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Secure & Sustainable Agriculture

With growing populations and higher demand for food, the impact of climate change could result in an increase of 20% of the world’s people at risk of chronic hunger, according to a World Health Organization report.

The gap between agricultural production and demand can be closed by expanding agriculture to currently marginal or unused land, substituting new types of crops, and adopting new technologies — particularly in developing nations affected by large variations in rainfall and reduced water availability. iSEE is spearheading initiatives in numerous areas of secure and sustainable agriculture:

  • Greenhouse gas emissions and farming practices
  • Nutrient management and soil health
  • Technology for sustainable agriculture
  • Regulation
  • Public health, food safety, and policy


Funded Projects

Illinois Regenerative Agriculture Initiative


In 2020, this new initiative was launched at the interface of agronomy, crop science, ecology, computer science, economics, and social dimensions.

Led by iSEE, the College of ACES, and the Department of Crop Sciences with funding from Fresh Taste, IRAI looks to advance the triple bottom line in agriculture — productivity, profitability, and environmental health.

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Smart Farms


The U.S. Department of Energy awarded $3.3 million, and later another $4.5 M, for this project in 2020.

Led by Natural Resources & Environmental Sciences Assistant Professor Kaiyu Guan, the team will establish the Midwest Bioenergy Crop Landscape Laboratory (MBC-Lab) to precisely measure greenhouse gas emissions. The research will enable new technology for managing bioenergy crops, improving yield, reducing overfertilization, and designing new tools for “smart farms.” 

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Next-Generation Feedstocks


The U.S. Department of Energy awarded $5 million for this project in 2018, with Illinois leading a group of several partner institutions.

Led by Crop Sciences Professor D.K. Lee, the project will work to learn what energy crops will be the most productive and valuable — and best for the environment. The team team will assess field-scale yield of advanced switchgrass varieties such as “Independence” (developed by Lee) for pre-commercialization.

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Agroforestry for Food


Awarded $400,000 in June 2014.

Originally led by Crop Sciences Associate Professor Sarah Taylor Lovell, the project continues to evaluate options to “meet growing demands for healthy foods while advancing the sustainability of food production systems in the United States and abroad.” A crop with various woody plants (hedges and trees) could be more sustainable for a variety of reasons.

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Bio-Based Chemicals


With iSEE’s help, in 2020 the National Science Foundation gave a $1.4 million subaward to an Illinois team as part of a larger $6.1M project led by the University of Chicago.

Led by Crop Sciences Professor D.K. Lee, and USDA-ARS Research Molecular Biologist Lisa Ainsworth, U of I researchers will increase extraction and production efficiency of plant-based compounds to make inks and their chemical precursors.

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DAWN Project


Starting in 2020, Illinois researchers will receive a $1.2 million U.S. Department of Agriculture subaward from lead institution University of Maryland.

U of I faculty Ximing Cai, Madhu Khanna, Stephen P. Long and Reid Christianson will help identify innovative ways of increasing land, nutrient, and water use efficiency to maximize maize, soy, and bioenergy crop production in the U.S. Corn Belt.

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Multi-Paddock Grazing Management


The Arizona State University Foundation awarded more than $1 million to this University of Illinois team in 2018.

Led by iSEE Visiting Research Scientist Nuria Gomez-Casanovas, the project will investigate how emerging adaptive multi-paddock grazing management (AMP) that has the potential to increase soil carbon sequestration compared to the ‘business as usual’ continuous grazing (CG) affects the delivery of regulating services — greenhouse gas (GHG) regulation and water use efficiency (WUE) — from grazed pastures used for livestock production.

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Crops in silico: Computer Modeling — from Molecule to Ecosystem


Awarded $350,000 in July 2015.

Led by Crop Sciences and Plant Biology Professor Stephen Long and Plant Biology Assistant Professor Amy Marshall-Colón, the team will research how to accurately predict and model plant response to climate change — from the molecular to the ecosystem level.

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iSEE-affiliated Research Center

More On Food

The University of Illinois has a distinguished history of research related to food. The links below will introduce you to the breadth of our food research. Whether you are interested in food production or distribution, safety or nutrition, Illinois is working to solve the toughest problems. In addition, we have included some links for sources of local foods and growing your own food.

Certainly, you’ll want to check out the University of Illinois Sustainable Student Farm.

Want to find sources of local food? Try the the Common Ground Food Co-op and the Urbana Farmers Market. Or maybe you want to try your green thumb at growing your own food? If so, University of Illinois Extension has lots of resources to help get you started.

A few more University links:

Department of Food Science & Human Nutrition

Agroecology & Sustainable Agriculture Program (ASAP)

Department of Agriculture & Consumer Economics

Department of Agricultural & Biological Engineering

Department of Animal Sciences

Department of Crop Sciences

Department of Human and Community Development

Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences

Crop Sciences Research and Education

Illinois SARE

Illinois SARE Calendar

Realizing Increased Photosynthetic Efficience (RIPE)