URBANA, Ill. - University of Illinois Extension is hosting the 11th annual Illinois Crop Management Conferences at four locations in January and February. Each two-day in-depth program will provide university research-based information on current crop production issues.
“The conference is geared toward farmers, certified crop advisors, and other agriculture professionals, and will address many ‘hot topics’ in agriculture,” said U of I Extension Educator Angie Peltier.
Presenters will include faculty from the U of I Extension and the Departments of Crop Sciences, Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences, and Agricultural Economics in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences. Presentations will focus on the most current crop, pest, nutrient, and soil and water management research and recommendations.
Registration is required and includes lunch on both days. Advanced registration is $130; registration at the door is $150 (checks only). Online and mail-in registration forms and complete information on the topics that will be covered at each conference location are available at http://tinyurl.com/l9esp7u .
The dates and locations follow:
Jan. 21 – 22, Mt. Vernon
Jan. 28 – 29, Springfield
Feb. 4 – 5, Champaign
Feb. 11 – 12, Malta
Certified crop advisors can earn up to 13 hours of continuing education units.
Members of the public that need a reasonable accommodation to participate in this program should contact Angie Peltier at 309-734-5161.
Farm program seminars
URBANA, Ill. – For farm owners and operators who could benefit from assistance in navigating the choices in the Agricultural Act of 2014, help is on the way. The seminars are free and will be offered in 14 locations across Illinois in January and February. Each seminar will present information on how to update base acreage and program yields, and how to make decisions among the three choices for the farm program.
The seminars are being offered through a cooperative venture between the University of Illinois College of Agricultural, Consumer, and Environmental Sciences, the Farm Service Agency of USDA, Illinois Farm Bureau, and University of Illinois Extension.
“By attending one of these sessions, a farm owner should be informed about the choices and more comfortable about making decisions that will affect their farmland for the next five years,” said Gary Schnitkey, professor of agricultural economics and one of the university’s primary resources for farm program information. He and Jonathan Coppess, assistant professor of agricultural law and policy, will be joined by Doug Yoder of Illinois Farm Bureau as the presenters at the conferences.
There is no charge for the seminars but pre-registration is encouraged due to space limitations. Pre-registration is available at http://farmbilltoolbox.farmdoc.illinois.edu/seminar-series.html.
How will the Dec. 1 corn stocks estimate be interpreted?
URBANA, Ill. – It is always a challenge to anticipate the USDA’s quarterly estimate of corn stocks, but the estimate of the Dec. 1 inventory, to be released on Jan. 12, 2015, is a special challenge, according to University of Illinois agricultural economist Darrel Good. Not only is there the usual uncertainty about the magnitude of feed and residual use of corn during the first quarter of the marketing year, there is uncertainty about the potential change in the corn production estimate that is released on the same day.
“The production estimate will reflect a final yield estimate based on the December Agricultural Survey and a final harvested acreage estimate based on that same survey in combination with other administrative acreage data, primarily planted acreage reported to the Farm Service Agency (FSA),” Good said. “There has been a consistent relationship between planted acreage reported to FSA and the final estimate of planted acreage reported by the National Agricultural Statistical Service (NASS) in recent years. That relationship has meant that the NASS final estimate of planted acreage could be reasonably well anticipated based on acreage reported to FSA by October or November. This year, however, the difference between FSA acreage reported in November and the current NASS planted acreage estimate was about five million acres, compared to the average difference in final estimates of about 2.8 million acres for the period 2007 through 2013. FSA will release an updated acreage report on Dec. 15. Unless acreage in that report is about two million acres more than reported in November, some reduction in the NASS acreage estimate in the Jan. 12 report will be anticipated,” he said.
Good said that the estimate of Dec. I stocks will reveal the magnitude of corn consumption in the first quarter of the marketing year. Along with the final production estimate, that revealed pace of consumption may allow for a more accurate forecast of the magnitude of year-ending stocks. The USDA currently projects those stocks at 2.008 billion bushels. The magnitude of both exports and domestic processing use of corn during the first quarter of the marketing year can be estimated fairly closely based on weekly and monthly estimates of use. As indicated earlier, feed and residual use of corn to be revealed in the stocks estimate is difficult to anticipate.
According to Good, corn export inspections during the first quarter of the 2014-15 marketing year were reported at 367 million bushels. However, Census Bureau export estimates for the first two months of the quarter exceeded inspections by 31 million bushels.
“If that margin persisted through November, exports during the first quarter of the marketing year would have been 398 million bushels, 48 million more than during the same period last year,” Good said.
Good added that the domestic processing use of corn is dominated by use for ethanol production. Based on estimates from the U.S. Energy Information Administration, ethanol production during the first quarter of the 2014-15 corn marketing exceeded that of a year ago by 5 percent. About half of that increase reflected an increase in net exports while the other half resulted in an increase in stocks. Last year, the USDA reported that 1.216 billion bushels of corn were used for ethanol production during the first quarter of the marketing year. Use was likely near 1.28 billion bushels this year. The USDA has projected that corn used for other domestic processing this year will total 1.385 billion bushels. If use was on that pace during the first quarter of the marketing year, about 340 million bushels of corn would have been consumed, bringing total domestic processing use to 1.62 billion bushels.
The USDA has projected feed and residual use of corn during the 2014-15 marketing year at 5.375 billion bushels, 243 million bushels (4.7 percent) more than used last year.
So what should use during the first quarter have been if use is on track to reach 5.375 billion bushels for the year?
“This is where the analysis becomes tricky,” Good said. “A 4.7 percent year-over-year increase would put first-quarter use this year at 2.525 billion bushels. However, use during the first quarter of the marketing year was especially large the past two years, 47.0 and 47.7 percent, respectively, of the marketing-year total. In the previous six years, use during the first quarter ranged from 38.8 to 42.9 percent of the marketing year total, averaging 39.7 percent. A return to that pattern then would point to first-quarter consumption this year of only 2.085 to 2.305 billion bushels if use is on track with the USDA projection.
“With export and domestic corn consumption during the first quarter of the marketing year at 2.023 billion bushels and an unchanged production estimate, the estimate of Dec. 1 stocks as large as 11.55 billion bushels could still be consistent with marketing-year feed and residual use of 5.375 billion bushels,” Good said. “Similarly, a stocks estimate as low as 11.15 billion bushels, with an unchanged production estimate, might also be consistent with marketing-year feed and residual use of 5.375 billion bushels. Given that the quarterly distribution of feed and residual use this year is not known, an ‘extreme’ Dec. 1 stocks estimate (after adjusting for any change in the production estimate) may be required to change expectations about marketing-year feed and residual use. It will be interesting to see how the market interprets the stocks estimate,” Good said.
Working with farm animals is something animal sciences major Sandra Jimenez loves getting to do through the College of ACES. Her experiences, which span exotic and small animals, began with high school internships she took through the U of I College of Veterinary Medicine.
“My program has not only prepared me with necessary knowledge about numerous animals, but it has also provided many hands-on experiences in both class labs and internships,” Sandra says. “All this has improved my connections with various veterinarians and animal scientists and helped me step out of my comfort zone to gain expertise with animals.”
One uncommon opportunity for which Sandra was chosen was being an undergraduate research and mentoring new biology fellow for the National Science Foundation. She conducted research comparing brand-name equine semen extenders.
“I loved having the opportunity to research a topic of my interest, present my own research in symposiums, and meet other NSF fellows,” Sandra says.
As a medical intern for the Champaign County Humane Society, Sandra administered vaccinations and medications, performed physical exams on ill or injured animals, and examined ear microbial flora. She also did walk-throughs to monitor the shelter animals for disease.
“I valued the hands-on medical experience of shelter medicine,” Sandra says. “Some of the best moments were helping perform final physical exams for animals who had been adopted and were being taken to new homes.”
Sandra went on to become a research assistant in the vet school, helping study the role of colostrum in the maturation of a healthy gastrointestinal tract in young dairy calves.
“My favorite moments there were helping bottle-feed the calves. After the first day, they associated us with milk and were excited whenever they saw us,” Sandra says.
The family environment in the College of ACES has helped Sandra get involved, but more importantly to feel welcome at U of I.
“Feeling comfortable with the faculty and staff in ACES has helped me along the way,” Sandra says. “I am able to ask for guidance and have been given the opportunity to work with numerous kinds of animals.”
Spending time during class solving problems was one of the most influential experiences Gina Vinsand, an agricultural and biological engineering graduate, had in the College of ACES.
“Solving problems in class taught me to evaluate a problem from all sides and always look for the simplest solution,” Gina says. “It can be easy to address a problem with the same technique that’s always been used, but the big rewards come from finding the most efficient solution. In terms of process improvement, the ability to analyze many options has given me confidence that my final recommendations are correct.”
In Gina’s work as an enterprise product delivery process coordinator for John Deere Des Moines Works and John Deere Seeding Group, seeing the bigger picture is valuable.
“The skill that helps me the most in my job is seeing the big picture, understanding where every process and tool fits, and determining what each job is supposed to be doing,” Gina says. “Once I figure that out, I can determine if the process or tool needs to be modified, if we need to change the behavior of those using the process or tool, or if the status quo is running well.”
Gina likes having a key part in making sure that processes run smooth and efficiently.
“I enjoy ensuring that each step or tool in a process is necessary and requires the least amount of work for maximum value,” Gina says. “Unfortunately, in a big corporation a lot of red tape and process ‘fluff’ can build up over the years. I work to remove that so only the beneficial portion remains.”
Making the most of your compost
URBANA, Ill. – After the fall, many homeowners wonder what to do with the leaves that have accumulated on the ground.
“Composting can be a beneficial process to manage yard waste,” said University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator Andrew Holsinger. “Proper planning and effort can provide the opportunity to generate organic matter beneficial to the soil.”
Composting is defined as the transformation of raw organic materials into biologically stable humus-like substances suitable for growing plants. “Organic matter improves soil quality in a number of way,s including, soil moisture retention, nutrient-holding capacity, and nutrient cycling,” Holsinger explained.
Nutrient-holding capacity is the ability for soil to hold nutrients that would otherwise leach away, and nutrient cycling is basically recycling nutrients that were previously taken up by plants. The cycling of nutrients balances the availability of nutrients from the plant material back into the soil.
What are the keys to success when it comes to composting?
Compost materials are made up of a proportion of carbon to nitrogen in an organic material. When these materials are combined in proper proportion and in combination with air, water and warmth, it creates a proper environment for decomposition.
Decomposition is what is desired when it comes to composting, Holsinger explained.
“Unfortunately, during the winter months, some of these key components may be lacking to achieve the success desired in decomposing your organic waste,” he added.
The key components are:
Temperature: Compost piles should be covered in the winter. Covering the compost pile in the winter excludes excess rain or snow, which can make the pile too wet. Insulating the pile in the winter has the benefit of reducing cold air, which can decrease microbial activity.
The carbon to nitrogen ratio: There are two main components of organic waste that are transformed to compost: the green materials (nitrogen or N) and brown materials (carbon or C).
Nitrogen is used to build proteins (amino acids). The microorganisms need nitrogen in order to survive. There is a shortage of nitrogen in the soil because everything living wants to consume it and it can be leached away by rainwater. The green materials are sources of nitrogen and protein. Usually they consist of fresh green plant materials, including fresh grass clippings and organic food waste. Never use dog, cat, raw hog manure, or human waste because these can contain potential biohazards that can be harmful to family members.
Carbon is used for energy by microorganisms. Sources of carbon differ in their chemical structure and some can be challenging for microorganisms to digest. The brown materials are also absorbers of excess moisture. Usually they consist of dried brown plant materials, including ground-up leaves and straw.
“It is important to have an optimal ratio of carbon to nitrogen which is typically 30:1,” Holsinger pointed out. “If there is too much nitrogen in the mix, the compost pile can become too hot, which may kill the compost microorganism, or it may go anaerobic, resulting in a stinky mess.”
He added that with too little nitrogen in the mix (high C), the compost will not heat up properly, which could result in a longer waiting time for finished compost. This ratio is most important in the breakdown of the compost materials to feed the microorganisms the proper diet of carbon and nitrogen.
Air: Composting materials are broken down by aerobic organisms, which require air for their survival. In high-temperature situations, it can help reduce odor. The initial moisture content of composting materials tends to be high and can be reduced with aeration. Turning of the compost pile is the most common method for aeration. Other methods of aeration include passive aeration with a network of perforated tubes or using an aerated static pile.
Water: While moisture is a requirement for composting, high moisture results in a reduction in the pore spaces for air. Low moisture deprives organisms of needed water for metabolism and inhibits their activity. Ideally, home compost piles should contain 45 to 65 percent moisture. The ideal moisture for most materials is 55 percent. You can check your moisture level with a simple squeeze test. Squeeze a handful of composting material, forcefully, and check for drips. The compost should feel like a wrung-out sponge.
To make the most of your compost, follow these helpful tips.
- Mix the pile as needed to reduce moisture and odors.
- If the pile is too dry, add water until there is the feel of a dampened sponge.
- Keep meat products out of the pile to reduce animal and insect pests.
- Cut or chop organic materials to increase surface area for quicker breakdown (optional).
- Cover compost pile with a tarp to retain heat in winter.
- Increase volume from the ideal size of 1 cubic yard to 4 feet x 4 feet x 4 feet if pile is located near windy area (optional).
Gift ideas for gardeners
URBANA, Ill. - Looking for a gift for the gardener on your list? A short list of items most gardeners will appreciate might come in handy this holiday season, said a University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator.
“There are hundreds of gift ideas for the gardener, and this list will focus on items that are kind to our bodies,” said Jennifer Fishburn.
“Many gardeners find that they spend more time outside performing garden chores than they anticipate, often forgetting to protect their skin from the sun’s rays,” she said. “When possible, gardeners should avoid prolonged exposure to the sun. Sunscreen with SPF 15 or higher is a must-have item for the gardeners toolkit.”
Fishburn added that in addition to sunscreen, gardeners should wear clothing with a tight weave or consider clothing containing Sun Protection Factor (SPF) or Ultraviolet Protection Factor (SPF).
“Other items for protecting skin from the sun are a hat and sunglasses,” she said. “A wide brim hat with overhangs in the front and back is a great choice for blocking the sun from the face, ears and neck. Consider hats made with natural fibers that are breathable. Some hats also have SPF labeling.”
Because many garden chores, such as digging with a trowel or hand weeding, involve kneeling, Fishburn recommends that gardeners use foam kneeling pads at least an inch thick with a washable surface for knee relief. “Kneeling benches with side handles are another alternative,” she said. “Many kneeling benches can be flipped over and used as a garden seat.
“Look for benches with sturdy construction. Knee pads found in most home improvement stores can also be used to provide cushion for knees. For better comfort, look for kneepads with gel that are ergonomically designed,” she added.
Ergonomically designed tools are also designed to minimize stress and strain on the body. “Gardening can be a strenuous activity resulting in aches and pains. Ergonomic tools are designed for better grip, including features such as large, soft handles, textured handles, or curved handles. Some are also made of lighter-weight materials,” Fishburn explained.
Finally, Fishburn said that every gardener needs a good durable set of hand pruners. “A good pair of pruners should fit your hand,” she noted. “Look for pruners with replaceable parts. Scissor-type pruners (bypass pruners) are recommended over the anvil type. Anvil pruners (those with a blade on one side and a flat surface on the other) tend to crush the stem rather than provide a sharp cut.
Include a holster with the pruners for easy access, she added.
“A gift from the heart that costs only time is a coupon for weeding, mowing, or raking leaves,” Fishburn said.