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Robust beef expansion will slow

Published February 1, 2016

URBANA, Ill. – The latest USDA cattle report shows a rapid expansion is underway with cattle and calf numbers up 3 percent and beef cow numbers up 4 percent in the past year. According to Purdue University Extension economist Chris Hurt, record-high cattle prices in the last half of 2014 and first half of 2015 raised excitement among beef cow producers.

“They heard the market’s expansion call,” Hurt said. “During that 12-month period, Nebraska finished steer prices averaged $162 per hundredweight. Since May 2015, cattle prices have fallen sharply and averaged just $126 in the final quarter of 2015.

“Further evidence of the rapid expansion is shown in the 3 percent increase in the number of beef heifers being retained to be added to the cow herd. In addition, the number that is expected to calve in 2016 is up 6 percent,” he said.

Hurt said the beef expansion is widespread across the country as all regions increased their beef cow numbers. However, leading the expansion have been the Central and Southern Plains states with 60 percent of the nation’s total expansion over the past two years. Drought in those regions through 2013 had been an additional reason for massive reductions of beef cow numbers. “Some of the current expansion in those regions represents restocking as the grass returned.”

The Southern Plains is the nation’s largest beef cow region, expanding by 9 percent over the past two years. Other important beef cow regions and their magnitude of beef cow expansion over the past two years are: the Central Plains up 5 percent; the Western Corn Belt up 5 percent; the Eastern Corn Belt up 5 percent; the Southeast up 1 percent; and the Northern Plains up 1 percent.

According to Hurt, feeder cattle supplies will be rising as well. The number of steers and heifers weighing over 500 pounds that are not being retained for breeding purposes is up 4 percent. This is a sizable increase in the feeder cattle supply that can go into feedlots and therefore add to slaughter supplies in the last half of 2016 and 2017.

With the industry two years into beef cow expansion, the question is, how long will this expansion phase last?”

“Historically, beef cattle expansions lasted five to six years,” Hurt said. “However, history is not likely to be a very good guide on this cycle. The reasons are that the current expansion has already been quick and of large magnitude. The profit outlook for brood cow operations is already providing much less incentive than a year ago. And, with beef production in the rest of the world also expanding, other countries are able to ship increasing supplies of beef to the U.S. and to our foreign buyers.  Finally, U.S. pork and poultry supplies are also expanding rapidly providing heightened competition. My best guess is that U.S. cow numbers will continue to rise for only one or two more years, making this a relatively short expansion phase of three or four years,” Hurt said.

Available beef supplies in 2015 were higher than had been anticipated at the start of the year. USDA inventory data one year ago indicated that the number of cattle available for slaughter would be down about 5 percent.

“In reality, the amount of beef available in the U.S. in 2015 was actually up 1 percent,” Hurt said. “How did we go from 5 percent lower slaughter numbers to 1 percent more beef? The answer is in higher weights and in higher beef imports. Each added about 3 percentage points and thus the amount of beef available was up 1 percent. 

“For 2016, beef production is expected to rise by 4 percent,” Hurt continued. “However, USDA analysts believe that trade, particularly beef imports, will be down this year. That is possible because beef prices will be lower and will provide less incentive for large imports. A counter argument is that the exchange rate of the U.S. dollar is currently stronger than for most of 2015. The dollar is particularly strong versus Brazil who is the second largest world beef exporter. These relationships at least suggest some uncertainty for U.S. beef trade in 2016.”

Hurt said the live cattle futures market is not optimistic for finished cattle prices. An estimate of 2016 finished cattle prices derived from current futures suggest yearly averages of around $125. This compares with actual prices of $126 for calendar 2013, $155 in 2014, and $148 in 2015.

The annual 2016 pattern of prices from these estimates for the four quarters of 2016 are $132, $128, $117, and $120 in the final quarter.

“Live cattle futures have had extreme volatility in the past two years, so their accuracy at predicting forward prices should be suspect,” Hurt said. “However, live cattle futures are the hedging mechanism for cattle feeders and must therefore be taken as the current opportunity to forward contract finished cattle prices.”

Steer calves weighing 500 to 550 pounds at Oklahoma City reached record-high prices in May 2015 at $290 per hundredweight. By December, those prices had fallen to $194, a level that provides only modest profits above total costs of production, and therefore small incentives for continued brood cow expansion.

“The current futures market estimate of 2016 finished cattle prices might provide prices for those Oklahoma City calves of $185 to $205,” Hurt said. “This would probably signal small potential profits above all costs. Under this price situation the industry would continue further beef cow expansion plans this year, with the expansion phase more likely to begin leveling off in 2017.”


U of I conference explores nutrition, health, and gender in Sub-Saharan Africa

Published February 1, 2016

As the United Nations standing committee on nutrition states, “Malnutrition in all its forms amounts to an intolerable burden not only on national health systems but the entire cultural, social and economic fabric of nations, and is the greatest impediment to the fulfillment of human potential.”

The gendered dimensions of roles, resources, rights, and responsibilities in a society have a critical impact on health and nutritional opportunities and outcomes. To explore the range of disciplinary perspectives on the relationship between gender and health in Sub-Saharan Africa, with a particular emphasis on nutrition and the role of agriculture, a two-day international conference on Nutrition, Health and Gender in Sub-Saharan Africa took place at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign this past November. The range of topics included access and equity in agriculture and agricultural services, the role and impact of micro-finance, empowerment, opportunities for big data, maternal-child health, and gender-based violence.

Both presenters and attendees left with new ideas, an expanded network of people to collaborate with, and papers to add to their libraries. The conference was well attended with 17 presenters and an average of 66 participants at each session. Speakers included: Margaret Mangheni, Makarere University, Uganda; Adolphus Johnson, Njala University, Sierra Leone; and Amparo Palacios-Lopez, World Bank, as well as several professors from the University of Illinois and keynote speaker Cheryl Doss, Yale University.

Resources such as presentations, photos, and more details can be found here:

The ACES Office of International Programs co-sponsored this event.

News Source:

Katy Heinz

AgReliant Genetics gift allows for updated state-of-the-art instructional space

Published January 29, 2016

URBANA, Ill. – As new methods of instruction and analysis dramatically change teaching and research in crop improvement, students at the University of Illinois in the crop sciences and natural resources and environmental sciences departments will soon have the opportunity to learn in a more modern space in Turner Hall.  A recent gift from AgReliant Genetics will make the complete renovation of an outdated lecture hall into a state-of-the art instructional space possible.

“The University of Illinois has always been an excellent source for both plant breeding research and agronomic training,” said Dr. Tom Koch, AgReliant Genetics vice president of research. “AgReliant Genetics is excited to play a part in this project by creating a unique learning environment for students and developing a closer relationship with the university.”

Plans for the new centrally located first floor lecture hall feature modern electronic and presentation capabilities. New lighting and furniture will also be added to the tiered room, one of Turner Hall’s most heavily utilized spaces.

The upgrades will replace outdated technology and furnishings first added when Turner Hall was built in 1963. No significant educational upgrades have been made to the facility since its construction.

“Turner Hall is the center for agricultural research and education in crop and soil sciences at the University of Illinois,” said Robert Hauser, dean of the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences. “This project allows us to transition from today’s outdated traditional classroom to a state‐of‐art space that is critical to our goal of remaining a premier university where learning, discovery, and engagement are enhanced by the very spaces in which those goals occur.

“The renovated space will enhance the learning environment and enable students to visualize the rewarding careers in agriculture that await them,” he added.

Design of the space is underway, with construction planned for 2017.

Turner Hall is named for Jonathan Baldwin Turner who was instrumental in establishing the University of Illinois and the Morrill Act, which created land grant universities. The Turner Hall Transformation Project is renovating all teaching laboratories and classrooms in the building. The project has met over 80 percent of its fundraising goal of $5 million. These private gifts help leverage campus-based funding, now totaling an additional $16 million, bringing the total investment in Turner Hall classroom/teaching lab renovations to $21 million.

Make 2016 the year of less stress

Published January 28, 2016

URBANA, Ill. - Lately, it may seem many people are experiencing stress. Loved ones to care for, events to plan, finances to balance, and paperwork to complete are just a few of the culprits behind stress, says a University of Illinois Extension family life educator.

“No one can prevent stress, and a little bit can actually be good for you because it can motivate and help you get things accomplished,” says Cheri Burcham. “But too much of it and for prolonged periods of time is unhealthy and can even cause us to age faster.”

Burcham explains that chronic stress can cause psychological complaints like anxiety and depression, and physical complaints like headaches, fatigue, muscle aches, and even ulcers and high blood pressure.

“Studies show that chronic stress can even reduce the volume of the brain which results in impaired thinking and emotional regulation,” she says.  

While we can’t prevent stress, Burcham says we can learn to manage it. “There are a variety of ways to relieve stress, and what might work for some, may not work for others. Some people might require something that provides more of a physical outlet like cleaning the house, gardening, or running. Others may find listening to music, reading a book, or taking a warm bath more beneficial. 

“There are those that find activities like crocheting or doing puzzles engage them and take the focus off their concerns. Rewarding or pampering one’s self with a massage, pedicure, or a nice dinner is another route people choose for relaxation,” the educator says.

Mindfulness meditation is also becoming an increasingly popular way to decrease stress, increase focus, and appreciate the moment. “Taking a few minutes to focus only on the present moment, and on your breathing, is something that everyone is able to do. It can be done alone or with others as part of a class,” Burcham suggests.

Volunteering is also another great stress buster. Being able to help others not only makes people feel good, but also takes the focus off their own concerns.

Burcham adds that talking with a trusted family member or friend or journaling about your feelings and concerns are also ways to help deal with difficult emotions that may be causing stress.

“Remember that chronic stress left unchecked can be unhealthy, so take the time to ‘de-stress’ in a way that works for you,” she says. “Over time, you will be glad you did.”

For more information on mindfulness and stress reduction, contact a University of Illinois Extension family life educator at or check out the Family Files Blog at

New models better predict field working days

Published January 28, 2016
Wet field
Wet spring conditions make planting difficult. New models developed by U of I researchers improve prediction of field working days. Photo courtesy of Adam Davis.
  • Farmers and risk managers rely on accurate predictions of soil workability to plan field working days, but weather variability is making predictions less reliable.
  • New models, developed by University of Illinois researchers, provide a way for farmers and risk managers to make more accurate predictions of field working days.
  • The models improve field working day estimates from early spring through mid-summer, encompassing a wide variety of field operations, including soil preparation, planting and pest management applications.

URBANA, Ill. – Farmers and crop insurers depend on seasonal predictions of weather and soil workability to select appropriate cultivars, make decisions about planting and harvest dates, forecast yield, and determine risk. However, climate change-induced weather variability is making it harder to predict workable conditions for crop production systems. University of Illinois researchers developed new models that improve the ability to forecast field working days, even under changing climatic conditions. 

“On any given day, a farmer is going to know very precisely whether the soil is going to be workable,” says U of I ecologist Adam Davis. “What we’re trying to do is take that ‘farmer sense’ and convert it into something measurable and predictable.”

Field working day prediction models are primarily useful in risk assessment.

“These models examine the relationship between management timing and factors such as changing climate, machinery selection, or simply year-to-year weather variability. An unbiased model is required to appropriately quantify these risks.”

One of the models, which was based on 52 years of Illinois soil moisture data and weekly field working day data, eliminated systematic prediction biases at the state level and significantly reduced them at the crop reporting district level. This model could be applied to regions outside Illinois, since USDA working day reports are available for most other states.

The errors that existed in earlier field working day predictions occurred most frequently in April and May, an interval that previous predictions suggested would be favorable for planting. In recent years, however, April and May have been substantially wetter compared with the 30-year average.

“Going forward, if there are going to be more really wet days in mid-April through mid-May, that’s going to greatly reduce the chances of timely corn planting. If you reduce the chance of timely planting, you’re suddenly looking at more of an overlap between the anthesis-silking interval of corn and drought periods in the summer,” Davis notes. 

Climate models predict warmer, wetter springs and drier, hotter summers. Since publishing this study, the team has integrated future climate scenarios like these into their field working day models. This will eventually allow them to make more specific recommendations to Illinois farmers, extension specialists, and risk managers. 

"Optimization of agricultural field workability predictions for improved risk management," appears in Agronomy Journal. Lead author Bradley Tomasek is now in a Ph.D.  program at Duke University. Co-authors Marty Williams and Adam Davis are Research Ecologists with the USDA Agricultural Research Service, and faculty members in the UIUC Crop Sciences Department. Funding was provided by the USDA Agricultural Research Service.

The article is available online at

News Source:

Adam Davis, 217-333-9654