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Department's new name better reflects its identity

Published August 24, 2015

URBANA, Ill. - The newly named Department of Human Development and Family Studies (HDFS), housed in the university's College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences, better reflects the research interests of its faculty, said department head Susan Silverberg Koerner.

“Our faculty members concentrate primarily on child and adolescent development, youth activism, childhood health and obesity, and parent-child attachment as well as couple dynamics, family violence, immigrant families, and father involvement,” she said.

The department offers 17 courses with a focus on family issues, including families in global perspective, family diversity in the United States, and U.S. Latina/Latino families, she said.

“Our former name, Human and Community Development (HCD), just did not capture that emphasis,” she explained.

Koerner said that the new name will aid in recruiting additional highly qualified graduate students and undergraduates who are seeking a foundation in family issues. She also anticipates an increased capacity to attract excellent applicants for faculty positions who are looking for positions in a recognizable disciplinary niche.

Corn prices reflect export concerns and weak demand prospects

Published August 24, 2015

URBANA, Ill. – December 2015 corn futures traded as much as 30 cents lower on Aug. 12 following the USDA’s surprisingly large yield forecast and closed 20 cents lower for the session. The price of that contract rallied about 15 cents in the following week, but started moving lower again late last week.

According to University of Illinois agricultural economist Darrel Good, recent price weakness is not coming from the supply side.

“There is a general sentiment that the USDA production forecast will not increase from the August forecast of 13.686 billion bushels,” Good said. “Instead, market commentary seems to suggest the trade is expecting the yield forecast to decline from the August forecast of 168.8 bushels. Expectations appear to be retreating to the 164- to 165-bushel level reported as the average trade guess prior to the release of the USDA August forecast. Continuing weakness in corn prices reflects perceived demand weakness.”

Good said that concerns about demand may stem from two sources.

First, the concern that exports of U.S corn will fall short of the current USDA projection of 1.85 billion bushels.  Second, the concern about weak commodity demand in general resulting from slow economic growth and severe weakness in financial markets.

“Weakening demand implies that a lower price will be required to entice a given level of consumption,” Good said.

According to Good, domestic consumption of corn during the 2015-16 marketing year is not of immediate concern. The USDA projection of 5.25 billion bushels for ethanol production is consistent with the 5.2 billion bushels expected for the marketing year just ending and a modest increase in domestic gasoline consumption next year. The projection of 5.3 billion bushels for feed and residual use next year equals the projection for the current year.

“Another large crop implies large residual use of corn, and low corn prices along with steady to higher animal numbers should support actual feed consumption of corn,” Good said.

The USDA projects corn exports during the 2015-16 marketing year that begins on Sept. 1 at 1.85 billion bushels, equal to the projection for the current year, Good said. However, total outstanding sales of U.S. corn for export during the 2015-16 marketing year are relatively small.

“The USDA reported those sales at about 223 million bushels as of August 13,” Good said. “Sales were at 365 million bushels at the same time last year. Sales are at the lowest level for this time of year since 2005.  It is recognized that the magnitude of early sales is not a good predictor of marketing-year exports because 2005 sales as of mid-August as a percentage of marketing-year exports have ranged from about 8 percent (2005-06) to 42 percent (2012-13) and averaged 18 percent.  Current sales represent 12 percent of the USDA projection for the upcoming marketing year. Still, the small export sales total is raising concerns in the context of potentially weak world demand, the relatively strong U.S. dollar, and expectations of large supplies of corn in other exporting countries. With nearly 55 weeks remaining until the end of the 2015-16 marketing year, export sales need to average about 30 million bushels per week in order for exports to reach 1.85 billion bushels,” Good said.

Weak demand for corn resulting from poor economic performance means that the equilibrium market price of corn for a given level of supply is lower than if demand were strong, Good continued. Some measure of demand weakness currently reflected in the corn market may be provided by the relationship between the projected 2015-16 marketing-year–ending stocks-to-use ratio and the current average farm price offered by the market.

“Based on the relationship between the ending stocks-to-use ratio and the average farm price of corn for the period 2007-08 through 2014-15, the projected ratio of 12.4 percent for the 2015-16 marketing year points to a marketing-year average farm price of $4,” Good said. “With smaller exports than projected and a year-ending stocks-to-use ratio of 13.3 percent, an average farm price of $3.80 would be expected. Based on a model developed by the USDA’s Economic Research Service, current futures prices (December futures at $3.77) point to an average farm price of $3.60. It appears that 2015-16 corn prices are currently at least 20 cents lower than would be the case with a stronger demand outlook,” he said.

With the start of the Midwest harvest approaching, Good said producers will need to evaluate the corn storage decision.

“Current low prices mean that producers will likely choose to store much of the crop that has not yet been priced,” Good said. “The current basis in the cash market and the carry in the futures market give some indication about the potential return to storing corn. In central Illinois, for example, the average cash bid for harvest delivery reflects a basis of about -30 cents relative to December 2015 futures and -52 cents relative to July 2016 futures. If the July basis improves to about -5 cents by June 2016 (as it did this year), the market is offering about 47 cents per bushel to store corn for about nine months after harvest. That return would cover the out-of-pocket costs of farm storage, but may be closer to breaking even for commercial storage costs for some producers.

“The only way to capture the storage return, however, is to forward price the stored crop in the cash or futures market,” Good said. “The spot price of corn will have to increase by more than 47 cents by next spring for the return on corn stored unpriced to exceed the likely return to a storage hedge.”


High tunnel growing videos available to farmers and educators

Published August 24, 2015

URBANA, Ill. - Through an Illinois Department of Agriculture Sustainable Agriculture grant, University of Illinois Extension in partnership with Lincoln Land Community College (LLCC) conducted high tunnel vegetable production research during the winter of 2014 and produced a series of videos on topics for building beds, planting, growing, pest management, and harvesting. The videos are available to educators and farmers wanting to teach or learn how to start production in a high tunnel.

High tunnels are minimally heated, low-cost, plastic-covered greenhouses that use little or no energy from fossil fuels to heat or ventilate the structure. Within the structure, solar energy is trapped and used to warm the air and soil. Crops are grown directly in soil without the use of artificial media.

Benefits of using high tunnels include extending the growing season of many high-value crops such as melons, peppers, tomatoes, and strawberries; protecting crops from weather extremes such as temperature, sunlight, strong winds, driving rain, and destructive hail; and protecting crops from harmful insects, wildlife, and diseases that can lower marketable yield. High tunnels can be used to intercrop many vegetable species. On a small plot of land, high tunnels permit intensive production of food crops.

Experienced growers Gus Jones and Andy Heck of Small Axe Market Gardens managed the daily farming practices in the high tunnels. The project used a diverse crop plan to demonstrate a practical scenario for local direct market farmers. The project goals looked at utilizing existing high tunnel technologies for sustainable farming research of winter production in order to increase the diversity and year-round availability of local produce, while giving farmers the tools they need to increase winter profits through season-extending high tunnel practices.

View the videos at or at the U of I Extension YouTube channel playlist, Winter High Tunnel Project.

Additional information about high tunnels, such as the publication, “Growing Under High Tunnels in Illinois and the Midwest” by Zachary Grant, a local food systems and small farms Extension educator can be found on the U of I Extension website.

For more information about the videos and the project, contact Marnie Record at

Adapted from a press release from Lincoln Land Community College.

U of I study: Men, people over 65 sleep better when they have access to nature

Published August 24, 2015

URBANA, Ill. – Men and persons age 65 and older who have access to natural surroundings, whether it’s the green space of a nearby park or a sandy beach and an ocean view, report sleeping better, according to a new University of Illinois study published in Preventive Medicine.

“It’s hard to overestimate the importance of high-quality sleep,” said Diana Grigsby-Toussaint, a U of I professor of kinesiology and community health and a faculty member in the U of I’s Division of Nutritional Sciences. “Studies show that inadequate sleep is associated with declines in mental and physical health, reduced cognitive function, and increased obesity. This new study shows that exposure to a natural environment may help people get the sleep they need.”

In the study, Grigsby-Toussaint worked with both U of I researchers and scientists from the New York University School of Medicine. The team used data from the CDC’s Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, which surveyed 255,171 representative U.S. adults, to learn whether there was an association between self-reported days of insufficient sleep and access to green space. The team also used a USDA index that scores the country’s geographical areas for their natural amenities, using hours of sunlight, which is important in regulating a person’s circadian rhythm, and temperature.

In response to the survey question about sleep quality in the last month, the researchers found that the most common answer was that respondents had slept poorly for less than one week.

“Interestingly, though, across the entire sample, individuals reporting 21 to 29 days of insufficient sleep consistently had lower odds of access to green space and natural amenities compared to those reporting less than one week,” she said.

For men, the relationship between sleep and exposure to green space was much stronger than for women. And males and females 65 and over found nature to be a potent sleep aid, she added.

Grigsby-Toussaint noted that living near green landscapes is associated with higher levels of physical activity and that exercise in turn predicts beneficial sleep patterns.

But men appeared to benefit much more from their natural surroundings. The researcher speculated that women may take less advantage of nearby natural settings out of concern for their safety, but she added that more research is needed.

The finding should be a boon for people who are having trouble sleeping as they age. “If there is a way for persons over 65 to spend time in nature, it would improve the quality of their sleep—and their quality of life—if they did so,” Grigsby-Toussaint said.

The study points to the importance of conserving nature in general, she added.

“And, specifically, our results provide an incentive for nursing homes and communities with many retired residents to design buildings with more lighting, create nature trails and dedicated garden spaces, and provide safe outdoor areas that encourage outdoor activity for men and women,” she said. 

“Sleep Insufficiency and the Natural Environment: Results from the U.S. Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System Survey” appears in the September 2015 issue of Preventive Medicine and is available online. Grigsby-Toussaint is the lead and corresponding author; co-authors include Kedir N. Tun and Mark Krupa of the University of Illinois and Natasha J. Williams, Seithikurippu K. Pandi-Perumal, and Girardin Jean-Louis of the Center for Healthful Behavioral Change, New York University School of Medicine. The National Institutes of Health funded the study.


Nation’s leading experts in nutrition, obesity, and health will speak at the Food & Family Conference in Chicago

Published August 19, 2015

Urbana, Ill.—Want to learn more about the changing food environment or about challenges that arise from feeding children in multiple settings? On Sept. 17, the University of Illinois’s Family Resiliency Center and the Christopher Family Foundation are partnering to bring together some of the nation’s leading experts in human nutrition, obesity research, and child and family health to The University Club of Chicago.

The program will feature a wide range of topics, including pediatric nutrition, picky eating, immigrant families and acculturation, and school and child care programs. Attendees will learn why it's important to connect food and families in positive ways, explore the challenges and solutions to promoting healthy eating, and examine the challenges that come from feeding children in multiple settings.

The conference will run from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., and the $75 registration fee includes breakfast, lunch, and a catered reception after the speaking sessions. To learn more about the event, please visit the conference’s webpage. For any additional questions, contact FRC Assistant Director Brenda Koester at or 217-244-6486.