College of ACES
College News


21 Years of Democracy in South Africa: Investigating the Role of Agriculture in Sustaining the Economy

2:00 PM - 3:00 PM
Lucy Ellis Lounge, Foreign Language Bldg.

A public lecture presented by the Consul General of South Africa, Vuyiswa Tulelo.

Sponsors: Center for African Studies, Center for Global Studies, International Programs and Studies, and the ACES Office of International Programs.

Free and open to the public.

Contact: Lauren Karplus,


Soybean planting date and varietal maturity

Published April 2, 2015
Soybean planting date response over 19 central and northern Illinois site-years, 2010-2014.

URBANA, Ill. - Along with the continuing emphasis on getting soybean planted early—late April to early May—comes the question of soybean maturity rating and whether early planting benefits fuller- or shorter-season varieties the most, said a University of Illinois crop scientist.

Using data collected from recent planting date trials in central and northern Illinois, Emerson Nafziger constructed a response curve showing the acceleration of yield loss as planting is delayed past early May. Even including a large reduction at the Urbana site in 2014, the yield loss is less than 10 percent by mid-May and about 16 percent by the end of May. It continues to accelerate as planting is delayed into June, Nafziger explained.

“There is a lot of spread of data at different dates so we know that actual losses won’t hit the line on the graph most of the time,” Nafziger said. “While we’ve always known that planting delays decrease yields on average, these recent findings confirm that losses from planting soybeans late are lower than those from planting corn late.

“It makes sense to start planting corn first, but soybean planting should begin as soon as possible after that. There’s little danger in planting soybeans as early as mid-April, as long as the soil is in good shape to plant,” he added.

Jake Vossenkemper, a doctoral student working with Nafziger, has been doing research to see how planting date affects yields of soybean varieties that differ in maturity. The first question is whether varietal maturity has a consistent effect on yield by itself.

“Data from the central Illinois region of the University of Illinois soybean variety trials over the past 15 years shows that this effect is not very consistent – yields of later-maturing varieties can be higher or lower than those of early-maturing ones depending on the year,” Nafziger explained. “On average, though, mid-maturity varieties tend to yield slightly more than either early or late varieties, and those within a bushel of the top-yielding maturity covered a spread of about one half of a maturity group on either side of the highest-yielding group.

Nafziger added that it is also clear that yields are much more closely tied to genetic potential than they are to maturity itself. Even though on average varieties with very early or very late maturity tend to yield less, individual varieties within these maturity groups were often as high-yielding as the higher-yielding entries in the mid-maturity group.

The researchers found that the type of growing season can have a considerable effect on how yields are affected by maturity. But how does this work when planting dates are different within a growing season? To address this, the researchers ran a series of trials using a range of varietal maturities over a number of sites in different regions over recent years.

“Trends in different regions were similar, as we’ve shown in the large data set [12 site-years] from central and northern Illinois and one site in Iowa,” he explained. “Varietal maturity ranged from about 1.9 to 3.8 with the baseline at about 2.9 in the northern sites and from 2.5 to 4.5 with the baseline at about 3.5 in the central sites.”

With early (late April to early May) planting, yields across the 12 site-years were highest at a maturity that was about 0.4 units later than the mid-maturity baseline, and yields were within a bushel of the maximum (of 74 bushels per acre) over maturities ranging from the baseline to about 0.8 units above the baseline, or about 0.4 units on either side of the maximum, Nafziger said.

When planting was in mid-May, the maximum yield dropped to about 66 bushels. “At the later planting, varieties with a maturity close to the baseline maturity yielded the most, and the range of maturities that yielded within a bushel of the maximum was slightly wider than with early planting, ranging from about 0.5 units below to 0.5 units above the maximum,” he said.

Using this data, should producers try to tailor the maturity they use for planting at different times?

“Probably not in terms of changing maturity on the fly as planting time approaches; the decision on best-performing varieties has to be made before then, and if it’s made with care, it should be solid enough to stand regardless of planting date,” Nafziger said. “But if you have fields where early planting is often possible, you might ‘shade’ toward a little longer maturities for those, and if there are fields that often stay wet until past mid-May, choosing from among adapted mid-season varieties makes sense.

“There seems to be some advantage in choosing to plant fuller-season varieties earlier rather than later, though that strategy tends to work against the goal of using different maturities to spread harvest,” he said. If spreading harvest is the main goal then choosing the best mid-maturity varieties and planting them over a range of dates might make more sense. Remember, though, that planting a week later, especially when conditions are cool, might move harvest back by only a day or two. 

Researchers bring new life to campus greenhouse

Published March 31, 2015
Photos by Haley Ahlers, University of Illinois.

URBANA, Ill. - Situated next to the University of Illinois’s Plant Core Facility on Dorner Drive, a once state-of-the-art controlled environment greenhouse and laboratory sat unused until now.

Researchers from Realizing Increased Photosynthetic Efficiency (RIPE), a project funded through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, retrofitted the facility, starting in December and finishing last month. It will be used to test plants to optimize their photosynthetic efficiency, said Steve Long, research leader for the project and a plant biology and crop sciences professor at the U of I.

“Once again, we have a fully contained facility with every modern environmental sensing and control feature, enabling us to test the many genetic variants in photosynthesis,” Long said. “It is already housing over 1,000 tobacco variants.”

The ultimate goal of the project is to increase yields in major food crop varieties used by some of the poorest farmers in the world, primarily in sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia. This includes rice and cassava.

Despite not having been occupied in a few years, field trials manager for RIPE David Drag, who led the repair efforts, said the facility was in good shape, having been used by USDA’s Agriculture Research Service a few years ago to do nematode research. The Service is collaborating with U of I and several other institutions on the RIPE project.

After a quick turnaround on cleaning and minor repairs, the newly revitalized greenhouse is ready for cutting-edge research. It consists of three large bays and a lab, with close to 300 tobacco plants in each. Long explained that since genetic changes are easier to make to tobacco, they’re using the plant as a “test-bed.”

“Once we have identified the best, we will undertake the much more difficult task of introducing the same genetic change into rice and cassava,” he added.

By 2050, the world’s population is expected to rise about 34 percent, mostly in developing countries. The Food and Agriculture Organization also projects that 80 percent of the needed increase in food production for this population expansion needs to come from increasing yields per acre. This is because there isn’t much more suitable farmland that hasn’t already been tapped into. Additionally, valuable farmland is being lost to urban expansion and drought.

“That’s where the RIPE Project comes in,” explained Wanne Kromdijk, a postdoctoral researcher who tests tobacco varieties in the greenhouse for the project.

Kromdijk is interested in relaxing a plant’s photoprotective mechanisms, which he called “overprotective.” During peak lighting conditions, plants get bombarded with too much light, and just as too much light can bleach hair, it also bleaches leaves, destroying the chlorophyll pigment that makes them green and traps light energy for photosynthesis.

The plants have a mechanism that helps to dissipate this excess of sunlight as heat, to protect the chlorophyll. However, as peak lighting conditions wane, the plant is slow to go back to normal, and so it continues to convert the light to heat, even when it could use it for photosynthesis. By speeding up the transition, Kromdijk hopes to maximize the amount of time photosynthesis is working unhindered, which will lead to an increase in yield.

Supercomputer simulations done at the U of I have suggested this could increase photosynthesis and productivity by as much as 30 percent. Kromdijk is looking for practical ways to make the prediction a reality.

He is using the greenhouse to grow lines that carry traits to allow this. “On the table, we’re looking at whether any of these plants carrying different traits stand out in terms of growth,” Kromdijk added.

The lines were developed through a collaboration between other RIPE researchers at Illinois and the project’s partner institutions around the globe, in this particular case, UC Berkeley. As the project progresses more lines that affect different aspects of photosynthesis will be tested.

Long said because the greenhouse can grow plants year round, it is used to narrow down which plants are the most promising. From there, they plant several plots of the most promising variant in field trials over the summer.

“We now have the optimal growing conditions and space to do this,” Long said, adding that with about 60 researchers and seven partner institutions, RIPE is going to need it.

With new fans installed, repaired controls, and functioning lamps, Drag and Kromdijk said they’re eager to continue growing and field testing plants that optimize photosynthesis.

“We needed this space,” Drag said. “This is just perfect for what we need to do. I couldn’t imagine anything better.”

Recoverable fatal error: Argument 2 passed to feeds_tamper_feeds_after_parse() must be an instance of FeedsParserResult, null given in feeds_tamper_feeds_after_parse() (line 19 of /export/prod/L/.commons/wms-tools/drupal_shared_modules/drupal7/feeds_tamper/feeds_tamper.module).

News Source:

Steve Long, 217-417-2991

News Writer:

Austin Keating

USDA stocks and acreage estimates smaller than expected for soybeans and larger than expected for corn

Published March 31, 2015

URBANA, Ill. – The USDA’s much anticipated March Grain Stocks and Prospective Plantings reports were released today.  According to a University of Illinois agricultural economist, those estimates allow for some tweaking of the 2014-15 marketing-year corn and soybean balance sheet projections and for developing projections for the 2015-16 marketing year balance sheets.

“The estimate of March 1 stocks allows for a calculation of feed and residual use of corn during the second quarter of the 2014-15 marketing year,” said Darrel Good. “The implied feed and residual use during the first half of the marketing year allows for an evaluation of the USDA’s current projection of feed and residual use for the entire marketing year. The March 1 stocks estimate of 7.745 billion bushels implied second-quarter feed and residual use of 1.425 billion bushels and use during the first half of the marketing year of 3.64 billion bushels. First-half use represents 69 percent of the USDA’s marketing-year projection of 5.3 billion bushels. That is less than the average of 74 percent in the previous four years but is very close to the 68-percent average for the period 2006-07 through 2009-10.”

Good said that although the March 1 stocks estimate is 136 million bushels larger than the average trade guess, it does not imply that feed and residual use is progressing at a slower rate than implied by the USDA projection. 

“Given the expansion that is taking place in hog, broiler, and dairy cow numbers, the projection of 5.3 billion bushels for the year still appears reasonable,” Good said. “Another read on feed and residual use will not be available until the June 1 stocks estimate is released on June 30.”

According to Good, the March 1 soybean stocks estimate allows for a calculation of seed and residual use during the second quarter and first half of the 2014-15 marketing year. Because both the size of the domestic crush and the magnitude of exports are reasonably well known, the magnitude of seed and residual use of soybeans during the first half of the marketing year also provides some insight on the likely accuracy of the 2014 production estimate. He said the March 1 stocks estimate this year was of particular interest because the Dec. 1 stocks estimate implied that seed and residual use during the first quarter of the marketing year was record large by a wide margin.

“The March 1 stocks estimate of 1.334 billion bushels was about 12 million bushels below the average trade guess and implies that seed and residual use of soybeans was -13.5 million bushels in the second quarter of the marketing year and 263.4 million bushels during the first half of the marketing year,” Good said. “Although there has not been a strong correlation between seed and residual use of soybeans during the first half of the year and subsequent changes in the estimated size of the previous year’s harvest, the very large implied use this year hints that the 2014 soybean crop may have been overestimated.”

The estimate of planting intentions allows for a projection of the magnitude of harvested acreage and in combination with a trend-yield calculation allows for an initial calculation of the potential size of the 2015 harvest. Producers reported intentions to plant 89.199 million acres of corn in 2015, 1.4 million less than were planted in 2014, but about 470,000 more than the average trade guess.

“The decline in corn acres is mostly offset by increased planting intentions for other feed grains,” Good added. “Relatively small changes in corn acreage are reported for most states, with the largest change being a 600,000-acre reduction in South Dakota. Planting intentions point to acreage harvested for grain of about 81.7 million acres. The farmdoc daily article of Feb. 26, 2015, developed a trend corn-yield projection of 164 bushels, pointing to a 2015 crop of 13.4 billion bushels, 816 million bushels smaller than the 2014 crop. If consumption next year is equal to that projected for the current year, year-ending stocks would decline from 1.777 billion bushels projected for Sept. 1, 2015, to about 1.5 billion bushels on Sept.1, 2016.” 

Good said producers reported intentions to plant 84.635 million acres of soybeans in 2015, 934,000 more than were planted in 2014, but nearly 1.3 million less than the average trade guess.  Planting intentions for other oilseed crops (canola, peanuts, and sunflowers) exceed last year’s plantings by about 190,000 acres. Relatively small changes in soybean acreage are reported for most states, with the largest change being a 300,000-acre reduction in Nebraska. Planting intentions of 84.635 million acres point to harvested acreage of about 83.7 million acres. The farmdoc daily article of March 19, 2015, developed a trend soybean-yield projection of 44.6 bushels, pointing to a 2015 crop of about 3.733 billion bushels, about 235 million bushels smaller than the 2014 crop.

“If consumption next year is equal to that projected for the current year, year-ending stocks would increase from 385 million bushels projected for Sept.1, 2015, to about 435 million bushels on Sept.1, 2016,” Good said.  

Compared to pre-report expectations, Good said the March 1 soybean stocks and 2015 planting intentions estimates represent modestly friendly surprises. “On the other hand, the stocks and planting intentions estimates represented modestly negative surprises for the corn market. Part of the negative corn price response to the estimates likely reflects inflated trend yield estimates for 2015 and perhaps an incorrect interpretation of the pace of feed and residual use during the first half of the marketing year. Attention will now turn to spring weather and planting progress,” he said.



I Pay It Forward Kickoff Meal

5:30 PM - 9:00 PM
UI Stock Pavilion

Come join the ACES Student Advancement Committee as they kick off the second annual I Pay It Forward Campaign! This dinner is a great chance for the College of ACES and friends to gather and celebrate last year’s accomplishments, and also discuss the goals for this year's campaign!

Cost - $10 per person

Andy Brantner
I gained a technical background in soils, wildlife, agronomy, and other agricultural fields.
Dixon, IL
Working hard has always helped natural resources and environmental sciences major Andy Brantner succeed with any project. He believes hard work is his number one attribute, and his acceptance to the University of Illinois was his first big example.
“I initially was declined from the university in the fall of my senior year of high school,” Andy says. “However, the letter also stated that there were additional materials the College of ACES requested for another chance.”
Instead of giving up on U of I, Andy submitted the additional information. On Christmas Eve, he received word of his admittance to ACES.
Andy continued such persistence through his involvement in many leadership positions, internships, and extracurriculars, including FarmHouse Fraternity, Student Ambassadors, and the Student Advancement Committee. Through these activities he met industry professionals, college faculty, and his future wife.
“My U of I experience was a great four years,” Andy says. “I gained a technical background in soils, wildlife, agronomy, and other agricultural fields. However, I always say I walked away from U of I with more than a degree; I left with life experiences and relationships that have been imperative to my professional success.”
Andy, a district conservationist, helps landowners and agricultural producers implement conservation practices on their land. 
“It is worthwhile to see the time and effort spent to make the individual satisfied and pleased,” Andy says. “These technical practices could be grass waterways to address soil erosion, native grass establishment, shallow water wetlands to increase wildlife habitat, or nutrient management to improve water quality.”