College of ACES
College News

Current corn market price factors for 2017

Published April 24, 2017

URBANA, Ill. –  The July corn futures price closed over the past week at the low end of the price range, between $3.60-$3.80, which it has fluctuated within since early March. According to a University of Illinois agricultural economist, lower corn prices appear to reflect mixed expectations regarding demand factors and the potential for large supplies coming out of South America. In the near term, corn prices look to remain range bound as old-crop inventories move into the market. Looking forward to the new-crop season, the potential for strengthening corn prices is present due to the possibility of a decline in stocks associated with lower corn acreage in 2017.

“Ethanol and export markets currently support demand for corn,” says Todd Hubbs. “Ethanol production recently ended a long run of producing more than a million barrels per day. The current USDA projection of 5.45 billion bushels of corn used for ethanol production appears attainable with corn used for ethanol sitting at approximately 3.46 billion bushels as of April 14.  Ethanol exports continue at a robust pace and look to provide more support for corn use in ethanol.”

Corn exports continue to show a steady pace. As of April 13, corn inspected for export came in at 1.41 billion bushels and is at 63.5 percent of the USDA projection of 2.25 billion bushels for the 2016-17 marketing year. Hubbs says the large corn crop in South America provides caution on export numbers.

“Currently, the USDA projects corn production in Brazil and Argentina at 3.68 and 1.52 billion bushels respectively,” Hubbs says. “Approximately 28.5 million acres of Brazilian corn production is in the second crop, which constitutes 68 percent of planted corn in Brazil. Current weather indicates favorable conditions and high yield potential. The influence of this large second crop on corn exports looks to arrive in the summer as harvest and shipping commence.  Domestic corn exports should maintain a steady pace into the summer months but could lead to lower projected corn exports during the 2017-18 marketing year. In contrast, domestic feed demand for corn, while still strong, is not performing to initial USDA projections for the marketing year.”

Feed and residual use for corn during the first half of the marketing year is 3.8 billion bushels, which is a 5 percent increase over last year’s feed and residual use pace. Despite this increase, the USDA lowered the feed and residual use projection by 50 million bushels to 5.5 billion bushels for the marketing year in the May World Agricultural Supply report. Large supplies of distillers grains and other feed grains reduced the corn used for feed.

“As the 2016-17 marketing year continues, the uncertainty surrounding the final amount of feed and residual use for corn will continue,” Hubbs says. “The recent appearance of vomitoxin in 2016 corn across many states will not help corn and distillers grains feeding in the near term and adds another level of uncertainty.”

Currently, the USDA projects feed and residual use during the last half of the marketing year is at 1.70 billion bushels, which would account for 31 percent of the marketing-year total.  Last year, feed and residual use totaled 1.506 billion bushels, accounting for 29 percent of the marketing-year total. Because the residual component of feed and residual use can be large, total marketing-year use will not be known until the release of the Sept. 1 Grain Stocks report. 

“When examining the current factors as a whole, the prospect of corn prices making a significant movement in either direction appears to depend on new-crop yield potential and looks to remain within the range in the near term,” Hubbs says.

According to Hubbs, the prospects for corn prices in the next marketing year is supply driven at this point. The supply of corn for the 2017-18 marketing year will consist of carryover supplies of old-crop corn and the 2017 harvest. The USDA currently projects the carryover of old-crop corn at 2.32 billion bushels. “Given the uncertainty surrounding feed and residual use, the prospect of a larger 2016-17 ending stocks number is a distinct possibility. The potential size of the 2017 harvest will develop over the next several months.”

The USDA's March 31 Prospective Plantings report indicated intentions to plant 89.996 million acres of corn this year, 4.01 million fewer acres than planted last year. An estimate of actual planted acres arrives with USDA's June 30 Acreage report. 

The short-term focus will be on yield prospects for the 2017 corn crop. For now, Hubbs says, the discussion focuses on the rate of planting progress and yield potential. “Normally, the larger percentage of the crop that is planted in a timely manner leads to higher U.S. average yield potential. However, summer weather will determine the magnitude of yield. Unless an unusually large or small percentage of the crop is planted late this year, yield expectations should continue to focus on trend value in the range of 168 to 171 bushels per acre. The USDA will report an expected yield in the May 10 WASDE report.

“Uncertainty about the size of the 2017 corn crop will continue for the next few months,” Hubbs says. “Similarly, the strength of corn demand and the influence of the large South American crop on exports will be revealed over time. As we continue into the marketing year, monitoring the weekly pace of exports and ethanol production will provide timely indications of demand changes. The USDA's estimate of June 1 stocks that gives a signal of third-quarter feed and residual use will also be an important indicator of demand strength.”


Some cows may be predisposed to subacute ruminal acidosis

Published April 24, 2017
Holstein cow
  • Cattle with subacute ruminal acidosis suffer from a number of low-level ailments that affect productivity.
  • A research team led by University of Illinois scientists has documented changes in pH, microbiome, and rumen epithelial cells in SARA-affected cows.
  • Results indicate that some animals may be predisposed to SARA because of an overabundance of certain bacteria.

URBANA, Ill. – Scientists are not sure why some cows develop the condition known as subacute ruminal acidosis, or SARA, but producers know it causes a number of minor symptoms that add up to major problems over time.

“Subacute ruminal acidosis is what happens when the pH of the rumen – the large compartment of a cow’s stomach – gets too low. It’s not severe, but it’s lower than ideal. It’s difficult to detect. Because of that, we don’t have a great understanding of how it happens and what are the contributing factors,” says assistant professor of animal sciences Josh McCann.

Left untreated, cows can develop inflammation, laminitis (a hoof issue related to lameness), or liver abscesses. Constantly fighting low-level ailments leaves cows with fewer resources to invest in milk or meat production, and McCann says that leads to higher culling rates in dairies.

To get a handle on what is happening in the rumen during SARA, McCann and his collaborators tried to induce the condition in dairy cows by simulating the behavior of rapid feeders – the cows that are most often affected by SARA. They fed the SARA cows a restricted diet followed by full feed, measuring rumen pH and sampling the microbial community before and six days after initiating the feeding treatments. It turned out that their treatments did not always predict which cows developed SARA.

“Differences between animals on day six were observable on day one,” McCann says. “Bacteria in the phylum Bacteroidetes and the genus Prevotella were overrepresented in some cows on day one; those were the ones that were going to get SARA, regardless of what we fed them. These bacteria may be a marker for SARA or are actually contributing to it happening in some animals.”

The researchers observed that the epithelium, or lining of the rumen, also changed as a result of SARA. Within 24 hours of SARA induction, they saw genetic evidence that the epithelium was responding to the SARA challenge; the genes for proteins holding epithelial cells together were more active compared with the healthy animals.

“The epithelium is a barrier, it’s the fence that keeps bacteria out. I think our data shows that the epithelium ‘sensed’ the challenging conditions and sent the defense signal to attempt to maintain barrier function. When it fails to do that in more prolonged cases of SARA, bacteria can enter the bloodstream to cause liver abscesses or other problems,” McCann says.

Liver abscesses can be treated with antibiotics, but the condition is costly. McCann says the feedlot industry loses upwards of $400 million per year due to liver abscesses stemming from SARA.

The average producer is not going to test for rumen pH, microbial community, or gene expression of epithelial proteins, but the research takes us a step closer to better detection and possible prevention of SARA. For example, McCann hopes that his research team will be able to develop a relatively inexpensive blood test for the condition. He also thinks a key to detection and prediction lies in understanding individual feeding behavior.

“If we can identify animals that are at risk – maybe those that vary a lot in their feed intake – we can look at some nutritional measures of prevention. Maybe adjusting their diet, or a targeted feed additive like a probiotic,” McCann suggests.

The article, “Induction of subacute ruminal acidosis affects the ruminal microbiome and epithelium,” is published in Frontiers in Microbiology. The work was a collaboration with other U of I animal sciences faculty, Phil Cardoso and Juan Loor, as well as Ehsan Khafipour at the University of Manitoba. The research was supported in part by the American Jersey Cattle Association Research Foundation.




News Source:

Josh McCann, 217-300-5016

Robot may be ‘game changer’ for crop growers, breeders

Published April 21, 2017
ABE postdoctoral researcher Erkan Kayacan left and Agricultural and biological engineering professor Girish Chowdhary
Agricultural and biological engineering professor Girish Chowdhary, right, is working on the $3.1 million project, along with postdoctoral researcher Erkan Kayacan.

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - A semiautonomous robot may soon be roaming agricultural fields gathering and transmitting real-time data about the growth and development of crops, information that crop breeders – and eventually farmers – can use to identify the genetic traits in plants likely to produce the greatest yields.

A team of scientists from the Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology at the University of Illinois is developing the robot in partnership with researchers from Cornell University and Signetron Inc.

Inspired by the autonomous rovers used to search collapsed buildings and other dangerous environments, the agricultural robot is propelled on continuous tracks, or miniature tank treads, which enable it to navigate through dry or muddy fields. Researchers guide it using GPS and a laptop computer.

Traveling between the crop rows, the robot uses hyperspectral, high-definition and thermal cameras, weather monitors and pulsed laser scanners to capture phenotypic information – such as the stem diameter, height and leaf area of each plant – and assess environmental conditions, such as the temperature and moisture content of the soil.

The robot stores the data in its onboard computer and transmits it in real time to the grower’s computer. Scientists use the data to create a 3-D reconstruction of each plant, develop predictive models for the plant’s growth and development, and estimate the biomass yield for each plant and the entire plot.

“Immediate access to the data is very important for crop breeders in the U.S.,” says U. of I. agricultural and biological engineering professor Girish Chowdhary. “It’s very important for them to see and visualize the data. If the data are available to the breeder quickly, then they can make actionable decisions” that enhance production.

Although the researchers currently are using the robot to assess fields of energy sorghum, a crop used in biofuel production, they say the robot would perform equally well with other tall-growing row crops such as corn and wheat, and possibly with soybeans before the plant canopy closes.

The robot is a “game changer” for both crop scientists and farmers, automating the labor-intensive phenotyping processes of farming and crop development, said Stephen P. Long, the director of the project and the Gutgsell Endowed University Professor of Crop Sciences and Plant Biology at Illinois.

“For producers, it’s going to accelerate the rate at which we can improve the genetic material. We can now select material much more rapidly and select many more plants as well, so we can eventually deliver to the farmer a far more productive bioenergy crop,” Long says.

“One of the big advances of the last few years is that we can now determine the complete DNA blueprint of each plant. But how do we use that? What we need is to be able to describe a plant as it grows. You could do that perhaps with an army of people, but now the robot can do all of that for you. We can combine the phenotypic information about how the plant’s performing with the genetic blueprint and identify the combination of genes we need to get the best plant possible,” Long says.

Chowdhary, whose research focus is field robotics, is modifying the robot’s current design to reduce its width so it can maneuver more easily between crop rows. He also plans to install a sensor system for detecting and avoiding obstacles.

To reduce the production costs associated with the robot’s current metal and track construction, Chowdhary’s team is exploring the feasibility of producing some of the components via 3-D printing.

“We are targeting a cost to the breeder of $5,000 to $10,000, which means we will have to get the manufacturing cost significantly below that,” Chowdhary says. “An agricultural robot that costs just $5,000 is a totally new concept. Agricultural equipment today typically costs hundreds of thousands of dollars. Bringing the cost of our robot below $5,000 will be in itself a significant achievement for our team.”

Unlike the robots used in factories, agricultural robots must be weather resistant, Chowdary says. The underlying technologies – the algorithms, the mechanical design and the human-robot interaction devices that provide robustness – are useful in many other industries, including defense, surveillance and scientific exploration.

The team expects to have a prototype built within two years and begin manufacturing thereafter, with the goal of having the robot on the market by 2021.

The robot project is funded with a $3.1 million grant from the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy’s Transportation Energy Resources from Renewable Agriculture program, a unit within the U.S. Dept. of Energy.


Swanson honored as The Kraft Heinz Company Professor in Human Nutrition

Published April 20, 2017

URBANA, Ill. – Kelly S. Swanson, a world-renowned comparative nutritionist, was honored during an investiture ceremony for The Kraft Heinz Company Professorship in Human Nutrition in the Division of Nutritional Sciences at the University of Illinois on April 20.

Swanson, also a professor in the Department of Animal Sciences in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences at U of I, began the new appointment Jan. 1, 2017.

Swanson’s laboratory studies the effects of nutritional intervention on health outcomes, identifying mechanisms by which nutrients impact gene expression and host physiology, with primary emphasis on gastrointestinal health and obesity. His research of both basic and applied target areas studies rodents, dogs, cats, and humans.

“I have known Dr. Swanson for 20 years. I was an assistant professor in 1997 when Kelly arrived at the University of Illinois to pursue a Ph.D. in the Division of Nutritional Sciences. In the comparative nutrition field I have witnessed his transition from neophyte to highly decorated teacher and researcher,” said Rodney Johnson, director of the Division of Nutritional Sciences. “I am very proud to claim Kelly as a faculty colleague in the Division of Nutritional Sciences and the Department of Animal Sciences. It is especially gratifying that he is a product of interdisciplinary training provided by the Division of Nutritional Sciences, one of the academic units supported by The Kraft Heinz Company.” 

Over the past decade, Swanson has established an internationally recognized research program, highlighted by more than $11.5 million in research support, some 100 invited lectures in 11 countries, and more than 140 peer-reviewed publications. He has received 12 research and teaching awards, including those from the American Society for Nutrition and the American Society of Animal Science.

Swanson became an assistant professor in the College of ACES in 2004, was promoted to associate professor in 2009, and full professor in 2014. He received the 2014 University of Illinois Campus Distinguished Promotion Award, honoring exceptional scholars whose contributions have been extraordinary in quality of work and overall achievement.

The human nutrition professorship benefits an individual with expertise and academic abilities in a field of research that directly contributes to understanding human health and disease and is a faculty member in the Division of Nutritional Sciences. The funds may be used for research by or on behalf of the individual appointed to the professorship.

Two other individuals have held the professorship to date: George Fahey (2006–2011) and   Kelly Tappenden (Jan. 2012–Dec. 2016).

In addition to the professorship, The Kraft Heinz Company Human Nutrition Endowment provides support for fellowships and experiential learning for graduate students in the Division of Nutritional Sciences. It also funds scholarships for undergraduates in the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition.

News Source:

Rodney Johnson, 333-2118

Bi-State Compost School offered

Published April 20, 2017
compost school

URBANA, Ill. - University of Illinois Extension and University of Missouri Extension are offering a Bi-State Compost School on June 21 and 22 near Belleville, Illinois.

The school is an intensive program for new and experienced mid to large scale composting operators, including on-farm composters. Participants will be trained in the science and art of composting. Subjects covered by Extension specialists and experienced composters will include composting basics, regulations and permitting, compost quality and testing, and marketing. An emphasis will placed on the use of food scraps and similar feed stocks.  Hands-on activities will be included.

Early registration is available online. The cost for the 2-day program is $375 per person. After May 26, registration is $465 per person.  Space is limited to 30 registrants.

For more information, email Duane Friend at or call 217-243-7424.


News Source:

Duane Friend, 217-243-7424

News Writer:

University of Illinois Extension

Head of the ACES Dept. of NRES live on a Reddit Science Ask Me Anything May 4th

Published April 20, 2017
Red Capped Manakin
Get your bird questions answered by an expert!

Got a burning question about birds? Professor, researcher and Head of the Dept. of NRES Dr. Jeff Brawn  (AKA BirdBrain4 on Reddit) will be live on a Reddit Science Ask Me Anything next Thursday, May 4 from Noon to 2 p.m. CT. Visit to read the Q & A, or create an account to ask questions!


News Source:

Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences, 217-333-2770