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Fewer hogs and higher prices

Published March 28, 2016

URBANA, Ill. – The nation’s pork producers have indicated to USDA that they are not expanding the breeding herd and, in fact, intend to reduce farrowings this spring and summer. According to Purdue University Extension economist Chris Hurt, this means pork supplies will be somewhat less than had been anticipated and that hog prices will be somewhat higher.

For the USDA’s March Hogs and Pigs report, pork producers indicated that the size of the nation’s breeding herd was unchanged from the same date one year earlier. The herd had been in an expansion phase from the last half of 2014 through 2015. That expansion was largely because of record-high profits due to baby pig losses from the porcine epidemic diarrhea virus (PED).

That expansion phase seemingly has now ended.

“There is some unevenness in the change in breeding herd numbers over the past year,” Hurt says. “One constant is that the Southern Plains states have been the most aggressive in adding breeding herd numbers over recent years. For the 16 states that USDA surveys for the March report, the breeding herd is up 9 percent in Oklahoma and 10 percent in Texas.”

Over the past two years, the Southern Plains have led the country in expansion by increasing their breeding herd by 15 percent. Some of the primary Midwestern states reported a decrease in their breeding herds over the past year.

“Generally, record corn yields in most western Corn Belt states were not a sufficient reason to increase the breeding herd,” Hurt says.

Iowa reported its breeding herd as down 5 percent, Missouri was down 4 percent, and Minnesota was down 2 percent. In Indiana, where corn yields were reduced by summer flooding, the breeding herd was down 7 percent. 

“The second most important information from this inventory report is that pork producers intend to reduce the number of sows farrowed by 1 percent this spring and by 3 percent this summer,” Hurt says. “If they follow through on these intentions, pork supplies next fall and winter will be smaller than previously anticipated. Smaller anticipated supplies will likely boost price prospects.”

According to Hurt, the inventory numbers in this latest inventory report can be used to forecast pork supplies for the remainder of 2016 and the first quarter of 2017. Market hog inventories indicate that pork supplies may be near unchanged in the second and third quarters of this year. Fourth-quarter supplies are also expected to be near unchanged, reflecting modestly smaller spring farrowings, but somewhat more pigs per litter. For the 2016 calendar year, pork production is expected to be unchanged to up 1 percent. Pork supplies in the first quarter of 2017 will come from the 3 percent smaller summer farrowings. However, with more pigs per litter and heavier weights, pork production is expected to be only about 1 percent smaller.

Live hog prices in 2015 averaged $50.23 per hundredweight for 51 percent to 52 percent lean carcasses, according to USDA.

“My current forecast is that prices will be in a range of $49 to $54 for all of 2016, about $1 higher than last year,” Hurt says. “Live-weight prices averaged about $46 in the first quarter of this year. Prices are expected to rise to the $55 to $58 range for averages in the second and third quarters and finish the year in the mid-to-higher $40s.

“Hog prices stand ready to make their normal seasonal rally into the early summer,” Hurt says. “Current prices in the higher $40s are expected to move to the higher $50s or low $60s by June and July. Strong prices are expected until September when the normal seasonal pattern begins a sharp decline.”

Current prospects are for costs of production to be at the lowest level in nine years due to low feed costs. Those costs are estimated to be near $50 per live hundredweight for the entire year of 2016. “This means that this year’s outlook is for an average profit of about $6 per head compared to an estimated $3 per head of loss for 2015,” Hurt says. “Losses of $9 per head are expected in the first quarter and $6 per head in the final quarter. Profits of $21 per head are anticipated in the second quarter and $18 per head in the third quarter.”

Hurt believes that the pork production industry appears to be headed for a year in which they will cover all costs and with some modest profits left over. “Producers have avoided a bigger buildup in the breeding herd that could have driven the industry back toward losses,” he says. “For right now, the industry seems to have supply in alignment with pork demand such that prices cover the full cost of production. In the future, producers will need to keep expansion of the breeding herd at 1 percent or less per year.

“At this time of year, producers are reminded of the threat of higher feed prices if weather should turn harmful to the growing U.S. crops,” Hurt concludes. “Some coverage of new-crop feed supplies should be considered with current price prospects at the lowest level in nine years.


New Master of Science program educates African students in Africa

Published March 23, 2016
first cohort of master's students
Left to right: Master’s students Godson Nyawudzo and Prince Buertey Kpentey, WACCI Director Eric Danquah, and master’s students Frederick Justice Awuku, Kassaye Hussen Belay, and Collins Gameli Gborvi.

URBANA, Ill. – Many African students travel to the United States or Europe to pursue advanced degrees. Many do not return to their home country to practice their profession. This tradition saps African countries of some of their brightest talent. A new Master of Science degree program in West Africa developed by researchers at the University of Illinois will help fill this void with academically trained agricultural professionals.

“Training Africa’s next generation of plant breeders is imperative to improve the continent’s crop yields and crop nutrition towards the ultimate goal of food security,” says Rita Mumm, professor emerita of crop sciences at U of I. 

Mumm serves as education and training lead for the Soybean Innovation Lab at U of I, a five-year program developed to establish sustainable production and the utilization of soybean in Africa. The program is funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). She led the effort to establish the new master’s degree program together with Eric Danquah, professor and director of the West Africa Centre for Crop Improvement (WACCI), and Christiana Amoatey, head of the crop science department at the University of Ghana. 

This high-quality Master of Science program complements WACCI’s existing Ph.D. program in plant breeding and promotes the development of the new faculty WACCI has recruited to train future African leaders in crop improvement.

The first five students, four from Ghana and one from Ethiopia, began the master’s program last August. The core courses include statistics, experimental design, population genetics, plant breeding, and genomic applications to crop improvement. Though based in Ghana, the program includes a summer mentoring and internship program in the United States where the students will visit participating universities and work with the private sector, particularly the U.S. seed industry.

“This master’s degree program is for African students in Africa,” says Peter Goldsmith, principal investigator for the Soybean Innovation Lab. “It is important to fill the gap at the master’s or technical level because there are not enough well-trained people managing the research plots at the region’s research stations.” Many of the national programs for crop improvement in Africa hire master’s-level plant breeders to lead plant-breeding programs.

“The initial funding from U of I’s College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences Office of International Programs served to seed additional funding ($850,000) from the USAID Mission in Ghana, evidencing the value of this new master’s program to train West African scientists,” Goldsmith says.



Microscopic structures of vegetable surfaces contribute to foodborne illness

Published March 22, 2016
Virus particles may be hiding on produce surfaces
  • Salad vegetables can be vectors of foodborne pathogens, including viruses and bacteria.
  • University of Illinois researchers examined the role of vegetable surface morphology and chemistry in adherence of virus particles.
  • Vegetables with complex exterior waxy layers harbored fewer virus particles than others.
  • Farmers could choose cultivars known to harbor fewer viruses, and breeders could improve leaf surfaces to decrease adherence.

URBANA, Ill. – Foodborne illness outbreaks do more than make us sick. Not only can the U.S. economy suffer as a result of reduced worker productivity, particular sectors of the farming industry can experience negative consumer perception, potentially leading to sustained profit losses. In an effort to understand and eventually reduce the incidence of foodborne illnesses, University of Illinois researchers studied the ability of pathogenic viruses to adhere to fresh produce surfaces.

“We chose 24 of the most common salad vegetables in the U.S. and assayed them to see if there was any relationship between the morphology and chemistry of the leaf or fruit surface and the adherence of viral particles, before and after a washing treatment,” says U of I geneticist Jack Juvik.

The researchers inoculated leafy salad greens and tomatoes with a swine virus that mimics human rotavirus, a common pathogen responsible for diarrhea, vomiting, fever, and abdominal pain. After exposing the vegetable surfaces to the virus, the researchers rinsed the vegetables twice with a standard saline solution.

“We correlated virus adherence to roughness of the surface at different scales. We also looked at the chemistry of the proteins and waxes associated with the leaf cuticle – a waxy layer that protects the plant against diseases and reduces water loss,” Juvik explains. “Before this, no one had tested the relationship between chemistry and surface texture on the adherence of virus particles.”

The researchers found a thousand-fold difference in the number of viral particles adhering to different types of leafy greens and tomatoes. Vegetables with three-dimensional crystalline wax structures on the leaf cuticle harbored significantly fewer virus particles after rinsing. This was counterintuitive, as it was expected that small virus particles could “hide” in the rough structures of these cuticles.

“I was surprised, too,” Juvik says. “But normally, viruses adhere to oxygen groups, like OH, which are associated with proteins and carbohydrates on the surface. When the wax completely covers the surface, it becomes totally hydrophobic, which renders the whole leaf surface harder for viruses to attach to. Furthermore, rinsing those leaves with water gives the viruses the OH groups they’re looking for, so they’re easier to wash away.”

Produce is exposed to viruses and other pathogens in a number of ways, including contaminated irrigation water, animal wastes, and handling by sick workers. But because salad vegetables are consumed fresh, pathogens cannot be killed by cooking or most other sterilization methods.

“Viruses are literally everywhere, causing many opportunities for infection. But the information from this study can be used down the road to select or breed for varieties that might have the capacity to reduce adherence of these particles,” Juvik explains.

The researchers have already repeated the study using the bacterium E. coli, but they plan to look at even more vegetable varieties and pathogens in future studies.

The article, “Influence of epicuticular physiochemical properties on porcine rotavirus adsorption to 24 leafy green vegetables and tomatoes” was published in PLOS One. The study was led by Lu Lu, whose co-authors included Juvik, Kang-Mo Ku, Sindy Paola Palma-Salgado, Andrew Page Storm, Hao Feng, and Thanh Nguyen, all from the University of Illinois. The project received funding from the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

The article can be viewed here:

News Source:

Jack Juvik, 217- 333-1966

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