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Alumni invited to share the ACES experience with youth

Published May 24, 2017

URBANA, Ill. – University of Illinois College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences alumni are encouraged to register to attend ACES Family Academies with their young Illini fans ages 8 to 13 on July 13-14.

ACES Family Academies allows ACES alumni to share their Illinois experience with their children, grandchildren, or friends. This 1 ½-day educational experience allows youth to explore the ACES campus, attend engaging classes showcasing the variety of career paths available through ACES, and ultimately enjoy time with their family members learning more about the world around them.

“I would recommend this program to all ACES graduates because of the opportunity to return to campus and act like a student again while participating in exciting new learning experiences along with your grandchildren or children,” says Randy Sims, a 1969 agricultural economics alum. “ACES Family Academy is well organized and the participants really feel welcomed. My grandson and I had a ball!”

A variety of classes will be offered this summer, including Paper Airplanes and Drones in Ag, Build a Better Brain, Your Nose Talks to Your Tongue, Man’s Best Friend, Fun with LEGO Mindstorms Robots, and Youth Fighting Poverty Through Hunger Ambassadors.

“The classes were both fun and educational. What a fantastic introduction to encourage college life in my grandson’s future and to help alums like myself reconnect with the University of Illinois campus,” says Jerry Benjamin, a 1965 agricultural economics alum.

To register for this year’s ACES Family Academies, visit Registration is open now until June 16. Space is limited, so reserve your spot today!

For more information, visit or contact the ACES Alumni Association at 217-333-7744.

News Source:

Tina Veal, 217-333-7744

Expert discusses Trump proposed cuts to SNAP, food insecurity

Published May 23, 2017

URBANA, Ill. – The White House has released a new budget proposal, and it’s not good news for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Plan, commonly known as food stamps or Link in Illinois. The plan calls for a $193 billion, or 25 percent, cut to the program that currently serves 42 million Americans. Craig Gundersen, professor in the Department of Agricultural and Consumer Economics at the University of Illinois, has been studying SNAP and its effects on food insecurity for years.

“SNAP is a great program. It is the key component of the social safety net against food insecurity,” Gundersen says.

Given the success of SNAP, Gundersen emphasizes that efforts to cut the size of the program will lead to dramatic increases in food insecurity

Food insecurity and SNAP were the topics of a recent podcast and Twitter chat with Gundersen.   

According to Gundersen, food insecurity is a major contributor to negative health outcomes in the United States. These range from depression and malnutrition to behavioral problems for children in school. Given this, it is not surprising that food insecurity also leads to substantially higher health care costs. “Because SNAP leads to greater food security, the program also brings down health care costs,” he says.

Overall, Gundersen says he can’t think of a more successful government program than SNAP. The research indicates that the program is associated with higher nutrient intake, reductions in poverty, and reductions in infant mortality. But it does more than that.

“One of the key advantages to SNAP is that it gives dignity to recipients,” he says. “They can purchase what they think is best for their families. Restricting that is demeaning and stigmatizing to poor people.”

Listen to the podcast, “Addressing food insecurity in the U.S.: The critical role of SNAP,” at

Look for next month’s #askACES Twitter chat and podcast, “What’s in my milk? Truth vs. Myth,” on June 22 from noon to 1 p.m. CT with professor Jim Drackley from the U of I Department of Animal Sciences.

Summer pricing for corn and soybeans

Published May 22, 2017

URBANA, Ill. - Recent corn and soybean price declines associated with the political situation in Brazil erased the slight gains since the release of the March 31 Prospective Planting report.  The sudden drop gives an indication of the fragility of the current soybean market, in particular, says University of Illinois agricultural economist Todd Hubbs.

The information in the USDA’s May 10 World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates (WASDE) report is already incorporated into prices and the possibility of weather-related price runs in the summer are in focus. Tubbs offers factors that bear watching for possible pricing opportunities during the summer months for soybeans and corn.

In the soybean market, an indication of increasing consumption but larger ending stocks associated with increased production creates an expectation of declining prices for the summer months barring a severe weather event.

“One factor of note is the large South American soybean crop and the potential impact on U.S. soybean exports. Currently, soybean exports are ahead of the pace needed to meet the projection of 2.05 billion bushels for the 2016-17 marketing year. Brazilian production is up approximately 12 percent in 2017 over last year’s crop at 8.48 billion bushels and projected production for the 2018 crop is at 8.41 billion bushels,” Tubbs says. “To date, Brazilian exports have been sluggish but the rapid drop in the Brazilian Real last week brought increased sales by Brazilian farmers. Weekly exports of U.S. soybeans may weaken under the increased competition. The large Brazilian crop looks to place downward pressure on exports in the summer months.”

According to Tubbs, U.S. soybean planted acreage and yield will be key factors in soybean prices this summer. “The release of the June 30 acreage report could be particularly bearish for soybean prices. The U.S. average soybean yield is projected at 48 bushels per acre with 89.5 million planted acres reported in USDA’s Prospective Planting report. The cold and wet planting season in the Corn Belt with numerous reports of replanting of corn could lead to an increase in planted acres in soybeans for the 2017 crop year. Soybean plantings in the May 15 report sat at 32 percent, which is on pace with the five-year average. 

“If there is a lack of prevented planted acreage, the prospect of soybean acreage exceeding intentions looks more likely,” he says.

Corn prices this summer will be impacted by export progress and production issues. Current corn export levels are running above the pace to meet the projected 2.225 billion bushels for the 2016-17 marketing year. South American corn production recovered in 2017 from the drought-plagued 2016 crop year with Brazilian corn production projected at 3.78 billion bushels and Argentinian production projected at 1.57 billion bushels. The corn crop in South America will be entering the market this summer and will provide stiff competition for U.S. exports.

U.S. corn yield and production will be key to possible corn price runs in the summer. The U.S average corn yield is projected at 170.7 bushels per acre, and prospective planted acreage is at 90 million acres. “While it is too early to deduce the impact of the poor planting season on corn yields and acreage choices, there exists the potential for lower yields in corn than in the last three years,” Tubbs says. “The crop progress report on May 15 showed corn planting catching up to normal planting levels after a slow start. The first crop condition report by the USDA bears watching. Corn acreage may also be less than indicated in the Prospective Plantings report.”

Risks associated with waiting for a summer price rally before pricing the 2017 crop is larger for soybeans. Tubbs says, “It may be prudent to price soybeans if a rally occurs in June before the release of the June acreage report. There is likely less risk of lower corn prices for several reasons. Soybean acreage is more likely to surpass planting intentions, creating a scenario in which production could be large even with a modest yield loss. Soybean yields may also be less vulnerable to problematic summer weather than corn.

He adds that soybean prices appear more vulnerable to downward price movements given large current supplies and the expectation of a large crop in 2017. Fundamental supply and demand factors are supportive to corn prices for the 2017-18 marketing year with the expectation of smaller production and reduced ending stocks.

“If a summer rally in prices occurs, producers should consider aggressively pricing the 2017 soybean crop.  A weather market may produce larger price increases for corn. The price decline that occurred last week on one piece of political news out of Brazil provides an indication of just how precarious soybean prices are currently. The weather experienced thus far in the crop year may foretell the potential for weather rallies through the summer months, but the fundamentals underlying both crops indicate a greater risk in soybean prices.”

News Source:

Todd Hubbs, 217-300-4688

Farmers are asking: How much nitrogen is left?

Published May 19, 2017

URBANA, Ill. – Early this week, a brief respite from heavy rains allowed for some corn and soybean planting (or replanting) to resume in many parts of Illinois. But, given the amount of recent precipitation, many farmers are concerned about nitrogen loss and wondering if they need to apply more. Emerson Nafziger, professor in the Department of Crop Sciences at the University of Illinois, provides some insight. 

“The return of cooler weather along with the rainfall slowed nitrification - the conversion of ammonium to nitrate - slightly, and also slowed the denitrification process,” Nafziger explains. “Both nitrification and denitrification are biological processes, so they happen faster at higher temperatures. We know from finding nitrate in the soil that there has been a lot of nitrification. Denitrification requires both saturated soils and warm soils, and there has been less of it.”

Soils with standing water are slow to warm up, limiting the rate of denitrification. But it is happening in some areas where water is still standing. In those locations, it will be some time before a crop can be planted, and Nafziger says adjustments to fertilizer nitrogen may be in order as the crop gets established.

Ammonium moves little in the soil, but when it is converted to nitrate, it can move. “We know from our research that nitrogen applied last fall was about 70 percent nitrate by early May, and ammonia applied in March or April was more than half nitrate when the weather turned wet,” Nafziger says.

Somewhat surprisingly, Nafziger found little change in soil nitrogen levels from the unusually heavy rainfall, “We sampled six trial sites both before and after the heavy rainfall of late April and early May, and found virtually no change in soil nitrogen content. We expect that mineralization of soil organic matter added some nitrogen between samples, and that is no longer around, so some nitrogen moved out. The good news is that most of the nitrogen added as fertilizer is still in the soil. That may not be the case in every part of every field, but we don’t see any reason to imagine that most of the nitrogen we applied has been lost.”

Soil drainage is an important factor in movement of water and nitrate. Soil texture is a critical component of drainage, but field tiles change the relationship between texture and water movement.

“As an example, a typical Drummer silty clay loam soil in eastern Illinois allows hardly any water to move through it unless the soil is tile-drained. Tile becomes the exit route for soil nitrogen into surface waters, replacing denitrification as the main way nitrogen is lost in such soils. So, tile drainage changes the assumption that heavy-textured soils will lose nitrogen to denitrification while lighter-textured soils lose more to leaching,” Nafziger explains.

While it’s possible that some nitrogen may be lost before crop uptake begins in a few weeks, Nafziger says that a decision to apply more nitrogen than planned is premature. As soils dry, rainfall returns to normal, and plants grow, roots will begin to draw water and dissolved nitrogen towards the surface, and mineralization will kick into high gear. “Last year,” Nafziger recalls, “under good temperatures and without unusually heavy rainfall, we saw mineralization provide as much as 150 pounds of nitrogen per acre to the crop.”

One indication that the topsoil has not been stripped clean of nitrogen is the recovery of green leaf color that has been happening as the soil dries out. “Most fields are not as dark green as we saw at this point in 2016, but as the root system starts to expand and as soils continue to warm, this will change,” Nafziger says. “The corn crop at this point looks the way it does not because of lack of nitrogen, but due to the effects of temperature and rainfall on crop growth and early development.”

While it is premature to revise nitrogen management based on what has happened so far, farmers shouldn’t rule out the possibility that the crop may need more nitrogen. The good news is that farmers still have time to make such decisions. As long as soil conditions continue to improve, a crop provided with normal amounts of fertilizer nitrogen rarely runs out during vegetative development. According to Nafziger, this year will be no exception.

Nafziger plans to continue soil sampling to learn more about the status of soil nitrogen over the next two months. But, he says, because similar weather patterns have not happened this early in the season in recent years, he cannot easily predict what will happen later in the season.

“Nitrogen deficiency develops over time, and is almost always more related to current soil moisture than to the amount of soil nitrogen. So, if soils do not get extra wet or extra dry over the next month, this season could turn out to be much more typical than we expect.”

For more information, see the Bulletin.

Blue and purple corn: Not just for tortilla chips anymore

Published May 17, 2017
blue corn

URBANA, Ill. – Consumers today insist on all-natural everything, and food dyes are no exception. Even if food manufacturers are willing to make the change, current sources of natural dyes are expensive and hard to come by. Now, a large University of Illinois project is filling the gap with colored corn.

“Most natural colors come from things like wine skins, red carrots, and beets. The problem with that is most of the product is wasted in extracting the coloring. It’s not good value,” says Jack Juvik, a geneticist in the crop sciences department at U of I.

Juvik and an interdisciplinary team have been experimenting with purple and blue corn varieties, noting that health-promoting pigments known as anthocyanins are located in the outer layers of the corn kernel. That makes a big difference, economically.

“You can process corn in different ways to remove only the outer layer. The rest can still be fed into the corn supply chain to make ethanol or grits or any of the other products corn is already used for. That outer layer becomes a value-added co-product,” Juvik says.

The team has covered a lot of bases since the $1.4 million project began in 2014. For example, they identified the optimal milling process and demonstrated that corn-derived anthocyanins remain stable in food products. What’s left is to find the most potent sources of the pigments for future corn breeding. 

In a recent study, Juvik and his colleagues looked at anthocyanin type and concentration in nearly 400 genetically distinct lines of colored corn. They grew these lines in Illinois to see if anthocyanin concentration stayed constant from generation to generation – a critical quality for breeding new varieties.

Peruvian types had some of the highest anthocyanin concentrations, and they held up throughout multiple generations. “That’s good news. It means we can select for the trait we’re interested in without worrying whether it will be expressed in new environments,” Juvik says.

The next step will be getting those mighty Peruvian genes into high-yielding corn hybrids selected for production in the Midwest. If Juvik is successful, blue or purple corn could come to a field near you.

The article, “A survey of anthocyanin composition and concentration in diverse maize germplasm,” is published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. Co-authors Michael Paulsmeyer and Laura Chatham are graduate students and Talon Becker a post-doctoral scholar in the crop sciences department at U of I. Megan West and Leslie West worked for The Kraft Heinz Company, which supported the project. Additional support came from the Illinois Corn Grower’s Association and Monsanto.

News Source:

Jack Juvik, 217- 333-1966