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 download a printable 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

Recruiting Cows in the Fight Against Climate Change

Drawing of a cow showing methane production in the rumen

A new three-year, $3.2 million project led by ACES animal scientists is targeting methane production in cattle as a means to reduce the potent greenhouse gas and mitigate climate change. Microbes in the rumen break down dietary components to create energy. In the process, waste hydrogen ions are attached to carbons, generating methane molecules that escape and trap heat in our atmosphere. The research team plans to study the process in detail in the rumen before investigating compounds that can redirect waste hydrogens away from methane and toward energy-packed molecules. If successful, this research will reduce the climate burden without compromising growth and performance of beef and dairy cattle.

Funding: The $3.2 million project is part of the Greener Cattle Initiative, led by the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research.

ACES researchers:
Rod Mackie, Department of Animal Sciences
Josh McCann, Department of Animal Sciences

Related news story:

Illinois-led team puts cows and microbes to work to reduce greenhouse gases

Extreme Rainfall Increases Ag Nutrient Runoff, Mitigation Strategies Can Help

Drawing of a river running through crop fields

Nutrient runoff from agricultural production is a significant source of water pollution, and climate change that produces extreme precipitation is likely to exacerbate the problem. Researchers from the University of Illinois, the University of Massachusetts, and the University of Wisconsin correlated ammonia and phosphorus concentrations in watersheds across Wisconsin with the location of livestock farms and crop acreages. They found nutrient spikes after extreme rainfall; the effect increased with the amount of precipitation and was higher in areas with more crop or livestock agriculture. However, soil conservation strategies such as cover crops can mitigate the problem. Phosphorus levels remain elevated months after an extreme rain event, but an additional 5% of crop acreage with winter cover can mitigate approximately one extreme precipitation event per year.

Funding: The University of Wisconsin Dairy Innovation Hub

ACES researcher:
Marin Skidmore, Department of Agricultural and Consumer Economics

Related news story:

Study: Extreme rainfall increases ag nutrient runoff, conservation strategies can help

Soil Microplastics Could Threaten Safety of Food Supply

Drawing of plant with microbes around roots in soil

Micro- and nanoplastics have been detected in every ecosystem, and agricultural soils are no exception. But in ag soils, microplastics could impact the food supply and public health. In other systems, microplastics are known to provide a place for microbes to congregate and swap genes, including antibiotic resistance genes. If this phenomenon also occurs in soils, which ACES researchers suspect it does, antibiotic resistant microbes could come in contact with or even enter harvested crops. A team of ACES food scientists is currently investigating. They say it’s important to understand the impacts of micro- and nanoplastics in the soil and our food system, raise awareness, and push toward biodegradable plastic alternatives.

Funding: This work is supported by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

ACES researchers:
Pratik Banerjee, Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition
Jayashree Nath, Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition

Related news story:

Could microplastics in soil introduce drug-resistant superbugs to the food supply?

Glyphosate: The Silver Bullet That Wasn't

Drawing of corn field with a few small weeds

When glyphosate-tolerant corn and soybeans arrived on the market a quarter century ago, the advance was heralded by some as a silver bullet for weed control. Soon, farmers across North America were exclusively growing tolerant crops and spraying just one herbicide - glyphosate. But when ACES and USDA-ARS researchers examined 25 years of data from U.S. and Canadian universities, they revealed glyphosate lost efficacy against every major weed species examined within 2-3 years, a trend that only worsened with time. The study clearly shows weeds adapt rapidly to management.  In other words, there is no silver bullet for weed control. The researchers say weed management complexity, not simplicity, is the way forward.

ACES researchers: 
Martin Williams, USDA Agricultural Research Service and Department of Crop Sciences
Chris Landau, USDA Agricultural Research Service
Aaron Hager, Department of Crop Sciences

Related news stories:

The silver bullet that wasn't: Glyphosate's declining weed control over 25 years

Tank-mixing herbicides may not be enough to avoid herbicide resistance