College of ACES
College News

Bonus tours for Agronomy Day 2017 offer something for everyone

Published July 7, 2017
DK Lee examines switchgrass at the U of I Energy Farm

URBANA, Ill. – Returning Agronomy Day attendees know the event offers a wealth of information on traditional crop production issues, but this year, a couple of extra tours will be available for farmers looking for something different on August 17.

Want to see an agricultural robot in action? The University of Illinois Energy Farm tour might be for you. Girish Chowdhary will be demonstrating the newest technological advancement in agriculture at his stop. Don Ort will share the stop, showcasing some of the work his group is doing to revolutionize photosynthesis, with the goal of feeding the world more efficiently. The Energy Farm tour will also feature a stop at the university’s “agroforestry for food” plots. Sarah Taylor Lovell will explain how perennial trees and shrubs can provide critical ecosystem services while also generating edible and profitable harvests. Additional stops will include a look at the farm’s biomass boiler and a presentation on regulating greenhouse gases with soil amendments.

The Energy Farm tour will be concurrent with the four main Agronomy Day tours, with departures at 8 a.m., 9 a.m., and 10 a.m. Attendees can learn more and sign up in the morning at the registration table or contact Sue Overmyer at to register early.

Attendees with an interest in vegetable production will want to stick around for the tour of the Vegetable Crops Research Farm from 1:30 to 3 p.m., following the main Agronomy Day tours. The tour will feature presentations on pumpkins, squash, cucumbers, peppers, tomatoes, and basil, as well as a demonstration of a new method of mushroom production. Agronomy Day participants will need to travel down the road to 2921 First St., Champaign, Illinois, on their own. Registration is not required, and the tour is open to home gardeners, commercial producers, and the public (no need to attend Agronomy Day). For more information, contact Mohammad Babadoost at

Agronomy Day 2017 is hosted by the Department of Crop Sciences and the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences at the University of Illinois. Main tours and the Energy Farm tour will depart from 4202 South First Street in Savoy. For up-to-date information on speakers, displays, and location, join Agronomy Day 2017 on Facebook or visit the Agronomy Day website.

The 2017 corn crop heading into pollination

Published July 6, 2017

URBANA, Ill. – After a tough start to the season, including an unusually cool, wet May followed by hot, dry weather in early June, the Illinois corn crop has rebounded a bit, with 65 percent of the crop in good or excellent condition by July 2. That’s up from the May ratings, but still lower than ideal, leaving many wondering how the season’s slow start might affect silking and yield potential.

“One consequence of the spring weather as corn enters the critical pollination period is the short plant height in many fields, especially in central Illinois,” says Emerson Nafziger, professor in the crop sciences department at the University of Illinois. “Plants in many fields are 1 to 2 feet shorter than normal as tassels begin to emerge. Later-planted (including replanted) fields have a few weeks to go before they pollinate, and can still get to their normal height if they have enough water.”

Plants are short for this stage of development due to an unusual combination of factors. May’s cool, wet soils caused slow root growth, and when warm, dry weather hit in early June, the smaller-than-normal root systems couldn’t keep up with the evaporative demand from leaves. This caused many fields to show leaf-rolling in the afternoon on hot days. “Having leaves roll signals a shortage of water in the plant,” Nafziger says. “Cells in the stem internodes that were developing during stress did not compete well for water, and so couldn’t elongate as much as usual. After the cell walls hardened, that part of the stem stayed short.”

Nafziger says that although good yields are possible on short plants, really high yields—250 bushels per acre or more—are more likely on plants that are at or above normal height. Tall corn is not always high-yielding, though. “Late-planted corn often grows taller than early-planted corn because it’s warmer when the stem is elongating,” he says. “Such plants tend to have less dry weight than those that were planted earlier, though, and that means less capability to produce high yields.”

Despite heavy rain earlier in the season, soil nitrogen levels were nearly as high in June as they were in 2016, and leaf color remains good. It is unlikely that the crop will run out of nitrogen as long as there is adequate water in the soil to carry the nutrient to the roots. Having water in the soil also helps to maintain the process of mineralization, which makes nitrogen from soil organic matter available to the crop.

“The largest concern now, as it almost always is at this time of year, is having enough water and sunshine to maintain photosynthetic rates in order to get the high kernel numbers needed to produce high yields,” Nafziger says. “Very good pollination conditions – plenty of rainfall, good sunshine, and average temperatures – can overcome some of the negative effects of the season so far, but will need to last for two weeks or so after pollination in order to keep kernels from aborting. We simply can’t know how this will end until we can count kernels and assess the state of the canopy by the time kernels start to add dry weight, about a month from now. We remain optimistic.”

For more information, please visit Nafziger’s original post on the Bulletin.

When temps are higher, Japanese quail require a breeze

Published July 5, 2017
quail sheds in Brazil
White roof of Japanese quail production facility seen left on mountainside. Right, blue curtain is lowered on another quail shed to protect against extreme weather.

URBANA, Ill. – Tiny Japanese quail eggs are a small niche market in the United States, but they’re a big business in Brazil where they are sold fresh in grocery stores in egg cartons that hold 30 of the small, speckled delicacies, and are a hard-boiled staple on restaurant salad bars. Recent research from the University of Illinois helps Brazilian producers understand the birds’ behavior under wind and temperature variables and suggests environmental changes to boost their egg-laying productivity.

“A study like this one is an interesting collaborative effort between animal science and engineering,” says U of I researcher Richard Gates. “Animal scientists tend to think that nutrition and genetics are the primary drivers. Engineers are adamant that facilities and environment are the key. The reality is that it is the interaction of a lot of factors.”

Gates is a professor in the Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences at U of I. He says he does a lot of cross-disciplinary work. “I’m the ‘token’ engineer in a lot of different projects. Many projects are about the impact of the housing systems—the interior environment on welfare, behavior, productivity for various types of animals and the exterior environmental impacts.”

The study was prompted by an invitation from the manager of a large, hen laying operation in Brazil to tour the facilities of his more recent venture—quail production. On the visit, Gates found long, narrow poultry sheds situated like a trellised vineyard of buildings on the side of the mountain. Each building containing three rows of quail cages running lengthwise.

“Because it’s on the side of a mountain, there is a lot of wind,” Gates says. “The buildings are naturally ventilated with open side walls. Vinyl curtains can be pulled up to block extreme weather when needed. The manager noticed that when the wind hit the birds in cages on the outside perimeter, they saw big behavioral changes when compared with the birds on the inside row of cages that are more sheltered from the strongest wind. He asked us for help in understanding how wind and temperature affected the quail. He was noticing that when it was what we would consider to be a comfortable temperature, the quail were being cold stressed.”

For the study, six climate-controlled quail chambers were used on the Universidade Federal de Viçosa campus in Minas Gerais, Brazil. Each chamber contains an air conditioning system, a humidifier, a watering system for the quail, and a tube to create an air jet that simulates wind.

The air velocity ranged from still air, zero wind to 7 mph wind and the temperatures were 63, 73.4, 84, and 95 degrees Fahrenheit. The quails’ behaviors were observed under varying combinations of wind velocity and temperature that they would be subjected to under normal conditions.  The behaviors were described as 1) eating or drinking, 2) stopping, resting, or posturing, 3) opening wings, bristling, or other movements associated with the birds feeling hot or cold, and 4) any other behaviors, such as chasing each other, that don’t fit into one of the categories.

“Temperature and wind velocity affect how much the quails ate. When temperatures are higher, the quail ate less,” Gates says. “But it also turns out that sometimes wind is a good thing. One of the major observations is that when it’s hot and there is a breeze, more birds were observed eating. There isn’t a good way to control the temperature in these quail sheds. So, when it’s hot outside, it gets even hotter inside.  What this shows is that producers really need to come up with ways to take advantage of the wind—not just putting the curtain up and down—but find ways to get a breeze circulating to those inside rows of cages as well.

“We now know that if the birds are heat stressed, but air movement is provided, it helps them cope with the heat,” he adds. “When they’re happier, more comfortable, they’re going to eat more. And if they eat more, they maintain their egg production. That’s the balance that we’re after.”

In terms of cold temperatures, Gates says producers can close the curtains. “When we did the study, we find there is very little difference in the quails’ behavior at the colder temperatures.”

The study was conducted at a time when the quails’ egg production would be most sensitive, but Gates says the length of the study and the various wind and temperature changes weren’t long enough to reflect significant changes in their egg production.

The findings from this study, although conducted in Brazil, hold true for Japanese quail production anywhere in the world. “It provides baseline information for how we would expect quail to behave under very different environmental conditions,” Gates says.

The study, “Behavior of Japanese quail in different air velocities and air temperatures,” is published in Pesquisa Agropecuária Brasileira. It is authored by Tatiany Carvalho dos Santos, Richard Stephen Gates, Ilda de Fátima Ferreira Tinôco, Sérgio Zolnier, and Fernando da Costa Baêta.

Support for this research was provided by The Center for Research in Environmental and Agroindustry Systems Engineering (AMBIAGRO) of the Federal University of Viçosa (UFV) Department of Agricultural Engineering, the Coordination for the Improvement of Higher Education Personnel (Capes), and the National Council for Scientific and Technological Development (CNPq).


June 30 Stocks and Acreage Reports Implications for Corn and Soybeans

Published July 3, 2017

URBANA, Ill. – On June 30, the USDA released the Acreage and Grain Stocks reports.  The Acreage report surprised many observers and generated strong positive movements in corn and soybean prices. University of Illinois agricultural economist Todd Hubbs recaps the information and explains the implications for corn and soybean prices.

“June 1 corn stocks were estimated at 5,225 million bushels, nearly 500 million bushels larger than last year and about 100 million bushels larger than the average trade guess,” Hubbs says. “Total disappearance during the quarter was 3,400 million bushels. Estimates of corn exports during the quarter are at 688 million bushels. Corn used for ethanol and co-product production during the quarter totaled 1,342 million bushels. Corn processed domestically for other food and industrial products was likely near 413 million bushels.”

“The remaining disappearance, after adjusting for imports, is estimated at 965 million bushels, and consists of the feed and residual category,” Hubbs continues. “Feed and residual use during the first three quarters of the marketing year is estimated at 4,757 million bushels. To reach the projected 5,500 million bushels of corn the USDA projects for feed and residual during this marketing year, feed and residual use in the fourth quarter must equal 743 million bushels.  Fourth-quarter feed and residual use has not exceeded 740 million bushels since the 2006-07 marketing year.  Based on current stocks estimate, it appears feed and residual use this year may not reach the projection of 5,500 million bushels and could be lowered by the USDA in the next World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates report on July 12.”

Turning to soybean, Hubbs says the June 1 soybean stocks estimate indicated 963 million bushels. Total disappearance for the quarter was 775 million bushels. Exports during the third quarter are estimated at 257 million bushels. Soybean crush during the quarter totaled 468.5 million bushels. Seed and residual use calculations proceed from the remaining disappearance adjusted for soybean imports. Seed and residual use for the third quarter totaled 53 million bushels. June 1 soybean stocks are neutral for soybean prices as soybean consumption maintains a pace to meet USDA projections for the 2016-17 marketing year. The potential for an increase in soybean exports of 10-15 million bushels for the 2016-17 marketing year exists on stronger- than-expected soybean exports. 

Corn producers reported they planted, or intended to plant, 90.886 million acres of corn this year, 3.1 million less than planted last year. Corn planted acres came in 983 thousand acres larger than the average trade guess and 890 thousand acres larger than March planting intentions. When compared to March planting intentions in major producing states, the June survey revealed higher corn acres in North Dakota (400,000), Iowa (200,000), and Nebraska (250,000). Acreage lower than March intentions in Illinois (200,000), Indiana (100,000), South Dakota (200,000), and Ohio (50,000) offset gains in the Western Corn Belt. 

Corn acreage intended for harvest is projected at 83.5 million acres, 3.7 million less than harvested in 2016. “Yield is challenging to predict due to the difficult start to the growing season in many locations,” Hubbs says. “Potential yield is likely at or below the USDA’s June assessment of 170.7 bushels. Corn production in the United States during 2017 may be in the range between 16.5 and 16.7 billion bushels.”     

Soybean producers planted or intended to plant 89.513 million acres of soybeans.  The soybean acreage intentions came in well below market expectations.  Soybean planted acres came in 237 thousand acres smaller than the average trade guess and 31 thousand acres larger than March planting intentions.  At the time of the survey, producers indicated that 10.9 percent of the intended soybean acreage is yet to be planted.  When compared to March planting intentions in major producing states, the June survey revealed greater soybean acres in North Dakota (400,000), Missouri (350,000), and Illinois (200,000).  Acreage lower than March intentions is reported in Indiana (100,000), Kansas (250,000), and Iowa (100,000). 

Soybean harvested acreage is projected at 88.7 million acres, 7.2 million more than harvested in 2016.  “Yield potential is highly uncertain at this point in the growing season,” Hubbs says.  “Favorable growing conditions throughout the summer could result in the U.S. average yield near 48.2 bushels per acre. At this yield level, 2017 soybean production would be close to 4,275 million bushels.” He adds that the trade is probably skeptical of trend yield in soybeans being attainable at this point.”

“The USDA reports were not supportive for corn prices,” Hubbs says. “Given the current pace of consumption in feed and residual now being experienced, year-ending stocks for corn will likely be 75 million bushels higher than the 2,295 million bushels projected by USDA on June 9.  In addition, the increase in corn acreage points to adequate supply during the 2017-18 marketing year despite the potential issues with corn yield. Although soybean prices rallied on the less-than-expected planted acreage, the 2017 soybean acreage is still a record 89.5 million acres.  This level of soybean planting follows large crops in both the United States and South America.  Significant soybean consumption growth or poor yields this crop year would be necessary to prevent growth in soybeans stocks over the next marketing year and, with that growth, price weakness.”

Soybean rust study will allow breeders to tailor resistant varieties to local pathogens

Published June 28, 2017
Soybean rust lesions
Soybean rust lesions

URBANA, Ill. – Midwestern growers don’t worry much about soybean rust, but the fungal disease has been popping up at the end of the growing season nearly every year since 2006. But because the fungus can’t survive winter without a host plant, it’s not much of a threat to Midwest crops under current conditions.

Right now, the disease only impacts U.S. soybean growers in the frost-free south, and only over-winters in parts of the Gulf Coast and the Caribbean basin. “But if the frost-free zone were to expand northward sometime in the future, there would be a greater potential for soybean rust to impact Midwestern growers,” says Glen Hartman, plant pathologist in the Department of Crop Sciences at the University of Illinois and crop pathologist for USDA-ARS.

Even though the major soybean-producing region in the United States is currently safe, Hartman and his collaborators aren’t willing to let the ball drop on soybean rust. “We’d like to stay ahead of the game by knowing more about the pathogen and whether strains of the fungus can overcome soybean rust resistance genes,” he says.

The disease is also active and spreading in many other parts of the world. In Africa and other continents, soybean losses of up to 80 percent have been reported due to this disease. “People talk about walking through soybean fields and stirring up clouds of spores,” Hartman says. The team verified soybean rust first in Ghana, then Malawi and Tanzania, and most recently Ethiopia in 2016.

Hartman notes that fungicides can be effective, but the chemical strategy comes with several pitfalls. “Spraying fungicides over millions and millions of acres does not always provide effective control and certainly is not environmentally appealing,” he says. The problem wouldn’t be solved with a single treatment, either. In Brazil, where losses up to 75 percent have been reported, producers often spray two or three times every growing season. Finally, the pathogen can develop resistance to fungicides, making them less effective.

Hartman believes the way forward is finding rust-resistant soybean varieties. In a recent study, he and several international collaborators tested the ability of 10 such varieties to stand up against rust strains from around the world. None of the soybean varieties were able to resist all of the rust strains that were tested, but a few showed promise.

“Soybean genotypes carrying Rpp1b, Rpp2, Rpp3, and Rpp5a resistance genes, and cultivars Hyuuga and UG5 (carrying more than one resistance gene), were observed to be resistant against most of the African rust strains, and therefore may be useful for soybean-breeding programs in Africa and elsewhere,” Hartman says.

On the flip side, the researchers also evaluated which rust strains were the most destructive. It turned out that strains from Argentina were the most virulent. One of them was able to cause full-blown disease symptoms – tan spore-producing lesions on the leaves – on eight soybean lines, including two with multiple resistance genes.

The study’s major conclusion is that it won’t be as simple as choosing one soybean variety with resistance and rolling it out for commercial use around the world. Instead, it will take a more tailored approach, pushing out the varieties whose specific type of resistance offers the best chance of maintaining effective resistance to local rust strains.

The article, “Virulence diversity of Phakopsora pachyrhizi isolates from East Africa compared to a geographically diverse collection,” is published in Plant Disease. First author H. Murithi is from the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture in Tanzania. Co-authors include J. Haudenshield, F. Beed, G. Mahuku, M. Joosten, and Hartman. The research was supported by the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture and the USDA Agricultural Research Service.  

Additional Images:
  • Soybean rust on plants in Florida
  • Soybean rust spores

New field entomologist joins U of I crop sciences department

Published June 28, 2017
Nick Seiter

URBANA, Ill. – Crop sciences at the University of Illinois is growing, with two new research assistant professors joining the department this fall. The two faculty members, a row crop entomologist and a plant pathologist, will be working directly with growers to address crop production issues across the state. The new entomologist, Nick Seiter, visited the Urbana campus this week.

“These two positions represent our connection with growers and stakeholders,” said Germán Bollero, department head for crop sciences. “We have researchers working on plant pests, but Nick will be our front door with the growers, really taking the pulse of what’s happening out there. He will do the translational work. I’m very excited for him to come.”

In an interview on Tuesday, Seiter discussed his background and his plans for the new position.

ACES Marketing and Communications: Tell us a little about your background.

Seiter: I’m from southeast Indiana originally. I did a bachelor’s and a master’s in entomology at Purdue, working on row crop insects and specifically on the western corn rootworm for my master’s. I went to Clemson University in South Carolina to do a Ph.D. starting in 2011. I developed preliminary management practices for the kudzu bug, which was a new invasive species in soybeans. In 2014, I took a position at the University of Arkansas as an extension entomologist working on various insect pests in cotton, soybeans, sorghum, corn, and occasionally in rice.

ACES: What got you interested in row crop entomology in the first place?

Seiter: I’ve always been interested in science and always liked being outdoors more than in the lab, so agriculture was a good melding of those interests. I started working in row crop entomology as a summer job. I enjoyed it and kept going from there.

ACES: Why Illinois?

Seiter: The fact that it is closer to home is one great reason for me to come here, but also the ag industry here is booming. Illinois is a great place to work in agriculture. It sounds like there’s a tremendous need here since they haven’t had an applied entomologist in this position for a while. It’s an opportunity to build a program and to do some impactful work, I hope.

ACES: Do you have specific projects in mind yet?

Seiter: I think there will be a lot of need to work with western corn rootworm, but western bean cutworm is another one that’s emerging. I think there will be some opportunity to work on that, as well as some of the soybean defoliators, stink bugs, and other pests that come up on a recurring basis.

I like to choose projects based on need, taking a problem-solving approach. That’s what motivates me in my work, that problem-solving aspect. It’s why I’ve worked in applied research throughout my career.

ACES: What are you looking forward to most?

Seiter: I’m looking forward to meeting the other people working in this area, meeting my clientele, and hitting the ground running.

Seiter will seek funding from industry, regional commodity groups, and the USDA to pursue his research plans. He officially joins the department on September 16, 2017. Can’t wait that long? Follow him on Twitter @nick_seiter and stay in touch with the Department of Crop Sciences and the College of ACES to hear about more visits in advance of his start date.