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Free, online financial planning course

Published January 12, 2017
portion of computer keyboard

URBANA, Ill. – Young adults and others who resolve to be financially prepared for 2017 and beyond can take a free, online financial planning course at their convenience. Now open for registration, the course provides an introduction to financial planning, including the benefits of a career in the field.

Financial Planning for Young Adults is a Massive Open Online Course or MOOC that provides an introduction to basic financial planning concepts. It is open to the general public through Coursera, an education platform that partners with universities worldwide to offer courses free of charge.

For more information about the course and to register, visit

The course was developed through a three-way partnership between the Center for Financial Planning Board, the Department of Agricultural and Consumer Economics in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences at the University of Illinois, and University of Illinois Extension.

“This course will not only help participants better plan for the future, but it is a great introduction to a career in financial planning as we seek to attract and develop the next generation of financial planners,” says Charles Chaffin, director of Academic Home for the CFP Board Center for Financial Planning.

The course can be taken for free, or, for a $49 fee, students have full access to every element in the course, including graded assessments and a course certificate with all instructors’ signatures. Those who choose to audit the course free of charge will have access to all elements, but will not be able to submit assignments to be graded. Consequently, audit participants will not receive a course certificate for course completion. The course is not a replacement for any portion of the education requirements for CFP® certification.

“This course is for people to learn more about how financial planning can impact their lives in a positive way. It is also for people who are interested in the field of financial planning and maybe even thinking about becoming a CFP® professional,” says University of Illinois Associate Professor of Agricultural Economics Nicholas Paulson.

Within each module, students will view a combination of traditional lecture-style videos, along with video vignettes that introduce financial topics for discussion among the course participants.  Each of the videos introduces a real-world scenario where financial decisions must be made and financial planning concepts can be applied. Although the videos were produced with young adults in mind, Paulson believes they will help engage students of any age. The videos will help all students in the course think critically and decide how they would resolve the financial situation presented.

The course is organized across eight separate modules within a 4-week window:

1) Setting Financial Goals and Assessing Your Situation

2) Budgeting and Cash Flow Management

3) Saving Strategies

4) The Time Value of Money

5) Borrowing and Credit

6) Investing

7) Risk Management

8) Financial Planning as a Career

Paulson and Chaffin are co-developers and instructors of the course, along with U of I Extension Consumer Economics Educator Kathy Sweedler. The course also includes information about career opportunities in financial planning with advice from CFP® professionals across the country.

“Because financial planning is such a personal topic, students will be encouraged to define their own financial goals and objectives while we discuss concepts and provide tools that they can apply to reach those goals,” says Sweedler.

U of I has worked with CFP Board in the past and offers a bachelor’s degree in financial planning. Students study finance and economics as they apply to individuals, households, and small businesses in the course of accumulating and using financial resources. All students who graduate with a degree in financial planning from U of I’s Department of Agricultural and Consumer Economics are eligible to sit for the CFP® certification exam.

Eastern Russian plant collection could improve cold hardiness in miscanthus

Published January 10, 2017
Miscanthus sinensis on Russky Island
Miscanthus sinensis on Russky Island
  • Plant collections from around the world can be used to improve domestic crop performance.
  • A large collection of Miscanthus sacchariflorus from eastern Russia could be used to increase cold hardiness of miscanthus grown for biomass in the United States.
  • Because miscanthus is related to important food crops including sugarcane and corn, there is potential for the collection to help breeders improve cold-hardiness in those crops as well.

URBANA, Ill. – Winters in eastern Russia are intensely cold, with air temperatures regularly reaching -30 degrees Fahrenheit in some locations. It is a seemingly inhospitable climate, but native plants have found ways to thrive there. University of Illinois plant geneticist Erik Sacks suspected one of these plants may hold the key to breeding cold-tolerant food and biomass crops. To find out, the modern-day botanical explorer set off across eastern Russia with colleagues from the N. I. Vavilov All-Russian Institute of Plant Genetic Resources (VIR) to collect specimens of the perennial grass Miscanthus sacchariflorus.

“Miscanthus is part of a tribe of grasses, the Andropogoneae, that includes sorghum, sugarcane, and corn,” Sacks explains. “Because it is found so far north, this population of Miscanthus sacchariflorus is likely the most cold-hardy of that group. If we want to improve cold hardiness in this very important group of plants, this is going to be the best population to study.”

Sacks and his colleagues collected miscanthus from 47 locations across eastern Russia, including at least one location where Sacks wasn’t expecting to find it; in that case, he used his bare hands to pull it from the ground. Live rhizome fragments were sent back to U of I to be genetically analyzed and to USDA’s National Plant Germplasm System to be maintained and distributed to scientists worldwide for use in breeding and research. Samples were also provided to the VIR genebank. 

While in the field, Sacks’ team also measured traits that can be used to predict biomass production: height, number of stems, and stem diameter. When plant geneticist and the report’s lead author Lindsay Clark analyzed the plant material at U of I, she found several genetic markers associated with the traits measured in the field.

“Normally, breeders have to grow up plants from these collections and evaluate them in a replicated field trial,” Sacks says. “That’s very expensive and takes a lot of time. In the future when people go collecting, if there are heritable traits of value that can be measured quickly in the field, our results suggest it may be worthwhile to do so. It may not be as perfect as a replicated field trial in multiple sites, but it gives you a place to start.”

The analysis also showed that plants in the collection were genetically diverse, a fact that could potentially be exploited by breeders to express desirable traits in new miscanthus varieties or to add greater cold hardiness to its relatives, sugarcane and maize.

Furthermore, most of the plants were diploid—with each cell containing two copies of each chromosome—but 2 percent were tetraploid, with four copies. The most widely grown miscanthus variety in the United States, M. × giganteus, is a sterile hybrid derived from tetraploid M. sacchariflorus and diploid M. sinensis.

“We have this one genotype of M. × giganteus that’s grown for biomass right now. When we have cold winters like we had at the beginning of 2014 here in Illinois, it doesn’t do well. That’s because it’s from a subtropical area in Japan,” Clark explains.

“If we used the tetraploids from this collection to make new sterile M. × giganteus varieties, they would have a lot more cold hardiness than the current variety,” Sacks adds.

The research team has a lot more work to do before new miscanthus varieties are commercially available, but Sacks sees the exploration as a success. “Genetic diversity is the basis for all crop improvement, and germplasm collections play a key role. Without them, plant breeders can’t make great improvements in our crops in terms of yield, hardiness, and a variety of different abiotic and biotic stresses,” he says.

The article, “Ecological characteristics and in situ genetic associations for yield-component traits of wild Miscanthus from eastern Russia,” is published in the Annals of Botany. The study was supported by grants from the USDA-ARS National Plant Germplasm System’s Plant Exploration Program and the DOE Office of Biological and Environmental Research. 



News Source:

Erik Sacks, 217- 333-9327

Prospects for corn consumption from ethanol production in 2017

Published January 9, 2017

URBANA, Ill. – The U.S. ethanol industry ended 2016 on a high note. Ethanol production for the week ending Dec. 30 set a new ethanol production record with an average of 1.043 million barrels per day. The March futures price for corn moved higher last week to close at $3.58 in large part due to strength in the ethanol sector. Ethanol production and exports returned strong numbers over the first quarter of the marketing year. Currently, the World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates report forecast for corn consumption for ethanol production is 5.3 billion bushels. According to University of Illinois agricultural economist Todd Hubbs, when taking into account an increase in projected gasoline consumption in 2017 and robust ethanol export levels, the ability to surpass this projection is a strong possibility. 

“Domestic ethanol consumption in 2017 will be influenced by domestic gasoline consumption, due to the ethanol blending requirement and the biofuels volume requirement associated with the Renewable Fuels Standard,” Hubbs says. “The EPA final rulemaking for the Renewable Fuels Standard for 2017 was released on Nov. 23 and is discussed in greater detail in the farmdoc daily article posted Nov. 30. In brief, the renewable fuels volume requirement is set at 19.28 billion gallons for 2017, which is up from the 18.11 billion gallons required in 2016.

“The conventional ethanol requirement is set at 15 billion gallons for 2017, 500 million gallons larger than 2016 and equal to the statutory requirement level,” Hubbs says. “If the gasoline consumption forecast used by the EPA is correct, the E10 blend wall will be 14.36 billion gallons in 2017. The EPA believes an ethanol supply of 14.56 billion gallons is reasonably attainable in 2017. Within the 14.56 billion gallons, E15 and E85 blends are expected to be 107 and 204 million gallons respectively. The ability to attain the E15 and E85 blend levels remains to be seen, but the increase in ethanol requirements provides support for greater corn usage in 2017.”

U.S. retail gasoline prices averaged $2.14 per gallon in 2016, which is 12 percent less than the price experienced in 2015 and is the lowest price since 2004.  The December Energy Information Agency Short Term Energy Outlook projected an increase in gasoline prices for 2017 to $2.30 per gallon. Despite the projection of higher gasoline prices, gasoline consumption is forecast at 143.60 billion gallons in 2017, which is up from the 142.72 billion gallons consumed in 2016. Ethanol production is forecast to be 1 million barrels per day.

“If the EIA projection is correct, approximately 15.3 billion gallons of ethanol will be produced in 2017,” Hubbs says. “When considering the robust ethanol export trade currently in process, the U.S. ethanol industry is expected to produce a record level of ethanol in 2017.”

Ethanol export numbers are available from U.S. Census trade data for 2016 through November.  U.S. exports of ethanol thus far are at 948 million gallons, which is up almost 27 percent from the similar period in 2015.

According to Hubbs, for 2016, the prospect of ethanol exports exceeding 1 billion gallons is not unreasonable. 

Canada, China, and Brazil imported approximately 67 percent of the ethanol shipped from the U.S. through November. “The increase in ethanol exports is driven largely by increased volumes sent to China and Brazil,” Hubbs says. “China imported 179 million gallons through November, which far exceeds the 73.8 million gallons imported during the entirety of 2015. Brazil imported 224 million gallons through November, which is almost double from 2015. As we progress into 2017, the increases are expected to persist in Brazil because high sugar prices are expected to decrease ethanol production as mills allocate cane for sugar production in 2017. There is concern that China could raise ethanol tariffs and reduce ethanol imports in 2017 due to a possible trade dispute with the new administration.” 

Hubbs says the implications for corn consumption during the 2016-17 marketing year can be seen in the USDA Grain Crushing and Co-Product Production report released on Jan. 3. Grain crushing for fuel alcohol is available through November. For the first three months of the marketing year, 1.34 billion bushels of corn has been processed for ethanol. This is up 3.2 percent from 2015 processing numbers.

“If corn used for ethanol production maintains this pace, 5.37 billion bushels will be processed in the marketing year,” Hubbs says. “Using EIA weekly ethanol production numbers, December ethanol production averaged over 1 million barrels per day. These production levels place corn use for ethanol production in a range of 455 to 460 million bushels for the month if corn use maintains the pace of the three previous months. With a conservative estimate of corn crush in December, total corn consumption for ethanol production through the first third of the marketing year would be above the current WASDE projection.

“Lower corn prices, strong ethanol exports, and greater blending requirements combine to make 2017 appear to be a strong year for corn consumption in ethanol production,” Hubbs concludes. “If the U.S. ethanol industry produced over 1 million barrels per day for the entire year, the ability to blend at requirement levels under an expanded gasoline consumption scenario and meet potential export market demand bodes well for corn use in the sector for 2017.”


More pork in 2017 with higher hog prices?

Published January 3, 2017

URBANA, Ill. – The latest USDA Hogs and Pigs report released on Dec. 23 indicated that pork supplies in 2017 will be larger than pre-report expectations. According to Purdue University Extension economist Chris Hurt, slaughter numbers have run high all fall and USDA revised upward the size of the spring 2016 pig crop by 2.5 percent to account for the heavier runs.

“In a similar fashion, the December survey found more market hogs in the current inventory,” Hurt says. “The number of pigs weighing less than 180 pounds was 4 percent larger than the inventory of a year ago and was 2 percent larger than expected by the trade. These will be the market hogs arriving at processing plants from January to May 2017.”

A similar story unfolded for the breeding herd, which was up by 1.5 percent and was 1 percent more than expected. Farrowing intentions were also above expectations. Winter farrowing intentions are up 1.4 percent and spring farrowing intentions are up 1 percent. The expansion of the breeding herd tended to follow the record corn yields, with the Illinois, Missouri, and North Dakota breeding herds up 10 percent and the South Dakota herd up 9 percent.

The number of pigs per litter continued to march higher in 2016 with new records in each quarter. The last quarter of 2016 attained the highest level ever at 10.63 pigs per litter. For 2016, the new annual record average was 10.5 pigs. Over the past 10 years, the average rate of annual increase has been 1.5 percent.

“Given these numbers, the industry will increase pork output by about 3 percent in 2017 to 25.7 billion pounds,” Hurt says. “This represents a 12 percent increase since 2014 when PED reduced production and contributed to record-high hog prices. Pork production will rise by 2 percent in the first half of 2017 and by about 4 percent in the last half.” 

Hog prices were extremely depressed in the final quarter of 2016 when live prices averaged about $37 per hundredweight. Hurt says that was the lowest quarterly price since 2003. The lowest prices were in mid-November, touching the extremely low $30s. Recovery came quickly with prices rising to the lower $40s by the end of the year. For all of 2016 live hog prices averaged about $46.

What will hog prices be in 2017?

“With 3 percent higher production one might expect annual prices to be lower, but there are additional items to consider,” Hurt says. “First, retail prices did drop in 2016, but there is opportunity for those prices to come down more. Lower retail prices will stimulate the quantity of pork that consumers purchase. Second, USDA expects exports to expand by 5 percent, moving more of the increased production to foreign customers. Finally, with the addition of new processing capacity, the farm-to-wholesale margins are expected to drop. Lower margins at the processing stage may contribute to stronger bids to hog producers.”

Live hog prices are expected to be about $48 in 2017, $2 higher than in 2016. By quarter, prices are expected to average $45 in the first quarter, the very-low $50s in the second and third quarters, and $43 in the final quarter of 2017. A range of $2 higher or lower would be reasonable for price projections.

Costs of production are expected to be around $50 on a live-weight basis in both 2016 and 2017 based on current feed price expectations. “This means the industry operated at an estimated loss of about $12 per head in 2016 and is expected to have losses that average about $6 per head in 2017,” Hurt says. Losses in the first quarter of 2017 are expected to be about $13 dollars per head. Modest profits may return in the second and third quarters, with a return to the largest losses of the year in the final quarter.

“The 2017 outlook is for weak returns so it is important to keep further expansion to a minimum,” Hurt cautions. “This will be difficult with new processing capacity coming in 2017 as those plants will want to stimulate some added production to fill their lines.”

Pork exports to China will bear watching in 2017, Hurt adds. Last year, exports to China nearly doubled, growing to near 16 percent of total exports. Also of deep interest to the pork industry in 2017 will be the position of the new administration on trade issues and how that might affect agriculture. Mexico became the number one destination for U.S. pork in 2015 and 2016, so trade relations with Mexico will need to be watched carefully for potential impacts on the hog market.

“Remember that a breeding herd that stays the same size will still enable a 1 to 2 percent expansion of pork production due to more pigs per little and higher market weights. A 2 percent production growth rate is probably close to what is sustainable with modest U.S. population growth and some growth in exports,” Hurt says.



News Source:

Chris Hurt, 765-494-4273

Winter ration considerations for beef cows

Published January 3, 2017

URBANA, Ill. - Feed costs represent over half the total cost in a cow-calf production system. The majority of feed costs are from feeding cows during the winter season when most grasses are dormant. As a result, University of Illinois Extension commercial agriculture educator Travis Meteer says producers can greatly impact profitability by managing winter feed costs.

Meteer offers some options for developing a least-cost ration on your farm.

“Depending on your farm set-up, available equipment, and your willingness to purchase diesel fuel, your least-cost ration may look very different than your neighbors’,” Meteer says. “Availability and proximity to co-product feeds, such as corn gluten feed and dried distillers grains may also shift your diet make-up.”

Hay is the traditional winter feed of choice, but its variable quality can lead to problems. “If hay is not sufficient in protein, energy, and other nutrients, then cows may be malnourished, Meteer explains. “This may occur even though cows have all they can eat. Poor quality forage and crop residues have a high proportion of fiber to protein, thus slowing digestion.”

Consequently, cows can eat only 1.5 percent of their body weight per day of low-quality forage. If the forage is of high quality, cows can consume around 3 percent of their body weight daily. “Poor quality hay likely needs to be supplemented to meet cow requirements,” Meteer says.

With supplementation, cows can actually digest more low-quality forage, up to 2 percent of their body weight. Meteer explains that grain supplementation should be no more than 0.5 percent of the cow's body weight. “If the forage is of such poor quality that more supplementation is required, you should consider using co-products to avoid negative associative effects that occur when using grains,” he adds.

“The most economical way to feed cows is to keep them grazing. Brassicas and small grains with cornstalks can be used to provide fall and winter grazing very economically,” Meteer says. “If the cattle need to be fed due to snow cover or other factors related to your farm, you should develop a low-cost method of feeding the cows.

“If your cows are thin or heavy milking, you will need higher energy diets than the examples. If your cows are larger than the example, they will need proportionally more feed.”

Read more about winter feeding at

U of I co-hosts summit on benefits of precision animal nutrition

Published December 22, 2016
  • The University of Illinois, the University of Arkansas, and AB Vista hosted the 3rd International Phytate Summit in November.
  • Phytate is an antinutrient found in grains and legumes that can interfere with digestibility of calcium, phosphorus, amino acids, and other nutrients.
  • Understanding the effects of destroying phytate could have a significant impact on feed formulation.

URBANA, Ill. – The 3rd International Phytate Summit, held in November and hosted by the University of Illinois, the University of Arkansas and AB Vista, brought together top scientists and nutritionists from 22 countries to discuss the benefits of precision animal nutrition – and in particular the destruction of the antinutrient phytate.

Hans Stein, professor of animal science at U of I, leads a research team which has been studying the interactions between phytate, phytase, and calcium. “Currently, discussion in the swine industry is focused on calcium digestibility and formulating diets based on digestible calcium,” says Stein. “Research results indicate that phytase increases calcium digestibility, so this effect should be taken into consideration when it comes to diet formulation.”

AB Vista senior research manager Carrie Walk says new understandings revealed at the meeting of the wide-ranging negative impacts of phytate on animal nutrition are likely to bring positive changes to dietary formulation.

“We know that phytate destruction in the intestinal tract has massive benefits on nutrient utilization and performance,” says Walk. “Four or five years ago people were using phytase to release phosphorus. Now we understand more about phytate and its influence on nutrients as well as animal performance, and we can formulate diets based on more complete phytate destruction and provision of nutrients beyond phosphorus.”

The summit saw a renewed commitment between academics and industry representatives to connect the science of enzymes and feed ingredients to real-world applications, says Mike Kidd from the University of Arkansas. One such area of research is amino acids, where under or over supply can significantly impact animal performance.

“Phytase appears to influence amino acid digestibility, so researching the underlying mechanisms is really important if we’re going to take the next steps in understanding what’s going on,” says Kidd. “We look at data and think about phytate and phytase, but can we look at it and say phytate has changed the amino acid requirement of a chicken?”

Professor Merlin Lindemann of the University of Kentucky says, “New developments in the industry’s understanding of nutrition could have a significant impact on feed formulation. When one realizes that the benefits of superdosing phytase to destroy the antinutrient phytate actually go beyond calcium and phosphorus release to amino acid release, trace mineral release and whole-body energetics improvement, then one wonders what other unanticipated benefits may there be.”