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Webinar by Extension Forester Christopher Evans

2:00 PM - 3:00 PM
Register for Webinar:

Jumping worms are exotic earthworms that were first found in Illinois in 2015. These invaders have the potential to drastically alter the soil and plant communities, impacting both natural ecosystems and residential landscaping. In 2016, reports of new populations have been coming in from across the state.

Join Extension Forester Chris Evans for an in-depth update on jumping worms in Illinois. This one-hour webinar will provide an update on the distribution of jumping worms in Illinois, discuss new research on their impacts to natural and managed lands, remind everyone how to identify jumping worms, and provide information on reporting new populations.

 Jumping Worms Update—Illinois

Webinar - October 4, 2-3pm

 To Register—

 For more information:

Chris Evans—, 618-695-3383

Christopher Evans, Extension Forester

Soil management may help stabilize maize yield in the face of climate change

Published September 20, 2016
cover crops
Winter cover crops (oat on left, oilseed radish on right) on Lily Lake Farm, in Lily Lake IL
  • Given that predicted climate changes are expected to affect maize yields, many researchers and companies are focusing on improving maize varieties to withstand more stressful environments.
  • A new study shows that climate effects on maize yield can be mitigated by soil water holding capacity and soil organic matter.
  • Cover cropping and other methods of improving soil organic matter may result in a more stable maize crop in future climates.

URBANA, Ill. – How will we feed our growing population in the face of an increasingly extreme climate? Many experts suggest the answer lies in breeding novel crop varieties that can withstand the increases in drought, heat, and extreme rainfall events predicted in the not-too-distant future. But breeding is only part of the equation, according to new research from the University of Illinois and several collaborating institutions across the Midwest.

“It might not be necessary to put all the stress of climate adaptation and mitigation on new varieties. Instead, if we can manage agroecosystems more appropriately, we can buffer some of the effects of climate instability,” says U of I and USDA Agricultural Research Service ecologist Adam Davis.

To find the management tool that could ameliorate the effects of climate instability, Davis and his collaborators had to go beyond the traditional field-scale experiment. “We had to think at a much broader spatial scale,” he notes.

The team obtained weather, soil, and yield data from every county in four states—Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, and Pennsylvania—across a span of 15 years. They then used a new analytical approach, which borrowed from economic concepts, to determine the effects of weather and soil properties on maize yield.

“The things that were most effective at buffering against the different forms of yield instability were soil organic matter and water holding capacity,” Davis says. This pattern was true across all years and all study locations.

Greater water holding capacity, which increases with more soil organic matter, gives crops an advantage in hot, dry climates. They can continue to take up water from the soil, which means continued growth and strong yields even in adverse climates.

The good news for farmers is that they may be able to manage for improvements in water holding capacity, giving them a potential tool to support novel maize varieties. “In locations with coarse soils, you can see really quick and gratifying responses to soil organic matter amendments,” Davis says.

Davis suggests a number of practices to increase soil organic matter, including using cover crops, avoiding excessive soil disturbance, increasing crop rotation length, and adding composted manures. He points out that cover crops might be the best choice for some farmers.

“Cover crops are a great way for improving soil organic matter; even small amounts of cover crop biomass seem to have soil organic matter benefits,” Davis explains. “They also can have weed suppressive benefits, so cover crops may represent a win-win scenario.”

No matter which amendment practice farmers choose, he says, “soil organic matter amendments are an important place to start building a cropping system resilient to climate change.”

The study, “Soil water holding capacity mitigates downside risk and volatility in US rainfed maize: Time to invest in soil organic matter?” is published in the journal PLOS One. Funding was provided by the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative of the USDA’s National Institute for Food and Agriculture. The full article is accessible at the journal’s website.

News Source:

Adam Davis, 217-333-9654

Environmental DNA provides early detection of invasive crayfish

Published September 20, 2016
Eric Larson, U of I aquatic ecologist
Eric Larson, U of I aquatic ecologist
  • Ecosystems contain environmental DNA (eDNA) that includes genetic information on every organism within them.
  • By analyzing eDNA from 12 Wisconsin lakes, researchers determined the presence of an invasive crayfish species, including in two lakes that had never reported this crayfish.
  • Early detection of invasive species is critical for time-sensitive and cost-effective management responses like containment or removal.

URBANA, Ill. – Every plant and animal has a unique genetic composition, which makes a lake like a bowl of DNA soup—every spoonful contains the combined DNA of the lake’s inhabitants. Scientists have only recently begun using this environmental DNA, or eDNA, to identify the presence of organisms like amphibians and fish. A U of I researcher and his colleagues analyzed eDNA to successfully detect the presence of the highly invasive rusty crayfish in a dozen Wisconsin lakes. Using eDNA to monitor hard to detect species can provide early warnings of newly arrived invasive species.

“The lakes in the Boulder Junction area have had long-term monitoring from the University of Wisconsin and the University of Notre Dame, so we had an existing gradient of lakes where this invasive crayfish had never been observed to lakes where we know rusty crayfish are abundant,” says U of I aquatic ecologist Eric Larson. “Using the eDNA tool we succeeded in detecting rusty crayfish in lakes where this species is very rare. This suggests that the tool could be used to monitor for early warning of new invasions in other regions, which would let us enact control or eradication measures when they’re most feasible.”

Larson says he was skeptical of using eDNA for this particular species. The tool has been successful in finding fish and amphibians which are very mobile, more mucousy, and, presumably, constantly shedding DNA into the environment. “With my background as a field biologist, I thought—Crayfish. With an exoskeleton. Under a rock. At the bottom of a lake. I didn’t think we’d find any using this environmental DNA approach. Obviously, I’m a convert.”

In the study, samples were analyzed using a small white machine that could be easily mistaken for a bread maker. Inside, a computer with a laser heats and cools the samples of DNA over and over in a chemical solution. During each cycle, the double strands of DNA are separated, then built up again. The duplication is exponential so millions of copies are created within a very short time. Beforehand, a dye is attached to the DNA, making it easier for researchers to identify each organism’s DNA and quantify it.

Larson’s colleague Mark Davis, coordinator of the Collaborative Ecological Genetics Laboratory at the Illinois Natural History Survey, explains that every living thing is constantly sloughing off cells and all of those cells contain DNA. But eDNA isn’t like what you get if you take a blood sample from a salamander. That would be “clean DNA.” You already know it’s from a salamander.

“The eDNA from a lake is ‘dirty’ DNA,” Davis says. “It’s degraded, broken down so you have very small fragments and few copies. With chemistry and technology, we amplify it. Using bioinformatics, the computer wades through the information to give us a full complex of what’s in that sample—whether it be invertebrates, fish, reptiles, amphibians, birds—anything that may be coming into contact with the water or soil. With eDNA, it’s exciting because you don’t know what you’ll find.”

Davis says there are still eDNA problems to solve. “Right now we can tell if an organism is present or not. But knowing the exact number of individuals is difficult. For example, we often don’t know the rate an organism sheds DNA or if they shed more at different times. How quickly does it degrade?”

Larson says that one potential disadvantage to using this hypersensitive tool is that it may increase the potential for finding false positives, or cases where an organism is perceived as present when it’s not. This can occur if field or laboratory equipment is contaminated or if DNA is transported long distances via predators or water currents. In the case of Larson’s study, crayfish eDNA was detected in two lakes where the invader had not previously been observed by more conventional methods. Larson says that a minute amount of DNA could have been transported in feces from birds that had fed on crayfish in a different lake, as one example of potential error associated with eDNA.

“It may be that these are new or incipient invasions that eDNA detected before other methods. But it may also be that we had false positives. As a consequence, these are lakes that we want to monitor and follow-up on,” he says.

Globally, there are around 600 crayfish species, of which only about a half dozen have become problematic invaders in the United States. These non-native crayfish prey on fish eggs and destroy aquatic plants, and can negatively affect fish through competition for food and changes to their habitat.

“There are economic repercussions from invasions,” Larson says. “One eradication of rusty crayfish in Wisconsin took years and was very costly.” In that instance, success may have been due to a drought that substantially lowered the lake levels and stranded their habitat.

“Crayfish can walk over land so if you have them in an aquaculture pond there’s nothing to prevent them from crossing over a little hill and then showing up in a national park,” Larson says. “They’re also prevalent in elementary and middle school science classrooms as live animals for behavioral studies. Teachers may not want to euthanize the crayfish at the end of the school year. Often believing that there is just one crayfish species everywhere, they have an end-of-semester release party and dump aquarium contents into a local pond or stream, or send crayfish home with students who may subsequently release them.”

Larson says preventing invasions from happening in the first place is ideal. “But the eDNA tool gives us a sensitive and potentially affordable method for monitoring hard to detect species for management applications. That can mean early warnings of these species invasions while you still have the time to control or contain them before they are too abundant for that to be feasible.”

“Environmental DNA (eDNA) detects the invasive rusty crayfish Orconectes rusticus at low abundances,” is published in the Journal of Applied Ecology. The article is co-authored by Eric R. Larson, U of I; Matthew M. Dougherty, Mark A. Renshaw, Crysta A. Gantz, Daniel M. Erickson, and David M. Lodge, all from the University of Notre Dame; and Scott P. Egan, Rice University. The research was supported by a USA EPA grant.


High resolution images are available for this story at

Webinar: Packaging Techniques to Improve Soy Food Shelf Life

11:00 AM - 12:00 PM

This webinar, Packaging Techniques to Improve Soy Food Shelf Life, will focus on the range of packaging techniques for soy dairy products and the best practices for each to ensure greater success and financial growth of soy dairy enterprises.  The webinar will review technical information regarding different packaging and distribution options including the use of glass versus plastic bottles, different refrigeration options, bottle sealing, pasteurization, and same day distribution scenarios. Case studies from the Soybean Innovation Lab’s soy dairy network will provide real world examples of these techniques in action. 

Click here for more information and to register.

Anticipating changes in corn and soybean production forecasts

Published September 19, 2016

URBANA, Ill. – Following the release of the USDA’s September Crop Production report, market discussion immediately turned to the likely size of the final corn and soybean production estimates to be released in January. According to a University of Illinois agricultural economist, those estimates will reflect possible changes in both yield and acreage estimates.

Darrel Good provides a historical perspective that may help in anticipating changes this year.

“For corn, the Sept. 12 Crop Production report forecast a crop of 15.903 billion bushels, reflecting an average yield of 174.4 bushels on harvested acreage of 86.55 million acres,” Good says. “The yield and production forecasts are slightly smaller than the August forecasts and the acreage estimate is based on the USDA’s June Agricultural Survey. In the previous 20 years, the U.S. average corn yield estimate released in January after harvest exceeded the September forecast 14 times and was less than the September forecast six times.”

Good says the January estimate exceeded the September forecast 70 percent of the time regardless of whether the September forecast was above (10 years) or below (10 years) the August forecast.

“If the analysis is extended to the previous 40 years, the January corn yield estimate exceeded the September forecast 68 percent of the time, 27 years,” Good says. “However, the January estimate exceeded the September forecast 80 percent of the time when the September forecast equaled or exceeded the August forecast (20 years), and only 55 percent of the time when the September forecast was smaller than the August forecast (20 years), as was the case this year.”

For soybeans, Good says the September report forecast a crop of 4.201 billion bushels, reflecting an average yield of 50.6 bushels on harvested acreage of 83.037 million acres. The yield and production forecasts are larger than the August forecasts and the acreage estimate is based on the USDA’s June Agricultural Survey. In the previous 20 years, the U.S. average soybean yield estimate released in January after harvest exceeded the September forecast 11 times and was less than the September forecast nine times. The January estimate exceeded the September forecast 67 percent of the time when the September forecast was above the August forecast (nine times), as was the case this year, but only 55 percent of the time when the September forecast was below the August forecast (11 years).

“If the analysis is extended to the previous 40 years, the January soybean yield estimate exceeded the September forecast 58 percent of the time (23 years),” Good says. “However, the January estimate exceeded the September forecast 65 percent of the time when the September forecast exceeded the August forecast (20 years) and 50 percent of the time when the September forecast was smaller than the August forecast (20 years).”

In the case of acreage, the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistical Service (NASS) final estimate of planted and harvested acreage will be based on the December Agricultural Survey as well as administrative data, primarily planted acreage reported to the USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) by producers participating in commodity programs. Those administrative data are used by NASS beginning with the October Crop Production report.

“Because the FSA acreage data are used to supplement the NASS survey estimates, there has been a consistent relationship between the final NASS planted acreage estimates and the final FSA acreage estimates,” Good says. “Because all farms do not participate in farm programs, final NASS planted acreage estimates exceed acreage reported to FSA. In the nine years from 2007 through 2015, the NASS planted acreage estimates for corn exceeded acreage reported to FSA by an average of 3.4 percent, in a range of 2.6 to 4.7 percent. The difference was between 3.0 and 3.5 percent in seven of the nine years. For soybeans, the NASS planted acreage estimates exceeded acreage reported to FSA by an average of 1.8 percent, in a range of 1.2 to 3 percent.”

The FSA releases monthly summaries of cumulative producer acreage reports beginning in August and concluding in January. “The September report this year showed very small increases in corn and soybean acreage compared to the August report,” Good says. “This suggests that acreage reporting is occurring in a very timely fashion and is likely near completion. For corn, the NASS June estimate of planted acreage is 3.5 percent larger than acreage reported to FSA so far this year. For soybeans the NASS acreage estimate is 2.1 percent larger than acreage reported to FSA. The relationship between current NASS and FSA planted acreage estimates are already within the range of the final relationship in the previous nine years.”

What is to be concluded from this historical perspective? 

“First, available evidence suggests that the NASS final estimate of planted, and therefore harvested, acreage will not differ appreciably from the current estimates for either corn or soybeans,” Good says. “Second, the more recent, 20 years, historical pattern of changes in yield forecasts from September to January suggests slightly higher odds for January corn and soybean yield estimates to exceed the September forecasts than to be below the September forecasts. The longer history, 40 years also suggests higher odds of a soybean yield increase, but reflects more of a toss-up for corn yield changes. It seems unlikely, however, that production estimates for either crop will change enough to materially alter the projected supply and consumption balance for the 2016-17 marketing year.”



Illinois, China study nutritional value of wheat bran for pigs

Published September 16, 2016
  • There is a need to determine the energy contribution from ingredients that are rich in fiber, because these ingredients are increasingly being fed to save on feed costs.
  • Inclusion of 0, 15, or 30 percent wheat bran in diets fed to growing pigs resulted in a decrease in dietary digestible energy, metabolizable energy, and net energy.
  • Values for digestible, metabolizable, and net energy in wheat bran determined using the difference procedure were in good agreement with the values estimated using linear regression, indicating that both procedures may be used to estimate energy values in feed ingredients.

URBANA, Ill. - Research conducted by the University of Illinois is helping determine the nutritional value of wheat bran in diets fed to pigs. Wheat bran, like many other co-products from the human food industries, contains more fiber than corn and soybean meal, which adversely affects energy digestibility.

"To save on feed costs, more producers are turning to co-products,” says Hans H. Stein, professor of animal sciences at Illinois. "Therefore, there is a need to determine the energy contribution from fiber-rich ingredients. But the effect of dietary fiber on heat production and net energy of diets is unclear."

In collaboration with colleagues at China Agricultural University (CAU) in Beijing, China, the research was conducted in the calorimetry unit at CAU. Growing barrows were fed diets containing 0, 15, or 30 percent wheat bran. The pigs were housed in metabolism crates inside calorimetry chambers built to measure gas exchange and heat production.

The digestible energy (DE), metabolizable energy (ME), and net energy (NE) in the diets declined as more wheat bran was included. The DE content of diets containing no wheat bran was 3,454 kcal/kg, compared with 3,161 kcal/kg in diets containing 30 percent wheat bran. The ME content of the diets decreased from 3,400 to 3,091 kcal/kg, and NE content decreased from 1,808 to 1,458 kcal/kg.

The research also validated a procedure commonly used to determine NE. Using the difference procedure, Stein's team determined the DE, ME, and NE of wheat bran to be 2,168, 2,117, and 896 kcal/kg, respectively. These values were similar to those derived using a regression procedure.

Stein says that DE and ME are usually determined using the difference procedure, but NE is usually determined using regression equations. As far as he knows, nobody has compared values derived from the difference procedure with values derived via regression.

"Because experiments to determine NE via the difference procedure are more difficult to conduct than determining DE and ME, it's helpful to know that using regression to determine NE will yield an accurate value," Stein concludes.

The paper, "Wheat bran reduces concentrations of digestible, metabolizable, and net energy in diets fed to pigs, but energy values in wheat bran determined by the difference procedure are not different from values estimated from a linear regression procedure," is published in the July 2016 issue of the Journal of Animal Science. It was co-authored by Neil Jaworski of the University of Illinois, and Dewen Liu and Defa Li of China Agricultural University in Beijing. The full text is available online at



NRES Departmental Seminar by Dr. Pierre Gentine

3:00 PM - 4:00 PM
W-109 Turner Hall, 1102 S. Goodwin Avenue, Urbana, IL

Seminar by Dr. Pierre Gentine, Columbia University

Title: Vegetation and droughts in models and observations

Speaker's Website:

For more information, or to meet with this speaker, please contact host Dr. Kaiyu Guan at