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Is the corn crop overestimated?

Published October 12, 2015

URBANA, Ill. – The USDA’s Oct. 9 Crop Production report forecast the 2015 U.S. corn crop at 13.555 billion bushels, 30 million bushels smaller than the September forecast and 660 million bushels smaller than the 2014 crop. The U.S. average corn yield is forecast at 168 bushels, 0.5 bushel above the September forecast, and harvested acreage is forecast at 80.664 million, 437,000 below the September forecast.

According to University of Illinois agricultural economist Darrel Good, commentary following the release of the report suggests that some observers believe that the corn crop is not as large as the current USDA forecast.

“One of the factors cited as evidence that the crop may be smaller than is forecast is the strong basis levels in many markets,” Good said. “The average cash price at central Illinois country elevators on Oct. 9, for example, was -16 cents under December futures.  A year earlier, the average basis at those locations was -42 cents. The argument is that a crop as large as forecast, particularly in the face of a  rapid pace of harvest and a large soybean crop, would not support such a strong basis due to the resulting strong demand for storage space.” But that argument is not completely supported by the current estimates of crop supplies.

“Total supplies of corn and soybeans in areas experiencing the strongest basis are, in fact, estimated to be much smaller than supplies of a year ago, which would tend to support basis levels relative to those of last year,” Good said.  

Forecast production of those two crops plus the inventory of the old crop on Sept. 1 is estimated to be down 196 million bushels (7 percent) in Illinois, 219 million bushels (17 percent) in Indiana, 188 million bushels (26 percent) in Missouri, and 67 million bushels (8 percent) in Ohio. In contrast, supplies are up 189 million bushels (6 percent) in Iowa and 344 million bushels (17 percent) in Minnesota.

“Nationally, the total supply of corn and soybeans (production plus Sept. 1 stocks) is estimated to be 100 million bushels smaller than the supply of a year ago,” Good said. “Although harvest progress during the first week of October was more rapid than that of last year, it was equal to the average pace in the previous five years and cumulative harvest was five percentage points behind the average level.  

“Basis levels are generally determined by the supply of storage space and an array of factors that determine the demand for storage capacity,” Good said. “Harvest-time basis levels at the point-of-producer delivery may be receiving some additional support this year from the recent expansion in grain storage capacity.”

The USDA’s December Grain Stocks report estimates that permanent storage capacity (on and off farm) increased by nearly 550 million bushels from Dec. 1, 2012, to Dec. 1, 2014.  Additional capacity has been added in the past year, Good said.

“Basis levels at the farm level may also be receiving support from the lack of widespread transportation delays and the increasing use of delayed pricing contracts,” Good added. “Both of these factors allow for a more rapid movement of corn through the marketing channel. The lack of widespread transportation issues may reflect, in part, the dominance of the domestic corn market relative to exports, resulting in a larger portion of the crop moving by truck rather than by rail where delays are more common.”

Good said that basis levels are also influenced by the pace of corn consumption. “A more rapid pace of consumption, all else equal, tends to strengthen basis in order to make storage less attractive. Domestic ethanol production in September and early October 2015 was nearly 5 percent larger than that of a year earlier, supporting the domestic demand for corn. Domestic feed demand for corn has also likely been supported by the 4 percent increase in the hog inventory this fall and the slightly larger number of cattle on feed, dairy cattle, and broiler placements. On the other hand, the pace of export shipments is well below that of last year. The relative pace of consumption in the various segments of the corn market may explain part of the regional differences in basis patterns this year.

“Because corn basis levels and patterns are determined by a complex set of supply-and-demand factors, it seems to be a stretch to conclude that generally strong harvest-time basis levels this year point to a smaller corn crop than currently forecast,” Good said. “History is also not on the side of a smaller yield forecast than the 168-bushel forecast of last week. In the 40 years from 1975 through 2014, the USDA yield forecast increased from September to October, as it did this year, in 24 years. The January yield estimate was below the October forecast in only four of those 24 years. The decline was 0.2 bushel in 1991, 0.1 bushel in 2008, 1.6 bushels in 2013, and 3.2 bushels in 2014. In 2013, a yield forecast was not released in October due to the partial government shutdown so the yield change was from November to January. The November to January decline in the yield forecast of 1.6 bushels that year followed a very large September to November increase of 5.1 bushels. The 3.2 bushel decline in 2014 followed a September to October increase of 2.5 bushels.

“While higher corn prices as the marketing year progresses are possible, price increases are not likely to be generated by a smaller U.S. production forecast,” Good concluded. “Instead prices will be influenced by the pace of consumption and the development of the South American crop.


Annual newsletter available

Published October 12, 2015

The 2015 FSHN newsletter is now available online!

Mindful eating: A conscious approach to health

Published October 5, 2015

URBANA, Ill. – Mindful eating is important in achieving better health, but many people don’t understand what mindful means, said a University of Illinois Extension nutrition and wellness educator.

“Mindfulness is usually associated with meditation and stress relief, but it can also be a powerful tool when choosing what we eat, how we're eating, and how our choices affect our health and our environment. Let's take a closer look at how we can apply mindfulness to our everyday eating behaviors,” said educator Kristin Bogdonas.

To be mindful is to be aware so so let’s be aware of “who, what, when, where, why, and how” we are eating, she said.

Why are you eating? Are you hungry? Are you experiencing stress? Are you sad? Are you celebrating? Keep a food journal and watch for trends in your eating habits. You may discover that you eat more high-fat, high-calorie foods when you are stressed. If you’re aware of this trend, you’ll be able to look for other ways to relieve stress that don't involve energy-dense foods that may ultimately lead to weight gain, Bogdonas said.

What are you eating? Pay attention to food labels, ingredient lists, and sourcing. Avoid foods, such as refined sugars and carbohydrates, that trigger a stress response in your body. If you see refined sugars and carbs listed in the first five ingredients, find something else. Remember, you are what you eat. And opt for quality over quantity, she advised.

When are you eating? Avoid skipping meals if possible. Instead try to evenly space your meals and snacks throughout the day, which is easier on your body's digestive system, she noted.

Who is growing your food, and where does your food come from? Several factors affect nutrition content such as variety, production method, post-harvest handling, storage, and transportation. Local food is usually higher in nutrition content simply because it has traveled a shorter distance and the varieties chosen are for taste, not shelf stability, she said.

How are you eating? Engage your five senses and slow down to really appreciate and savor the experience. Eating is very sensual and perhaps our greatest weapon against disease, she said.

How many items can you check off in the following Awareness Checklist? Bogdonas said that mindful eating takes practice and should be carried out every day for best results.

Awareness Checklist

Am I sitting?

Am I eating fast or slow?

Mindlessly munching or savoring each bite?

Multitasking or focused on my meal?

Listening to my hunger cues (hungry, satisfied, full)?

Eating out of boredom, stress, or anxiety?

Mindless Eating

Emotional eating

Grazing without tasting each bite

Eating on schedule whether you're hungry or not

Skipping meals, not paying attention to hunger cues

Mindlessly munching while watching TV or driving

Binging, then feeling guilty

“I like this Zen proverb: When walking, walk. When eating, eat,” Bogdonas said. 


New bacterial leaf disease ‘Bacterial Stripe’ of corn identified in Illinois

Published October 5, 2015
Lesion symptoms of Bacterial Leaf Stripe on corn in Illinois. Photo by University of Illinois Plant Clinic.

URBANA, Ill. - Symptomatic corn leaf samples from Champaign County in Illinois have been confirmed positive for the bacterium Burkholderia andropogonis (Pseudomonas adropogonis (Smith) Stapp.), the causal agent of Bacterial Stripe disease.

The samples were confirmed for the bacterium by the University of Illinois Plant Clinic.

Suzanne Bissonnette, director of the U of I Plant clinic, said the results have been reported to the Illinois Department of Agriculture and the USDA. The pathogen was identified by symptomology, bacterial colony characteristics, and 16S DNA sequencing, she explained.

“Bacterial stripe foliar symptoms unfortunately are similar to other endemic bacterial leaf pathogens of corn, such as Goss’s Wilt and Stewart’s Wilt,” Bissonnette said. “Lesions appear initially as lime-green to yellow diffused discoloration running parallel with leaf veins. As the lesion matures, brown necrotic streaking is evident in the center of the lesion. Lesions may be 2 to 5 inches or more in length.”

Bissonnette added that this is a new disease to corn in Illinois. “There is little current or historical information available on impact to corn yields by this pathogen in the United States,” she said.

The bacterium is widely prevalent and infects a large number of plants, including Johnson grass, sorghum, rye, and clover. Bissonnette explained that it is reported that the disease becomes more severe during periods of wet humid weather.

“Vidaver and Carlson of the University of Nebraska reported in 1978 that the disease was observed in 1973 through 1975 in South Dakota, Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska, and Michigan,” she said. “Conclusions were that the disease caused no economic impact at the time.”

Bissonnette cautioned that growers should be on the outlook for this disease in corn next season. “Be aware that symptoms of this disease may be confused with other bacterial leaf blights so lab testing may be necessary to differentiate,” she said.

Soybean balance sheet projections remain unsettled

Published October 5, 2015

URBANA, Ill. – The USDA will release the monthly World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates (WASDE) report on Oct. 9. For soybeans, there are a number of potential changes in the supply and consumption projections that were made in the September report.

On the supply side, the forecast of planted and harvested acreage of soybeans in the October report will reflect any new information coming from the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) crop production survey as well as administrative data, primarily from the Farm Service Agency (FSA).

According to University of Illinois agricultural economist Darrel Good, producers participating in federal farm programs report planted acreage to the FSA. Reporting is typically almost completed by October.

“Those reported plantings provide additional input into the NASS forecast of planted and harvested acreage,” Good said. “In the previous five years, the NASS forecast of harvested acreage in October (November in 2013) ranged from about 700,000 acres less than the September forecast to about 1.1 million acres more than the September forecast. Based on the FSA reports of planted acreage in September this year, we expect the October NASS forecast of harvested acreage to be less than the September forecast of 83.5 million acres (see Weekly Outlook for Sept. 21, 2015).

The October forecast of the U.S. average yield of soybeans will reflect information collected in the late September/early October survey of a sample of producers as well as information collected in field measurements in 11 states during the same time period.

“Over the past 44 years, there was a slight tendency (55 percent) for the yield forecast to increase in October following an increase in the forecast from August to September as was the case this year,” Good said. “Basing yield expectations on a limited number of non-random farmer yield reports during the first half of the harvest can be very misleading. Those reports this year, however, have been heavily weighted by instances of very high yields across much of the Midwest. The exceptions have been in the areas that received excessive precipitation early in the season. While some expect yields of later-planted acreage to be lower, an increase in the U.S. average yield from the September projection of 47.1 bushels would not be a surprise.”  

The magnitude of old-crop soybean supplies on hand at the start of the 2015-16 marketing year (Sept. 1) was estimated at 191 million bushels in the USDA’s  Grain Stocks report released on Sept. 30. “That is 19 million bushels less than forecast in the September WASDE report,” Good said. “Smaller beginning stocks and a smaller forecast of harvested acreage would reduce the projected supply of soybeans for the current marketing year, while a higher yield forecast would increase the supply forecast. Our expectation is that the net result will be a larger projection of marketing-year supplies than the 4.175 billion bushels forecast last month.  Expectations by market participants about the direction and magnitude of the change are widely varied,” he said.

The WASDE report will also update projections of the magnitude of the domestic crush and exports during the current marketing year.

“Expectations for changes in the projection of the domestic crush may be influenced by the newly released Fats and Oils: Oilseed Crushings, Production, Consumption and Stocks report,” Good said. “This USDA report replaces the Census Bureau report of monthly soybean crush that was discontinued after June 2011. Since then, USDA has estimated the magnitude of the marketing-year crush based on National Oilseed Processor Association (NOPA) monthly estimates of crush by member firms.

“From 2010-11 through 2014-15, the USDA estimate of the marketing-year crush has typically been about 5 percent higher than the NOPA crush estimate, consistent with the previous relationship between annual NOPA and Census crush estimates,” Good said. “The newly released report has estimates for the soybean crush in May through August this year. Those estimates exceeded NOPA estimates by 5 percent for May, 6 percent for June, 7 percent for July, and 8 percent for August. While monthly ratios of NOPA and Census crush estimates varied historically, these newly released estimates hint that the recent crush may have actually been larger than estimated in the WASDE reports. If that is the case, the projection for the crush during the current marketing year could be increased modestly from the September projection of 1.87 billion bushels.”

Without much new information about the likely size of the 2016 South American soybean harvest, Good said expectations for the marketing-year export projection will likely reflect recent export sales activity. Weekly sales were large for the week ended Sept. 24, reflecting large purchases by China, and some very large daily sales have been reported since then. Still, export commitments are running well behind those of last year, suggesting that the September projection of 1.725 billion bushels will not be increased in the October report.

“The upcoming USDA projections are not expected to alter expectations for abundant year-ending stocks of soybeans,” Good said. “Those stocks were projected at 450 million bushels last month, and the projection is expected to be near that level in the October WASDE report. Last September, 2014-15 marketing year-ending stocks were projected at 475 million bushels.  Those stocks turned out to be only 191 million bushels. Such a development is not expected this year.”