ERS Charts of Note

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ICYMI... Use of herbicide-tolerant seeds increased quickly following their commercialization, but plateaued in recent years

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

A genetically engineered (GE) plant has had DNA inserted into its genome using laboratory techniques. The first GE herbicide-tolerant (HT) crops, which can survive applications of herbicides like glyphosate or glufosinate that kill most other plants, were created by inserting genes from soil bacteria. Generally, the use of HT corn, cotton, and soybeans in the United States increased quickly following their commercialization in 1996. HT soybean use increased most rapidly, largely because weed resistance to herbicides called ALS inhibitors had developed in the 1980s. By comparison, HT corn use increased relatively slowly, perhaps because corn farmers could use the herbicide atrazine, an effective alternative to glyphosate that could not be applied to soybeans or cotton. The percent of acreage planted with HT corn, cotton, and soybeans has plateaued in recent years, partly because adoption rates for these seeds is already quite high and because weed resistance to glyphosate has continued to develop and spread. As the problems posed by glyphosate-resistant weeds intensify, crop varieties with new HT traits are being developed. For example, a new HT variety of soybeans that is tolerant of herbicides called HPPD inhibitors will be available to U.S. growers in 2019. This chart appears in the December 2018 Amber Waves data feature, “Trends in the Adoption of Genetically Engineered Corn, Cotton, and Soybeans.” This Chart of Note was originally published February 28, 2019.

USDA commodity-income support levels have increasingly varied since 2015

Monday, August 19, 2019

In the years leading up to 2015, USDA commodity-income support was predominantly from direct, unconditional payments, which paid farmers roughly the same amount each year. Although other conditional payment programs existed at the time, the rise in commodity market prices reduced the total amount of conditional payments paid by the U.S. Government. With mostly unconditional payment programs providing income support, payments remained reasonably constant across the years leading up to the 2014 farm bill. Under these unconditional programs, corn base acres received the largest amount of income support (larger than soybeans and wheat), in part because corn covered the largest number of acres. The 2014 farm bill created two new conditional programs called Agricultural Risk Coverage (ARC) and Price Loss Coverage (PLC). Under these programs, farmers receive commodity-crop income support only if revenues or prices fall below predetermined thresholds. The creation of ARC and PLC, in combination with a decline in prices from 2012 peaks, has increased the variability of payments in recent years. For example, in 2016, the combined expenses across these three crops and two programs was $6.6 billion. Just 2 years later in 2018, this number decreased by $4.7 billion to $1.8 billion. This chart appears in the August ERS Amber Waves article, “Changes in Commodity-Income Support Programs and Commodity Prices have Caused Increased Variability in Support Payments.”

China’s imports of whey products and lactose decline, and U.S. loses market share

Friday, August 16, 2019

Whey products and lactose are the top dairy products exported, by value, from the United States to China. China’s imports of whey products (dry whey, whey protein concentrate, whey protein isolate, and modified) and lactose have declined sharply in recent months. African Swine Flu (ASF)—a virus that has affected the country’s pig and hog population—may have affected the markets for these products because they can be fed to pigs and hogs. In addition to ASF, tariffs by China, in response to U.S. tariffs on certain imports from China, may have contributed to the decline in imports of whey products and lactose from the United States. The U.S. market share declined from 57 percent in 2017 to 51 percent in 2018 and to 38 percent for the first 5 months of 2019. The United States’ largest competitor in this market is the European Union. In the first 5 months of 2019, the European Union increased its market share to 42 percent, up from 36 percent in 2018 and 34 percent in 2017. This chart is drawn from discussions in the ERS Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry Outlook newsletter, released in July 2019.

ICYMI... Disability status can influence the risk of experiencing food insecurity

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Households with adult members who have a disability are at higher risk of experiencing food insecurity—having to struggle at some time during the year to provide enough food for all their members. U.S. households that included adults with disabilities who were not in the labor force due to disability had the highest food insecurity rate in 2017 at 32.3 percent, followed by households with working-age adults with disabilities not out of the labor force due to disability at 22.0 percent. Households with elderly adults with disabilities do not appear to have as great a risk for food insecurity. In 2017, 9.0 percent of these households were food insecure, a rate similar to that of households with no adults with disabilities. Elderly adults with disabilities may have developed their disabilities after their working years and have savings and/or more stable income sources, such as Social Security or pensions, than working-age adults with disabilities. Among all food-insecure households in 2017, 41 percent included an adult with a disability. A version of this chart appears in the ERS data visualization “Food insecurity and very low food security by education, employment, disability status, and SNAP participation.” This Chart of Note was originally published April 2, 2019.

Farm share of retail price for Cheddar cheese down in 2018

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

In 2018, the farm share of the retail price of Cheddar cheese—the ratio of what dairy farmers received for the milk used in the cheese (farm value) to what consumers paid in grocery stores (retail price)—decreased to 28 percent from 32 percent in 2017. Although the average retail price of Cheddar cheese increased from $4.90 per pound in 2017 to $5.14 in 2018, the farm value of the 10.3 pounds (1.2 gallons) of milk used to make a pound of Cheddar cheese fell from $1.54 to $1.43 after adjusting for the value of the whey coproduct. During 2015-18, cheese supplies (sum of production, beginning inventories, and imports) grew more quickly than the sum of domestic consumption and exports—a situation that put downward pressure on wholesale cheese prices. According to projections released by ERS in June 2019, prices received by farmers for their milk are forecast to increase in 2019 and the average wholesale price of Cheddar cheese is forecast to rise from $1.54 per pound in 2018 to $1.64 in 2019. More information on ERS’s farm share data can be found in the Price Spreads from Farm to Consumer data product, updated in June 2019.

ICYMI... The U.S. is not capturing the growth in global grain trade

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

The United States maintained its status as the world’s grain superpower for most of the post-World War II period by being the leading corn and wheat producer and exporter. Before the beginning of this century, the United States annually exported about a third of globally traded wheat and around 70 percent of corn. The emergence of new low-cost producers and exporters in the global wheat and corn markets reduced the U.S. share of grain exports and transformed global grain trade. Competition from Russia, Ukraine, and Argentina has weighed down U.S wheat exports share, while Brazil, Argentina, and Ukraine are driving down the U.S. corn export share. In October 2018, world demand for wheat had been growing at a steady pace, driven mainly by population growth in low-income countries and a switch from rice to wheat consumption in countries that are traditionally heavy rice consumers. This chart appears in the October 2018 Amber Waves article, “Major Changes in Export Flows Over the Last Decade Show the U.S. Is Losing Market Share in Global Grain Trade.” This Chart of Note was originally published October 11, 2018.

SNAP redemptions had larger effect on county employment during the Great Recession than before or after

Monday, August 12, 2019

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) provided benefits to an average of more than 46 million recipients per month and accounted for 52 percent of USDA’s spending in 2014. That year, SNAP recipients redeemed more than $69 billion worth of benefits. Recent ERS research estimated the effect of SNAP redemptions on county-level employment. During and immediately after the Great Recession (2008–10), each additional $10,000 in SNAP redemptions contributed on average 1.04 additional jobs in rural counties and 0.41 job in urban counties. By contrast, before the recession (2001–07), SNAP redemptions had a much smaller positive effect on employment in rural counties (about 0.25 job per $10,000 in redemptions) and a negative effect in urban counties (a loss of about 0.22 job per $10,000 in redemptions). After the recession (2011–14), SNAP redemptions had a statistically insignificant effect on employment in both rural and urban counties. Per dollar spent, the effect of SNAP redemptions on local employment during the recession was greater than the employment effect of other government transfer payments combined—including Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, unemployment insurance compensation, and veterans’ benefits—and also the employment effect of total Federal Government spending. SNAP’s relatively large effect on employment during the recession may owe to the fact that, unlike many other government programs, SNAP payments are provided directly to low-income people, who tend to immediately spend additional income. This chart uses data found in the May 2019 ERS report, The Impacts of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Redemptions on County-Level Employment. Also see the May 2019 article, “SNAP Redemptions Contributed to Employment During the Great Recession” in ERS’s Amber Waves magazine.

Global food insecurity is projected to continue to decline over the next decade

Friday, August 9, 2019

ERS’s annual International Food Security Assessment analyzes food insecurity conditions in 76 low- and middle-income countries spanning four regions of the world. The assessment projects per capita food consumption based on prices, income levels, and availability, and evaluates it against a caloric target of 2,100 calories per person per day, a level necessary to sustain life at a moderate level of activity. Across all countries studied, the share of the population that is food insecure will fall from an estimated 19.3 percent in 2019 to 9.2 percent by 2029, and the number of food-insecure people in the four regions will fall from an estimated 728 million to 399 million. While all regions are expected to see improvements in food security, Sub-Saharan Africa is expected to continue to experience the highest rates of food insecurity. Over the next decade, the share of Sub-Saharan Africa’s population that is projected to be food insecure is expected to fall from 35.3 percent to 22.5 percent. Although this improvement is significant, food insecurity in this region would be nearly three times that of any other region by 2029. Conversely, food-insecurity rates for both Asia and Latin America and the Caribbean are expected to fall below double digits by 2029. Beginning from the lowest level of the four regions, the rate in North Africa is expected to fall below 2 percent by 2029. This chart appears in the August 2019 ERS report, International Food Security Assessment, 2019–2029.

ICYMI... 2018 Farm Act mandates spending of $428 billion over 5 years

Thursday, August 8, 2019

The Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 (2018 Farm Act) was signed into law December 20, 2018, and will remain in force through the end of fiscal year 2023, although some provisions extend beyond 2023. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projected that the new Farm Act would mandate spending of $428 billion dollars over the next 5 fiscal years (2019-2023). A large majority of projected spending—76 percent ($326.02 billion)—would fund nutrition programs, with most going to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Crop insurance ($38.01 billion), farm commodity programs ($31.44 billion), and conservation programs ($29.27 billion) accounted for nearly all of the remaining outlays. Approximately 0.8 percent ($3.54 billion) would fund all other programs, including trade, credit, rural development, research and extension, forestry, energy, horticulture, and miscellaneous programs. Overall, the 2018 Farm Act made fewer changes to food and farm policy than the 2014 Farm Act. Nutrition policy, particularly SNAP, continued with minor changes. Crop insurance options and agricultural commodity programs continued largely as under the 2014 Farm Act. All major conservation programs continued, although some were modified significantly. This chart appears on the USDA Website page, “The Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018: Highlights and Implications,” dated December 20, 2018. This Chart of Note was originally published January 28, 2019.

Climate change projected to increase cost of the Federal Crop Insurance Program

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Recent ERS research explored how climate change could affect the cost of the Federal Crop Insurance Program (FCIP). Researchers trained statistical models to predict crop yields from historical weather data, and used weather simulations from climate models to build scenarios showing how yields might respond to climate change. Economic models then simulated how farmers and markets might respond to changes in weather and yields. The study explored potential impacts in the year 2080, and compared climate scenarios arising from different projections of greenhouse gas emissions levels to a hypothetical future with climate similar to that of the past several decades. Under the scenario with moderate emissions reductions, in which farmers adapt to changes in climate with adjustments to what they plant, where they plant it, and how they manage it, the cost of today’s FCIP would be on average about 3.5 percent higher than under a future with a climate similar to that of the recent past. Under the scenario in which emissions trends continue, the cost of FCIP would increase by an average of 22 percent. The estimated increases in the cost of FCIP are an average across the climate models shown in the chart—some models are more optimistic, while others more pessimistic. Cost estimates are higher in scenarios with no adaptation. This chart appears in the ERS report, Climate Change and Agricultural Risk Management Into the 21st Century, released July 2019.

ICYMI... The United States exports a significant share of cotton and almond output, among other products

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Exports are important for U.S. agricultural producers, as they make up a sizeable share of the market for many commodities. In the case of cotton and almonds, the United States sends more of its product abroad than it consumes domestically. Nearly 78 percent of all U.S. cotton is exported, with the bulk going to countries in Asia, including Vietnam and China. U.S.-produced almonds, grown almost exclusively in California, constitute nearly 80 percent of the global supply and are shipped worldwide, with 67 percent of production exported. Rice, soybeans, and wheat also depend heavily on export markets, with about half of domestic production destined for non-U.S. markets. The wealth of cropland throughout the Midwest and other parts of the United States gives domestic suppliers the capacity to scale production beyond the needs of the domestic market, allowing agriculture’s share of the U.S. economy to grow. This chart appears in the ERS publication, Selected charts from Ag and Food Statistics: Charting the Essentials, October 2018. This Chart of Note was originally published February 11, 2019.

Distance to a food store and access to vehicles both play roles in food access

Monday, August 5, 2019

Limited access to the healthy and affordable foods stocked in supermarkets, supercenters, and large grocery stores may impede some Americans from achieving a healthy diet. How far someone lives from these food stores and whether the shopper has access to a vehicle are important components of food access. ERS researchers identified low-income census tracts in 2015 that also had low food access based on distance to a supermarket, supercenter, or large grocery store and access to a vehicle. (See chart note for definitions of low income and low food access.) In 2015, five States (Mississippi, South Carolina, Louisiana, Georgia, and West Virginia) and the District of Columbia had the highest shares of low-income/low-food-access census tracts (more than 24 percent of each State’s total tracts) using the ERS measure. Vermont and Hawaii had the lowest shares of low-income/low-food-access tracts—6.0 percent and 6.7 percent, respectively. This chart appears in the ERS report, Understanding Low-Income and Low-Access Census Tracts Across the Nation: Subnational and Subpopulation Estimates of Access to Healthy Food, May 2019.

USDA’s Child and Adult Care Food Program served more than 4.3 million children in 2018

Friday, August 2, 2019

On a typical day in fiscal year 2018, USDA’s Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) provided subsidized meals and snacks to more than 4.3 million children at child care centers and family day care homes. Participation in CACFP through child care centers has grown from 1.7 million children in 2000 to 3.6 million in 2018, while participation through family day care homes has dropped from 1 million children in 2000 to fewer than 800,000 in 2018. The rise in center-based participation more than offset the decline in home-based participation through 2017, resulting in participation in CACFP increasing from 2.7 million children in 2000 to 4.4 million in 2017. The number of children attending centers who participated in the program in 2018 was the same as in 2017, but fewer children in day care homes participated. The program also provided subsidized meals for 131,634 older or functionally impaired adults at adult day care centers in 2018. Meals and snacks served to CACFP participants must meet USDA nutrition standards to receive Federal reimbursements. USDA’s costs for CACFP in fiscal 2018 totaled $3.6 billion. This chart appears on the chart page of ERS’s Child Nutrition Programs topic page.

ICYMI… More time spent working on the farm leads to less off-farm labor across different commodities

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Survey data show that the more time a household allots to its farm operation, the less time is available for off-farm employment. Many farm operations require primarily part-time or seasonal work, which can allow household members to work off-farm with little interruption to the farming operation. Across all farms by commodity type, average onfarm hours worked by the principal operator in 2016 ranged from 16 hours per week for general crop farms (where no one crop accounted for a majority of the value of production) to 64 hours per week for dairy farms. Time spent working on the farm limits the time available not only for off-farm employment but also for housework, family, sleep, and leisure activities. Accordingly, the amounts of time spent working on and off the farm are negatively correlated across all commodity types. For example, dairy farmers, who tend to have the most rigid farm schedules, work only 6 hours per week off-farm on average. By comparison, beef cattle farmers tend to have highly flexible schedules and, consequently, spend an average of 20 hours per week working off-farm. This chart updates data found in the August 2018 ERS report, Economic Returns to Farming for U.S. Farm Households. Survey data is drawn from the 2016 Agricultural Resource Management Survey (ARMS), jointly administered by the National Agricultural Statistics Service and the Economic Research Service. This Chart of Note was originally published February 14, 2019.

Record rice stocks are projected to continue, with China responsible for 68 percent of global levels

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Global ending stocks of rice are projected to reach 171.9 million tons in the 2019/20 marketing year (August–July), the highest on record and the 13th consecutive year of expansion. The phrase “ending stocks” refers to the amount of a given commodity held in storage at the end of a marketing year rather than being consumed domestically or exported. High ending stocks put downward pressure on prices because they are carried over from year to year, inflating potential supply levels beyond what is produced in a given year. China accounts for the bulk of the increase in global stocks since the mid-2000s, with China’s 2019/20 ending stocks projected at a record 116 million tons or almost 68 percent of global ending stocks. China’s substantial stocks build-up since 2007/08 is largely due to producer-support programs that purchased rice from farmers at prices above market levels. In contrast to China’s rising stocks, rice stocks held outside of China in 2019/20 are projected at 55.9 million tons, virtually unchanged from a year earlier and nearly equal to the 2007/08-2018/19 average. This chart is drawn from data discussed in the ERS Rice Outlook report and appears in the ERS Rice Chart Gallery, updated in July 2019.

Higher SNAP benefits expand spending on other goods as well as food

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

When participants in USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) spend their benefits, the spending “multiplies” throughout the economy because businesses (and their employees) supplying food and other goods purchased by SNAP households have additional funds to make purchases of their own. ERS researchers recently estimated how a $1-billion increase in SNAP benefits would affect spending by SNAP and non-SNAP households. Most SNAP participants spend their own cash in addition to SNAP benefits to purchase adequate food. Thus, SNAP households would spend the full amount of the increased benefits at authorized food stores, but they also would redirect some of the cash that they had been spending on food at home to other goods or services. The additional SNAP benefits would have the largest effect on SNAP households’ spending on food and durable goods. The two top categories toward which non-SNAP households would direct their multiplier-induced additional income were savings and durable goods. Because of their low incomes, most SNAP households are likely to spend the entire income increase rather than save a portion of it. The data in the chart are from the ERS report, The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and the Economy: New Estimates of the SNAP Multiplier, and the Amber Waves article, “Quantifying the Impact of SNAP Benefits on the U.S. Economy and Jobs,” released July 18, 2019.

Drought-tolerant corn varieties often planted on non-irrigated fields

Monday, July 29, 2019

Droughts are among the most frequent causes of crop yield losses, failures, and subsequent crop revenue losses across the world. Farmers with access to ample sources of irrigation water can, at least partially, mitigate drought stress. Farmers can also plant drought-tolerant (DT) crop varieties—in 2016, DT varieties made up 22 percent of total U.S. corn acreage. DT traits improve the plant’s ability to take water up from soils and convert water into grain under a range of drought conditions. The use of irrigation does not preclude the use of DT corn. For example, nearly 31 percent of Nebraska’s irrigated fields were planted with DT varieties. Farmers’ decisions to irrigate their DT corn fields are influenced by many factors, including the extent of soil moisture deficits (if any), amount and timing of rainfall throughout the growing season, and irrigation expenses. However, most of the main U.S. corn producing States generally had higher levels of DT use on dryland fields. For example, 60 percent of non-irrigated fields in Nebraska were planted with DT varieties. This chart appears in the January 2019 ERS report, Development, Adoption, and Management of Drought-Tolerant Corn in the United States. Also see the article “Drought-Tolerant Corn in the United States: Research, Commercialization, and Related Crop Production Practices” from the March 2019 edition of ERS’s Amber Waves magazine.

Increased compliance enforcement would result in greater reductions in excess nitrogen applications

Friday, July 26, 2019

Excess nitrogen runoff from agriculture into the northern Gulf of Mexico is a major contributor to zones of reduced oxygen that pose seasonal dangers to aquatic life and fishing stocks. ERS has studied potential regulatory tools that could provide incentives to adopt nutrient-reducing management practices, such as requiring conservation compliance to qualify for USDA farm program benefits. ERS researchers explored the scope and effectiveness of a hypothetical “nutrient compliance” policy requiring farmers who receive Federal farm program benefits (including conservation and commodity program payments) to limit excess nitrogen fertilizer applications on land within the Mississippi/Atchafalaya River Basin (MARB). The researchers estimated that 14.4 percent of farms in the MARB, controlling 25.1 percent of cropland, apply nitrogen in excess of crop needs and receive program benefits—but that these farms contribute 88.1 percent of all excess nitrogen applications in the MARB. The analysis suggests that 8.7 percent of MARB farms would be affected by a compliance policy that disallows application of nutrients at levels greater than 40 percent above crop needs. Both the expected compliance benefits to farmers and hence the effectiveness of the nutrient compliance policy are influenced by the chance of being found out-of-compliance through inspection and enforcement. It was found that as enforcement goes down, fewer farms and crop area acres, and less excess nitrogen are affected. For example, assuming 100-percent enforcement, the analysis suggests that 71 percent of affected farms would have an incentive to comply (because program benefits exceed nutrient management costs). With an enforcement rate of 25 percent, by comparison, the share of farms estimated to comply falls to 31 percent of those affected by compliance (or 2.7 percent of all farms in the MARB), and the share of excess nutrients that would be controlled falls to 15.7 percent. This chart appears in the ERS report Reducing Nutrient Losses From Cropland in the Mississippi/Atchafalaya River Basin: Cost Efficiency and Regional Distribution, released September 2018.

Soybeans accounted for the majority of U.S. and Brazil’s agricultural exports to China in 2017

Thursday, July 25, 2019

China is the world’s largest importer of soybeans and represented 65 percent of global soybean imports in 2017. Soybeans are the most prominent agricultural commodity exported to China by both the United States and Brazil. During 2017, prior to the Chinese government’s implementation of tariffs on U.S. soybeans, exports of soybeans were valued at $12.3 billion and accounted for 63 percent of U.S. agricultural exports to China. Conversely, soybeans accounted for less than 20 percent of U.S. agricultural exports to other regions. For example, U.S. soybean exports to Southeast Asia—the second-largest destination—were valued at $1.95 billion but accounted for 17 percent of agricultural exports to that region. The share of soybeans in U.S. agricultural exports was 14 percent for the European Union, 10 percent for the Middle East and North Africa, and 7 percent for other East Asian countries. The share of soybeans in Brazil’s agricultural exports to China was larger. During 2017, $20.3 billion of soybean exports accounted for nearly 88 percent of Brazil’s agricultural exports to China. Soybeans accounted for 14 percent of Brazil’s agricultural exports to the European Union—the second largest destination for Brazil’s soybeans. This chart appears in the ERS report, “Interdependence of China, United States, and Brazil in Soybean Trade,” released in June 2019.

Inflation in retail food prices has trended down over the past 20 years

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Historically, grocery store food prices have generally risen each year. However, in 2016, retail food prices actually fell 1.3 percent and fell again in 2017 (0.2 percent). These back-to-back years of food price deflation helped lower the 20-year moving average for grocery store price inflation from 3.6 percent in 1999 to 2.0 percent in 2018. Beginning in 2015, increased U.S. production of agricultural commodities, such as beef cattle and eggs, and lower energy prices contributed to the 2016 and 2017 decreases in retail food prices. In addition, a strong U.S. dollar since 2014 made imported foods (i.e., many fruits and vegetables, fish, and sugar) less expensive. Another contributing factor to low retail food price inflation in recent years may be stepped up competition on the basis of price for U.S. consumers’ food dollars. This chart appears in the article, “Retail Food Price Inflation Has Slowed Over Time,” from the July 2019 edition of ERS’s Amber Waves magazine.

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