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Articles from 2012 In January

Corn-Soybean Planting Decisions and Longer Run Returns

Corn-Soybean Planting Decisions and Longer Run Returns


In many areas of central Illinois, corn-after-corn yields were substantially below corn-after-soybean yields in 2010 and 2011. These yield drags, along with large increases in corn costs, have led some farmers to reevaluate corn-soybean cropping decisions. For land productivities that predominate in Illinois, corn-after-corn and continuous corn usually have higher budgeted returns than soybeans. However, more intense corn rotations reduce corn-after-soybeans acres, often some of the most profitable acres on a farm. Reduction in corn-after-soybean acres will impact returns in future years. This article examines the longer-run return impacts of corn-soybean rotations.


Corn-Soybean Budgets

Budgets for central Illinois are shown in Table 1 for high-productivity farmland. Budgets are given for corn after soybean, corn after corn, continuous corn, soybeans after corn and soybeans after two years corn.

Yields differ for the different budgets. Corn-after-soybean yield is 198 bu. Compared to corn after soybeans, corn after corn is bu. bushels less at 188 bu./acre and continuous corn is 18 bu. less at 180 bu./acre. Soybeans after corn has a 56-bu./acre yield. Soybeans after two years of corn have 3 bu. higher yield at 59 bu./acre. Differences in yields in these budgets reflect research conducted at the University of Illinois. Emerson Nafziger reported some of the corn yield research in a 2012 Corn & Soybean Classic Proceedings, “Fixing What Ails Continuous Corn” (Department of Crop Sciences, University of Illinois).

Non-land costs for corn after soybeans are $505/acre. Non-land costs for corn after corn and continuous corn are $15/acre higher at $520/acre, reflecting higher fertilizer and pesticide use. Costs in Table 1 do not include more tillage for corn after corn and continuous corn. If more tillage is used, costs would increase by $12-15/tillage pass.

Operator and land returns are:

  • $578 for corn after soybeans
  • $510 for corn after corn,
  • $467 for continuous corn
  • $390 for soybeans-after-corn
  • $425 for soybeans after two years corn

Not that all corn budgets have higher returns than soybean budgets. For the coming year, budgets suggest that returns are maximized by planting all corn.


Rotation Returns

Longer-run implications of current-year cropping decisions can be analyzed by calculating rotation returns given stable rotations. Rotation returns for three rotations are calculated:

  1. Corn-soybeans. This rotation has 50% of its acres in corn and 50% in soybeans. The rotation is one year corn and the next year soybeans. Given a stable cropping rotation over time, corn-soybeans has an average return of $484/acre, the average of $578 for corn after soybeans and $390 for soybeans after corn (i.e., ($578 + $390) / 2).
  2. Corn-corn-soybeans. This rotation has 2/3 of its acres in corn and 1/3 in soybeans. The rotation is corn in a field for two years, followed by a year of soybeans. Given a stable cropping rotation, corn-corn-soybeans has an average return of $504/acre (i.e., ($578 corn-after-soybeans + $510 corn-after-corn + $425 soybeans-after-corn) / 3).
  3. Continuous corn. Continuous corn has a return of $467/acre. This assumes that yield reductions relative to corn after soybeans have occurred and corn averages 180 bu./acre over time.

For these three rotations, rotation returns are:

  • $484 for corn-soybeans
  • $504 for corn-corn-soybeans
  • $467 for continuous corn

The highest-yielding rotation is corn-corn-soybeans. Again, these rotations assume stability in plantings. Moving away from these rotations toward more corn can increase expected returns for one year. This is illustrated for two situations: 1) corn-corn-soybeans to continuous corn and 2) continuous corn to corn-corn-soybeans.


Corn-Corn-Soybeans to Continuous Corn

Given the budgets in Table 1, this switch will increase returns in the first year but decrease returns in later years.

First year: Returns will increase in the first year as soybean acres are replaced with more corn. In the first year, the return will be $518/acre, which equals the average of 1/3 of corn-after-soybeans returns ($578/acre), plus of 1/3 corn-after-corn ($510/acre) and 1/3 continuous corn returns ($467). The $518/acre return is above the $504 return for corn-corn-soybeans.

Second year: In the second year of continuous corn, returns will decrease. One-third of the acres will be in corn-after-corn with a $510/acre return and 2/3 will be continuous corn with a $467/acre return, giving a return of $481/acre for the continuous corn rotation in the second year. The $481/acre return is below the $504/acre return for corn-corn-soybeans.

Third year: In the third year, all land will be in continuous corn having a return and have a projected return of $467/acre. The $467/acre return is below the $504 return for corn-corn-soybeans.

The yearly tradeoffs of moving from corn-corn-soybeans to continuous corn are:

  • Year 1: $16/acre higher returns ($518 for all corn; $504 for corn-corn-soybeans)
  • Year 2: $23/acre lower returns ($481 for all corn; $504 for corn-corn-soybeans)
  • Year 3 and beyond: $37/acre lower returns ($467 for all corn; $504 for corn-corn-soybeans)

Since there returns vary over time, this is a present value problem. Under current realistic discount factors, present value calculations suggest corn-corn-soybeans is the most profitable rotation over time.


Continuous Corn to Corn-Corn-Soybeans

Switching from continuous corn to corn-corn-soybeans has the exact opposite effect of switching from continuous corn to corn-corn-soybean: returns will be lowered in the first year and then increased in later years.

First-year: In the first year, 2/3 of the acres will be continuous corn and 1/3 will be soybeans after two years corn. This combination will have a return of $453/acre, which is $14 less than continuous corn.

Second-year: During the second year, 1/3 of the acres will be continuous corn, 1/3 will be corn after soybeans and 1/3 will be in soybeans after two years of corn. This combination will have a return of $490/acre, $23 higher than continuous corn.

Third-year: In this year, 1/3 of the acres will be corn after soybeans, 1/3 will be corn after corn and 1/3 will be in soybeans after two years corn. This rotation will have a return of $504/acre, $37/acre higher than continuous corn.

The yearly sequence of difference in returns is:

  • Year 1: -$14 lower return ($453/acre; $467/acre for continuous corn)
  • Year 2: $23 higher return ($490/acre; $467/acre for continuous corn)
  • Year 3 and beyond: $37/acre higher return ($504/acre; $467/acre)

Again this is a present value problem, with most discount factors indicating that the switch to corn-corn-soybeans has the higher return.


Caveats and Implications

Key to the above calculations are the assumptions concerning yield drags for corn after corn and continuous corn. Lower yield drags will cause the profitability of more intense rotations to increase.

The above budgets assume that there are no additional tillage passes for more corn after corn and continuous corn rotations. If one additional tillage pass with a cost of $15/acre is included for corn after corn and continuous corn, rotation returns become:

  • $484/acre for corn-soybeans
  • $499/acre for corn-corn-soybeans
  • $452/acre for continuous corn

Reliance on more tillage to continue with corn heavy rotations will reduce the return advantages or more intensive corn rotations.

Budget above use projected 2012 commodity prices ($5.35/bu. for corn and $11.85 for soybean). These prices likely are higher than what prices will average over the next five years. Estimates of these long-run prices are $4.50 for corn $10.50 for soybeans. At these prices, rotation returns become:

  • $362/acre for corn-soybeans
  • $364/acre for corn-corn-soybeans
  • $299/acre for continuous corn

Actual costs vary across farms. Hence, each farm should use their own projected costs in rotation considerations.

It has been noted that cash rent arrangements that are short term may encourage more corn production. If a farmer believes that they will only be able to rent a farm for one year, there is an incentive to plant all corn so as to maximize profits in one year.


There are longer-run return implications from cropping decisions made in the current year. Soybean production, while currently having return estimates below corn, has the benefit of leading to corn-after-soybean plantings in future years. If significant yield reductions exist for corn after corn, the benefits of corn after soybeans in future years should not be overlooked.

Farmland Property Taxes to Continue Rising into 2015

Farmland Property Taxes to Continue Rising into 2015


Farmland owners are in for more property tax increases at least into 2015, Purdue Extension agricultural economist Larry DeBoer says. In the Jan. 27 issue of his column "Capital Comments," DeBoer said the base rate for the assessment of an acre of farmland will jump from $1,290 in 2011 to $1,500 in 2012. He estimates the base rate will be about $2,030/acre by 2015. The 2007 base rate was $880.

Indiana farmland is assessed based on its use value rather than its market value – a practice not uncommon among other states. For example, farmland that borders commercial or residential development is not assessed based on selling price but rather only on the income it can earn from farming, DeBoer said.

When determining property taxes, the government uses a formula that takes into account the base rate, productivity factor and influence factor.

The productivity factor is based on soil productivity for growing corn. Subtracted from that for some acreage is an influence factor, which is a percentage reduction in the dollar amount based on conditions such as frequent flooding, grade or forest cover.

Changes in the assessed value come into play because of the way the base rate is calculated each year. Indiana's assessed values change each year based on several factors, including land rents, commodity prices, costs and interest rates. Increasing land rents, high commodity prices and low interest rates have combined to create a trend of increase.

"The base rate is a six-year rolling average," DeBoer said.

That means the base rate for 2011 was based on figures from 2002 to 2007. The base rate for 2012 was calculated from 2003 to 2008.

Because corn and soybean prices in 2002 were relatively low and interest rates were high, those numbers combined to help keep the average lower in 2011's assessments. Now the numbers from 2002 have been replaced with the high commodity prices and lower interest rates of 2008, resulting in an increase in assessed value.

"Here's where a new quirk in the formula comes in. The Department of Local Government Finance drops the highest value of the six from the average," DeBoer said. "The General Assembly changed the formula for 2011 taxes to make the increases in the base rate a little smaller."

For 2011 taxes, lawmakers dropped the highest value derived from the 2007 data. But because the 2008 data is higher, it will be dropped, leaving the still-high values of 2007 to factor into the 2012 tax assessments.

"Without dropping the highest value, the base rate for 2012 taxes would have been $1,670," DeBoer said. "The calculation change reduced the base rate by about 10%."

Because there is a four-year lag in the formula and all of the data from 2009 and 2010 and most from 2011 are available, DeBoer said it is possible to project what will happen to the base rate for the next few years.

The Department of Local Government Finance used data from 2004 to 2009 for the 2013 calculation of $1,630, DeBoer said. Because commodity prices have remained high and interest rates low, the base rate for taxes in 2014 will be about $1,760. For taxes in 2015, it will be about $2,030.

The six-year average and four-year lag also mean the high commodity prices and low interest rates in 2012 will first enter the tax formula in 2016 and will not drop out until 2022. "The base rate is likely to increase and remain high for a long, long time," DeBoer said.

DeBoer's full column, along with the podcast version, are available online.

Transition Planning: Not an Overnight Fix


A recent Road Warrior educational experience took place near my own backyard where my business partner and I conducted a two-day business planning session for 10 dairy producers and families.  He had a very interesting perspective concerning transition planning as it related to this group.  That is, the producers who had the most effective handoff to the next generation or partners were the ones who had planned it out over a five-year period. My teaching partner was exactly right about this point.

Transition planning cannot be a “quick fix” overnight process.  Frequently, it requires grooming the next generation or partners with both formal education and experiences that allow them to hit the ground running when the management or leadership baton is passed. This transition planning requires an assessment of the players involved in the business, including strengths and areas for improvement.  Too often, the new-generation management returning is a “chip off the old block” with a competitive versus a complementary skill base.

Next, those businesses that were successful in transition knew how to separate business, family and personal issues.  First, they established a compensation base with full disclosure of perks and benefits, and values placed on each item.  Family and personal expenses were not comingled with business expenses, so the off farm siblings could not quibble over perceived benefits.  All agreements were in writing with an exit plan in case the business could not continue.  It is interesting note that each of the successful businesses’ older generations had a plan for evolving out of the business with roles and responsibilities spelled out, down to where they were going to live.

Transition planning is a task that can easily be placed on the “back burner” as everyday issues and challenges supersede planning. Often it requires answering tough questions with well-thought-out answers that are in writing.  The transition plan that is last-minute can become very emotionally driven, causing logic to be thrown out the door or window. The older generation’s legacy and the younger generation’s future should be reason enough to make transition planning a top priority.


Editor’s note: Dave Kohl, Corn & Soybean Digest trends editor, is an ag economist specializing in business management and ag finance. He recently retired from Virginia Tech, but continues to conduct applied research and travel extensively in the U.S. and Canada, teaching ag and banking seminars and speaking to producer and agribusiness groups. He can be reached at

Career Opportunities in Agriculture


Recently, an article posted on Yahoo Education created quite a stir in agriculture circles. The article listed the “college majors that are useless,” based on a 2012 study. Interestingly, the article listed agriculture as the No. 1 “useless degree” in the U.S. According to the study, there will be 5% less jobs available in agriculture in the 10-year period from 2008-2018, as compared to the previous 10-year period. The article described agriculture coursework as crops, plant diseases, animal husbandry and basic veterinary science, which appears to be a quite limited perspective of agriculture-related career opportunities.

In 2010, the USDA estimated that that the annual number of job openings requiring a college degree with expertise in agriculture, food systems, renewable energy and environment will increase by 5% from 2010-2015, as compared to 2005-2010. USDA projects that over 54,000 college graduates will be needed each year to meet this job demand from 2010-2015, with 74% of these jobs being in business and science type of occupations. USDA estimates that only about 49,000 qualified graduates will be available each year to meet this growing job demand, with about 29,000 of those graduates coming agriculture, food and natural resources (AFNR) programs at colleges and universities, and the balance from other college majors.

How can these two projections be so completely opposite? Part of the explanation, is probably in definition. The study referenced in the Yahoo Education article appears to take a very narrow focus on the definition of agriculture and the types of career opportunities associated with a college degree in an agriculture-related field. By comparison, USDA takes a much broader approach to the agriculture industry, as it relates to food, fiber, renewable energy and associated careers.

Too often, we correlate “agriculture education” as being coursework to prepare young people for farming, or production agriculture, rather than considering the vast array of career opportunities and job openings that exist in AFNR. There are going to be many future career opportunities for our students in food safety and quality, renewable energy, environmental issues, business management and other areas. Enhancing AFNR programs and course offerings in our colleges and universities is certainly one strategy to help prepare our students for these future opportunities. is a national website devoted to AFNR job postings, and to assist students pursuing AFNR careers. According to a survey they conducted in 2010, there were 30% more job openings in AFNR-type positions, as compared to a year earlier. Sixty-five percent of those jobs required a bachelors degree, 11% required a masters degree or higher and the balance required lesser degrees. The survey found that the most positions requiring a bachelor’s degree had a starting salary of $40,000-50,000/year, plus health care coverage and retirement plans, with some offering incentive bonuses.

Some of the largest food and agricultural companies in the world are based out of Minnesota, and have many career opportunities available to college graduates. Of course, there are also many job opportunities available in regional centers and local communities throughout Minnesota that would prefer some AFNR training and coursework for available positions. Some of these job openings require a four-year degree, but others will accept a two-year degree or less, with the proper coursework and training. Based of the USDA definition of agriculture, there are ample future career opportunities available to young people pursuing a career in the food, fiber or renewable energy industry.


Editor’s note: Kent Thiesse is a former University of Minnesota Extension educator and now is Vice President of MinnStar Bank, Lake Crystal, MN. You can contact him at 507-726-2137 or via e-mail at

Rains Timely for Argentine Soybean Crop


The weather pattern in Argentina’s main crop belt appears to be turning favorable just as much of the soybean crop heads into its key growing period, which should prevent further yield losses and may significantly reduce South American crop concerns.

Much of Argentina’s main crop belt received significant rains Sunday night and Monday. North-central areas of Argentina’s top growing province of Buenos Aires received heavy rains of up to 4.20 in. on Monday.

Further rains should fall over the next six to seven days, recharging topsoil moisture in most areas and subsoil moisture in some locations. Some of the best coverage is expected to fall on key soybean-growing areas. Forecasts for next week also call for daily scattered showers.

However, the moisture is too late to help most of the Argentine corn crop, which figures to fall well short of early expectations and may wind up below last year’s harvest. The range of soybean crop estimates is also wide enough to keep buyers uncertain of South American supplies.

Argentina’s agriculture ministry last week lowered its estimate of the country’s 2011-2012 soybean production to 48.9 million metric tons (mmt) from a preliminary estimate of 52-53 mmt and USDA’s recent estimate of 50.5 mmt.

The Buenos Aires Grain Exchange, however, pegged Argentine soybean production at only 46.2 mmt, while private consultant AgroConsult on Tuesday put production at just 45 mmt.

Argentina’s agriculture ministry last week lowered its estimate of 2011-2012 corn production to 23 mmt compared with its preliminary estimate of 30 mmt and USDA’s recent estimate of 26 mmt.

However, many private estimates of Argentine corn production are lower. The Buenos Aires Grain Exchange last Thursday pegged corn production at 22 mmt, slightly below its 2010-2011 crop estimate of 22.1 mmt.

The Rosario Grain Exchange has pegged production at 21.4 mmt and major commercial grain trader Archer Daniels Midland said on Tuesday that it expects both Argentine soybean production and corn production to fall below last year’s levels.

While Argentine crops are seeing relief, crop stress will build further in Brazil’s southernmost growing state of Rio Grande do Sul into late this week. The state missed needed rains last week.

Both Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil’s No. 3 soybean state and Parana, its No. 2 producer, last week cut their corn and soybean crop estimates for the second time in January. Losses in southern Brazil will be partially offset by a big crop in Brazil’s center-west soy belt, where drier weather is expected to move in late this week, just as much of the crop is becoming ready for harvest.

However, Brazilian production is expected to fall short of USDA’s current estimate of 74 mmt. CONAB, the supply arm of Brazil’s agriculture ministry has pegged production at 71.75 mmt, but private estimates have dropped lower.

A pair of private Brazilian consultants, AgRural and Safras & Mercados, have each pegged Brazilian soy production at 70.2 mmt.

If South American production estimates don’t shrink further, the upside for soybean prices appears limited over the next couple of months. The world soybean market should be able to absorb the crop losses because world soybean stocks were record large entering 2011-2012 and are seen declining only moderately right now. U.S. soybean ending stocks at the end of 2011-2012 are expected to be the largest in four years.


Editor’s note: Richard Brock, Corn & Soybean Digest's marketing editor, is president of Brock Associates, a farm market advisory firm, and publisher of The Brock Report.

Need for frozen ground

Last year in Pandora, Ohio, we had 55 in. of rain, which is way above the normal of 33 in. Many parts of Ohio had 66 in. of rain. The corn and soybean harvest was the most challenging since 1972. There is still a sprinkling of soybean fields and corn fields that need to be harvested. There are many, many fields in northwest Ohio with deep ruts that are going to have to be chiseled out in the spring. Only a small percentage of soybean stubble fields were tilled at all. There is a lot of demand for spring tillage tools. Many of the Great Plains tools are sold out for this spring. Their new Turbo-Max is especially in high demand. I bought a used Kongskilde Res-Till to help take ruts out in the spring.  

This January was the warmest since 1947. We still need some cold weather to freeze the soil. I especially need some frozen ground to hold up my manure tanker as I haven't spread any liquid manure since last summer.  

Phosphorous levels have been going up in Lake Erie since 1995 so there is a lot of concern about the dead zone that is resulting. My county agent said if something doesn't happen soon to reduce the levels the EPA will step in with some strict farming and manure hauling regulations.

I went on my longest ever tractor drive today. It was around 60 miles and took about 3 1/2 hours as I had to stop for some lunch. I went from Pandora to Botkins, Ohio, where there is a dealer/repair shop and scrap yard for manure tankers. The plan is to swap axles from an imploded tank to my tank. So when the job is finished, I'll have another nice long drive home. I had to take some back roads to stay off some major highways so I saw some towns that I had never even heard of and a wide variety of farms — some as neat as a pin and others as rough looking as junk yards and everything in between.

NFU Supports COOL Requirements

NFU Supports COOL Requirements

National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson is urging U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk to pursue a robust appeals process on the recent decision of the World Trade Organization that ruled against the United States' implementation of the country-of-origin-labeling law. Johnson says NFU will oppose any attempt to make change. Johnson says the WTO has not found fault with the law, but it thinks the rules and regulations used to implement the law are at fault.

NFU is urging the office of the USTR to mount a vigorous defense of COOL in the appeals process.

"As USTR contemplates its approach to the WTO decision, we urge them to mount a vigorous defense of COOL," Johnson said. "We are aware that behind the scenes attempts at negotiating a settlement to the WTO decision has some stakeholders arguing that we must weaken our law. We strongly disagree and urge a very vigorous defense. Consumers have a right to know where their meat comes from and they overwhelmingly want to know just that."

The labeling law was passed as a part of the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002 and amended in 2008. COOL requires retailers to notify their customers of the source of certain foods. Canada and Mexico filed a complaint against the United States' law, which led to the recent ruling.

"NFU has a proud record of supporting COOL. We were instrumental in getting the COOL laws passed in 2002 and again in 2008," Johnson said. "We will oppose any attempt to change that law. Fortunately, the WTO decision against U.S. country-of-origin-labeling did not find fault with our law. It simply found fault with the rules and regulations which were used to implement the law."

The deadline for filing an appeal to the WTO decision is March 23, 2012.

Biodiesel Production Expanding

Biodiesel Production Expanding

The U.S. biodiesel industry reached a key milestone in 2011 by producing more than one billion gallons of fuel.  According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the total volume of nearly 1.1 billion gallons easily exceeded the 800 million gallon target required under EPA's Renewable Fuel Standard. The previous record for biodiesel production was about 690 million gallons in 2008. The biodiesel industry's success comes after Congress reinstated the fuel's one-dollar-per-gallon tax credit in December 2010 and as the EPA's RFS program for biodiesel completed its first full year of implementation.

Anne Steckel, Vice President of Federal Affairs for the National Biodiesel Board, says biodiesel's success clearly demonstrates that the biodiesel tax incentive and the Renewable Fuel Standard are working just as Congress envisioned. Steckel says the biodiesel industry is creating jobs, reducing U.S. dependence on imported fuel and improving the environment.

"We've been seeing a lot of stories about setbacks in the renewable energy sector recently, and I think our success in 2011 reflects the bigger picture reality, which is that strong energy policy is working to stimulate production of clean, American-made energy," Steckel said.

A recent economic study commissioned by NBB found that biodiesel production of 1 billion gallons supports 39,027 jobs across the country and more than $2.1 billion in household income. An additional 11,698 jobs could be added between 2012 and 2013 alone under continued growth in the Renewable Fuel Standard and with an extension of the biodiesel tax incentive.

"Now is not the time to be second-guessing the RFS or eliminating the biodiesel tax incentive," Steckel said. "We're proving that the policies work, that American innovation and competitiveness can pull us away from our dangerous dependence on imported fuel. Just as President Obama said in his State of the Union last week, we need to stay the course to continue creating jobs and building America's energy capacity."

Country music artist Michael Peterson to serve as Ag Warriors spokesperson

Country music artist Michael Peterson will serve as national spokesperson for the International Agri-Center's Ag Warriors program set to launch on Feb. 15 during World Ag Expo.

With nine tours to Iraq and Afghanistan, Peterson is the 2008 recipient of the distinguished Bob Hope "Spirit of Hope" award for his service to the nation and to servicemen and women of the Armed Forces. He is known for his chart toppers, "Drink, Swear, Steal & Lie" and "From Here to Eternity". The multiple Grammy and CMA award nominee has moved audiences across the globe for more than a decade, and will use his platform to launch the program aimed at placing veterans in long-term agricultural careers.

"After years of participating in the development and delivery of groundbreaking national initiatives for agriculture, active duty military and veteran's organizations alike, being part of the Ag Warriors creative team was a natural fit for me," said Peterson.

Peterson will also serve as emcee for the Ag Warriors Gala at World Ag Expo which will feature a keynote address from President of the United States, George W. Bush; the 82nd Airborne Division's All American Chorus; Marine Color Guard, San Diego; Marine Battle Colors, Drum Corp, San Diego and New York City's "singing policeman", Daniel Rodriguez.

"We are pleased to have somebody of Michael's caliber lend their support as we launch Ag Warriors," said Stacey Beachy, International Agri-Center. "He has truly connected with our service members and understands their needs as they transition back to civilian life. The knowledge he brings to the table has helped us develop plans that will serve veterans in search of agricultural professions."

Through the program, and with the help of California State University, Fresno; California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo; College of the Sequoias and West Hills College, Coalinga, veterans will receive training that will prepare them for careers in agriculture. The program is an in-residence course which will include class work, field work, exam preparation, testing, mentorship and internships. Ag Warriors is designed to expose veterans to the broader aspects of the agriculture industry and to help them gain access to rewarding careers.

For more information about Ag Warriors, or to reserve your tickets, visit or call: 800.999.9186.

Equine herpes unlocks immune gate

A Colorado State University study will look at how equine herpesvirus type 1 may compromise the immune system immediately upon entering the “gate” of a horse’s respiratory system – the airway and throat – allowing it to spread through the body and potentially cause neurological damage, abortion and possibly death.

The study specifically concentrates on the lining of the respiratory systems, called the epithelium, which keeps the airway moist and is a barrier to pathogens. The epithelial cells also serve a critical function in shaping the immunological response, including secreting chemicals to attack pathogens and determining and initiating the cascade of immune responses in the rest of the body.

“We believe that the herpesvirus finds a way to ‘hide’ from the immune response, and we also know that if an immune system doesn’t trigger a good response at the first sign of infection, viruses like this one take off,” said Gabrielle Landolt, a CSU veterinarian and a co-lead researcher on the project. "That combination of events may take place in the horse’s respiratory system, and if we can crack the equine herpesvirus secret to getting through that gateway and compromising the immune system at that point of entry, we may be better able to find treatments and preventative measures to stop outbreaks of the virus.”

“The outcome of this research will also help scientists understand how herpes viruses in all species may impact immune systems,” said Gisela Hussey, also a veterinarian at CSU, who is leading the project. “This study is innovative because it is the first study to focus on defining the immune responses at the respiratory epithelium and how the virus controls the immune system.”

Equine herpesevirus-1 is spread through nose-to-nose contact and through close contact with contaminated equipment, clothing and water and feed. The pathogen also may spread for a limited distance through the air. There are several types of equine herpesvirus, and there also are herpes strains that impact virtually every species. However, the virus does not jump from species to species.

The researchers are conducting the study on actual equine epithelium cells from deceased horses whose owners have volunteered the tissue for the research. The use of these cells in a model that mimics the actual response in a living horse also is novel in this research area.