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Features, Findings, & Statistics

  • Feature

    Support for the Organic Sector Expands in the 2014 Farm Act

    Organic program provisions in the 2014 Farm Act cover a broad set of objectives—assisting with organic certification costs, expanding organic research and data collection, improving technical assistance and crop insurance, strengthening enforcement of organic regulations, and expanding market opportunities for producers.
  • Feature

    Managing the Costs of Reducing Agriculture’s Footprint on the Chesapeake Bay

    Runoff from agricultural activity and other nonpoint sources contributes to adverse environmental conditions in the Chesapeake Bay, interfering with fish and shellfish production and compromising recreational opportunities. In order to meet Environmental Protection Agency goals for the Chesapeake Bay, loadings of nutrients and sediments from agricultural activity must be reduced.
  • Statistic

    Pesticide Use Peaked in 1981, Then Trended Downward, Driven by Technological Innovations and Other Factors

    Pesticides, including herbicides, insecticides, and fungicides, have contributed to substantial increases in crop farm productivity over the past five decades. Changes in pesticide use have been driven by changes in pest pressures, environmental and weather conditions, crop acreages, agricultural practices, and the cost-effectiveness of pesticides and other practices.
  • Feature

    2014 Farm Act Continues Most Previous Trends In Conservation

    The Agricultural Act of 2014 continues a strong overall commitment to conservation, with an emphasis on working land conservation. Many conservation programs are consolidated into new programs or merged into existing programs. Crop insurance premium subsidies are re-linked to Conservation Compliance (conservation of highly erodible land and wetlands) for the first time since 1996.
  • Finding

    Confined Livestock Operations Account For a Majority of the Chesapeake Bay Area’s Farmland With Applied Manure

    Excessive flows of nutrients into the Chesapeake Bay can damage the bay’s environment, yielding coastal dead zones, fish kills, and impaired drinking water supplies. Agriculture is a main contributor to nutrient run-off, responsible for 38 percent of the bay’s nitrogen and 45 percent of phosphorus loadings.
  • Feature

    Adoption of Genetically Engineered Crops by U.S. Farmers Has Increased Steadily for Over 15 Years

    Farmers planted about 170 million acres of GE crops in 2013—principally corn, cotton, and soybeans—representing about half of the U.S. farmland used to grow crops. Pest management traits are the main feature engineered into GE crops grown, but over time, traits providing protection against additional pests and seeds combining several traits have been introduced and quickly adopted by farmers.
  • Feature

    Productivity Growth Slows for Specialized Hog Finishing Operations

    U.S. hog farm numbers dropped by 70 percent over 1991-2009 while hog inventories remained stable. The result has been an industry with larger hog enterprises, increased specialization in a single phase of production, greater reliance on purchased rather than homegrown feed, and greater use of production contracts. This structural change has led to higher productivity and lower pork prices.
  • Statistic

    Agricultural Productivity Growth in the United States: 1948-2011

    U.S. total farm production more than doubled between 1948 and 2011. Agricultural output growth was mainly driven by productivity growth, with little contribution from total agricultural inputs growth.
  • Statistic

    Growth in Global Agricultural Productivity: An Update

    Over the past five decades, global agricultural output grew, on average, by 2.24 percent per year. This average, however, masks a slowdown in agricultural output growth in the 1970s and 1980s, after which it re-accelerated in the 1990s and 2000s. In the latest decade (2001-10), global output of total crop and livestock commodities expanded by 2.50 percent per year.
  • Finding

    Who Is Adopting Organic Farming Practices?

    In response to rising demand for organic products, a growing number of farmers have had to adopt new (to them) organic production practices and establish new marketing channels. Early adopters of innovative farming practices tend to be operators of larger farms and have higher levels of schooling and stronger links to outside sources of information than other farmers.
  • Feature

    Cropland Consolidation and the Future of Family Farms

    Over the past three decades, U.S. crop production has been shifting to larger farms for most crops and in most States. Despite the shift, family farms continue to dominate U.S. crop production, accounting for 87 percent of the total value of U.S. crop production in 2011.
  • Statistic

    Western Irrigated Agriculture: Production Value, Water Use, Costs, and Technology Vary by Farm Size

    In 2007, irrigated agriculture made a significant contribution to the value of U.S. agricultural production, with farms having at least some irrigated cropland accounting for roughly 40 percent of U.S. agricultural market sales. The 17 contiguous Western States accounted for nearly three-quarters of U.S. irrigated farmland during the period.
  • Feature

    The Role of Conservation Program Design in Drought-Risk Adaptation

    Since USDA conservation programs are voluntary, farmers base their participation decisions on local conditions, among other factors, and those decisions are influenced by the level of local drought risk. This is a form of climate adaptation.
  • Finding

    Onfarm Energy Use Fairly Steady in 2001-11, But Share of Production Costs Rose

    Although agriculture’s demand for energy has historically been less than 2 percent of total U.S. energy consumption, energy-based inputs account for a significant share of agricultural production costs. For example, over 30 percent of total production expenditures by corn, sorghum, and rice farmers in 2011 were for energy-intensive inputs.
  • Finding

    While Crop Rotations Are Common, Cover Crops Remain Rare

    While 82-94 percent of most U.S. crops are grown in some sort of rotation, conservation crop rotations that incorporate cover crops remain rare. Only about 3 to 7 percent of farms use cover crops in rotations, and, since they do not put all of their land into cover crops, only 1 percent of cropland acreage uses cover crops.
  • Feature

    Adaptation Can Help U.S. Crop Producers Confront Climate Change

    While the impact that climate change will have on future growing conditions in specific areas of the country remains uncertain, the ability of farmers to adapt to climate change—through planting decisions, farming practices, and use of technology—can reduce its impact on production, farm commodity prices, and farmer returns.
  • Finding

    Alternative Policies To Promote Anaerobic Digesters Produce Positive Net Benefits

    Rising fuel prices and the public’s desire for new sources of renewable energy and reduced carbon emissions have led to government policies that support the adoption of anaerobic digesters by livestock producers. ERS research finds that the design of such policies can affect farmer adoption rates of digesters, farm incomes, and environmental benefits from use of the technology.
  • Finding

    Nitrogen Management in Corn Production Appears To Be Improving

    An ERS study of nitrogen management on U.S. corn cropland over 2001-10 indicates that corn producers may be adjusting to changing economic conditions and environmental concerns. U.S. corn acreage treated with nitrogen increased 18 percent during the period as corn prices rose by 70 percent in response to increased demand for grain for export and ethanol production.
  • Feature

    Rising Concentration in Agricultural Input Industries Influences New Farm Technologies

    The leading agricultural input firms are multinational companies with R&D facilities located around the world. These global research networks allow large firms to develop and adapt new technologies to local conditions, meet national regulatory requirements for new product introductions, and achieve cost economies in some of their R&D activities.
  • Finding

    Improving Water-Use Efficiency Remains a Challenge for U.S. Irrigated Agriculture

    In 2007, irrigated agriculture accounted for 55 percent of the total value of U.S. crop sales, while also supporting the livestock and poultry sectors. The economic health and sustainability of irrigated agriculture will depend on the ability of producers to adapt to growing constraints on water, particularly through improved water-use efficiency.
  • Statistic

    On the Map: The Conservation Challenge for Sustainable Irrigated Agriculture

    Expanding water demands to support population and economic growth, environmental flows, and energy-sector growth will present new challenges for agricultural water and conservation, particularly for the 17 Western States that account for nearly three-quarters of U.S. irrigated agriculture.
  • Finding

    The Information Age and Adoption of Precision Agriculture

    Findings suggest that low adoption rates of precision technologies by farmers may be due to uncertainty about economic returns to large initial investments, the complexity of the technologies, and the need to make integrated use of several precision technologies to obtain cost savings.
  • Finding

    Use of Conservation-Compatible Manure Management Practices Increases on U.S. Hog Farms

    U.S. hog producers altered their manure management decisions between 1998 and 2009, suggesting an increased focus on applying nutrients at agronomic rates--that is, at levels that do not exceed what can be absorbed by crops.
  • Feature

    Changing Farming Practices Accompany Major Shifts in Farm Structure

    Changing production practices, including adoption of labor-saving innovations, have contributed to and been affected by increases in both agricultural productivity and the concentration of production.
  • Feature

    Public Research Yields High Returns... Measured in More Than Dollars

    Though standard economic approaches may be difficult to apply to evaluations of some benefits of public investments in agricultural research, economic reasoning can provide qualitative analysis even when benefits are difficult to quantify.
  • Feature

    Higher Carbon Prices Could Spur Adoption of Methane Digesters

    Currently, methane digesters’ costs often exceed their benefits to livestock producers, but higher prices in voluntary, regional, or national carbon markets could make them profitable for many operations.
  • Finding

    Farmers Develop Strategies To Reduce Energy Input Costs

    Between 2002 and 2008, fuel and fertilizer prices rose sharply, contributing to higher total farm energy-intensive input costs. The increase prompted farmers to employ energy-saving strategies and to use energy more efficiently.
  • Finding

    Contracting Expands for Field Crops

    Contracts cover a growing share of U.S. corn, soybean, and wheat production. Rising use likely reflects increased price variability, a wider availability of risk management tools, and structural change in agriculture.
  • Finding

    U.S. Farmers Increasingly Adopt “No-Till” for Major Crops

    Widespread adoption of less intensive tillage practices could enable U.S. agriculture to sequester substantial amounts of carbon and contribute to efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Less intensive tillage would also reduce water sedimentation and chemical pollution as well as atmospheric dust and haze.
  • Finding

    Direct Payments Can Influence Farmers’ Production Decisions

    ERS has identified multiple avenues through which Production Flexibility Contract payments could influence agricultural production, including providing easier access to capital markets, changing farmers’ risk preferences, or affecting land values, labor markets, and/or farmers’ expectations about future payments.
  • Finding

    Cellulosic Ethanol From Crop Residue Is No Free Lunch?

    Harvesting crop residues for use as biofuel feedstocks may provide revenue to farmers but can also impose costs by reducing soil productivity and increasing loss of nutrients. Changes in soil erosion and fertilizer use may also result in off-farm environmental impacts.
  • Finding

    Rapid Growth in Adoption of Genetically Engineered Crops Continues in U.S.

    New 2008 USDA data show that adoption by U.S. farmers of genetically engineered (GE) corn, cotton, and soybeans with herbicide tolerance and/or insect resistance (Bt) traits has been rapid over the 13-year period following commercial introduction.
  • Statistic

    Productivity Growth Drives Expanded Agricultural Production

    U.S. agriculture relies almost entirely on productivity growth, primarily from innovation and changes in technology, to raise output.
  • Finding

    Farm Operators Turn to Energy-Saving Practices

    ver the past 5 years, the price of fuels has risen sharply and remains high by historical standards. Driven by strong worldwide economic growth (especially in China and India) and other factors, the inflation-adjusted price per barrel of crude oil (refiner average acquisition cost) climbed 145 percent since 2002. Over the same period, the inflation-adjusted price of (wellhead) natural gas, a major ingredient in the production of fertilizer, rose 93 percent.
  • Statistic

    On The Map

    The major greenhouse and nursery products are shrubs, flowers, sod, Christmas trees, and other agricultural products associated with the landscape industry. The principal determinants of where greenhouse and nursery products are grown are climate and local demand. In warmer climates, nursery products can be grown outside of greenhouses, reducing production costs. Strong local demand is important because the bulkiness and perishability of nursery products make them expensive to transport long distances. Hence, production tends to be concentrated across the southern tier of States and those with rapid population and suburban growth.
  • Statistic

    In The Long Run

    In terms of cash receipts, the U.S. greenhouse and nursery industry has experienced rapid growth in the last three decades at a rate more than four times that experienced by all agricultural commodities. These trends have been the result of the relocation of both businesses and residences to suburban settings and the concurrent explosive growth in population in the South and West. This combination has generated demand for attractive vegetation and expansive areas of lawn with sod as the preferred ground cover. The top-producing States have always been California and Florida over this time period, and other States in the top five have remained the same since about 1990 when Oregon passed Ohio to enter the group.
  • Finding

    Consumers Demanding Identity Preservation in U.S. Grain Markets

    Consumer demand for specific product traits has led to a growing number of specialty crops requiring either segregation or full-scale identity preservation (IP) to differentiate them from conventional commodities. These IP or differentiated crops include products with specific traits, like waxy corn, non-genetically engineered, organic, or pharmaceutical crops. These products typically incur higher costs than conventional due to costs of segregation and certification, higher risks, and the need for greater coordination between growers and handlers or processors.
  • Finding

    Sources of Public Agricultural R&D Changing

    Explains the sources of funding for research and development at USDA, land grant universities and other state institutions.
  • Statistic

    In The Long Run

    Over the past 112 years, an average of 7 percent of U.S. agricultural land has experienced severe or extreme drought each year.
  • Statistic

    In The Long Run

    Energy intensity reflects the total amount of energy used in the production of output. Since 1973, farm output has grown 63 percent while energy consumption declined 26 percent. The decline in energy intensity is the result of improved machinery and equipment, enhanced energy efficiency, and changes in the commodities produced.
  • Feature

    Farmers Balance Off-Farm Work and Techonology Adoption

    Off-farm income has risen steadily over recent decades. Small-farm households are more likely to devote time to off-farm employment than larger farms. New technologies enhance options for trading onfarm work for off-farm employment. Farm households with higher off-farm income are more likely to adopt farm technologies that economize on management time instead of those that are time intensive.
  • Statistic

    Data Feature

    Since 1978, the number of farms operated primarily by women more than doubled and the growth in numbers of horse farms far outpaced that of either beef cattle or other types of crop and livestock farms. Women farmers, singly and jointly, operate over 65 percent of all horse farms, compared with 37 percent of all farms. Growing popularity of equestrian sports, along the compatibility of horse farming with other land use and rural development goals, are possible reasons for the growth in the number of women-operated horse farms.
  • Finding

    Hypoxia in the Gulf: Addressing Agriculture's Contribution

    The Northern Gulf of Mexico's hypoxic (oxygen-deficient) waters represent one of the Western Hemisphere's largest 'dead zones'--areas where lack of oxygen kills fish, crabs, and other marine life. Scientists believe that Gulf hypoxia is caused by nitrogen loads from the Mississippi River. Because two-thirds of the nitrogen in the Mississippi River comes from the use of fertilizer and manure on agricultural lands, reducing agricultural nitrogen is a major strategy for controlling the hypoxic zone. Nitrogen is reduced by either changes in the application of fertilizer on farms or by wetland restoration along rivers to filter out nitrogen before it reaches surface waters.
  • Statistic

    Data Feature

    Since 1996, U.S. farmers have responded to a number of industry-altering changes, including lower crop prices, the availability of genetically engineered seed, and environmental incentives embodied in farm legislation. How have these shocks affected farming and conservation practices used by farmers? USDA's Agricultural Resource Management Survey (ARMS) provides a new source of information about production and conservation practices on sample fields in major field crop producing States.
  • Statistic

    Cropland Use

    While Cropland Used for Crops Decreased by 8 Percent Nationally Between 1945 and 2002, Some Regions Exhibited Much Larger Percentage Changes.
  • Finding

    Growing More With Less Cropland

    This finding describes the national trends in cropland acreage and agricultural productivity.
  • Feature

    Agriculture and Rural Communities Are Resilient to High Energy Costs

    Higher energy costs have led agricultural producers to substitute more expensive fuels with less expensive fuels, shift to less energy-intensive crops, and employ energy-conserving production practices where possible. Energy price increases will have the biggest impact on farmers where energy represents a significant share of operating costs. Rural communities face somewhat different issues with increases in petroleum and natural gas costs. As the cost of producing goods and services rises, so will household costs for transportation and home heating. Because of higher transportation expenses, rural communities may see changes in settlement patterns, especially in more remote rural areas.
  • Finding

    Use of Conservation-Compatible Practices Varies by Farm Type

    The decision to adopt environmentally friendly farming practices may be motivated by both monetary and non-monetary factors. Operators of small farms and those who derive most of their income from off-farm sources are less likely to adopt practices that require extra time, management skills, or expense than operators of larger operations.
  • Feature

    Agricultural Contracting: Trading Autonomy for Risk Reduction

    Farm production is shifting from smaller to larger family farms and from spot (or cash) markets to contracts. Technological developments may underlie much of the shift to larger farms, but expanded use of production and marketing contracts supports that shift by reducing financial risks for farm operators. For farm operators, contracts provide benefits from reduced risks, but also result in loss of managerial control and reduced autonomy.
  • Feature

    Measuring the Success of Conservation Programs

    Many factors must be accounted for to determine the portion of environmental enhancements directly attributable to program incentive-induced changes in farmers’ practices. Still, carefully designed survey and monitoring programs encompassing each of those relationships in a coordinated fashion make such evaluation not only feasible, but well within reach.