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U of I Extension names educators for new units

Published November 22, 2010
The statewide reorganization of University of Illinois Extension continued last week, with the appointments of 118 Educators who will serve in the 26 new multi-county Extension Units across Illinois. Only Cook County remains as a single-county Extension operation.

Although the reorganization was prompted by a shortfall in state funding, staffing decisions have been made on the basis of local program needs, according to Robert Hoeft, Interim Associate Dean for Extension and Outreach on the Urbana campus.

"We've come to realize that we can no longer afford to offer every program in every county," Hoeft said. "Our Unit Council volunteers worked with staff to prioritize Educator needs, and the new organization demonstrates our commitment to meeting the most critical needs at the local level," Hoeft said. Maintaining and strengthening the 4-H Youth Development program was a high priority in most counties, and the new hires reflect that, Hoeft said. "Our 4-H members and volunteers in every Unit of the state will be served by a 4-H Youth Development Educator who focuses on the needs of those particular counties.

"With the reorganization, most of our Educators will serve a more limited geographic area than they did in the past. They will be able to focus on local needs, without spending so much time on the road," Hoeft said.

Under the old organization, locally funded Educators served just one or a few counties, while many State-funded Educators were responsible for providing programming in dozens of counties. Under the new system, most Educators will serve from three to seven counties.

Money saved by eliminating rent expenses at regional Extension Centers and other administrative overhead will be redirected to support local Educators, Hoeft said. Reallocated State and Federal dollars will provide about one-third of the funding needed to support the new Unit-based Educators, in addition to available matching money from the State of Illinois.

Still, he said, local support from County Boards and other funders is as important as ever.

"State and Federal dollars are allocated on the basis of local support, so maintaining the local funding is absolutely crucial to the survival of Extension programs at the Unit level," Hoeft said. For every dollar invested at the county level, local Extension programs are supported by at least $3 in additional state and federal funding.

The official start date of the new Educators will be July 1, 2011, the beginning of a new fiscal year for the State of Illinois and the U of I.

"In some cases, they may be able to start meeting people and planning programs in their new Units before July 1," Hoeft said. "For example, some of our Youth Development Educators may be involved in planning some summer 4-H activities. In many other cases, Educators already were on staff in at least one of the counties they will now serve, so some of those transitions may begin more quickly, too."

The official July 1 start date will allow Educators who have previous programming commitments to see those through to completion in the next few months, before they move on to their new responsibilities in another location, Hoeft said.

Extension staff members with Master's degrees were eligible to apply for Educator and County Director positions, which were filled on a competitive basis. Statewide, about two-dozen Educator positions were not filled during the internal hiring process.

Those positions will be advertised nationally, and searches will be conducted in the coming months.

Extension County Directors for the new multi-county Units were named in October, and they started in their new roles on November 1. Local Civil Service staffing will be addressed in early 2011, Hoeft said.

A complete listing of the new multi-county Extension Units, their County Directors, and Educators follows: University of Illinois Extension Educators

Effective July 1, 2011 Listed by Extension Unit

OPEN indicates that the position is unfilled at this time, and an external search will be conducted. Some Educators' appointments will be shared by adjacent Units, as indicated by percent-time figures.) Jo Daviess/Stephenson/Winnebago -

Margaret Larson, County Director

Kim Christman: 4-H Youth

Sandra Stiles: 4-H Youth Metro

Jay Solomon: Environmental and Energy Stewardship

Maurice Ogutu: Local Food Systems and Small Farms

OPEN: Horticulture — 50 percent time OPEN: Nutrition and Wellness

Boone/DeKalb/Ogle —

Vicky Broos, County Director

Johnna Jennings: 4-H Youth Peggy Doty: Environmental and Energy Stewardship

Ellen Phillips: Local Food Systems and Small Farms

OPEN: Horticulture — 50 perfect time

OPEN: Nutrition and Wellness

Lake/McHenry —

James Reeves, County Director

Karen Chan: Consumer Economics

OPEN: 4-H Youth and 4-H for children of military families

OPEN: Horticulture

Carroll/Lee/Whiteside —

Joe Schwamberger, County Director Janice McCoy: Family Life — 50 percent time

Terry Feinberg: Economic and Small Business Development

Diane Baker: 4-H Youth

Peter Chege: Horticulture

Bill Lindenmier: Local Food Systems and Small Farms

DuPage/Kane/Kendall —

Sandra Davis, County Director Laura Barr: Nutrition and Wellness

Deanna Roby: 4-H Youth

Richard Hentschel: Horticulture

Cook —

Willene Buffet, County Director Molly Hofer: Family Life

Rhonda Hardy: Community Development

Rosalind Dale: Leadership and Local Government

Leonard Parker: 4-H Youth and Youth Metro

Marilu Andon: 4-H Youth Metro

Nancy Pollard: Horticulture

Greg Stack: Horticulture

Ron Wolford: Horticulture

Jennifer McCaffrey: Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program*

Jacqueline Wilson: Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program*

Henry/Mercer/Rock Island/Stark —

Tony Franklin, County Director Jennifer Garner: Community Development Cheryl Geitner: 4-H Youth and 4-H for children of military families

Martha Smith: Horticulture

Janice McCoy: Family Life — 50 percent time

OPEN: Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program*

Bureau/LaSalle/Marshall/Putnam —

Jill Guynn, County Director

Rachel Schwarzendruber: Family Life

Ancilla Parducci: 4-H Youth and 4-H Youth Metro

OPEN: Horticulture

Grundy/Kankakee/Will —

Beth LaPlante, County Director

Chelsey Byers: Family Life

Drusilla Banks: Nutrition and Wellness John Davis: 4-H Youth

James Theuri: Local Food Systems and Small Farms

Henderson/Knox/McDonough/Warren —

Lisa Fulkerson, County Director Carrie McKillip: Community Development

Tessa Hobbs-Curley: 4-H Youth

Kyle Cecil: Local Food Systems and Small Farms

OPEN: Horticulture

Fulton/Mason/Peoria/Tazewell —

Earl Allen, County Director

Kathleen Brown: Leadership and Local Government

Judy Schmidt: 4-H Youth and 4-H Youth Metro

Rhonda Ferree: Horticulture — 50 percent time

Matt Montgomery: Local Food Systems and Small Farms

Margaret Cover: Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program*

OPEN: Nutrition & Wellness — 50 percent time

Livingston/McLean/Woodford —

Cynthia Baer, County Director Kathy Sweedler: Consumer Economics — 50 percent time

Cheri Burcham: Family Life —33 percent time

Jenna Hogan: Nutrition and Wellness

Cathy Blunier: 4-H Youth

Sandy McGhee: 4-H Youth Metro

Paul Mariman: Local Food Systems and Small Farms — 20 percent time

OPEN: Community Development

OPEN: Horticulture

Champaign/Ford/Iroquois/Vermilion —

Ginger Boas, County Director

Kathryn Sweedler: Consumer Economics — 50 percent time

Cheri Burcham: Family Life — 34 percent time

Jamie Kleiss: 4-H Youth

Sandy Mason: Horticulture

Steve Ayers: Local Food Systems and Small Farms

Zachary Kennedy: Community Development OPEN: Nutrition and Wellness

Adams/Brown/Hancock/Pike/Schuyler —

OPEN: County Director

Brenda Derrick: Nutrition and Wellness

Shelby Crow: Community Developmen

Earl Bricker: Leadership and Local Government

Sheri Merry: 4-H Youth

Mike Roegge: Local Food Systems and Small Farms

Calhoun/Cass/Greene/Morgan/Scott —

Aaron Dufelmeier, County Director

April Littig: 4-H Youth

Rhonda Ferree: Horticulture — 50 percent time

Duane Friend: Environmental and Energy Stewardship

OPEN: Community Development

Logan/Menard/Sangamon —

John Fulton, County Director Virginia Kuo: 4-H Youth and 4-H Youth Metro

Jennifer Fishburn: Horticulture

Deborah Cavanaugh-Grant: Local Food Systems and Small Farms

OPEN: Nutrition & Wellness — 50 percent time

DeWitt/Macon/Piatt —

Doug Harlan, County Director

Lynnette Mensah: Nutrition and Wellness — 50 percent time

Sherry Fulton: 4-H Youth

Amy Leman: 4-H Youth Metro

Jennifer Nelson: Horticulture

Paul Mariman: Local Food Systems and Small Farms — 80 percent time Phyllis Herring: Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program*

Christian/Jersey/Macoupin/Montgomery —

Denise Kistner, County Director

Amanda Cole: Community Development Peggy Hampton: 4-H Youth

Gary Letterly: Environmental and Energy Stewardship

Stephanie Porter: Local Food Systems and Small Farms

OPEN: Nutrition & Wellness — 50 percent time

Coles/Cumberland/Douglas/Moultrie/Shelby —

Jim Looft, County Director Cheri Burcham: Family Life 33 percent time

Lynnette Mensah: Nutrition and Wellness — 50 percent time

Dana Homann: 4-H Youth

David Shiley: Local Foods and Small Farms

Clark/Crawford/Edgar —

Stacy Larson, County Director

Mary Liz Wright: Nutrition and Wellness Tiffany Macke: Community Development Jessie Crews: 4-H Youth

OPEN: Horticulture — 50 percent time Clay/Effingham/Fayette/Jasper —

Rachelle Hollinshead, County Director Ken Larimore: Economic and Small Business Development

Judy Bingman: 4-H Youth

OPEN: Environmental and Energy Stewardship — 50 percent time

OPEN: Nutrition and Wellness — 50 percent time

Madison/Monroe/St. Clair —

Pam Jacobs, County Director

Nora Feuquay: Community Development

Susan Hayden: 4-H Youth and 4-H for children of military families

Steve Wagoner: 4-H Youth Metro

Elizabeth Wahle: Horticulture — 50 percent time

Linda Crawl Jackson: Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program*

OPEN: Environmental and Energy Stewardship

Bond/Clinton/Marion/Jefferson/Washington —

OPEN: County Director

Peter Morhardt: 4-H Youth

Elizabeth Wahle: Horticulture — 50 percent time

OPEN: Local Foods and Small Farms

OPEN: Family Life — 50 percent time

Gallatin/Hamilton/Hardin/Pope/Saline/Wayne/White —

OPEN: County Director

Susan Odum: Community Development — 33 percent time

OPEN: 4-H Youth

OPEN: Horticulture — 50 percent time

OPEN: Nutrition and Wellness — 50 percent time

Edwards/Lawrence/Richland/Wabash —

Joel Brumley, County Director

Ann Emken: Economic and Small Business Development

Leah Miller: 4-H Youth

OPEN: Horticulture — 50 percent time

OPEN: Family Life — 50 percent time

Franklin/Jackson/Perry/Randolph/Williamson —

Julie Mumbower, County Director Susan Odum: Community Development — 33 percent time

Michelle Bisel: 4-H Youth

John Pike: Local Food Systems and Small Farms

OPEN: Horticulture — 50 percent time

OPEN: Nutrition & Wellness — 50 percent time

Alexander/Johnson/Massac/Pulaski/Union —

Jody Johnson, County Director Susan Odum: Community Development — 34 percent time

Patricia Faughn: 4-H Youth

*Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program positions are Federally funded.

Educators with Statewide Responsibilities

4-H Educators

Andy Davis: 4-H Memorial Camp

Dan Dawson: 4-H Shooting Sports

Dan Jennings: 4-H Animal Sciences

Commercial Agriculture

Robert Bellm: Crop Sciences, Brownstown Ag Research Center

Dennis Bowman: Crop Sciences Research and Education Center (South Farms, Urbana)

Russell Higgins: Crop Sciences, Northern IL Ag Research Center

Teresa Steckler: Animal Sciences, Dixon Springs Ag Center

OPEN: Crop Sciences, Northwestern Illinois Ag Research Center OPEN: Animal Sciences, Orr Ag Research Center


Hog prices go up from here!

Published November 22, 2010
URBANA - Hog producers have been feeling the bite of losses once again this fall, but there is reason for some optimism, said Chris Hurt, a Purdue University Extension economist.

"First, hog prices are probably at their seasonal lows in late November as consumers are buying their Thanksgiving turkey rather than pork. Second, lower corn and meal prices provide an opportunity to lock in feed prices at levels that were not available a few weeks ago," he said.

The 2011 outlook also provides some optimism for a year of positive margins on average. Producers may want to consider taking some of those positive margins now, he said.

Live hog prices fell from near $60 per hundredweight in September to the mid-$40s by mid-November. With costs of production in the mid-$50s, this means losses near $15 per head in the final quarter, he said.

"The saving grace is that profits were strong last spring and summer. Those profits will offset current losses and result in an estimated 2010 yearly profit of $14 per head," he noted.

Why will prices rise after Thanksgiving? Hog prices still have substantial seasonality even though much of the supply variation across the year has been removed. Over the past five years, hog prices reached highs in the warm weather months of May through August and lows in November, especially the last half of November, he said.

After Thanksgiving, hog prices have tended to rise slowly into mid-February and then dip modestly into early April before moving to highs in May and June, he added.

"This pattern of generally rising prices is expected into next spring and summer. Live prices are expected to average near $50 in the final quarter of this year and then move higher into 2011," he said.

First-quarter prices are expected to average near $55 per live hundredweight with second- and third-quarter prices stretching to $62 and $61. Last-quarter prices are expected to drop to the mid-to-lower $50s. These hog prices are derived as forecasts of cash prices from current lean hog futures, which means these prices can be hedged by pork producers, he said.

Although lean hog futures are relatively optimistic at the current time, feed prices have also dropped, providing profitable margin opportunities for 2011. Taking margins can be accomplished in the futures market by selling lean hog futures for 2011 and buying corn and meal futures, then later converting these to cash positions. Margins can also be taken in the cash market or through combinations of futures and cash positions, he said.

Current estimated returns per head by quarter in 2011 are -$4, +$14, +$16, and +$1 for an average near $7 per head for the year.

"It is clear that the second and the third quarters are where the money will be made, with the first and fourth quarters closer to breaking even or incurring a small loss. This reflects the seasonality of hog prices with higher hog prices in the warmer weather months providing the greatest profitability," he said.

The last calendar year of extremely high corn prices was 2008 when the simple average of U.S. monthly prices received by farmers was $4.78 per bushel. For 2011, the forecast is $4.87 per bushel based on corn futures prices before the opening on Nov. 22. The year 2008 was a loss year of nearly $17 a head for farrow-to-finish production, he said.

"The difference for 2011 is much higher hog prices after substantial herd reduction from 2008 to 2010. Live hog prices are expected to average near $57 in 2011, $10 higher than in 2008," he said.

The decision of when, and how, to take hog margins will be made by each individual producer. One of the most important criteria producers seek is to take margins when they are profitable. That criterion is now available for 2011, he said.

"Let's look a bit more closely at each of the three legs of the hog margin puzzle: corn, meal, and lean hogs. Corn prices have moderated from highs made on Nov. 9. Ending stocks are expected to be very tight, and any added demand or supply reduction could send prices sharply higher," he said.

"World corn and feed grain supplies cannot be re-established to adequate levels until the northern hemisphere crop is assured next summer, and that is probably late summer. Meal prices have moderated as well. World soybean inventories are not in a tight situation, but that will depend on how many bushels China buys and on South America having normal or better yields. Lean hog futures for April through August are at, or near, their 2010 highs," he added.

Producers unwilling to take a large financial risk may want to establish a sizable percentage of their 2011 margins at what appears to be profitable levels. If they are using futures markets, they must work closely with their lender on potential margin calls, he advised.

"The charm of having three major legs of the hog margin is that producers can establish all, or just some, of those legs. Some hog producers are more concerned about feed prices than hog prices. For them, the current corn and meal prices may seem more advantageous to establish. Others produce their own corn and have it in storage. For them, establishing portions of their meal costs and hog prices may be more important," he said.

Many producers seek market diversification. This can mean taking a portion of the margin at several different times. Often they seek to leave at least one-third of that margin open and take whatever comes in the cash market, he said.


Eco-friendly Pet Care

Published November 22, 2010
An archive of Pet Columns from the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine is available online at Requests for reprints of this article may be directed to Chris Beuoy,

More and more people are making life-style choices that take into consideration environmental health as well as individual health. The green movement offers eco-friendly options for pet owners, too. Despite the myths, these choices aren't necessarily higher in cost.

Kelsie Dolezal, a certified veterinary technician at Furnetic, the Chicago-based primary care practice of the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine, spoke recently on "greening" your pet.

What defines an eco-friendly product? "There is no standard definition," says Dolezal, "but the product should not be harmful to the environment and should leave our Earth just as resource rich as when we acquired our pet."

Eco-friendly pet care items on the market include cat litters, organic or high quality foods, recycled plastic toys, beds and confinement systems such as leashes, collars and fencing.

Dolezal says cat litter preference should depend on your cat. "Any clumpable litter is going to be better for the environment, because you are only scooping the waste and leaving the untouched litter. There are brands such as SWheat Scoop (wheat), Yesterday's News (recycled newspaper), and World's Best Cat Litter (corn) that are more eco-friendly than your normal clay litter. If you change brands of litter, you want to make sure you leave at least one litter box with the litter your cat is used to. If you suddenly change the type of litter and your cat does not prefer this new litter, you can create a house-soiling problem," she advises.

In addition, items such as the CatGenie can eliminate the need for litter all together by flushing your cat's waste into the sewage system.

According to Dolezal, organic foods can be hard to find and are often expensive. She says choosing a pet food is like choosing a cut of meat: "Your filet mignon foods have whole-meat ingredients from named animal species (chicken, beef) and named high quality fat sources (grape seed oil). Sirloin-cut foods have food fragments, byproducts, and artificial colors."

In order to buy the best food for your pet, compare nutritional requirements against the diet's ingredients, or have your veterinarian recommend a balanced diet suitable for your pet.

Homemade diets are confusing for many people and often result in an imbalance in the pet's diet. Dolezal recommends the website, which will allow you to buy recipes for making a balanced diet.

Another environmentally sound practice to consider is choosing to invest in a high-quality item that will last, such as beds made of organic products or products made of recycled plastics, instead of buying a cheaper item you'll have to replace many times. This is more of an investment in the beginning, but can end up being cheaper in the long run.

Say you just want to change one thing in your daily routine to help make your pet more "green," what can you do? If you are a dog owner, pick up your pet's poop! Pet waste often contains parasites and bacteria that can cause diseases if spread. Just picking up the poop can give your pet the "green" stamp of approval.

How you acquire a pet has environmental implications too. Dolezal says, "Adopt from a shelter!"

Being an eco-friendly pet owner is becoming easier, and you can take small steps in helping your pet become a "green" citizen.

An archive of Pet Columns from the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine is available online at Requests for reprints of this article may be directed to Chris Beuoy,

Veterinary Extension/Office of Public Engagement
University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine

Winter landscape color

Published November 19, 2010
What is so colorful about a winter landscape? asked a University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator.

"Gardeners in milder climates have many options to add winter color to the landscape," said Greg Stack. "They turn to cool-season annuals such as pansy, calendula, diascia, and dianthus that can last from fall until early spring. But colder gardening regions have fewer options. As a result, our winter landscapes consist mostly of brown, gray, some green, and lots of white."

However, the winter landscape can have a bright side if you think about adding reds and yellows from the red and yellow twig dogwood, he added.

"Both of these plants can offer dramatic points of color in colder climate such as in the Midwest," he said. "Many gardeners have added them to their landscape only to be disappointed several years later when their once-colorful shrubs are now sporting stems that are ash gray, brown and black.

"What happened? It's called aging. As red and yellow twig dogwoods get older, the colorful stems lose their color and the shrub becomes a tangled mess of dead or dying stems. To add to this poor appearance, many gardeners treat these shrubs as hedges and shear them to a specific height, causing them to decline and lose their color."

Red and yellow twig dogwood can remain colorful for many years in the garden by removing the older stems, allowing new stems to grow back, Stack explained. These young stems provide the color. Older stems that are losing color or are ash gray, brown or black will never again look good and should be removed by cutting them back to the soil line.

Resist the temptation to cut back stems only halfway. The stems left behind will never have the original color and will result in a shrub that is thick with small, unattractive stems.

After the old stems are removed, the area around the shrub can be cultivated, grass and weeds removed, and the plant fertilized and mulched to encourage the re-growth of new colorful stems.


Firewood, BTUs and bugs

Published November 18, 2010
The expression 'you get out of it what you put into it' is true when it comes to how much heat you get from burning your firewood, as well as how well it burns and how much smoke it produces, said a University of Illinois Extension horticulture specialist.

"Typically, the harder the wood, the more heat (BTUs) you get,"said Richard Hentschel.

Some of the better woods for burning are oak, hard maple, ash and the nut trees like hickory and pecan. On the lower end of heat output are the softer woods like soft maple, linden (basswood), willow and cottonwood.

"Harder woods burn more easily and create less smoke than softer woods," he said. "Another benefit of burning harder woods is you will have fewer sparks. The better woods are also heavier per piece, being denser. That's another clue you can use.

"Your fireplace, just like your furnace and gas clothes dryer, will need a source of outside air to burn properly. In homes that are well insulated and tight, you will need to crack open a nearby window or be able to supply the combustion air to the firebox." Firewood generally should be seasoned to dry down for at least nine months and should have a moisture content of about 20 percent when you are buying a face cord, longer if you are buying an actual full cord (4'x4"x8').

Burning high-moisture wood generates a lot of smoke and little heat, can add creosote to your chimney flue, and pollutes the air.

Homeowners should only bring in firewood that will be burned over a few hours.

"Insects that use the firewood as part of their life cycle or overwinter in the bark crevices have time to warm up and move out of the firewood if stored longer indoors," Hentschel said. "This is especially true of adult insects that are looking for a place to overwinter.

"There are many boring insects that use or feed on dead trees and invade your firewood while it is seasoning. You might find carpenter ants, especially if the firewood has not been moved or used in a long time or seasoned properly. There are many insects that seek winter shelter from the cold in the crevices of tree bark. None of these insects will typically pose a problem in your home and are just a nuisance until they die."

When storing your firewood, keep it away from the home, off the ground and in an area where there is good air circulation to aid in the seasoning process.

"Homeowners find that the cost of firewood will vary greatly, depending on the tree species, and while the definition of a full cord of wood is quite clear, the depth of a face cord will vary, as will the price," he explained. "A face cord that has 16-inch-long pieces is also referred to as a rick, stove cord or fireplace cord. There also may be a delivery charge to stack your firewood compared to just unloading it on the driveway."


Illinois pork producers help achieve national goal

Published November 17, 2010
The National Pork Board is celebrating. They just reached their goal of certifying more than 50,000 people in the Pork Quality Assurance (PQA) Plus® program. And Illinois is one of the forefront states that helped them reach this milestone.

"It's time we share great stories like this one," said Rob Knox, University of Illinois Extension swine specialist. "We want to show the public how our pork producers are meeting the industry's challenge to provide a safe, healthy food product that is raised with the utmost care."

Three years ago, the National Pork Board unveiled PQA Plus®, a program dedicated to reflect increasing customer and consumer interest in the way food animals are raised. PQA Plus® was designed to assure the public that U.S. pork products are not only of the highest quality, but also produced safely in environments that are measured, tracked and focused on animal well-being.

"PQA Plus® gives producers another tool to demonstrate their social responsibility," Knox said. "We want to help our clients achieve confidence in what we are doing as pork producers."

Producers, farm workers, and anyone who handles swine are trained by a certified PQA Plus® advisor every three years to receive proper certification to sell hogs to market. Certified PQA Plus® advisors must meet specific qualifications and include veterinarians, Extension staff, and agricultural educators among others.

Every three years, people must re-certify in the PQA Plus® program and complete training with a certified advisor. It's already time for many Illinois pork producers to re-certify, Knox said.

For individuals wanting to become PQA Plus® advisors or for those needing to re-certify, training sessions will be held on Dec. 2, March 10 and May 19 at the Illinois Pork Producers Association office in Springfield.

"We expect our advisors to adhere to strict ethical principles," Knox said. "The industry is constantly changing and evolving to improve pork production practices. Our advisors must be extremely knowledgeable about these advancements. They serve an important role to help our industry improve and maintain its high standards."

In 2009 alone, Illinois certified 2,569 adults, 1,933 youth, and 199 pork production farm sites. That number continues to grow, Knox said.

After producers receive PQA Plus® certification, they may obtain PQA Plus® site status for a pork production site after finishing an assessment of animal well-being practices at that production site. Producers can self-assess with an endorsement from a certified advisor or they can have an advisor complete the assessment.

While on-farm site assessments aren't required yet, Knox believes it could be required someday. Since Nov. 1, 2007, 11,632 sites have been assessed nationally through this program.

"Illinois plays a valuable role in PQA Plus® and together, we can help the industry show the country we are doing the right thing by our animals," Knox said.

For more information on upcoming advisor training and re-certification opportunities, contact Rob Knox at 217-244-5177 or


Ferns freshen interiors

Published November 17, 2010
Ferns bring life into a room any time of year, said a University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator.

"In airtight winter homes, they also can be champions at filtering the air," said Nancy Pollard. "Of 86 plants tested, ferns topped the list at formaldehyde removal. In fact, seven of the top nine excellent performers were ferns."

The other great filterers of formaldehyde were (#7) lavender and (#9) geraniums (Pelargonium sp.) These findings were reported by Kwang Jin Kim and associates in an article published in the October 2010 issue of HortScience.

Other researchers also found ferns ranked in the top 15 percent at air purification compared to woody plants and other herbaceous plants.

"Researchers learned, for instance, that a fern can be 50 times more effective indoors at removing formaldehyde than some other common houseplants tested, though all had a positive effect," Pollard noted. "Formaldehyde, a volatile organic compound (VOC), can build up in well-insulated modern homes.

"VOCs may originate from a variety of indoor sources such as particle board, plywood, carpet, paper products, tobacco smoke, and adhesives." Formaldehyde removal by plants was five times faster in light than in dark, according to other researchers, so artificial lights in winter could help your plants work longer and harder at cleaning the air.

"In addition to the plants removing formaldehyde, soil microorganisms inhabiting healthy potting soil also clean up the air," she said. "The bottom line is, ferns and other houseplants that freshen the air we breathe. Get some plants, give them some light, and take in a deep breath of fresh air."


Christmas websites

Published November 16, 2010
Two University of Illinois Extension websites provide helpful information for holiday season favorites -- poinsettias and Christmas trees.

"The Poinsettia Pages and Christmas Trees and More sites have information on everything from selection to care and, in the case of Christmas trees, disposal options," explained Jane Scherer, U of I Extension urban programs specialist and director of its websites.

At the Poinsettia Pages (, you will find tips on selecting the right plant.

"Poinsettias are traditional Christmas plants that will last through the Christmas season and beyond. It is important to select the best plant for your home environment," said Scherer. "The tips will help you select the best plant."

There are also sections on the plant's history, its care, and frequently asked questions about poinsettias.

"At Christmas Trees and More (, you'll find a listing of tree farms if you wish to select and cut your own family Christmas tree," said Scherer. "Information on tree types, selection factors, and how to care for your tree can also be found on that site."

The website has a section on the history of the Christmas tree tradition and Christmas tree-related events and festivals. Under the "Selection and Care" section, you will find information on how to protect your outdoor trees from thieves and vandals, as well as plans for the tree's eventual departure.

"Recycle your tree after Christmas," said Scherer. "Many communities will pick up trees and turn them into chips. You might put the tree in your backyard and place bread and suet among the branches for the birds."


No Chocolate for Your Pets

Published November 15, 2010
An archive of Pet Columns from the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine is available online at Requests for reprints of this article may be directed to Chris Beuoy,

For people, a chocolate bar can send our taste buds to heaven. But for dogs and cats, consuming even a little bit of chocolate could send them to the emergency room.

Dr. Sandra Yi, a veterinarian and assistant professor of toxicology at the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine in Urbana, warns that chocolate can cause serious illness in pets because it contains theobromine and caffeine. Theobromine and caffeine are chemicals called methylated xanthine alkaloids. While not harmful in small amounts in humans, these compounds can be deadly in dogs and cats.

The compounds in chocolate are harmful to pets because they stimulate the sympathetic nervous system, commonly known as the "fight or flight" branch of the nervous system. Stimulation of the sympathetic nervous system causes the body to release a chemical called epinephrine (also commonly known as adrenaline), allowing humans and animals to have the ability to react in potentially harmful or emergency situations.

However, toxic doses of methylxanthines lead to the over-stimulation of this system, says Dr. Yi. As a result, a pet that ingests a harmful amount of methylxanthines may breathe rapidly and become very restless and overheated. A pet's heart rate and blood pressure may increase drastically, possibly culminating in cardiac arrhythmias (an abnormal heartbeat). They may also vomit, have diarrhea, and drink and urinate more than usual. Ingesting chocolate could ultimately lead to seizures or even death without appropriate veterinary care.

The symptoms that will occur in your pet will depend on several factors: the type of chocolate ingested, the amount ingested, the weight of your pet, and your pet's health history. The concentration of methylxanthines vary by the type of chocolate, ranging from the least in white chocolate up to the most in cocoa powder:

  • White chocolate
  • Milk chocolate
  • Dark chocolate
  • Instant cocoa mix
  • Semi-sweet chocolate
  • Baking chocolate
  • Cocoa beans (Note: cocoa bean mulch, a commercial product for gardens, is very harmful if ingested by pets.)
  • Cocoa powder

Of course, the more chocolate your pet ingests, the more likely you are to see significant symptoms. Also, the less your pet weighs, the more likely exposure will bring severe effects.

If your pet has ingested a toxic dose of chocolate, your veterinarian will recommend treatment options that take into consideration the amount and type of chocolate ingested as well as the health history of your pet. One option is to induce vomiting to remove some of the chocolate from your pet's stomach before it is digested; however, this can cause more problems for your pet if not done correctly, so it should not be done without instruction from a veterinarian.

If inducing vomiting is not an option or if it does not result in the recovery of enough chocolate, the veterinarian may also need to treat your animal with a substance called activated charcoal, which prevents the intestines from absorbing the methylxanthines. Treatment with intravenous fluids and medication to prevent seizures and the adverse effects on the heart may also be needed.

If you suspect that your pet may have ingested chocolate or another product that contains methylxanthines, it is better to err on the side of caution and treat the situation as if it were a worst-case scenario. Be aware that other foods toxic to pets—raisins, macadamia nuts, and coffee beans, for example—may have been ingested along with the chocolate. Even if you do not see any changes in your pet's behavior, you should contact your local veterinarian to determine whether any type of treatment is necessary.

For further information on chocolate toxicity, please contact your local veterinarian.

An archive of Pet Columns from the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine is available online at Requests for reprints of this article may be directed to Chris Beuoy,

Veterinary Extension/Office of Public Engagement
University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine

Uptrend in crop prices stalls

Published November 15, 2010
URBANA - Except for a brief retreat in early October, corn, soybean, and wheat prices were in a steady uptrend from June 30 through November 9. December 2010 corn futures increased about 70 percent, whereas January 2011 soybean futures and July 2011 wheat futures increased about 50 percent. But the uptrend in crop prices has stalled, said University of Illinois agricultural economist Darrel Good.

"The fundamental reasons for the large price increases have been well chronicled. The factors include smaller-than-expected corn acreage in the United States, declining U.S. corn yield prospects, a rapid rate of corn use for ethanol, a torrid pace of U.S. soybean exports, rising world vegetable oil demand, a significant decline in wheat production in Russia and Kazakhstan, and a very poor start for the U.S. winter wheat crop," he said.

La Nina weather conditions also raised some concern about southern hemisphere crops. In addition, overall demand prospects for U.S. commodities were supported by the declining value of the U.S. dollar and rising energy prices, he said.

"Corn prices experienced the sharpest rally due to the magnitude of the decline in U.S. production prospects and expectations of a sharp drawdown in inventories of U.S. corn by the end of the 2010-11 marketing year. The USDA currently projects those stocks at a 15-year low of 827 million bushels," he said.

Soybean prices have been supported by the rapid pace of exports and export sales. The USDA now expects 2010-11 marketing year U.S. soybean exports to reach 1.57 billion bushels, 4.6 percent above the record exports of a year ago, he said.

"Through the first 10 weeks of the marketing year, export inspections exceeded those of a year earlier by 25 percent. Shipments to China were up 49 percent, and China accounts for 68 percent of all U.S. exports to date. Unshipped export sales as of Nov. 4 were 12 percent larger than sales of a year ago. China accounted for 58 percent of those outstanding sales," he said.

Even with large exports, expectations were for generally adequate stocks of U.S. soybeans at the end of the 2010-11 marketing year. The projection of those stocks dropped sharply early last week, however, as the USDA lowered the expected size of the 2010 U.S. harvest and increased the forecast of exports, he noted.

"Soybean oil prices have been supported by the projection of a second consecutive year of a 5 percent increase in world vegetable oil consumption and a further decline in world vegetable oil stocks," he said.

Domestically, soybean oil consumption for food is expected to be near that of last year, while exports are expected to decline by 20 percent. The USDA projects a 1.2-billion-pound (72 percent) increase in soybean oil use for the production of biodiesel. Use declined sharply last year due to the expiration of the blender's tax credit, he said.

"To reach the USDA projection of 2.9 billion pounds, use will have to average 242 million pounds per month. Use during the last month of the 2009-10 marketing year (Sept. 2010) totaled 98 million pounds," he said.

Wheat prices have been supported by a nearly 6 percent decline in world wheat production and the expected decline in U.S. and world stocks. Those inventories, however, are expected to be at generally adequate levels. More recent concerns center on the poor condition of the U.S. winter wheat crop and whether Russian wheat production will rebound in 2011, he noted.

"Prices of all three commodities declined sharply last week. The turn to lower prices was attributed to China's move to increase interest rates and presumably slow the rate of domestic economic growth. Such a slowdown might reduce the rate of growth in Chinese demand for commodities of all types," he said.

Price weakness may have also reflected some moderation in supply concerns. The U.S. hard red winter wheat crop received some beneficial precipitation, and the USDA increased its projections of some crops outside the United States. Projections were increased for corn in China, soybeans in South America, and wheat in Argentina and Australia, he said.

"There may also be growing concern about the ethanol blender's tax credit. If that credit is not extended, the pace of ethanol production could drop back to the mandated level," he said.

Finally, a private forecast that U.S. corn producers will increase plantings by nearly 5 million acres in 2011 reminded the market that high crop prices will induce a worldwide supply response next year, he added.

Although the uptrend in prices stalled last week, there is still a lot of uncertainty about crop supply and demand conditions. Uncertainty about Chinese corn demand, ethanol policy, energy prices, weather, and acreage may result in large price swings but should provide good support for prices into the end of the year, he said.