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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.

Field day at U of I Research Center in Monmouth planned

Published July 9, 2015

URBANA, Ill. - The 34th annual University of Illinois Northwestern Agricultural Research Center Field Day is planned for Tuesday, July 28, beginning at 8 a.m. in Monmouth, Ill.

“Tour the 320-acre research farm while learning about the most current research to manage crops, pests, disease, nitrogen and weeds,” said Angie Peltier, a U of I  Extension educator.

Topics and speakers will include:

  • Are We Getting Better at Managing Nitrogen? - Emerson Nafziger- U of I Extension specialist, crop production
  • Management Considerations for Continuous Corn - Brian Mansfield - U of I research agronomist
  • Statewide Insect Surveys: Evidence for Suppression of Key Pests? - Nick Tinsley- U of I postdoctoral research associate
  • How Compatible are Cover Crops with the Soil-Applied Residual Herbicides Used in Corn and Soybean? - Robert Bellm- U of I Extension educator, commercial agriculture
  • Soybean Sudden Death Syndrome: ID and Management - Angie Peltier- U of I Extension educator

The Northwestern Illinois Agricultural Research and Demonstration Center is located 1 mile north and 4 miles west of Monmouth at 321 210th Avenue.

For more information about continuing education units offered at the field day, visit the Hill and Furrow Blog or the Northwestern Illinois Agricultural Research and Demonstration Center website.

If you need a reasonable accommodation to participate in this program, please contact Angie Peltier at 309-734-5161 or

News Source:

Angie Peltier, 309-734-5161

Marijuana users substitute alcohol at 21

Published July 7, 2015
Person offering a glass of champagne

URBANA, Ill. – A recent study looked at marijuana and alcohol use in people between the ages of 18 and 24. It’s probably not surprising that the results show a drastic increase in alcohol consumption in people just over 21; after all, that’s the minimum legal age to drink. What University of Illinois economist Ben Crost found remarkable is that, at the same age, there was an equally dramatic drop in marijuana use.

“Alcohol appears to be a substitute for marijuana. This sudden decrease in the use of marijuana is because they suddenly have easy access to alcohol,” Crost said.

Crost and Santiago Guerrero used five years of data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Survey participants estimated how many days in the past 30 that they had alcoholic drinks or used marijuana. Because the precise age of each respondent was not known, data on the averages of substance use by month of age was obtained from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

The minimum legal drinking age provided a threshold for comparison.

“Whenever there is a discontinuous threshold where something changes, it provides a way to identify a causal effect,” Crost said. “You can compare people right above and right below the threshold. They should be very similar in all other respects, except for that one difference.

“In this case, we looked at the cutoff that occurs when people, overnight get much easier access to alcohol. People who are 20 years and 11 months old are basically the same as people who are 21 with that one exception. Nothing should change about people’s preference because people don’t overnight lose their preference for marijuana. They use it or lose it over the long run but not from one month to the next.”

Crost said that all of the costs and benefits from policies designed to reduce alcohol consumption, such as the minimum legal drinking age or liquor taxes, need to be assessed.

“We need to take this possible substitution behavior into account,” Crost said. “Marginally lowering the minimum legal drinking age would decrease the probability of marijuana consumption in young adults by about 10 percent. So, policies aimed at restricting alcohol consumption among young adults are likely to have the unintended consequence of increasing the use of illegal drugs, such as marijuana.

“If you think alcohol is much more harmful to people’s health, then you should probably restrict alcohol use. If you think marijuana is more harmful, then you might want to consider loosening the restrictions for alcohol,” he said.

The study also analyzed men and women separately. Although men have higher baseline use levels of both alcohol and marijuana, the effect of the minimum legal drinking age is larger for women. For example, the frequency of marijuana use for men decreased 7.5 percent. Women’s frequency of use decreased 15 percent.

“The effect of alcohol availability on marijuana use: Evidence from the minimum legal drinking age” by Benjamin Crost and Santiago Guerrero was published in the Journal of Health Economics.


News Source:

Benjamin Crost

Higher feed costs could mean pork industry losses

Published July 6, 2015

URBANA, Ill. – Weather-damaged corn and soybean fields are also harmful to hog producers. According to Purdue University Extension economist Chris Hurt, rising feed prices mean higher costs of production for the pork industry.

“Recent higher corn and soybean meal prices have increased anticipated hog costs by about $10 per head,” Hurt said. “These higher feed costs shift the outlook from one of modest profits to losses of about $6 per head over the coming 12 months. With the potential for higher feed costs, it is fortunate that the industry has not moved toward aggressive expansion following a record-high profit year in 2014. While profits were exceptional last year, there was also grave uncertainty over the ability of the industry to control the PED virus. Those two forces seemingly have offset each other, and producers indicated to USDA that they had only expanded the breeding herd by 1 percent as of early June. Surprisingly, producers say they intend to drop their farrowings by 3 percent this summer and by 4 percent this fall. The intended decline in farrowings may not develop since the breeding herd remains somewhat higher than year-ago levels.”

In the summer and fall of 2014, the PED virus sharply lowered the number of hogs available for processing, Hurt said. As a result, this summer and fall’s supplies will be up sharply when compared to the same period last year. Third-quarter pork production is expected to rise by 9 percent, and fourth-quarter production is expected to be up 4 percent. Pork production during the first half of 2016 will come primarily from the reduced farrowings this summer and fall. As a result, pork production is expected to be down by 1 percent in the first quarter of 2016 and by 3 percent in the second quarter.

“Both of these numbers assume producers will follow through on their intentions to reduce farrowings,” Hurt said. “If that does not happen, pork supplies will be larger in the first half of 2016.”

Hurt added that rising feed costs are a new concern for producers. December 2015 corn futures, as an example, rose from about $3.80 on June 24 to about $4.30 on July 6. This increases the cost of hog production by around $2.25 per live hundredweight. In a similar time period, meal futures have risen about $40 per ton, which increases the cost by about $1.25 per live hundredweight. So recent increases in corn and soybean meal prices have increased costs by about $3.50 per live hundredweight, or by nearly $10 per hog. “Weather is a primary driver of feed prices right now so no one knows if feed costs will get much higher or moderate from here,” Hurt said.

According to Hurt, the cost of production had dropped to $50 per hundredweight in mid-June. “With current higher feed prices, costs are expected to be closer to $53.50 for the last half of 2015 and the first half of 2016,” he said. “Remember that feed prices can still change considerably, depending on weather for the rest of the growing season.”

Hog prices averaged about $48 in the first quarter of this year with an estimated loss of $11 per head. Second-quarter prices were near $56 for an estimated profit of $14 per head. Third-quarter prices are expected to average about $53 per hundredweight, which is near break-even status. The final quarter this year is expected to see prices drop to near $47 with losses estimated at $18 per head. For all of 2015, losses are expected to average about $4 per head. Recent feed-price increases are the primary reason the 2015 outlook has shifted toward expected losses.

What is the outlook for 2016?

Hog prices are expected to be around $47 per live hundredweight in the first quarter of 2016 and rise seasonally to $54 in the second quarter. “Given current corn and meal prices, this would mean an estimated loss of about $17 per head in the first quarter and a profit of $10 per head in the second quarter,” he said.

What does all this mean?

“First, pork producers and their allied industries are to be commended for dealing with the PED virus in late 2013 and 2014,” Hurt said. “It appears from the USDA producer-survey data that the industry may still be experiencing decreased pigs per litter of around 1 to 2 percent due to the disease. This is just a rough estimate from data collected in USDA’s Hogs and Pigs reports. That data seem to show that the number of pigs per litter has not fully returned to the rate of increase during 2008 to 2013, before PED. Second, the industry is also to be saluted for a modest breeding herd expansion after record high profits in 2014.

“It is clear that the impacts on feed prices from the current weather markets can have a large impact on pork production returns,” Hurt said. “Weather markets are always difficult to predict, but heightened feed prices should remind the industry to be cautious about expansion and to follow through on intentions to reduce farrowing this summer and fall.”



2015 Biennial Symposium

3:30 PM to Friday, October 9, 3:00 PM
I Hotel and Conference Center

Illinois Transdisciplinary Obesity Prevention Program

Transdisciplinary Research and Education: Benefits and Barriers

For more information, contact Anna Keck (217-333-5005; or visit .


USDA grain stocks and acreage estimates supportive for corn and soybean prices

Published June 30, 2015

URBANA, Ill. – The just-released USDA Grain Stocks and Acreage reports provide some important fundamental information for the corn and soybean markets going into the most critical part of the growing season. According to University of Illinois agricultural economist Darrel Good, the estimate of June 1 stocks is most important for corn because it reveals the magnitude of feed and residual use during the previous quarter.

“This year, however, the soybean stocks estimate is of more interest than usual because both the Dec. 1, 2014, and March 1, 2015, stocks estimates revealed an unusually large residual disappearance in the first half of the year and hinted that the 2014 crop may have been overestimated,” Good said. “The June acreage estimates are always important because they differ from intentions in the March Prospective Plantings report and provide an update of production prospects. The estimates are of extreme interest this year due to the seeming under-statement of total crop acreage in the March intentions report and the delay in soybean planting.  That delay, however, also creates more than the usual uncertainty about how final planted and harvested acreage estimates will compare to June intentions.”

June 1 corn stocks were estimated at 4.447 billion bushels, 595 million larger than stocks of a year earlier, but 108 million less than the average trade guess.

“The stocks estimate implies that feed and residual use of corn during the third quarter of the marketing year totaled 1.148 billion bushels, 289 million more than during the same quarter last year and the most since 2010,” Good said. “Use during the fourth quarter needs to total only 434 million bushels for use for the year to reach the current USDA projection of 5.25 billion bushels. That is only 23 million more than the use in that quarter last year and less than the use during that quarter in 2010 and 2011. Even with an increase in wheat feeding this summer, the larger inventory of broilers, dairy cows, and hogs suggests that feed and residual use could be 50 million bushels larger than currently projected by the USDA, resulting in slightly smaller year-ending inventories.”

June 1 stocks of soybeans were estimated at 625 million bushels, 220 million larger than stocks of a year ago, but 45 million bushels less than the average trade guess.

“The stocks estimate means that seed and residual use of soybeans during the first three quarters of the marketing year was about 300 million bushels, which is about 100 million bushels above the average of the past five years,” Good said. “The stocks estimate then reaffirms expectations that the 2014 crop was overestimated and that year-end stocks will be much lower than the current 330 million bushel USDA projection.”

Planted and intended acreage of corn is now estimated at 88.897 million acres, 302,000 less than March intentions and 395,000 less than the average trade guess. The forecast of acreage harvested for grain is at 81.101 million acres, about 600,000 acres less than forecast in the June World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates (WASDE) report and 2.035 million less than harvested last year.

“With a U.S. average yield near our current expectation of 165 bushels, the 2015 crop would total 13.382 billion bushels, 834 million bushels smaller than the 2014 harvest,” Good said. “A crop of that size would point to 2015-16 marketing-year ending stocks of about 1.4 billion bushels, 400 million less than likely stocks at the end of the current marketing year. The stocks-to-use ratio would decline to about 10 percent. Obviously, the size of next year’s surplus could deviate substantially from this projection, depending on the strength of demand, the actual U.S. average yield, and the final estimates of harvested acreage.

“It is useful to note that the final estimate of planted acreage was less than the June estimate in 14 of the past 19 years,” Good said. “Even in years when acreage exceeded the June estimate, the largest deviation was only 886,000 acres.”

Planted and intended acreage of soybeans is estimated at 85.139 million acres, 504,000 larger than March intentions and 1.438 million more than planted last year.

“The estimate was very close to the average trade guess,” Good said. “Harvested acreage is forecast at 84.449 million acres, 749,000 more than projected in the June WASDE report and 1.388 million more than harvested last year. The forecast reflects a relatively small acreage abandonment of only 690,000 acres. Because considerable soybean acreage was not yet planted at the time of the survey for the June acreage estimates, the soybean estimate likely reflects a larger percentage of intentions than is normally the case.

“Several million acres still remain unplanted,” Good said. “Extremely wet weather in many areas has also raised the potential for more abandoned acres than normal. Finally, the final estimate of planted acreage has been less than the June estimate in 12 of the past 19 years. All of these factors suggest that harvested acreage of soybeans could be considerably less than the current forecast. Harvested acreage of 83.5 million acres and a national average yield near our current expectation of 45 bushels would point to a 2015 soybean harvest of 3.758 billion bushels, 212 million smaller than the 2014 harvest. Stocks at the end of the 2015-16 marketing year near 375 million bushels, however, would still represent a year-over-year increase.” 

Good concluded that while considerable uncertainty will persist for the next three months, today’s USDA reports substantially increase the odds that the average farm price will be above $4 for the 2015-16 marketing year and that the average soybean price will once again be near $10.