ERS Charts of Note
Friday, October 30, 2020
The U.S. population in nonmetro (rural) counties stood at 46.1 million in July 2019, accounting for 14 percent of U.S. residents spread across 72 percent of the Nation's land area. Nonmetro population growth has remained close to zero in recent years and was just 0.02 percent from July 2018 to July 2019, according to the latest county population estimates from the U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census. As in previous periods of economic difficulties, such as in the mid-1980s and early 2000s, nonmetro America experienced a steep decline in population growth rates during the Great Recession. Unlike those previous periods of difficulty, the post-recession population recovery during the 2010s has been quite slow. Nonmetro population growth fell from a peak of 0.7 percent in 2006-07 to -0.14 percent in 2011-12. The nonmetro growth rate has been lower than in metropolitan (metro) counties since the mid-1990s, and the gap widened considerably in recent years. This chart appears in the July 2020 Amber Waves data feature, “Modest Improvement in Nonmetro Population Change During the Decade Masks Larger Geographic Shifts.”
Wednesday, October 28, 2020
The share of U.S. food expenditures occurring at grocery stores, supercenters, and other food-at-home retailers typically displays a consistent seasonal pattern. U.S. consumers devote relatively more money to food-at-home spending in the winter months—a time of Thanksgiving and holiday gatherings. The summer months see the highest share of spending at food-away-from-home places such as restaurants, cafeterias, and other eating-out places. While seasonal patterns have stayed constant until 2020, the share of total food spending dedicated to food at home has not. In 1998, food at home’s share was above 55 percent of total food spending throughout the year. Ten years later, 2008 saw the share of food spending devoted to food at home decrease a few percentage points despite the Great Recession of 2007-2009. In 2018, food at home’s share was below 50 percent in all but the winter months. The COVID-19 pandemic has upended past seasonal trends and expanded food at home’s share of total food spending. Food at home in August 2020 accounted for 54 percent of total food spending, after peaking at 66 percent in April 2020. The data for this chart come from the Economic Research Service’s Food Expenditure Series data product, updated October 16, 2020.
Monday, October 26, 2020
Pumpkins are one of the most famous symbols of fall. Many consumers enjoy traveling to local farms to pick out their own pumpkins from a patch, carving Halloween jack-o’-lanterns, or making pumpkin desserts. Production is widely dispersed throughout the United States, with all States producing some pumpkins. However, about 62 percent of pumpkin acres were cultivated in only ten States. By acreage and by weight, Illinois is consistently the Nation’s largest pumpkin producer. Unlike all other States, most of Illinois’ pumpkins are used for pie filling and other processed foods. The lower price associated with pumpkins destined for further processing explains why Illinois was second in the value of pumpkin production at $17.1 million in 2019. Pumpkins from the other States surveyed annually by USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service were primarily intended for decorative (or carving) use. California leads the Nation in terms of value of production, at $22.8 million. Anecdotal reports from growers and agricultural extensions suggest strong pumpkin crops this year for Illinois and California. Retail prices for pumpkins typically fluctuate week to week leading up to Halloween. At the end of the third week of October 2020, the average retail price for jack-o’-lantern style pumpkins was $3.63 per pumpkin, the same price compared to the same week in 2019. This chart is drawn from Economic Research Service’s Trending Topics page, Pumpkins: Background & Statistics.
Friday, October 23, 2020
The United States is a leading global producer and exporter of soybeans, and their export represents a significant source of demand for U.S.-produced soybeans. The export of U.S. soybeans in the 2020/21 crop year is already off to a strong start. Total outstanding export sales—the contracts by country that have not been shipped at any given time during the marketing year—totaled 34.2 million metric tons (1,257 million bushels), as of October 8, 2020, nearly three times the level of a year earlier. This surge is likely the result of strengthening livestock feed demand in China and depleted supplies for competing exporters, particularly Brazil. The increase is also a major contributor to the price rally currently underway, with new-crop soybean futures at a two-year high. This chart is drawn from Economic Research Service’s Oil Crops Outlook, October 2020.
Wednesday, October 21, 2020
Agriculture in the semi-arid region overlying the High Plains Aquifer, which spans parts of eight states, relies on groundwater. In several areas, significantly more groundwater is extracted than is returned to the aquifer each year, leading to declining water levels. In Kansas, USDA’s Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) specifically focuses on retiring irrigated cropland to reduce stress on limited water resources. To represent the amount of water that retired rights would have used in the absence of CREP, in effect the amount of use reduced by the program, ERS researchers used a group of 98 unenrolled farmers similar to 98 enrolled farmers based on factors like farm size, crops grown, and soil quality. Trends of unenrolled matched farmers are largely representative of the average unenrolled farmer in the Western District, where most enrollments have occurred, and which has experienced the most significant aquifer depletion. From 1996 to 2017, unenrolled matched farmers decreased their water use by 0.94 percent a year relative to 1996 levels, compared to 0.64 percent a year for the average unenrolled farmer in the Western District. Furthermore, although unenrolled matched farmers initially experienced more rapid depletion, declines in saturated thickness have been very similar for the two groups since 2008. This chart appears in the October 2020 Amber Waves feature, “Incentives to Retire Water Rights Have Reduced Stress on the High Plains Aquifer.”
Tuesday, October 20, 2020
The Agricultural Trade Multipliers, one of many data products offered by the USDA, Economic Research Service (ERS), provide annual estimates of the effects of trade in farm and food products on the U.S. economy. These effects, when expressed as multipliers, reflect the amount of economic activity and jobs generated by agricultural exports. Similarly, the agricultural trade multiplier can be utilized to evaluate impacts of shocks such as COVID-19 on the agricultural sector. As this Chart of Note shows, exports constitute a large market for U.S. farm and food products and send ripples of activity through the nation’s economy. For instance, farm purchases of fuel and fertilizer to produce agricultural commodities for export spur economic activity in the manufacturing, trade, and transportation sectors, and the movement of these exports requires data processing, financial, legal, managerial, and administrative services. In 2018, U.S. agricultural exports valued at $139.6 billion generated an additional $162.9 billion in economic activity, for a total of $302.5 billion in economic output; thus, on average, every dollar of U.S. agricultural product exported generated $1.17 of additional domestic economic activity. No sector benefited more than the services, trade, and transportation sector, which realized $88.2 billion worth of additional economic activity due to U.S. agricultural exports. On the farm, agricultural exports supported an additional $22.1 billion of business activity beyond the value of the agricultural exports themselves. This chart is drawn from ERS’s Effects of Trade on the U.S. Economy, released March 2020.
Monday, October 19, 2020
In 2019, before the spring 2020 school closings in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, more than 29 million children participated in USDA’s National School Lunch Program (NSLP) and close to 15 million participated in the School Breakfast Program (SBP) on a typical school day. Children are certified to receive free or reduced-price meals — or they pay full price — based on their families’ incomes. Between 2009 and 2019, the number of children receiving free lunches was offset by a drop in reduced- and full-price meal participation. As a result, total NSLP participation declined by about 2 million, with free lunch participation making up 68 percent of total participation in 2019, compared with 52 percent in 2009. Over the same decade, free breakfast participation rose by 3.7 million and full-price breakfast participation rose by 0.2 million. This offset the 0.4-million decline in reduced-price breakfast participation, resulting in a 3.5-million increase in total SBP participation. In both 2009 and 2019, SBP served primarily students from low-income households, with 72 percent of participants receiving free breakfast in 2009 and 80 percent in 2019. This chart appears in “Free School Lunch, Breakfast Participation Rose Between 2009 and 2019” in the Economic Research Service’s Amber Waves magazine, October 2020.
Friday, October 16, 2020
In observation of World Food Day on October 16, this Chart of Note highlights disparities in household spending on food across the globe. Countries vary in how much consumers spend on food at home as a share of consumption expenditure. (Consumption expenditure includes all household spending, but not savings.) In high-income countries such as the United States and the United Kingdom, the shares of spending allocated to food at home are low because food cost is smaller relative to income and people eat out more often. In 2018, these two countries spent less than 10 percent of their consumption expenditure on food at home—food bought from supermarkets, supercenters, and other food stores. In Kenya and other low-income countries, at-home food’s share of consumption expenditure can exceed 50 percent. Per capita calorie availability follows the reverse pattern. According to the most recent available data, U.S. per capita calorie availability was among the highest at 3,682 calories per day, while Kenya’s was estimated at only 2,206 calories per day, reflecting differences between the countries’ supplies of food available for people to eat. The data in this chart predate the COVID-19 pandemic and its impacts on food supply chains and food demand. This chart appears in the Food Prices and Spending section of the Economic Research Service’s web product, Ag and Food Statistics: Charting the Essentials.
Wednesday, October 14, 2020
Brazil has emerged as a major competitor for the United States in global agricultural markets, and is now the world’s third largest exporter of agricultural products behind the European Union (EU) and the United States. Brazil’s macroeconomic policies—currency devaluation, in particular—have played an important role in its position as one of the top exporters of agricultural products, including soybeans, corn, cotton, sugar, coffee, orange juice, and meat. Because exported Brazilian commodities are priced in dollars, depreciation of Brazil’s local currency, the real (BRL), has meant that Brazilian farmers have received more BRL for each dollar of export revenues. Export sales therefore have become more profitable, thus encouraging expansion of cropland and adoption of techniques to increase productivity. Brazilian agricultural production and exports, which are poised to continue flourishing over the next decade, according to the USDA Agricultural Projections to 2029 report, could grow even faster under accelerated currency depreciation. Simulations show that if the BRL weakens more than previously expected, exports of major commodities could be an aggregate 5.6 percent greater than previously projected, with Brazil’s exports increasing for each major commodity except beef and soybean meal. This chart is drawn from Economic Research Service (ERS) report, Brazil’s Agricultural Competitiveness: Recent Growth and Future Impacts Under Currency Depreciation and Changing Macroeconomic Conditions, and was highlighted in the ERS October issue of Amber Waves, in the feature article, “Brazil’s Currency Depreciation and Changing Macroeconomic Conditions Determine Agricultural Competitiveness and Future Growth.”
Tuesday, October 13, 2020
Rural America is less racially and ethnically diverse than the Nation’s urban areas. In 2018, Whites accounted for 78.2 percent of the rural population compared to 57.3 percent of urban areas. While Hispanics were the fastest-growing segment of the rural population, they accounted for only 8.6 percent of rural areas, but 19.8 percent of urban areas. Blacks made up 7.8 percent of the rural and 13.1 percent of the urban population. American Indians were the only minority group with a higher concentration in rural areas (2.1 percent) than urban (0.4 percent). Relatively few Asians and Pacific Islanders (included in the “Other” category) were rural residents, with these groups accounting for 0.9 and 0.05 percent of the rural population, respectively. The rest of the “Other” category reported multiple races and accounted for 2.2 percent of the rural population. This chart updates data found in the November 2018 ERS report, Rural America at a Glance, 2018 Edition.
Friday, October 9, 2020
U.S. rice imports hit record highs in the second quarter of calendar year 2020, driving up total U.S. rice imports to a record high in marketing year 2019/20 and up 29 percent from the previous year. Imports now account for more than one-quarter of all rice that is used domestically. Growing consumer demand for Asian aromatic varieties of rice drive this development. Although the United States itself produces several aromatic varieties of rice, the consumer qualities are not the same as those for the Asian varieties. The bulk of the increase in U.S. rice imports in 2019/20 came from Thailand, up almost 29 percent from a year earlier. In recent years, 80-85 percent of Thailand’s shipments to the United States has been its jasmine rice, a premium aromatic variety. Combined U.S. imports from India and Pakistan increased 24 percent in 2019/20 to a record 262,000 tons, with most of this rice being basmati rice, also a premium aromatic. Imports of non-aromatic rice have increased as well. China has recently been shipping 66,000-86,000 tons of rice annually, with the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico buying almost all this amount; this market was previously supplied with U.S. rice. The Government of China has been selling its stocks of older rice at substantially discounted prices. Finally, Brazil’s shipments have increased considerably since 2017/18, shipping both regular long-grain milled rice for food use and broken kernel rice for use in processed products. Rice imports in 2020/21 are expected to continue at a strong clip, falling only slightly from the 2019/20 record high with the United States remaining the largest importer in the Western Hemisphere. This chart is drawn from Economic Research Service’s Rice Outlook, September 2020.
Wednesday, October 7, 2020
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) accounted for 65 percent of the $92.4 billion USDA spent on food and nutrition assistance in fiscal year (FY) 2019. From FYs 2000 to 2007, between 6 and 9 percent of Americans participated in SNAP in a typical month. As economic conditions during the 2007-09 recession increased the need for food assistance, the share of Americans participating in SNAP rose, eventually peaking in FY 2013 when 15 percent of the U.S. population participated in the program each month. Between FYs 2013 and 2019, the share of the population receiving SNAP benefits steadily fell each year as economic conditions improved. In FY 2019, 10.9 percent of the population participated in the program. Accompanying the decrease in participation, SNAP expenditures in FY 2019 were 30 percent less than the inflation-adjusted historical high of $86.3 billion (or $79.9 billion in 2013 dollars) set in FY 2013. Job losses that accompanied the COVID-19 related shutdown of schools, businesses, and many other activities in spring 2020 increased the need for food assistance. Preliminary USDA data show the number of Americans receiving SNAP benefits was 14.9 percent higher in April 2020 than in April 2019. The data for this chart are from the Economic Research Service report, The Food Assistance Landscape: Fiscal Year 2019 Annual Report, July 2020.
Monday, October 5, 2020
USDA’s voluntary conservation programs form the backbone of U.S. agricultural conservation policy. These programs include the Conservation Reserve Program, Agricultural Conservation Easement Program, Environmental Quality Incentives Program, Conservation Stewardship Program, Regional Conservation Partnership Program, and Conservation Technical Assistance. The programs help agricultural producers improve their environmental performance related to soil health, water quality, air quality, wildlife habitat, and greenhouse gas emissions. Between 1996 and 2011, real (inflation-adjusted) conservation spending grew by roughly 50 percent, largely due to expansion of the major working lands programs. Since 2011, annual spending has remained between $6.0 and $6.5 billion (except in 2015) and is projected to remain within that range between 2019 and 2023. Under the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 (also known as the 2018 Farm Act), the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates mandatory conservation spending of $29.5 billion over 5 years. This is about $560 million more than CBO’s projection of 2019-23 spending with the extension of the programs and provisions of the 2014 Farm Act. Although most conservation programs receive “mandatory” funding, the funding levels are not guaranteed and could be revised in future years. This chart appears in the ERS topic page for Conservation Programs, updated September 2019.
Friday, October 2, 2020
COVID-19 has spread to nearly every nation in the world, and to every State and nearly every county in the United States. The virus initially spread most rapidly to large metropolitan areas, and most confirmed cases are still in metro areas with populations of at least 1 million, according to the Economic Research Service’s (ERS) analysis of data from the Johns Hopkins University Center for System Science and Engineering. This is consistent with most of the U.S. population living in large metro areas. Even in per capita terms, the prevalence of COVID-19 cases has been greater in metro than in nonmetro areas since the initial appearance of the pandemic in the United States (the first confirmed case was reported on January 20, 2020). As of September 1, cumulative confirmed cases per 100,000 residents reached 1,877 in metro areas, compared with 1,437 cases in nonmetro areas. Although the prevalence of COVID-19 cases remains lower in nonmetro areas, the share of cases in nonmetro areas has grown since late March. The nonmetro share of all confirmed U.S. COVID-19 cases grew from 3.6 percent on April 1 to 11.1 percent on September 1. ERS regularly produces research on rural America, including demographic changes in rural communities and drivers of rural economic performance. This chart appears in the ERS topic page, The COVID-19 Pandemic and Rural America, updated September 2020.
Wednesday, September 30, 2020
Grocery store food prices—or food-at-home prices—were 4.6 percent higher in August 2020 than a year earlier. Changes in food-at-home prices are measured by the Consumer Price Index (CPI) for Food at Home. The CPI for Food at Home looks at prices for a specific set of grocery store foods and beverages bought in cities around the country and compares the price of this “market basket,” or indexes it, to 1982-84 prices. Indexing provides information on cumulative changes in food prices over time, answering the question: How much higher are food prices this year compared with last year or past years? Over January to December 2019, the monthly price index for food at home ranged from 241.2 to 242.6, indicating prices rose or fell by no more than 0.6 percent per month. Monthly food-at-home prices in 2020 display a different pattern. Food-at-home prices rose by an average of 0.5 percent in January, February, and March, followed by a jump of 2.7 percent in April and a continued rise in May and June. In July and August, prices fell by 1.0 and 0.1 percent, respectively. Even so, food-at-home prices remained higher than during the previous year. For context, annual inflation for food at home has averaged around 2 percent for the past 20 years. Food-at-home prices in 2020 were influenced by the coronavirus pandemic. The pandemic put pressure on several food industries, disrupting supply chains for commodities including dairy, beef, pork, and poultry. For a closer look at specific food categories, explore the Economic Research Service (ERS) Chart of Note on retail price changes between June 2019 and June 2020. The data for both charts come from the ERS’s Food Price Outlook data product.
Monday, September 28, 2020
U.S. cotton product imports—which are mostly clothing products—generally follow a seasonal pattern, with increased imports seen in the months prior to peak consumer buying periods like summer, back-to-school, and Christmas. As calendar year 2020 began, U.S. cotton product imports followed similar monthly levels as during the previous 3 years. However, as the COVID-19 pandemic unfolded, substantial shifts in the textile and apparel industry produced ripple effects throughout the supply chain from manufacturing to retail sales, which affected product imports significantly during the spring and summer of 2020. U.S. cotton product imports began deviating from their seasonal pattern in March 2020, dropping further in April and May. Since May, however, cotton product import data have been relatively positive, as the recovery of the textile and apparel industry progresses. May 2020 cotton product imports were only about 40 percent of the 2017-19 average for that month. However, by July—the latest available data—imports had climbed to 85 percent of its 2017-19 average. Although the economic recovery is expected to vary by industry, recent cotton product imports—a proxy for the textile and apparel industry—show substantial improvement supportive of the ongoing recovery. This information and the related impacts on global cotton demand are discussed in the Economic Research Service’s Cotton and Wool Outlook report for September 2020.
Friday, September 25, 2020
Genetically engineered (GE) seeds were commercially introduced in the United States for major field crops in 1996, with adoption rates increasing rapidly in the years that followed. Currently, more than 90 percent of U.S. corn, upland cotton, and soybeans are produced using GE varieties. Most of these GE seeds are herbicide tolerant (HT), insect resistant (Bt), or both (stacked). The share of U.S. soybean acres planted with HT seeds rose from 7 percent in 1996 to 68 percent in 2001, before plateauing at 94 percent in 2014. Bt soybeans are not yet commercially available. HT cotton acreage expanded from approximately 10 percent in 1997 to a high of 95 percent in 2019. Adoption rates for HT corn grew relatively slowly at first, but then plateaued at 89 percent in 2014. Meanwhile, the share of Bt corn acreage grew from approximately 8 percent in 1997 to 82 percent in 2020. Increases in adoption rates for Bt corn may be due to the commercial introduction of new varieties resistant to the corn rootworm and the corn earworm. Bt cotton acreage also expanded, from 15 percent of U.S. cotton acreage in 1997 to 88 percent in 2020. This chart appears in the Economic Research Service data product, Adoption of Genetically Engineered Crops in the U.S., updated July 2020.
Wednesday, September 23, 2020
In fiscal year (FY) 2019, USDA’s Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) provided about 2 billion subsidized meals to children at child care centers and family day care homes, which accounted for 96 percent of all meals served in the program. Child care centers served 75 percent of CACFP meals in 2019. The program provided an additional 82 million meals to elderly and functionally impaired adults at adult day care centers. The number of CACFP meals served in family day care homes has dropped from a high of 777 million in FY 1996 to 435 million in FY 2019, while the number of meals served in child care centers has grown from 746 million to 1.5 billion over that same time period. USDA’s costs for CACFP in FY 2019 totaled $3.7 billion. Meals and snacks served to CACFP participants must meet USDA nutrition standards to receive Federal reimbursements. Closures of many child and adult care facilities due to the COVID-19 pandemic are reflected in fewer CACFP meals served in April 2020 compared with April 2019. Preliminary data from USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service record 125 million meals served in April 2020, down from 194 million meals a year earlier. Waivers to program regulations granted by USDA in March 2020 allowed providers to distribute CACFP meals as “grab and go” or via delivery. This chart appears in the Economic Research Service report, The Food Assistance Landscape: Fiscal Year 2019 Annual Report, July 2020.
Monday, September 21, 2020
U.S. demand for fresh blueberries reached an all-time high in 2019, and to meet this increased demand, both domestic and global production of fresh blueberries have trended upward. U.S production for the fresh market climbed 284 percent since 2000 to almost 372 million pounds in 2019. Blueberries have different production seasons across different regions throughout the year. To support year-round demand of consumers, imports have grown and now not only supply blueberries in the off-season months of domestic production, but increasingly in the in-season months as well. U.S. fresh blueberry imports rose to a record 472 million pounds in 2019, up 1,177 percent since 2000. Latin America, led by Peru, emerged as the major supplier of U.S. blueberry imports. Fresh blueberry imports from Peru surpassed those from Chile and accounted for 30 percent of the imports in 2019. Imports from Chile accounted for almost 30 percent of fresh blueberry imports in 2019, while imports from Mexico accounted for 19 percent. Other top suppliers, Canada and Argentina, exported smaller quantities to the United States. Countries exporting to the United States during U.S. production’s off-season have expanded their seasons to capture market share and higher prices, increasing competition for some U.S. producers. This chart and detail appear in the Commodity Feature in the Economic Research Service’s Fruit and Tree Nut Outlook, March 2020.
Friday, September 18, 2020
Researchers from two USDA agencies—the Economic Research Service (ERS) and the Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion—recently collaborated on a project to help USDA update its Thrifty Food Plan, as mandated by the 2018 Farm Bill. Benefits for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) are determined by the cost of the basket of foods that make up the Thrifty Food Plan. The collaborative project, the Purchase to Plate Price Tool, used a complex matching algorithm to link a USDA recipe database and 2013 grocery store sales data to estimate the retail cost of the foods participants reported eating in the 2011-12 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. These estimated costs can be used for a variety of purposes including to calculate daily at-home food costs for Americans—in general or by demographic subgroups. In this analysis, at-home foods are foods and beverages prepared at home from ingredients or ready-to-eat foods purchased at retail stores, such as supermarkets, supercenters, and convenience stores. The researchers found that across all ages, including both male and female survey participants, the average daily cost for at-home food was $4.54 per person in 2013. For 75 percent of the participants, the daily cost was $6.00 or less. More recent consumption and sales data will be incorporated into the Purchase to Price Plate Tool to support USDA’s update of the Thrifty Food Plan. The data for this chart are from the ERS report, Estimating Prices for Foods in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey: The Purchase to Plate Price Tool, September 2020.