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Moving forward after October reports in corn and soybeans

Published October 16, 2017

URBANA, Ill. – The release of USDA’s October reports created a rally in soybean prices that pushed November soybean futures prices to levels not seen since the end of July. According to University of Illinois agricultural economist Todd Hubbs, corn prices saw a much more muted response.

“The question is, will the soybean rally consolidate as we move forward? Corn prices appear to contain a limited capability to generate upward price movements in the near term,” he explains.

The October soybean production forecast of 4.431 billion bushels came in at the same level as the September production forecast, Hubbs says. Although the production level was the same, harvested acres increased 740,000 acres while the national average yield declined by 0.4 bushels to 49.5 bushels per acre. The reduction in yield level combined with the lowering of 2017-18 ending stocks by 44 million bushels, to 430 million bushels, provided the impetus for the price rally. The projections for 2017-18 marketing-year consumption stayed at September levels with the ending stocks reduction being comprised entirely of lower beginning stocks, at 301 million bushels. 

The USDA will provide new yield and production forecasts on Nov. 9. According to Hubbs, the forecast of the U.S. average soybean yield increased in September and decreased in October, like this year, in three of the last 20 years. In each of those years, the November yield forecast was smaller than the October forecast. The average decrease in November was 0.26 bushels with a range of 0.1 to 0.5 bushels. The final yield estimate released in January was below the November forecast once in those years. 

“At this time, a drastic change in projected soybean yield for the 2017 crop appears unlikely,” Hubbs says. “The current information provides no clear indication of an increase in demand for soybeans higher than the current USDA projection. It’s tempting to look at the decreases in ending stocks over the course of the previous four marketing years and project a lower 2017-18 ending-stocks level than the current 430 million bushel forecast. On average, over the last four years, soybean ending stocks decreased approximately 45 percent from the October World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates report projection to the final ending-stocks estimate for the marketing year. If this pattern held for this marketing year, soybean ending stocks would come in at around 236 million bushels at the end of 2017-18.

“The market has grown accustomed to upward revisions in soybean exports and downward revisions in ending stocks over the last few marketing years,” Hubbs adds. “A difference this year is that the current USDA projection for soybean exports sits at 2,250 million bushels, a record level for soybean exports and 3.5 percent higher than last marketing year’s export level.”

Current export inspections for soybeans for the week ending Oct. 12 are running 7.6 percent lower than last year’s inspection level pace. Hubbs says the recent demand for soybeans in export markets is a positive sign but to see export levels increased above the current record projection requires an upturn in the pace of exports. 

At 14.280 billion bushels, USDA’s October forecast of the U.S. corn crop was 96 million bushels larger than the September forecast. U.S. average yield increased 1.9 bushels to 171.8, while harvested acres decreased by 377,000 acres. The 2017-18 marketing-year consumption forecast increased by 35 million bushels, to 14.285 billion bushels. The USDA increased the forecasts for feed and residual use by 25 million bushels and food, seed, and industrial use by 10 million bushels. Projected ending stocks for 2017-18 changed very little with an increase of 5 million bushels to 2,340 million bushels. Some help was provided by lower beginning stocks, at 45 million fewer bushels than September estimates.

“Corn price will require strong demand throughout this marketing year to lift prices in any sustainable manner, particularly if production continues to increase in the U.S.,” Hubbs says.

The forecast of the U.S. average corn yield increased in September and October, like this year, in seven of the last 20 years. In five of those years, the November yield forecast was greater than the October forecast. The average increase in November was 1.72 bushels with a range of 0.4 to 3.5 bushels. The final yield estimate released in January was below the November forecast once in those five years. Hubbs says the potential for a larger corn crop is continuing to develop and looks more likely given many of the yield reports coming out of the Corn Belt.

“The rally in soybean prices provides producers with the opportunity to lock in prices for 2017 soybean production,” Hubbs says. “To sustain this price rally, soybean production levels in the U.S. will need to stay at current levels, and robust export demand will need to develop throughout the marketing year. Corn prices will struggle to find support in the short run due to large corn stocks and the prospect of increasing production for the 2017 corn crop.”


Cholesterol byproduct hijacks immune cells, lets breast cancer spread

Published October 16, 2017

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — High cholesterol levels have been associated with breast cancer spreading to other sites in the body, but doctors and researchers don’t know the cause for the link. A new study by University of Illinois researchers found that the culprit is a byproduct of cholesterol metabolism that acts on specific immune cells so that they facilitate the cancer’s spread instead of stopping it.

The study, published in the journal Nature Communications, identifies new potential drug targets that could inhibit the creation or actions of the dangerous cholesterol byproduct, a molecule called 27HC.

“Breast cancer impacts roughly 1 in 8 women. We’ve developed fairly good strategies for the initial treatment of the disease, but many women will experience metastatic breast cancer, when the breast cancer has spread to other organs, and at that point we really don’t have effective therapies. We want to find what drives that process and whether we can target that with drugs,” said Erik Nelson, a professor of molecular and integrative physiology who led the study.

Nelson’s group fed mice with breast cancer tumors a diet high in cholesterol. The researchers confirmed that high levels of cholesterol increased tumor growth and metastasis, and that mice treated with cholesterol-lowering drugs called statins had less metastasis. Then they went further, specifically inhibiting the enzyme that makes 27HC during cholesterol metabolism.

“By inhibiting the enzyme that makes 27HC, we found a suppressor effect on breast cancer metastasis. This suggests that a drug treatment targeting this enzyme could be an effective therapeutic,” said Amy Baek, a postdoctoral researcher at Illinois and the first author of the paper.

The researchers also saw unusual activity among specific immune cells – certain types of neutrophils and T-cells – at metastatic sites high in 27HC.

“Normally, your body’s immune system has the capacity to attack cancer,” Nelson said, “but we found that 27HC works on immune cells to fool them into thinking the cancer is fine. It’s hijacking the immune system to help the cancer spread.”

See a video of Nelson describing the study on YouTube.

Because 27HC acts through the immune system, and not on the breast cancer itself, the researchers believe their findings have broad applicability for solid tumors. They performed experiments looking at colon cancer, lung cancer, melanoma and pancreatic cancer, and found that 27HC increased metastasis for all the tumor types, suggesting that a treatment targeting 27HC could be effective across multiple cancer types.

The researchers are working to further understand the pathway by which 27HC affects the immune cells. With clinical partners at Carle Foundation Hospital in Urbana, the team is working to establish whether 27HC has the same pathway in human patients as in mice.

“We hope to develop small-molecule drugs to inhibit 27HC,” Nelson said. “In the meantime, there are good cholesterol-lowering drugs available on the market: statins. Cancer patients at risk for high cholesterol might want to talk to their doctors about it.”

Nelson also is affiliated with the Cancer Center, the division of nutritional sciences and the Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology at Illinois. The National Institutes of Health and the Susan G. Komen Foundation supported this work.


Editor’s notes: To reach Erik Nelson, call 217-244-5477; email

The paper “The cholesterol metabolite 27 hydroxycholesterol facilitates breast cancer metastasis through its actions on immune cells” is available online.

New book explores chasing the American dream in rural trailer parks

Published October 13, 2017

URBANA, Ill. – Trailer parks offer an affordable place to live for 12 million people in rural America. Despite crude jokes, slurs, and the “trailer trash” stereotype that trailer park residents sometimes must endure, they are often families raising their children, hoping to grab hold of the American dream of home ownership.

In her new book, Singlewide: Chasing the American Dream in a Rural Trailer Park, anthropologist and ethnographer Sonya Salamon and co-author Katherine MacTavish discuss how the American housing dream in rural trailer parks is often just that—a dream— that is rarely realized by those working poor families who call these parks home.

Salamon, a professor emerita in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies at the University of Illinois, along with MacTavish, an associate professor in Human Development and Family Science at Oregon State University, followed 39 families raising their school-aged children in three rural trailer park sites in the United States, each for one year. They examined the social and financial implications for families living in a trailer park.

Throughout the year, the researchers immersed themselves in daily life in the parks, exploring the sense of community at each site and how the children in these parks were developing. The parks in their study included a predominantly white park in downstate Illinois, a predominantly Hispanic park in New Mexico, and a predominantly black park in North Carolina. Only families who owned their trailer homes, and lived in a land-lease trailer park were included in the study.

In Singlewide, they present the stories of these families, including a few who moved up and out of the trailer park, but most who did not.

“We emphasize that these families were striving to do the best for their children,” Salamon says. “Instead of stigmatizing them as ‘trailer trash,’ we should realize that, for most of them, homeownership is a hard-won status and they are proud of that achievement.”

The residents in the parks, Salamon explains, were poor or of modest income, but they were not the poorest residents of rural trailer parks in America because they lived in land-lease parks where they owned their homes. People who rent their homes in rental trailer parks tend to be poorer.

“Uniformly, though, the young families in our study parks wanted to move out. Their dream was a conventional home. That was a really strong theme. One family from each of the parks achieved moving out during or just after our study. They were distinctive in how they managed their pathway out of the park. Particularly important was that they had a plan and they weren’t heavily in debt.”

But most of the families found themselves financially “trapped” in the trailer park.

Salamon, explains, “We called it entrapment, because the most common loan that they get for their home was a chattel loan, the same kind of loan you get for a car. And they don’t own the land underneath their home. Because it’s somebody else’s land, that makes them more vulnerable. The entrapment, if they bought new with this loan form, occurs because people were paying 13.5 percent or higher on a property that loses half its value in three years, like a car does. These are very expensive loans and their cost never comes down.”

To improve their housing situation, some families opt to “trade up,” buying a new trailer with the same kind of loan in the same park from, at times, vertically integrated companies that not only own the parks, but also produce and sell the trailers, and provide the financing.

Hoping to break through some of the stereotypes, the authors asked residents if they felt discriminated against because of where they lived, or had heard the slur “trailer trash” used. The answers varied by site and ethnic group.

“We wanted to see whether there is a ‘trailer trash’ culture, which implies that everybody living in trailer park is alike—that they all live the same way. Our conclusion is that there really isn’t a trailer park culture. The people in the three different sites, all very rural populations, looked like the people around them outside the park more than they look like a specific culture.”

One takeaway from the book is that the only people reporting that they consistently felt the “trailer trash” stigma were whites in the Illinois trailer park, and whites in the other sites. “We came to understand that the ‘trailer trash’ slur signified a middle-class put down, but it was also a variant of being called ‘white trash,’” Salamon says. Interestingly, the white residents in the Illinois park also felt the least sense of community.

“This lack of a sense of community may, to a certain extent, account for the behavior of a small number of residents—at the Illinois site—that helps bolster the ‘trailer trash’ stereotype over all those who live there. It really is a minority, though.”

During the year, the researchers were also looking at the effects from the neighborhoods surrounding the parks. They found that blacks and Hispanics, at the respective sites in North Carolina and New Mexico, were embraced by the communities or towns around them. “One man in New Mexico even ran for mayor,” Salamon says. “They were really a part of the town. Being southern New Mexico, there was one dominant church, a Catholic church, and everyone belonged to it. You could see the difference in the sense of community there.”

But for the white families in Illinois, their trailer park was not incorporated into the nearby larger town, which Salamon says may have led to a greater sense of segregation and discrimination for the residents there.

White youth living in Illinois seemed to find a sense of community with the other children who lived in the park, while at the other sites, it was in the wider community and within family for Hispanics, and among church and extended family members for blacks. Some youth found opportunities to move out of the park. “If a youth found some sort of middle class mentor, whether in a church or school, that was a major factor,” Salamon explains. “The park youth all thought they wanted to go to college but most didn’t have a clue about what it took – that was where a mentor made a difference.

“One girl, a youth in the Illinois park, became close to a middle-class school friend and her family, and could essentially keep herself socially distant from the trailer park. She lived ‘in’ it but wasn’t ‘of’ it. She ended up going to the U of I. Actually two girls from the park went to the U of I – a real achievement. As a consequence, like children from immigrant families, the girls changed enough that they were  no longer as close to their roots as their parents might want. They moved on.”

By the conclusion of the book, Salamon, an expert on land-use and small towns in rural America, and MacTavish emphasize that trailer park families see themselves as “doing the best for their families,” despite the financial and social pitfalls they may face.

Singlewide is now available in paperback and can be purchased from Cornell Press, or wherever books are sold.

For more information, visit

News Source:

Sonya Salamon

National Science Foundation invests $3.4 million in project to improve maize harvests

Published October 13, 2017

URBANA, Ill. – The National Science Foundation recently announced an investment of $3.4 million toward research to improve the productivity of maize. The funds will support a project that will be carried out at four institutions, including the University of Illinois.

The project, led by Andrea Eveland at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, will develop novel methods for predicting a plant’s phenotype from its genetic code and precisely manipulating plant architecture traits in maize that enhance yield potential. The collaborative project brings together expertise in molecular genetics, developmental genomics, and statistics to meet the food and fuel demands of a growing population.

Maize is the cereal crop with the highest dollar value in the U.S. and abroad. Maize yields have increased eight-fold in the past century due largely to selecting for optimal architecture at increased planting densities. However, yield gains have plateaued in recent years.

“Developing the next generation of high-yielding varieties will require a detailed knowledgebase of the complex gene networks that control plant morphology, which can be applied to breeding or engineering optimal plant architectures,” said Eveland. “Since the networks controlling different aspects of growth and development are tightly interconnected, it is essential that we understand how manipulation of one trait affects others at the molecular level. This precise level of control is largely coordinated by the non-genic regions of the genome, which we know very little about. With this project, we hope to make significant advances in decoding gene regulatory mechanisms connecting important agronomic traits.”

Plant architecture, the number and arrangement of organs (e.g. branches, leaves, flowers) on a plant, is central to crop productivity and has been a primary target in the domestication and improvement of many crops. For example, breeding for upright leaves allows light capture within the lower canopy in dense fields, while optimizing the structure of the grain-bearing panicle improves seed set, grain fill and harvestability. In maize, genes that control leaf angle also affect panicle architecture, so understanding how these traits are connected at the molecular level will enable greater precision in decoupling target outcomes from undesirable effects.

Alexander Lipka, an assistant professor of biometry in the Department of Crop Sciences at U of I, will use cutting edge statistical approaches to pinpoint which subsets of the genome should receive the most attention in follow-up analyses. 

“One of the things that excites me the most about this grant is the exploration of multivariate statistical genotype-to-phenotype models that we plan to undertake,” said Lipka. “These models will enable us to distinguish between which genomic regions harbor genes responsible for variation in both leaf angle and panicle architecture and which genomic regions contain genes responsible for only one of these two classes of traits. It is our aim to make these and other statistical approaches we use through the course of this project available to the research community.”

The multi-disciplinary team also includes Patrick Brown of the University of California, Davis and Sarah Hake of the University of California, Berkeley. By integrating molecular and quantitative approaches, the group will define the gene networks that control leaf angle and panicle architecture in maize and map key regulatory loci as targets for manipulating these traits using genome editing technologies. New methods for incorporating biological network information in genomic selection models to predict phenotype from genotype will also be explored.

The project will also include an education component featuring interactive curriculum in quantitative genetics and genomics for high school and rural community college teachers and students.

News Writer:

ACES Research

USDA funds participatory organic corn breeding and testing network initiative at Illinois with $2 million

Published October 13, 2017
Tortilla chips

URBANA, Ill. — The United States Department of Agriculture announced today that it will invest nearly $2 million toward a University of Illinois project that will allow farmers, researchers, and consumers to participate in breeding corn optimized for organic production. Farmers will help test maize germplasm developed at U of I and the Mandaamin Institute in Wisconsin, and consumers will give their opinions on the quality of the grain and products made with each line of organic corn.

“The project is unique because it integrates all the components of the food chain, from the field to table, connecting researchers, producers, and consumers,” says Carmen Ugarte, research specialist in the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences at U of I, and the lead investigator on the project. “Traditionally, farmers stop worrying about what happens to their corn after it is delivered to the grain elevator. But we’re trying to breed with the end product in mind, and we are keen to connect producers and consumers.”

Martin Bohn, corn breeder and geneticist in the Department of Crop Sciences at U of I and co-principal investigator, notes this project will provide the scientific insights needed to design cutting-edge breeding strategies for the development of cultivars wanted in the organic market.

“To be successful, each breeding program needs well-defined objectives, and in the organic marketplace, it isn’t only about yield. Processing and nutritional quality are of great importance for the consumer, and the farmer needs cultivars that compete well with weeds, are resistant to pests and diseases, and tolerate stresses like drought, heat, and low nutrient availability,” Bohn says. 

Bill Davison, a U of I Extension educator and co-investigator on the project, says that growers currently do not have many choices in the marketplace when it comes to organically produced corn. But, he says, some top-performing genetic lines have been tested at U of I. These need to be evaluated across a variety of conditions to make further improvements, and that’s where participating farmers come in.

The project will develop a participatory testing network with farmers from Illinois, Iowa, Indiana, Wisconsin, and New York. “At each location, our researchers will work with farmers to establish variety trials to assess the agronomic performance of elite corn hybrids developed at U of I and the Mandaamin Institute, with co-investigator Walter Goldstein,” Ugarte says.

The researchers will also evaluate the influence of soil health on yield and grain quality and processing characteristics. “This will let us test theories about the ties between soil and crop health,” says Michelle Wander, co-principal investigator and soil scientist in the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences at U of I.

All materials tested under field conditions will also be evaluated for quality and performance of the end products. Corn will be processed into several different types of food products, such as corn bread or tortilla chips, at the Pilot Processing Plant on the U of I campus and then tested by consumers and researchers. Co-investigator Juan Andrade from the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition at U of I will evaluate nutrient content and things like volatile aromatic compounds that influence our sensory experience of food.

Finally, co-investigator Bryan Endres, a professor in the Department of Agricultural and Consumer Economics at U of I, Wander, and others will work with private breeders and processors and an advisory board consisting of industry leaders to identify and promote organizational structures and legal agreements that support participatory breeding networks to improve the organic seed supply. Materials produced by the effort will be made available through eOrganic, eXtensions’ organic community of practice.

News Source:

Sally Gifford, 202-720-2047

2017 Friend of ACES award recipients honored

Published October 11, 2017
aerial of Mumford Hall

URBANA, Ill. - The University of Illinois College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences (ACES) bestowed the 2017 Friend of ACES award on two remarkable individuals. Evelyn Brandt Thomas of Springfield, Illinois, and George Obernagel III of Waterloo, Illinois, were honored on Oct. 7 as this year’s recipients during the Illinois 4-H Recognition Program in Champaign. The Friend of ACES Award recognizes non-alumni friends who have made outstanding contributions to the growth and success of the College of ACES.

Evelyn Brandt Thomas is a businesswoman, philanthropist, and civic leader. Growing up on a small family farm near Pleasant Plains, Illinois, Thomas was active in 4‐H. After graduating from Springfield High School in 1940, she earned an accounting degree from Illinois Business College, an unusual step for a young woman of that era. She and her brother Glen started a fertilizer business in the early 1950s to supplement the family’s income on the farm.

For over 60 years, she and Glen have remained active in leading the family business, which has grown to become BRANDT Consolidated, Inc., a multi‐million dollar international company dedicated to helping farmers adopt new and profitable technologies to enable their success on the family farm. In 2012, BRANDT was named to Inc. Magazine’s list of 500 Fastest Growing Private Companies. Thomas also has a personal passion for NASCAR. She and BRANDT have been sponsors for several racers.

“Evelyn knows the importance of supporting young people in their pursuit of a college education,” says Angie Barnard, executive director of the Illinois 4-H Foundation, who nominated Thomas for the award. “In addition to scholarships for 4‐H members, she and her late husband Gordon provided scholarship funds at Lincoln Land Community College, the University of Illinois Springfield, the College of ACES, and for the National FFA Organization. Evelyn and Gordon hoped to reduce the debt, and related stress, that young people have to accept in order to obtain higher education. She strives to make the lives of scholarship recipients a little easier and hopes they are able and willing to pay the generosity forward in the future.”

George Obernagel III graduated from McKendree College in Lebanon, Illinois, and completed graduate trust school at Northwestern University. In addition to his successful career in the financial industry, Obernagel is the owner/operator of a family farm with acreage in Nebraska, Arkansas, and Illinois. He also manages a purebred Angus herd, is part owner of seven Wm. Nobbe & Company John Deere dealerships, and owns the Waterloo Republic Times newspaper and other businesses.

“George Obernagel is no stranger to the University of Illinois, College of ACES, 4-H or community service,” says Steve Loerch, former professor and head of the College of ACES Department of Animal Sciences, who nominated Obernagel for the award. “His dedication to U of I puts him in the same category as loyal alumni. In fact, many have suggested that it seemed that George is an ACES alumnus based on his commitment. He is an avid supporter of 4-H and FFA, and encourages opportunities for College of ACES students. He values hands-on learning and supports travel and professional development activities for the University of Illinois livestock judging and evaluation team.”

News Source:

Marla Todd