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Do food pantry environments encourage healthy food choices? New tool can assess

Published June 20, 2018

URBANA, Ill. – A food pantry’s primary objective is to get food to the participants that need it—to meet their immediate needs. Annually, food pantries, or food banks, distribute free grocery items to over 46.5 million people in the United States.

Researchers and Extension educators at the University of Illinois are asking if improvements to the consumer nutrition environment of food pantries—placement of items, food choices, freshness, availability of nutritional information, etc.—can also help participants in making healthier food choices.

In a study, led by Cassandra Nikolaus, doctoral candidate in human nutrition at U of I, researchers introduce a new tool for food pantries to use in determining their nutrition environment. The Nutrition Environment Food Pantry Assessment Tool, or NEFPAT, is a checklist of observations about the food pantry that a trained assessor can use to recommend improvements.

“There are clientele who are using pantries on a chronic or cyclical basis and we really want to encourage healthy options even in this emergency setting,” Nikolaus says. “The NEFPAT provides a way of evaluating how the pantry is currently set up, and Extension staff working with Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program-Education [SNAP-Ed] can assist in making any improvements, working with the pantries to encourage those options.”

Jennifer McCaffrey, assistant dean of family and consumer science for U of I Extension and a co-author of the study, says the food pantry assessment tool is one part of an overall project looking at Extension’s community nutrition education model assessing how participants, primarily low-income women,  interact with programs in their community. “Are we reaching families and in what ways in the community? Is the food pantry environment supporting the overall objectives we have for the nutrition education programs?”

The goal, McCaffrey says, is to set up the food pantry in a way that supports healthful behaviors, and makes it easier to prepare nutritious meals.

“It’s kind of like the shows that do a kitchen or refrigerator makeover, except it is a pantry,” McCaffrey says. “What used to happen before was pantries were serving out their mission of giving people food, but sometimes people didn’t know what to do with it. Food may have gone to waste because it didn’t come with the right items to make a meal or they didn’t know how to cook it.

“By doing a pantry makeover, people can easily gather foods that support a healthier diet, easily prepare it, and feed their families,” she adds.

A lot of that has to do with placement or how items are bundled together so they’re easier for people to grab. “Think of a grocery store where they’re always putting things right at the cash register. It’s a similar concept. As people flow through the pantry, it’s about putting things where people can easily be triggered to take those healthier items. Like produce. Or putting items that make a meal together. You might put noodles, spaghetti sauce, and some additional vegetables together, with a recipe for spaghetti primavera. They can take the recipe and all the needed ingredients for it,” McCaffrey explains.

So far, Nikolaus says they have used the tool in 27 pantries across Illinois. They will keep evaluating and improving the tool, and hope to share it with others doing similar work throughout the United States.

At this stage, assessors are primarily Extension staff members working with SNAP-Ed. “If it’s a pantry we’ve never partnered with before, the first part of the visit is building the relationship, describing what the NEFPAT’s for, and what U of I Extension can offer. We go through the evaluation. There are some things we ask about, but the majority of the tool is visual so we can be objective,” Nikolaus says. After the initial meeting, Extension staff will meet again with pantry staff to discuss next steps, discuss what is feasible for them to adopt, and what they have the ability to do.

“Then we can partner with them moving forward. Ideally, we make it more of a long-term relationship,” Nikolaus says.

The checklist/tool is available online. Those interested in the tool can also contact Nikolaus at

The paper, “Nutrition Environment Food Panty Assessment Tool (NEFPAT): Development and evaluation,” is published in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior. (DOI:10.1016/j.jneb.2018.03.011) Co-authors include Cassandra J. Nikolaus, Emily Laurent, Emily Loehmer, Ruopeng An, Naiman Khan, and Jennifer McCaffrey.

Funding for the project was provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture North Central Nutrition Education Center of Excellence and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program-Education.

Illinois announces dates for ‘aMaizeing’ field days

Published June 20, 2018
corn field trial

URBANA, Ill. – Organic farmers are part of the fastest-growing food sector in the United States, yet breeding efforts have lagged, leaving farmers with few options for seed. Scientists, led by a group from the University of Illinois, are teaming up with farmers across the region to develop and test new maize cultivars with the goal of bringing high-quality, diverse options to the organic marketplace. And now, interested farmers and members of the public can learn more during a series of “aMaizeing” field days and workshops.   

The first event will take place July 19 at Wyatt Muse’s farm, located at 3100 North Rising Road, Champaign, from 8:30 to 11: 30 a.m. The morning session will feature corn breeding plots in which scientists are working to develop new organic cultivars from elite U of I lines and increase seed to be used by the on-farm testing network. Attendees will see an example of a strip trial similar to those established on more than a dozen cooperating farms. 

A similar field day will occur in Wisconsin on Sept. 13 at 8265 N County Road N in East Troy. It will feature organic cultivars developed by breeder Walter Goldstein to maximize nitrogen use efficiency and competitiveness against weeds.

The field days will showcase the network of plant breeders, farmers, and end-users that are working together to design and support plant breeding and testing efforts to serve organic farmers in the region. Attendees will learn how various breeding strategies are used to develop new maize cultivars and how cultivar performance is measured.

Michelle Wander, professor in the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences at U of I and co-principal investigator on the project, explains that the network could expand to look at additional crops in the future. “Our testing network will initially focus on corn as a sort of case study, to help us develop protocols to efficiently identify varieties that perform well on organic farms and have nutritional and quality traits desired by producers, buyers, and consumers.”

Additional afternoon workshops on the same days are reserved for project participants, but project leader Carmen Ugarte says it’s not too late to get involved.

“Folks who have an interest in increasing access to seed with particular traits, such as nutritional or baking quality, color, or unique origin, or who want to help set breeding or network goals should get in touch to see if one of our afternoon workshops might be of interest,” says Ugarte, a research specialist in the NRES department at U of I. Ugarte can be reached at

Register for the July 19 field day (Illinois):

Register for the Sept. 13 field day (Wisconsin):

Study links neighborhood factors, breast cancer rates in African-American women

Published June 19, 2018

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Neighborhood characteristics such as racial composition and poverty rates are associated with increased risks of late-stage breast cancer diagnoses and higher mortality rates among urban black women, a new analysis of recent breast cancer research shows.

Even African-American women living in low-income neighborhoods that are undergoing gentrification and economic improvement may be at significantly greater risk of having distant metastases at the time they are diagnosed with breast cancer, said lead author Brandi Patrice Smith, a graduate student in food science and human nutrition at the University of Illinois.

“This is enlightening, because an increase in overall neighborhood socioeconomic status should result in better health for residents, not worse health,” Smith said.  “But because these neighborhoods were still low-income, they didn’t have as many resources,” such as health care facilities and access to mammography and follow-up care.

The study, which was published recently in the journal Hormones and Cancer, comprised a sample of more than 93,600 black women living in various large cities and urban areas across the U.S.

The dataset included patient information from state breast cancer registries in California, Georgia, Illinois, New York, North Carolina and Texas. Patients who ranged in age from 19 to 91 were tracked for an average of eight years.

Despite thousands of studies on breast cancer that have shown racial disparities in diagnosis and survival rates, only a small number of researchers have explored how these disparities might be related to various factors in women’s living environments, Smith said.

Nearly half of African-American women in the U.S. live in urban areas and about 25 percent reside in low-income neighborhoods, according to the study.

Smith and co-author Zeynep Madak-Erdogan, a professor in the same department, conducted a systematic review of recent breast cancer research to explore possible associations between characteristics of urban neighborhoods and breast cancer rates among African-American women. Among the factors they examined were neighborhood racial composition/segregation, poverty rates and access to mammography.

Residential segregation – which was defined as living in a neighborhood with a predominantly African-American population – significantly increased African-American women’s rates of late-stage diagnosis and doubled their chances of dying from breast cancer, the analysis showed.

Comparable mortality rates were found among white women who also lived in predominantly African-American neighborhoods, the researchers found.

“This suggests that the environmental conditions associated with low-income neighborhoods – rather than race itself – increases women’s risks of dying from breast cancer,” Smith said.

Mortality rates and risks of late-stage diagnosis were significantly greater in low-income neighborhoods where women of any race had limited access to mammograms and follow-up care with physicians, Smith said.

Editor’s note: To contact Brandi Patrice Smith, call 662-299-7035; email

The paper “Urban neighborhood and residential factors associated with breast cancer in African-American women: A systematic review” is available online from Springer or from the News Bureau.

Gov. Rauner announces release of additional $5 million to Extension

Published June 19, 2018

URBANA, Ill. – Gov. Bruce Rauner announced the release of $16 million in agriculture grants on Friday, including $5 million for University of Illinois Extension services. The announcement was made at Stremsterfer Farms in Pleasant Plains, Ill., with Director of the Illinois Department of Agriculture Raymond Poe, County Extension Director Aaron Dufelmeier, local officials, and the Stremsterfer family in attendance. The funds being released from the fiscal year 2018 budget will also fund soil and water districts and county fairs and agriculture societies.

“These three entities provide services that are vital for the future of Illinois agriculture,” Rauner said. “From protecting our farmland for future generations to fostering agriculture careers and educating consumers, these organizations support Illinois agriculture, the backbone of our state’s economy.”

Ag Director Raymond Poe said funding for these organizations comes at a critical time. “We must continue to fund these organizations in order to sustain their key programs,” he said. “I want to thank our agricultural partners for commitment to Illinois agriculture and for their cooperation in these fiscally challenging times.”

More than 1.5 million Illinois residents take part in programs offered by the University of Illinois Extension in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences (ACES). Extension provides information and education that helps Illinois residents improve agricultural practices; protect the environment; access better food; improve nutrition; develop their communities; build strong economics; provide learning opportunities for youth, adults, and elders; and prepare a more effective workforce. The Department of Agriculture will disperse $5 million to assist the organization with its core mission.

“Thank you to our Extension Partners, thank you to our local advocates, and all those who support University of Illinois Extension and what we do,” said County Extension Director Aaron N. Dufelmeier at the event. “We have the opportunity each and every day to impact the lives of our community members to help solve those problems they may have. Most importantly, we bring the practical education from the University of Illinois to the citizens in our communities that is so important to each and everyone one of us on personal level.”

Kim Kidwell, dean of the College of ACES, said, “For the thousands of youth, citizens, and volunteers across the state that are impacted by University of Illinois Extension and 4-H in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences, I say thank you. We are truly grateful for the support that the governor and our state legislators have provided to help us continue to do great work to help people in every county in Illinois improve the quality of their lives.” 

News Writer:

University of Illinois Extension

Soybean seedling diseases surge in Illinois

Published June 19, 2018
Phytophthora symptoms

URBANA, Ill. – Following the severe storms last week, Illinois soybean producers are beginning to notice seedling damage due to two soil-borne pathogens.

“In many cases Rhizoctonia has been identified as the causative organism, alone or in combination with other soil diseases such as Phytophthora,” says Nathan Kleczewski, plant pathologist in the Department of Crop Sciences at the University of Illinois. 

“We are seeing what appear to be signs of early-season Rhizoctonia infection. The plants are responding to pathogen infection and a reduction in initial root systems by producing small, adventitious roots. The recent, severe rains inundated these plants, allowing adventitious roots to be infected by Phytophthora. There was not much of a root system left, so it did not take much to cause blighting in many cases. Thus, we have a seedling-disease complex likely caused by different pathogens and the severe shifts in environmental conditions after planting.”

Rhizoctonia kills germinating and emerging seedlings, but the disease also affects larger plants by forming stem cankers, or sunken lesions, at and slightly above the soil line. Large cankers can severely reduce the translocation of water and nutrients up the stem, causing the plant to wilt and potentially die. Affected plant tissues tend to appear reddish-brown and will have a corky, almost dry-rotted look to them.

Rhizoctonia becomes problematic when soils are moist and warm, forming patches within a field. Soybean varieties differ in their tolerance, but unfortunately there is no true resistance to the disease.

Kleczewski says Rhizoctonia seed treatments can be effective for reducing early infections. However, he says, these products are only effective for the first week or two after planting, and are unlikely to impact disease occurring later in crop development.

Producers should also expect outbreaks of Phytophthora in the coming days, especially in low-lying, poorly drained areas of the field. Phytophthora lesions on stems are black to brown and extend from the roots up the lower stem of the plant. The margins of the lesions are less defined than in Rhizoctonia-infected plants, and are soft and mushy.

“When soils are saturated and warm, the overwintering structure of this pathogen, a water mold, germinates, producing another structure that releases small spores into the soil solution,” Kleczewski explains. “These spores have tails, or flagellae, that propel the spores in the water. Then, the spores sense gradients in chemicals from plant roots to locate and infect root systems.”

Fortunately, two types of resistance are available for management of Phytophthora: race-specific (Rps) and partial.

“Race-specific is similar to a door that will completely block specific types of Phytophthora from infecting plants. However, some Phytophthora individuals contain a key that allows them to open that door and infect roots. Thus, if a variety with an Rps gene (door) is planted into a field with a Phytophthora population that is comprised of individuals able to overcome that resistance (key), you may still see significant infection,” Kleczewski says.

The most common Rps genes are Rps1a, Rps1c, Rps1k, Rps3a, and Rps 6. Although many varieties only have a single Rps gene, some have multiple, or stacked, Rps genes.

“Partial resistance acts like a bouncer guarding the stage at a concert,” he says. “It provides some resistance to all populations of Phytophthora, but some disease can occur, similar to rowdy fans who eventually jump on stage, only to be pulled off.”

Partial resistance is not expressed until later in plant development, typically after the first true leaves are produced, and therefore is not effective for managing early infections. Like Rhizoctonia, seed treatments can provide benefits early in the season. Kleczewski points out that Phytophthora is not a true fungus, but an oomycete, and therefore seed treatments must contain oomycete-specific active ingredients such as metalaxyl, mefanoxam, or ethaboxam.

“In a case like this, it is important to realize that seed treatments are not going to help much.  We are 30-45 days post planting and your fungicide treatments ran out of gas a while ago.  Seed treatments are not soil fumigants,” Kleczewski says. 

For more information on seed treatments, visit

Tiny jumping roundworm undergoes unusual sexual development

Published June 18, 2018

URBANA, Ill. – Nematodes may be among the simplest animals, but scientists can’t get enough of the microscopic roundworms. They have mapped the entire genome of C. elegans, the “lab rat” of nematodes, and have characterized nearly every aspect of its biology, with a particular focus on neurons. For years, it was assumed other nematodes’ neurons were similar to those of C. elegans, until researchers at the University of Illinois demonstrated the vast diversity in neuronal anatomy present across species.  

Now Nathan Schroeder, assistant professor in the Department of Crop Sciences at U of I and leader of the previous study, has shown that gonad development also varies in other nematodes relative to C. elegans. Specifically, he and graduate student Hung Xuan Bui focused on Steinernema carpocapsae, a nematode used in insect biocontrol applications in lawns and gardens.

The gonads in all nematodes develop within a structure called the gonad arm, a tube through which multiple reproductive organs migrate into place throughout the animal’s postembryonic development. This happens in a highly predictable manner in C. elegans, with very low variability among individuals. Not so with Steinernema.  

Schroeder says finding and understanding examples of variability within and among species can help scientists understand how diversity arises, an open question with relevance to evolution and genetic processes.  

But it also has practical applications, especially in this species.

“One of the issues in terms of commercialization of Steinernema biocontrol products is being able to produce a lot of them,” he says. “Can we somehow increase the overall reproductive output of these animals? Understanding more about the gonad development, where babies are actually being made, might move us in that direction.”

Aside from showing that Steinernema development differs from C. elegans, the study also represents an advancement in terms of studying organisms whose development occurs almost entirely inside another organism.

These tiny roundworms, less than a millimeter long, stand upright on their tails and jump up to 10 times their body length with the goal of landing on and infecting an insect. Once they find a bug, Steinernema expels symbiotic bacteria from its gut, which is what kills the insect.

That’s when the nematode starts feeding on the insect and the bacteria that, by this point, has spread throughout the insect’s body. Being exposed to this external bacterial stew is what triggers the nematode to begin its postembryonic sexual development and then to reproduce with other nematodes nestled inside the same insect. As one can imagine, it could be rather difficult to replicate that environment in the lab.

“Bui was able to trick them. He put them in a high density of this bacteria, and essentially tricked them into coming out of this juvenile stage to undergo normal reproductive development without being inside the insect,” Schroeder says.

The technique should allow further study of the anatomy and behavior of this and other so-called entomopathogenic, or bug-eating, nematodes.

The article, “Postembryonic ventral nerve cord development and gonad migration in Stinernema carpocapsae,” is published in the Journal of Nematology [DOI: 10.21307/jofnem-2018-005]. Hung Xuan Bui and Nathan Schroeder are affiliated with the Department of Crop Sciences in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences at U of I. Bui is also affiliated with the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines and Can Tho University in Vietnam. The research was supported by the Lee Foundation Fellowship program.

Is corn oversold?

Published June 18, 2018

URBANA, Ill. - A combination of trade uncertainty and a strong start to the growing season led corn prices to tumble lower last week. The sharp sell-off in the corn market occurred despite some positive news in the WASDE report on Tuesday.

“Demand for corn continues to be strong and while the crop currently looks to be in good shape, this corn crop is a long way from completion,” says Todd Hubbs, agricultural economist at the University of Illinois. “The substantial reduction in the weather premium customarily seen at this time of the year seems excessive at this point.”

The June WASDE report lowered 2017-18 ending stocks by 80 million bushels on increased exports (75 million bushels) and lower imports (5 million bushels). In conjunction with the changes in the current marketing year, the 2018-19 marketing-year ending stocks came in 105 million bushels lower.

Hubbs also adds that corn exports continue to provide strength in consumption. Census Bureau estimates of corn exports through April sit at 1.347 billion bushels. As of June 14, an estimate of corn exports total 1.752 billion bushels and is at 76.2 percent of the USDA projection of 2.3 billion bushels for the marketing year. While trade issues with China look to impact agricultural exports overall, corn exports to China so far this marketing year total 9.4 million bushels through April or less than 1 percent of total exports during that period.

Additionally, the corn crop in Brazil and Argentina is down 790 million bushels over last year’s crop. According to Hubbs, corn exports should maintain a healthy pace through the summer months and are on track to meet projections. “The trade concerns affecting corn focus on NAFTA negotiations at this point and those discussions appear set to continue for some time,” he says.

Domestic consumption is still experiencing strength due to corn use in ethanol. The current USDA projection of 5.575 billion bushels of corn used for ethanol production appears attainable with corn used for ethanol sitting at approximately 4.32 billion bushels as of June 8. Ethanol exports continue at a robust pace with total exports on a marketing-year basis equaling 1.145 billion gallons through April. Exports to China totaled 77.4 million gallons, approximately 6.8 percent.

While ethanol use maintains a robust pace, there is some concern for feed use according to Hubbs. Feed and residual use for corn during the first half of the marketing year is 3.8 billion bushels, which is equal to last year’s pace of feed and residual use. The USDA lowered the feed and residual use projection by 50 million bushels to 5.5 billion bushels for the marketing year in the April WASDE report due to lower than expected first-half disappearance.

As the 2017-18 marketing year continues, uncertainty surrounding the final amount of feed and residual use for corn will continue. Currently, the USDA projects feed and residual use during the last half of the marketing year at 1.7 billion bushels, which would account for 31 percent of the marketing-year total. Last year feed and residual use totaled 1.662 billion bushels, accounting for 30.4 percent of the marketing-year total.

“Since the residual component of feed and residual use can be considerable, total marketing-year use remains uncertain. Further clarification will come from the June 1 Grain Stocks report released on June 29,” Hubbs adds.

The short-term focus will be on yield prospects for the 2018 corn crop. The USDA currently projects 2018 yield at 174 bushels per acre. Initial concerns about the corn crop related to planting delays faded as May progressed. The most recent crop condition report, through June 10, placed the crop in good or excellent condition at 77 percent, 10 points higher than last year. Hubbs says, historically, the correlation between final corn yield and early-season crop condition reports is low and contains a large positive bias associated with crop conditions early in the planting season. A detailed analysis of early-season crop conditions and corn yield is provided in this farmdoc article.

“Summer weather will determine yield and some concern is building in Missouri with the corn crop rated good to excellent down 11 percent last week. While some dry areas developed over the previous few weeks, approximately 11 percent of U.S. corn acres sit in a moderate to severe drought as of June 12,” Hubbs explains. “While the crop is off to a good start, the potential for poor weather as we move into July is always a possibility.”

While yield looks promising, corn acreage is yet to be determined. A slow start to the planting season held out the possibility of acreage changes. Hubbs says there is no indication of significant acreage changes due to planting issues in the Corn Belt at present. Since 1997, the average change from the March Prospective Planting report to the June Acreage survey is an increase of 446,000 acres. The most substantial increase occurred in 2007 with a 2.434 million-acre change. A decrease of 1.189 million acres in 1997 was the greatest acreage reduction during the period in question. The USDA's Acreage report released on June 29 will reveal any acreage changes from intentions published in the March survey.

“Uncertainty about the size of the 2018 corn crop will continue for the next few months. Strong corn consumption appears set to continue through the summer with limited short-term damage from the tariff battle with China influencing consumption.

“A prolonged trade fight may affect global economic growth and hurt corn consumption over the long term. Summer weather holds the potential for this year’s crop. The recent sharp sell-off in corn prices appears a bit premature as we move into the heart of the summer,” Hubbs concludes.

Discussion and graphs associated with this article are available here:


ACES Distinguished International Lecture

All Day Event

Featuring Director General of the International Center for Tropical Agriculture Dr. Ruben G. Echeverría.

Details coming soon.

Soybeans under pressure

Published June 12, 2018

URBANA, Ill. - Soybean prices continued to move lower last week as trade issues and a strong start to the growing season continue to pressure prices. At this time, very little positive news is entering the market to support soybean prices on either the supply or demand side.

According to University of Illinois agricultural economist Todd Hubbs, the potential size of the soybean crop and trade uncertainty continue to be the main forces behind soybean price weakness.   

Slight changes may be forthcoming for 2017-18 marketing-year demand estimates in the June WASDE report. Soybean crush continued at a robust pace through the second half of the marketing year. April crush estimates by the USDA came in at 172 million bushels.

Current USDA estimates of crush during this marketing year total 1.365 billion bushels, 6 percent above last year’s total over the same period. The current pace implies that the crush during the remaining four months of the year must total 625 million bushels, 2 percent higher than the crush of a year ago over the last four months, to reach the USDA projection of 1.99 billion bushels.

Argentinian production is set to come in lower than the current USDA forecast of 1.43 billion bushels and provide some support to domestic crush. “Soybean crush shows no signs of weakening this summer in the U.S. and a slight upward adjustment may occur to the domestic crush total in the WASDE report,” Hubbs says.

Soybean exports currently meet the pace needed to meet the projection of 2.065 billion bushels for the 2017-18 marketing year. As of June 7, soybean export inspections total 1.744 billion bushels. Cumulative Census Bureau export estimates from September 2017 through April 2018 exceeded weekly export inspections by 42 million bushels.

If the same margin exhibited at the end of March continued through this period, exports through June 7 equaled 1.786 billion bushels. With 12 weeks remaining in the marketing year, 23.3 million bushels per week are necessary to meet the USDA projection. Over the last six weeks, soybean export inspections averaged 24 million bushels per week but varied with a low of 19.6 million bushels on for the week ending May 3 and a high of 33.3 million bushels for the week ending May 17.

As of May 31, 332 million bushels of soybean had been sold for export but not shipped. This number exceeds the 279 million bushels necessary to reach 2.065 billion bushels based off of current sales figures and estimated export levels through May 31.

“USDA estimates of soybean exports appear unlikely to be adjusted for this marketing year, but the potential exists for the USDA to lower 2018-19 marketing-year export forecast,” Hubbs explains. “Trade issues and a slight increase to Brazilian crop production place the current 2.29 billion-bushel projection in question.”

While the current marketing year holds some information about price development, Hubbs adds that the soybean production associated with the next marketing year may provide a more significant impact over the next month. The potential for a large soybean crop is placing pressure on prices currently. Initial concerns about the 2018 soybean crop related to planting seem a distant memory as the early season crop condition report put soybean crops in good or excellent condition at 75 percent, the highest level since 2010.

“Recent weather developments in the Corn Belt provide no indication of deterioration in crop conditions over the next few weeks. Historically, there is very little correlation between final soybean yield and early season crop condition reports. Summer weather will determine yield, but the current weather looks promising for a large crop,” Hubbs says.

While some dry areas developed over the last few weeks, approximately 10 percent of U.S. soybean acres sit in a moderate drought as of June 5. The 8 to 14 day weather forecast provided by NOAA Climate Prediction Center shows above normal precipitation and warming temperatures over much of the Corn Belt. 

While yield looks promising, soybean acreage is still in question. Soybean planted acreage, as of June 3, came in at 83 percent, well ahead of the five-year average of 75 percent. A slow start to the planting season held out the possibility of acreage changes, particularly in the Northern Plains. Currently, there is no indication of major acreage changes due to planting issues in the Corn Belt.

Since 1997, the average change from the March Prospective Planting report to the June Acreage survey is an increase of 237,000 acres. The most substantial increase occurred in 2014 with a 3.35 million acreage change. A decrease of 3.06 million acres in 2007 was the greatest acreage reduction from March to June. The USDA's Acreage report to be released on June 29 will reveal any acreage changes from intentions published in the March survey.

“Weather and trade issues will dominate price movements in the soybean market over the next few weeks. Strong crop conditions, a lack of information regarding trade negotiations, and uncertain acreage totals will continue to apply pressure on soybean prices in the near term,” Hubbs concludes. “A change in the weather or trade negotiations, which are both very hard to predict, appear necessary for a rally in soybean prices.” 

Discussion and graphs associated with this article are available here:

Pork industry may face large losses

Published June 5, 2018

URBANA, Ill. - Large pork supplies, rising costs, and potential trade retaliation from both Mexico and China continue to cast a shadow over the pork industry. Losses are expected for the rest of 2018 and 2019. According to Purdue University agricultural economist Chris Hurt, losses will be small this summer, but then the bottom will fall out. Losses of more than $25 per head are estimated for the last quarter of 2018 and the first quarter of 2019.

“There is a lot of pork. Production so far this year is up nearly 4 percent with the number of head coming to market about 3 percent higher and weights up near 1 percent,” Hurt explains. “Domestic demand and export demand have been good this year but not strong enough to offset the higher supplies. As a result, live hog prices have been down 3 percent.”

In the January to May period of 2017, the live hog price for 51 to 52 percent lean carcasses averaged $48.74. This year the price was about $1.75 lower, around $47.

Hurt adds that trade concerns continue, but exports have remained favorable in the data that is available so far this year, which shows pork exports growing by almost 6 percent. This is on-track with current USDA estimates for pork exports to grow by 5 percent for the entire year.

Retail demand also appears to be positive with data released for this year. Retailers are selling pork at $3.75 per retail pound compared to $3.69 for the same period one year ago. The ability to sell a higher volume of pork at higher prices is an indication that consumer demand has strengthened.

According to Hurt, a smaller portion of those retail dollars are getting to pork producers as marketing margins have widened, especially at the retail level. Packer margins have dropped sharply as a result of the added packer capacity that came on-line in the past year.

Hurt adds that the pork industry is caught up in trade disputes. “The Trump administration has chosen to use threatened tariffs as a means to voice concerns to other countries about trade policies.

“For steel and aluminum imports, the U.S. has moved beyond threats and implemented actual tariffs. The EU, Mexico, and Canada recently lost their exemptions as allies of the U.S. China has always been a target of the steel and aluminum tariffs.”

With the U.S. tariffs on imports of foreign metals in place, retaliation has come from the EU, Mexico, Canada, and China in the form of tariffs on U.S. exports to their countries. For pork, the gravest concerns are Mexico, which purchased 32 percent of U.S. pork export volume in 2017. Canada and China each purchased 9 percent of U.S. pork exports last year. Those three countries purchased one-half of all U.S. pork exports in 2017.

“Each of these countries remain in discussions with U.S. trade authorities,” Hurt says. “This means there is still hope that differences can be resolved. The bottom line is that exports represent the market for 22 percent of U.S. pork production. The industry is already facing substantial losses in 2018 and 2019 and thus is in a vulnerable position if these trade differences should reduce pork exports.”

Looking forward, Hurt explains that pork supplies are expected to continue to be 4 percent higher for the rest of the year and may moderate to a growth rate of about 3 percent next winter. Hog prices are expected to average near $50 in the second quarter this year, in the low $50’s in the third quarter, and around $43 in the final quarter. That will provide an annual 2018 price of $48 compared to $50.50 last year.

According to Hurt, costs are expected to rise as well in 2018 in terms of labor, interest, fuel, machinery, and feed. Soybean meal prices at Decatur averaged $315 a ton in 2017, but are expected to be around $375 a ton in 2018. Higher corn prices will also drive costs higher especially for the 2018-19 marketing year, roughly spanning the last quarter of 2018 and the first three quarters of 2019.

Losses for average cost farrow-to-finish operations are estimated to be $8 per head in the second quarter of 2018 and $3 per head of loss in the third quarter. Then losses explode to an estimated $29 per head in the last quarter of 2018 and $24 per head of loss in the first quarter of 2019.

On an annual basis, estimated profits were $4 per head above all costs in 2017, are estimated at a loss of $11 a head in 2018, and an even greater loss of $14 per head in 2019.

“With large losses a possibility, pork producers will want to consider how these losses might impact their business and make adjustments in preparation,” Hurt concludes.