URBANA, Ill. – Selecting the “perfect” Christmas tree to brighten your holiday season is simply a matter of following a few steps, said a University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator.
“Choose a spot in your home to place the tree before heading out to buy it,” said Ron Wolford. “Ask yourself a few questions. Will the tree be seen from all sides, or will some of it be against a wall?”
Remember to 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, then 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 said.
Before selecting a tree, use a tape measure to 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. Take the tape measure with you to the farm or retail lot to measure your chosen tree and bring a cord to tie your tree to the car,” he said.
Another consideration is to pick a spot away from heat sources, such as TVs, fireplaces, radiators, heaters, and air vents. “A dried-out tree is a safety hazard. Also make sure the tree is clear of doors,” he said.
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.
According to the National Christmas Tree Association, consumers should not worry about the quality of trees they can find this year no matter what the weather was like in the summer. Summer weather patterns didn't really impact trees harvested this year.
Do some research on different Christmas tree varieties. Some varieties hold needles longer or have a longer-lasting fragrance than others. Some tree varieties have stiff branches and a more open habit, making them more suitable for large ornaments.
“Choose 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,” Wolford said.
Make sure the handle or base of the tree is straight and 6 to 9 inches long so it will fit easily into your stand.
Remember that trees sold on retail lots in urban areas may have come from out of state and may have been exposed to drying winds in transit. They may have also been cut weeks earlier. Buy trees early before the best trees have been sold. Ask the retailer whether trees are delivered once at the beginning of the season or if they are delivered at different times during the selling season. Purchasing a tree from a Christmas tree farm ensures that you will have a fresh tree.
“If you are not putting the tree up right away, store it in an unheated garage or some other area out of the wind and cold (freezing) temperatures,” Wolford noted. “Make a fresh, 1-inch cut on the butt end and place the tree in a bucket of warm water. When you decide to bring the tree indoors, make another fresh 1-inch cut and place the tree in a sturdy stand that holds at least one gallon of water. Another is one quart of water for every inch of diameter of the trunk.”
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.
According to the National Christmas Tree Association, drilling a hole in the base of the trunk does not improve water uptake.
Commercially prepared mixes, aspirin, sugar, or other additives added to 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 web site “Christmas Trees and More” at www.urbanext.uiuc.edu/trees.
Why is anticipating feed and residual use of corn so difficult?
URBANA, Ill. – The timeliness of U.S. corn consumption data varies by category of use, according to a University of Illinois agricultural economist. The USDA provides weekly data on the amount of corn inspected for export with a lag of only four days. The U.S. Energy Information Administration provides weekly estimates of ethanol production (with corn as the predominant feedstock) with a lag of only five days. Data relative to the consumption of corn for other domestic processing uses is not readily available, but the rate of use is so consistent that consumption is not difficult to anticipate.
“In contrast, information relative to the consumption of corn as livestock feed is not available on a timely basis since no census or USDA survey data are collected in this category,” said Darrel Good. “Instead, the USDA’s quarterly estimate of corn stocks provides the basis for estimating feed and residual use of corn in the quarter prior to the reference date for the stocks estimate.”
Good said that feed and residual use is calculated as total use during the quarter minus the estimates of use in the other categories. The calculation of feed and residual use during the first quarter of the marketing year is used to forecast use for the rest of the marketing year, and that forecast is updated with each subsequent quarterly stocks estimate.
“The process of anticipating the magnitude of feed and residual use to be revealed by the stocks estimate and the projection of marketing-year use based on the revealed rate of use is ‘messy’ for several reasons,” Good said. “First, the residual component of feed and residual use appears to vary considerably from year to year. This is illustrated by the variation in the magnitude of feed and residual use per unit of livestock production. The USDA estimates the number of grain-consuming animal units for each corn-marketing year. That estimate is based on an estimate of the number of animals fed by species weighted by the amount of grain required per animal in each species,” Good said.
According to Good, in the previous six years, the estimate of grain-consuming animal units has ranged from 91.6 million to 95.5 million, and the magnitude of feed and residual use of corn per animal unit has ranged from 47.1 to 61.9 bushels. Some of the variation in feed and residual use of corn per grain-consuming animal unit is explained by the variation in the magnitude of feed and residual use of other grains, particularly wheat. Still, the magnitude of feed and residual use of all grains per grain-consuming animal unit has varied by 20 percent over the past six years. The USDA acknowledges this variation and attributes much of the variation to crop size, with larger residual use associated with large crops and vice versa. The large variation illustrates the difficulty of anticipating quarterly feed and residual use of corn based on estimates of the number of livestock fed during the quarter.
“A second reason for the difficulty in anticipating the magnitude of quarterly feed and residual use of corn is that apparent use during any particular quarter has varied substantially more in recent years,” Good said. “This variation has been most notable in the first and last quarters of the marketing year when estimated use is influenced by the amount of ‘new-crop’ corn that is harvested before Sept. 1. However, there has also been considerable variation in the estimates of use in the second and third quarters of the marketing year. From the 2006-07 marketing year through the 2012-13 marketing year, the estimate of feed and residual use varied by more than 500 million bushels for each quarter of the year. In contrast, the range in the seven marketing years from 1999-00 through 2005-06 did not exceed 275 million bushels for any quarter,” he said.
A third factor that Good said makes anticipating and projecting quarterly feed and residual use of corn difficult is the shift in the quarterly pattern of consumption in that category since the 2006-07 marketing year.
“With minimal variation, the quarterly distribution of marketing-year feed and residual use was very consistent from 1990-91 through 2005-06,” Good said. “Use was largest in the first quarter (as a percentage of the marketing-year total) and smallest in the fourth quarter, but that distribution did not vary much from year to year. Since then, there has been substantially more variation in the quarterly distribution of use and a general shift to a larger percentage of consumption in the first quarter and a smaller percentage in the fourth quarter of the year.
“The increased difficulty in anticipating the magnitude of quarterly feed and residual use of corn makes it difficult for the market to anticipate the USDA’s quarterly corn stocks estimates,” Good continued. “That difficulty is compounded for the Dec. 1 report since that estimate also includes any change in the production estimate not anticipated by the market. As a result, the USDA’s quarterly stocks estimates have provided some surprises in recent years, resulting in sharp price reactions. Some of that price reaction may indicate that the market has not recognized the changing pattern and increased variation in quarterly feed and residual use and is overreacting to perceived surprises. The next opportunity for a surprise will be with the estimate of Dec. 1, 2013, corn stocks to be released in the second week of January,” Good said.
Interesting facts about poinsettias
URBANA, Ill. – No flower says Christmas like the beautiful poinsettia.
Ron Wolford, a University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator, offers a few facts about this traditional Christmas plant.
Poinsettias are part of the Euphorbiaceae or Spurge family. Botanically, the plant is known as Euphorbia pulcherrima.
Many plants in the Euphorbiaceae family ooze a milky sap. Some people with latex allergies have had a skin reaction (most likely to the sap) after touching the leaves. For pets, the poinsettia sap may cause mild irritation or nausea.
“It’s probably best to keep pets away from the plant, especially puppies and kittens,” Wolford said.
The horticulture educator explained that poinsettias are not actually poisonous. “A study at The Ohio State University showed that a 50-pound child would have to eat more than 500 leaves to have any harmful effect. Plus poinsettia leaves have an awful taste. You might want to keep your pets from snacking on poinsettia leaves. Eating the leaves can cause vomiting and diarrhea,” he said.
The showy colored parts of poinsettias that most people think of as the flowers are actually colored bracts (modified leaves). Poinsettias have also been called the lobster flower and the flame-leaf flower, due to the red color.
Joel Roberts Poinsett introduced the poinsettia plant to the United States from Mexico. Poinsett was a botanist, physician and the first United States ambassador to Mexico. “In Mexico, the poinsettia is a perennial shrub that will grow 10 to 15 feet tall,” Wolford noted.
With more than 100 varieties available today, poinsettias come in colors like the traditional red, white, pink, burgundy, marbled, and speckled. The Paul Ecke Ranch in California grows over 70 percent of all poinsettias purchased in the United States and accounts for about 50 percent of the worldwide sales of poinsettias.
December 12 is National Poinsettia Day, which marks the death of Joel Roberts Poinsett in 1851.
For more information about poinsettias, visit the U of I Extension website “Poinsettia Pages” at http://urbanext.illinois.edu/poinsettia/.
Study examines nutritional value of four alternative animal protein sources for weanling pigs
URBANA, Ill. – Protein sources of animal origin provide highly digestible protein in diets for weanling pigs. Fish meal is commonly used in starter diets, but its increasingly high cost is leading producers to look for alternatives, said a researcher at the University of Illinois.
New research from the U of I is shedding light on the nutritional value of four alternative animal proteins as sources of protein and energy for weanling pigs.
"Two new animal proteins that are on the market are hydrolyzed porcine intestines and a spent hen-soybean meal mixture but there are no published nutritional values for these two ingredients. We wanted to determine the energy concentration and digestibility of amino acids in these ingredients," said Hans H. Stein, a U of I professor of animal sciences.
"We also know that the composition and processing of chicken meal and poultry by-product meal can vary so we tested those ingredients as well,” he added.
Chicken meal is prepared from clean flesh and skin of chickens with or without bone derived from the whole carcass of poultry. Poultry by-product meal is produced from the offal of slaughtered chickens and includes feet, necks, undeveloped eggs, and intestines.
Stein explained that both ingredients have been used to replace fish meal in swine diets. The other two ingredients tested were hydrolyzed porcine intestines and a mixture of hydrolyzed carcasses of spent hens and soybean meal.
Stein's lab conducted two experiments. In the first, they determined the concentration of digestible, metabolizable, and net energy in chicken meal, poultry by-product meal, hydrolyzed porcine intestines, and the spent hen–SBM mixture. In the second, they determined the standardized ileal digestibility of crude protein and amino acids in the same ingredients. Both studies included conventional soybean meal for comparison.
Results of the research demonstrated that the concentration of digestible and metabolizable energy was greatest in poultry by-product meal (5,069 and 4,586 kcal/kg DM, respectively) and hydrolyzed porcine intestines (4,702 and 4,298 kcal/kg DM).
The concentrations of digestible and metabolizable energy in spent hen-soybean meal mixture (4,419 and 4,255 kcal/kg DM), and soybean meal (4533 and 4091 kcal/kg) contained similar energy concentrations. Chicken meal (4,298 and 3,816 kcal/kg) contained the least digestible and metabolizable energy of all of the tested ingredients.
"The energy in all of the animal protein sources was well digested, but chicken meal has less fat than the other animal products and thus has a lower energy concentration," Stein said.
He added that energy concentrations in the diets will not be compromised if hydrolyzed porcine intestines or the spent hen–soybean meal mixture are used.
The digestibility of amino acids was greater in conventional soybean meal than in any of the animal protein sources tested. Of the animal protein products, the spent hen–soybean meal mixture had the greatest digestibility of amino acids. Digestibility values were similar for poultry by-product meal and chicken meal, whereas hydrolyzed porcine intestines contained the least amount of digestible amino acids.
"In general, the animal protein sources contained a high concentration of collagen, which has poor digestibility," Stein said. "The spent hen–soybean meal mixture had greater amino acid digestibility than the other animal protein sources because soy protein is highly digestible."
According to Stein, the results indicated that the spent hen-soybean meal mixture may be used as a source of digestible amino acids in diets fed to weanling pigs, though he added that this should be confirmed with growth performance studies.
The study, "Concentration of digestible and metabolizable energy and digestibility of amino acids in chicken meal, poultry byproduct meal, hydrolyzed porcine intestines, a spent hen–soybean meal mixture, and conventional soybean meal fed to weanling pigs," was recently published in the Journal of Animal Science and was co-authored by Oscar Rojas, a Ph.D. candidate in the Stein Monogastric Nutrition Laboratory at Illinois. It is available at http://www.journalofanimalscience.org/content/91/7/3220.full.
Best choices for Christmas trees
URBANA, Ill. – Pining to get this year’s Christmas tree?
“Having a little knowledge about Christmas tree varieties will make your quest for the ‘perfect’ tree an easy one,” said Ron Wolford, a University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator.
Wolford provided the following brief descriptions of popular Christmas tree varieties:
Balsam fir (Abies balsamea) – short, flat, long-lasting needles that are rounded at the tip and are 3/4 to 1-1/2 inches long; nice, dark green color with silvery cast and fragrant. Named for the balsam or resin found in blisters on bark. Resin is used to make microscope slides and was sold like chewing gum; used to treat wounds in Civil War.
Canaan fir (Abies balsamea var.phanerolepis) – soft, short, bluish to dark green needles, 1/2 to 1 1/4 inches long, needles silver on underside. Strong branches and open growing pattern. Good needle retention and fragrance.
Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) – good fragrance; holds blue to dark green; 1- to 1-1/2-inch needles; needles have one of the best aromas among Christmas trees when crushed; branches are spreading and drooping. After being cut, the Douglas fir will last three to four weeks. Named after David Douglas who studied the tree in the 1800s; good conical shape; can live for a thousand years.
Fraser fir (Abies fraseri) – dark green, flattened needles that are 1/2 to 1 inch long; good needle retention; nice scent; pyramid-shaped, strong branches that turn upward. The Fraser fir was named for botanist John Fraser who explored the southern Appalachians in the late 1700s.
Grand fir (Adies grandis) – shiny, dark green needles about 1 to 1-1/2 inches long; the needles when crushed, give off a citrusy smell. Will last three to four weeks after being cut.
Noble fir (Abies procera) – 1-inch-long needles, bluish green with a silvery appearance; has short, stiff branches; great for heavier ornaments; keeps well; used to make wreaths, door swags, and garland. With good care, the tree will last for six weeks after being cut.
Concolor fir (Abies concolor) – blue-green needles are 1/2 to 1-1/2 inches long; nice shape and good aroma, a citrus scent; good needle retention. In nature, the concolor fir can live to 350 years.
Austrian fir (Pinus nigra) – dark green needles, 4 to 6 inches long; retains needles well; moderate fragrance.
Red pine (Pinus resinosa ) – dark green, 4- to 6-inch-long needles; big and bushy.
Scotch pine (Pinus sylvestris) – most common Christmas tree; stiff branches hold heavy ornaments well; stiff, dark green, 1-inch long needles; holds needles for four weeks; needles will stay on even when dry; has open appearance and more room for ornaments; will support heavy ornaments; keeps aroma throughout the season. Introduced in the United States by European settlers.
Virginia pine (Pinus virginiana) – dark green needles are 1-1/2 to 3 inches long in twisted pairs; strong branches enabling it to hold heavy ornaments; strong aromatic pine scent; a popular southern Christmas tree.
White pine (Pinus strobus) – soft, blue-green needles, 2- to 5-inch-long needles in bundles of five; retains needles throughout the holiday season; very full appearance; little or no fragrance; less allergic reactions as compared to more fragrant trees; doesn’t hold heavy ornaments well. Largest pine in U.S.; state tree of Michigan and Maine; slender branches will support fewer and smaller decorations as compared to Scotch pine.
Blue spruce (Picea pungens) – dark green to powdery blue; very stiff needles, 3/4 to 1-1/2 inches long; good form; will drop needles in a warm room; symmetrical, but best among species for needle retention; branches are stiff and will support many heavy decorations. The blue spruce is the state tree of Utah and Colorado, and it can live in nature 600 to 800 years.
Norway spruce (Picea abies) – needles 1/2 to 1 inch long; shiny, dark green. Needle retention is poor without proper care; strong fragrance; nice conical shape. The Norway spruce is very popular in Europe.
White spruce (Picea glauca) – needles 1/2 to 3/4 inch long; green to bluish green, short, stiff needles; crushed needles have an unpleasant odor; good needle retention, holds ornaments well. The white spruce is the state tree of South Dakota.
Leyland cypress (Cupressus x leylandii) – dark green in color, no aroma, has a good shape, will not support large ornaments, very popular in the southeast United States.
“Whatever variety of Christmas tree you choose for your home, proper watering and keeping your house as moist and cool as possible will help lengthen enjoyment of your tree and safety,” Wolford said.
For more information, visit the “Christmas Trees and More” website at http://urbanext.illinois.edu/trees/.
2014 U of I Corn & Soybean Classics agenda announced
URBANA, Ill. – Registration is now open for the 2014 University of Illinois Corn and Soybean Classics.
“We look forward to welcoming back many who have attended one or more of our previous meetings and extend a warm welcome to those who will attend for the first time,” said Aaron Hager, a U of I associate professor of weed science.
The program, which runs from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. over various dates and locations throughout January 2014, will feature nine presentations that emphasize crop production, pest management, economics, and the interactions among them.
Market updates will be provided throughout the day, and communication between speakers and participants is encouraged. Question and answer sessions are scheduled for both morning and afternoon sessions.
The dates and meeting locations for the 2014 Corn & Soybean Classics are:
- Monday, Jan. 6 - Champaign iHotel and Conference Center
- Tuesday, Jan. 7 - Mt. Vernon Holiday Inn
- Friday, Jan. 10 - Springfield Crowne Plaza
- Monday, Jan. 13 - Peoria Par-A-Dice Hotel
- Tuesday, Jan. 14 - Moline iWireless Center
- Wednesday, Jan. 15 - Malta Kishwaukee College
The following list of speakers applies to each conference date. Travel schedules may require a change in the order of speakers. Program speakers and topics of discussion include:
- Jim Angel - The unusual weather of 2013 and the outlook for 2014
- Emerson Nafziger - By force or finesse: Getting soybeans to produce high yields
- Randy Nelson and Brian Diers - Managing soybean diseases and pests with genetic resistance
- Aaron Hager - Marestail: A “surprising” weed species in 2013
- Adam Davis - Palmer amaranth: A looming threat to soybean production in Illinois?
- Ken Olson - Effects of 24 years of conservation tillage systems on soil organic carbon and soil productivity
- Carl Bradley - Fungicides for corn and soybean: Does it make sense (cents)?
- Gary Schnitkey - Machinery, farm size, and profits
- Mike Gray - Results from statewide insect surveys and an update on the troublesome rootworm Injury to rotated Bt corn
A noon lunch and a proceedings booklet containing synopses of all presentations will be provided to each registrant. Advance registrations will be accepted through Dec. 7, 2013, and cost $65. Registrations received Dec. 8 – 30, and all on-site registrations are $75.00.
Register for the 2014 University of Illinois Corn and Soybean Classics at http://www.cropsciconferences.com.
For more information call 1-800-321-1296 or 217-333-4424.
Late season work in the home orchard
URBANA, Ill. - Before the ground freezes solid and it becomes too cold for working outdoors, gardeners with a home orchard should take some measures to ensure that their fruit trees survive winter in the best possible condition, said a University of Illinois Extension horticulture specialist.
Field mice can do a lot of damage over the winter by feeding on fruit trees if they are allowed to hide in the grass around the base of the tree, said Richard Hentschel.
He recommends removing all grass and weeds directly around the base of the trunk to clear several inches of open dirt.
“Cut the remaining vegetation carefully by hand if needed to discourage the mice from living there over the winter. If left tall and next to the trunk, field mice will live there all winter eating the inner bark of the trunks and the surface of roots, which can kill fruit trees,” he said.
Using a string trimmer is not recommended because the bark of younger fruit trees is thinner and easily damaged, he added.
Hentschel pointed out that mice do not like to cross open frozen ground in order to get to the fruit tree because they become easy prey for predators. “Field mice are so small that gardeners cannot effectively fence them out. Field-mice damage often goes undetected until the snow melts and then it is too late,” he said.
Rabbit damage is also seen during the winter months.
“Rabbits will eat the bark off trunks and any branches within reach, especially young fruit trees with smooth bark down to the soil line,” Hentschel said.
Damage is distinct, showing white-colored exposed plant tissue where the rabbit has chewed away the outer bark. Rabbits feed less on older fruit trees with heavier bark until the snow piles up or until there is a snowdrift that allows them to reach the lower branches, he added.
Gardeners can use a variety of mechanical barrier materials to discourage rabbit feeding. During the winter months, chicken wire can be used as adult rabbits will be too big to fit through the openings, Hentschel noted.
“The ring of chicken wire should be at least a couple of inches from the trunk and needs to be secured so the rabbits cannot lean it over to feed. If you do this early enough and work it into the bare ground you created, it will freeze in place and you will not need stakes,” he said.
Alternatives to chicken wire are plastic trunk wraps that can be easily used on younger fruit trees. For larger fruit trees, several layers of newspaper or commercial tree wraps can be used. Wrapping the trunk also provides protection for the tree from winter sun scald and possible frost cracks. Feeding deterrents can also be sprayed on the trunk and lower branches for the winter.
Another consideration frequently overlooked is soil drainage.
“Do not allow water to stand around the base of your fruit trees. For the winter months, you can fill in soil around the trunk so water and snow will not collect,” Hentschel said. “This is an ideal situation for the development of disease, which will attack the crown and roots near the trunk itself later.
He added that allowing free water to crush the bark tissue as it freezes around the trunk will cause problems as well. “Once spring returns, the soil will need removing as you prepare for the next growing season,” he said.
Herb Day 2014 set for Jan. 18
URBANA, Ill. – The featured speakers for University of Illinois Herb Day are both informative and entertaining, according to a U of I Extension herb specialist. The event will be held on Saturday, Jan. 18, from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at the Holiday Inn Hotel and Conference Center near Lincoln Avenue and I-74 in Urbana.
“This is the 15th annual Herb Day,” said Chuck Voigt, U of I Extension vegetable and herb specialist and coordinator of the event. “This year’s presenters are both knowledgeable and entertaining.”
Rosemary Gladstar, from Barre, Vermont, is the founder of Sage Mountain Herbs. She is one of the preeminent herbalists in the country today. Her books on herbs and herbalism are best sellers. At Herb Day, Gladstar’s presentations are “Herbs for Family Health,” a basic home apothecary, and “Planting the Future,” how herb gardeners can help to maintain living stocks of endangered native healing plants.
Holly Shimizu, Executive Director of the National Botanic Garden in Washington, D.C., was the first curator of the herb garden at the National Arboretum. Shimizu will give two presentations entitled “The Best of Flavor and Fragrance” and “Herb Garden Design.”
Chef Marcus Terhune, from the Urbana Holiday Inn, will provide his take on cooking with herbs. Terhune has prepared the buffets for the last two Organic Day and Herb Day lunches and enjoys incorporating herbs in the dishes he prepares.
In addition to the speakers, there will be a retail area selling a wide variety of herb, spice, and gardening products as well as books and products from the presenters.
This year online registration by credit card or check is available at http://tinyurl.com/n5n9rdg. Registration is also available by contacting Linda Harvey at 217-244-1693 or by email email@example.com.
Advance registration of $60, which includes an herb-themed lunch buffet (including vegetarian options), must be received by Jan. 10 to guarantee lunch.
On-site registration on Jan. 18 begins at 8 a.m. and will continue only as long as space allows. On-site registration does not include lunch. The first educational session begins promptly at 9 a.m.
Corn market functioning as needed?
URBANA, Ill. – Corn prices managed a small rally following the USDA’s Nov. 8 Crop Production report that contained a corn production forecast that was not quite as large as feared. Since then, however, new lows have been established and prices are currently only about 10 cents above the pre-report level.
According to University of Illinois agricultural economist Darrel Good, the recent corn market commentary has been dominated by two themes. One is that the USDA’s production estimate to be released in January will be larger than the November forecast. The second is that corn consumption for ethanol production will be negatively impacted if EPA’s preliminary rule making for the Renewable Fuels Standards (RFS) for 2014 is actually implemented. Good said that both of these expectations are questionable.
“Any change in the January corn production estimate from the November forecast would be the result of a change in either, or both, the estimate of acreage harvested for grain or the U.S. average yield,” Good said. “The November National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) planted acreage estimate was fully consistent with the USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) report of planted acreage. Over the previous 10 years, the January U.S. average yield estimate was above the November yield forecast five times and below the forecast five times. Even in the five years when the November yield forecast exceeded the September forecast, as it did this year, the January estimate was below the November forecast twice. Considering the previous 30 years, the January yield estimate was above the November forecast 16 times and unchanged or lower 14 times,” he said.
Good said that historically, the January corn production forecast was more heavily influenced by changes in acreage estimates than is currently the case because administrative data (primarily FSA-certified acreage data) were not fully incorporated in the NASS estimates until then. More recently, that data have been incorporated in the October production forecast (November this year). In the six years since 2003, in which the January production estimate exceeded the November forecast, the difference exceeded 80 million bushels of corn only in 2009 (230 million bushels). In the four years when the January production forecast was smaller than the November forecast, the difference ranged from 93 to 210 million bushels.
“Recent history suggests that there is a small probability that the January production estimate this year will be large enough to substantially alter expectations of year-ending stocks,” Good said. “The price impact of the production estimate, however, will be co-mingled with the price response to the estimate of Dec. 1, 2013, corn stocks to be released on the same day,” he said.
In preliminary rule making for 2014 announced on Nov. 15, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proposed to effectively reduce the mandate for renewable biofuels (primarily corn-based ethanol) in 2014 from the statutory requirement of 14.4 billion gallons to 13 billion gallons.
“Some have interpreted this to mean that, if implemented, the rules would result in less corn consumption for ethanol production during the current marketing year than would have otherwise occurred,” Good said. “That may or may not be the case. Without a change in the rules, blending of ethanol in the domestic motor fuel supply during the 2013-14 corn-marketing year would still have been limited by the 10 percent blend wall and consumption of relatively small quantities of higher blends. Domestic consumption would have been well short of 14.4 billion gallons and maybe less than 13.3 billion gallons.
“The proposed change in the RFS mandate does not necessarily substantially alter prospects for domestic ethanol consumption during the current corn-marketing year,” Good added. “However, as pointed out two weeks ago, domestic ethanol consumption and production will be influenced by factors beyond the mandate. In particular, consumption will be influenced by the extent to which mandates are met with physical blending versus the use of Renewable Identification Numbers (RINs) stocks. Those decisions will be influenced by the EPA’s final 2014 rule making and by the perceived risk that the rules could be successfully challenged in court,” he said.
Good said that obligated parties may choose to retain RIN inventories until these issues are sorted out. “Ethanol production will also be influenced by changes in stocks of ethanol and by the magnitude and direction of net-ethanol trade. With stocks at a four-year low, further reductions may be small. U.S. ethanol is also expected to experience a positive trade balance in the year ahead. Taken together, these factors suggest that prospects for corn consumption for ethanol production are still near the 4.9 billion bushels projected by the USDA.
“Without a meaningful increase in the U.S. production estimate in January, corn prices appear low enough to encourage the increase in consumption made possible by the large 2013 crop. U.S. corn is competitive in the world market, domestic livestock production has been returned to profitability, and ethanol production margins are large,” Good said. “As a result, export and export sales have accelerated, domestic livestock production is expanding, and ethanol production has rebounded. The corn market appears to be functioning as needed, with one exception. The large carry in the futures market price structure encourages carrying unneeded inventory into the next marketing year and also encourages producers to maintain large corn acreage in 2014,” Good said.
Let’s just harvest invasive species. Problem solved?
URBANA – Although invasive Asian carp have been successfully harvested and served on a dinner plate, harvesting invasive plants to convert into ethanol isn’t as easy. According to a recent study at the University of Illinois, harvesting invasive plants for use as biofuels may sound like a great idea, but the reality poses numerous obstacles and is too expensive to consider, at least with the current ethanol pathways.
“When the topic of potential invasion by non-native biofuel crops has been raised at conferences I’ve attended, the ecologists in the room have suggested we use biomass from existing invaders instead,” said Lauren Quinn, an invasive plant ecologist in U of I’s Energy Biosciences Institute. “They worry about the potential deployment of tens of thousands of acres of known invaders like Arundo donax for ethanol production. They’d say, ‘we have all of these invasive plants. Let’s just harvest them instead of planting new ones!’ But when I analyzed the idea from a broader perspective, it just didn’t add up.”
Quinn explored the idea of harvesting invasive plants from many angles but said that the overarching problem is the non-sustainability of the profit stream. “From a business person’s perspective, it just doesn’t function like a typical crop that is harvested and then replanted or harvested again the following year,” she said. “Here, land managers are trying to get rid of an invasive plant using an array of methods, including herbicides, so there wouldn’t necessarily be multiple years of harvest.”
Other obstacles Quinn examined are the need for specially designed harvesting equipment, the development of new conversion technologies for these unique plants, and even the problems associated with transportation.
“One of the biggest issues is the absence of appropriate biorefineries in any given area,” Quinn said. “If there isn’t one nearby, growers would have to transport the material long distances, and that’s expensive.”
Perhaps more important, Quinn discussed the issues with the high variability of the cell wall composition across different species. “Most existing or planned biorefineries can process only a single, or at best, a small handful of conventional feedstocks, and are not likely to be flexible enough to handle the variety of material brought in from invasive plant control projects,” Quinn said. “The breakdown and processing of plant tissues to ethanol requires different temperatures, enzymes, and equipment that are all highly specific. The proportion of cellulose, lignin, and other fractionation products can differ even within a single genotype if it is grown in multiple regions so the variations between completely different plant types would be an even greater hurdle.”
Quinn isn’t discounting the idea of harvesting invasive plants, however. She encourages control of invasive populations and subsequent ecological restoration but does not believe that invasive biomass can replace dedicated energy crops at present.
“One day there might be a pathway toward ethanol conversion of invasive biomass,” Quinn said. “But until we do get to that point, there may be possibilities to use invasive plants as alternative sources of energy, like combustion for electricity. Invasive biomass could drop into the existing supply of biomass being co-fired with coal in the already huge network of electrical power plants across the country. That would eliminate the technological barriers that conversion to ethanol presents.
“I’m not saying that we shouldn’t continue to look at ethanol conversion processes eventually, I’m just saying that right now, it doesn’t seem to make a lot of economic sense.”
“Why not harvest existing invaders for bioethanol?” was published in a recent issue of Biological Invasions. A. Bryan Endres and Thomas B. Voigt contributed. The research was funded by the Energy Biosciences Institute.
The Energy Biosciences Institute, funded by the energy company BP, is a research collaboration that includes the University of Illinois, the University of California at Berkeley, and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. It is dedicated to applying the biological sciences to the challenges of producing sustainable, renewable energy for the world.