URBANA, Ill. – It has been argued that corn consumption during the current marketing year appears to be more responsive to lower prices than generally anticipated, particularly in the export market. According to a University of Illinois agricultural economist, the responsiveness reflects not only lower corn prices in absolute terms, but also in relation to the price of other feed ingredients.
“Arguably, corn has become one of the cheaper feed ingredients currently available,” said Darrel Good. “In addition to increased feed consumption of corn in the domestic and foreign markets, there are also indications that domestic corn consumption could be boosted by a growing export demand for ethanol. It is argued that the combination of generally high crude oil prices, and therefore high gasoline prices, in relation to ethanol prices, will make ethanol an attractive source of octane around the world. With corn prices at the current levels, U.S. ethanol is very competitively priced in the world market. Anticipating export demand for ethanol, however, is difficult, and opinions about the size of that market vary considerably,” he said.
According to Good, U.S. ethanol exports totaled about 400 million gallons in 2010 but ballooned to almost 1.2 billion gallons in 2011 as high sugar prices and limited Brazilian ethanol supplies boosted demand for U.S. ethanol, particularly in Brazil. Exports retreated to about 730 million gallons in 2012 as Brazilian ethanol production rebounded and totaled only about 620 million gallons in 2013. However, exports were on the rise late in the year, totaling 82.5 million gallons in November 2013 and nearly 65 million gallons in December 2013. Weekly statistics from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) suggest that exports have been brisk so far in 2014. Canada is the largest importer of U.S. ethanol, accounting for 45 percent of U.S. exports in December 2013. Brazil accounted for an additional 22 percent of U.S. exports. An additional 44 countries imported some U.S. ethanol in November or December 2013.
“A combination of larger ethanol exports, increased domestic motor fuel consumption, and a final EPA rule making for the Renewable Fuel Standards for 2014 that provided more ‘push’ for higher ethanol blends in the domestic fuel supply could provide for meaningful expansion in domestic ethanol production and corn consumption,” Good said. “The magnitude of ethanol imports will also factor into that potential expansion. With so many unknowns, it is difficult to quantify potential growth. However, there is not unlimited capacity to produce corn-based ethanol in the United States. It is conceivable that with limited imports, growing exports, and expanding domestic consumption of ethanol, production capacity could be challenged at some point. That capacity then will determine the limit of growth in corn consumption associated with ethanol production,” he said.
The Renewable Fuels Association estimates the nameplate capacity of current biorefineries at 14.875 billion gallons, with an additional 165 million gallons of new construction or expansion under way. Good said that, translating that capacity into maximum potential for corn consumption is not straightforward for at least three reasons. First, it is possible for refineries to produce above nameplate capacity. Second, feedstocks other than corn are used in some refineries. Third, there is a variation in the estimates of yield of ethanol per bushel of corn processed into ethanol, and the yield can vary by the intensity of use relative to nameplate capacity. As a result, estimates of maximum corn consumption vary.
The most recent private industry survey (for the year ended June 2013) revealed an average industry yield of 2.72 gallons of undenatured ethanol per bushel of corn. Assuming total nameplate capacity of 15.04 billion gallons of ethanol and recognizing that production can exceed nameplate capacity (but that not all feedstock is corn), corn-based ethanol production capacity might be near 15.2 billion gallons. With a yield of 2.72 gallons per bushel, maximum corn consumption for ethanol would be 5.588 billion bushels. That compares to the USDA projection of 5.0 billion bushels for the current marketing year.
“There is a bit more to the story, however,” Good added. “A co-product of ethanol refining is a variety of distillers grains solubles (DGS) that are used as livestock feed. Those solubles substitute for other feed ingredients, mostly whole corn. That same private survey I referenced indicated that an average of 16 pounds of livestock feed is produced for each bushel of corn refined. That is, for each bushel refined, 0.286 bushels are available to substitute for other feed ingredients. If, for example, 80 percent of those solubles substitute for whole corn, then 0.229 bushels of whole corn are replaced (domestically or internationally) for each bushel of corn refined into ethanol. Using that relationship, the net consumption of corn from ethanol production can be calculated. Processing 5.0 billion bushels of corn into ethanol would represent a net use of 3.855 billion bushels [5.0 - (.229 X 5.0)] and processing 5.588 billion bushels would represent a net use of 4.308 billion bushels. Under the assumptions made here, moving from 5.0 billion bushels of corn processed into ethanol to the maximum industry capacity of 5.588 billion bushels would result in a 453-million-bushel net increase in corn consumption rather than a 588-million-bushel increase,” he said.
Good concluded by saying that ethanol is expected to continue to be a large and likely growing segment of demand for U.S. corn, suggesting that corn prices could be supported at higher levels than expected during a period of more abundant supplies. However, there is a limit to growth without motivation to expand corn-based ethanol production capacity.
The perfect time to plan this year’s fruit tree orchard
URBANA, Ill. - It is not too early to start to plan for a new home orchard or to consider replacements for aging fruit trees in an existing home orchard, said a University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator.
“There are several different kinds of fruit trees to consider: apple, cherry, peach, pear, and or plum,” said Richard Hentschel.
In northern portions of Illinois, the horticulture educator said apple is likely the main fruit tree grown in backyard orchards. Apples are the hardiest of fruit trees and a good place to start for the home orchardist, he added.
“When you shop the fruit tree catalogs or visit with your favorite retail garden center to find out what varieties they will be carrying this spring, consider dwarf apples because, as in most cases, yard space is limited. Dwarf apple trees are naturally smaller than their full-sized siblings and are much easier to train, prune, and maintain than a full-sized fruit tree. If you have lots of space, full-sized fruit trees are always an option but will provide the challenges associated with any full-sized fruit tree,” Hentschel said.
Fruit trees are dwarf naturally or because growers graft or bud them to a dwarfing rootstock, limiting the size of the fruit tree. If they are naturally dwarf, then the apples listed will be a “spur-type” tree. There are many examples of spurs available. Empire, red and yellow delicious, Macintosh, Rome, winesap, and early blaze are a few. The smallest fruit trees will be a combination of a spur type grafted or budded on a dwarfing rootstock, often listed in the catalogs as “Double Dwarf.”
“Catalogs will list a mature size that is considerably smaller than the full-sized version, but the ultimate size of your dwarf tree is really up to you. If you start to train too late or do not prune correctly, that dwarf apple tree will be much larger than you wanted or expected, yet still much smaller than a full-sized tree,” Hentschel explained.
Another important key to selecting fruit trees is pollination. Fruit tree catalogs will suggest which apple varieties will be the best pollinators for the varieties you wish to grow. “It is critical that you have two different apple varieties blooming at the same time in order to get good pollination and a strong fruit set,” he said.
Apples are mostly considered to be “self-unfruitful,” meaning that pollen from other flowers on the same tree or from another tree of the same variety will not pollinate itself. The smallest home orchard would need to contain at least two different apple varieties blooming at the same time. Hentschel noted that a possible exception to this rule is if an ornamental flowering crabapple is in bloom, pollen from the flowering crabapple will pollinate fruiting apple trees. This is more likely to occur in an urban backyard than outside of town, he added.
Just what do experts mean when they say “you need to train your fruit tree?”
“Home orchardists need to train the tree for structure and to encourage fruit production in order to have a productive, high yielding home orchard,” Hentschel said. “The branches will be positioned on the trunk to allow good sunlight throughout the canopy to promote fruit production from the interior to the outside of your trees’ canopy. This also allows air circulation in the canopy, reducing leaf and fruit diseases, so you benefit in two ways.”
Using dwarf apple trees as an example, what orchardists call the central leader system will likely be used to train the trees. The central leader system allows fruit trees to look like most other trees in the landscape, yet produce apples without the tree looking like those seen in commercial orchards. Training starts the first year dwarf trees are planted. Start to select scaffold branches, placing the first set of scaffold branches no more than 24 inches from the ground.
“By starting that low, you will be able to place additional scaffolds and still have a mature tree that is no taller than 6 to 8 feet, making it very easy to manage. If a dwarf tree is allowed to grow without being well trained, that fruit tree will be much larger than you had planned for. Fruit production will be delayed and long-term care will be more difficult,” Hentschel said.
There are several other advantages of a well-trained dwarf fruit tree, Hentschel noted. “Annual spring pruning will be visually much clearer as to what branches will need your attention. There will be branches that need to be adjusted using traditional branch spreaders or alternative methods such as using twine and a stake to pull the branch into the desired horizontal plane as you develop your scaffolds. Water sprouts will be easily identified as they will be growing straight up from the horizontal scaffold branches,” he said.
As dwarf fruit trees mature, weekly inspection and monitoring of fruit pests will be easier and done very quickly. Even though young fruit trees may not produce apples for the first two or more years, orchardists will need to take care of insects and foliar diseases. Foliage-feeding insects reduce the canopy, reducing the amount of food that could go into growing and developing. Leaf diseases have a similar impact. If allowed to continue over the seasons, they could easily delay fruit production. Early pruning and scaffold selection encourages flowers and fruit set.
“Where you place the home orchard on your property will make a big difference in how the fruit tree grows and performs,” Hentschel said. “A fruit tree requires full sun for best growth and production. A fruit tree uses that sunlight to both produce the fruits that we enjoy so much as well as create vegetative and fruit buds for the coming year.”
Another major consideration is the soil in the area where the home orchard will be planted. “Fruit trees are no different from other trees or shrubs in your landscape; they need good soil drainage. Placing the home orchard where water will drain away very soon after a rain event will help ensure that the roots have the needed soil oxygen to supply both the moisture and nutrients needed to the canopy for continued growth of the foliage and filling of the fruits,” Hentschel said.
“If the soil oxygen is displaced for an extended period of time, the roots will be unable to move the moisture and nutrients up into the tree. Soils that remain too wet will also promote root loss through decay, putting further stress on the fruit tree, potentially killing the fruit tree,” he added.
Besides soil drainage, another area overlooked is air drainage. Home orchardists can avoid late spring frosts to a great degree by placing the trees on a slope or at the high point in the landscape so the cold air settles to the bottom of the hill or slope, away from the fruit tree. “The concern here is preventing the most frost-susceptible flower buds from being damaged. While the weather is unpredictable in the late spring, we can reduce the risk,” Hentschel explained.
“Home orchardists can reduce the risk of damage from a late frost by delaying spring growth by mulching the soil late in the fall or early winter, well after cold weather has set in and after the ground is very cold or frozen,” Hentschel said. “This activity will keep the ground frozen and the root system cold, delaying the fruit tree from breaking dormancy even by a few days, which helps us get past the chances of damage from that late frost.”
Early onset of “gardenitis”
URBANA, Ill. - The next “bug” you catch may not be the flu bug, but rather the gardening bug that starts to infect many gardeners about this time of year, said a University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator.
“There are some preventative steps to take to delay the early onset of ‘gardenitis,’”said Richard Hentschel.
“Start by taking deep breaths and thinking back on all the good things that happened last year in your garden and forgetting about the bad stuff. Next, check your temperature by going to the patio door and looking at the indoor-outdoor thermometer to be sure it is still reading too cold to start anything indoors. Last, drink in lots of sunshine on the brighter, longer days we are having,” he said.
Having taken all the above steps, gardeners can then consider starting their vegetable and flower seeds in a timelier, controlled manner. “Read the seed packet to find out the best time to sow the seeds for planting outside in our area, normally just a few weeks before the average frost-free date. The date will vary, depending if you are planning for that early garden, the summer or fall garden,” Hentschel said.
Gardeners should start seeds at home that they cannot find as transplants or for those specific flowers or vegetables that can only be found in the seed catalogs. Hentschel recommends using fresh, packed for 2014, vegetable and flower seeds, brand new or very clean and sanitized seed starting flats; and a bag of brand new soil-less growing media for starting seeds.
“If the seed-starting media is dry, wet and stir in enough water to provide moisture for the seeds to start their germination process,” he said. “Next, fold the soil into the starting flats, being sure to adequately fill the cells using clean hands or sanitized garden tools. Once that is finished, you are ready to sow your seeds.
“If you are using individual cell packs place one or two seeds per cell at the depth recommended on the seed packet. If you are sowing in rows, place the rows far enough apart so you can later transplant them easily,” Hentschel added.
Gardeners can also sow across the flat in short rows if fewer plants are needed or to be able to sprout more kinds of vegetables of the same type. “Many gardeners will take plastic wrap from the kitchen and lightly cover the seed flat to retain even moisture during the germination process,” he said.
Some seeds prefer warmer soil temperatures to germinate, others cooler, so be sure to sow similar seeds in the same flat. Once seeds are in the flats and covered, place them in an appropriate location to provide the needed heat to warm up or to keep the soil cool.
“Instructions on the seed packet will tell you when you can expect to see the seedlings emerge and if any thinning will be needed. If thinning is necessary, use a small pair of scissors to cut the unwanted seedling off, but do not pull it out as you will damage the seedling you want to keep,” Hentschel explained.
As the seedlings continue to grow, move the flats into brighter light to keep them from reaching for the sun and getting too leggy and thin. The best conditions will be good sunlight during the day and cooler night temperatures to create the best transplant possible.
“Too much water can ruin your recipe for success by causing seedling diseases and later root rots of young vegetable and flower plants. When watering, water the soil only, not the foliage which can also cause diseases,” he said. “If your ‘gardenitis’ gets too bad, contact your support group of other gardeners and have them talk you down.”
Dormant pruning and spraying the orchard
URBANA, Ill. - Home orchardists should be planning their winter pruning while their apple trees remain dormant before the sap starts to flow for 2014, said a University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator.
“Depending on the weather pattern, pruning can begin in perhaps mid- to late February,” said Richard Hentschel. “The later the pruning is done, the less damage really cold weather will do to the tissue that is now exposed where the pruning cuts were made. Dormant pruning is a lot easier because there is no foliage present to obscure the branches in the canopy.”
The easiest branches to remove will be the water sprouts. Water sprouts originate from the horizontally trained scaffold branches and grow vertically up through the canopy. Water sprouts do not contribute to fruit production and can limit the level of sunlight that is able to penetrate down through the canopy, which allows fruit production within the canopy.
Once the water sprouts are gone, additional pruning is more easily done.
“The goal of pruning is to balance vegetative growth with reproductive growth. Depending on the variety and vigor of the apple tree, a portion of last year’s annual vegetative growth can be removed. This will help keep the apple tree smaller and at a more manageable size for a home orchard where growing space is often limited,” Hentschel said.
This time frame also allows the home orchardist the opportunity to review current scaffolds and determine the location of any needed branch spreaders for the season on older scaffold branches. If there are to be new scaffolds created, very small spreaders are used once the new young branch is 3 to 5 inches in length. Hentschel explained that traditionally branch spreaders have been made from a hard wire with a diagonal cut at each end or from linear pieces of wood with a nail in each end, with the nail head cut off similarly as the wire.
In both cases, a variety of lengths will be used to accommodate the varied sizes of branches in the canopy. In a back-yard setting where there are limited trees, the home orchardist can also use soft rope or twine to pull down scaffold branches into place, and then use a stake pounded into the soil beneath the apple tree. “Tie the rope or twine so it can be adjusted as needed during the growing season,” Hentschel recommended.
Dormant sprays are used to manage insect eggs laid during the previous summer as well as adult insects that are overwintering in the rough bark on the older trunk and branches. Dormant oil sprays work by smothering the eggs and adults so thorough coverage is critical for good control.
“As a rule, dormant oils are applied in very late winter to early spring before any growth resumes,” Hentschel said. “Dormant oils are sprayed while the air temperatures will remain above freezing for at least 24 hours. Dormant oils will be mixed with water, and if allowed to freeze on the tree, will not soak in and be effective.”
He added that there are at least three different kinds of oil available right now. “Read the instructions on the label for specific application requirements because they will vary in their degree of refinement. Dormant oils are considered organic and can be used with other organic practices,” he said.
Free farmdoc webinar series
URBANA, Ill. – Since 1999, a team of University of Illinois agricultural economists has shared applied research, educational information, and analysis on the farmdoc website (http://www.farmdoc.illinois.edu) to agricultural producers and businesses. This month farmdoc is expanding its reach by launching an informational series of webinars.
Registration is free, however, preregistration is required and each webinar is limited to 1,000 attendees. To register for one or all of the webinars, visit farmdoc.illinois.edu/webinars.
“We currently have six webinars scheduled, one per week with the first on Feb. 27 and the last on March 31,” said U of I agricultural economist and farmdoc team leader Scott Irwin. “These will be live events at which participants will have the opportunity to send specific questions to the presenter. All of the presenters are U of I faculty and staff who regularly contribute to farmdoc and farmdocDAILY.”
Irwin said that each webinar will be limited to one hour. The format will be fast-paced with about 30 minutes of presentation and 30 minutes for questions and answers. The webinars can be viewed on desktop computers, laptop computers, and mobile devices. Technical requirements for the webinar are available at farmdoc.illinois.edu/webinars.
The series details are as follows. Note the Central Standard and Central Daylight times.
Thursday, Feb. 27, 8 to 9 a.m. CST
“Crop Insurance 2014” presented by Gary Schnitkey
Wednesday, March 5, 8 to 9 a.m. CST
“Understanding the Price Loss Coverage and Agriculture Risk Coverage programs in the 2014 Farm Bill” presented by Jonathan Coppess
Wednesday, March 12, 8 to 9 a.m. CDT
“Farm Bill: SCO and Crop Insurance” presented by Nick Paulson
Wednesday, March 19, 8 to 9 a.m. CDT
“Crop Economic Outlook 2014” presented by Gary Schnitkey
Wednesday, March 26, 8 to 9 a.m. CDT
“Introduction and Strategic Implementation of the Dairy Producer Margin Protection Program” presented by John Newton
Monday, March 31, 2 to 3 p.m. CDT
“Implications of USDA’s March 1 Grain Stocks and Prospective Plantings Reports for Corn and Soybean Balance Sheets and Price Prospects” presented by Darrel Good and Scott Irwin
URBANA, Ill. - Signs of spring are slowly emerging all around us. The grass is getting greener, bulbs are starting to emerge, early-flowering plants are blooming, and tree buds are swelling. Even some of the winter annual weeds are starting to grow, said a University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator.
“Early-flowering shrubs include witchhazel and forsythia,” said Rhonda Ferree. “Witchhazel’s colors vary from yellow and orange to red, and most flowers open in February. When red, the flowers are not obvious, but on closer observation they are quite beautiful.
“Forsythia has a very showy yellow flower. Unfortunately, they are somewhat touchy and can be killed by cold. But, in the right year, they are gorgeous. Forsythia blooms on old wood and in a good year will bloom for two to three weeks,” she added.
The earliest-flowering trees are silver maples (Acer saccharinum), filberts (Corylus sp.), and willows (Salix sp.). Silver maple flowers range in color from yellowish to a red and also are not obvious. They appear as clusters on branches. Filbert plants each have two different flowers: male and female. Male catkins appear in early March, are 1 1/2 to 2 inches long, yellowish brown, and quite showy. Most people are very familiar with the pussy or goat willows.
“As Michael Dirr writes in Hardy Trees and Shrubs, ‘When winter has lulled many people into a blue-gray funk, this species (willow) offers hope that, yes, spring is just around the corner,’” Ferree noted.
Early-flowering plants such as pussy willow, red maple, alder, birch, hazel, and forsythia are easy to force indoors. Once the flower buds are plump, simply cut a few branches and bring them indoors. Submerge the branches in a pail of water. If the bud scales are tough, you might first wrap them in a damp cloth and plastic for a few days to loosen the scales, but this is not always necessary. Start some new branches every week for continuous displays until spring.
“With bulbs, the gardening season begins with the snowdrops and winter aconites in early March,” she said. “Crocuses, grape hyacinth, scillas, and chionodoxas soon follow these and then the hyacinths, daffodils, and tulips. In most spring-flowering bulbs, the buds are already formed at the time the bulbs are planted in the fall.
“Foliage currently breaking ground should be cold tolerant and not easily burnt by our continuing cold weather. There is usually no need to cover early-emerging bulbs.”
Winter annual weeds are starting to grow as well. These plants came up last fall and spent the winter as small leaves. In the next month or so they will start to grow and flower, but will die out as summer approaches. Examples of these include common chickweed and most of the wild mustards. Henbit sometimes gives us those huge fields of purple in the spring. Most often these plants are considered weeds, but they actually have beautiful flowers when observed closely.
“Enjoy the approaching spring as it appears in the plants around us,” Ferree said. “Early spring flowers are beautiful and a welcome relief after a long winter.”
NRES Master's Defense by Matt Craig
Room N-527 Turner Hall, 1102 S. Goodwin Avenue, Urbana
To predict how the functioning of invaded systems will change across spatially heterogeneous landscapes, there is a need to understand the mechanisms underlying the effects of invasive plants and how they interact with spatially-variable environmental factors. I studied the biogeochemical effects of a widespread exotic invasive grass known to accelerate nitrogen cycling and soil carbon pools. I examined whether these effects are mechanistically coupled and whether we can use this knowledge to predict the spatial variability of invader effects on carbon cycling. In this talk, I will discuss how land-use context can modulate the effects of invasive species on ecosystem processes.
Research Advisor: Dr. Jennifer Fraterrigo
U of I study: Couples, pay attention to your relationship work ethic
URBANA, Ill. – Is a date with your partner as important to you as a meeting at work? A University of Illinois study recommends that couples develop a relationship work ethic that rivals—or at least equals—their professional work ethic.
“When people enter the workplace, they make an effort to arrive on time, be productive throughout the day, listen attentively to co-workers and supervisors, try to get along with others, and dress and groom themselves to make a good impression,” said Jill R. Bowers, a researcher in the U of I’s Department of Human and Community Development.
Couples should be at least as invested in their relationship work ethic, prioritizing their partner and putting the same kind of energy into active listening, planning time together, finding a workable solution for sharing household tasks, and handling personal stress so that it doesn’t spill over into the relationship, the researcher said.
“But that can be hard to do when you get home and you’re tired and emotionally drained, and the second shift begins, with its cooking, cleaning, laundry, and the demands associated with children that compete for communication and quality time with your partner,” she added.
Because effort at work is driven by pay, a person’s career often consumes most of his or her attention. “The job gets all your energy, and there’s little left over for what comes after. That’s why you have to be intentional about working on your romantic partnership,” Bowers noted.
The researcher is the lead author of a study that evaluated Intentional Harmony, a curriculum on work-life balance for dual-earner married couples developed by U of I professor Angela R. Wiley, Kathryn R. Branscomb, and U of I Extension family life educators.
The evaluation measured the impact of attending an Intentional Harmony workshop on work-partner balance skills and strategies as well as relationship satisfaction in 47 heterosexual couples. All couples took a pre- and post-test. Half of the couples attended the workshop before the training; the others did not attend the training until after their relationship skills were assessed.
Couples who attended the workshop improved significantly in their ability to manage work-partner role conflict and other relevant skills compared to the other group, and they also reported a greater reduction in physical and emotional stress. The evaluation also found that the study was most effective for women.
Improved organizational and time management skills can help couples balance work and family commitments, but “it’s complicated,” Bowers conceded.
“Sharing household tasks continues to be a big concern for couples. Flexible work schedules are often advocated as a way to balance work and family commitments, but these arrangements can blur the lines between work and family time. Establishing those boundaries is difficult enough, and not having those limits can make life even more stressful,” she said.
“You may not feel like you have the time or assume that everything’s okay because your partner isn’t complaining, but over time the consequences of shortchanging your relationship could mean serious relationship issues, and that has real implications for your mental and physical health. That’s why we advise taking your relationship work ethic seriously and making time for your partner intentional,” Bowers said.
“Helping Dual-Earner Couples Manage Work-Partner Interferences: A Program Evaluation” is available online at http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/01494929.2013.851054 in Marriage and Family Review, volume 50, issue 1. Bowers, Angela R. Wiley, and Brian G. Ogolsky, all of the U of I; Blake L. Jones of Purdue University; and Branscomb of Applied Survey Research in San Jose, Calif., are co-authors of the study, which was funded by The Pampered Chef Ltd. and the U of I’s Family Resiliency Center (FRC). Wiley is a faculty affiliate of the FRC.