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Will summer pricing opportunities materialize for corn and soybeans?

Published May 23, 2016

URBANA, Ill. – Following increases over the past two to three months, corn and soybean prices have traded in a choppy pattern over the past week. Prices have incorporated the information in the USDA’s May 10 World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates (WASDE) report that pointed to larger consumption and smaller stocks than expected for both the 2015-16 and 2016-17 marketing years. According to a University of Illinois agricultural economist, a number of factors continue to percolate in these markets.

One of these factors is the actual size of the 2016 corn and soybean crops in South America and the impact on export demand for U.S. crops.  “Weekly export sales of both crops continue to be larger than needed to reach the USDA’s most recent export projection for the year,” says Darrel Good. “After adjusting the cumulative marketing-year export estimate in the USDA’s Export Sales report by Census export estimates, new sales of corn need to average only about 7 million bushels per week to reach the export projection of 1.725 billion bushels. New sales averaged 51.5 million bushels per week for the six weeks that ended May 12. After adjusting for Census export estimates, export sales of soybeans already exceed the marketing-year export projection of 1.74 billion bushels by 36 million bushels.”

A second factor creating uncertainty in the corn and soybean markets is the magnitude of planted acreage in the United States. The USDA’s March 31 Prospective Plantings report revealed producer intentions to plant 93.601 million acres of corn and 82.236 million acres of soybeans this year. Intentions reflect an increase of 5.6 million acres for corn and a decrease of 414,000 acres for soybeans compared to the final estimate of planted acreage last year. “The planted acreage of each crop and the total acreage of both crops always deviates from the planting intentions estimates,” Good says. “Over the past 20 years, when producers planting intentions were not directly impacted by farm program provisions, the final estimate of soybean planted acreage has exceeded March intentions in 10 years and was less than intentions in 10 years. For corn, the final estimate exceeded intentions in seven years and was less than intentions in 13 years. Total acreage of corn and soybeans exceeded intentions in 10 years and was less than intentions in 10 years. History does not provide a strong signal for what to expect this year. However, the recent strength in soybean prices relative to corn prices and the slow corn-planting pace in the eastern Corn Belt suggest that some intended corn acreage will be switched to soybeans. In addition, without widespread prevent-planted acreage, total corn and soybean acreage may exceed intentions. It now appears that soybean acreage will exceed intentions, but the prospects for corn acreage are less clear.”

Good says the largest uncertainty in both markets is the likely level of yields.

“At this stage of the growing season, there is little indication of how the U.S. average yields may deviate from trend values, estimated by USDA at 168 bushels for corn and 47.6 bushels for soybeans,” Good says. “We continue to believe there is a higher-than-normal risk of yields falling below trend value due to the history of warmer, drier summers following extremely warm winters. That risk may also be elevated by the rapidly fading El Nino event. If this assessment is correct, higher corn and soybean prices would be expected this summer, providing a better opportunity for pricing 2016 production.”

According to Good, the risk of waiting for a summer price rally before aggressively pricing the 2016 crops is probably larger for soybeans than for corn for several reasons.  1) Soybean acreage is likely to exceed intentions so that production could still be large even with a modest shortfall in yields. 2) Soybean yields may be less vulnerable to stressful summer weather than corn yields. 3) Soybean prices have increased more than corn prices in recent weeks and are now at a relatively high level compared to corn prices. 4) November 2016 soybean futures are now trading near $10.40, above the spring price guarantee of $9.73 for crop revenue insurance. 5) With trend yields, current new-crop soybean prices are high enough to generate positive returns to owner-operators, those with crop share rents, and those with modest cash rents.

In contrast, Good says corn acreage may be less than intentions, yields are more vulnerable to adverse summer weather, recent price strength has been modest, and December 2016 futures are currently trading only modestly above the spring price guarantee of $3.86 for crop revenue insurance. “While waiting for a price that offers a positive return has some risk, the risk seems limited over the next several weeks,” Good says.

If a summer price rally does occur, Good says producers will likely want to aggressively price the 2016 crop. “History suggests that a weather market would also result in opportunities for pricing 2017 crops and beyond. A weather market would likely result in smaller price increases for those crops than for the 2015 and 2016 crops, similar to the recent price pattern.  From the close on March 31 to the close on May 20, July 2016 corn futures gained almost 39 cents, while December 2016 and December 2017 futures gained 31 cents and 24 cents, respectively. From the close on March 1, July 2016 soybean futures gained $2.10, while November 2016 and November 2017 futures gained $1.79 and 88 cents, respectively. Still, prices for those deferred crops could move to levels reflecting positive returns for most producers. How aggressively to price multiple crops depends on the magnitude of the price rally, should it occur.”




Scientists discover the evolutionary link between protein structure and function

Published May 18, 2016
Heme protein
Heme protein showing loops in orange near the bottom
  • A new University of Illinois study demonstrates the evolution of protein structure and function over 3.8 billion years.
  • Snippets of genetic code, consistent across organisms and time, direct proteins to create “loops,” or active sites that give proteins their function. 
  • The link between structure and function in proteins can be thought of as a type of network.
  • Demonstrating evolution in this small-scale network may help others understand how different types of networks, such as the internet or social networks, change over time.

URBANA, Ill. – Proteins are more than a dietary requirement. This diverse set of molecules powers nearly all of the cellular operations in a living organism. Scientists may know the structure of a protein or its function, but haven’t always been able to link the two.

“The big problem in biology is the question of how a protein does what it does. We think the answer rests in protein evolution,” says University of Illinois professor and bioinformatician Gustavo Caetano-Anollés.

Geologists have found remnants of life preserved in rock billions of years old. In some cases, preservation of microbes and tissues has been so good that microscopic cellular structures that were once associated with specific proteins, can be detected. This geological record gives scientists a hidden connection to the evolutionary history of protein structures over incredibly long time periods. But, until now, it hasn’t always been possible to link function with those structures to know how proteins were behaving in cells billions of years ago, compared with today.

“For the first time, we have traced evolution onto a biological network,” Caetano-Anollés notes.

Caetano-Anollés and graduate students Fayez Aziz and Kelsey Caetano-Anollés used networks to investigate the linkage between protein structure and molecular function. They built a timeline of protein structures spanning 3.8 billion years across the geological record, but needed a way to connect the structures with their functions. To do that, they looked at the genetic makeup of hundreds of organisms.

“It turns out that there are little snippets in our genes that are incredibly conserved over time,” Caetano-Anollés says. “And not just in human genomes. When we look at higher organisms, such as plants, fungi and animals, as well as bacteria, archaea, and viruses, the same snippets are always there. We see them over and over again.”

The research team found that these tiny gene segments tell proteins to produce “loops,” which are the tiniest structural units in a protein. When loops come together, they create active sites, or molecular pockets, which give proteins their function. For example, hemoglobin, the protein that carries oxygen in blood, has two loops which create the active site that binds oxygen. The loops combine to create larger protein structures called domains.

Remarkably, the new study shows that loops have been repeatedly recruited to perform new functions and that the process has been active and ongoing since the beginning of life.

“This recruitment is important for understanding biological diversity,” Caetano-Anollés says.

One important aspect of the study relates to the actual linkage between domain structure and functional loops. The researchers found that this linkage is characterized by an unanticipated property that unfolds in time, an “emergent” property known as hierarchical modularity.

“Loops are cohesive modules, as are domains, proteins, cells, organs, and bodies.” Caetano-Anollés explains. “We are all made of cohesive modules, including our human bodies. That’s hierarchical modularity: the building of small cohesive parts into larger and increasingly complex wholes.”

Hierarchical modularity also exists in manmade networks, such as the internet. For example, each router represents a “node” that pushes information to different computers. When millions of computers interact with each other online, larger and more complex entities emerge. Caetano-Anollés suggests that the evolution of manmade networks could be mapped in the same way as the evolution of biological networks.

“From a computer science point of view, few people have been exploring how to track networks in time. Imagine exploring how the internet grows and changes when new routers are added, are disconnected, or network with each other. It’s a daunting task because there are millions of routers to track and internet communication can be highly dynamic. In our study, we are showcasing how you can do it with a very small network,” Caetano-Anollés explains.

The methods developed by Caetano-Anollés and his team now have the potential to explain how change is capable of structuring systems as varied as the internet, social networks, or the collective of all proteins in an organism.

The article, “The early history and emergence of molecular functions and modular scale-free network behavior,” is published in Scientific Reports. M. Fayez Aziz and Kelsey Caetano-Anollés, also from the University of Illinois, co-authored the report. Full text of the article can be found at:



Mechanism for herbicide resistance in Palmer amaranth identified

Published May 18, 2016
Palmer amaranth
Young Palmer amaranth plant. Photo courtesy of Aaron Hager.
  • Waterhemp and Palmer amaranth are resistant to a class of herbicides known as PPO-inhibitors.
  • The mechanism of resistance is a rare mutation in a genetic sequence not shared by many plants.
  • Researchers who discovered the mutation predict that PPO-resistant Palmer amaranth populations will spread quickly and widely.

URBANA, Ill. – Corn and soybean farmers might as well be soldiers locked in an ever-escalating war against the weeds that threaten their crops. New weapons—herbicides—only work for so long before the enemy retaliates by developing resistance and refusing to die. So farmers attack with new herbicides or new mixtures of existing herbicides until the cycle starts again. This has been the case for decades for two familiar enemies, waterhemp and its aggressive cousin, Palmer amaranth.

A new study co-authored by University of Illinois weed scientist Patrick Tranel shows that Palmer amaranth populations from Arkansas are now resistant to a class of herbicides known as PPO-inhibitors (PPOs).

PPOs were used extensively in the early 1990s in soybeans after waterhemp developed resistance to the class of herbicides known as ALS-inhibitors. But when Roundup Ready® crops came along, most farmers switched to using glyphosate, with PPOs applied to soil prior to weed emergence. Thus, when glyphosate stopped working on waterhemp and farmers went back to PPOs for post-emergence control, they were surprised to find that they no longer worked on waterhemp in some fields.

“The PPOs applied pre-emergence were providing selection pressure and increasing the resistance to PPOs without farmers really knowing about it. That’s one of the reasons we think we have so much PPO resistance now,” Tranel explains. 

But PPO resistance in waterhemp is old news. What’s interesting is the mechanism of resistance to PPOs.

The genetic code of an organism, which determines all of its physical traits, is housed in its DNA in molecules known as nucleotides. Normally, mutations in genetic sequences that give rise to herbicide resistance happen at the scale of a single nucleotide.

In PPO-resistant waterhemp, however, Tranel’s group found a different mutation. Instead of a change in a single nucleotide, they found the deletion of three nucleotides. “It seems like it would be really rare and difficult for this particular mutation to occur. It just shouldn’t happen,” Tranel says. But, for waterhemp, it did.

This mutation probably happened because the sequence of three nucleotides was repeated, and this repeat just happened to be in the right place in waterhemp’s genetic code.

So the team looked at the genetic sequences of related pigweeds, to see if they had the repeat in the right place, and found that most did not. However, when they looked at the genetic code for Palmer amaranth, they found the repeat. They predicted that, someday, they’d see Palmer amaranth developing resistance to PPOs.

“Palmer has this repeat. It’s predisposed to PPO resistance. If waterhemp can do it, Palmer can too,” Tranel notes.

Soon, several of Tranel’s colleagues started hearing reports from farmers about Palmer amaranth that wasn’t being killed by PPOs. When Tranel tested samples sent from Arkansas and Tennessee, he found the mutation. His prediction had been right.

“We predict PPO resistance is going to spread very rapidly in Palmer, like it did in waterhemp. By now, we know PPO-resistant Palmer is present in at least three states. If a farmer has Palmer, they should not rely on PPO as an effective herbicide. It might only work for a couple of years,” Tranel says.

In fact, when Tranel and his colleagues tested the effectiveness of the PPO inhibitor fomesafen on an Arkansas population of Palmer amaranth, they found that each successive generation had a higher frequency of the mutation and required more and more PPO to be applied to achieve a 50 percent growth reduction.

The rapid spread of the mutation in these populations is bad news for farmers, but intriguing from an evolutionary science point of view.

“That’s why resistance is so cool: it’s just evolution,” Tranel says. “We can study it at warp speed. Most people who study evolution have to deal with time scales of hundreds or thousands of years. We can study evolution in five or ten years.”

How can farmers deal with this new threat? Tranel says they should “pray for a new herbicide.”

But for the time being, he suggests they use as many different pre- and post-emergence herbicides with as many modes of action as possible in every field in every year.

The battle continues.

The article, “Resistance to PPO-inhibiting herbicide in Palmer amaranth from Arkansas” is published in Pest Management Science. The research was supported by the Arkansas Soybean Research and Promotion Board, Cotton Incorporated, and Syngenta Crop Protection.

The full text of the article is available at

Addition of microbial xylanase to diets containing rice bran increases energy value for pigs

Published May 17, 2016

URBANA, Ill. – Research at the University of Illinois is finding ways to make rice bran, an abundant co-product of the production of white rice for human consumption, more efficient as a feed ingredient for pigs.

There are 70 to 100 million tons of rice bran produced every year worldwide, but due to its carbohydrate composition, about a quarter of the energy in rice bran is unavailable to pigs. Dr. Hans H. Stein, professor of animal sciences at the University of Illinois, along with graduate student Gloria Casas, hypothesized that an enzyme called xylanase might increase concentrations of digestible energy (DE) and metabolizable energy (ME) in rice co-products.

"The first step in the processing of rice is to remove the hulls, which has no nutritional value,” says Stein. “The brown high-fiber layer that is located under the hulls is also removed to produce white polished rice for human consumption. This layer is called rice bran and has high concentrations of non-starch polysaccharides, particularly arabinoxylans. Therefore, we hypothesized that the arabinoxylans in rice bran could be made more fermentable by adding the enzyme xylanase to the diet."

To do so, Casas and Stein fed diets containing four different rice co-products to weanling barrows. They used both full fat rice bran and defatted rice bran. For comparison, they also fed brown rice, which is rice with the bran still intact, and broken rice, which consists of fragments of white rice that are too small for commercial sale. Each rice co-product was fed in two different diets: one without added xylanase and one with xylanase.

The results confirmed their hypothesis. The concentrations of DE and ME in full fat rice bran increased from 3,984 kcal/kg and 3,856 kcal/kg in the diets without added xylanase to 4,311 kcal/kg and 4,198 kcal/kg in the diets with added xylanase. Similarly, addition of xylanase to the diets increased the ME in defatted rice bran from 2,936 kcal/kg to 3,225 kcal/kg, but DE was not changed.

"Full fat rice bran and defatted rice bran had the greatest concentration of arabinoxylans and adding xylanase to the diets containing these co-products increased the concentrations of DE and ME," says Stein. However, addition of xylanase did not affect the amount of DE and ME in brown rice and broken rice, which contain more starch and much less non-starch polysaccharides.

Broken rice contained more DE and ME than either full fat rice bran or defatted rice bran if no xylanase was added to the diets, and brown rice also contained more DE and ME than defatted rice bran. However, if xylanase was added, the concentrations of DE and ME in full fat rice bran were not different from values in brown rice or broken rice.

Stein says that these results demonstrate a way to efficiently utilize resources that might otherwise go to waste. "Adding xylanase to diets containing full fat rice bran increased its energy digestibility from 75 percent to 80 percent, which made it equivalent in energy value to brown rice or broken rice. This offers producers another option for making use of co-products in swine diets."

The research was supported by funding from AB Vista Feed Ingredients, Marlborough, UK.

The paper, "Effects of microbial xylanase on digestibility of dry matter, organic matter, neutral detergent fiber, and energy and the concentrations of digestible and metabolizable energy in rice co-products fed to weanling pigs," was published in the May 2016 issue of the Journal of Animal Science. The full text can be found online at




News Source:

Hans H. Stein, 217-333-0013

Rural, low-income moms rely on nature activities to promote family health but don’t always have access to resources

Published May 17, 2016
  • Research shows that time in spent in nature can promote health and well-being.
  • Like many moms, rural, low-income moms rely on family outdoor activities to keep themselves and their children healthy.
  • Financial limitations and other availability factors pose obstacles for rural, low-income families to access nature resources in their community.

URBANA, Ill. – Research shows that spending just 20 minutes in nature can promote health and well-being. Although the assumption may be that living in rural areas provides ample opportunities for recreation in nature, many rural, low-income mothers, who rely on outdoor activities to promote health and well-being for themselves and their families, face obstacles in accessing publicly available outdoor recreation resources.

In interviews from an initial project referred to as “Rural Families Speak about Health,” low-income mothers from rural communities in 11 states were asked how they and their children stay healthy, as well as what resources were available in their communities to support health. Almost every mom gave the same response: participating in outdoor activities.

Researchers at the University of Illinois, who study families and the benefits of participating in family-based nature activities, were interested in these responses. Using data from the rural families study, Dina Izenstark, a doctoral student in family studies at the U of I and colleagues conducted a follow-up study to further explore how and why moms use the natural environment to promote health for themselves and their families. The researchers also wanted to learn what health benefits they experienced.

The new study, published in the Journal of Leisure Research, also examines how living in the context of rural poverty affects the ability of mothers to utilize family-based nature activities to promote their families’ health. The mothers interviewed for the study had incomes at or below 185 percent of the federal poverty level, lived in selected rural counties, and had at least one child under the age of 13. Their family structure/co-parenting situation was not considered.

“During the interviews, moms weren’t specifically asked about their experiences in nature,” Izenstark says. “They were asked, ‘how do you and your family stay healthy?’ Yet almost every single mom in the study, on their own, said they use nature to promote their health. 

“When we started to dig deeper, we noticed that because they didn’t always have the financial resources to support their health in other ways, access to natural spaces in their community provided them the opportunity,” she adds.  

Rural geography also played a role. “Some of the moms lived near mountains or beaches or corn fields. Some lived in subsidized housing,” she says. Rural living doesn’t automatically mean easy access to green space. “For the moms that did have access, it was a lot easier for them to promote their health.” 

U of I professor of family studies Ramona Oswald is a co-author. She worked on the initial rural families study, and says this study shows that community investment is important in making resources accessible.

“You might live in rural Illinois, surrounded by cornfields, all of which are privately owned. You could walk down a county road or a highway, but unless there was community investment in a park or a playground, a walking trail, or some kind of a facility at a local school, moms didn’t have access to nature, even though they were surrounded by it.

“It speaks to the importance of that infrastructure for families on low incomes who are not able to drive to the next community or pay for a gym membership, or something else that might be available for people who have more money,” Oswald says.

The most common activity mentioned by moms was walking in nature. It was something the whole family could do together, regardless of the kids’ ages or their financial constraints. After walking came going to the park for exercise, picnics, sports, or free movies.

Izenstark points out how even routine, day-to-day activities in nature can be sources of bonding for families. Many moms mentioned the importance of walking the family dog together. Other examples included picking blackberries every summer, family camping trips, and staying on the beach while visiting extended family. 

The moms cited reasons such as wanting to be a good role model, limit television exposure, and promote healthy physical development as motivators for participating in outdoor activities with their kids.

“Moms described how getting outside not only helped them improve their physical health and motivation to exercise or lose weight, but once outside, the moms experienced psychological health benefits as well,” Izenstark says. Social health benefits are also important. “The moms said their children don’t always get to see other children [living in a rural area], so it’s really important to go to the park with friends or extended family, for example.  

“Although they didn’t always say they were going outside to promote their family relationships, the data suggested that being outside was a great place for families to laugh, bond, and create memories – these social health benefits influenced their family relationships,” she adds.  

Oswald and Izenstark both hope park and recreation practitioners, as well as other community officials, will see the importance of resource access, especially in built natural environments such as parks and playscapes for low-income families in rural areas. Beyond just providing programs, Oswald wants practitioners to meet low-income families where they are to spread the message.

“The moms in this study know about health and what to do to be healthy,” Oswald says. “It’s not a lack of education. It has to do with barriers and access to resources. Especially in rural communities, regardless of income, you struggle with distance between people and resources. If families with low incomes in rural communities are going to go, maybe food pantries, then that’s a good place to hang a flyer that says ‘get out with your family and have a picnic.’ Encourage them to take the next step, framing it in a way that is gratifying rather than punishing or grueling. These moms know, they just struggle with how to make it happen,” she says.

“Rural, low-income mothers’ use of family-based nature activities to promote family health,” is published in the Journal of Leisure Research. Co-authors include Dina Izenstark, Ramona F. Oswald, Elizabeth Holman, and Shawn N. Mendez, all of the University of Illinois, and Kimberly A Greder of Iowa State University. The paper is available online at

This work was supported by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture.