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Adult obesity increased during first year of COVID-19 pandemic

Monday, August 22, 2022

U.S. adults ages 20 and older reported a 3 percent higher prevalence of obesity during the first year of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, according to a recent study conducted by a researcher at the USDA, Economic Research Service (ERS). The study analyzed data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System from March 13, 2020, to March 18, 2021, compared to a pre-pandemic baseline period of January 1, 2019, to March 12, 2020. Four behaviors that can influence the risk of obesity—exercise, hours of sleep, alcohol use, and cigarette smoking—were also examined to help explain the change in the adult obesity rate during the pandemic. Participation in exercise rose 4.4 percent over the period and people slept 1.5 percent longer, both associated with reducing obesity. Meanwhile, the number of days in the period of a month in which alcohol was consumed was 2.7 percent higher, and cigarette smoking dropped by 4 percent. Research shows that higher alcohol intake and reduced cigarette smoking can lead to obesity and therefore may have contributed to the higher rate of obesity among U.S. adults during the pandemic. This chart appears in the ERS’s Amber Waves article, "Adult Obesity Prevalence Increased During the First Year of the COVID-19 Pandemic", published July 2022.

Farm operator households had higher median income compared with all U.S. households in 2020

Thursday, August 18, 2022

In 2020, the median value of farm operator household income was $80,060, almost a fifth greater than that of all U.S. households ($67,521) but lower than the median among U.S. households reporting self-employment income ($89,492). Median total household income increased with farm size according to classifications by the USDA, Economic Research Service. Two types of small family farms had median household income below both the median for U.S. households and U.S. households with self-employment income: low-sales farms, those with gross cash farm income (GCFI) less than $150,000 and a principal operator who farms as a primary occupation, and retirement farms, GCFI less than $350,000 and a principal operator reporting having retired from farming. Low-sales and retirement farms account for about 45 percent of the 2 million farms in the United States. On the other hand, large family farms, GCFI of $1 million but less than $5 million, had a median income of almost $375,000, far exceeding the median for both all U.S. households and U.S. households with self-employment income. Very large family farms, GCFI of $5 million or more, had the highest median income at more than $1 million. Large and very large family farms account for about 3 percent of farms. Most farm households earn the majority of their income from off-farm sources such as wages, which are used to offset farming costs. This chart appears in the ERS report America’s Diverse Family Farms, 2021 published December 2021.

Farmers receive about 15 to 18 percent of retail price for fresh potatoes

Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Food processors, manufacturers, wholesalers, and retailers transform raw agricultural commodities into convenient food products for U.S. consumers. Value added to commodities through these companies’ marketing services and money paid to farmers for their commodities account for a substantial portion of retail food prices. The farm share of the retail price of fresh potatoes—the ratio of what farmers receive to what consumers pay per pound in grocery stores—has fluctuated between 15 percent and 18 percent in recent years. The national monthly average price of fresh potatoes was $0.78 per pound at grocery stores in 2021, and the monthly average price received by farmers was $0.12 per pound. As part of the farm share calculation, the USDA, Economic Research Service (ERS) assumes that farmers supply a little more than 1.04 pounds of fresh potatoes for each pound sold at retail to account for the roughly 4 percent of fresh potatoes that is lost through spoilage or damage. Therefore, at an average farm price of $0.12 per pound, the farm receipt was 12.5 cents for each pound of potatoes sold in 2021, about 16 percent of the retail price. ERS researchers recently hosted a data training webinar on farm-to-retail price spreads and farm share statistics. More information on ERS’s farm share data can be found in the Price Spreads from Farm to Consumer data product, updated June 28, 2022.

Beef cattle producers face higher input costs, with feed prices up 16 percent since 2021

Monday, August 15, 2022

Annual U.S. retail prices for beef and veal are projected to rise 6 to 7 percent in 2022 relative to 2021. In May 2022, the farmer’s share of the retail value of beef also increased year over year, but rising input costs, especially for cattle feed, may limit farmers’ ability to benefit from higher cattle prices. Based on the USDA, Economic Research Service (ERS) commodity cost and return estimates, feed expenses are the largest operating cost for cow-calf producers, comprising 75 percent of these costs in 2021. Prices for beef cattle feed were up 16 percent in May 2022 relative to May 2021. High fertilizer prices have contributed to increased feed costs while drought conditions have squeezed feed grain and hay supplies. The 2021/22 season-average farm price (SAFP) for corn—the primary grain fed to cattle—is currently projected at $5.95 per bushel, the highest SAFP since the 2012/13 marketing year. Like corn, the SAFPs for other feed grains including sorghum, oats, and barley are projected to increase in 2021/22 relative to 2020/21. The SAFP for hay, an important supplement to cattle grazing, is estimated to be 16 percent higher in 2021/22 compared to the average price over the preceding 9 years. As of August 9, 2022, it was estimated that 46 percent of hay is growing in areas experiencing drought. In addition to rising feed costs, elevated diesel fuel and farm labor costs have also put pressure on farmer margins. This chart appears in the ERS Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry Outlook, July 2022.

Reliance on oil exports restricts sub-Saharan African countries' ability to import agricultural commodities

Thursday, August 11, 2022

Most sub-Saharan African countries derive almost all export revenue and foreign exchange from high-value commodities such as oil. When the price of oil drops significantly, commodity-dependent countries’ foreign exchange reserves are diminished. When this occurs, countries that would normally import higher volumes of agricultural commodities such as wheat or poultry instead seek cheaper, alternative sources of agricultural goods. Africa’s two largest oil-producing countries, Nigeria and Angola, are particularly sensitive to changes in the price of oil. For instance, in the two years after oil prices dropped in 2014, U.S. exports of wheat to Nigeria and poultry to Angola fell from the previous year by an average of 37 percent and 40 percent, respectively. More recently, the onset of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic caused a decline in oil prices of 42 percent—the second-greatest drop in oil prices since World War II. This drop in oil prices led to a 34-percent decline in U.S. wheat exports to Nigeria and a 46-percent decline in U.S. poultry exports to Angola. Such volatility has consequences on economic development and can compound food insecurity. This chart first appeared in USDA’s Economic Research Service COVID-19 Working Paper: Single Commodity Export Dependence and the Impacts of COVID-19 in Sub-Saharan Africa, released in May 2022.

Growth in the number of U.S. farmers markets slows in recent years

Wednesday, August 10, 2022

A farmers market is a collection of two or more farm vendors selling agricultural products directly to customers at a common, recurrent physical location. According to USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), from 1994 to 2019, the number of farmers markets rose from 1,755 to 8,771 in 2019, averaging growth of nearly 7 percent per year. Expansion began to slow in 2011 before eventually falling below a 1-percent per year increase between 2016 and 2017. Since then, growth in the number of farmers markets has remained modest and stable. A USDA, Economic Research Service (ERS) report found that shares of local food sales have increased at intermediate market outlets, such as grocery stores, restaurants, and distributors. Increased availability of local products at these outlets corresponds with a plateau in purchases at direct-to-consumer outlets such as farmers markets and contributes to the observed slower growth relative to the prior two decades. According to market managers surveyed in the USDA’s AMS and NASS 2019 National Farmers Market Manager Survey, about two-thirds of farmers market vendors reported an increase in overall production and one-third reported increasing the number of workers they employed on their farm to meet demand. Additionally, an estimated 40 percent of vendors reported selling imperfect products that otherwise wouldn’t be sold in mainstream markets. Further, 77 percent noted that their participation led to the increased production of diverse products which in turn led to the expansion of offerings for farmers market clientele. This chart updates one found in the ERS report, Local Food Systems: Concepts, Impacts, and Issues, May 2010.

More than half of U.S. counties had at least one farmers market that accepted credit cards in 2018

Tuesday, August 9, 2022

U.S. consumers are increasingly able to use a credit card to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables at a farmers market— a retail outlet in which two or more vendors sell agricultural products directly to customers through a common marketing channel. In 2018, 72 percent of U.S. counties reported having at least one farmers market, and 70 percent of those counties reported having one or more farmers markets with the option to purchase using credit cards. The number of farmers markets that report accepting credit cards in a county is provided in the USDA, Economic Research Service’s (ERS) Food Environment Atlas and the underlying data can be accessed and downloaded. The Atlas is an interactive mapping tool with statistics on more than 280 food environment indicators at the county or State level that can influence food choices and diet quality. According to the current Atlas, 1,595 counties—51 percent of all U.S. counties—had one or more farmers markets that accepted credit cards in 2018. However, the market density varied among those counties, with 86 counties having more than 10 farmers markets that accepted credit cards as a form of payment for goods. This map appears in ERS’s Food Environment Atlas, updated September 2020.

Direct-to-consumer farm sales reach $10.7 billion in 2020, 35-percent increase from 2019

Monday, August 8, 2022

In 2020, U.S. farms sold almost $10.7 billion of edible food commodities directly to consumer outlets and intermediary supply chains such as restaurant/grocery stores, regional distributors and local institutions—a nearly $2.8 billion (35 percent) increase from 2019. The overall increase in direct sales in 2020 occurred across most direct sales marketing channels, such as farmers markets, farm store/community supported agriculture (CSAs), restaurants/grocery stores, and regional distributors. From 2019 to 2020, sales at farmers markets and restaurants/grocery stores increased by 11 and 13 percent, respectively, whereas sales at farm stores, CSAs and other direct-to-consumer channels increased by 79 percent and sales to regional distributors increased by 73 percent. However, sales to local institutions declined by 86 percent in 2020 relative to 2019, likely because of closures or restricted operations related to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Overall, in 2020, 73 percent of total direct sales occurred through intermediary supply chains, while the remaining 27 percent were direct-to-consumer outlets. High-income direct sales farms, defined here as those with gross cash farm income (GCFI) of $350,0000 or more, increased their direct sales by $2.4 billion (38 percent) from 2019 to 2020, which accounted for 81 percent of all direct sales. Among low-income direct sales farms, defined as those with GCFI less than $75,000, 85 percent of their direct sales were though direct-to-consumer outlets in 2020. About 7 percent of America’s 2 million farms sold commodities though direct-to-consumer outlets, and almost 1 percent sold through intermediary supply chains. The other 93 percent of U.S. farms sell their commodities via other marketing channels, such as slaughterhouses, ethanol processors, grain mills, etc. This chart appears in the ERS report America’s Diverse Family Farms, 2021, published December 2021.

Share of income spent on food in the United States rebounded to pre-pandemic level in 2021

Thursday, August 4, 2022

The share of U.S. consumers’ disposable personal income (DPI) spent on food was relatively steady from 2000 to 2019, rising from 9.93 percent in 2000 to 10.27 percent in 2019. DPI is the amount of money that U.S. consumers have left to spend or save after paying taxes. During the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the share of income spent on food dropped to a new low of 9.4 percent in 2020. Food spending rebounded in 2021, however, and the share of income spent on food jumped to 10.27 percent, equaling the share in 2019. Between 2000 and 2019, consumer spending trended toward food away from home (restaurants, fast-food places, schools, and other dining establishments). From 2019 to 2020, this trend reversed as consumers spent more of their incomes on food at supermarkets, convenience stores, warehouse club stores, supercenters, and other retailers (food at home). As COVID-19 vaccines were distributed and many mobility restrictions were lifted in 2021, the share of food-away-from-home spending bounced back to just shy of the food-at-home spending share, signaling a return towards pre-pandemic spending trends. The data for this chart come from the USDA, Economic Research Service’s Food Expenditure Series data product.

Most U.S. watermelon is produced in the South, with Florida leading output in 2021

Wednesday, August 3, 2022

When the summer heat is on, many people crave a slice of cool, refreshing watermelon. Those same high temperatures are ideal for producing watermelons, which require consistently warm temperatures during the growing season. Commercially, U.S. watermelons are mostly produced in southern States with harvest occurring during the late spring and summer months. Florida, Georgia, California, and Texas accounted for three-fourths of the 3.4 billion pounds of watermelon produced domestically in 2021. Historically, Florida is the top watermelon-producing State and in 2021, this State alone accounted for 30 percent (1.016 billion pounds) of U.S. production. When both Georgia and Texas experienced production loss in 2021 because of cool spring weather, California moved up to outrank Texas as the third-highest watermelon-producing State in 2021. Because of lower production, the United States imported a record 1.787 billion pounds of watermelon in 2021, which accounted for 37 percent of available domestic supply. This chart was drawn from the USDA, Economic Research Service’s March 2022 Fruit and Tree Nuts Outlook.

Large-scale family farms show stronger operating profit margins than other farms between 2011 and 2020

Tuesday, August 2, 2022

Large-scale family farms were more likely to have stronger financial performance than other farms, according to USDA, Economic Research Service (ERS) researchers using data from the 2011–20 Agricultural Resource Management surveys (ARMS). ERS researchers categorized farms as low risk if they had an operating profit margin (OPM)—the ratio of operating profit to gross farm income—greater than 25 percent. Large-scale family farms, defined as those with gross cash farm income (GCFI) of $1 million or more, were the most likely to have low-risk operating profit margins compared to nonfamily and family farms of other sizes. However, the share of large-scale family farms considered low risk declined from 48 percent in 2011 to 43 percent in 2020. Large-scale family farms make up 3 percent of U.S. farms but contribute 46 percent of the value of production in 2020. Small family farms, those with GCFI less than $350,000, were less likely to have an operating profit margin over 25 percent. The portion of small family farms operating at low risk fell from 18 percent in 2011 to 11 percent in 2020. This chart appears in the ERS report America’s Diverse Family Farms, 2021 published December 2021.

Self-employed workers were covered more widely across health insurance sources, but many remained uninsured

Monday, August 1, 2022

Self-employed workers were more than twice as likely to lack health insurance compared with those employed by private firms or government in 2018, regardless of whether they lived in metropolitan or nonmetropolitan counties. Self-employed working-age adults (ages 26–64) with health insurance were covered more widely across sources. Like those employed by private firms and government, they were insured through employer-based group health insurance plans more than any other source. (Many of these individuals could be receiving coverage through another household member’s employer-based plan.) Even so, a much smaller share of self-employed workers was covered by employer-based plans than those employed by private firms or government (50.5 percent versus 82.4 percent, respectively, in nonmetro counties). Instead, self-employed working-age adults were insured through direct-purchase health insurance plans at more than three times the rate of those employed by private firms or government. Similarly, public health insurance (e.g., Medicaid, Medicare) rates for self-employed working-age adults were nearly twice that of those employed by private firms or government. A version of this chart appears in the ERS publication Health Care Access Among Self-Employed Workers in Nonmetropolitan Counties published May 2022.

Export restrictions limit India’s ability to cover additional global wheat demand

Thursday, July 28, 2022

High global wheat prices and sales restrictions from some major exporters forced numerous wheat-importing countries to seek alternative suppliers in 2021 and early 2022. Foreign wheat buyers turned to India, one of the lowest-priced exporters, purchasing a record 8.033 million metric tons (MT) of India’s wheat in the 2021/22 marketing year (April/March). India’s wheat exports helped to offset reduced sales by other major exporters, including Russia, Ukraine, and the United States. Historically, India’s wheat exports are variable and largely dependent on domestic production, consumption, and export policies. In recent years, India’s production has exceeded consumption, resulting in increasing exportable supplies. As the 2022/23 marketing year begins, Ukraine’s seaports remain closed—limiting prospects for the nation’s wheat exports while enhancing the early outlook for India’s foreign sales. Indeed, in April 2022, India exported a record volume of wheat. However, a heat wave late in the growing season curtailed India’s wheat production, leading the Government of India to impose an export ban in May 2022 to ensure sufficient supplies were available to satisfy domestic demand. After imposing the ban—which allows for government-to-government sales for humanitarian purposes—India has continued to receive requests for exports to Bangladesh, Indonesia, Egypt, and other countries. Despite a record month of exports in April, the restriction is projected to limit India’s export potential for the remainder of the 2022/23 marketing year. India’s exports are projected to be 1.5 million MT lower than in 2021/22, but 3.9 million MT higher than 2020/21. This chart was drawn from “Country Focus: India,” which appeared in the USDA, Economic Research Service’s June 2022 Wheat Outlook.

Lack of health insurance coverage among employed individuals increased as the COVID-19 pandemic intensified

Wednesday, July 27, 2022

As the effects of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic deepened in 2020, a greater share of employed people reported lacking health insurance coverage, regardless of residential location or whether they were self-employed. Self-employed workers were already more often uninsured than those employed by private industry or government, and the gap persisted through the end of 2020. Self-employed workers started the pandemic with uninsured rates of between 24 percent and 28 percent, and these rates remained relatively stable through July 21, 2020. Thereafter, the percentage of uninsured individuals increased, and between August 19 and December 21, 2020, around 33 to 34 percent of self-employed workers were uninsured. The rates of uninsured individuals among other workers followed the same trend, with rates of 15 to 16 percent at the beginning of the pandemic increasing to around 27 percent by the end of 2020. The increases correspond both to a decrease in health insurance coverage through employer-based plans as job losses grew and to slight declines in coverage through direct-purchase plans among the self-employed. This chart appears in the ERS publication report Health Care Access Among Self-Employed Workers in Nonmetropolitan Counties, published May 2022.

Child participation in WIC increased in 2021, first time in more than a decade

Tuesday, July 26, 2022

USDA’s Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) provides supplemental food packages, nutrition education, breastfeeding support, and health care referrals at no cost to low-income pregnant and postpartum women, infants, and children up to 5 years of age who are at nutritional risk. More than half of all WIC participants are children (54 percent) followed by infants (23 percent) and women (22 percent). WIC participation for the three groups combined has been declining for more than a decade. Participation averaged 6.2 million people per month in fiscal year (FY) 2021, nearly the same as the previous year, and 32 percent below the record high of 9.2 million in FY 2010. In FY 2021, participation by women decreased by 5 percent and infant participation decreased by 6 percent from the previous year. Declines in the number of births in the United States, which began in 2008, may be a factor in these participation declines. Child participation, on the other hand, reversed course in FY 2021, and increased by 5 percent from the previous year. This was the first increase in child participation in more than a decade. Administrative flexibilities put in place in response to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic may have helped to support participation, especially among children. Beginning in FY 2020 and continuing through FY 2021, USDA waivers temporarily allowed State agencies to extend certification periods for certain WIC participants by up to 3 months and to conduct remote certifications for applicants and recertifications for WIC participants. This chart appears in the USDA, Economic Research Service’s Food and Nutrition Assistance Landscape: Fiscal Year 2021 Annual Report, released June 22, 2022.

SNAP spending reached record high of $113.8 billion in fiscal year 2021

Monday, July 25, 2022

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is the largest domestic nutrition assistance program, accounting for about two-thirds of USDA spending on food and nutrition assistance in recent years. Fiscal year (FY) 2021 marked record Federal spending on SNAP and the second year of increased spending and participation since 2019. This reflects the economic downturn as well as the temporary expansion of SNAP benefits following the onset of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. SNAP benefits were expanded in two major ways. First, emergency allotments (EAs) were issued beginning in FY 2020. EAs supplement SNAP recipients’ regular benefits—which are based on household size and net income—bringing all households’ total monthly benefit to the maximum benefit amount if they did not already receive that amount. EAs were later revised in FY 2021 to provide a minimum of $95 in monthly benefits to all recipients. By the end of FY 2021, eight States stopped providing EAs. Second, the maximum SNAP benefit was temporarily increased by 15 percent in FY 2021. Spending on SNAP in FY 2021 totaled $113.8 billion, 38 percent more than the previous year and 25 percent more than the previous high in FY 2013, adjusting for inflation. Average participation was 41.5 million people in FY 2021, or 12.5 percent of the U.S. resident population, roughly 6 million fewer than the record high participation of FY 2013. This chart is based on a chart in the USDA, Economic Research Service’s Food and Nutrition Assistance Landscape: Fiscal Year 2021 Annual Report, released June 22, 2022.

USDA’s temporary Farmers to Families Food Box Program delivered 176.4 million food boxes from May 2020 through May 2021

Thursday, July 21, 2022

In response to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the Federal government passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA). FFCRA authorized USDA to create the Farmers to Families Food Box Program (Food Box Program), along with several other programs, to support the agricultural sector and help families experiencing food hardship. Through the Food Box Program, USDA contracted with intermediaries to purchase fresh fruits, vegetables, dairy products, and meat produced in the United States; package these agricultural commodities into family-sized boxes; and transport these boxes to food banks and other charitable organizations for distribution to families in need. The program awarded contracts in five rounds of varying lengths and food boxes were delivered from May 15, 2020, through May 31, 2021, when the program expired. During its year of operation, the program delivered a total of 176.4 million food boxes at a cost of about $5.5 billion. Of all the food boxes delivered, 101.8 million were delivered in rounds 1 and 2 of the program, roughly corresponding to the last 5 months of fiscal year (FY) 2020, and 74.6 million were delivered in rounds 3 through 5, roughly corresponding to the first 8 months of FY 2021. This chart is based on a chart in the USDA, Economic Research Service’s The Food and Nutrition Assistance Landscape: Fiscal Year 2021 Annual Report.

Consumer prices for cereal products rose 11 percent in first 6 months of 2022

Wednesday, July 20, 2022

Consumer prices for cereal products as measured through the Consumer Price Index (CPI)—a widely used measure of inflation—rose about 11 percent during the January–June 2022 period from the same period in 2021. This marked the largest year-over-year increase in this 6-month period since 1981. The rise in consumer prices for cereal products tracks a more substantial increase in wheat prices. Cash wheat prices in Kansas City, MO—the market price that most closely reflects the prices mills pay for wheat—were up 63 percent from the same period in the previous year. This heightened volatility follows a historically typical pattern. Price changes in commodity markets tend to be relatively more extreme than the changes in consumer prices. Generally, commodity prices make up a small portion of the value of these cereal products because of the level of transformation and transportation that the products undergo through the value chain. Further, changes in consumer prices may lag behind commodity price movements based on the tendency of processors to contractually commit to purchases of inputs several months in advance. Additional factors such as the high price of other ingredients as well as elevated labor and fuel costs are driving the prices of cereal products upward. This chart was drawn from the USDA, Economic Research Service’s (ERS) June 2022 Wheat Outlook. See also the ERS Chart of Note, Wheat and wheat flour prices surge, while prices remain stable for bread, cereal, and bakery products.

Counties with high levels of self-employed workers dominate the Great Plains and upper Mountain West

Tuesday, July 19, 2022

Self-employed workers are individuals who work for themselves and have not incorporated their businesses. A higher proportion of nonmetropolitan workers are self-employed than metropolitan workers, according to a recent study by the USDA, Economic Research Service. ERS researchers used workforce data from the U.S. Bureau of the Census’ 2014–18 American Community Survey (ACS) to classify counties by the percentage of self-employed workers. Counties with a share of self-employed workers in the top 25 percent were considered to have a high level of self-employment. In these counties, 9.1 percent to 36.7 percent of workers were self-employed. High self-employment counties were primarily nonmetropolitan (702 counties versus 84 metropolitan counties). They were largely clustered throughout the Great Plains and upper Mountain West. This figure appears in the ERS publication Health Care Access Among Self-Employed Workers in Nonmetropolitan Counties, published May 2022.

China is largest global funder of agricultural R&D

Monday, July 18, 2022

While in recent decades public agricultural research and development (R&D) funding in the United States has trended downward, several other major trading partners have increased their funding. The European Union’s expenditures have grown since 2000, as have the expenditures in India and Brazil. However, none experienced as rapid an increase as China, which became the largest funder of agricultural R&D after 2011, surpassing the European Union. By 2015, the last year for which the USDA, Economic Research Service has full data, China was spending more than $10 billion annually on agricultural R&D. That level of spending was roughly twice the U.S. expenditures in 2015 and nearly quintuple that of China’s own R&D spending in 2000. With China as a major importer of U.S. agricultural goods and Brazil a competitor to the U.S. in the global corn and soybean markets, these developments could have an impact on U.S. export competitiveness. For all countries in the figure, R&D expenditures are expressed as purchasing power parity (PPP) dollars at constant 2015 prices. This chart appears in the ERS’s Amber Waves article, “Investment in U.S. Public Agricultural Research and Development Has Fallen by a Third Over Past Two Decades, Lags Behind Major Trade Competitors,” published June 2022.