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Anticipating the March 1 soybean stocks estimate

Published March 20, 2017

URBANA, Ill. – On March 31, the USDA will release the quarterly Grain Stocks report, with estimates of crop inventories as of March 1, and the annual Prospective Plantings report. According to a University of Illinois agricultural economist, for soybeans, the stocks estimate is typically overshadowed by the estimate of planting intentions.

“Usually, the quarterly stocks estimates for corn garners more interest because these reports reveal the pace of feed and residual use, which is a large component of total corn consumption,” says Todd Hubbs. “The March 1 soybean stocks estimate this year may not provide much new information despite recent growth in marketing year-ending stocks and concerns about the size of the South American crop.”

Anticipating the size of the March 1 stocks estimate begins with the USDA estimate of stocks held on Dec. 1, 2016. Hubbs says by including an estimate of soybean imports during the quarter, an estimate of the total supply available during the quarter can be calculated. An estimate of consumption from December through February is subtracted from that total to estimate stocks on March 1. Soybean crush, exports and seed, and feed and residual use comprise the three consumption categories. Estimates of soybean stocks on December 1 equaled 2.895 billion bushels.

“Census Bureau estimates of imports in December and January totaled 4.4 million bushels, so the total for the quarter may be about 7 million bushels, resulting in a total supply of 2.902 billion bushels,” Hubbs says.

The expected level of soybean crush on March 1 is calculated based on estimates of the domestic crush during the second quarter of the marketing year. The USDA's Oilseed Crushings, Production, Consumption and Stocks report provides estimates of the domestic crush for December 2016 and January 2017. The estimate for February will be released on April 3. The National Oilseed Processors Association (NOPA) estimate of the February soybean crush by its members can be used to estimate the total February crush.

“For the current marketing year, the USDA monthly crush estimates exceeded the NOPA crush estimates by 6.4 percent,” Hubbs says. “A continuation of the margin for USDA monthly crush estimates above the NOPA February crush estimate indicates a second quarter crush of 491 million bushels of soybeans. The total crush for the first half of the marketing year sums to 976 million bushels.”

Soybean export calculations for the second quarter are inferred from USDA weekly export inspection reports and Census Bureau export estimates. The USDA's weekly export inspections report shows that cumulative 2016-17 marketing-year inspections attained 1.619 billion bushels by the end of the second quarter. Through the first five months of the year, cumulative Census export estimates exceeded inspections by 30 million bushels. If that margin persisted through February, cumulative exports reached 1.654 billion bushels by mid-year. Exports during the first quarter totaled 932.5 million bushels, putting second quarter exports at 721.5 million bushels.

“Calculating the level of seed, feed, and residual use of soybeans during the second quarter of the year is difficult,” Hubbs says. “Due to the Census Bureau ending monthly estimates of domestic soybean crush in July 2011 and the USDA not resuming the monthly crush estimate until May 2015, a gap occurred in calculating seed, feed, and residual use that relied on monthly NOPA estimates. These historical estimates could deviate from complete monthly crush estimates.

“Despite this issue, the seasonal pattern of seed, feed, and residual use is noticeable,” Hubbs continues. “Use is positive in the first half of the year and negative in the last half of the year, but the quarterly distribution varies from year to year. Use in the first quarter this year was estimated at 196.4 million bushels based on the December 1, 2016, stocks estimate. In the five years preceding this marketing year, disappearance in this category during the first half of the year averaged about 171 percent of the marketing-year total. If the pattern continues this year and the USDA's projection of 128 million bushels for the year is correct, second quarter disappearance would be 22.5 million bushels.”

Total consumption of soybeans during the second quarter of the marketing year is calculated to be near 1.235 billion bushels. With stocks at the start of the quarter of 2.895 billion bushels and imports during the quarter of 7.4 million bushels, March 1 stocks are calculated to total about 1.68 billion bushels. “Given the uncertainty of the magnitude of feed, seed, and residual use during the quarter, the stocks estimate would be expected to be within a relatively narrow range,” Hubbs says.

If year ending stocks remain at the current USDA estimate of 435 million bushels and the estimate of March 1 stocks is near the calculation presented here, Hubbs says consumption of U.S. soybeans during the last half of the marketing year would be around 1.23 billion bushels.

“The USDA's estimate of March 1 stocks will provide the basis for evaluating the pace of consumption over the next few months,” Hubbs says. “That estimate, along with the estimate of planting intentions to be released on the same day will set the tone for soybean prices into the planting and growing season.”


Nutrition, the microbiome, and Autism Spectrum Disorder: Review article looks at current evidence, outlines research needs

Published March 16, 2017

URBANA, Ill. – Over the last decade, research has revealed more about the human gut microbiome—the environment within the gastrointestinal tract—where microbes, especially bacteria, reside. Recently, more has become known about the function of those microbes and the microbiome’s connection with health and disease.

Sharon Donovan, a professor of nutrition at the University of Illinois explains that researchers have started to look at more specific disease states and the microbiome. “We are starting to see links with autism, obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and almost every disease that is looked at.

“The gut-brain axis, is a hot area right now. We’ve known for a long time, for example, if you get nervous, the communication comes through the vagus nerve, from your brain to your gut. Oftentimes, people who have a lot of stress feel it in their guts. Now we have findings from animal model studies that show that the microbes themselves are able to signal the brain in part through the vagus nerve.”

Donovan and her graduate student Kirsten Berding are interested in the interaction between diet and the gut microbiome and are hoping to provide further evidence of nutrition’s impact on the microbiome and its association with ASD. This information could allow the effectiveness of some suggested dietary interventions to be tested.

There is evidence of abnormalities in gut microbiota composition in children with ASD, but Donovan explains that it has not been established whether it is those abnormalities that contribute to ASD symptoms or if it is the diet and medication use by a child with ASD that leads to the imbalance in gut microbes. 

“Autism is multi-factorial, it’s not just nutrition, it’s not just microbiome,” she says.

Parents of children with ASD often find information on the internet showing an association between diet and ASD as well as the microbiome and ASD, and they have been willing to try an array of dietary inventions and probiotics to help alleviate some of the ASD, as well as gastrointestinal symptoms, their children experience, Berding explains.  

But often, parents are acting on anecdotal evidence, the hope that “if it worked for someone else’s child, it’ll work for mine.”

“Diets such as gluten-free or casein-free diets for children with autism, as well as other alternative interventions parents have tried, may not provide the hoped for results for every child,” Donovan says.

Therefore, the goal is to better understand to what degree the gut microbiota of children with ASD differs from non-affected children and to conduct studies that systematically evaluate the most effective interventions.  As a first step, Berding and Donovan reviewed the current research on the microbiome and the nutritional status of autistic children, as well as what is known about the underlying mechanisms of the microbiota-gut-brain axis—the way the gut and brain communicate with each other. The review was published in the journal Nutrition Reviews

In their review, they found studies linking microbiome changes and ASD and differences in dietary intake in ASD, however, few studies link how nutrition may affect ASD symptoms via changing the gut microbiota.

“Many kids with autism are picky eaters and will often get stuck on certain foods. Some literature shows that those foods tend to be more simple sugars and not as nutritious. Some of the studies on food intake of kids with autism show that their fruit and vegetable consumption is low, and have low sources of dietary fiber. We know fiber is important for the microbiome. If they are picky eaters and they have a poor diet that’s one aspect,” Berding says.

Tracing not only nutrition’s influence, but also the influence of dietary supplements and medications on the microbiome will help the researchers understand correlations between diet, microbiome, and ASD and to establish new possible therapies to mitigate the severity of autism symptoms.

This is what Donovan and Berding hope to continue studying.

The researchers are now recruiting children aged 2-7 diagnosed with ASD who have not had any sort of probiotic or nutritional intervention, as well as non-affected siblings, to take part in a pilot study to look at common abnormalities in the microbiome and to eventually understand more about modulating the microbiome through the use of diet or supplements. Data such as fecal samples, daily food intake, and GI symptoms will be collected throughout the study.

“There may be ways to use diet or specific probiotics to help,” Donovan says. “They’re not necessarily going to replace medications but they may be able to do things that many medications aren’t successful in.”

To learn more about the study, contact Berding at Participants in the study will receive an incentive for participation, information on their child’s diet, and can take part in a nutrition education session.

“Microbiome and nutrition in autism spectrum disorder: Current knowledge and research needs,” is published in Nutrition Reviews and is available online at Co-authors include Kirsten Berding and Sharon M. Donovan. Berding is a doctoral student in the Division of Nutritional Sciences at the University of Illinois and Donovan is a professor of nutrition in the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences at the University of Illinois, as well as in the Division of Nutritional Sciences.

News Source:

Sharon Donovan, 333-2289

Soybean farmers can earn reward for helping UI researcher

Published March 16, 2017

URBANA, Ill. – In January, the University of Illinois leader of a multi-state soybean research project put out a call to farmers to help gather data for the project. Few participants have signed on, so he is putting the call out again.

“We only need two or three producers in each soybean-growing county in Illinois to get the job done,” says U of I crop sciences professor Emerson Nafziger.

Nafziger and his team are asking producers to provide information for up to four soybean fields on a simple form (one per crop year, 2014 to 2016), located at The form requests about 20 pieces of information for each field, including field location, planting date, variety, and seeding rate. Most farmers will be able to record information for a field in 10 or 15 minutes.

To provide an incentive, anyone who fills out information forms and returns a gift card request form along with the information sheets will receive a $50 gift card.

“This project can be described as a search to find what we should work on next with regard to soybean research. The goal is to have thousands of fields in a large database, then to see how soil, weather, and management interact to produce yield,” Nafziger explains.

Nafziger encourages FFA and college students to participate, giving them experience with scientific studies and a reward for their efforts.

“The more fields we’re able to get information on, the more useful this effort will be,” Nafziger explains. “As the largest and best state for soybean production, we are hoping to produce the largest and best set of information of all states involved in this effort.”

Farmers who want to participate can fill out the form posted at the link given above, or can contact Nafziger at or to have forms sent by email. The project is also described on the Bulletin.



Agricultural and Biological Engineering Spring Student Awards Banquet

Published March 15, 2017

The Agricultural and Biological Engineering turns the spotlight on to honor our talented students.  Please join us as we gather to lift up and recognize our tremendously talented students.

Sunday, April 9th, at the I-Hotel and Conference Center, 1900 South First Street, Champaign, IL.  A social hour will start at 4:00 pm.  Dinner will follow at 5:00 pm with the ceremony starting at 6:00 pm in the Illinois Room.

To register for the event, please click here.

Make nutrition labels work for you

Published March 15, 2017
Dr. McCaffrey, Dr. Arthur, and Dr. Ellison (left to right) share their knowledge about nutrition labels

URBANA, Ill. – Whether you are trying to lose weight, reduce sodium, or increase your vitamin D intake, you are probably accustomed to studying the nutrition facts labels on the foods you buy. Soon, however, the label will have a new look, as mandated by the Food and Drug Administration. Three nutrition experts from the University of Illinois gathered recently to discuss the changes.

“Many of the changes with the new nutrition facts panel are driven by aesthetics and design,” says assistant professor of agricultural and consumer economics Brenna Ellison. She explains that larger and bolder fonts will be used to place greater emphasis on number of calories per serving and servings per container.

Another big change will be the way that serving sizes are calculated. “In the past, serving sizes were much smaller than what a person would normally eat,” Ellison notes. For example, there are actually four servings in that tiny pint of ice cream in your freezer, according to current labeling standards. Anna Arthur, assistant professor of food science and human nutrition, says the new label will reflect more realistic serving sizes.

The new label will also specify the amount of added sugar, whereas current labels lump naturally occurring sugars together with added sugars. “Ice cream contains natural sugar called lactose. In addition, there will be added sugars to enhance the flavor,” Arthur says. 

The discussion was captured in a podcast and a Twitter chat, as part of the #askACES series hosted once a month by the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences at U of I. During the chat, participants asked the experts a wide range of questions about the new label, and about nutrition labeling in general.

Jennifer McCaffrey, assistant dean of family and consumer science for U of I Extension, fielded a question about teaching kids to pay attention to food labels. McCaffrey suggested getting kids to compare similar products side by side, such as flavored versus unflavored milk.

New labels will roll out by July, 2018, so there is plenty of time to do your research on the new design. For starters, listen to the podcast at and search #askACES on Twitter.

What makes farmers try new practices?

Published March 14, 2017
Perennial grasses can be a source of biofuel
  • A new study from the University of Illinois surveyed farmers to uncover the factors that influence adoption of new types of cropping systems.
  • Farmers were more likely to adopt multifunctional perennial cropping systems if they were young, educated, and interested in improving soil and water quality.

URBANA, Ill. – Change is never easy. But when it comes to adopting new agricultural practices, some farmers are easier to convince than others.

A group of researchers at the University of Illinois wanted to know which farmers are most likely to adopt multifunctional perennial cropping systems—trees, shrubs, or grasses that simultaneously benefit the environment and generate high-value products that can be harvested for a profit.

“We surveyed farmers in the Upper Sangamon River Watershed in Illinois to learn their attitudes about growing MPCs on marginal land. We then looked at their demographic data to classify people into different categories related to their adoption potential,” says University of Illinois agroecologist Sarah Taylor Lovell.

Using statistical clustering techniques, the team discovered that survey respondents fell into six categories. The “educated networkers” and “young innovators” were most likely to adopt MPCs. On the other end of the spectrum, survey respondents classified as “money motivated” and “hands-off” were least likely to adopt the new cropping systems.     

The goal of categorizing farmers was to tailor strategies for each group, given their general attitudes. “If they’re very unlikely to adopt at all, we probably wouldn’t spend a lot of time worrying about those groups,” Lovell explains.

However, Lovell thinks some low-likelihood adopters could be swayed. “One of the groups—the one we called “money motivated”—was really connected with GPS in their yield monitoring, so we thought we could target that. We could review high-resolution maps of their farms to point out the areas that are unproductive for corn and soybeans. We’d try to make the case that alternative perennial systems could bring in profits,” Lovell says.

High-likelihood adopters were motivated by environmental concerns, and were especially interested in converting marginal land to bioenergy crop, hay, or nut production systems. “Farmers were probably most familiar with bioenergy grasses and hay,” Lovell explains. But it was important to them that an existing market was in place for MPCs products.

Another major factor was land tenancy. Considering that most MPC crops don’t mature for years after planting, rental contracts would need to account for the long-term investment.

“The person leasing the land might be really interested in agroforestry or perennial cropping systems,” Lovell says. “The lease arrangement has to be long enough that the farmer will get back their investment in that period. For example, some of the nut crops take a long time to mature. But if you integrate some of the fruit shrubs, they’ll become productive in maybe 3-4 years. You could get an earlier return on investment in those cases.”

Lovell’s graduate students—housed in the crop sciences department at U of I—are now following up with several of the farmers who were interested in MPCs and offering custom designs to establish the new cropping systems on their land.

“That was part of the overall goal for this study. We wondered if the barrier to adoption is a lack of information about design options and the economic potential,” Lovell says. “If we overcome that barrier by developing good planting plans, projecting the market economics, and providing them with that information, will that help them implement the change?”

Stay tuned.

The article, “Identifying barriers and motivators for adoption of multifunctional perennial cropping systems by landowners in the Upper Sangamon River Watershed, Illinois,” is published in Agroforestry Systems. Lead author Chloe Mattia and co-author Adam Davis are also in the Department of Crop Sciences at U of I. Funding was provided by the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture.