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Olympia FFA Alumni Chapter report

[JUNE 16, 2003]  The Olympia FFA Alumni Chapter met on June 5 at Olympia High School, Stanford. Members enjoyed a cookout, which was followed by the chapter meeting. The vice president, Jeff Springer, presided.

In old business, Heather Obert and Chris Embry Mohr reported on various ag-related activities that have taken place over the past year, including the recent Ag Day event at Olympia High School, where students from grade schools within the district learned about the agriculture industry.

In new business, Brian Springer reported on various activities of the student FFA chapter.

The group also discussed the FFA Section 9 Fair, Minier Corn Daze and the FFA Alumni Chapter banquet. The alumni decided to work with the student chapter in helping cook rib-eye sandwiches at the Minier Corn Daze in August. The alumni banquet, tentatively scheduled in January 2004, will consist of a meal, silent auction and possibly a live auction. The chapter also decided to look into purchasing a new grill.


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Chapter officers for the alumni group are Todd Wibben, Atlanta, president; Jeff Springer, Minier, vice president; David Deal, Danvers, secretary; Jeff Schneider, treasurer; Kyle Haning, Delavan, reporter; and Melvin Springer, Armington, member at large. The chapter is under the direction of Chris Embry Mohr and Heather Obert, vocational ag instructors.

[Provided by Kyle Haning]

Consumers are the last line of defense against food-borne illness

[JUNE 16, 2003]  URBANA -- Sanitation and hygiene on the farm, in the food plant and in the kitchen are the best defenses against food-borne organisms that cause illness, said Susan Brewer, an expert on food safety at the University of Illinois.

Brewer knows that meat-processing plants are heavily regulated and that other food producers must comply with FDA's good manufacturing practices. She also knows that "even in the best of circumstances, some things are going to slip through the system. When the product is in the consumer's hand, he should exert whatever control he can over that product," she said.

"With raw agricultural commodities, you have to assume that contamination came in with the product from the farm. These organisms are ubiquitous. They're everywhere in the environment," said Brewer.

"In a couple of states, vegetables have been irrigated with municipal waste water. Companies have hired people to pick vegetables, but they don't have toilet facilities in the field. In these instances, you can have contamination from human waste, not livestock waste," Brewer said.

"There have been a number of outbreaks of food-borne illness from cabbage to strawberries to parsley to cilantro -- not products you'd normally consider sources of these bacteria. They're raw products, and people eat them raw. Unfortunately, most people don't wash them well either," she said.

In the meat industry, a USDA inspector must be on the premises any time animals are being slaughtered, Brewer said. "Sanitary handling of carcasses is very strictly defined and monitored. After slaughter, carcasses are washed with hot water or food-grade acid, or they are pasteurized in a steam cabinet to reduce contamination. The inspector keeps a close eye on who's doing what as they move around the plant. If someone works in slaughter, he's not supposed to be in the processing room."


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Brewer finds this monitoring reassuring not only because it enforces sanitary procedures, but also because it enhances plant security. "In many food-processing plants, unless you work for them, you won't get in there. And they're getting much stricter about who they're hiring. They have a lot to lose if something goes wrong."

Ground meat can be a particular problem because grinding distributes any contamination that has occurred throughout a lot of surface area. A pound of ground beef may contain meat from a few dozen cattle.

Brewer recalled one E. coli outbreak at a fast-food restaurant in Seattle. "A few animals that were positive for E. coli went into the processing facility, and the meat from those animals was ground and mixed together with meat from a lot of other animals. It's unclear what happened as the processed meat went through the distribution chain, but we know at the end point, it was not properly cooked. Proper cooking takes care of a lot of errors that accumulate along the way."

Brewer recommends using a meat thermometer even when cooking hamburgers to make sure meat is heated internally to 165 F. "It's a very bad idea to eat a rare hamburger. And if you're served one at a restaurant, if it doesn't look right or smell right or if it isn't hot, don't accept it. You don't know how long it's been sitting at that temperature or if it was ever really cooked," she said.

"There is no such thing as zero risk when you're dealing with a fresh commodity. If consumers want a sterile meat product, they will have to buy canned Spam," she said.

[University of Illinois news release]

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Weekly outlook

Soybean prices

[JUNE 10, 2003]  URBANA -- Using options to manage summer price risk in soybeans is one alternative producers could consider, as there is potential for much lower prices should a favorable growing season unfold, said a University of Illinois Extension marketing specialist.

"Option premiums, however, are relatively large," said Darrel Good. "In addition, ownership of options does not eliminate the soybean pricing decision. That is, even if prices move higher, producers with options will eventually have to decide when to price soybeans. Another approach is to spread sales during the summer growing season to at least capture the average price on a portion of the crop."

Good's comments came as he reviewed the soybean market, which may be affected by increasing concerns over 2003 growing season weather.

Soybean prices have declined modestly from the highs in mid-May but remain more than $1 higher than prices of a year ago. Higher prices have persisted even as some market fundamentals have turned a little more negative.

"The pace of U.S. exports, for example, has slowed enough that it now appears that shipments for the year will be near the current USDA projection," said Good. "The USDA projection will be reached with an average of 4.5 million bushels of exports per week for the last three months of the marketing year. Shipments for the week that ended May 29 were reported at 3.4 million bushels."

In addition to the slower export pace, the pace of the domestic crush is such that the cumulative crush for the year could be five million to 10 million bushels less than the current USDA projection. The cumulative crush for May through August needs to be about 5.5 percent less than that of a year ago for the marketing year total to reach the USDA projection of 1.615 billion bushels.

For the period January through April 2003, the crush was 7 percent less than during the same period last year. A continuation of that pace would result in a crush of 1.607 billion bushels. The large inverses in both the soybean meal and soybean oil markets discourage end users from accumulating inventories and provide incentive to delay purchases as much as possible until the new crop year.

Good noted that South America has just harvested a record soybean crop, and early indications suggest another significant increase in acreage for harvest in 2004. China has reportedly expanded soybean acreage in 2003. In addition, some delays in unloading soybeans in China are reported as a result of a slowdown in paperwork to approve receipt of GMO soybeans.

"While far from a perfect planting season, it appears that most of the 2003 U.S. crop will be planted in a timely fashion," said Good. "As of June 1, the USDA reported that 74 percent of the crop had been planted, compared to 67 percent planted on the same date last year and only 3 percent points behind the five-year average planning pace.


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"On a statewide basis, delays were most significant in Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, North Carolina and Tennessee. Emergence and early growth of the crop were also delayed by early season weather conditions, but most agree that yield potential has not yet been significantly reduced."

Indications that the rate of consumption of U.S. soybeans has been reduced sufficiently and that the 2003 crop is not in serious trouble resulted in July futures slipping nearly 50 cents from the extreme high of $6.58 on May 20 to a low of $6.10 on Tuesday and Wednesday of last week. November 2003 futures declined about 35 cents during the same period. Those declines, however, were followed by a late-week price rally. The rally appeared to be the result of renewed weather and crop concerns.

"Reports that dry weather in parts of China might result in a smaller soybean crop in 2003 than in 2002, even with increased acreage, keeps the demand story alive," said Good. "A production decline would presumably keep Chinese imports at a very high level for another year. In addition, and perhaps more importantly, concerns about summer weather prospects in the United States intensified.

"Discussion of the developing La Nina weather pattern and the potential impact on summer weather conditions moved closer to the front page. Finally, predictions of the infamous 'ridge of high pressure' began to surface last week. Some began calling for such a ridge to develop by midmonth, bringing dry conditions to important growing areas. With U.S. stocks at such a low level, anything less than a trend yield for the 2003 crop means that supplies could remain very tight for another year."

A weather market and resulting higher prices have larger implications for pricing new crop than pricing old crop soybeans, since the majority of the 2002 crop soybeans have already been sold.

"Assuming that weather and crop concerns persist, what are reasonable price targets for November 2003 futures?" Good said. "Potential price strength obviously depends on timing, severity and duration of crop-threatening weather. Spring and/or summer weather rallies over the past six years have pushed November futures to a high ranging from $5.91 in 2002 to $7.50 in 1997.

"It is interesting to note that the contract highs were lower every year from 1996 through 2002."

[University of Illinois news release]

Tornado damage to crops

[JUNE 9, 2003]  With several tornadoes going through the county about a week ago, it is certainly easy to see the destruction. Many people have lost their homes, others have lost property, some have lost portions of crops, but luckily no one was hurt seriously. After the cleanup of outbuildings and homes, the attention turned to assessment of crop fields.

Cornfields were the most obviously damaged. Corn was much larger, and now there is a large bare (or soil-blown) area through fields where tornadoes were on the ground. The field assessments I made showed about 25 percent of the cornfields needing some replanting done. This was because those fields mostly had corn that was broken below the growing point. The other 75 percent of the fields were probably good enough to leave them. Of course there was some yield loss due to lost plants and missing leaves, but the penalty for late planting would about equal a stand of 14,000 plants left from the earlier planting. Most fields had at least that many plants.

Some recent research has shown that there may be a little more yield loss than charts show, but there certainly isn't a guarantee on replanting either. Miraculously the plants had already begun to regrow within three days.

Soybeans were a completely different situation. Many soybeans that were above ground were completely cut off. When cut low, soybeans are dead. There is really nothing left to regrow. With the late planting, there was a saving grace. That was that many beans were still below the soil surface and therefore protected. My estimates were that a third of soybean fields needed some replanting done.


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[Tornado-damaged corn]


When the big picture is in, crop damage was minimal. I estimated about a quarter of a million dollars in crop damage. When we start looking at well over a hundred million dollars worth of crops grown annually in the county, it isn't an overall large percentage. It is however very significant to producers in the tornado paths. Crop losses of any kind make a rather meager income even less. Replant costs approach $50 per acre. Also, in the case of cornfields, there were herbicides applied already, which prohibited switching to soybeans that wouldn't be affected as much by late planting.

The damage to ornamentals was also very large. If you need assistance with evaluating fields or ornamentals after the storms, you may contact me at the Extension office for assistance. The number is 732-8289 or e-mail fultonj@mail.aces.uiuc.edu.

Cost of operations

With about three years passing, there is a revised set of operation cost charts available. These costs are often referred to as "custom rates." These charts may be accessed at the U of I farmdoc website at http://www.farmdoc.uiuc.edu/manage/

[John Fulton]

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