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Calling Illinois soybean growers

Published January 19, 2017

URBANA, Ill. – Last spring, a new multi-state research project funded by the North Central Soybean Research Program was initiated to investigate the effects of weather, soils, and management on soybean yields. The project’s University of Illinois leader put out a call to soybean farmers to help gather data for the project.

“We were looking to gather basic information on at least 500 Illinois soybean fields for each of the crop years 2014 and 2015; the project runs through 2017,” says U of I crop sciences professor Emerson Nafziger. “We appreciate that some farmers provided information, but we ended up with less than a quarter of the fields we needed for the first two seasons.”

The team is asking for help to fill in the holes. Producers are asked to provide information for up to four soybean fields on a form (one per crop year, 2014 to 2016). The form is 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.

“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.

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.

“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.

Better early nutrition, better brains: Study discusses model for understanding nutrition and brain development

Published January 18, 2017

URBANA, Ill. –Pediatric nutrition research has shown the important effects of early-life nutrition on a baby’s development—especially the gastrointestinal tract—and more recent research indicates that nutrition may also have an influence on an infant’s brain as it develops.

Does nutrition in the first weeks of life play a bigger role in later behavioral outcomes like memory and fine motor skills?

For nearly a decade, researchers at the University of Illinois have studied the piglet as a translational model to understand which aspects of early brain development are affected by nutrition interventions.

Because of striking similarities in human infant and piglet brain development patterns, studies using the piglet have helped lead to advances in pediatric nutrition. This is important as makers of infant formula seek to create a product that more closely reflects the composition of a mother’s milk.

In a recent review article published in Advances in Nutrition, Ryan Dilger, a U of I animal scientist and Austin Mudd, a doctoral student in the neuroscience program, provide background for the work they do with nutrition and neurodevelopment using the piglet as a model.

The new paper highlights several studies on pediatric nutrition of which brain development outcomes were the primary interest. The paper also describes technologies, including advances in magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), that are being used to assess brain development, as well as outlines areas for future nutrition and neurodevelopment research.

“This review integrates all the background material for what we do in our lab. We are hoping that this serves as a reference that others can go to for why we use the piglet to study pediatric brain development,” Dilger says. “It’s the cornerstone for what we’ve been studying.”

Click here for a video of Dilger discussing his lab’s work with pediatric nutrition and neurodevelopment.

The hope with the review is to standardize the types of outcomes that are used to assess brain development, Dilger says, and then to find out which of those outcomes are sensitive to dietary interventions.

Part of that is having a clear understanding of how the infant brain is developing in the early days and weeks after birth. Dilger explains, “The brain is made up of individual regions that are interconnected in what they do and how they function, and in the way they are growing and maturing over time.”

MRI methods have allowed researchers to characterize volume changes in areas of the piglet brain from 2 to 24 weeks of age, showing a similar growth pattern as of that in human infants. Mudd describes that one month of volumetric brain growth in a human is approximately equivalent to 1 week in piglet growth. This allows for assessment of learning and memory during critical times of brain growth, which can be translated to humans.

“When people first started researching the pig and nutrition and brain outcomes, they were only weighing the brain or assessing global fatty acid content of the brain. However, we know from human work that different brain regions mature at different rates. So you may not see an effect of dietary intervention in the whole-brain, but if you were to look at specific brain regions at different time points you might see a dietary effect. It is clear now that we should be looking at individual brain regions in a dietary intervention study, rather than assessing the brain as one unit. From these types of studies, we can start to identify optimal windows in which developing brain regions are differentially sensitive to nutrition,” Mudd says.

Dilger explains that previous nutrition research has focused on the effect of fatty acids in milk (or infant formula), but in the review the researchers discuss studies on other aspects of milk composition such as choline, iron, cholesterol, amino acids, milk fat globule membranes, and other milk bioactives, including sialic acid, gangliosides, and alpha-lipoic acid.

Another important aspect of the review is a listing of techniques that are available and that have been used in assessing neurodevelopment in the piglet. Some of those techniques include advanced MRI methods, such as voxel-based morphometry, which compares gray and white matter tissue volumes, and diffusion tensor imaging, which measures microscopic water movement in the brain and helps infer structural changes.

Other techniques described involve behavioral assessments with piglets, such as spatial mazes, to assess learning and memory. References to what dietary references were used with each method have also been provided.

“A focus of this paper is standardizing the procedures we use,” Dilger says.

Dilger says he also hopes the review can help nutritionists understand the neurodevelopment side of pediatric nutrition and research. “It is written for a nutrition audience, but it translates the language that a neuroscientist would use.”

“As a review, it is less about reporting novel findings and more about focusing on what is known to date. The novelty is bringing the neuroscience piece into the nutrition realm and helping nutritionists to understand and to better interpret their findings,” he adds. 

Although Dilger’s lab is not alone is studying early-life nutrition and development using the piglet model, he explains that their partnership with the U of I Beckman Institute has allowed a unique opportunity to use advanced MRI equipment and access to technicians. Along with U of I researchers Rod Johnson and Brad Sutton, Dilger also helped to create a pig brain atlas that has been made public for use by other researchers. Dilger adds that upgrades to that atlas to a higher resolution and that shows more brain areas will enable even greater sensitivity in understanding brain development outcomes.

The work in Dilger’s lab continues to draw from a long history of using the neonatal piglet as a translational model to study pediatric nutrition at the U of I. Sharon Donovan a food science and human nutrition researcher, along with Johnson, an animal sciences researcher have used the young pig to understand how nutrition influences the immune system and microbial ecology of the neonate, as well.

“Early-life nutrition and neurodevelopment: Use of the piglet as a translational model” is published in Advances in Nutrition. Co-authors include Austin T. Mudd and Ryan N. Dilger. The article can be accessed online at

USDA reports provide support to corn and soybean prices

Published January 17, 2017

URBANA, Ill. – On Jan.12, the USDA released a set of reports with major implications for corn and soybean prices in 2017. The National Agricultural Statistics Service released the final estimates of the 2016 U.S. corn and soybean crops and estimates of the stocks of corn and soybeans in storage as of Dec.1, 2016. 

Additionally, the World Agricultural Outlook Board released new forecasts for U.S. and world supply, ending stocks, and consumption levels during the 2016-17 marketing year on both crops.  According to University of Illinois agricultural economist Todd Hubbs, these estimates and forecasts will affect corn and soybean price dynamics through the spring of 2017.

Hubbs provides the following to recap corn and soybean crop estimates and the price implications associated with them. 

Soybean production for the United States in 2016 is estimated at 4.307 billion bushels.  Production is down 1 percent from the November forecast of 4.36 billion bushels but is still a record level of production. The harvested acreage estimate of 82.7 million acres is down from the November forecast of 83.0 million acres.  Average soybean yield of 52.1 bushels per acre is 0.4 bushels lower than the November forecast. Dec. 1 soybean stocks of 2.895 billion bushels came in 40 million bushels below trade expectations. The stocks estimate for the first quarter of the marketing year indicates a disappearance of 1.61 billion bushels. The Dec. 1 soybean stocks number is a record high and 181 million bushels larger than last year. 

The World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates report maintained the forecasts for major soybean consumption categories projected in the December report. Soybean crush and exports retained the forecast levels of 1.93 and 2.05 billion bushels respectively. Total use is forecast at 4.108 billion bushels. At 420 million bushels, the ending-stocks forecast decreased 60 million bushels based on lower soybean production. The U.S. marketing-year average price is projected in a range of $9 to $10, compared to last month’s projection of $8.70 to $10.20.

World production forecasts for the marketing year decreased from 12.4 to 12.32 billion bushels on the smaller U.S. crop. The Brazilian soybean production forecast increased by 73.48 million bushels over the December forecast to 3.79 billion bushels. The Argentinian soybean production forecast stayed at 2.08 billion bushels despite reports of delayed planting in many regions. The Brazilian soybean export forecast is raised 40 million bushels reflecting the increased crop production levels. Brazil and Argentina soybean exports are forecast to be 2.51 billion bushels over the marketing year. 

Corn production for the United States in 2016 is estimated at 15.15 billion bushels. Production is down 1 percent from the November forecast of 15.2 billion bushels. The harvested acreage estimate of 86.7 million acres is down from the November forecast of 86.8 million acres.  Average corn yield of 174.6 bushels per acre is 0.7 bushels lower than the November forecast.  Dec. 1 corn stocks came in at 12.38 billion bushels, a record high. The estimate is 84 million bushels above trade expectations and indicates a total disappearance of 4.56 billion bushels in the first quarter of the marketing year. The lower domestic supply numbers combined with higher stocks indicating lower-than-expected corn use sent a mixed signal for corn prices. 

The WASDE report for U.S. corn forecast during 2016-17 reflected the dichotomy of the corn reports. At 5.6 billion bushels, the forecast for corn feed use and residual moved lower by 50 million bushels. An increase in the ethanol use forecast by 25 million bushels offset the feed use forecast reduction for the marketing year. United States exports for corn maintained the 2.225 billion bushels forecast in December. The ending stocks forecast came in at 2.35 billion bushels for the 2016-17 marketing year. The ending stocks forecast is 48 million bushels lower than the December forecast. The range of the U.S. marketing-year average price increased by 5 cents from the December projection to a projected in a range of $3.10 to $3.70.

World supply and demand projections for corn in the 2016-17 marketing year moved lower due to a reduction in United States production numbers. Brazil’s corn production forecast stayed at 3.41 billion bushels despite numerous reports indicating the possibility of a larger crop in the country. For the marketing year, Argentinian production forecasts stayed at 1.44 billion bushels.  In total, Brazil and Argentina production forecasts exceed 2015-16 production estimates by 1.07 billion bushels and signify a recovery from the poor crop last year. Argentina and Brazil are forecast to export an additional 635 million bushels each above the 2015-16 estimates. South American corn exports for the marketing year are forecast to be 2.08 billion bushels. Given the increase in South American production and exports, the evolution of crop conditions in the region will be a major driver of corn price dynamics in 2017.

The reports provide support for soybean prices in the short term and are ambivalent for corn prices. Despite lowering corn and soybean ending stocks forecasts, one cannot ignore the large crop potential currently unfolding in South America and the implications for U.S. exports in 2017.

Corn and soybeans prices will reflect the pace of consumption and crop prospects in South America. Corn prices will likely average in the upper range of the USDA’s projection through the spring while soybean prices show the potential for falling into the lower half of the projected range as we move through the marketing year.  


News Source:

Todd Hubbs, 217-300-4688

News Writer:

University of Illinois Extension

Free, online financial planning course

Published January 12, 2017
portion of computer keyboard

URBANA, Ill. – Young adults and others who resolve to be financially prepared for 2017 and beyond can take a free, online financial planning course at their convenience. Now open for registration, the course provides an introduction to financial planning, including the benefits of a career in the field.

Financial Planning for Young Adults is a Massive Open Online Course or MOOC that provides an introduction to basic financial planning concepts. It is open to the general public through Coursera, an education platform that partners with universities worldwide to offer courses free of charge.

For more information about the course and to register, visit

The course was developed through a three-way partnership between the Center for Financial Planning Board, the Department of Agricultural and Consumer Economics in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences at the University of Illinois, and University of Illinois Extension.

“This course will not only help participants better plan for the future, but it is a great introduction to a career in financial planning as we seek to attract and develop the next generation of financial planners,” says Charles Chaffin, director of Academic Home for the CFP Board Center for Financial Planning.

The course can be taken for free, or, for a $49 fee, students have full access to every element in the course, including graded assessments and a course certificate with all instructors’ signatures. Those who choose to audit the course free of charge will have access to all elements, but will not be able to submit assignments to be graded. Consequently, audit participants will not receive a course certificate for course completion. The course is not a replacement for any portion of the education requirements for CFP® certification.

“This course is for people to learn more about how financial planning can impact their lives in a positive way. It is also for people who are interested in the field of financial planning and maybe even thinking about becoming a CFP® professional,” says University of Illinois Associate Professor of Agricultural Economics Nicholas Paulson.

Within each module, students will view a combination of traditional lecture-style videos, along with video vignettes that introduce financial topics for discussion among the course participants.  Each of the videos introduces a real-world scenario where financial decisions must be made and financial planning concepts can be applied. Although the videos were produced with young adults in mind, Paulson believes they will help engage students of any age. The videos will help all students in the course think critically and decide how they would resolve the financial situation presented.

The course is organized across eight separate modules within a 4-week window:

1) Setting Financial Goals and Assessing Your Situation

2) Budgeting and Cash Flow Management

3) Saving Strategies

4) The Time Value of Money

5) Borrowing and Credit

6) Investing

7) Risk Management

8) Financial Planning as a Career

Paulson and Chaffin are co-developers and instructors of the course, along with U of I Extension Consumer Economics Educator Kathy Sweedler. The course also includes information about career opportunities in financial planning with advice from CFP® professionals across the country.

“Because financial planning is such a personal topic, students will be encouraged to define their own financial goals and objectives while we discuss concepts and provide tools that they can apply to reach those goals,” says Sweedler.

U of I has worked with CFP Board in the past and offers a bachelor’s degree in financial planning. Students study finance and economics as they apply to individuals, households, and small businesses in the course of accumulating and using financial resources. All students who graduate with a degree in financial planning from U of I’s Department of Agricultural and Consumer Economics are eligible to sit for the CFP® certification exam.

Eastern Russian plant collection could improve cold hardiness in miscanthus

Published January 10, 2017
Miscanthus sinensis on Russky Island
Miscanthus sinensis on Russky Island
  • Plant collections from around the world can be used to improve domestic crop performance.
  • A large collection of Miscanthus sacchariflorus from eastern Russia could be used to increase cold hardiness of miscanthus grown for biomass in the United States.
  • Because miscanthus is related to important food crops including sugarcane and corn, there is potential for the collection to help breeders improve cold-hardiness in those crops as well.

URBANA, Ill. – Winters in eastern Russia are intensely cold, with air temperatures regularly reaching -30 degrees Fahrenheit in some locations. It is a seemingly inhospitable climate, but native plants have found ways to thrive there. University of Illinois plant geneticist Erik Sacks suspected one of these plants may hold the key to breeding cold-tolerant food and biomass crops. To find out, the modern-day botanical explorer set off across eastern Russia with colleagues from the N. I. Vavilov All-Russian Institute of Plant Genetic Resources (VIR) to collect specimens of the perennial grass Miscanthus sacchariflorus.

“Miscanthus is part of a tribe of grasses, the Andropogoneae, that includes sorghum, sugarcane, and corn,” Sacks explains. “Because it is found so far north, this population of Miscanthus sacchariflorus is likely the most cold-hardy of that group. If we want to improve cold hardiness in this very important group of plants, this is going to be the best population to study.”

Sacks and his colleagues collected miscanthus from 47 locations across eastern Russia, including at least one location where Sacks wasn’t expecting to find it; in that case, he used his bare hands to pull it from the ground. Live rhizome fragments were sent back to U of I to be genetically analyzed and to USDA’s National Plant Germplasm System to be maintained and distributed to scientists worldwide for use in breeding and research. Samples were also provided to the VIR genebank. 

While in the field, Sacks’ team also measured traits that can be used to predict biomass production: height, number of stems, and stem diameter. When plant geneticist and the report’s lead author Lindsay Clark analyzed the plant material at U of I, she found several genetic markers associated with the traits measured in the field.

“Normally, breeders have to grow up plants from these collections and evaluate them in a replicated field trial,” Sacks says. “That’s very expensive and takes a lot of time. In the future when people go collecting, if there are heritable traits of value that can be measured quickly in the field, our results suggest it may be worthwhile to do so. It may not be as perfect as a replicated field trial in multiple sites, but it gives you a place to start.”

The analysis also showed that plants in the collection were genetically diverse, a fact that could potentially be exploited by breeders to express desirable traits in new miscanthus varieties or to add greater cold hardiness to its relatives, sugarcane and maize.

Furthermore, most of the plants were diploid—with each cell containing two copies of each chromosome—but 2 percent were tetraploid, with four copies. The most widely grown miscanthus variety in the United States, M. × giganteus, is a sterile hybrid derived from tetraploid M. sacchariflorus and diploid M. sinensis.

“We have this one genotype of M. × giganteus that’s grown for biomass right now. When we have cold winters like we had at the beginning of 2014 here in Illinois, it doesn’t do well. That’s because it’s from a subtropical area in Japan,” Clark explains.

“If we used the tetraploids from this collection to make new sterile M. × giganteus varieties, they would have a lot more cold hardiness than the current variety,” Sacks adds.

The research team has a lot more work to do before new miscanthus varieties are commercially available, but Sacks sees the exploration as a success. “Genetic diversity is the basis for all crop improvement, and germplasm collections play a key role. Without them, plant breeders can’t make great improvements in our crops in terms of yield, hardiness, and a variety of different abiotic and biotic stresses,” he says.

The article, “Ecological characteristics and in situ genetic associations for yield-component traits of wild Miscanthus from eastern Russia,” is published in the Annals of Botany. The study was supported by grants from the USDA-ARS National Plant Germplasm System’s Plant Exploration Program and the DOE Office of Biological and Environmental Research. 



News Source:

Erik Sacks, 217- 333-9327

Prospects for corn consumption from ethanol production in 2017

Published January 9, 2017

URBANA, Ill. – The U.S. ethanol industry ended 2016 on a high note. Ethanol production for the week ending Dec. 30 set a new ethanol production record with an average of 1.043 million barrels per day. The March futures price for corn moved higher last week to close at $3.58 in large part due to strength in the ethanol sector. Ethanol production and exports returned strong numbers over the first quarter of the marketing year. Currently, the World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates report forecast for corn consumption for ethanol production is 5.3 billion bushels. According to University of Illinois agricultural economist Todd Hubbs, when taking into account an increase in projected gasoline consumption in 2017 and robust ethanol export levels, the ability to surpass this projection is a strong possibility. 

“Domestic ethanol consumption in 2017 will be influenced by domestic gasoline consumption, due to the ethanol blending requirement and the biofuels volume requirement associated with the Renewable Fuels Standard,” Hubbs says. “The EPA final rulemaking for the Renewable Fuels Standard for 2017 was released on Nov. 23 and is discussed in greater detail in the farmdoc daily article posted Nov. 30. In brief, the renewable fuels volume requirement is set at 19.28 billion gallons for 2017, which is up from the 18.11 billion gallons required in 2016.

“The conventional ethanol requirement is set at 15 billion gallons for 2017, 500 million gallons larger than 2016 and equal to the statutory requirement level,” Hubbs says. “If the gasoline consumption forecast used by the EPA is correct, the E10 blend wall will be 14.36 billion gallons in 2017. The EPA believes an ethanol supply of 14.56 billion gallons is reasonably attainable in 2017. Within the 14.56 billion gallons, E15 and E85 blends are expected to be 107 and 204 million gallons respectively. The ability to attain the E15 and E85 blend levels remains to be seen, but the increase in ethanol requirements provides support for greater corn usage in 2017.”

U.S. retail gasoline prices averaged $2.14 per gallon in 2016, which is 12 percent less than the price experienced in 2015 and is the lowest price since 2004.  The December Energy Information Agency Short Term Energy Outlook projected an increase in gasoline prices for 2017 to $2.30 per gallon. Despite the projection of higher gasoline prices, gasoline consumption is forecast at 143.60 billion gallons in 2017, which is up from the 142.72 billion gallons consumed in 2016. Ethanol production is forecast to be 1 million barrels per day.

“If the EIA projection is correct, approximately 15.3 billion gallons of ethanol will be produced in 2017,” Hubbs says. “When considering the robust ethanol export trade currently in process, the U.S. ethanol industry is expected to produce a record level of ethanol in 2017.”

Ethanol export numbers are available from U.S. Census trade data for 2016 through November.  U.S. exports of ethanol thus far are at 948 million gallons, which is up almost 27 percent from the similar period in 2015.

According to Hubbs, for 2016, the prospect of ethanol exports exceeding 1 billion gallons is not unreasonable. 

Canada, China, and Brazil imported approximately 67 percent of the ethanol shipped from the U.S. through November. “The increase in ethanol exports is driven largely by increased volumes sent to China and Brazil,” Hubbs says. “China imported 179 million gallons through November, which far exceeds the 73.8 million gallons imported during the entirety of 2015. Brazil imported 224 million gallons through November, which is almost double from 2015. As we progress into 2017, the increases are expected to persist in Brazil because high sugar prices are expected to decrease ethanol production as mills allocate cane for sugar production in 2017. There is concern that China could raise ethanol tariffs and reduce ethanol imports in 2017 due to a possible trade dispute with the new administration.” 

Hubbs says the implications for corn consumption during the 2016-17 marketing year can be seen in the USDA Grain Crushing and Co-Product Production report released on Jan. 3. Grain crushing for fuel alcohol is available through November. For the first three months of the marketing year, 1.34 billion bushels of corn has been processed for ethanol. This is up 3.2 percent from 2015 processing numbers.

“If corn used for ethanol production maintains this pace, 5.37 billion bushels will be processed in the marketing year,” Hubbs says. “Using EIA weekly ethanol production numbers, December ethanol production averaged over 1 million barrels per day. These production levels place corn use for ethanol production in a range of 455 to 460 million bushels for the month if corn use maintains the pace of the three previous months. With a conservative estimate of corn crush in December, total corn consumption for ethanol production through the first third of the marketing year would be above the current WASDE projection.

“Lower corn prices, strong ethanol exports, and greater blending requirements combine to make 2017 appear to be a strong year for corn consumption in ethanol production,” Hubbs concludes. “If the U.S. ethanol industry produced over 1 million barrels per day for the entire year, the ability to blend at requirement levels under an expanded gasoline consumption scenario and meet potential export market demand bodes well for corn use in the sector for 2017.”