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Statewide survey of first-generation European corn borer confirms exceedingly low population

Published July 14, 2015
European corn borer action site. Photo courtesy of Michael Gray.

URBANA, Ill. – A recent survey taken throughout the state by the University of Illinois Extension shows that the European corn borer population is down in Illinois.

The recent work is part of an ongoing U of I Extension integrated pest management program sponsored by the USDA National Institute for Food and Agriculture (NIFA).

The research team, led by Nick Tinsley, a crop sciences postdoctoral research associate, surveyed 28 counties between June 10 and June 22 for first-generation European corn borer injury.

Michael Gray, a U of I entomologist, explained that five cornfields were randomly selected in each county and, within each field, 100 consecutive whorl-stage plants were sampled for any signs of whorl feeding or the presence of European corn borer larvae. An action site was sampled for European corn borer moths near each field by making 100 sweeps with a standard insect sweep net.

“We characterized action sites as dense stands of tall grasses in roadside ditches or nearby waterways. Within these action sites moths congregate and mating occurs,” Gray said.

The counties and regions included in the sampling were: Bureau, Knox, Mercer, Ogle, and Whiteside (northwestern Illinois); Kane, Kankakee, LaSalle, Livingston, and McLean (northeastern Illinois); Adams, Fulton, Logan, McDonough, and Morgan (west central Illinois); Christian, Clark, Effingham, Piatt, and Vermilion (east central Illinois); Bond, Jackson, Macoupin, and St. Clair (southwestern Illinois); and Gallatin, Jefferson, Lawrence, and Massac (southeastern Illinois).

“Remarkably, no European corn borer moths were recovered at any of the 140 locations (5 fields in each of the 28 counties) in spite of making a total of 14,000 sweeps,” Gray said. “Of the 14,000 whorl-stage plants examined, only 68 had shot-holing or evidence of first-generation injury.”

The mean percentage of plants with first-generation whorl feeding by region was very low: 0.28 percent (east central); 0.56 percent (northeast); 0.64 percent (northwest); 0.75 percent (southwest); 0.25 percent (southeast); and 0.44 percent (west central).

“The extensive use of highly effective Bt hybrids and the area-wide suppression brought about by these transgenic hybrids is the primary explanation for these very low densities of European corn borers,” Gray said.

He explained that according to the USDA Economic Research Service (ERS), the use of “stacked gene varieties” accounted for 88 percent of the corn grown in Illinois during the current growing season. “The stormy weather pattern that enveloped much of Illinois during our sampling efforts also likely contributed to the poor establishment of the first generation of borers,” Gray added.

“During some of my summer meetings, a few producers mentioned they had discovered first-generation borers in their non-Bt cornfields. To some extent, this observation caught them by surprise. Although the overall European corn borer population is down across Illinois, this once-prominent insect pest flourished for decades (prior to the widespread adoption of Bt hybrids) in many cornfields each season across the Corn Belt,” Gray said.

“Where non-Bt corn is grown, European corn borers have the potential to infest these fields and cause losses. Therefore, don’t neglect to scout those fields carefully and be prepared to apply a timely rescue treatment,” he said.

Gray added that to date, there is no evidence of field-level resistance development by European corn borers to Bt hybrids.

“This is a remarkable success story nearly 20 years after the commercial release (1996) of Bt hybrids aimed at this insect,” Gray said.

Guidelines for summer food safety

Published July 14, 2015

URBANA, Ill. - Summer is a time for fun, food, and relaxation, but it is also a time when foodborne illnesses increase, according to a University of Illinois Extension, nutrition and wellness educator.

“Foodborne-related illnesses do increase during the summer months, primarily for two reasons. The reasons, however, may not be what one would typically think,” said Diane Reinhold.

In order to understand why foodborne illnesses occur, Reinhold explained that we first need to understand some of the science behind the causes of foodborne illness. The two culprits responsible for most foodborne related illnesses are bacteria and viruses.

“Bacteria are naturally present throughout our environment and can be found almost everywhere. Under the right conditions, there is a never-ending threat of bacteria quickly multiplying to unsafe numbers,” explained Reinhold, also a registered dietitian. “Viruses, on the other hand, such as Norovirus, can spread directly from person to person or by an infected person who unknowingly contaminates food or drink prepared for others

“Norovirus can survive for weeks on surfaces that it has contaminated,” she added.

If bacteria and viruses cause foodborne illnesses, why does this occur more often during the summer months?

“It is important to understand that there are ideal growing conditions for microorganisms, such as bacteria. Most bacteria that are responsible for foodborne-related illnesses, such as Clostridium perfringens (C. perfringens) and Salmonella, prefer warm temperatures and need moisture to flourish,” Reinhold explained. “Thus the heat and humidity common to Illinois summers cultivate endless opportunities for bacteria to quickly multiply to unsafe levels.”

In addition to summer’s ideal conditions for bacteria to grow, there is still yet another factor that contributes to the increase in foodborne related illnesses. Reinhold said that more people are simply busy enjoying the out-of-doors. “With more people enjoying outdoor activities, more people are also eating outdoors. Whether attending family reunions or church potlucks, grilling, camping, or enjoying the day at the beach, it is important to keep food safety in the forefront,” she cautioned.

What can you do to help prevent foodborne-related illnesses this summer?

Plan ahead. “When transporting food it is essential to find out ahead of time if there will be enough space to safely store food to prevent unsafe food temperatures, not only while traveling, but also once the destination is reached,” she said.

“If you will be traveling, use a cooler and ice packs to help keep food cold.  When storing your cooler, place it in the coldest part of the car and when you arrive at your destination, place the cooler in a cool or shaded area,” she added.

Placing a thermometer inside the cooler will help in monitoring the temperature and will indicate when temperatures have risen to unsafe levels.

Keep foods out of the “danger zone.” Bacteria can multiple quickly between the temperatures of 41 and 135 degrees. Keep hot foods at or above 135 degrees by carrying them in insulated carriers or using containers specially designed to keep food hot, Reinhold said. “Make arrangements ahead of time to keep food hot until served. When reheating foods an internal temperature of 165 degrees must be reached to be considered safe,” she added.

Do not cross contaminate. Cross contamination is the transfer of harmful microorganisms from one surface to another. “To avoid cross contamination always clean cutting boards, utensils, and counter tops with warm soapy water after each use. To prevent recontamination of foods, never replace cooked food on the same plate or cutting board that previously held raw food. This includes raw fruits or vegetables,” Reinhold explained.   

Use a food thermometer. When checking for doneness, use a food thermometer. “The use of a thermometer is the only safe and reliable way to ensure food is cooked to a temperature high enough to kill harmful microorganisms,” Reinhold said.

When checking food temperature, remove food from the heat source and insert the thermometer through the thickest part of the dish or meat, allowing it to reach the middle of the food. “Repeat this process in several different places to ensure food is cooked evenly throughout to a safe minimum internal temperature,” she said. “Avoid touching bone, fat or gristle with the thermometer probe. Remember to clean your food thermometer with hot soapy water before and after each use, to prevent cross contamination.”

Refrigerate promptly after serving. Because warm summer temperatures cause microorganisms to multiply quickly, food left unrefrigerated for more than two hours may not be safe to eat. However, when the temperature is above 90 degrees, food should not be left out for more than one hour. Therefore, refrigerate food promptly. 

“Summer is a wonderful time to enjoy eating outdoors. Protect your family, friends, and yourself from foodborne-related illnesses by practicing safe food handling,” Reinhold said.

For more information about nutrition, wellness, and safe food handling, contact Reinhold at 815-235-4125 or

News Writer:

University of Illinois Extension

Bird's the Word at the ACES Family Academy

Published July 14, 2015
Future ornithologists with Common Yellowthroat ( Geothlypis trichas)
Future ornithologists with Common Yellowthroat ( Geothlypis trichas)

On July 9-10th, the College of ACES Alumni Association hosted the first annual ACES Family Academies, a program that offered alumni and their children educational classes to take while enjoying the ACES campus.  These classes introduced participants to the variety of subject areas studied in ACES, and provided hands-on experiences with research techniques used by scientists on campus as well as in labs around the world.

The Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences (NRES) participated by offering a course titled, “Bird’s the Word:  Exploring Avian Ecology and Conservation.”  Graduate student Janice Kelly and NRES department head Dr. Jeff Brawn instructed the course and discussed how marking/banding wild birds is an important technique for monitoring avian populations.  The instructors demonstrated these techniques by catching songbirds at Phillips Tract, a local research property managed by the University of Illinois.  The participants were able to see wild birds up close while learning about the ecology and conservation concerns of many familiar birds.  The participants also learned about ongoing research projects conducted by students and faculty in NRES that use mark-recapture data for monitoring purposes.

View our FB album of additional images

News Source:

Janice Kelly

Still a lot of uncertainty about the 2015-16 corn marketing year

Published July 13, 2015

URBANA, Ill. – The USDA released new projections for the 2015-16 corn marketing year in the July 10 World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates (WASDE) report. Marketing year-ending stocks are expected to be 172 million bushels smaller and the average farm price is expected to be 25 cents higher than projected a month earlier. A University of Illinois agricultural economist says uncertainty surrounding these projections is likely greater than is normally the case for this time of year.

“Stocks of old-crop corn at the beginning of the 2015-16 marketing year are projected at 1.779 billion bushels, 97 million bushels less than the June projection and 302 million less than projected in October 2014,” said Darrel Good. “Corn consumption during the current marketing year is expected to exceed last month’s projections in all three major consumption categories.”

Good reported that the projection of feed and residual use was increased by 50 million bushels to a total of 5.3 billion in response to the smaller-than-expected inventory of corn on June 1. Use for ethanol and by-product production was increased by 25 million bushels to a total of 5.2 billion in response to the higher-than-projected rate of ethanol production in June and higher forecasts of gasoline consumption. The export projection was increased by 25 million bushels, to a total of 1.85 billion in response to the current pace of shipments and sales. In addition, the recently released Census Bureau export estimate for May exceeded USDA export inspections by 10 million bushels. 

The forecast of harvested acreage of corn for grain in 2015 was reduced by 0.6 million acres, reflecting the estimates in the USDA’s June Acreage report.

“The extremely wet weather in the eastern Corn Belt during June has created some uncertainty about the magnitude of planted and harvested acreage of corn in 2015,” Good said. “Clarification about acreage will come slowly, with the USDA’s October Crop Production report likely to provide a good forecast of the final acreage estimates. The market will look for acreage clues in the early USDA Farm Service Agency reports of planted and prevented acreage expected in August and September. The fact that planted acreage of corn was less than June intentions in 14 of the past 19 years, along with the late planting season in some areas, suggest that the final acreage estimate will be smaller than the June forecast this year.”

 As expected, the projection of the average 2015 corn yield remained unchanged at 166.8 bushels because that projection is based on a trend-adjusted weather model adjusted for timeliness of planting and assumes average July weather. Additionally, crop condition ratings remained quite good in the first week of July.

“It appears that many market participants believe that yield potential has been reduced below 166.8 bushels due to the extremely wet weather in the eastern Corn Belt,” Good said. “The USDA will release the first survey-based yield forecast on Aug.12. Between now and then, yield expectations will largely be based on the USDA’s weekly crop condition ratings. Corn yield models based on trend-yield and end-of-year crop ratings generally show a yield change of about 0.6 bushel for each one point change in the percentage of the crop rated in good or excellent condition,” he said.

On the consumption side, the July WASDE projections are for a 25-million-bushel year-over-year reduction in feed and residual use, and a 25 million bushel increase in both exports and ethanol use of corn.

“The lower projection for feed and residual use compared to both last year’s use and last month’s projection is attributed to a smaller crop production projection, higher corn prices, and larger supplies of distillers’ grains,” Good said. “The increase in distiller’s grains production, however, is expected to be very small and will likely be more than absorbed by larger exports. The key to feed use during the year ahead will likely be the pace of hog production and the pace of replacing the layer flock that has been reduced by bird flu,” he said.

According to Good, the higher projection for ethanol use of corn reflects the projection of increased domestic gasoline consumption.

The export forecast is 25 million bushels larger than the projection for the current year, but 25 million bushels smaller than last month’s projection. The smaller projection this month reflects expectations for increased export competition from Brazil stemming from the large 2015 harvest. However, Brazilian production and exports are expected to decline in 2016. Stocks of corn at the end of the 2015-16 marketing year are projected to be 1.599 billion bushels, 180 million bushels smaller than stocks at the beginning of the year. The marketing-year average farm price is projected in a range of $3.45 to $4.05.

“In years with substantial production uncertainty, prices tend to be above the subsequent marketing-year average during the growing season, offering producers the opportunity to forward price a portion of the crop,” Good said. “That pattern seems to be unfolding this year. New-crop corn prices are currently above both the spring price for crop revenue insurance and above the upper end of the range of the USDA’s marketing-year average price projection.  Still, prices could trade in a relatively wide range over the next 10 weeks. 

“Pricing decisions remain difficult for producers, particularly for those with substantial production uncertainty,” Good said. “Risk can be mitigated with a combination of incremental sales at higher prices and options strategies that provide a floor above the crop revenue price of $4.15 for December futures.”


Feeding damaged wheat to livestock

Published July 13, 2015

URBANA, Ill. - Wet growing conditions in the Midwest have opened the door for several challenges in the 2015 wheat crop. As a result, farmers are seeing price docks and discounts at the elevator, mainly due to increased disease, low test weight, and sprout-damaged wheat. Depending on the dock and infection level this wheat may be best utilized as livestock feed, said a University of Illinois Extension beef educator.

“Farmers and ranchers will need to test grains and grain by-products before including them in animal diets,” said Travis Meteer. “Storage of infected wheat is important. The grain will need to be dried down to less than 18 percent moisture to stop mycotoxin growth, and drying to 13 percent moisture is recommended for longer-term storage.”

Mycotoxin levels, especially vomitoxin, should be tested. Feeding grains with elevated levels of vomitoxin can cause decreased feed intake, resulting in poor performance and compromised animal health in severe cases, Meteer explained. Several factors should be looked at when feeding wheat from this year’s crop.

Low Test Weight

Low test weight does not always equal lower feed value. “Normally, low test weight grains have less starch and higher percentages of protein and fiber (seed coat). This can negatively impact feed value, but not always,” Meteer said. “In most cases, if test weight is over 50 lbs. per bushel animal performance will not be negatively affected. If test weight is lower than 50 lbs. per bushel, the feed value is likely 90-95 percent the value of normal test weight.”

Sprout-Damaged Wheat

Numerous research studies have looked at feeding sprout-damaged wheat. Meteer said the majority of research supports no difference in animal performance or feed efficiency. “However, sprout-damaged wheat is more susceptible to aflatoxin infection. If wheat is sprout-damaged, an aflatoxin test should be performed before feeding,” he added.

Deoxynivalenol (DON) or Vomitoxin

Fusarium graminearum is the fungal disease that produces the mycotoxin DON. Often wheat that is infected will appear shriveled, pink in color, and is referred to as “tombstone” in shape, Meteer explained. Levels of vomitoxin are not reliably predicted visually. “Testing is the best method to determine the level of mycotoxin present,” he added.

“Test and monitor vomitoxin (DON) levels in grains and grain by-products to be fed to livestock. Blending vomitoxin-bearing wheat with clean grains at the time of feeding can be a good practice to reduce vomitoxin levels in the diet,” Meteer said.

While dilution is the solution, according to Meteer, he added that blending should only occur directly before feeding. “Blended grain is not legal for resale. Blending grains before feeding could result in contamination of clean grains,” he said.

Toxin-binding agents can also be incorporated into a ration.

“Many studies have shown that phyllosilicate feed additives bind toxins (clays, sodium bentonite, aluminosilicate),” Meteer said. “These products can bind toxins and ensure they are not absorbed by the animal. It would be a good idea to use toxin binders in a ration that includes grains that are tested with elevated mycotoxin levels.”

Feeding wheat will require management. Wheat will need to be processed to obtain good feed value. However, processing compounds rapidly fermentable properties, Meteer explained. “As a result, inclusion rates should be kept low in diets. Special attention will need to be given to ruminants that are transitioning from forage-based rations,” he said.

Meteer recommends that producers look at the cost of wheat after processing and on and “in-the-bunk” basis. With moderate corn prices, farmers need to be cognizant of the real cost to using wheat as feed before purchasing or utilizing damaged wheat for feed, he said.

Straw from harvested fields that have tested high for a mycotoxin should be less risky than feeding the grain. “However, there can still be elevated levels of mycotoxins, including vomitoxin, in straw. Using the straw for bedding would be the lowest risk versus feeding straw in a ration. Straw that appears moldy and straw that is baled wet should be tested before feeding or bedding,” Meteer said.

“Producers should be aware that mycotoxin-contaminated straw can be a problem but the risk is much less than feeding grains,” he added.

Study offers new method of identifying sweet corn hybrids for increased yield and profit

Published July 13, 2015
The top ears are from a processing sweet corn hybrid with poorer tolerance to crowding stress, while bottom ears are from a hybrid with higher tolerance to crowding stress. Photo courtesy of Martin Williams.

URBANA, Ill. – Corn hybrids with improved tolerance to crowding stress, grown at higher plant populations than their predecessors, have been a driver of rising field corn yields in recent decades. Large differences in crowding stress tolerance (CST) recently reported among popular sweet corn processing hybrids has growers and processors wondering if newly emerging hybrids also offer improved CST.

Martin Williams, a University of Illinois crop scientist and ecologist with the USDA-Agricultural Research Service, said this question is fundamentally important in improving the sustainability of sweet corn production in the United States and maintaining dominance in sweet corn production globally.

In order to identify CST hybrids in field corn, researchers usually compare hybrids grown across a range of plant populations. However, Williams explained sweet corn trials are hand harvested, as opposed to being mechanically harvested, and during a very narrow window of time. Sweet corn is then processed, which involves husking ears and cutting fresh kernels, also often by hand.

“Because of time and labor constraints in processing sweet corn, comparing more than a few hybrids with the ‘field corn approach’ is impractical,” Williams said.

In a recently published study, Williams identified a more efficient method for comparing and identifying processing sweet corn hybrids for CST.

Based on previous research, Williams had identified a single “high” plant population that could be used to reveal the level of CST among different hybrids. “We had a good sense of the optimum population of previous top-performing hybrids, so we went just beyond that level,” he said.

In the Midwest, processing sweet corn is grown at approximately 23,000 plants per acre.  Williams’s previous research showed that profitability of hybrids with improved CST was maximized at approximately 27,000 plants per acre. In his most recent “stress test” trial, all hybrids were grown and compared at 29,000 plants per acre.

The approach enabled his team to compare, in replicated field trials across various environments, CST among every ‘super sweet’ processing sweet corn hybrid provided by the seed industry, which included 26 hybrids from 8 companies.

As a result of the study, the researchers were able to rank the list of processing sweet corn hybrids for CST.

Part of the study also addressed whether there was a relationship between CST and nitrogen fertilization. Williams did not observe an interaction between hybrid use and nitrogen fertilization. “While additional nitrogen increased yield as expected, it provided the same benefit to all hybrids. In other words, hybrid rankings were consistent whether the crop was nitrogen stressed or not,” he said.

The highest-yielding hybrid produced 50 percent more green ear mass than the lowest-yielding hybrid.  Recovery, which is the fraction of ear mass represented by recoverable kernel mass, ranged from 36 to 42 percent for most hybrids, with the highest exceeding 46 percent. 

Additionally, the hybrid at the top of the list for case production produced 61 percent more cases of corn kernels per acre than the lowest. Based on an economic analysis, the highest CST hybrid was 71 percent more profitable than the lowest hybrid.

In addition to showing growers and processors which hybrids could be planted at higher populations than normal, results of the study also challenge seed companies to improve CST. “There’s a quantifiable benefit to having plants that can tolerate more neighbors,” he said. “That has been a large driver to yield gains in field corn, and it’s a logical route to increasing sweet corn yield.”

Williams added that the “stress test” they created for this study will also aid in testing future germplasm. 

“Identifying crowding stress-tolerant hybrids in processing sweet corn” was recently published in Agronomy Journal and can be accessed online at

The Midwest Food Processors Association provided support for the study.