- In a unique study looking at nearly 8,000 commercially raised pigs, scientists analyzed meat quality and variability.
- Although loin quality did not predict ham and belly quality, the majority of the findings were good news for pork producers.
- Meat quality did not vary significantly across sex, marketing group, production focus, or season, suggesting there is no good reason for pork producers to change their management strategies.
URBANA, Ill. – What happens when meat scientists get their hands on nearly 8,000 commercially raised pigs? They spend a year running dozens of tests and crunching numbers to arrive at research-backed management recommendations for pork producers.
“We had an opportunity to answer a lot of questions for the pork industry,” says Dustin Boler, assistant professor in the animal sciences department at the University of Illinois.
Anna Dilger, an associate professor in the department, explains their approach. “The two main questions were, ‘Can I measure quality in one part of the pig and predict quality in the rest of it?’ And then, ‘What is the true variability in pork quality out there and what’s causing it?’”
The team, which also included U of I graduate students, USDA meat science researchers, and a representative from Smithfield Foods, recently published their findings in five articles.
In the first article, the team looked at correlations between loin quality and quality of the belly and ham from the same pig. In this case, quality was defined mostly by color and tenderness. “Color is what drives whether or not a consumer purchases a particular pork chop. It translates into what we think of as purchase intent. Color is always number one,” Boler says. “After that, we look at whether a product is tender. If it is tender enough, we think that will translate into a repeat purchase.”
Unfortunately, the team found no correlation between loin quality and the quality of other cuts. “Just because a loin has desirable color and is tender doesn’t mean the same animal is going to produce a good belly for bacon or a great ham for a special dinner. It didn’t. Hypothesis one: scratched,” Boler reports.
The remainder of the articles focused on understanding the variability in pork products – how much variability exists, and where it comes from. For example, one of the articles focused on barrows (castrated male pigs) and gilts (young, prebred female pigs).
“We know barrows and gilts are different, but we wanted to know if they differ in how variable they are, or if one produces a more consistent product,” Dilger explains. “You can deal with differences. It’s harder to deal with variability.”
Traits associated with fatness, such as marbling, were more variable in barrows than in gilts, but the sexes varied to approximately the same degree in terms of muscling and lean quality. Based on these results, Dilger says that barrows and gilts probably do not need to be managed differently unless producers are targeting a very specific branded product.
In another article, the researchers admit they had to channel their inner statistics geeks. They looked at every possible aspect of pork quality and tried to pinpoint the major sources of variability in the dataset, from season, production focus, marketing group, and sex to variation within individual animals. In the end, those individual differences accounted for the largest portion of the variability.
“A lot of factors turn a pig into pork,” Boler notes. “In the pig’s journey from the farm to his ultimate fate, a lot of things happen. Whether he got in an argument with other pigs on the truck, whether he had to walk a long or a short distance, how much rest he was given at the plant, what kind of experience he had during termination, how that carcass was cooled. All these things can independently influence the products derived from that pig.”
Finding that the majority of the variability was within individual pigs and not in any particular management practice is good news for producers.
“It means the things they’re doing to deal with the variability in their environment are just fine. They don’t need to stop doing any of those things,” Dilger says. “There are things in the industry that get picked on. One of those is pigs raised in the summer. People think, ‘Ah, they’re so bad, so slow.’ But no, they’re fine. Gilts get blamed for a lot of things, too, but in the end, they’re fine. We’re not going to get rid of young female pigs or the summer. I believe we’re stuck with those. Understanding the variability and differences allows you to better manage the system.”
The articles discussed here, “Pork loin quality is not indicative of fresh belly or fresh and cured ham quality,” “Comparison of variability in pork carcass composition and quality between barrows and gilts,” and “Characterization of variability in pork carcass composition and primal quality,” are published in the Journal of Animal Science. Two additional articles resulting from the project are also published in the journal. The project was funded by The National Pork Board.
ACES 2017 Funk Award recipients recognized at banquet
URBANA, Ill. -- Each spring the University of Illinois College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences (ACES) recognizes faculty, staff, and graduate students who have demonstrated outstanding achievements or exceptional service to the college. The recipients are honored at the annual Paul A. Funk Recognition Awards Banquet. This year, the banquet was held Monday, April 17, at Pear Tree Estate in rural Champaign, Ill.
The awards program was established in 1970 by the Paul A. Funk Foundation of Bloomington, Ill., as a memorial to the late Paul A. Funk, who attended the college as a member of the class of 1929 and devoted his life to agriculture.
The following is a list of this year’s award recipients:
PAUL A. FUNK RECOGNITION AWARD
Keith Cadwallader, Food Science & Human Nutrition
Yuanhui Zhang, Agricultural & Biological Engineering
SPITZE LAND-GRANT PROFESSORIAL CAREER EXCELLENCE AWARD
Madhu Khanna, Agricultural & Consumer Economics
FACULTY AWARD FOR GLOBAL IMPACT
Richard Gates, Agricultural & Biological Engineering
TEAM AWARD FOR EXCELLENCE Food Bioprocessing Innovations Team:
Leslie Alexander, Food Science & Human Nutrition
Bruce Branham, Crop Sciences
Nicki Engeseth, Food Science & Human Nutrition
Hao Feng, Food Science & Human Nutrition
Brian Jacobson, Food Science & Human Nutrition
Youngsoo Lee, Food Science & Human Nutrition
Matt Smith, ACES Administration
Pawan Takhar, Food Science & Human Nutrition
Marla Todd, Information Technology & Communication Services
FACULTY AWARD FOR EXCELLENCE IN TEACHING
Senior - Jennifer Hardesty, Human Development & Family Studies
College - David Rosch, Agricultural Education
FACULTY AWARD FOR EXCELLENCE IN RESEARCH
Senior - Hans Stein, Animal Sciences
College - Michael Ward, Natural Resources & Environmental Sciences
FACULTY AWARD FOR EXCELLENCE IN EXTENSION
Senior - Paul McNamara, Agricultural & Consumer Economics
JOHN CLYDE AND HENRIETTA DOWNEY SPITLER TEACHING AWARD
Nicholas Paulson, Agricultural & Consumer Economics
KARL E. GARDNER OUTSTANDING UNDERGRADUATE ADVISER AWARD
Robert Hughes, Jr., Human Development & Family Studies
ACES ALUMNI ASSOCIATION AWARD OF MERIT
Leon Corzine – B.S. ’72 Ag Engineering of Assumption, IL
Robert Easter – Ph.D. ’76 Animal Sciences of Mahomet, IL
John McNamara – B.S. ’76 Ag Sciences, M.S. ’78 Dairy Science of Pullman, WA
Keith Parr – B.S. ’78 Ag Sciences of Elmhurst, IL
Robert Wyffels – B.S. 77 Crop Science of Geneseo, IL
LOUIS V. LOGEMAN GRADUATE STUDENT TEACHING AWARD
Sarai Coba-Rodriguez, Human Development & Family Studies
Brett Loman, Division of Nutritional Sciences
GRADUATE STUDENT RESEARCH AWARD
Ph.D. - Jaclyn Saltzman, Human Development & Family Studies
M.S. - Kelly Hannan, Natural Resources & Environmental Sciences
TEACHING ASSOCIATE TEACHING AWARD
Justine Karduck, Food Science & Human Nutrition
MARCELLA M. NANCE STAFF AWARD
Melissa Warmbier, Agricultural & Consumer Economics
STAFF AWARD FOR EXCELLENCE
Lauren Redman, Animal Sciences
PROFESSIONAL STAFF AWARD FOR EXCELLENCE
Sustained Excellence—Advising, Teaching and Outreach
Robert Petrea, Agricultural & Biological Engineering
James Hartman, Food Science & Human Nutrition
Sustained Excellence—Administrative/Management or Technical Contributions
Darcy Meents, Human Development & Family Studies
Excellence—Innovation and Creativity
Kathryn Partlow, ACES Administration
NRES Bronze Tablet Recipient Announced
The University of Illinois began the tradition of inscribing the Bronze Tablets with the names of students receiving University Honors in 1925. A new tablet is hung in the Main Library each year. Inscription on the Bronze Tablets recognizes sustained academic achievement by undergraduate students at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. According to the Student Code, students must have at least a 3.5 cumulative grade point-average through the academic term prior to graduation, and rank in the top three percent of the students in their graduating class.
Planting progress and implications for corn and soybean acreage
URBANA, Ill. – Since the release of the March 31 Prospective Plantings report and the April World Agricultural Supply report, the corn and soybean markets turn their focus to spring planting. According to a University of Illinois agricultural economist, the pace of planting reveals expectations that delays in planting may influence acreage decisions.
“Recent rainfall totals in Corn Belt and Plains states and forecasts for a wetter pattern in western and northern areas of the Corn Belt instigated the annual discussion of the acreage implications of corn and soybean planting progress,” says Todd Hubbs. “The shift to soybean planting intentions and away from feed grains makes the pace of planting of interest this crop year.”
The Prospective Plantings Report indicated farmer’s intentions to plant 89.5 million acres of soybeans in 2017. The 6 million-acre increase in soybean acres over 2016 came at the expense, in many states, of feed grains. When considering corn, sorghum, oats, and barley, the total acreage reduction for feed grain planting intentions indicates approximately 5.6 million fewer acres of feed grains planted in 2017. Corn planting intentions came in at 90 million acres, which is 4 million acres below 2016 levels. The most recent Crop Progress Report for the week ending April 9 indicated 3 percent of the corn crop planted, which is on par with the pace of planting over the past five years. Hubbs says continued rain in many areas points to delays in corn planting in many states and merits investigation into the possibilities associated with late planting on acreage decisions.
Any ability to characterize late or early planting at a national level creates complications due to geographic variation. Previous work by Irwin, Good, and Tannura suggests late planting in the major producing states that impacts national average yield occurs after May 20 for corn and after May 30 for soybeans. Hubbs says this timeframe for considering late planting draws support from planting date studies conducted in Illinois over a decade.
“Using this definition, we look at the past 20 years, since the Freedom to Farm era began, of crops planted late to determine any impact on acreage decisions at the national level,” Hubbs says. The portion of the crops planted late ranged from 4 percent (2012) to 21 percent (2011) for corn and 6 percent (2012) to 43 percent (2011) for soybeans. “For the five years since 1997 with the smallest and largest percentages of the crops planted late, we conduct an examination of how the final estimate of planted acreage differed from intentions reported in the USDA's March Prospective Plantings report. Due to a tie for the fifth position for largest late-planted percentage in corn, six observations are used in calculations.”
In years with the smallest percentage of late-planted crop, corn planted acreage exceeded intentions in four years and was less than intentions in one year. Deviations from planting intentions ranged from -691,000 to 1.9 million acres and averaged 939,400 acres. In one of the four years that corn acreage exceeded intentions, soybean acreage exceeded intentions as well. In the five years with the smallest percentage of late-planted soybean crop, planted acreage exceeded intentions in one year and was less than intentions in four years. The deviation from intentions ranged from -2.4 million acres to 3.3 million acres and averaged -591,800 acres.
In the years with the largest percentage of late planted corn acreage, planted acreage was less than intentions in four years and exceeded intentions in two years. Deviations from planting intentions ranged from -1.9 million to 1.4 million acres and averaged -224,000 acres. In the five years with the largest percentage of late planted soybean acreage, planted acreage was less than intentions in two years and exceeded intentions in three years. Deviations from planting intentions ranged from -1.6 million to 1.4 million acres and averaged 300,000 acres.
“Producers possess the ability to plant very quickly and still have more than a month to plant corn and six weeks to plant soybeans before planting is considered late by our definition,” Hubbs says. “Currently, the concern is the potential delay in corn planting, which may create an incentive to switch to soybean acres and exacerbate the large switch in acreage seen in the planting intentions report.
“Observations since 1997 suggest that there is a tendency for corn acreage to exceed intentions in years when a small percentage of the crop is planted late,” Hubbs concludes. “The large variation in the direction and magnitude of acreage deviations from intentions makes it difficult to form expectations on corn acreage for 2017. Deviations in planted acreage of soybeans from intentions provide no clear indication of acreage adjustment based on the lateness of planting.”
University of Illinois Agronomy Day turns 60 in 2017
URBANA, Ill. – The 60th annual Agronomy Day will be held at the University of Illinois on Thursday, Aug. 17. Equipment and crop varieties may have changed, but the goal of Agronomy Day has been consistent since its inception in 1957: to communicate cutting-edge research results that will benefit the Illinois farming community.
"Agronomy Day provides direct connections among the agricultural grower, the consumer, and the research scientist," says Bob Dunker, agronomist and former superintendent of the Crop Sciences Research and Education Center, and chairperson for Agronomy Day. “Making these connections advances the goal of feeding our growing population across the globe.”
Agronomy Day was held in a new location in 2016, and the South First Street Facility will host the event again this year. The facility is located at 4202 South 1st Street in Savoy. Directions are on the Agronomy Day website.
“Last year’s attendees told us they liked the new location,” Dunker says. “We got some feedback and will be making improvements so that the event is an even bigger success this year.”
Experts will discuss a variety of topics from soil fertility to insect management, crop production, weed control, corn and soybean genetics, plant diseases, farm economics, and agricultural engineering. Field tours depart at 7 a.m. from the main tent, making continuous stops at research plots throughout the event.
Attendees will have an opportunity to hear from Kimberlee Kidwell, new dean of the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences, with her vision for the direction of the college. New faculty in the Department of Crop Sciences may also be on hand to say hello.
Exhibits by ACES programs, commercial vendors, research posters, and student clubs will be on display in the “big” tent. Lunch will be available for a nominal charge.
Dietary supplement may enhance dairy cattle health and reproductive capacity
- Dairy cattle diets are often deficient in the essential amino acid methionine; supplements have been shown to increase milk production and protein concentration.
- A new study shows that rumen-protected methionine supplements can change gene expression in the ovarian follicle, potentially leading to shorter time between ovulation events.
- Methionine supplements also decrease expression of genes related to inflammation in the cells of the ovarian follicle.
URBANA, Ill. – Animal scientist Phil Cardoso knew that milk protein increases when dairy cows are fed the amino acid methionine, but he suspected that the supplement might have additional health benefits.
“I wondered, ‘Is that the only thing methionine is doing?’” the University of Illinois assistant professor says. “If I’m eating well, am I just going to put on more muscle, or am I going to be healthier overall? It’s good to look at the protein in milk, but I wanted to see if other things are changing, such as reproduction.”
Last year, Cardoso and a team of collaborators discovered that methionine supplementation may increase embryo survival in dairy cows. But he had more questions. For example, can methionine speed up the amount of time between calving and ovulation? And does it affect gene expression in ovarian follicles?
The team measured follicle growth over time, with the idea that follicles that are quicker to reach a certain diameter might release oocytes sooner. However, cows that had been fed rumen-protected methionine did not technically produce bigger follicles faster than cows that were not supplemented with the amino acid. That is, the analysis did not show a statistical difference, but Cardoso saw a pattern.
“Follicles in methionine-fed cows did appear to be a little bigger than the others prior to ovulation. I’d like to repeat the experiment with more cows on a commercial farm to see if the difference would be more substantial,” Cardoso says.
What the study did show conclusively was that certain genes were expressed at different rates in ovarian follicles from cows that were supplemented with methionine. Two of those genes stood out.
A gene necessary for synthesis of estrogen and other hormones was higher in follicles from animals that received methionine. “If a cow can produce more estrogen, she is going to come in heat faster, and may get pregnant more easily,” Cardoso explains.
The team also found evidence that methionine supplementation could make cows and calves less susceptible to disease. A gene associated with inflammation and cancer potential, known as tumor necrosis factor, was lower in the ovarian follicular cells of animals that were supplemented with methionine.
Cardoso says there is more work to do before he would advise dairy producers to use the supplement to speed up cows’ ovulation cycles or to avoid inflammation, although he can’t point to any negative impacts from using methionine for other reasons.
One of the team’s next steps will be to complete analysis from uterine samples collected from the same cows, with the aim of learning how cows’ ovarian follicles, embryos, and uterine tissues communicate.
The article, “Effects of rumen-protected methionine and choline supplementation on steroidogenic potential of the first postpartum dominant follicle and expression of immune mediators in Holstein cows,” is published in Theriogenology. Cardoso’s collaborators include D.A.V. Acosta, M.I. Rivelli, C. Skenandore, Z. Zhou, D.H. Keisler, D. Luchini, and M.N. Correa. The research was supported by Adisseo.
Pork industry favored by strong demand
URBANA, Ill. – Hog prices are expected to increase in 2017 even with 3 percent more pork production. Prices will be supported by stronger demand because of a growing U.S. economy and by a robust 8 percent growth in exports as projected by USDA. According to Purdue University Extension economist Chris Hurt, new packer capacity is also expected to contribute to stronger bids for hogs. Feed costs will be the lowest in a decade and total production costs are expected to be at decade lows.
“The recently updated USDA inventory report found the nation’s breeding herd was 1 percent larger than the herd of a year ago,” Hurt says. “This continues a rebuilding of the herd that began in 2014 as feed prices began to move sharply lower and the industry began to recover from pig losses due to PED. The national breeding herd has increased by 4 percent since 2014.”
Notable expansions of the breeding herd in the past three years have occurred in Missouri (25 percent); Ohio (9 percent); Illinois (8 percent); and Indiana, Nebraska, and Oklahoma (each up 4 percent). Farrowing intentions are up 1 percent for this spring and slightly below year previous levels for this coming summer.
Producers indicated to USDA that they had 4 percent more animals in the market herd, reflecting 4 percent higher farrowings last fall, a 3 percent increase in winter farrowings and a 1 percent increase in the number of pigs per litter.
“Given these numbers, pork supplies are expected to rise by 5 percent in April and May and then drop to a 4-percent increase for June through August,” Hurt says. “Three percent more pork can be expected for September through November of 2017 with supplies up 1 percent this coming winter compared to year-previous levels.”
Live hog prices averaged about $46 last year with losses estimated at $11 per head. Hurt says prices are expected to be $3 to $4 higher this year. Live hog prices averaged about $50 per hundredweight in the first quarter of 2017. Prices for the second and third quarters are expected to average in the very low $50s. Prices will likely be seasonally lower in the fourth quarter and average in the mid-$40s. If so, prices would average near $49 for the year and be slightly under projected total costs of production with $1 of loss per head. This is basically a forecast for a breakeven year with all costs being covered, including labor costs and equity investors receiving a normal rate of return.
According to Hurt, current expectations are for feed prices to remain low in 2017, but with corn prices increasing into 2018. On a calendar year basis, U.S. corn prices received by farmers averaged $6.67 per bushel in 2012 (unweighted by marketings). Those prices fell to $3.48 per bushel in the 2016 calendar year and are expected to be only a few cents higher in 2017. Current prospects are for corn to be 20 cents to 30 cents per bushel higher in calendar year 2018 due to sharp reductions in 2017 U.S. acreage.
Soybean meal averaged $478 per ton in 2014 (high protein, Decatur, Illinois), but is expected to average only $315 per ton in 2017, the lowest calendar-year price since 2010. Total feed costs per hundredweight are expected to be the lowest in a decade dating back to 2007.Total costs of production may reach 10-year lows.
Hurt says the estimated total costs of production reached $67 per live hundredweight in 2012 driven by high feed prices. For calendar year 2017 that may drop to $49.50, which is the lowest estimated total costs of production since 2007 and would represent 10-year lows.
What are the potential shadows for the industry this year?
“The first is that meat and poultry competition will be high,” Hurts says. “In addition to 3 percent more pork, beef production is expected to be up 4 percent and poultry production up 2 percent. There is simply a lot of competition for the consumers’ food dollars.
“Second, the optimism for the U.S. economy that has been present in early 2017 could falter,” Hurt continues. “This optimism is related to a stronger job market, low unemployment, and record-seeking stock market indexes. The anticipated stimulus package of the new administration has likely been a contributor. Time will tell if Congress can agree on this legislation and move it from anticipation to reality. In addition, the FED is likely to continue a series of interest rate increases to slow growing inflation pressures.”
Decade-low feed cost is an important reason pork producers are expected to almost cover all of their costs this year, Hurt says. Weather in the U.S. and in the Northern Hemisphere will be important in the final determination of yields and feed prices.
“The industry needs to keep expansion of the breeding herd to near 1 percent each year,” Hurt says. “This 1 percent increase along with about 1 percent higher weaning rates means the industry can increase pork production about 2 percent a year. That is sufficient to cover a 1 percent growth in domestic population and about 1 percent annual growth needed to expand exports. Growth of the breeding herd at more than 1 percent could shift the industry back into losses.”