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Weekly outlook

Large crops

[JUNE 24, 2003]  URBANA -- Developments in other areas of the world, in addition to the United States, will be potentially important for the demand for U.S. corn and soybean crops, as current forecasts suggest reasonable chances for at least trend-line corn and soybean yields this year, said a University of Illinois Extension marketing specialist.

"The size of Chinese crops, the magnitude of planted acreage in South America, and the magnitude of Chinese corn exports and soybeans and soybean oil imports are among the important developments that could influence corn and soybean prices," said Darrel Good. "Positive demand factors in the face of large U.S. crops will not likely be sufficient to produce significant price rallies but can certainly temper the negative price impact of large crops.

"U.S. and world grain and oilseed inventories are small enough that prices will remain volatile and trade in wide ranges, as has been the case for the past 30 years. In addition, the higher prices that have been experienced over the past year may not quickly give way to the low prices that persisted from July 1998 through June 2002."

Good's comments came as he reviewed the price outlook for 2003 corn and soybean crops.


"The 2003 U.S. planting season and early part of the growing season for corn and soybeans were less than perfect," he said. "This is reflected in low crop condition ratings for Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Texas. In addition, parts of other states -- southern Illinois, for example -- have low crop ratings."

Wet weather likely resulted in relatively large prevented plantings in some areas. Nationwide, however, the USDA crop condition ratings for the week ended June 15 showed both the corn and soybean crops in much better condition than on the same date last year. With 71 percent of the corn crop and 68 percent of the soybean crop rated in good or excellent condition, yield prospects remained good at midmonth.

Good noted that the National Weather Service forecast for the period June 28 through July 2 indicated prospects for normal temperatures in most of the corn and soybean growing areas. That same forecast indicated prospects for below normal precipitation for an area running from Michigan through eastern Texas that includes much of Illinois, Indiana and Missouri.

The forecast for the month of July, released on June 19, indicated prospects for normal or below normal temperatures and normal to above normal precipitation for essentially all of the corn and soybean producing areas. Finally, the 90-day forecast through September indicated normal temperatures and precipitation for all production areas.


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"As the saying goes, 'it is not over until it is over'; adverse weather events could occur," said Good. "However, the current forecast suggests reasonable chances for at least trend-line corn and soybean yields in 2003. Yields above trend may be more likely than yields below trend."

U.S. weather, crop conditions and yield prospects are clearly important factors for corn and soybean prices at this time of year, Good added.

"However, other factors do and will influence prices," he said. "As mentioned in the last column, the USDA's June 1 grain stocks and acreage reports will contain important information for both the supply and demand side of the markets. The June 1 stocks estimates will provide solid information about the rate of consumption. The acreage report will shed some light on the magnitude of prevented plantings, acreage shifts and March survey sampling errors.


"One popular private analyst expects the June report to reveal less spring wheat and cotton acreage, more corn and soybean acreage, and more total acreage than indicated in the March prospective plantings report.

"The higher prices for November 2003 soybean futures that have developed since May, along with a strong harvest-time basis in many areas, offer producers an opportunity to implement pre-harvest pricing strategies for a portion of the crop. The strong basis and lack of carry in the new crop futures market discourages plans to store the 2003 crop. In addition, the old crop-new crop price inversion results in the possibility of a substantial premium for early harvested soybeans.

"A strategy of spreading sales of new crop soybeans during the critical growing season appears to have merit," said Good. "A large U.S. crop has the potential for eventually pushing new crop prices below the Commodity Credit Corporation loan rate. Upside potential for November 2003 futures include the contract high of $5.88 and highs for the 2000 through 2002 contracts ranging from $5.91 to $6.30."

The price pattern for December 2003 corn futures has been sideways, in a relatively narrow range, since October 2002, Good noted.

"A strategy of spreading some new crop sales over the next six weeks also has merit," he said. "New crop prices are above the loan rate, and the harvest basis is generally strong. The relatively small carry in the new crop futures market also provides little reward for storage of the 2003 crop."

[University of Illinois news release]

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Rural sociologist reflects on farming practices and issues past to present

[JUNE 24, 2003]  URBANA -- As he cleans out his files after 33 years at the University of Illinois, rural sociology professor Andrew Sofranko comes across items that indicate the more things change, the more they stay the same.

"I was looking at some records from the 1970 U.S. Census, which indicated that there were just over 100,000 farms in Illinois. The question at that time was, 'What can we do to save the family farm?' According to the latest census, we have about 71,000 farms in Illinois and, after a hiatus, we are back to aski these questions again."

However, the answers have changed over the decades that the Pennsylvania native has served in the U of I's College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences.

A Peace Corps veteran, Sofranko arrived on campus in April 1970 fresh from earning his doctorate at Penn State University. He joined a rural sociology group in the then-Department of Agricultural Economics that was one of the most respected in the world. Colleagues such as Fritz Fliegel, Harvey Schweitzer, John van Es and Jerry Robinson either had or were establishing important reputations in both scholarly and extension work. Another colleague, Dave Lindstrom, was interested in rural youth -- keeping them in the community, along with their skills and aspirations, and how rural school quality could help this goal.

"Each summer, we hosted a church-campus institute that focused on rural communities and their problems," he said. "It was primarily attended by ministers of rural churches who wanted to learn more about not only the problems in their communities but how to address them."

Identifying and meeting the challenges of Illinois's rural communities was the focus of Sofranko's work with U of I Extension. Along with van Es, Sofranko logged many miles traveling to community meetings to share U.S. Census data about a county or a community and explain how to use the data to get a better understanding of the local people and communities.

"This was in the era before computers became common, and we used handmade maps to show various demographic characteristics of an area and shared the census information with people," he said. "In the early 1980s, computer use became more widespread, and the local communities could do a better job of getting that information themselves. What we used to go out and tell them, they now get on their own. Local newspapers have also played a big role in this transition."


Another joint Sofranko-van Es project involved research on farmer adoption of no-till practices. Their research showed that the quickest adapters of no-till, which in the early 1970s was a fairly controversial practice, were southern Illinois farmers.

"First, they were influenced by George McKibben, an Extension specialist at the Dixon Springs Research center. He was like a prophet in the wilderness. I don't know if he ever got the appreciation he truly deserved for his efforts," said Sofranko.

What McKibben's preaching didn't achieve, the topography of the region and the profit motive accomplished.

"We discovered that the southern Illinois early adapters were looking for something that would allow them to bring sloping land back into production," he said. "So a practice that was so attractive from a conservation perspective -- stopping erosion -- may have had the opposite effect in southern Illinois."


During his first two decades on the faculty, Sofranko was also deeply involved in a number of international agriculture projects in places such as Ghana, Ivory Coast, Zambia, India, Brazil, Nepal, Rwanda and Pakistan. Often this involved short stints overseas, and for a number of years Sofranko and other faculty and Extension specialists frequently spent six-week or greater stints in other countries.

"One of the remarkable side benefits of these activities was getting to work with some of the international experts in the college, such as Bill Thompson, Jack Claar, Russ O'Dell and Marlowe Thorne," said Sofranko.

A constant during his career, however, has been a focus on rural Illinois and its challenges. For many years, conventional wisdom held that the way to improve rural Illinois communities was to increase prices for commodities or government payments to farmers. In one sense, it was a trickle-down theory: Better income preserves the family farmer, who then spends money in local communities, thereby reinvigorating the economy.

"For a long time, we thought if we held the family farm, that we would help the rural economy. That turned out to be a mistaken assumption. Over the years, a lot of rural areas haven't fared well even though the farmers around them did," he said.


[to top of second column in this article]

"Today, the consensus is not only that we cannot do much about continued concentration in production agriculture, which leads to fewer farms, but also that increasing farm incomes does not necessarily save small communities.

Recent studies show that the average annual income for a farm family is about $54,000. "That's the good news," he said. "It appears that economically farm families are doing all right. The bad news is that only about $12,000 of that figure comes from the farm.


"This is the biggest change I've observed in my career -- the increasing importance of off-farm income to producers and the resulting impact on families and communities."

One of the best ways to actually preserve the family farm in light of this, he said, would be rural economic development that creates jobs that can be filled by men and women who want to stay in farming but need a significant amount of non-farm income.

However, Sofranko wonders how effective that might be in the long run. Many of the families that choose to stay on the land are willing to settle for a small return on a large capital investment.


"One Extension county adviser told me once that there were some people who were content to make $35,000 per year on a $3-4 million investment," Sofranko recalled. "What happens when those people die out or retire? That's probably when some major agricultural changes will take place."

Another Sofranko study in recent years came across that phenomenon in western Illinois, which has a high proportion of farmers beyond the normal retirement age who indicated that they had no desire to quit farming anytime soon.

That study was part of Extension's Value Project, a Council for Food and

Agricultural Research-funded program. Another study for the program revealed a wide array of sideline businesses launched by farm families to bring outside income to the farm, including everything from pet grooming to tax preparation to custom field work.

"Time after time we see farmers adapting in myriad ways," he said. "One is, of course, to quit farming, but others have been able to cobble together unique ways of remaining on the farm."

Sometimes research can find striking parallels in agriculture practices in disparate societies. While in the Peace Corps in Africa, Sofranko became interested in a production system that featured a larger number of small, widely scattered plots tended by one farmer. One of his doctoral students studied these small, fragmented pieces of land among farmers in Rwanda. A few years ago, while preparing another survey among Illinois farmers, he decided to put in some questions regarding how many parcels of land Illinois farmers were working and the level of geographic disbursement.

"In Rwanda, the typical farmer had nine parcels of land on average with total acreage of five acres, "he said. "To our surprise, the Illinois survey showed about the same average number of separate parcels, though here the acreage per parcel was higher. We call this land fragmentation, and it has implications not only for producers who farm widely scattered parcels but for rural bridges and roads upon which farm machinery is being moved."

One key to the future of rural Illinois, Sofranko believes, will be getting farmers involved in economic development in their communities. Agro-tourism holds out promise as it brings in tourists or hunters who spend money in local communities. Many farmers, too, are interested in ethanol production -- even willing to put up money in order to get an ethanol plant in their area.

"Perhaps we are seeing the beginnings of a new relationship between agriculture and the economy of rural communities," he said.

Having taught his last class and advised his last student, Sofranko's final days at the U of I, where he now serves in the Department of Human and Community Development, largely consist of sorting old files and memories. At the same time, he looks forward to the future.

"In a few months, I hope to become involved with Habitat for Humanity, building something," he said. "I think it will be great to go home at the end of the day knowing that instead of shuffling papers or going to a committee meeting that you had actually built something."

Although not as tangible as a house, it is fair to say that Sofranko's 30-year career has left behind a better rural Illinois that has at least a fighting chance to once again defy the conventional wisdom.

[University of Illinois news release]

Heat spurs crop growth

[JUNE 23, 2003]  Crops have progressed nicely in Logan County the past two weeks as we have had some heat units to spur growth along. The only thing we are now needing is some moisture, as soil has rapidly dried out with the windy conditions. Cracks have begun to form in some soil types. Shallow rooted corn, or young soybeans, are most at risk from the dry conditions.

It is hard to believe that maximum yield potential in corn has been set, but ear size has already been established by plants. This becomes a maximum, which probably won't be realized come fall. Additional loss of kernels can occur from many factors, such as pollination, insect problems, heat and lack of moisture.

Soybeans should just begin flowering in the next week. The bean plants hardly seem big enough to begin flowering, but the plants flower based on the length of night rather than size. Blooming can begin once the plants begin putting on their trifoliate leaves. With the indeterminate varieties of soybeans we are growing, they will then bloom throughout most of the summer.

Crop problems have been relatively minor on the whole this year. Sure there have been some problems, but they haven't been widespread. Probably the biggest trouble has been weather-related, such as tornadoes through the north central portions of the county and floodwaters in the southeast sections. We have also had some limited problems from insects such as white grubs, wireworms and cutworms.


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Problems could occur in the near future from insects such as Japanese beetles, corn rootworm beetles and other insects that could clip silks. Treatment for these types of insects is warranted to protect pollination. This assumes that pollination is not complete and silk clipping is occurring. Most of the synthetic pyrethroids are labeled. It will be very interesting to see if the Japanese beetle area continues to expand this year from the southeast corner of Logan County.


Field crop scouting workshop

The next workshop in the field scouting series is scheduled for this Wednesday, June 25, from 9-11 a.m. at Dave Opperman's farm. The educator speaking will be George Czapar. Please feel free to contact the office if you have questions; otherwise you may just show up. Might be a good idea to bring your own lawn chair!

[John Fulton]

FFA Section 14 shines at convention

[JUNE 23, 2003]  Thousands of blue corduroy jackets flooded downtown Springfield on June 11 for the kickoff of the 75th annual state FFA convention. Sessions were at the Prairie Capital Convention Center.

The convention agenda was filled with luncheons, main sessions, a dance and elections.

Members of the FFA, including students from Section 14, were recognized for their outstanding achievements throughout the year. Bruce Frank and Kayleigh Paulsmyer received awards for winning state in their SAE projects. Mathew Dediert was named Star in Agribusiness, and Wade Strempstfer was named Star Farmer. Ten Section 14 FFA members received their state FFA degree. Cassandra Fritzsche and Kyle Attebery, both of Athens, were honored among the top five individuals in the Growmark essay contest. Also, many Section 14 members played in the band and chorus.

On the newly elected 2003-3004 Illinois FFA officer team are Ryan Robinson, Section 19, president; Kenan Peters, Section 8, vice president; Rachel Baum, Section 16, reporter; Bruce Frank, Section 14, secretary; and Brian Dallam, Section 2, treasurer.

For more information, please visit www.illinoisffa.org and www.ffa.org.

[Katie Thornley, Section 14 reporter]

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