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Monday, December 22, 2014
The large 2014/15 (September/August) U.S. soybean crop—18 percent above the previous record—has led to a record pace for U.S. soybean export sales commitments, including sales to China, the largest U.S. market for soybeans. The 2014/15 U.S. soybean crop is estimated at 107.7 million tons and total marketing year exports are forecast at a record 47.9 million tons. Cumulative export shipments have accelerated this fall, with record U.S. export inspections of soybeans in October and again in November. China accounts for most of the gains with 72 percent of U.S. export shipments to date, although substantial gains have been seen for other importers, including the EU, Turkey, and Taiwan. Actual U.S. export shipments are now growing faster than export sales and due to this robust pace, future  shipments could moderate without another round of new sales. Even with the outlook for record U.S. exports, the large U.S harvest, coupled with expected record Brazilian and Argentine harvests, is forecast to lead to a 23-percent decline in the U.S. farm price of soybeans to about $10/bushel for 2014/15. Find additional analysis in Soybeans and Oil Crops Outlook: December 2014.
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Friday, December 19, 2014
In large part, the regional distribution of beginning farms mirrors that of all farms, but there are some differences. Beginning farms are located all across the country, but overall, the South is home to the largest percentage of beginning farms: 47 percent, which is about 5 percent higher than its share of all farms. The South also has the largest percentage of small beginning farms. Large-scale beginning farms are most likely to be in the Midwest, but with 30 percent of the nation’s beginning farms, the Midwest has fewer than its 37 percent share of all farms. The concentration of cash grain farms in the Midwest, which on average are larger than farms specializing in other types of commodities, not only explains the region’s higher shares of mid-size and large scale beginning farms, but may also explain the fact that fewer of its farms are operated by beginning farmers. This chart is found in the ERS topic page on Beginning & Disadvantaged Farmers, updated October 2014.
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Thursday, December 18, 2014
U.S. per capita strawberry use has generally trended higher since 1980, and the current production forecast supports the outlook for continued growth in 2014. Per capita use of fresh strawberries is expanding the fastest, reaching a record 7.9 pounds in 2013, in response to greater awareness of the importance of healthy diets, increased year-round availability through domestic production and imports, and adoption of improved varieties. The current USDA forecast for strawberry production in the three major strawberry-producing States—California, Oregon, and Florida—indicates combined output of 3.05 billion pounds in 2014, up 3 percent from last year. Production is forecast to increase 2 percent in California and 11 percent in Florida, but decline 3 percent in Oregon. Despite drought conditions, strawberry area in California is forecast to remain steady from a year ago at 41,500 acres, with higher yields per acre boosting production to a record 2.82 billion pounds. Even with a larger domestic crop and increased imports from Mexico and Canada, retail prices of fresh strawberries are averaging about 12 percent higher during the first 10 months of 2014 compared with a year earlier. Find this chart and additional analysis in Fruit and Tree Nut Outlook: September 2014.
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Wednesday, December 17, 2014
In 2013, only about one-quarter of total farm household income came from farming. Because of the broad USDA definition of a farm (which includes places with the potential for as little as $1,000 in annual sales), more than half of farm operator households consistently incur a net loss from farming activities in any given year, and far more do not earn the equivalent of a market wage for their on-farm labor. As a result, most farm operator households rely heavily on off-farm income. Of the total off-farm income earned by all farm operator households, the majority comes from wages and salaries earned by household members through nonfarm jobs, followed by income transfers (e.g., Social Security) and profits from nonfarm businesses owned by farm household members. As a group, U.S. farm operator households earn their income from a wide range of activities, reflecting the diverse set of skills, knowledge, and economic goals held by farm operators and their families. This chart is found in the ERS topic page, Farm Household Well-Being, updated November 2014.
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Tuesday, December 16, 2014
With a 12.9-percent share, food ranked third behind housing (33.6 percent) and transportation (17.6 percent) in a typical American household’s 2013 expenditures. Breaking down food spending further, 7.8 percent of expenditures were spent at the grocery store and 5.1 percent at restaurants. Price changes for the items in the different budget categories relative to each other play a role in the categories’ shares of annual household consumer expenditures. Over the last 10 years, retail food price inflation has often outpaced economy-wide inflation. Between 2004 and 2013, prices for all U.S. goods and services rose an average of 2.4 percent per year, while food prices increased an average of 2.8 percent. Despite higher food price inflation, food’s share of consumer expenditures fell slightly (0.4 percentage points) over the decade, as the budget shares for health care and housing rose. This chart appears in the ERS data product, Ag and Food Statistics: Charting the Essentials. More information on ERS’s food price forecasts can be found in ERS’s Food Price Outlook data product.
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Monday, December 15, 2014
Fiscal 2015 U.S. agricultural exports are forecast at $143.5 billion, $9.0 billion below fiscal 2014, primarily because of the outlook for lower bulk commodity prices. Grain and feed sales are forecast down 18 percent from fiscal 2014 as lower prices, as well as reduced volumes, reduce the value of corn and wheat exports. Lower prices are expected to reduce oilseed and product exports by 15 percent, despite the outlook for larger export volumes. In contrast, horticultural product exports are forecast to grow 11 percent to $37 billion, making them the largest category of U.S. agricultural exports for the first time. Livestock products are also forecast to grow about 3 percent in fiscal 2015, primarily due to higher meat prices. The trade outlook indicates a decline in U.S. agricultural exports across global regions. Lower prices are expected to reduce the value of exports to China, the largest U.S. agricultural market, by about 7 percent to $24.0 billion. Sales to Canada, the second largest U.S. market, are forecast to hold steady at about $21.8 billion, while sales to Mexico slip about 4 percent to $18.7 billion. Find additional analysis in Outlook for U.S. Agricultural Trade: December 2014
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Friday, December 12, 2014
Despite an upward trend in rural educational attainment levels over time, a larger proportion of working-age adults in urban areas have college degrees. This rural-urban disparity is partly the result of considerably higher earnings levels for college graduates and advanced degree holders in urban areas. Many young adults leave rural areas to attend college, and many remain in urban areas after college due to the higher earnings available to them in those areas. In contrast, differences between rural and urban earnings levels are much smaller for those with less education, who thus have less incentive to move to urban areas. However, despite the lower earnings generally available in rural areas, some individuals and families at all levels of educational attainment migrate from urban to rural areas, as quality-of-life factors, lower housing costs, personal ties, or other specific opportunities motivate them to move or move back to rural America. This chart is found in the 2014 edition of Rural America at a Glance, EB-26, November 2014.
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Thursday, December 11, 2014
Menu-labeling regulations recently released by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration will require chain restaurants and other retail food chains that sell restaurant-type foods to post the calorie content of standard menu items. This will allow diners to make more informed decisions, if they notice and use the information. A recent ERS study, Menu Labeling Imparts New Information About the Calorie Content of Restaurant Foods, concluded that while many Americans may already be making crude choices between low- and high-calorie menu items, the new regulations will allow them to refine their choices. In another ERS study, researchers found that adults who already practice healthy dietary habits were more likely to use calorie information when eating out. Strongly correlated with a person’s declared willingness to use nutrition information was his or her Healthy Eating Index (HEI) score, which assesses an individual’s conformance to Federal dietary guidance. People who said that they would use nutrition information “often” in both fast-food and full-service settings have the highest average HEI scores, both above the national average of 53.1, followed by those who said they would use it “sometimes.” The statistics in this chart are from the ERS report, Consumers’ Use of Nutrition Information When Eating Out.
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Wednesday, December 10, 2014
In 2012, there were still nearly 50,000 U.S. dairy farms with fewer than 100 cows, but that represented a large decline from 20 years earlier, when there were almost 135,000 small dairy farms. Over the same period, the number of dairy farms with at least 1,000 cows more than tripled to 1,807 farms in 2012. Movements in farm numbers were mirrored by movements in the share of cow inventories. Farms with fewer than 100 cows accounted for 49 percent of the country’s 9.7 million milk cows in 1992, but just 17 percent of the 9.2 million milk cows in 2012. Meanwhile, farms with at least 1,000 cows accounted for 49 percent of all cows in 2012, up from 10 percent in 1992. The shift to larger dairy farms is driven largely by the economics of dairy farming. Average full costs of production (which include the annualized cost of capital, imputed cost of unpaid family labor, and cash operating expenses) are substantially lower on farms with larger herds. This chart is drawn from the December 2014 Amber Waves data feature,Milk Production Continues Shifting to Large Scale Farms.”
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Tuesday, December 09, 2014
The European Union (EU) is one of the world’s leading producers, consumers, and traders of broiler (young chicken) meat, but its sanitary and phytosanitary policies limit imports of U.S. broiler meat. All broiler meat imported by the EU is required to be from sources that do not use pathogen reduction treatments (PRTs), such as chlorine wash, in their production. PRTs are approved for use in the United States and are used by virtually all U.S. processors. Because of this restriction, even the 13 most recent EU member states—including Romania, Latvia, Estonia, Poland, and Bulgaria—halted their imports of U.S. broiler meat after they joined the EU in 2004 and 2007. U.S. broiler exports to the EU are also potentially restricted by the EU’s system of tariff rate quotas (TRQs), but the United States does not currently fill its existing quota because of the EU PRT restriction. The United States receives an exclusive TRQ of 16,665 metric tons, which can be applied to fresh and frozen broiler and turkey meat in whole-bird or parts form. The EU imported 670,000 metric tons of broiler meat in 2013, with 93 percent of those imports supplied by Brazil and Thailand. Find this chart and additional analysis in Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures and Tariff-Rate Quotas for U.S. Meat Exports to the European Union. 
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Monday, December 08, 2014
Participants in USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) place a high value on how well food keeps when making purchase decisions in the grocery store; a closer look at their shopping behavior may help to explain this. Using data from the Flexible Consumer Behavior Survey module of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), ERS researchers found that SNAP participants and low-income non-SNAP participants had a more difficult time getting to the grocery store than higher income shoppers; 14 percent of both groups reported that it took them more than 30 minutes to get to a grocery store, compared with only 8 percent of higher income shoppers. SNAP shoppers are less likely to shop weekly and more likely to shop once a month or less. This may be related to the monthly distribution of SNAP benefits. Just under 30 percent of SNAP shoppers reported that they shopped once a month or less compared to 15 percent of low-income non-SNAP participants and 8 percent of higher income shoppers. Choosing foods that keep well is likely to be important to consumers that shop less frequently. This chart appears in “SNAP Households Must Balance Multiple Priorities to Achieve a Healthful Diet” in the November 2014 issue of ERS’s Amber Waves magazine.
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Friday, December 05, 2014
Soil health improves when farmers refrain from disturbing the soil. While no-till production systems are increasingly used on land in corn, soybeans, and wheat—the three largest U.S. crops by acreage—they are not necessarily used every year. Field-level data, collected through the Agricultural Resource Management Survey, show that farmers often rotate no-till with other tillage systems. Farmers growing wheat (in 2009), corn (in 2010), and soybeans (in 2012) were asked about no-till use in the survey year and the 3 previous years. No-till was used continuously over the 4-year period on 21 percent of surveyed acres. On almost half of the cropland surveyed, farmers did not use no-till. Some of the benefit of using no-till, including higher organic matter and greater carbon sequestration, is realized only if no-till is applied continuously over a number of years. Nonetheless, because tilling the soil can help control weeds and pests, some farmers rotate tillage practices much like they rotate crops. This chart is drawn from data reported in ARMS Farm Financial and Crop Production Practices, updated in December 2014.
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Thursday, December 04, 2014
Because rice is an important commodity for Indian producers and consumers, Indian Government policies intervene heavily in its domestic rice market. Particularly since the global price spike in 2008, India’s system of providing Minimum Support Prices (MSPs) for growers, distributing rice purchased at the MSP to consumers at subsidized prices, and placing periodic bans or quotas on rice exports, has kept domestic rice prices lower and more stable than world prices (represented by the export price of Thai rice). In 2008, India increased subsidized rice distribution and banned most exports of non-basmati (aromatic, long grain) rice to prevent higher world prices from affecting  the domestic market; however, domestic rice prices still increased more than 30 percent between mid-2007 and early 2010. According to ERS research, Indian rice consumers were able to maintain rice consumption, but did so primarily by reducing expenditures on non-staple foods, health care, and durable goods. India’s higher level of exports since 2011, along with increases in MSPs, has contributed to current concerns with inflation in domestic rice prices.  Find this chart and more in-depth research in Coping Strategies in Response to Rising Food Prices: Evidence from India
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Wednesday, December 03, 2014
Native Americans living in tribal areas experience high rates of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease that may be due to poor diets. Prior studies cite limited access to supermarkets and other sources of affordable and nutritious foods as contributing factors to less healthful food choices by U.S. consumers. Low population density and limited incomes create disincentives for supermarkets to locate in many tribal areas. In 2010, 74.4 percent of the people in the 545 U.S. tribal areas examined in a recent ERS study lived more than 1 mile from a supermarket, compared with 41.2 percent of the U.S. population. Similarly, among low-income individuals, shares were higher for tribal populations than the national average. Regular access to a car can make traveling to supermarkets easier. However, the share of tribal households without access to a vehicle who lived more than 1 mile from a supermarket ranged from 57.2 to 74.6 percent, versus the 20.1-percent U.S. average. This chart appears in the ERS report, Measuring Access to Healthful, Affordable Food in American Indian and Alaska Native Tribal Areas, released on December 1, 2014.
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Tuesday, December 02, 2014
Participation in the U.S. Federal Crop Insurance (FCI) program has continued to expand since the early 1990s, in response to changes in laws that have broadened the number of crops covered and altered incentives for program participation. Enrollment in crop insurance grew sharply after the 1994 enactment of the Federal Crop Insurance Reform Act (FCIRA) increased premium subsidies and required producers to enroll in order to receive support from other Government programs. At that time, producers enrolled the majority of these new acres under a fully subsidized new policy called Catastrophic Risk Protection Endorsement (CAT) which provides low-level coverage (i.e., that only pays indemnities when losses are high), with the remaining acres enrolled in buy-up policies—those that are not fully subsidized. ERS research suggests that the increased premium subsidies introduced through the 2000 Agricultural Risk Protection Act did more to induce farmers to select higher levels of coverage than to enroll new acreage.  Find this chart and additional analysis in The Importance of Federal Crop Insurance Premium Subsidies in the October Amber Waves
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Monday, December 01, 2014
ERS analyses of data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ American Time Use Survey find that Americans age 18 and older who purchased fast food on a given day spent more time working and traveling and less time watching television and sleeping than the average for all adults. Over 2003-11, fast-food purchasers spent 28 more minutes per day working and 23 fewer minutes sleeping than the total adult average. Other research has found that less sleep is associated with poorer food choices. Those who purchased fast food on an average day spent 57 minutes eating and drinking compared with the 68-minute average for all consumers. Fast-food purchasers were also more likely than others to report that they spent no time eating or drinking as the primary (main) activity, as opposed to eating as a secondary activity done while doing something else. Instead, fast-food purchasers were more likely to engage in “secondary eating” while at work or while driving a vehicle. The statistics for this chart are from the ERS report, The Role of Time in Fast-Food Purchasing Behavior in the United States, released on November 20, 2014.
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Friday, November 28, 2014
With colder weather approaching, many cooks turn to traditional fall vegetables for their made-from-scratch dishes. According to ERS’s Loss-Adjusted Food Availability data, Americans consumed 49.7 pounds per person of traditional fall vegetables in their fresh form in 2012. Despite many of these traditional fall vegetables now being grown year-round in parts of the United States and eaten throughout the year, consumption has fallen 13.1 pounds per person since 1970. Much of this decline is due to consumption of fresh potatoes falling from 46.6 pounds per person in 1970 to 26.8 pounds in 2012. Per person consumption of potatoes in all forms (fresh, frozen, canned, dehydrated, etc.) has also fallen—by 10.8 pounds over the last 40 years. However, consumption of most of the other traditional fall vegetables in their fresh form has grown, including fresh onions, which were the second most consumed fresh fall vegetable at 8 pounds per person. Consumption of fresh pumpkins and sweet potatoes combined was 1.5 pounds per person in 2012. The data for this chart come from ERS's Food Availability (Per Capita) Data System.
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Wednesday, November 26, 2014
Wholesale and retail prices of whole turkeys tend to react differently to the surge in demand that occurs during the Thanksgiving season. Wholesale prices for whole turkeys typically reach their annual highs as demand increases during the Thanksgiving season, and USDA weekly price data indicate that wholesale prices are presently at a yearly high of just under $1.20/lb. Estimates for a 1.2-percent decline in 2014 turkey production and relatively low stocks of whole birds in cold storage again indicate upward pressure on wholesale prices this holiday season. However, wholesale and retail prices of turkey tend to converge during the Thanksgiving season, when retail turkey prices are commonly near annual lows. The percentage markup between wholesale and retail prices tends to shrink to an annual low point during November. The average wholesale-to-retail markup between January 2010 and September 2014 was 60 percent, while the average November markup over the same period was 42 percent. Find additional information and analysis in Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry Outlook: November 2014 and Turkey Sector: Background & Statistics.
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Tuesday, November 25, 2014
U.S. net farm income—a measure of the sector’s profitability—is forecast to be $96.9 billion in 2014, down over 20 percent from 2013’s estimate. The 2014 forecast would be the seventh highest value since 1970 after adjusting for inflation. Higher production expenses are the main driver of the 2013-14 change in net farm income, as changes in crop and livestock receipts are offsetting. Crop receipts are expected to decrease by 12.3 percent in 2014, led by declines in corn and soybean receipts, while livestock receipts are forecast to increase by 14 percent, largely due to anticipated record prices for beef cattle and milk. Total production expenses are forecast to increase 5.7 percent in 2014 extending a 4-year upward trend in expenses. Net cash income is forecast at $108.2 billion, down over 19 percent from its 2013 estimate, and is projected to decline less than net farm income primarily because it includes the sale of carryover stocks from 2013. This chart is found in 2014 Farm Sector Income Forecast, updated November 25, 2014.
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Monday, November 24, 2014
While the U.S. economy is now in its 6th year of recovery from the Great Recession of 2007-09, many rural areas have struggled to recover the jobs lost during the downturn. While urban employment now exceeds pre-recession levels, rural employment remains well below its 2007 peak and has continued to fall over the last year in many areas. Notable clusters of employment decline can be found in the Deep South, Appalachia, the Mountain West, and the Pacific Northwest. Employment in rural America as a whole is less than 2 percent above the employment trough reached during the recession, and rose less than 1 percent between mid-2013 and mid-2014. One example of employment growth, however, was seen in the Northern Plains, where new jobs have been generated by rising energy extraction. Rural counties that are adjacent to metro areas have also experienced faster-than-average job growth since 2009, after having suffered larger-than-average job losses during the 2007-09 recession. This map is found in the 2014 edition of Rural American at a Glance, EB-26, November 2014.
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Last updated: Friday, December 19, 2014

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