Oak wilt is one of the most destructive tree diseases in the U.S. and has been blamed for epidemic proportions of tree kills in Central Texas. Because the disease can be spread by moving firewood from one region to another, the forest service asks residents to be cautious when collecting and purchasing firewood this time of year.

“It is critical to take the responsibility of acquiring, managing, and storing firewood at your residence seriously.” “Hunters at ranches need to leave the wood there. Do not take it back home and potentially start a new oak wilt infection center.”

People should be especially careful not to transport wood off of ranchland west of Interstate 35.

Oak wilt fungus spreads in two ways: above ground and below ground. A sap-feeding beetle carries the fungal spores to new trees above ground, while fungus travels from tree to tree underground through interconnected roots.

Transporting and storing diseased wood spreads devastating oak wilt fungus spores to previously uninfected areas. Because live oaks tend to grow in large, dense stands, oak wilt spreads quickly and one infected tree can lead to large patches of dead and dying trees.

By following these steps, Texas residents can help stop the spread of oak wilt fungus:

• Select well-seasoned firewood. Well-seasoned wood is cut before the summer and is typically dry with loose bark and cracked ends. Avoid oak wood that appears unseasoned, which may have tight bark and cut ends which show no cracks or signs of aging. The extreme heat and dry conditions of a full Texas summer effectively destroy the fungus in cut firewood.

• Safely store unknown sources of firewood under plastic. If oak wood comes from an unknown source and it is not well seasoned, cover the woodpile with a clear piece of plastic. Also, bury the edges of the plastic to prevent the entry or exit of insects that might have been attracted to diseased wood and fungal mats.

• Destroy diseased red oaks. If the trees are diagnosed as having oak wilt, they should be destroyed by burning, burying or chipping. The heat of a fire destroys the fungus and the smoke emitted poses no threat to healthy trees. When planning to do any outdoor burning, be sure to check with local officials to see if an outdoor burning ban is in place for your county. Take care not to burn on windy days with low humidity.

Oak firewood is an important commodity to Texans, whether it’s used for firing up the barbecue pit or warming up the home on a cold winter’s day. By selecting well-seasoned, disease-free firewood and by following the disease prevention guidelines, Texans are taking the correct steps to help prevent a new oak wilt disease outbreak in their region.

Go to www.texasoakwilt.org and www.dontmovefirewood.org for more information

Transformation Tuesday: Corn

When we think of corn, we tend to think of plump, yellow kernels slathered in butter. Or some of us might picture those fields with rows and rows of tall plants that are grown along so many Texas highways.
But corn is pretty much all around us all the time. It’s food, feedstock, fuel, fiber and so much more. There are more than 4,200 different uses for corn and additional ways are being researched every day!
There are three types of corn: sweet corn, field corn and popcorn. Texas farmers across mainly grow field corn due to its versatility, but sweet corn is also grown in the Lone Star State.
Last year, Texas farmers grew more than 2 million acres of corn and produced more than 204 million bushels.
Many varieties grown today are genetically modified to be more drought tolerant and insect resistant, increasing yields while using fewer resources.
It takes about 120 days for a corn crop to mature. A combination of adequate rainfall, fertilizer and favorable temperatures help the crop reach harvest. A few prayers never hurt either.
Plants usually grow to be about 6 feet tall, and each plant in Texas will produce, on average, one ear.
When the plant and ears are fully matured and dried, farmers use a combine to harvest the ears. Inside the combine, the cobs are broken apart and the kernels, or grain, are shaken loose and collected in a tank.
When the tank is full, the loose kernels are loaded into a tractor trailer and typically taken to a grain co-op for drying, cleaning and storage before being sold.
About 98 percent of corn grown in Texas goes to livestock feed, with some of that chopped for silage. The rest is used in food products and ethanol production.
Refineries or processors soak and mill the corn, separating the germ, oil, starch and hulls. Corn is a very cost-effective product since each piece of the kernel has a variety of uses.

A bushel of corn can also be converted to 2.8 gallons of ethanol plus one of the following:
•17.5 pounds of dried distillers’ grains, or
•13.5 pounds of gluten feed and 2.6 pounds of gluten meal, or
•1.5 pounds of corn oil
Livestock feed that uses corn may mean silage, ground whole corn, dried distillers’ grains or hay from cornstalks. Corn is fed to a variety of animals, including cattle, poultry and pigs.
And of course, many of our human food ingredients are corn-based.
Soda, salad dressings, cereal, snack foods, yogurt, ice cream and all kinds of foods contain corn.
It’s also made into biodegradable plastics, such as disposable dishware, to-go containers, food packaging and more, so your food may not only contain corn, but be contained by corn.
In our homes, corn is found in products we use every day, including cosmetics, toothpaste, soaps, deodorants, cleansers, medicine, bandages and diapers. It’s also in various school and office products like glue, crayons, paper, ink and book bindings.
Corn powers our days. Cornstarch is often used as an electrical conductor in batteries, and ethanol is widely blended with petroleum-based gasoline as fuel for our vehicles.
There are also various uses for corn in matches, fireworks and other explosives.