Farmers Await Ethanol Increase Decision

President Donald Trump is considering increasing the amount of ethanol in gasoline.

Sen. Chuck Grassley tweeted there is a potential of ethanol increasing from 10 percent (E10) to 15 percent (E15) blend of ethanol and 85 percent of gasoline year-round following a White House meeting May 8.

According to Mitch Miller, CEO of Carbon Green Bioenergy plant in Lake Odessa, the ethanol industry is pursuing a Reid vapor pressure waiver, a one-pound waiver, for E15 in the Clean Air Act (CAA) from the Environmental Protection Agency all year.

The Environmental Protection Agency bans E15 from June 1-Sept. 15 in certain regions of the country. Ethanol can be used in cars built after 2001 in unattainable regions or areas where the CAA monitors pollutants all year, Miller said, but in other areas, it is banned throughout the summer.

Miller said the reason it is prohibited is that the vapor pressure does not decrease. As a result, it does not meet the vaporized pressure requirement for the summer time. He said he believes the E15 one-pound waiver will not only help to meet the standard, but it is “cleaner fuel and a lower vapor pressure than the E10.”

In addition to the quest to get a year-round E15 waiver, car manufacturers have changed the way they are building their cars to allow more ethanol to fuel cars, said Denny Heffron, owner of Heffron Farms in Belding.

“Now, plastics that are in cars will not be affected by ethanol (E15),” Heffron said. “Ethanol used to be hard on plastics, so old engines weren’t able to run on ethanol because it deteriorated the plastic — the plastic gas lines, the plastic hoses — anything that was plastic, but now it changed.”

That is music to the ears of farmers because with the increase of ethanol comes the increase of bushels of corn being sold to ethanol plants across the state. The increase in sales will generate more money for farmers, and it will minimize the surplus of corn growing in the state.

Heffron said the state had 2.5 billion bushels of corn carried over from last year.

“It will create a little bit of demand,” Heffron said. “A little bit helps a lot. It will not hurt; it will help take care of some of the surpluses.”

In addition to curving the surplus of corn, Jim Zook, executive director of the Michigan Corn Growers Association, said the increase in ethanol will reduce the U.S. dependency on foreign oil, improve the quality of the air that we breathe and recruit more farm workers.

Miller said at his ethanol plant, they grind 20 million bushels of corn all from Michigan farms per year.

“We buy corn from 650 family farms in Michigan,” Miller said. “We produce 60 million gallons of ethanol per year and 1,040 tons of dry distillers grain.”

One of the biggest misconceptions of corn being used to make ethanol is that once the corn is sent to an ethanol plant, there is no byproduct, Heffron said.

He said ethanol plants use the starch from the corn and then farmers use the byproduct, like the oils and protein, which is the dry distillers grain.

“The dry distillers grains goes back to farmers and is used as livestock feeds,” Heffron said. “It is high in protein, it’s high in energy, it is a wonderful feed. The chicken farmers that we sell to, they use it. The hogs guys we sell to, they use it. The dairy guys, they use it. The beef guys we sell to, they use it. So, that is one more product we are getting out of the corn.”

Time to Start Scouting For Cutworms

In previous years, cutworms have been found showing up in winter wheat fields in April or sometimes even earlier in March. This year has been much cooler than usual with most of the Midwest experiencing one of the coldest Aprils on record. Cold temperatures and late snows cause delays in insect activity, including that of cutworms. However, now that warmer temperatures are becoming more consistent, cutworms may start showing up again. There are two species that can pose a threat to winter wheat: army cutworm and pale western cutworm.

Army Cutworm
Overwintering army cutworm caterpillars emerge as temperatures warm up in the spring. They have a dark brown head and their body changes color with age. Initially, the caterpillars will be small (less than ½ inch) and have a light grayish brown body with few markings. As the caterpillars mature, they will turn a dull gray to brown color with some mottling. Eventually, they will grow up to about 2 inches in length and develop several pale stripes that run the length of their bodies.

Army cutworms are a nocturnal insect, only coming out of the ground to feed at night. For scouting, use a small shovel to dig into the top few inches of soil and count the number of caterpillars. The treatment threshold for army cutworms is about 2-4 caterpillars per square foot. An alternative scouting method is to base thresholds on cutworm feeding injury to plants. Army cutworm feeding is characterized by plants appearing cut or clipped near the soil surface. This clipping mostly happens on the tender blades of winter wheat, and rarely on the stem, crown, or meristematic tissues, which allows for regrowth to occur.

Pale Western Cutworm
Unlike army cutworms, pale western cutworms overwinter as eggs and begin feeding after they hatch in the spring. Pale western cutworms show up later than army cutworms, making them more of an occasional pest of winter wheat. The caterpillars have light gray to greenish white colored bodies with heads ranging from light to dark brown. They also have characteristic dark spots on each body segment and two distinct vertical lines on the head. Pale western cutworms can grow up to 1 ¼ inches in length.

Pale western cutworms feed near the soil surface causing “clipping” injury. They also feed through the stems, resulting in plant mortality. To scout for the caterpillars, dig into the top few inches of soil and count how many are in a square foot within a row. The threshold for pale western cutworms is 1-2 caterpillars per square foot. As with army cutworms, you may also scout by looking for the presence of clipped plants within the field.

Management
For insecticides currently labeled for managing army cutworm and pale western cutworm, please refer to the current version of the South Dakota Pest Management Guide: Wheat.

Source: Patrick Wagner, iGrow

Too Early to Worry About Corn Acreage?

Recent unseasonably cold and wet weather over much of the Corn Belt precipitates speculation into the prospect of reduced corn acreage this year. With March prospective plantings at 88 million acres, a reduction in corn acreage under the recent strong demand levels for corn creates a supportive scenario for corn prices moving forward.

University of Illinois agricultural economist Todd Hubbs explains that despite larger-than-expected March 1 corn stocks, the strong demand for corn exports and ethanol production continues to provide backing to corn prices as farmers move into the planting season. The December 2018 corn futures price contract increased sharply following the release of the Prospective Plantings report and settled into a marketing-year high until the recent uptick of volatility associated with trade issues.

New crop futures moved lower over the past week despite the start to planting season in the Corn Belt showing potential for significant delays.

“April is shaping up to be one of the coldest in the last 120 years in the Corn Belt and northern Plains,” Hubbs says. “Through April 7, over 75 percent of the prospective-planted corn acres contains soil too cold and wet to start planting — the prospect of planting delays raises questions about the likely magnitude of final corn acreage and the possible impact on yields.”

Some indication of the potential acreage impact of continued delays in planting is revealed by the acreage response in years of late planting. According to Hubbs, no set definition of late planting exists for corn, but the previous analysis used here defined late planting occurring after May 20 for a majority of corn production areas. Additionally, a threshold of greater than 20 percent of the crop is assumed for a large amount of late planting.

Using these definitions and weekly planting progress reports, a calculation of the percentage of the crop planted late each year is possible. Since 1997, there have been seven years when the USDA’s weekly Crop Progress report indicated that 20 percent or more of the corn crop was planted after May 20. The final USDA estimate of planted acreage was less than March intentions reported during six of those years. Late planting ranged from 20 to 29 percent in those years and acreage came in lower than intentions by an average of 643,000 acres, ranging from 32,000 (2008) to 1,917,000 (2013) acres.

The only exception occurred during 2009 when 29 percent of the crop was planted late; final acreage exceeded intentions by 1.396 million acres. During those same years, the acreage response shown in the June acreage report presented a different picture. June intentions acreage came in higher than March intentions by an average of 218,000 acres, ranging from -200,000 (2002) to 2,049,000 (2009) acres. June intentions came in on average 831,000 acres larger than final acreage in late planting years.

Research related to late planting and corn yield potential indicates a yield loss associated with late planting, particularly when planting dates get pushed past the third week of May.

“In the seven years since 1997 with the largest percentage of the crop planted late, the U.S. average yield was below trend in two years,” Hubbs explains. “Corn yield came in near trend in three years and above trend in two years over the period.”

Considerable variation in national corn yield relative to trend is present despite the amount of the crop planted at a later date. Substantial yield adjustments hinge on the weather during the growing season rather than planting date. Hubbs explains that if a large portion of corn planting gets pushed back into late May, the potential for decreased yield comes into play.

“The previous two decades of corn acreage adjustments show the potential for declines from March planting intentions associated with late planting,” Hubbs adds. “Acreage adjustments varied widely during the period, and no definitive result is predictable at the national aggregate level.”

For this year, concerns around corn planting delays focus on the Northern Plains and upper Midwest where continued snow accumulation and cold soil temperatures suggest a potential for persistent delays. These areas possess a smaller planting window for prime corn yields. A shift away from corn acreage in those areas is feasible as acreage is moved into different crops or goes unplanted.

Hubbs adds that the impact on spring wheat and soybean acreage may be even more pronounced in many areas of the Corn Belt if planting is significantly delayed. Overall, less corn acreage than reported in March seems likely if planting delays continue.

The potential size of the 2018 U.S. corn crop is uncertain at this early stage of the planting season. A continuation of cold and wet weather over large portions of the Corn Belt could lead to losses in corn acreage.

“It is too early to write off corn acreage at this point since time remains to plant the crop, but continued delays narrow the window for planting without the prospect of yield losses,” Hubbs says. “The next three weeks of planting progress reports should bring the potential for corn acreage adjustments into stronger focus and expectations about corn acreage will gain a more accurate assessment in the USDA’s June 29 Acreage report.”

Discussion and graphs associated with this article are available here: https://youtu.be/xsfA1GmAqyk.

Source: University of Illinois

Corn Hybrids With High Yields Come With More Variability
4/10/2018
The agriculture industry is in a tough spot; it’s simultaneously tasked with feeding a growing population and minimizing its environmental footprint. For corn breeders, that means improving nitrogen-use efficiency and crowding tolerance, all while maximizing yield. The first step, according to a new study from the University of Illinois, is understanding the genetic yield potential of current hybrids.

“Growers and breeding programs need to understand which hybrids have stable yields across environments or are able to produce greater yields with more fertilizer and higher plant populations,” says Fred Below, professor of crop physiology in the Department of Crop Sciences at U of I and co-author on the study.

A hybrid with high yield stability is less responsive to the environment – it will perform consistently in sub-optimal and optimal conditions. It’s a workhorse: dependable, but not flashy. Alternatively, a hybrid with high adaptability will yield like gangbusters when planted in optimal conditions, but may let farmers down in a bad year. It’s more like a racehorse: it’ll go, but it’s finicky.

The problem is that current commercial breeding programs develop their elite hybrids under optimal conditions – high levels of nitrogen fertilizer and plenty of space between rows – and only test yield responses to different crop-management practices at the pre-commercial stage. That means there is a limited understanding of each hybrid’s stability and adaptability under variable conditions.

To fill the gap, Below and his research team evaluated 101 commercially available elite hybrids at two planting densities and three nitrogen fertilizer rates across multiple years and locations.

“The objective was to measure the interactions of the hybrid with the environment and management style by evaluating an extensive assortment of current maize hybrids for yields and classify them for yield stability and crop-management adaptability to improve future breeding programs,” he says.

The researchers found that the amount of applied nitrogen fertilizer had a much greater effect on yield than planting density, but they emphasize that the consistency of the yield response was more important.

Hybrids that combined above-average yield under unfertilized and low-nitrogen conditions exhibited more consistent yields regardless of the environment, even when grown with high rates of nitrogen. These workhorse hybrids would be best used in nitrogen-loss prone areas, or when yield stability is more desired.

In contrast, other hybrids yielded more under high-nitrogen than low-nitrogen conditions, but their yields were more variable, due to a greater sensitivity to environmental conditions. These racehorse hybrids have potential for greater yield return when provided the optimal management and environment, but also carry a higher risk of underperformance in yield when faced with less-than-ideal conditions.

“Selecting hybrids with both high yields and yield stability may be challenging, since yield levels under lower nitrogen availability and yield increases with high nitrogen fertilization were negatively correlated,” Below says. “Hybrids that are adaptable to high plant density and nitrogen conditions exhibited greater yield potential, but also greater yield variation.”

“Yield stability differs in commercial maize hybrids in response to changes in plant density, nitrogen fertility, and environment,” is published as an open access article in Crop Science [DOI: 10.2135/cropsci2017.06.0340]. Below’s co-authors include Adriano Mastrodomenico, Jason Haegele, and Juliann Seebauer. This research was supported by the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture [project NC1200], Illinois AES, Crop Production Services, Growmark, Monsanto, DuPont-Pioneer, Syngenta, Winfield United, and Wyffels Hybrids.

Source: University of Illinois

Export Outlook for Soybeans
3/20/2018
Recent adjustments to soybean export projections raise concerns about increased ending stocks this marketing year. Export projections for soybeans put forth by the USDA reflected recent market information associated with export pace and foreign export potential.

Despite drought conditions in Argentina, the prospect for a continued weakening of exports exists. According to University of Illinois agricultural economist Todd Hubbs, soybean export pace needs to pick up to avert a scenario leading to growing ending stocks during the remainder of the marketing year.

USDA projections for the marketing year decreased soybean exports by 35 million bushels to 2.065 billion bushels in the March WASDE report. “The reduction is the fourth consecutive month of soybean exports decreasing and signals the potential for further weakening in the months ahead,” Hubbs says.

Projected soybean exports began the marketing year at 2.250 billion bushels last September and currently sit 185 million bushels lower, according to Hubbs. Census Bureau export estimates through January place soybean exports at 1.298 billion bushels. Census Bureau export totals came in 30.5 million bushels larger than cumulative marketing year export inspections over the same period.

“As of March 15, cumulative export inspections for the current marketing year totaled 1.478 billion bushels. If the same difference in export pace through the current period is maintained, total soybean exports equal 1.509 billion bushels,” Hubbs adds. “For the rest of the current marketing year, 556 million bushels of soybean exports are required to meet the USDA projection.”

Over the last ten marketing years, soybean export totals from March through August averaged 367 million bushels. The largest total, associated with the short crop in South America, occurred in the 2016-17 marketing year and came in at 519 million bushels. Hubbs explains that exports need to eclipse the level seen in the South American drought year to meet current projections from the USDA.

Lower soybean exports to China through the first half of the marketing year drive the weaker-than-expected export demand performance. Using Census Bureau export estimates, U.S. soybean exports to China through January totaled 867 million bushels, 209 million bushels behind last year’s pace and 9.7 percent below the three previous marketing year average over the same period.

While China is the dominant market for soybean exports, Mexico, Thailand, Indonesia, the Netherlands, and Japan constitute 16 percent of this year’s soybean export through January, according to Hubbs. In a similar manner to Chinese export weakness, soybean exports to Japan, the Netherlands, and Indonesia lag last year’s pace by 19, 25, and 7.7 percent respectively through January. Alternatively, Mexico and Thailand exceeded last year’s pace by 7.7 and 3.7 percent.

Looking forward, total outstanding sales through March 8 for the current marketing year totaled 353 million bushels. Outstanding sales to China, Mexico, Indonesia, and Thailand all exceed sales totals from the same time last year.

Currently, total outstanding sales come in 28 million bushels above last year. Mexico leads the way at 19 million bushels above last year’s level. Additionally, outstanding sales to countries outside of the top six markets mentioned above exceed last year’s level by 31 million bushels.

“The positive signs in export sales come with a note of caution due to the potential for trade disruptions and cancellations,” Hubbs says.

Current data suggest soybean exports could reach the recently lowered USDA projection. Soybean exports typically begin a sharp seasonal decline in April. Due to this decline, a comparison of the needed rate to the average rate to date is not useful. Soybean exports for the rest of the marketing must strengthen considerably, Hubbs adds. The ability to attain the current projection hinges on the size of the current crop in South America and U.S. competitiveness in export markets.

The Brazilian soybean production forecast increased for the fourth straight month to 4.15 billion bushels. The expected increase in soybean production levels led to a 55 million bushel increase in the forecast for Brazilian soybean exports, up to 2.59 billion bushels.

Forecasts of Argentine soybean production reflect current dry conditions and currently sit at 1.73 billion bushels for the 2018 crop year, down 257 million bushels. According to Hubbs, the potential for an additional 250 million bushel decline in Argentinian production is a distinct possibility. Soybean export projections for Argentina fell 62 million bushels to 250 million bushels and continued reductions in production would lower this number.

USDA forecasts 2.84 billion bushels of soybeans exports from Brazil and Argentina over the marketing year, up from last year’s 2.59 billion bushels. Stronger South American exports would continue to place downward pressure on U.S. soybean exports in 2018 despite the weather issues in Argentina.

“Recent data on soybean export pace indicate stronger weekly sales that offer hope for meeting the USDA projection,” Hubbs says. “The size of the 2018 crop in South America and the competitiveness of U.S. export prices remain essential to determining U.S. export possibilities for the remainder of the marketing year.”

Additionally, the March 29 Prospective Plantings report holds the potential for an increased acreage allotment in soybeans during 2018. Hubbs concludes that soybean export pace needs to pick up to avert a scenario leading to ending stocks growth in conjunction with increased production prospects in 2018.

Discussion and graphs associated with this article are available here: https://youtu.be/J-QcglJII9U

Source: University of Illinois

Wheat Waiting on Rain

Drought Dominates the Winter Wheat Landscape

Emily Unglesbee
By  Emily Unglesbee , DTN Staff Reporter
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La Nina conditions could extend the Southern Plain's drought and affect a struggling winter wheat crop. (Photo courtesy KSU)
La Nina conditions could extend the Southern Plain’s drought and affect a struggling winter wheat crop. (Photo courtesy KSU)

ROCKVILLE, Md. (DTN) — Justin Knopf’s farm in central Kansas went 120 days without a drop of moisture this winter.

Now his winter wheat crop is waking up, looking for water, and finding little to none.

“The Southern Plains drought is intense,” said DTN Senior Ag Meteorologist Bryce Anderson. “Many stations in the region have had the driest winter in their recorded history, mostly going back to the 1880s.”

A brief statewide deluge in early October gave early-planted wheat a boost in Kansas, said Kansas State University Wheat and Forages Extension Specialist Romulo Lollato. But it also kept many growers out of the field and produced one of the slowest winter wheat planting paces in decades.

The result is a thirsty, underdeveloped crop heading into the spring.

“Getting moisture in the next couple weeks will be absolutely crucial for holding on to whatever yield potential we still have,” Lollato said. Until then, he recommends growers put nitrogen and fungicide plans on hold as long as they can.

SLOW START, SHALLOW ROOTS

“This was the slowest planting pace since 1994,” Lollato said. “That means we had way less development in the crop going into the winter. Many had just one tiller and some no tillers at all, when we would normally like to see three to five tillers going into winter.”

A sub-zero temperature plunge in early January may have produced some winterkill in parts of north-central Kansas, but for the most part, Lollato believes much of the winter wheat crop survived the winter.

For now.

“We’ve been doing some digging throughout the state and we’re seeing a mismatch between where roots are and where the moisture is,” Lollato explained. “We have crown roots only an inch long and the moisture is maybe seven inches down into the soil profile.”

Knopf said up to a quarter of his winter wheat acres are coming out of the winter patchy and weak.

“It’s greening up, but as soon as it gets warm out and they start to grow, it will use up the little moisture that is there, so it will be concerning if we don’t get moisture as we start to get spring growth,” he said. “And there’s not much in the forecast.”

Mother Nature may not cooperate, given that La Nina conditions took hold in the Pacific Ocean this past fall, Anderson warned.

“La Nina events have a high correlation to Southern Plains drought,” he noted. “The 2010-2012 drought in the region was also a product of a multi-year La Nina.”

STALLED MANAGEMENT PLANS

Knopf’s operation has held off on nitrogen applications for now, but he’s starting to get antsy, he confessed.

Without moisture, the wheat crop cannot take up any nitrogen, Lollato said.

“My advice is still to hold off, until there is a better chance of rain,” he said. “Many producers are concerned that it’s getting late, but wheat can be pretty responsive to nitrogen even as late as jointing.”

In more-southern regions, wheat growers’ spring nitrogen applications are actually stalled by too much moisture. See this news release from the University of Arkansas on the flooding affecting southern wheat acres: http://bit.ly/….

Southern Plains producers who are accustomed to doing an early fungicide application should also think twice. The dry conditions will likely keep many diseases at bay, which generally need moisture to spread, Lollato noted.

“This year so far, an early fungicide application would not be worth it because there is no disease pressure, and you need good yield potential to justify it,” he said.

On the plus side, the wheat streak mosaic virus that destroyed many acres of wheat in 2017 likely won’t be a major threat this year, Lollato added.

More producers were on alert to control volunteers because of the intense disease outbreak, and the dry fall kept volunteer wheat flushes in check.

“Once we had rain in late September and early October, whatever volunteer crop emerged simply acted as a normal crop because of the timing,” Lollato explained. “So even those who didn’t control their volunteers, they came up late enough not to harm us.”

In Oklahoma and southern Kansas, some wheat is reaching hollow stem stages, which means it’s time to remove cattle from any acres you want to harvest, he added.

For a refresher on how to scout your crop for winterkill or drought injury, see this Kansas State University article: http://bit.ly/….

Emily Unglesbee can be reached at Emily.unglesbee@dtn.com.

Follow Emily Unglesbee on Twitter @Emily_Unglesbee.

Top 10 Preseason Planter Tips

Go through this quick checklist before you start planting this spring.

  1. Level the Planter. Check the hitch height. The tractor hitch height may vary due to the tractor tire size, tractor manufacturer, and the type of planter (Draw bar vs. 2 pt hitch). Refer to the planter operator’s manual for set up. Make sure the planter’s tool bar is level (vertically) or running slightly up hill. When planters tip down, coulters run too deep and closing wheels run too shallow.
  2. Check Bushings and Parallel Linkage. Worn bushings increase row bounce which increases seed bounce. Stand behind the row unit and wiggle it up and down and back and forth checking to make sure bushings are tight.
  3. Drive System. Check every chain. Kinked chains cause shock and vibration in the meter. Start with fresh, lubricated chains and check them daily. Include transmission chains, meter drive chains and insecticide box chains.
  4. Calibrate Corn Meters. Calibrated meters can help add six or more bushels per acre. On finger units check brushes, fingers, springs, back plates and seed belts for wear. On air or vacuum planters check brushes, gaskets and disks or drums for cracks or wear. Replace all worn parts. A good cleaning will also help improve performance. It is recommended having finger units set on a MeterMax¹ planter stand.
  5. Double Disk Openers and Depth Wheels
    Double disk openers – 
    Test to make sure there is good contact between the double disks. Slide a business card from the top down along the front of the disks until the card won’t lower any further. Mark that spot with chalk. Then, take the card from the back and slide it forward until it stops. Mark that spot and measure the distance between the two marks. If it is less than two inches, reship or replace the disks. In general, the disks must be replaced when they loose 1/2 inches in diameter.Test to make sure there is good contact between double disks.Depth wheels – check rubber tires for cracks and wear. Wheels should run tight against double disk openers to ensure seed furrow does not collapse. Reduced inner diameter gauge wheels help to reduce sidewall compaction in wetter conditions such as reduced or no-till.
  6. Seed Tubes. Inspect seed tubes for wear at the bottom. If the tubes have a small dog ear flap on the left side of the seed tube, turn constantly. They should gently turn sporadically, especially through areas of thick residue.
  7. Closing Wheel System. Consider an alternative to rubber closing wheels. For cool, moist planting conditions, take a look at running one spike wheel (15 inches) and one rubber wheel (13 inches). The spike wheel can help chop the sidewall improving fracturing and sealing in the tough soil conditions. For no-till, an even more aggressive approach may improve trench closing. Two 13″ spike wheels with a drag chain provide the most aggressive action.
  8. Closing Wheel Alignment. With your planter sitting on concrete, pull ahead about 5 feet. Look at the mark left behind the planter by the double disk openers. The mark should run right down the centerline between closing wheels. If a closing wheel is running too close to the mark, adjust the closing wheels to bring it back to center.
  9. Row Cleaners. With higher levels of residue and more corn-on-corn, almost any planter can benefit from well adjusted row cleaners. Row cleaners sweep residue from the row, warming the soil around the seed trench, reducing wicking and seedling blight. Make sure row cleaners gently sweep residue – you don’t want to move soil, just residue. Watch the row cleaners running. They shouldn’t turn constantly. They should gently turn sporadically, especially through areas of thick residue.
  10. Get Organized. Have your Crop Field Plans by hybrid/variety and populations organized; seed ready, planter monitors working/programmed and tractors/tenders in tune.

Corn growers have come to expect some rootworm damage, but University of Illinois entomologists say putting management plans in place now could help growers avoid major losses.

“Over the last few years, western corn rootworm populations with resistance to toxins present in common Bt corn hybrids have been documented in Illinois,” says Joseph Spencer, insect behaviorist at the Illinois Natural History Survey (INHS) at U of I.

“We’re specifically seeing resistance to Cry3Bb1 and mCry3A toxins, but we know that resistance to these toxins also confers resistance to the structurally similar eCry3.1Ab toxin,” he says. “Cross-resistance among these ‘Cry3’ Bt toxins should be expected for Illinois western corn rootworm populations.”

Resistance to pest-control practices in western corn rootworm is nothing new; the insect is notorious for developing resistance to control tactics such as insecticides and crop rotation. Part of the concern with these recent developments is that there are relatively few Bt toxins available to combat corn rootworm.

“All available hybrids with pyramided traits for corn rootworm use either Cry3Bb1 or mCry3A in combination with a second toxin, either Cry34/35Ab1 or eCry3.1Ab,” Spencer says. “This means where resistance is present in the population, there might be at best only one effective toxin at work.”

There are steps producers can take to manage corn rootworm and possibly slow further development of resistance. Nick Seiter, entomologist in the Department of Crop Sciences at U of I, says the best way to delay resistance to any control tactic is to reduce exposure of the target insect to that tactic in the environment. This can be accomplished using the following strategies.

Apply rootworm control, whether in the form of a Bt hybrid or a soil insecticide, only where it is economically justified. This determination should be based on sampling rootworm adults the previous year. According to surveys conducted by Kelly Estes, agricultural pest survey coordinator for Illinois Extension and INHS, densities of rootworm adults have been relatively low in recent years, although they did trend slightly upward in 2017.

“If you monitor using a yellow sticky trap, the economic threshold is two rootworm beetles per trap per day in corn following corn,” Spencer says. “For rotated corn, the economic threshold is 1.5 western corn rootworm beetles per trap per day in soybean.”

Rotating corn with soybean or another non-host crop remains an effective management strategy in the southern portion of the state. While crop rotation is no longer a reliable method to protect first-year corn from western corn rootworm damage in central and northern Illinois, Seiter notes, all larvae that hatch into soybean still die, and every acre planted to soybean is an acre where larvae are not being exposed to Bt toxins or soil insecticides.

Where monitoring indicates that control is justified in corn, rotate the control measures used from year to year. This means rotating Bt hybrids with different trait combinations and non-Bt hybrids treated with a soil insecticide.

“Follow all refuge requirements for any Bt corn hybrids you plant. In many cases, the ‘refuge in a bag’ or ‘RIB’ approach is now used, but check with your seed distributor on specific requirements for your hybrids,” Seiter says.

Finally, an important step is to monitor the performance of control methods. While lodging is often the cue growers look out for to identify rootworm damage, it’s important to remember that corn can take a lot of damage without lodging, and plenty of factors other than rootworm damage can lead plants to lodge.

“The best approach to evaluating rootworm damage is to dig a representative sample of roots in late July and evaluate them for feeding damage: unpleasant work, but necessary if we want to understand the true extent of the damage,” Seiter says.

Consider planting a small area or a portion of a row with a non-Bt/untreated hybrid as a check strip. Having an untreated patch in the field will allow growers to compare the efficacy of the management tactic vs. the background level of damage where no rootworm protection was used.

Finally, if you experience greater damage than expected in Bt corn hybrids in 2018, let Seiter know by emailing nseiter@illinois.edu. “Your reports will help us document the status of resistance in Illinois and provide updated information to producers,” he says.

For more information, read the full report on The Bulletin.

Source: University of Illinois

Agriculture already monopolizes 90 percent of global freshwater—yet production still needs to dramatically increase to feed and fuel this century’s growing population. For the first time, scientists have improved how a crop uses water by 25 percent without compromising yield by altering the expression of one gene that is found in all plants, as reported in Nature Communications.

The research is part of the international research project Realizing Increased Photosynthetic Efficiency (RIPE) that is supported by Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research, and the U.K. Department for International Development.

“This is a major breakthrough,” said RIPE Director Stephen Long, Ikenberry Endowed Chair of Plant Biology and Crop Sciences. “Crop yields have steadily improved over the past 60 years, but the amount of water required to produce one ton of grain remains unchanged—which led most to assume that this factor could not change. Proving that our theory works in practice should open the door to much more research and development to achieve this all-important goal for the future.”

The international team increased the levels of a photosynthetic protein (PsbS) to conserve water by tricking plants into partially closing their stomata, the microscopic pores in the leaf that allow water to escape. Stomata are the gatekeepers to plants: When open, carbon dioxide enters the plant to fuel photosynthesis, but water is allowed to escape through the process of transpiration.

“These plants had more water than they needed, but that won’t always be the case,” said co-first author Katarzyna Glowacka, a postdoctoral researcher who led this research at the Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology (IGB). “When water is limited, these modified plants will grow faster and yield more—they will pay less of a penalty than their non-modified counterparts.”

The team improved the plant’s water-use-efficiency—the ratio of carbon dioxide entering the plant to water escaping—by 25 percent without significantly sacrificing photosynthesis or yield in real-world field trials. The carbon dioxide concentration in our atmosphere has increased by 25 percent in just the past 70 years, allowing the plant to amass enough carbon dioxide without fully opening its stomata.

“Evolution has not kept pace with this rapid change, so scientists have given it a helping hand,” said Long, who is also a professor of crop sciences at Lancaster University.

Four factors can trigger stomata to open and close: humidity, carbon dioxide levels in the plant, the quality of light, and the quantity of light. This study is the first report of hacking stomatal responses to the quantity of light.

PsbS is a key part of a signaling pathway in the plant that relays information about the quantity of light. By increasing PsbS, the signal says there is not enough light energy for the plant to photosynthesize, which triggers the stomata to close since carbon dioxide is not needed to fuel photosynthesis.

This research complements previous work, published in Science, which showed that increasing PsbS and two other proteins can improve photosynthesis and increase productivity by as much as 20 percent. Now the team plans to combine the gains from these two studies to improve production and water-use by balancing the expression of these three proteins.

For this study, the team tested their hypothesis using tobacco, a model crop that is easier to modify and faster to test than other crops. Now they will apply their discoveries to improve the water-use-efficiency of food crops and test their efficacy in water-limited conditions.

“Making crop plants more water-use efficient is arguably the greatest challenge for current and future plant scientists,” said co-first author Johannes Kromdijk, a postdoctoral researcher at the IGB. “Our results show that increased PsbS expression allows crop plants to be more conservative with water use, which we think will help to better distribute available water resources over the duration of the growing season and keep the crop more productive during dry spells.”

The paper, “Photosystem II subunit S Overexpression Increases the Efficiency of Water Use in a Field-Grown Crop,” is published in Nature Communications. Co-authors also include Katherine Kucera, Jiayang Xie, Amanda Cavanagh, Lauriebeth Leonelli, Andrew Leakey, Donald Ort, and Krishna Niyogi.

Realizing Increased Photosynthetic Efficiency (RIPE) is engineering crops to more efficiently turn the sun’s energy into food to sustainably increase worldwide food productivity. The project is supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, theFoundation for Food and Agriculture Research, and the U.K. Department for International Development.

RIPE is led by the University of Illinois in partnership with the University of Essex, Lancaster University, Australian National University, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, University of California, Berkeley, and Louisiana State University, and USDA/ARS.

Source: University of Illinois

This fall most areas are good for fall weed control, but there will also be some areas that it may not be the best.

Fall weed control can give the best weed control but it also can be a poor time. If the noxious weeds were sprayed or clipped earlier this summer and there is good weed growth now, this would be a good time to spray these weeds and get a good kill. However, if the weeds were not controlled early and now are tall, very mature and do not have a lot of regrowth you may not even want to make an effort because it will not do any good.

The questionable area is where the weeds were maybe clipped earlier and there is regrowth or the regrowth is starting to dry up because of the dry conditions and is not growing well. These areas then become questionable to spray. If you want to spray these areas make sure that you use a spray that has residual effect so when the plant starts growing again after a rain, it will be killed then.

Lastly, even though we have not had a freeze we are in September and the perennials have started to prepare for winter by sending nutrients down to the roots to help the plant make it through the cold winter months.

If you have fall spraying for leafy spurge, Canada thistle, sow thistle, wormwood sage, and musk thistle to do now is the time, not when you get busy with harvest in the next few weeks.

Source: Paul O. Johnson, iGrow

It is looking like at least some harvest surprises may be positive after an up-and-down 2017 season in Illinois. The September 1 yield predictions released by the USDA this week are for Illinois corn yield to average 189 bushels per acre, up a bushel from the August 1 estimate. The soybean yield estimate is unchanged at 58 bushels per acre. Both would be outstanding after the tough start to the year and dry weather at times over much of the state.

Many soybean fields in east central Illinois are dropping their leaves, and harvest is getting underway. While we don’t expect as many 80+ bushel yields this year as we had in 2016, pod numbers look better than many had expected after dry weather in August and September. Rain now might boost yields by a little, but only in fields planted late or with late-maturing varieties where plants are still green. Cool temperatures in recent weeks have lowered water use rates, though, and we aren’t seeing the premature leaf drop that sometimes signals an early end to seedfilling due to lack of water.

With high temperatures in the 80s now and expected for the next week or more, the process of shedding leaves and drying down will accelerate, and it will be important to try to harvest soybeans at seed moisture above 10 percent. While some rain would help lawns and still-green crops, it would be better for the pod integrity if it stayed dry until after harvest, especially if temperatures stay high.

With high temperatures, seeds and pods following maturity will dry within hours instead of days, and we need to be alert and ready to harvest as soon as plants can be cut and seed moisture is at 12 or 13 percent. If moisture drops to 10 percent or less during harvest, it might be worth stopping until pods and seeds take on some moisture in the evening or overnight. Breeding and the use of improved combine headers have reduced pod shatter, but seeds less than 10 to 11 percent moisture can crack more easily. This might be one of those years with frequent switching between soybeans and corn harvest.

The corn crop in many fields is also looking a little better than expected as the leaves dry down and ears start to drop. As of September 10, two percent of the state’s corn crop had been harvested, mostly in southern Illinois. Yield reported so far range from low to high, reflecting differences in planting (or replanting) time, ability of soil to hold water for the crop, and whether rain fell or didn’t fall at critical times.

Nearly all of Illinois had below-normal rainfall in August, and little or no rain has fallen over most of Illinois during the first half of September. Dry soils during grainfill can decrease leaf photosynthesis, and when that happens, sugars are pulled out of the stalk into the ear to fill the grain. This leaves the stalks more susceptible to stalk-rotting fungi, and so more subject to lodging. So fields – especially those where leaves dried up earlier than expected – should be checked for stalk strength. Good growing conditions in July can increase the deposition of stalk-strengthening lignin, however, making stalks less likely to break even if sugars are pulled out. So as long as winds stay relatively calm, lodging is not expected to be much of a threat, especially in those parts of the state that received more rainfall in July and August.

Below-normal temperatures in recent weeks – most of central and northern Illinois are now about 150 GDD behind normal since May 1 – have slowed grainfilling rates and delayed maturity of the corn crop. The cooler temperatures have probably been positive for yields, by extending the water supply into mid-September. But the mid-August predictions that early-planted fields would mature by late August or early September didn’t happen. With GDD accumulation rates now above normal, a lot of fields will reach physiological maturity quickly, and grain will start to dry down. High temperatures mean rapid grain moisture loss; we’ve seen moisture loss as high one percent per day under high temperatures, especially if it’s breezy.

Dry conditions over the past month have limited the spread of ear rots. Most kernels now have the bright yellow color we like to see at harvest, and if the grain reaches maturity and can be harvested without an extended period of wet weather, we can expect grain quality to be good. Harvesting at high moisture and drying at high temperatures, or storing grain without proper care, can all compromise quality, however, and can mean getting a lower price for the crop.

One issue that often comes up for discussion during corn harvest is that of corn test weight. If test weight turns out to be lower than the standard of 56 pounds per bushel, many people consider that a sign that something went wrong during grainfill, leaving yield less than it could have been. And, test weights in the high 50s or above are often taken as a sign that kernels filed extraordinarily well, and that yield was maximized. Neither of these is very accurate –high yields often have test weights less than 56 pounds, and grain from lower-yielding fields can have high test weights.

Test weight is bulk density – it measures the weight of grain in 1.24 cubic feet, which is the volume of a bushel. Kernel density is the weight of a kernel divided by its volume, so does not include air like bulk density does. Kernel density is a more useful measure of soundness and quality than is test weight, but is harder to measure. A typical kernel density might be 91 pounds per 1.24 cubic feet of actual kernel volume. So a bushel of corn grain is about 56/91 = 62 percent kernel weight; the other 38 percent of the volume is air. Kernels with higher density tend to produce higher test weights, but only if they fit together without a lot of air space. Popcorn, as an example, has small, high-density kernels that fit together well, and a typical test weight of 65 pounds per bushel.

Hybrid genetics, growing conditions, and grain moisture at which test weight is measured can all affect test weight. If kernels appear to be well-filled, without a shrunken base that can signal that grainfill ended prematurely, it’s likely that they filled to their capacity and that yield was not compromised even if test weight is less than 56 pounds per bushel. For reasons that go back to an earlier time, though, corn needs to have a test weight of at least 54 pounds per bushel in order to be sold as U.S. No. 2 corn, which is the most common market class. Corn with a test weight of 52 or 53 might not be docked in price if it can be blended with higher test weight corn to reach the minimum. That’s much easier to do in a year when test weights are generally good. We expect that 2017 might be such a year.

Source: Emerson Nafziger, University of Illinois

This is the first in a series of iGrow articles that will be dedicated to the issues and questions we receive related to establishing, re-establishing, and maintaining grass-based plantings for grazing, hay, wildlife, and recreation. This series will attempt to address the issues related to grasslands in a systematic process that helps the reader to understand key concepts of grassland management, and thus better prepare the reader to set specific goals and objectives to achieve desired results.

What do I want my grassland to provide?
Of primary importance is to ask a few key questions: “what is it that I want my grassland to provide?”, “what am I willing to invest?”, and similarly, “what is the time frame that I expect results?”.

For starters, we will consider the first question, “What do I want my grassland to provide?”. There are major differences in what can be achieved in grassland projects based on the history of the land and its management. Native (unbroken) sod in the form of grazing pastures or prairie areas has certain characteristics and potentials that planted or tame grasslands do not. However, there is great variability within the native sod category regarding historical use and management, which may include various grazing, haying, chemical, fire, or other management techniques.

Past Management Considerations
Past management often drives the direction of the plant community itself, impacting plant health and variety depending on the action.

Native Sod
What native sod can provide in relation to desired goals, such as annual production or plant diversity, can sometimes be achieved, sometimes not, and is often dependent on whether the plant community has been ‘simplified’ through invasion of exotic species, past management, or both. In general, native sod that is not performing to its potential should be regarded as something to be healed through well-timed actions that focus on the plant community rather than something to be ‘fixed’ through mechanical soil manipulations.

Non-Native Sod
If the grassland is not native sod and is currently tame species or ‘go-back’ grass that has revegetated on its own, one still must consider past management. The potential of what the grassland can provide will be based largely on the species (native and non-native) that are now established. In these areas, there is often more opportunity to actively change the plant community through various manipulations than on native sod, though one must be realistic in expectations and timelines.

Croplands
If the area of concern is currently managed for row crops, cover crops, hay, CRP or some other cover, the opportunity to quickly establish or re-establish a desirable community is possible. However, past management in relation to soil conditions and residual chemicals can have a dramatic impact on establishment of new vegetation.

The Bottom Line
How much one should invest to change a grassland plant community can be a challenging question. Input costs for soil preparation, seeding, and maintenance can be highly variable. One must first consider a strategy to ensure the soil is ready to receive the new plants. Profit potential can also be highly variable and is directly related to initial and ongoing input expenses.

This article just scratches the surface of considerations related to maintaining and establishing grasslands. We will continue to explore the vast variety of questions posed by landowners seeking to improve their grassland resources.

Source: Pete Bauman, iGrow

Herbicide-resistant weeds such as Palmer amaranth, waterhemp and horseweed (marestail) are spreading, increasing weed control costs and yield losses in soybeans. Because of this, producers need to take action to prevent or reduce the spread of these weeds. Combines, tractors and tillage equipment have been identified as some of the main culprits in spreading weed seed from field-to-field.

The first step is to scout all of your soybean fields prior to harvest and determine if herbicide-resistant weeds are present. Most marestail is considered resistant to glyphosate and many populations are also resistant to the ALS-inhibiting (Group 2) herbicides. Palmer amaranth and waterhemp are commonly resistant to glyphosate and the ALS inhibitors and can be easily distinguished from other pigweed species by their smooth and hairless stems. Additional information on identifying and managing herbicide-resistant weeds is available at Michigan State University Weed Science.

One of the most practical and effective methods of reducing field-to-field spread of weed seed is to harvest fields or areas of fields infested with herbicide-resistant weeds after harvesting all of your clean fields.

When infested fields must be harvested before clean fields, a thorough top-to-bottom and front-to- back cleaning of the combine is recommended. However, this may take 4 to 5 hours, so it is probably not possible when moving from field-to-field. When a thorough cleaning is not possible, Iowa State University Extension agricultural engineer Mark Hanna recommends investing 15 to 30 minutes to remove at least some of the plant material before leaving the field. The steps to this procedure are listed below.

  • Remove the combine head and open the doors at the bottom of the rock trap, clean grain elevator and the unloading auger sump.
  • Clear the area around the combine to avoid injury from flying debris.
  • Allow the combine to “self-clean” by starting it up and running it with the thresher and separator at full speed, the concave clearance and cleaning shoe sieves fully open and the cleaning fan set to the maximum speed. Drive the combine over the end rows or other rough ground to dislodge biomaterial.
  • Shut the combine off and use an air compressor or leaf blower to clean the feederhouse, rock trap and head. Using a two-strap dust mask and eye protection is highly recommended when using an air compressor or leaf blower.
  • Close the doors on the rock trap, elevator and unloading auger sump when finished.

While the procedure outlined above will help reduce the quantity of weed seed moved from field-to-field by the combine, it is not as effective for removing small seeds as a complete top-to-bottom cleanout. Therefore, consider thoroughly cleaning the combine on rainy days and again at the end of the season. Information regarding a complete and thorough combine cleanout is available at “Recommended Procedures for a Complete, Top-to-Bottom and Front-to-Back Combine Cleanout” by Iowa State University and MSU Extension.

Weed seeds also travel on tractor tires and tillage implements, so tilling your weed-infested fields after your clean fields is the best way to prevent spreading weed seeds during tillage operations. When this is not possible, remove as much soil as you can from all tires and the ground-working parts of tillage implements before entering a new field.

The steps you take this fall to reduce the spread of herbicide-resistant weeds will also help prevent the spread of soil-borne pathogens such as sudden death syndrome, white mold and soybean cyst nematodes.

Source: Michigan State University Extension

An innovative online tool developed by a Purdue University engineering professor will allow farmers to process data collected from their fields without requiring them to share it with third-party companies.

“The Purdue Agricultural Data Engine (PADE) empowers farmers to derive value from the huge amounts of data they routinely collect,” said its developer, Dharmendra Saraswat, associate professor of agricultural and biological engineering.

PADE, which is free to use, is available at precision.ag.purdue.edu. It will help farmers make precision management decisions, Saraswat said.

Data gathered from harvesters can show high- and low-yielding sections of a field, and soil tests can identify variable pH and nutrient levels in the soil. Such data is valuable in precision agriculture because it signals to farmers where nutrient deficiencies exist, allowing them to determine which management practices may be helpful. Making sense of it, however, usually requires uploading the data to an online tool developed and owned by a company that then has access to it and may require payments. Farmers that operate as small businesses may be reluctant to share such data outside trusted circles. PADE will help them address these issues by combining ease of use with privacy of data.

Saraswat said numerous desktop-based and online tools currently available to farmers are different from one another, requiring significant time to learn how to use them.

“Big data is something that is becoming an issue in agriculture, but one thing seems to have not changed in all this while,” Saraswat said. “Farmers are cooperative yet conservative. They don’t want to be a part of a situation where, on one hand, they are sharing their trade secrets but on the other hand also making payments to get insights of their own data.”

PADE does not require users to log in or identify themselves or their farms. Users simply upload data to create bar charts, scatter plots and maps to visualize the data. One of the functions allows them to draw shapes in the farm ‑ that represent areas with special varieties or nutrient treatments ‑ to reveal average yields and area-related information. They also can obtain soil data from the Soil Data Access portal of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Service and historical weather information from the National Weather Service to learn how soil variability, temperature and precipitation are affecting their soils or crops. Farmers also can create management zones based on variability expressed in the yield data and thus manage their farms better.

“Once users have created their maps or manipulated the data, they can download all of it to their computers,” Saraswat said.

Jeff Boyer, superintendent of the Davis Purdue Agricultural Center, helped Saraswat fine-tune the final product. Boyer said the tool can help Purdue scientists analyze site-specific data from field research throughout the state.

“Within the university system, we’ve needed something like this for a long time because we’re always creating large datasets,” Boyer said. “We can generate mounds of data and pretty maps, but if you’re going to be able to use any of that, you have to analyze it, look at it area by area in a field and look for trends, which this tool can do.”

Source: Purdue University 

Average soybean harvest losses range from one to two bushels per acre under normal conditions. However, harvest losses can increase significantly when harvesting tall, lodged plants or short, drought-stressed plants. Due to the variable distribution of precipitation across the state this summer, some producers will harvest fields with significant lodging and others will harvest short plants with brittle pods. The recommendations provided in this article will help soybean producers reduce their losses under either scenario.

Harvest timing

Properly timing your harvest operations is critical to reducing harvest losses. Harvest operations can begin any time after the beans have initially dried to 14 to 15 percent moisture. Depending on weather conditions, this is usually about five to 10 days after 95 percent of the pods have reached their mature color. Try to harvest as much of your crop as possible before the moisture level falls below 12 percent to reduce splits and cracked seed coats. Shatter losses have been shown to increase significantly when seed moisture falls below 11 percent and when mature beans undergo multiple wetting and drying cycles. Shatter losses can be reduced by harvesting in the morning or the evening when relative humidity is higher.

Equipment maintenance

Before harvest operations begin, inspect and repair the cutting parts on the header. Make sure that all knife sections are sharp and tight and all guards are properly aligned. Check the hold-down clips to ensure that they hold the knife within 0.03125 inch (thickness of a business card) of the guards. Adjust the wear plates to the point that they lightly touch the back of the knife.

Equipment adjustment and operation when plants are tall and lodged

The main problem when harvesting lodged soybeans is the cutter bar will ride over uncut plants. The following recommendations will reduce this important source of harvest loss.

  • Decrease your ground speed to 2.5 to 3 miles per hour.
  • Increase the reel speed in relation to the ground speed incrementally to the point that the lodged plants are being cut and gathered into the combine without beating the beans out of the pods.
  • Position the cutter bar as close to the ground as possible.
  • Angle the pickup fingers on the reel back slightly to more aggressively pull the lodged plants to the cutter bar. Reduce the angle of the fingers if the plants are riding over the top of the reel.
  • Run the reel axle 9 inches to 12 inches ahead of the cutter bar.
  • Contact the manufacturer for specific recommendations if using an air-assisted reel.
  • Operate the reel as low as necessary to pick up lodged plants without causing them to ride over the top of the reel. Raise the reel if this happens.
  • Consider installing vine lifters on the cutter bar if the plants are severely lodged.
  • If the plants are badly lodged in one direction, try adding vine lifters to the cutter bar and harvesting at a 30 to 45 degree angle to the direction of the lodging. If this doesn’t work, harvest all of the lodged plants in the direction opposite to way they are leaning.

Equipment adjustment and operation when plants are short and drought-stressed
The main problems that occur when harvesting short beans are gathering short plants into the combine after they have been cut and excessive shatter losses due to brittle pods. The following recommendations will help producers reduce these important sources of harvest loss.

  • Position the cutter bar as close to the ground as possible.
  • Consider purchasing an air-assisted reel as the air stream produced by this equipment effectively moves short plants and loose beans and pods to the auger or belt.
  • Consider removing the rock guard on the cutter bar if it is preventing short plants, loose beans and pods from moving to the auger or belt and you do not have an air-assisted reel.
  • Harvest on an angle in fields planted in 15 inch or 30 inch rows. This will help the short plants feed into the combine more unformly.
  • Of all the combine adjustments, improper reel speed and reel position cause the most shatter losses so pay close attention to these in drought-stressed fields. Set the reel to run 10 to 20 percent faster than the travel speed and lower the reel so that it contacts the top a third of the plants. Reduce the reel speed and/or raise the reel if beans are being flailed out of the pods.
  • Shatter losses can be reduced by harvesting in the morning or the evening when relative humidity is higher.

Source: Michigan State University 

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