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Smaller corn particle size means more energy for pigs, lower costs for producers

Published March 21, 2016

URBANA, Ill. – The results of new research at the University of Illinois indicate that it is possible for producers to reduce feed costs if yellow dent corn, a staple of swine diets in the United States, is ground to a finer particle size. The smaller particle size allows pigs to derive more energy from the corn, which means producers can reduce the amount of fat added to diets (reducing their costs) without affecting the growth performance or carcass characteristics of pigs

Hans H. Stein, professor of animal sciences at the U of I, and his lab conducted an experiment to determine if growth performance and carcass characteristics differed among pigs fed diets that had the same amount of energy, but contained corn that was ground to different particle sizes. Current industry recommendations call for corn fed to pigs to be ground to a particle size of around 650 microns.

"When corn is ground to smaller particle sizes, pigs can derive more energy from it because the increase in surface area means that digestive enzymes have more access to the nutrients in corn, which results in increased digestibility of starch," said Stein. "Therefore, you can reduce the amount of fat added to the diets without a loss of metabolizable energy if you use more finely ground corn. In this study, we tested the hypothesis that added fat can be removed from diets containing finely ground corn without impacting growth performance and carcass characteristics of the pigs."

The researchers fed growing-finishing pigs diets containing corn ground to 865, 677, 485, and 339 microns. Diets were formulated to contain the same amount of metabolizable energy by varying the amount of added fat. The diets using the most coarsely ground corn contained 3.60 to 3.87 percent fat, whereas the diets using the most finely ground corn contained 2 percent fat.

The carcass characteristics of pigs fed diets containing corn ground to the different particle sizes were very similar. Backfat depth, hot carcass weight, loin eye area, pH of loin eye area, and fat-free lean percentage were not affected by particle size. However, dressing percentage increased, and empty intestinal weight decreased, as particle size decreased.

Growth performance was also not affected by corn particle size. The pigs' final body weight, overall average daily feed intake, and overall average daily gain were not different among treatments. For gilts, the gain:feed ratio decreased as particle size decreased, but this was attributable to the reduced intestinal weight. When calculated on the basis of hot carcass weight, gain:feed did not differ among treatments.

Stein said that these results indicate that it is possible for producers to reduce feed costs if corn is ground to a finer particle size. "By using corn ground to a smaller particle size, producers can decrease the amount of fat added to growing-finishing diets without affecting growth performance or carcass composition. However, the increased dressing percentage may result in an increase in the amount of saleable meat from the pigs fed diets containing corn ground to a smaller particle size."

Although feeding corn ground to smaller particle sizes has been observed to lead to ulcers in some studies, there was no incidence of ulcers in the esophageal region of the stomach in pigs in the current study regardless of particle size. However, an increase in keratinization was observed as particle size decreased, which Stein cautioned might lead to ulcers if pigs are stressed.

The paper, "Effects of particle size of yellow dent corn on physical characteristics of diets and growth performance and carcass characteristics of growing–finishing pigs," was co-authored by Oscar Rojas and Yanhong Liu of the U of I, and is published in a recent edition of the Journal of Animal Science. The full text can be found online at


News Source:

Hans H. Stein, 217-333-0013

News Writer:

Leanne Lucas, 217-244-9085

Any information in mid-year soybean stocks estimate?

Published March 21, 2016

URBANA, Ill. – On March 31, the USDA will release the quarterly Grain Stocks report, with estimates of crop inventories as of March 1, as well as the annual Prospective Plantings report. According to University of Illinois agricultural economist Darrel Good, for soybeans, the stocks estimate is typically overshadowed by the estimate of planting intentions.

“For soybeans, the stocks estimate is often very near the level expected by the market because the magnitude of the domestic crush and exports in the previous quarter are known with a high level of certainty,” Good says. “The stocks estimate reveals the magnitude of seed, feed, and residual use of soybeans in the previous quarter. Unlike corn, for which feed and residual use is a large portion of disappearance, seed, feed, and residual use of soybeans is a relatively small portion of disappearance during the winter quarter. Occasionally, however, the March 1 stocks estimate provides a market surprise.  Based on the average trade guess reported by news services, the March 1 stocks estimate has deviated from market expectations by more than 30 million bushels nine times and by more than 60 million bushels four times in the past 25 years.”

The expected level of soybean stocks on March 1 this year can be calculated based on estimates of the domestic crush and exports during the second quarter of the marketing year (December 2015-February 2016).

The USDA’s Oilseed Crushings, Production, Consumption and Stocks report provides estimates of the magnitude of the domestic crush for December 2015 and January 2016. The estimate for February will be released on April 1. The National Oilseed Processors Association (NOPA) estimate of the magnitude of the February soybean crush by its members can be used to estimate the total February crush. 

“For the nine months that USDA has provided soybean crush estimates (May 2015-January 2016), the USDA crush estimates have exceeded the NOPA crush estimates by 6.4 percent. Applying that ratio to the NOPA February crush estimate, suggests that 483.1 million bushels of soybeans were crushed in the second quarter of the current marketing year,” Good says.

The USDA’s weekly export inspections report shows that cumulative 2015-16 marketing-year inspections had reached 1.437 billion bushels by the end of the second quarter. Through the first five months of the year, cumulative Census export estimates exceeded inspections by 32 million bushels.  If that margin persisted through February, cumulative exports had reached 1.469 billion bushels by mid-year. Exports during the first quarter totaled 791.6 million bushels, putting second quarter exports at 677.4 million bushels.

“Anticipating the level of seed, feed, and residual use of soybeans during the second quarter of the year is challenging,” Good says. “The Census Bureau discontinued its monthly estimates of the domestic crush in July 2011, and the USDA has provided monthly estimates beginning in May 2015. From the last quarter of the 2010-11 marketing year through the first three quarters of the 2014-15 marketing year, quarterly estimates of seed, feed, and residual use are estimated based on monthly NOPA crush estimates. Those estimates may deviate from estimates that would have been based on more complete estimates of the size of the crush. Still, the seasonal pattern of seed, feed, and residual use is well known. Use is positive in the first half of the year and negative in the last half of the year, but the quarterly distribution varies from year to year. Use in the first quarter this year was estimated at 150.3 million bushels based on the Dec.1, 2015, stocks estimate.  In the five years prior to the 2010-11 marketing year, disappearance in this category during the first half of the year averaged about 125 percent of the marketing-year total. If that pattern is followed this year, and the USDA’s projection of 130 million bushels for the year is correct, second-quarter disappearance would have been 12.2 million bushels.”

Total consumption of soybeans during the second quarter of the marketing year is calculated to be near 1.173 billion bushels. With stocks at the start of the quarter of 2.715 billion bushels and imports during the quarter of eight million bushels, March 1 stocks are calculated to total about 1.55 billion bushels.

“Given the uncertainty of the magnitude of feed, seed, and residual use during the quarter, the stocks estimate would be expected to be within a relatively narrow range of 1.55 billion bushels,” Good says.

If the March 1 stocks estimate is surprisingly large or small, Good says the accuracy of USDA’s 2015 production estimate may be called into question.

“The USDA has revised the previous year’s production estimate by varying amounts in 20 of the past 25 years based on the stocks estimate at the end of the marketing year (Sept. 1),” Good says. “However, it would be pre-mature to question the accuracy of the production estimate based on the March 1 stocks estimate due to the large variation in the quarterly pattern of seed, feed, and residual use of soybeans. The eight largest revisions in the production estimates following the USDA’s Sept. 1 stocks estimate ranged from 1.1 to 3.5 percent. Only three of those eight large revisions followed a surprise in the March 1 stocks estimate that exceeded 30 million bushels. Conversely, of the nine years in which the magnitude of the surprise in March 1 stocks estimate exceeded 30 million bushels, only three were followed by revisions in the production estimate that exceeded 1 percent.”


Leadership training series offered for county officials

Published March 18, 2016
leadership illustration

URBANA, Ill. – An elected or appointed county leadership position may include a day of orientation and a dog-eared, 3-ring binder filled with meeting minutes and other outdated documents, but it rarely includes professional development.

The five-session Leadership Academy has been developed by the University of Illinois in partnership with United Counties Council of Illinois (UCCI) to provide leadership training for elected and appointed county officials. For anyone seeking to manage and lead more effectively, the academy offers a learning network and a connection to cutting-edge information.

“The curriculum is designed for county officials who want to explore new ideas and learn practical methods that are relevant to current issues, challenges, and opportunities across the state,” says U of I Assistant Dean Anne H. Silvis. “The five interactive sessions are structured to allow participants to learn, share, and apply on a variety of topics.”

The first session is April 22-23 on the U of I campus. The remaining four sessions will take place at the iHotel and Conference Center in Urbana on the following dates: May 7, June 18, July 16, and August 26-27.

Session titles include: Leadership Fundamentals, Improving Your Management Skills, Building an Effective Team,  Managing Change, Fundamentals of Economic Development, Managing Generational Differences, Ethical Considerations, Data-Driven Decision Making, Leadership Styles and Crisis Communications.

The training series will conclude with a graduation ceremony and dinner on Oct. 14 at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum in Springfield.

Completion of the academy requires active participation at no fewer than four of the five sessions and completion of an essay or final project. Those who complete the academy will receive a certificate of achievement from the U of I, and be recognized at a graduation reception and ceremony.

There are no fees for meals, materials, or lodging, but those who want to participate must apply. Participation is limited to 30 individuals. The deadline to apply is April 1.

For more information and to apply, contact Anne H. Silvis at 217-333-5126 or


Biodiesel from sugarcane more economical than soybean

Published March 17, 2016
Oil cane field
Oil cane field
  • Today most U.S. biodiesel is produced from soybean. But despite its value as a protein source, soybean only provides the equivalent of about one barrel of oil per acre.
  • A team led by the University of Illinois has engineered sugarcane plants to produce 12 percent oil by weight, and expect to reach 20 percent in the future. This could provide 17 barrels of oil per acre.
  • Biodiesel from “oil cane” could reduce the cost of biodiesel production from $4.10 to $2.20 per gallon and provide additional environmental and economic benefits.

URBANA, Ill. – America’s oil consumption far exceeds that of every other country in the world. What’s more, it’s unsustainable. Therefore, in 2007, Congress mandated a move away from petroleum-based oils toward more renewable sources. Soybeans, an important dietary protein and the current primary source of plant-based oils used for biodiesel production, only yield about one barrel per acre. At this rate, the soybean crop could never quench the nation’s thirst for oil.

To address this issue, the Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) program called for high-risk, high-reward projects that could develop new drop-in fuels in its PETRO program. A team led by University of Illinois researchers answered the call by imagining and successfully achieving a way to produce large quantities of oil from sugarcane. Their most recent study demonstrates the economic benefits of this technology relative to soybean oil.

“We thought that if we could go back to the drawing board, we’d need a very productive crop. And we would also need something that could grow on land that isn’t being used intensively for food. We came up with sugarcane and sweet sorghum,” recalls Stephen P. Long, U of I crop scientist and lead investigator on the project.

The team altered sugarcane metabolism to convert sugars into lipids, or oils, which could be used to produce biodiesel. The natural makeup of sugarcane is typically only about 0.05 percent oil. Within a year of starting the project, the team was able to boost oil production 20 times, to approximately 1 percent. At the time of this writing, the so-called “oil-cane” plants are producing 12 percent oil. The ultimate goal is to achieve 20 percent. Oil cane has additional advantages that have been engineered by the team. These include increased cold tolerance and more efficient photosynthesis, which leads to greater biomass production and even more oil.

“If all of the energy that goes into producing sugar instead goes into oil, then you could get 17 to 20 barrels of oil per acre,” Long explains. “A crop like this could be producing biodiesel at a very competitive price, and could represent a perpetual source of oil and a very significant offset to greenhouse gas emissions, as well.”    

In their analysis, the team looked at the land area, technology, and costs required for processing oil-cane biomass into biodiesel under a variety of oil production scenarios, from 2 percent oil in the plant to 20 percent. These numbers were compared with normal sugarcane, which can be used to produce ethanol, and soybean.

An advantage of oil cane is that leftover sugars in the plant can be converted to ethanol, providing two fuel sources in one.

“Modern sugarcane mills in Brazil shared with us all of their information on energy inputs, costs, and machinery. Then we looked at the U.S. corn ethanol industry, and how they separated the corn oil. Everything we used is existing technology, so that gave us a lot of security on our estimates,” Long says.

The analysis showed that oil cane with 20 percent oil in the stem, grown on under-utilized acres in the southeastern United States, could replace more than two-thirds of the country’s use of diesel and jet fuel. This represents a much greater proportion than could be supplied by soybean, even if the entire crop went to biodiesel production. Furthermore, oil cane could achieve this level of productivity on a fraction of the land area that would be needed for crops like soybean and canola, and it could do so on land considered unusable for food crop production.

The current full production cost of biodiesel from soybean is $4.10 per gallon ($1.08 per liter). Using oil cane instead, that cost decreases to $3.30 per gallon for 2 percent oil cane and to $2.20 per gallon for 20 percent oil cane. The ethanol produced from 1-, 5- and 10 percent oil cane would add to the cost benefit.

Although $2.20 per gallon does not represent a large savings over the current price of gasoline in the United States, Long cautions consumers and politicians to look at the bigger picture.

“We know from our past experience that it’s not going to last,” he says. “We need to start building for a future when gas is no longer as low as $1.50 per gallon, and we need to avoid any future dependency on other countries for our oil. We are lucky to have the land resources to do this and, in doing so, to ensure that future generations have a supply of oil that is domestic and renewable.”

The article, “Techno-economic analysis of biodiesel and ethanol co-production from lipid-producing sugarcane,” appears in Biofpr. Lead author Haibo Huang, formerly of the U of I, is now a professor at Virginia Tech. Stephen Long and co-author Vijay Singh are faculty members in the College of Agricultural, Consumer, and Environmental Sciences at the U of I. The project received funding from the Department of Energy’s ARPA-E program.

The full text of the article is found at

ACES alumni opportunity to bring youth to “college”

Published March 15, 2016
ACES Family Academies participants

URBANA, Ill. – University of Illinois College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences (ACES) alumni are encouraged to register to attend ACES Family Academies with their young Illini fans ages 8 to 13. The one-and-a-half-day event will take place July 7-8.

ACES Family Academies allows ACES alumni to share their Illinois experience with their child, grandchild, or friend. This educational experience allows youth to explore the ACES campus, attend classes showcasing the variety of career paths available through ACES, and ultimately enjoy time with their family member learning more about the world around them.

“I would recommend this program to all ACES graduates because of the opportunity to return to campus and act like a student again while participating in exciting new learning experiences along with your grandchildren or children,” says Randy Sims, a 1969 agricultural economics alum. “ACES Family Academies is well organized and the participants really feel welcomed. My grandson and I had a ball.”

Some of the classes that will be offered are: Paper Airplanes and Drones in Agriculture; Food Challenge; Man’s Best Friend; Wonderful World of Agribusiness; and Global Crop Failure Crisis! How Can You Be a Part of the Solution?

“The classes are both fun and educational. What a fantastic introduction to encourage college life in my grandson’s future and to help alums like myself to reconnect with the University of Illinois campus,” says Jerry Benjamin, a 1965 agricultural economics alum.

To register for this year’s ACES Family Academies, visit Registration is open until May 15 for ACES alumni. Space is limited. Registration will open if space allows for non-alumni from May 15 to June 1.

For more information, visit or contact the ACES Alumni Association at 217-333-7744.


News Source:

Tina Veal, 217-333-7744