URBANA, Ill. – While grain yield is economically important in field corn production, there are other metrics more important in sweet corn grown for processing, said Marty Williams, a USDA-ARS ecologist and University of Illinois crop sciences researcher.
In a study recently published in Field Crops Research, Williams questioned whether the crop yield responses that have been previously reported in sweet corn research are actually helpful to the industry.
“What has been done in the past is analogous to predicting someone’s height based on their shoe size, as opposed to actually measuring their height,” Williams said.
After collecting and studying sweet corn data representing 31 hybrids across 22 locations in Illinois over an 8-year period, Williams said he sees a disconnect in what researchers are measuring in the field and what processors and seed companies need to know in order to make improved production decisions.
In other words, Williams said researchers need to start speaking the same language as the sweet corn industry.
Williams explained that the two variables that affect processor decisions most include recovery (percentage of kernels that can be canned or bagged from the green-ear mass) and case production (cases per acre of processed kernels).
However, he added that nearly all historic and recent field research in processing sweet corn reports neither of these variables, regardless of whether the studies pertained to plant pathology, fertility management, pest control, or sweet corn breeding and genetics.
“Ear number or green-ear mass are often the only crop responses reported in research on field productivity of processing sweet corn. Sometimes, other crop responses are reported, including plant traits such as height or canopy density, or ear traits such as ear length or ear width,” he said.
In his study, Williams looked for relationships between processor variables and 17 crop traits (5 plant traits, 8 ear traits, and 4 yield traits). He determined that none of the crop traits predicted recovery.
“Recovery is something that has to be measured directly. Currently, there’s no way to predict it,” he explained.
When comparing the variability of the estimates in case production based on traits such as green-ear mass, husked-ear mass, and ear number, he determined that fresh kernel mass also was a far superior predictor of case production.
“Essentially, the more a measured yield response physically resembled a case of sweet corn, the more precise and accurate the estimate of case production,” he reported.
The challenge in getting the necessary data is the costs associated with the equipment and labor, according to Williams.
In order to collect information on fresh kernel mass, Williams and his team designed and built a portable, “mini-processing plant” that they use in the field at harvest to husk ears and cut fresh kernels.
“At the moment there isn’t a viable alternative that’s less expensive,” he said. “Does the research community continue to report mediocre data, or do we invest in an approach that gives the sweet corn industry exactly what it needs to make use of our research?”
Another obstacle is the narrow window of time when sweet corn is harvested, usually by hand, for research. Though field corn for grain production is harvested at physiological maturity, sweet corn is harvested at the R3 stage (milk stage), while kernel moisture is at approximately 72 to 76 percent. “When sweet corn is ripe, waiting is not an option,” Williams explained.
A change in the way sweet corn research is done will have an impact on how processors, growers, and seed companies make decisions in the future, according to the researcher.
“Applied research aimed at improving crop productivity is predicated on the ability to accurately measure important crop responses, such as yield. For processing sweet corn, the most important responses include recovery and case production,” he said. “Those of us in the research community can’t expect the sweet corn industry to adopt our research-based findings when we’re failing to measure what’s truly important.”
“Few crop traits accurately predict variables important to productivity of processing sweet corn,” is published in the February 2014 issue of Field Crop Research and can be accessed online at http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0378429013004073.
Who’s to blame for obesity? Policy makers, the food industry, or individuals?
URBANA, Ill. – Fast food restaurants take a lot of heat for the rise in obesity in the United States, but is it really their fault? A research survey conducted by two food economists revealed that most people believe individuals are to blame for their own obesity – not restaurants, grocery stores, farmers, or government policies. One implication from this research is that creating and enforcing public policies to help reduce obesity and/or encourage healthier food choices may not be as effective as policy makers would like.
University of Illinois researcher Brenna Ellison explained that she and her colleague, Jayson Lusk at Oklahoma State University, are both interested in the effectiveness of different food policies. However, past research has shown many of the food policies designed to improve food choices, such as requiring calorie information on restaurant menus and taxing sugar-sweetened beverages, do not always produce the intended results. This leads one to question: Why aren’t these policies working? Why aren’t consumers responding to increased soda prices or calorie information on menus?
“Obesity is in the news every day so it would be hard to say that people are unaware of the policy initiatives in place to reduce U.S. obesity rates,” Ellison said. “Based on our study results, the more likely conclusion is that consumers’ beliefs about who is to blame for obesity don’t necessarily align with the beliefs of policy makers and public health advocates. In the United States, we’re known for being an individualistic-based society, so it’s not exceptionally surprising that we would put this responsibility for obesity on ourselves.“
“Who is to blame for the rise in obesity?” was published in a recent issue of Appetite.
An online survey was administered by Clear Voice Research whose registry of panelists is representative of the U.S. population in terms of socioeconomic characteristics, gender, and region. Of the more than 800 people in the United States who took the survey, 774 were usable.
The main question of interest asked survey participants was, “Who is primarily to blame for the rise in obesity?” Respondents were asked to classify seven different entities (individuals, parents, farmers, food manufacturers, grocery stores, restaurants, and government policies) as either primarily to blame, somewhat to blame, or not to blame for obesity. Results of the study showed that 94 percent of people believed individuals are primarily or somewhat to blame for the rise in obesity, with parents coming in second at 91 percent primarily or somewhat to blame. Survey respondents felt farmers and grocery stores were relatively blameless for the rise in obesity.
Ellison said that one finding from the survey was unexpected.
“We learned that farmers and people who received food stamps were more likely to blame government and farm policy,” Ellison said. “That seems off. You wouldn’t expect that opinion from people who are benefiting from those policies; however, these individuals could be in the best position to observe the potential harm that some government policies create.”
“Unquestionably, U.S. obesity and overweight rates are much higher than they were 20 or 30 years ago so it is not surprising that policy makers and public health officials are looking for potential solutions. That being said, if individuals view obesity as a personal problem, how confident can we be that these solutions will work? We need to be realistic about the solutions we’re proposing and implementing, and if people are not buying into them, they may need to be re-evaluated,” Ellison said.
No-till Soybean Fields Giving Birds a Foothold in Illinois
NRES Researchers Dr. Jeff Brawn, Dr. Mike Ward, and former graduate student Kelly VanBeek (a wildlife biologist at the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources) report in a new study that several bird species – some of them relatively rare – are making extensive use of soybean fields in Illinois. The team found significantly more birds and a greater diversity of bird species nesting, roosting and feeding in no-till soybean fields than in tilled fields.
The team spent about 13 weeks each spring and summer in 2011 and 2012 scouring a total of 24 fields (12 per year) in two counties in Central Illinois. The fields were 18 to 20 hectares (44-49 acres) on average, and the researchers walked roughly 3,200 kilometers (1,988 miles) in the course of the study.
The team found more bird nests and greater species diversity in the no-till fields than in the tilled soybeans. Nest losses were high, however. About 80 percent of nests in the no-till fields and more than 90 percent in tilled fields failed as a result of predation or the onset of farm operations before eggs hatched or young birds were ready to fly.
To view the article in its entirety, and to access the paper, "Does No-Till Soybean Farming Provide Any Benefits for Birds?", visit the U. of I. News Bureau website: http://news.illinois.edu/news/14/0121no-till_JeffreyBrawn_MichaelWard.html.
Desire to reproduce drives active nightlife of birds
URBANA, Ill. – For a non-nocturnal bird, the yellow-breasted chat spends a significant amount of time visiting other birds’ territories during the night. A University of Illinois researcher who was studying birds’ movement during the day noticed that males were active almost every night, while the females were active at night but particularly during the window of time when they were fertile.
“We were studying the chat’s movement during the day, but we gathered data on the birds 24/7 and started seeing all of this nocturnal movement and wondered what they were doing,” said U of I ornithologist Michael Ward.
“I was using data from the night readings at first to calibrate the system,” Ward said. He explained that females get up at night to roll the eggs so the membrane won’t stick to the eggs. That little bit of night movement was a way to test the triangulation software because they know the location of all nests, thereby providing a baseline for comparison. “I started plotting it out and thought this can’t be right. This bird is on the nest for an hour or two and then it’s all over the place. It can’t be that these signals are bouncing around that much. It has to be that the birds are actually moving off of the nest.”
Ward said that the chats’ night vision isn’t any better than ours, so they probably weren’t out foraging for insects to eat. There was no obvious reason for these bird’s nightly escapades. Then they noticed that females were only moving during their fertile period.
“These movements are much more common than you would expect,” Ward said. “You might expect some females getting up randomly during the night, but the pattern of these nocturnal forays suggests that they may be trying to increase their reproductive success by searching out partners other than their own social mate.”
In the field portion of the study, 32 birds were captured in mist nets, their age and sex logged, then fitted with a lightweight backpack radio transmitter that emits a signal that’s picked up by four towers, each with six antennas. The signal strength provides directionality and allows the researchers to compute the bird’s location using a simple triangulation. The bird’s location is recorded every three minutes which yielded approximately 12,000 points per bird. The birds’ nests were located and checked every 2 to 3 days until eggs hatched or the nest was eaten by a predator. Chats typically have one brood of four eggs each year and lay one a day beginning about 3 to 5 days after they become fertile. It’s not a broad fertility window.
Ward said that there is not a lot of research in this kind of bird behavior and in fact this is one of the first studies suggesting that diurnal birds move around at night for reproduction. “The Active nightlife of diurnal birds: extraterritorial forays and nocturnal activity patterns” is published in a 2014 issue of Animal Behaviour. Mark Alessi, Thomas Benson, and Scott Chiavacci contributed to the article. The research received funding from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.
“We know that females generally sleep on or near the nest but males usually have two or three sites in the area that they go to every night and they are usually pretty far away from the nest,” Ward said. “They nest in dense shrubbery so it would be difficult at night for the male to see the female leaving it.”
Ward said it’s a lot like a “soap opera.” Other studies have shown that male birds will harass the female or choose not to help her feed the young if they suspect infidelity. “Males are active at night and looking to copulate, but when their female is fertile, they don’t leave their territory. They try to either keep her around (which doesn’t seem to be working very well) and keep other males from coming in. It goes both ways. Females sneak around to other territories and so do males.”
How does the female on a nightly rendezvous know that the male she is visiting is actually awake and receptive? Ward said that in the case of yellow-breasted chats, which are a type of warbler, the male sings a sort of low song so the female can find him and hook-up.
Ward also described in the study what he calls “nightclubs.” He found forest areas on the edge of the habitat that were not appropriate for nesting but were frequented in the middle of the night by both males and females. “It would make sense, if males and females are interested in copulating, and there is a known location. It would make sense to go there,” he said.
With foraging for food and building nests during the day and cruising around all night, when do these birds actually sleep? Ward said that they noticed that, much like a human after a late night party, the day after the bird had a pretty active night, it isn’t as active the next day.
Ward said that this behavior may explain why this and other species that are generally territorial prefer to nest near others of the same species.
“Given their movements into others’ territories, efforts should be made to conserve large chunks of habitat that can accommodate many territories,” Ward said.
Annual Forest Stewardship Conference March 8
Sinsinawa Mound Center, 585 County Road Z, Sinsinawa, WI.
To register for the conference, visit http://extension.illinois.edu/go/forestconference. The deadline to register is Feb. 28.
Annual Forest Stewardship Conference March 8
URBANA, Ill. — University of Illinois Extension and Iowa State University Extension are hosting the 2014 Tri-State Forest Stewardship Conference on Saturday, March 8, at the Sinsinawa Mound Center in Sinsinawa, Wis. This is the 20th year for the forestry conference, which annually draws over 500 woodland landowners and tree enthusiasts from Illinois, Iowa, and Wisconsin.
According to Jay Hayek, Extension forester at U of I, “This is one of the largest woodland owner conferences in the nation. Our conference regularly fills to capacity, so those interested in participating are encouraged to register early in order to receive the early bird registration discount that ends Feb. 14 and secure a spot at the conference.”
To register, visit http://extension.illinois.edu/go/forestconference.
The forestry conference will feature over 21 presentations covering a wide range of forestry, wildlife, and natural resources topics, including invasive species management; prescribed fire; timber sales and marketing; tree felling and pruning; crop-tree management; forest management plans; tree identification; wood heating appliances; forest interior birds; forest herps; forest and insect pests; growing hazelnuts; Internet-based forestry resources; and aquaponics.
“We will once again be offering a two-hour apple tree grafting workshop,” Hayek said. “Enrollment for the apple tree grafting workshop will be limited to the first 25 individuals who enroll via the online registration system.” Participants in this workshop will be able to take home five apple trees grafted onto certified rootstock. Participants will also have the opportunity to interact with federal, state, and university forestry and natural resource specialists, as well as to visit with a wide variety of vendors and exhibitors.
Adult registration is $45 on or before Feb.14, and $55 after that date. The registration fee includes a continental breakfast, turkey or meatless lasagna lunch, refreshments throughout the day, handouts, and a Tri-State Forest Stewardship Conference coffee mug.
The deadline to register is midnight on Feb. 28. Advance registration is required. Participation is limited to the first 550 paid registrations so early registration is encouraged and will be accepted on a first-come, first-served basis. No walk-in registrations on the day of the conference will be allowed.
Sinsinawa Mound Center is located on 585 County Road Z, Sinsinawa, WI. Directions to Sinsinawa Mound Center can be found at http://www.sinsinawa.org/directions_map.html.
For more information about the Tri-State Forest Stewardship Conference, visit www.extension.iastate.edu/forestry.
Comparing NASS and FSA planted acreage data
URBANA, Ill. – The USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) released final estimates of planted and harvested crop acreage for 2013 in the Crop Production 2013 Summary report on Jan. 10. The USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) released its final report of planted acreage for 2013 on Jan. 15. According to a University of Illinois agricultural economist, there may be some misunderstanding or confusion about how the two estimates of planted acreage are generated and how the estimates should compare.
“The NASS estimates of planted acreage incorporate both survey and administrative data,” said Darrel Good. “The primary survey data are collected in the December Agricultural Survey of producers. The survey is conducted by mail, phone, Internet, and personal interview in all states except Hawaii. The survey is a probability survey in the sense that operations surveyed represent a sample drawn from a list of all producers in such a way that all operations have a chance to be included.”
The December 2013 survey was conducted between Nov. 29 and Dec. 17 with a sample size of 82,403 producers, according to the NASS executive summary, released on Jan.10, 2014. Respondents were asked to report the acreage of each crop planted for all purposes for all land operated by the respondent. Based on the survey data, each state field office submits an estimate and written analysis to the NASS Agricultural Statistics Board. The survey data and written analysis are used along with administrative data to prepare the final estimates of planted acreage, harvested acreage, yield, and production. The administrative data are primarily the planted acreage data reported to and summarized by the FSA.
“The FSA requires producers participating in the direct and counter-cyclical payment program and the Average Crop Revenue Election (ACRE) program along with those who receive marketing assistance loans or loan deficiency payments to file an annual report regarding all cropland use on their farms,” Good said. “Producers self-report to the FSA, but the failure to file an accurate and timely report can result in the loss of program benefits. Producers report planted acreage, prevented acreage, and failed acreage by crop.”
Good said that the planted-acreage data collected by the FSA should be very accurate, but are incomplete because not all producers are required to report. “In contrast, the NASS estimates are for all planted acreage, but the estimates are subject to sampling error since not every producer is surveyed. The NASS estimates of planted acreage of each crop should be larger than the FSA estimates because not all producers participate in FSA programs. The relationship between the two estimates should be generally consistent from year to year since NASS uses the FSA estimates as input for final estimates. Variation in the magnitude of the differences from year to year could reflect such things as differing rates of participation in FSA programs and NASS sampling errors,” Good said.
For 2013, the final NASS estimate of planted acreage of corn was 95.365 million acres while the final acreage reported to FSA was 92.399 million acres. The difference was 2.966 million acres, with the FSA acreage estimate representing 96.89 percent of the NASS estimate. These relationships are within the range of the differences in the previous six years when the difference between the two estimates ranged from 2.381 million acres to 3.295 million acres and the FSA estimate ranged from 96.42 to 97.45 percent of the NASS estimate.
For soybeans, the final NASS estimate of planted acreage in 2013 was 76.533 million acres, while the final acreage reported to FSA was 75.299 million acres. The difference was 1.234 million acres, with the FSA acreage estimate representing 98.39 percent of the NASS estimate. These relationships are within the range of the differences in the previous six years when the difference between the two estimates ranged from 0.917 million acres to 1.884 million acres and the FSA estimate ranged from 97.09 to 98.79 percent of the NASS estimate.
For wheat, the final NASS estimate of planted acreage in 2013 was 56.156 million acres while the final acreage reported to FSA was 53.775 million acres. The difference was 2.381 million acres, with the FSA acreage estimate representing 95.76 percent of the NASS estimate. These relationships are within the range of the differences in the previous six years when the difference between the two estimates ranged from 1.171 million acres to 2.779 million acres and the FSA estimate ranged from 94.81 to 98.06 percent of the NASS estimate.
“The relationship between FSA and NASS planted-acreage estimates can be useful in forming early expectations of the NASS final-acreage estimates,” Good said. “FSA releases reports of planted acreage monthly from August through January, reflecting the producer reports received and processed to date. Beginning in October, NASS formally uses the FSA estimates as input for their estimates. In most years, however, the September FSA estimates are close to the final FSA estimates, or can be used to anticipate final FSA estimates, and therefore final NASS estimates. The FSA estimates in September 2013, for example, provided an early indication that NASS September corn and soybean acreage estimates were too high, having not yet fully reflected the magnitude of prevented plantings,” Good said.
NRES Doctoral Defense by Greg Spyreas
N-527 Turner Hall, 1102 S. Goodwin Ave., Urbana, IL
NRES Doctoral Defense by Greg Spyreas
Title: An Examination of Temporal Trends, Regional Variation, and Habitat-type Differences in Site-level Floristic quality scores
Floristic Quality Assessment (FQA) is an increasingly popular and influential way to measure an area’s conservation value based on its flora. It is premised on plant species composition estimating a site's human disturbance and degradation levels. The ecological properties and assumptions underlying FQA measures are largely unknown— especially compared to other widely used measures such as species richness. This research examines three critical score properties, it asks: how do site scores vary among habitat-types, among regions, and over time. The results form the most extensive assessment of Floristic Quality to date, and they have considerable implications for understanding its assumptions and use.
Advisor: Dr. Brenda Molano-Flores
2014 Corn & Soybean Classic (rescheduled)
IHotel and Conference Center, Urbana, Ill.
Rescheduled from January 6. For more information visit http://www.cropsciconferences.com/Corn_Soybean/Home/.