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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

NRES' Manuel Colón Wins Award at 30th Annual Celebration of Diversity

Published November 12, 2015
graphic for 30th annual celebration of diversity at the University of Illinois

Manuel Colón, Undergraduate Recruiter for NRES, recently won an award during the 30th annual Celebration of Diversity at the University of Illinois. He was awarded the Larine Y. Cowan "Make a Difference" award for Advocacy for LGBTQ Affairs. Manuel received an engraved crystal placque during the awards ceremony.

Manuel, originally from Chicago, first joined the Illinois campus as an undergraduate student in 2006, where he led efforts to organize and advocate for diversity and social justice through University Housing in his roles as a Resident Advisor and Multicultural Advocate. He returned to campus in 2013 as an Undergraduate Recruiter for NRES. As of Fall 2014, he was selected to serve on the Chancellor and Provost Committee on LGBTQ Concerns. Though a new member to the group, he has taken on key leadership roles. His work has successfully created the University's first, official LGBTQ employee affinity group, Out @ Illinois. At the 2015 Lavender Congratulatory, he was awarded the Faculty and Staff Leadership Award for his "...desire to improve the climate for the LGBTQ people on campus." This past September,  he organized a University of Illinois contingency in the Champaign-Urbana Pride parade.

Keynote speaker for the event was Edward Feser, Interim Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs.

Click here to view the video about Manuel's award

Click here to view Manuel's profile on the NRES website.


News Source:

Office of Diversity, Equity, and Access

Considerations for weed management in 2016

Published November 12, 2015

URBANA, Ill. – Even with all the time and resources that were expended to control weeds in 2015, weeds will once again be a foe in Illinois fields in 2016, said University of Illinois weed scientist Aaron Hager. 

As weed management practitioners begin to contemplate plans and programs for next season, Hager recently published a four-part blog series on weed management over the past year that could provide helpful information for the 2016 season.

In the series, Hager points out that weather patterns during portions of the 2015 growing season once again demonstrated the trouble with weed management programs that rely exclusively on one tool or tactic, he said. 

“These perils were often highlighted in soybean fields not treated with soil-residual herbicides. Applications of post-emergence herbicides were often delayed by frequent precipitation and persistently wet field conditions until well beyond the point when weed interference began to reduce soybean yield,” he explained.

Hager added that this provides a reminder of a very important central tenet of weed management: resources expended to keep weeds under control do not increase crop yield. “Increases in crop yields are accomplished though plant breeding,” he said. “Weed management, on the other hand, preserves the genetic yield potential achieved through breeding.”

Put another way, Hager said weeds and crop plants require the same resources for growth.  Any resource consumed by competing weeds becomes a resource unavailable for the crop to use to express its genetic yield potential. “Once weed interference has persisted long enough to adversely impact crop yields, nothing can restore the lost yield,” he added.

Aside from weather challenges, Hager said that lower commodity prices have many contemplating ways to reduce input costs in 2016. He explained that there are several viable options to reduce herbicide costs, but cautioned that hybrids and varieties, even those with the highest yield potential, will not realize their yield potential if weeds are not adequately and timely controlled. 

“Keep in mind, especially while planning 2016 weed management programs, that wise investments to manage weeds before interference reduces crop yields will realize a return through more bushels harvested at the end of the growing season,” Hager said.  “An investment in high-yielding hybrids and varieties should be coupled with an investment in weed management that adequately protects yield potential.”

Another continuing problem is the common occurrence of herbicide-resistant weed populations across most areas of Illinois. Waterhemp and horseweed (marestail) are the two most common herbicide-resistant weed species in Illinois, and observations during 2015 suggest these species are likely to remain prevalent in 2016, Hager said.

Approximately 1,700 waterhemp samples (representing 338 fields) were submitted to the University of Illinois Plant Clinic in 2015 for herbicide resistance screening. Although summary data for these samples are not yet available, Hager said the sheer number of samples submitted suggests herbicide-resistant waterhemp continues to be a significant management challenge for farmers. 

“Waterhemp plants and/or populations resistant to herbicides from more than one site-of-action group are not uncommon, and we anticipate this phenomenon will continue. Data from 2014 indicated resistance occurred in close to 90 percent of the fields sampled, and multiple resistance to glyphosate and PPO inhibitors was confirmed in 52 percent of the fields sampled,” he added.

The continuing challenges on agronomic cropping systems by weed populations resistant to various herbicides has led to renewed interest in utilizing multiple modes of herbicide action in weed management programs. 

“Articles written about and advertisements for products that contain multiple modes of action populate many farm media publications,” Hager said. “But simply because a herbicide premix or tankmix combination includes herbicides representing more than one mode of action, this doesn’t necessarily mean that each component in the premix or tankmix will be effective against the target weed species of greatest concern.  

“There are many instances when multiple modes of action and ‘effective’ modes of action are not synonymous,” he added.

Hager expands on these and other issues related to successful weed management in a four-part blog series on the Bulletin, the U of I pest management and crop development website.

News Source:

Aaron Hager, 217-333-4424

Better understanding of calcium absorption helps in forming better pig diets

Published November 11, 2015

URBANA, Ill. – The majority of the calcium in swine diets is included in the form of supplements because most plant ingredients are low in calcium. Formulating diets based on values for total calcium fails to take into account how well the calcium in the diet is digested and absorbed from the intestinal tract, which makes it difficult to determine how much calcium is needed in the diets. However, recent research at the University of Illinois is adding to the industry's understanding of calcium digestibility.

Hans H. Stein, a U of I professor of animal sciences, and his lab conducted an experiment to determine the effect of microbial phytase on the digestibility of calcium in a number of commonly used calcium supplements. In this way, they hoped to gain more data on exactly how much of a given supplement should be included in diets.

"Most calcium supplements are inexpensive, so in that sense, the cost of overfeeding isn't high," Stein said. "However, excess calcium can interfere with the absorption of more expensive nutrients. A better understanding of calcium metabolism will help producers know how much calcium they need to feed and help them avoid waste."

Phytate is a compound commonly found in plant ingredients that can bind to calcium and inhibit its digestibility. Microbial phytase, an enzyme that breaks down phytate, can be produced using microbes and added to pig diets. This experiment examined the effect of microbial phytase on the digestibility of calcium in a number of commonly used calcium supplements.

The researchers fed growing pigs diets containing monocalcium phosphate (MCP), dicalcium phosphate (DCP), calcium carbonate, calcium derived from the seaweed Lithothamnium calcareum, or a high-calcium sugar beet co-product called Limex. Each ingredient was fed both without and with phytase added to the diet.

Regardless of whether or not phytase was added to the diets the apparent total tract digestibility (ATTD) and the standardized total tract digestibility (STTD) of calcium was greatest in diets containing MCP. In diets with no added phytase, the STTD of Ca was 76.68 percent in the MCP diets, 72.68 percent for DCP, 67.40 percent for Limex, 65.36 percent for L. calcareum calcium, and 64.04 for diets containing calcium carbonate.

For most calcium sources, the apparent and standardized total tract digestibility of calcium increased by 2 to 7 percentage points if microbial phytase was added to the diets. "This indicates that phytate in corn was binding to calcium from the supplements," Stein explained.

He added that formulating diets based on standardized total tract digestible calcium will yield the best results.

"You need to know not just the total calcium in the diet, but how much of that calcium is absorbed by the pig. We recommend using STTD calcium values to determine the digestibility because STTD values for calcium in each ingredient are additive in a mixed diet, which means that the digestibility of calcium in the mixed diets can be predicted from the values obtained for each ingredient,” he said.

Funding for the research was provided by AB Vista of Marlborough, UK.

"Effects of microbial phytase on apparent and standardized total tract digestibility of calcium in calcium supplements fed to growing pigs," was co-authored by Caroline González-Vega of the University of Illinois and Carrie Walk of AB Vista. It was published in a recent edition of the Journal of Animal Science and is available online at

Waiting for higher corn and soybean prices

Published November 9, 2015

URBANA, Ill. – Corn and soybean producers have not priced a relatively large portion of 2015 crops. These crops are being held in open storage, either on the farm or in commercial facilities or in the form of basis contracts or delayed pricing contracts. According to a University of Illinois agricultural economist, producers have judged that there is potential for higher prices, or at least a small risk of lower prices, as the marketing year progresses.

“The strategy of waiting on higher prices after harvest was generally successful last year but required some timely pricing,” said Darrel Good. “Using central Illinois as an example, the average cash price of corn at interior elevators was $3.09 in October 2014 and $3.74 in December 2014. Daily prices ranged from $2.80 in October to $3.90 in December. Prices generally moved lower during the winter and early spring of 2015, but recovered to an average of $3.85 in July 2015.The extreme daily high in July was $4.15, but the price declined below $3.50 by the end of the month. For soybeans, the average cash price was $9.40 in October 2014 and $10.23 in December 2014. Daily prices ranged from $8.82 in October to $10.41 in December. Like corn prices, soybean prices were lower in the winter and early spring of 2015, but recovered to an average of $10.10 in July, with a daily high of $10.36.”

Good said that last year part of the increase in cash prices in central Illinois, as well as most other areas, resulted from a strengthening of the basis after harvest.

The cash price of corn in October 2014 was about 72 cents under July 2015 futures.The basis strengthened to about -38 cents in December and -12 cents in July. The seasonal increase in the basis totaled about 60 cents. Similarly, the July soybean basis strengthened from -50 cents in October to -25 cents in December and -10 cents in July for a total increase of 40 cents.

“Such a large increase in the corn and soybean basis is not expected this year because the basis is already quite strong,” Good said. The average central Illinois basis (relative to July 2016 futures) at interior elevators is currently -28 cents for corn and -21 cents for soybeans. Higher cash prices as the season progresses this year will likely require higher futures prices.

“Judging the potential for higher corn and soybean prices starts with the sources of current ‘low’ prices,” Good said. “For both crops, current prices reflect a combination of the large 2015 U.S. harvest estimates and weak export demand that point to adequate year-ending stocks of corn and surplus soybean stocks. Higher prices could be generated by lower production estimates or an improvement in export demand. The USDA will release a new forecast of crop size on Nov.10 and a final production estimate in the second week of January. Based on planted acreage that has been reported to the USDA’s Farm Service Agency, there is some potential for the estimate of harvested acreage of both crops to be reduced from the October forecasts. Any changes, however, would likely be very modest. The production estimates could also be reduced as a result of lower yield estimates. Based on the historical pattern of USDA yield forecasts during the August through January cycle, however, lower yield forecasts would not be expected. In addition, individual yield reports over a large area this year suggest there may be more potential for increases rather than decreases in the yield forecasts.”

On the export side, the USDA has forecast 2015-16 marketing-year corn exports at 1.85 billion bushels, just 14 million bushels less than exports of last year. In the first 9.5 weeks of the marketing year, exports (weekly USDA export inspections adjusted by the September Census export estimate) were 76 million bushels less than exports during the same period last year.

“In addition, unshipped export sales as of Oct. 29 were about 170 million bushels less than those of a year ago,” Good said. For soybeans, the USDA has forecast marketing-year exports at 1.675 billion bushels, 168 million bushels less than exported last year. In the first 9.5 weeks of the year, exports exceeded those of last year by 21 million bushels.

“Unshipped export sales as of Oct. 29, however, trailed those of last year by about 310 million bushels,” Good said. “Additional export competition for U.S. soybeans could also result from a change in export policy in Argentina that resulted in lower export duties. Unless the export environment changes as a result of a weakening in the value of the U.S. dollar or production problems in the southern hemisphere, it appears that exports will struggle to reach the current USDA projections.”

Good said that nearby corn and soybean futures are currently trading just above contract lows that were established in August or September. Higher corn and soybean prices over the next two months generated by lower U.S. production estimates, an improvement in export prospects, or other positive development, cannot be ruled out. Those other developments could include a stronger-than-expected pace of domestic consumption or surprises in the USDA’s Dec. 1 stocks estimates to be released in the second week of January. However, substantial price strength is not expected, with the more likely scenario being a continuation of price weakness.

“Similar to the pattern of last year, potential for price strength is possible again during the 2016 planting and growing season in the United States,” Good said. “The ultimate demise of the currently very strong El Niño weather event may bring more than normal crop weather risk in the summer of 2016.”

News Source:

Darrel Good, 217-333-4716

News Writer:

University of Illinois Extension