center) – The Effects on Dietary Feed Intake, Growth Rate and CCK Expression in Channel Catfish and Hybrid Striped Bass When Fed Soybean Meal Soybean meal shows potential as an ingredient in fish diets. However, it has been known to decrease appetite in other species. This project tested different feeding habits and feed compositions over a 12- week period to determine if this is also true in aquatic species.


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Richard Nesslar, mentors Jim Zaczek, Margaret Anderson, Jon Schoonover (Forestry) – Cultural Methods to Rehabilitate Giant Cane in Southern Illinois Canebreaks serve as a very important habitat for many species, but they are quickly disappearing. This i2i project sought to determine what maintenance methods, such as fertilizations and prescribed burns, worked the best to preserve these important ecosystems. Jonathan Meats, mentor Clay Nielsen (Cooperative Wildlife Research Laboratory) – The Use of Capsaicin on Agriculture Fields to Repel Whitetail Deer Each year white-tailed deer do significant damage to crops in the United States. This research project tested the effectiveness of Capsaicin as a deterrent for deer on crops. It also took into account factors such as application method and fiscal restraints of an agricultural producer. Austin Sherman, mentor Rachel Cook (Plant, Soil and Agricultural Systems) – How Do Cover Crops Affect Corn and Soybean Germination, Weed Suppression and Soil Nitrogen? As stewards of the land, farmers are always looking at ways to maximize yield and preserve their soil. This i2i project tested the effect of growing a winter cover crop mix on soil moisture content and, in turn, the rates of seed germination and weed competition. Amanda Swibel, mentor Gary Apgar (Animal Science, Food and Nutrition) – Swine Center Efficiency Measures: Impact of Old versus New Feeders in the Grower-Finisher Livestock production is all about efficiency. For this reason, this project tested the efficiency of older styles versus newer styles of hog feeders. To determine which is superior, the test took into account growth rates, feed waste, and equipment costs. Brett Wilson, mentor Karen Jones (Plant, Soil and Agricultural Systems) – Shredded Paper as Bedding for Horses: Evaluations of Moisture, Holding Capacity and Ammonia Production Barn hygiene impacts horse and human health in numerous ways. In this study, the differences in ammonia absorption between sawdust and shredded paper bedding was tested. The project used paper from office on campus to create a more sustainable university and farms experience.

College of Agricultural Sciences News Clay Nielsen, professor of wildlife ecology and conservation in the Department of Forestry and the Cooperative Wildlife Research Laboratory, is now Director of Graduate Programs in the College of Agricultural Sciences. Nielsen has studied wildlife conservation in North, Central and South America and on the Indian subcontinent. He is well known for his research into the expanding range of large carnivores in the Midwest, and his work with the nonprofit Cougar Network, where he is Director of Scientific Research. Nielsen has secured more than $11.1 million in funding from various external sources to support his research, and is the Principal Investigator for a National Science Foundation grant for a “Research Experience for Undergraduates” program at SIU. He received the Outstanding Scholar Award in the College for 2014-15. He has published numerous scholarly works, and has given nearly 500 guest lectures and presentations at professional meetings. His research garners high-profile notice outside of academia, with showcases by TIME magazine, the BBC, National Geographic magazine, NPR, the History Channel and the Discovery Channel. Nielsen is active with The Wildlife Society as the past president of the North Central Section and the Illinois State Chapters, and is a Certified Wildlife Biologist®, and a member of three International Union for Conservation of Nature – Species Survival Commission Specialist Groups: the Cat Specialist Group, the Lagomorph Specialist Group, and the Deer Specialist Group. He also is a Research Associate with the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute and Northern Rockies Conservation Cooperative. Nielsen is excited about his new role as Director of Graduate Programs in the College and he “intends to expand opportunities for graduate studies in the College of Agricultural Sciences and is looking forward to an additional way to serve SIU and its students.”

Brian Small, associate professor of fish physiology and aquaculture in the Department of Animal Science, Food and Nutrition, and the Center for Fisheries, Aquaculture and Aquatic Sciences, is now Director of Research Programs for the College of Agricultural Sciences. He served as a research physiologist for the U. S. Department of Agriculture, where he studied selective breeding of channel catfish to improve American aquaculture industry. He was lead scientist and interim center director for the National Center for Cool and Cold Water Aquaculture. In both positions, he earned research awards from the USDA, including several USDA Certificates of Merit for Performance as a Research Physiologist, the Early Career Research Scientist Award, and an Extra Effort Award for his agricultural research service. He also earned a Distinguished Early Career Award in U.S. Aquaculture from the United States Aquaculture Society, a chapter of the World Aquaculture Society. More recently, the International Congress on the Biology of Fish inducted him into the Congressional Legion of Honor for that organization. In his recent research, Small has focused on several species of sturgeon and catfish, including research into soy feeds and gut physiology. He is the 2014 recipient of the Early Career Faculty Excellence Award from the College of Agricultural Sciences. A prolific research writer, Small’s most recent publications include articles in the North American Journal of Fisheries Management, the American Journal of Aquaculture, General and Comparative Endocrinology and Genome Biology.

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60th Year Anniversary of the College of Agricultural Sciences at SIU

History Highlights • 1910 - Runzo Muckelroy hired to teach agriculture in the biology department. • 1913 – Muckleroy organizes the Department of Agriculture. • 1955 - The Illinois General Assembly grants SIU the authority to award degrees in agriculture. • 1957 - Gov. William Straton lays the ceremonial cornerstone for the Agriculture Building

SIU Agrisearch Magazine 2015  

Scholar – by definition, “a person of deep wisdom or learning” or “one who attends school”. The title of this issue is a fitting word for th...

SIU Agrisearch Magazine 2015  

Scholar – by definition, “a person of deep wisdom or learning” or “one who attends school”. The title of this issue is a fitting word for th...