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ERS Charts of Note

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Wednesday, October 01, 2014
In fiscal 2013, USDA’s Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) served an average of 8.7 million low-income participants per month, with expenditures totaling $6.4 billion. Containing program costs is a continual issue because WIC is funded annually by Congressional appropriations, making the program’s capacity largely dependent on funding levels and costs per participant. In turn, costs per participant depend in part on the prices charged for the WIC foods by WIC-authorized retailers. States are required to authorize an appropriate number and distribution of retailers to ensure adequate participant access to supplemental foods. A recent study found that smaller retailers in California charge higher prices than larger retailers for comparable WIC foods. However, prices did not decrease steadily with increases in store size. Stores with three or four check out registers had lower prices than did the smallest stores, and prices dropped again for stores with five or six registers, but prices were comparable among all stores with at least five registers. This chart is from “WIC Foods Cost More in Smaller Stores” in the September 2014 issue of ERS’s Amber Waves magazine.
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Tuesday, September 30, 2014
Developments in fresh fruit markets over the past 30 years, including changing production patterns, increased imports, improved storage, and shifts in consumer demand, have influenced the seasonal pattern of prices faced by U.S. growers. ERS analysis indicates that market conditions unique to each commodity affect the seasonality of grower prices. Products such as strawberries demonstrate a classic seasonal pattern for fresh produce, with higher prices at the beginning and/or end of the marketing season.  However, there have been changes over time in the months when low and high fresh strawberry prices are realized. In the 1980s, the average monthly price index was at its lowest point in May, when shipment volumes were near their peak, but by the 2000s the low price point had moved to June, with high grower prices also shifting to later in the year. The range between high and low grower price indices did not change significantly for strawberries over the period studied, but it did for other fresh fruit, such as fresh peaches, grapes, and oranges. Find this chart and more in Evolving U.S. Fruit Markets and Seasonal Grower Price Patterns.
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Monday, September 29, 2014
Crop receipts are expected to decline 7 percent in 2014, the second annual decrease following a record high in 2012. Even with record corn production projected, cash receipts for corn are expected to decline by over 20 percent due to a significant decrease (-32 percent) in the annual average corn price. Declines in receipts are also expected for most other major crops including fruits and nuts, wheat, soybeans, and vegetables/melons. A notable exception is cotton, which is projected to recover from a significant decline in 2013. Conversely, record livestock prices are projected to drive a 15.3-percent increase in livestock cash receipts. Despite expected declines in beef production, cattle/calves receipts are expected to set a record in 2014 due to higher prices. Hog production is also expected to decline, but higher expected annual average prices drive the forecast increase in hog cash receipts. Wholesale milk and broiler receipts are expected to benefit from higher production and record annual average prices. See the Farm Income and Wealth Statistics data product for more information on USDA’s 2014 forecast for the farm economy, released on August 26, 2014.
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Friday, September 26, 2014
The successful cultivation of many U.S. specialty and orchards crops (including almonds, sunflowers, canola, grapes, and apples) is dependent upon commercial insect pollination. The European honey bee is largely preferred over other pollinators due to their relative ease of transport and management. Migration routes often include a stop in California to pollinate almonds in early spring. An estimated 60-75 percent of U.S. commercial hives are employed for the State’s almond bloom, which draws hives from as far away as Florida and Texas. Migratory paths diverge after the almond bloom; some beekeepers remain in California while others move north to service mainly orchard and berry crops, and others depart for southern and eastern States to pollinate a variety of specialty field crops. During the pollination season, an estimated 65-80 percent of commercial hives spend part of the summer foraging in the northern Great Plains. At the end of the summer, many operations return their hives to overwintering sites in southern States.  Find this map and further discussion on U.S. pollination markets in Fruit and Tree Nut Outlook.
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Thursday, September 25, 2014
Food price spreads—the difference between a food’s retail price and the value of the farm commodities used in the food—measure the cost of processing, wholesaling, and retailing food from the farmer to consumer. Price spreads vary by food products, reflecting different degrees of processing and marketing. The price spread for white flour, which averaged 30 cents per pound over 2000-2013, is smaller than the price spread for white bread.  Multiple ingredients are required to produce bread (including flour, high fructose corn syrup, and vegetable oil) and bread must be mixed, baked, sliced, packaged, and advertised. These additional processing and marketing costs resulted in an average price spread for bread of $1.13 per pound over 2000-2013.  Large price spreads signal that changes in farm prices will likely have a weaker effect on retail prices. When wheat prices climbed 162 percent from 2000 to 2013, the retail price of flour rose 79 percent, while retail bread prices were only 52 percent higher. The statistics for these charts come from ERS’s data product, Price Spreads From Farm to Consumer, updated August 11, 2014.
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Wednesday, September 24, 2014
Questions in the 2007-08 and 2009-10 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) allow researchers to examine demographic and health-related characteristics of consumers who use nutrition information when eating away from home. Using these data, ERS researchers found differences across population subgroups. Participants in USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and low-income nonparticipants are less likely to go to fast-food places than are higher-income people. About 85 percent of SNAP participants and low-income nonparticipants said they ate at fast-food places during the previous 12 months, compared with 93 percent of higher-income people. All three groups are about equally likely to notice nutrition information on fast-food menus. However, upon seeing the information, SNAP participants are more likely to use it (52 percent) than low-income nonparticipants (39 percent) and higher-income people (41 percent). This chart appears in “Calorie Labeling on Restaurant Menus—Who Is Likely to Use It?” in the September 2014 issue of ERS’s Amber Waves magazine.
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Tuesday, September 23, 2014
If future agricultural productivity growth is less than anticipated, how will farmers and consumers respond? Using the ERS Future Agricultural Resources Model, researchers simulated the world in 2050 assuming productivity growth similar to past trends, and then simulated the world with a lower rate of agricultural productivity (20 percent lower than anticipated) in 2050. These scenarios reflect considerable uncertainty about future growth in agricultural productivity in the face of global climate change, unpredictable public and private agricultural research and development investments, and myriad other factors that could affect productivity trends. ERS researchers find that reduced productivity growth could lead to a decline in average crop yields, more area planted in crops, and shifts in the location of production, with only a small decline in world average production and consumption of major field crops in 2050.  International trade allows worldwide crop consumption to adjust to geographic variation in crop production. Actual yield does not fall as much as land productivity because other inputs increase as crop prices increase. The productivity shock is largely absorbed through intensification of agricultural production and an increase in harvested area. This chart is found in the ERS report, Global Drivers of Agricultural Demand and Supply, ERR-174, September 2014.
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Monday, September 22, 2014
Developing regions account for an increasing share of global gross domestic product (GDP)—a measure of total economic output—a trend that reflects their growing role in driving growth in consumer demand, including demand for agricultural products. Relatively high rates of GDP growth in developing regions, particularly China and other developing Asian countries, have boosted the developing country share of global GDP from 21 percent in 1990 to 27 percent in 2000, and about 38 percent in 2014. This ongoing shift in the world economy is a driver of food demand because developing country consumers tend to spend larger shares of additional income on food.  China and Developing Asia together accounted for 34 percent of U.S. agricultural exports in fiscal 2013, while developing countries as a whole accounted for 65 percent. USDA long-term projections for agriculture, which assume continued income growth in developing countries, indicate that developing countries will account for more than 90 percent of the growth in world imports of meats, grains, and oilseeds over the next decade. This chart is based on data found in ERS’s International Macroeconomic Data Set.
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Friday, September 19, 2014
Worth $2.2 trillion, farm real estate (land and structures) accounted for 82 percent of the total value of U.S. farm assets in 2012. Because it comprises such a significant portion of the U.S. farm sector’s asset base, change in the value of farm real estate is a critical barometer of the farm sector's financial performance. Changes in farmland values also affect the financial well-being of agricultural producers, because farm real estate is the largest single component in a typical farmer's investment portfolio and it serves as the principal source of collateral for farm loans. Following the 1980s farm crisis—during which farmland prices declined in response to rapidly rising interest rates and higher energy prices—farm real estate values have trended upward. Despite expectations of lower farm income this year, U.S. farm real estate values increased in 2014. This chart updates one found in the ERS report, Trends in U.S. Farmland Values and Ownership, EIB-92, February 2012.
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Thursday, September 18, 2014
In 2010, U.S. producers saw average returns of $307 per acre for conventional corn, compared with $557 per acre for organic corn, primarily because higher organic corn prices more than offset lower organic corn yields. Total operating and ownership costs per acre (seed, fertilizer, chemicals, custom operations, fuel, repairs, interest, hired labor, capital recovery of machinery and equipment, taxes, and insurance) were not significantly different between organic and conventional corn, although many of the individual cost components differed. Three major components of operating costs—seed, fertilizer, and chemicals—are lower for organic corn than for conventional corn, while some components of ownership costs—the capital recovery of machinery and equipment, and taxes and insurance—are higher for organic corn. Although the acres planted to organic corn nearly tripled between 2001 and 2010, organic corn accounted for less than 1 percent of total 2010 corn acres.  Find this chart and additional analysis in Characteristics and Production Costs of U.S. Corn Farms, Including Organic, 2010.
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Wednesday, September 17, 2014
Retail food-at-home prices in the second quarter of 2014 were 2.3 percent higher than a year ago, as most at-home food categories increased in price. Retail beef and veal prices were up 10.8 percent as the supply of beef is strained by historically low herd sizes. Over the same time period, pork prices increased 11.2 percent, partially the result of the Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea virus, which has reduced litter sizes and increased piglet mortality.  Egg prices are also up, in part due to increasing exports and a strong domestic demand for eggs and egg products. The increases in beef and veal, pork, and egg prices are the largest year-over-year increases since the fourth quarter of 2011. This chart appears in the Food Prices and Spending section of ERS’s Ag and Food Statistics: Charting the Essentials data product, updated September 10, 2014.  More information on ERS’s food price forecasts can also be found in ERS’s Food Price Outlook data product.
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Tuesday, September 16, 2014
U.S. consumption of dairy products is expanding, with the fastest growth occurring in products with relatively high milk-fat content. ERS estimates commercial disappearance (a measure of consumption) of fluid milk and other dairy-containing products in two different ways: one based on the milk fat content of the various products (milk-equivalent milk-fat basis) and the other based on the skim solids (proteins, lactose, and minerals) content of the products (milk equivalent skim-solids basis). Estimates on a milk-fat basis place greater weight on products with relatively high milk-fat content, such as butter and cheese, while estimates on a skim-solids basis place greater weight on products with relatively high skim solids, such as beverage milk and nonfat dry milk.  Since 1995, commercial disappearance on a milk-equivalent, milk-fat basis has grown twice as fast as disappearance on a milk-equivalent skim-solids basis. This pattern reflects increasing U.S. per capita consumption of cheese, butter, and other products with relatively high milk-fat content, along with declining per capita consumption of fluid milk. Find these data in the new commercial disappearance dairy product tables provided in Dairy Data.
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Monday, September 15, 2014
Median total farm household income is forecast to decline slightly in 2014 to $70,992, down from $71,504 forecast for 2013. Given the broad USDA definition of a farm and the large number of relatively small farms, most farm households earn all of their income from off-farm sources.  In 2014, median off-farm income is projected to increase by 3.7 percent to $64,840.  On the other hand, many farms are not profitable businesses even in the best farm income years; as a result, median income from farming is negative when calculated for all farm households. Sector-wide farm income is expected to dip in 2014, and median farm household income from farming is expected to decline to -$1,626. (Note: Because they are based on unique distributions, median total income will generally not equal the sum of median off-farm and median farm income.)  This chart is found in the ERS topics page, Farm Household Well-being, updated August 26, 2014.
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Friday, September 12, 2014
Thailand is forecast to reclaim its position as the largest global exporter of rice in 2015, aided by abundant domestic supplies, competitive prices, and the outlook for record global import demand. Thailand lost its position as the largest rice exporter to India in 2012, after implementation of new price policy—the Paddy Pledging Scheme (PPS)—reduced the price competitiveness of Thai rice and led to the accumulation of government stocks. With the PPS terminated in the spring of 2014, Thai rice exports are forecast to recover to 10 million tons in 2015. India’s rice exports are forecast to slip to 8.7 million tons, because of the outlook for a smaller rice harvest and renewed competition from Thailand. Vietnam and the United States are forecast to have good 2014 harvests and to expand rice exports in 2015. For 2015, world rice output is forecast at a record 477.3 million tons, and exports at a record 41.2 million tons. Sub-Saharan Africa and China are forecast to import record volumes of rice in 2015. Find this chart in the Rice Chart Gallery and additional analysis in Rice Outlook: August 2014.
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Thursday, September 11, 2014
ERS’s Food Dollar Series was expanded in 2014 to include 16 commodity specific at-home food dollars that break out the value added, or cost contributions, from 12 industry groups in the U.S. food supply chain. Comparing the bakery-products dollar with the red meat-dollar highlights the larger role of processing and marketing costs for processed foods. For bakery products such as breads, crackers, cookies, and other sweet goods, processing costs were the largest cost component at 37.7 cents in 2007. In comparison, processing costs made up 18.1 cents of the beef, pork, and other red-meat food dollar, while farm production and agribusiness combined at 26.6 cents was the largest cost component. (Agribusinesses produce the services and products used by farmers, such as veterinary services and fertilizers.) For bakery products, farm-production costs was one of the smallest components at 2.3 cents, smaller than packaging and advertising. Statistics for these dollars and the other 14 commodity food dollars for benchmark years 1997, 2002, and 2007 can be found in ERS’s Food Dollar Series data product.
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Wednesday, September 10, 2014
Fiscal 2015 U.S. agricultural exports are projected at $144.5 billion, down $8 billion from the record $152.5 billion forecast for fiscal 2014, primarily because of the outlook for lower commodity prices. Lower prices are projected to reduce fiscal 2015 exports of oilseeds and products by $5.1 billion and cotton by $600 million, while lower prices and volumes reduce grain and feed exports by $4.9 billion, compared with fiscal 2014. Horticultural exports are, however, projected to rise $2.9 billion to a record $37.0 billion in fiscal 2015, eclipsing exports of grains and feeds for the first time. Agricultural exports to China are forecast down $3.0 billion from fiscal 2014, but China is expected to remain the top U.S. agricultural market. Exports to Russia are projected to decline by $800 million to $400 million in fiscal 2015 as a result of trade restrictions against the United States. U.S. agricultural imports are forecast at a record $117 billion in fiscal 2015, $7.5 billion higher than in fiscal 2014, with the largest gains in horticultural products, sugar and tropical products, and livestock products. Find these data and additional analysis in the Outlook for U.S. Agricultural Trade: August 2014.
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Tuesday, September 09, 2014
In 2013, 19.5 percent of U.S. households with children were food insecure at some time during the year. Parents often are able to maintain normal or near-normal diets and meal patterns for their children, even when the parents themselves are food insecure. In about half of food-insecure households with children in 2013, only adults were food insecure. But in 9.9 percent of households with children (3.8 million households) both children and adults experienced food insecurity. In 0.9 percent of households with children (360,000 households), food insecurity among children was so severe that caregivers reported that children were hungry, skipped a meal, or did not eat for a whole day because there was not enough money for food. The subset of households with children experiencing these difficult conditions was down from 1.2 percent in 2012.  This chart appears in Household Food Security in the United States in 2013, ERR-173, released September 3, 2014.
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Monday, September 08, 2014
About 75 percent of irrigated cropland in the U.S. is located in 17 western States based on the 2008 Farm and Ranch Irrigation Survey (the most recent available), conducted by USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service. While the amount of irrigated land in the West has increased by over 2 million acres since 1984, the amount of water applied has declined slightly as irrigation systems have shifted toward more efficient methods. In 1984, 71 percent of Western crop irrigation water was applied using gravity irrigation systems that tend to use water inefficiently. By 2008, operators used gravity systems to apply just 48 percent of water for crop production while pressure-sprinkler irrigation systems, which can apply water more efficiently, accounted for 51.5 percent of irrigation water use. In 2008, much of the acreage using pressure irrigation systems included drip, low-pressure sprinkler, or low-energy precision application systems. Improved pressure-sprinkler systems resulted in remarkably stable agricultural water use over the past 25 years, as fewer acre-feet were required to irrigate an increasing number of acres. This chart is found in Water Conservation in Irrigated Agriculture: Trends and Challenges in the Face of Emerging Demands, EIB-99, September 2012.
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Friday, September 05, 2014
The rate of growth in farm assets, debt, and equity is forecast to moderate in 2014, the result of an expected decline in net farm income, higher borrowing costs, and moderation in the growth of farmland values. The value of farm assets is expected to rise 2.3 percent in 2014, while farm sector debt is expected to increase 2.7 percent. Even with the expected slowdown in asset growth, the sector’s financial position remains strong due to the historically low level of debt relative to assets and equity. The sector continues to be well-insulated from the risks associated with commodity production (such as adverse weather), changing macroeconomic conditions in the United States and abroad, as well as fluctuations in farm asset values that may occur due to changing demand for agricultural assets. This chart is found in the topic page for Farm Sector Income & Finances, and the underlying data are available in Farm Income and Wealth Statistics, updated August 26, 2014.
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Thursday, September 04, 2014
In 2013, 14.3 percent (17.5 million) of U.S. households were food insecure. Households that are food insecure had difficulty at some time during the year providing enough food for all their members due to a lack of resources. The percentage of U.S. households that were food insecure remained essentially unchanged from 2012 to 2013; however, the cumulative decline from 14.9 percent in 2011 was statistically significant. In 2013, 5.6 percent of U.S. households (6.8 million households) had very low food security, essentially unchanged from 2011 and 2012. In this more severe range of food insecurity, the food intake of some household members was reduced and normal eating patterns were disrupted at times during the year due to limited resources. This chart appears in Household Food Security in the United States in 2013, ERR-173, released September 3, 2014.
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Last updated: Tuesday, September 30, 2014

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