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Prospects for corn and soybean production estimates

Published November 16, 2015

URBANA, Ill. – Current corn and soybean prices reflect, in part, the large U.S. crops just harvested. The USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) will release the final estimates of the size of those crops in the second week of January. According to a University of Illinois agricultural economist, those estimates will reflect acreage and yield information collected in the large-scale December Agricultural Survey.  Any changes from the November acreage and yield forecasts that substantially alter the production estimates would influence price prospects into the spring of 2016.

“As previously discussed, some hint about the magnitude of the final planted acreage estimates is provided by the planted acreage reports from producers to the USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA),” said Darrel Good. “For the period 2007 through 2013, the final NASS estimate of planted corn acreage exceeded the final FSA acreage report by 2.6 to 3.5 percent (average 3.2 percent). That percentage increased to 4.7 percent last year. For soybeans, the final NASS estimate of planted acreage during the period 2007 through 2014 ranged from 1.2 to 3.0 percent (average 1.8 percent) larger than the final FSA report.

“For 2015, FSA has released the summary of planted acreage reports as of Nov. 1,” Good said. “The November NASS estimate of planted acreage of corn was 3.9 percent larger than the November FSA report of acreage. That is higher than the final margin for the period 2007 through 2013, but lower than the final margin of a year ago. For soybeans, the November NASS estimate of planted acreage was 2.4 percent larger than the FSA report of planted acreage. That is within the range of final margin in the previous eight years.”

The FSA will release an updated report of planted acreage on Dec.14 and a final report about Jan.15. Good said that those reports will likely show slightly larger acreage than reported as of Nov.1. In the previous three years, for example, the final FSA report of corn acreage was 42,000 to 663,000 larger than the November report. For soybeans, the final report was 20,000 to 365,000 larger than the November report.

“Larger FSA acreage reports would lower the current NASS/FSA acreage margins, making those margins very consistent with historical final margins,” Good said. “The bottom line is that FSA acreage reports to date and the recent historical relationship of November and final FSA acreage reports suggest that the final NASS estimates of 2015 planted acreage of corn and soybeans to be reported in January will be very close to the current estimates. Estimates of harvested acreage could change marginally based on the December Agricultural Survey results.”

Expectations about the final NASS corn and soybean yield estimates to be released in January reflect a combination of individual assessments of actual yields in 2015 and the historical pattern of NASS yield estimates through the August to January forecast cycle.

“As a result, expectations for the final estimates vary considerably, as they always do,” Good said. “Based on both of those considerations, we do not anticipate the final yield estimates to be below the November forecasts.”

In the 40 years from 1975 through 2014, the NASS November corn yield forecast exceeded the October forecast (September forecast in 2013) as it did this year, in 25 years. In 17 of those 25 years, the January yield estimate equaled or exceeded the November forecast. For soybeans, the NASS November yield forecast exceeded the October (September for 2013) forecast in 24 of the previous 40 years. In 19 of those 24 years, the January yield estimate equaled or exceeded the November forecast.

“Our expectations about final NASS acreage and yield estimates suggest the final production estimates will be close enough to the November forecasts that price prospects will not be altered,” Good said.

As the new calendar year approaches, Good said the market will begin to give some consideration to 2016 U.S. corn and soybean production prospects. Those prospects will begin with expectations about planted acreage intentions to be reported by NASS at the end of March.

“Some private forecasts have already been released, but factors influencing planting decisions will continue to unfold over the next several months,” Good said. “Several factors will contribute to a wide range of expectations about the magnitude of planted acreage. The large prevented acreage in 2015 (2.366 million acres of corn and 2.231 million acres of soybeans) results in a wide range of estimates of the magnitude of crop-land acreage that will be available for row-crop planting in 2016. In addition, the level of corn and soybean prices near planting time may also influence the amount of total crop land that is planted. Our current expectation is that a persistence of low prices into planting time might result in a marginal increase in corn acreage and a marginal decline in soybean acreage. We will provide more detailed analysis of 2016 planted acreage prospects following the release of NASS final 2015 acreage estimates in January.

“Small acreage changes and yields in 2016 that are near trend value (as opposed to above trend in 2015) would result in smaller crops than were harvested in 2015,” Good said. “Smaller crops would likely allow for some drawdown in corn stocks, but soybean stocks would likely remain historically large.”


Terrariums: An indoor microclimate

Published November 16, 2015

URBANA, Ill. - Gardening trends seem to come and go, but the theme of miniature gardens continues to be popular in the garden world.

“You can walk into most garden centers today and they will have a section for fairy gardens and terrariums,” said Candice Miller, a University of Illinois horticulture educator. “Fairy gardens are cute, but terrariums have a great advantage as an indoor garden, in my opinion, because of the relative ease of care and minimal supplies needed.”

A terrarium is simply a clear glass or plastic container filled with small plants that is either tightly closed or an open transparent container for growing and displaying plants. The history of the terrarium known today dates back to Dr. Ward and his “Wardian” cases used to ship plants across the seas in the 1800s.

“The advantage of having a closed terrarium is that the amount of watering needed is very minimal, maybe every four to six months at most,” Miller said. “An open container will need more frequent watering as it will dry out faster. The only downside of a closed container is the increased humidity inside the container, which could lead to greater disease incidence.

“The great thing about terrariums is that you can use just about any container as long as it’s clear,” Miller added. “Everything from mason jars, fish bowls, light bulbs, Christmas ornaments, vases, and glass blocks can be used.”

Construction of terrariums begins by adding about a half-inch layer of drainage material that can collect excess water to the bottom of the container. This can be rock, gravel, decorative stones, or activated charcoal in the case of closed terrariums. Activated charcoal in a closed container helps absorb chemicals that could build up and become toxic to plants.

Next the growing medium is added. This should be a soilless media that is sterile, well drained, and high in organic matter. A commercially available soilless mix works great for this. About one-fourth of the terrarium’s volume should be the growing medium and drainage material.

Last, take the chosen terrarium plants from their pots and remove extra growing medium to expose the roots. Trim off any leaves that are yellowed or damaged or that show any indication of disease or insects and plant in the growing medium.

“At the garden center, you will find plants specifically for miniature gardens that will have a slow growth rate. Try to choose plants of varying heights to add interest and texture to the design,” Miller advised. “Be sure to choose plants with similar light and water requirements. After planting, mist the plants to wash off growing medium that has stuck to leaves or sides of the container. Allow the container to remain open until the foliage is thoroughly dried.

“Finish off the container with accessories to make your terrarium unique. Just about anything can be added to a container, as long as it’s clean and doesn’t introduce an insect or disease. Sea shells, rocks, ornaments, toys, trinkets, dried materials, and branches are all great things to add personality,” she added.

Once planted, terrariums are fairly low maintenance. “Just be sure not to overwater the container as this is by far the easiest way to kill a terrarium. Routinely remove any dying or yellowing leaves, turn the container occasionally to keep the plants growing upright normally, and some pruning and pinching may be required based on the growth rate of your plants,” Miller said.  

News Source:

Candice Miller

News Writer:

University of Illinois Extension

Free online certified financial planning course

Published November 16, 2015
laptop computer

URBANA, Ill. – A free, online financial planning course is 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 being offered by Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards, Inc. and the University of Illinois. The Massive Open Online Course or MOOC provides an introduction to basic financial planning concepts. It is open to the general public through Coursera, an education platform that partners with universities and organizations worldwide to offer courses free of charge.

For more information about the course and to register, visit

“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,” said 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 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 divided into seven separate modules, which are each intended to be completed in approximately one week:

1) Setting Financial Goals and Assessing Your Situation

2) Saving Strategies

3) Long-term Savings and Investment

4) Budgeting and Cash Flow Management

5) Risk Management

6) Borrowing and Credit

7) Financial Planning as a Career

Paulson is a co-developer and instructor of the course, along with Dr. Charles R. Chaffin, CFP Board’s Director of Academic Programs and Initiatives, and University of Illinois 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.

“Both the University of Illinois faculty and those working in the profession as CFP professionals believe that this course will be a wonderful introduction to a career, as well as a great way for people to learn more about financial planning,” Chaffin said. He stressed that the course is not intended to be a replacement for any portion of the education requirements for CFP certification.

The University of Illinois 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 the University of Illinois Department of Agricultural and Consumer Economics are eligible to sit for the CFP certification exam.

“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,” Sweedler said.

For more about the CFP Board, visit




In new study, Illinois scientists trace activity of cancer-fighting tomato component

Published November 12, 2015

URBANA, Ill. – Years of research in University of Illinois scientist John Erdman’s laboratory have demonstrated that lycopene, the bioactive red pigment found in tomatoes, reduces growth of prostate tumors in a variety of animal models. Until now, though, he did not have a way to trace lycopene’s metabolism in the human body.

“Our team has learned to grow tomato plants in suspension culture that produce lycopene molecules with a heavier molecular weight. With this tool, we can trace lycopene’s absorption, biodistribution, and metabolism in the body of healthy adults. In the future, we will be able to conduct such studies in men who have prostate cancer and gain important information about this plant component’s anti-cancer activity,” said John W. Erdman Jr., a U of I emeritus professor of nutrition.

The U of I team began developing the tomato cultures that would yield heavier, traceable carbon molecules about 10 years ago. Erdman, doctoral student Nancy Engelmann, and “plant gurus” Randy Rogers and Mary Ann Lila first learned to optimize the production of lycopene in tomato cell cultures. They then grew the best lycopene producers with non-radioactive carbon-13 sugars, allowing carbon-13 to be incorporated into the lycopene molecules. Because most carbon in nature is carbon-12, the lycopene containing heavier carbon atoms is easy to follow in the body.

Soon after the carbon-13 technology was established, Engelmann, now Moran, took a postdoctoral research position at Ohio State University in the lab of medical oncologist Steven K. Clinton, and scientists at Illinois and Ohio State initiated human trials.

In this first study, the team followed lycopene activity in the blood of eight persons by feeding them lycopene labeled with the non-radioactive carbon-13. The researchers then drew blood hourly for 10 hours after dosing and followed with additional blood draws 1, 3, and 28 days later.

“The results provide novel information about absorption efficiency and how quickly lycopene is lost from the body. We determined its half-life in the body and now understand that the structural changes occur after the lycopene is absorbed,” Erdman explained.

“Most tomato lycopene that we eat exists as the all-trans isomer, a rigid and straight form, but in the bodies of regular tomato consumers, most lycopene exists as cis isomers, which tend to be bent and flexible. Because cis-lycopene is the form most often found in the body, some investigators think it may be the form responsible for disease risk reduction,” Moran explained.

“We wanted to understand why there is more cis-lycopene in the body, and by mathematically modeling our patients’ blood carbon-13 lycopene concentration data, we found that it is likely due to a conversion of all-trans to cis lycopene, which occurs soon after we absorb lycopene from our food,” she added.

The plant biofactories that produce the heavier, traceable lycopene are now being used to produce heavier versions of other bioactive food components. In another trial, phytoene, a second carbon-13–labeled tomato bioactive molecule, has been produced and tested in four human subjects.

“Our most recent project involves producing a heavy carbon version of lutein, found in green leafy vegetables and egg yolks. Lutein is known to be important for eye and brain health. In this case, we began with carrot suspension cultures and have already produced small quantities of ‘heavy-labeled’ lutein for animal trials,” Rogers said.

Right now, though, the Illinois–Ohio State team is excited about the new information the lycopene study has yielded. “In the future, these new techniques could help us to better understand how lycopene reduces prostate cancer risk and severity. We will be able to develop evidence-based dietary recommendations for prostate cancer prevention,” Erdman said.

This new journal article represents the most thorough study of lycopene metabolism that has been done to date, he added.

“Compartmental and non-compartmental modeling of ¹³C-lycopene absorption, isomerization, and distribution kinetics in healthy adults” appears pre-publication online in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Authors are Nancy E. Moran, Morgan J. Cichon, Elizabeth M. Grainger, Steven J. Schwartz, Kenneth M. Riedl, and Steven K. Clinton of The Ohio State University; Janet A. Novotny of the USDA’s Human Nutrition Research Center; and John W. Erdman Jr. of the University of Illinois. The study was funded by the National Institutes of Health.

Selecting the perfect tree this holiday season

Published November 12, 2015

URBANA, Ill. - Selecting the “perfect” Christmas tree this holiday season is simply a matter of following a few steps, according to a University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator.  

“Picking out the perfect tree can be a fun, memory-filled family tradition,” said Ron Wolford.

Wolford offers the following tips to help select a fresh tree for the home and keep it looking its best.

Pick a spot in your home to place the tree before heading out to buy it. “Ask yourself whether the tree will be seen from all sides or whether some of it will be against a wall,” Wolford said.

Choose a tree that fits where it is to be displayed. For example, if the tree is displayed in front of a large window, then all four sides should look as good as possible. If the tree is displayed against a wall, a tree with three good sides would be okay. A tree with two good sides would work well in a corner. “The more perfect a tree, the more expensive it will be,” Wolford added.

Pick a spot away from heat sources, such as TVs, fireplaces, radiators, heaters, and air vents. “A dried-out tree is a safety hazard,” he said.

Measure the height and width of the space you have available in the room where the tree will be placed.

“There is nothing worse than bringing a tree indoors only to find it's too tall,” Wolford said. “Take a tape measure with you to the farm. Trees always look smaller outdoors so measure to be sure and don’t forget to bring a cord to tie your tree to the car.”

If buying from a retail lot, Wolford recommends going during the day. “Choosing a tree in daylight is a much easier experience then trying to pick out a tree in a dimly lit lot,” he said.

“Choose a fresh tree from a Christmas tree farm. Purchasing a tree from a Christmas tree farm ensures that you will have a fresh tree. A fresh tree will have a healthy green appearance with few browning needles.

“Needles should be flexible and not fall off if you run a branch through your hand. Raise the tree a few inches off the ground and drop it on the butt end. Very few green needles should drop off the tree. It is normal for a few inner brown needles to drop,” he added.

Make sure the handle or base of the tree is straight and long enough so it will fit easily into a tree stand after fresh cuts are made for water uptake.

Store the tree in an unheated garage or some other area out of the wind if you are not putting it up right away, Wolford noted. “Make a fresh 1-inch cut on the butt end and place the tree in a bucket of warm water. When you bring the tree indoors, make another fresh 1-inch cut and place the tree in a sturdy stand. The water reservoir of the stand should provide one quart of water for every inch of diameter of the trunk,” he said.

Be sure to keep the water level above the base of the tree. If the base dries out, resin will form over the cut end and the tree will not be able to absorb water and will dry out quickly.

Commercially prepared mixes, sugar, aspirin, or other additives in the water are not necessary. “Research has shown that plain water will keep a tree fresh,” Wolford said.

For more information, visit the University of Illinois Extension website Christmas Trees & More at

News Source:

Ron Wolford , 773-233-2900

News Writer:

University of Illinois Extension