Editor's Pick 2013: Best of Charts of Note
This chart gallery is a collection of the best Charts of Note from 2013. These charts were selected by ERS editors as those worthy of a second read because they provide context for the year’s headlines or share key insights from ERS research.
China has been an important source of recent growth in U.S. agricultural exports, and there has been concern about the implications of recent increases in China’s domestic farm support. While it is often presumed that subsidies and price supports give Chinese farmers an advantage, these policies actually may improve prospects for U.S. agricultural exports by raising costs and prices of Chinese commodities above international levels. As a World Trade Organization (WTO) member, China agreed to relatively low tariffs and eliminated most barriers to imports apart from tariff rate quotas for several types of cereal grains, cotton, and sugar. Consequently, as China raises domestic price supports above international prices, the country tends to attract more imports. As a result, China today is a net importer of the commodities that are the main targets of its domestic support programs—grains, oilseeds and cotton. This chart can be found in Growth and Evolution in China’s Agricultural Support Policies, ERR-153. Originally published on Tuesday, August 13, 2013.
Nonmetro population has grown more slowly than metro population since the mid-1990s and the gap has widened considerably in recent years. Between July 2011 and July 2012, nonmetro population declined for the first time since annual county population estimates were first recorded in the 1960s. Historically, nonmetro population grew because natural increase (more births than deaths) always offset net migration loss (more people moving out than moving in). But falling birth rates and an aging population have steadily dampened the natural increase in nonmetro population over time. Nonmetro net migration rates, which tend to fluctuate in response to economic conditions, last peaked in 2006 just prior to the housing mortgage crisis before falling dramatically. New population estimates are subject to revision, the rate of population decline for this single year is quite small, and the trend may be short-lived. Nonetheless, 2011-12 marks the first year with estimated net migration losses exceeding natural increase in nonmetro areas. This chart is based on County-level Data Sets. Originally published on Tuesday, April 9, 2013.
With food prepared at home accounting for close to two-thirds of Americans’ daily calories, purchasing choices made in the grocery store are the first steps to a healthy diet. ERS researchers compared consumers’ 1998-2006 grocery store purchases with USDA food spending guidelines for a nutritious diet and found that consumer spending came close to matching the guidelines for only 1 food category examined—potatoes. Grocery purchases as recorded by Nielsen Homescan panelists were compared with nutritionally-appropriate expenditure shares for 23 broad categories of foods and beverages. Panelists underspent on all vegetable categories, except potatoes. For example, they spent only 0.5 percent of their food budgets on dark green vegetables, while the food plan recommended 7 percent. Panelists also underspent on whole grains, whole fruit, lower fat dairy, nuts, poultry, and fish. They overspent on refined grains, fruit juices, regular dairy products, red meats, beverages, and sugar and candies. This chart appears in “Americans’ Food Choices at Home and Away: How Do They Compare With Recommendations?” in the February 2013 issue of ERS’s Amber Waves magazine. Originally published on Wednesday, February 27, 2013.
Knowing how often and how long households are food insecure is important for understanding the extent and character of food insecurity and for maximizing the effectiveness of programs aimed at alleviating it. Food-insecure households are those that are unable, at times during the year, to acquire adequate food because they lack sufficient money and other resources. Two studies commissioned by ERS found spells of food insecurity to be generally of short duration. For example, one study found that half of households that were food insecure at some time during the 5-year study period experienced the condition in just a single year and only 6 percent were food insecure in all 5 years. However, the fact that households move in and out of food insecurity also means that a considerably larger number of households are exposed to food insecurity at some time over a period of several years than are food insecure in any single year. The statistics for this chart are from “Food Insecurity in U.S. Households Rarely Persists Over Many Years” in the June 2013 issue of ERS’s Amber Waves magazine. Originally published on Monday, June 17, 2013.
Ninety-seven percent of U.S. farms are family farms where the majority of the business is owned by the operator and individuals related to the operator. The remaining 3 percent are nonfamily farms, which produced 15 percent of the value of agricultural output in 2011. Two features of family farms stand out. First, there are many small family farms (having less than $250,000 in annual sales); together, they account for 87 percent of all U.S. farms. Second, large-scale family farms account for most of the Nation’s agricultural production—70 percent in 2011, as measured by value of output. The share of farm assets held by small farms is substantially higher than their 15-percent share of production. Small-scale family farms hold about 56 percent of all farm assets. The disproportionate asset holdings of smaller farms reflects their overinvestment, particularly in land and dwellings, for purposes other than production, and economies of size enjoyed by larger farms that allow them to produce more with the resources they control. This chart updates one found in the 2010 Edition of the ERS report, America’s Diverse Family Farms, with 2011 Agricultural Resource Management Survey data recently added to the ERS ARMS Web tool. Originally published on Wednesday, February 6, 2013.
Farm-level commodity prices are far more volatile than food prices, as costs for marketing inputs such as packaging, processing, and transportation mitigate commodity price volatility on supermarket shelves and restaurant menus. Corn, wheat, and soybeans are the three most important field crops to the U.S. food supply. The average farm price of these crops, weighted by total production, regularly rises or falls by over 10 percent from year to year. On average, food prices have become less volatile in recent decades, as food price inflation averaged 8 percent per year in the 1970s, but only 2.8 percent per year since 1990. Commodity prices, alternatively, have grown somewhat more volatile over time. However, large changes in major commodity prices have relatively small impacts on food prices. In 2007-08, the average production-weighted price of these crops increased by 50 percent, while food prices rose 5.5 percent. Similarly, in 2010-11, the crop prices rose 31 percent and food prices increased 3.7 percent. This chart appears in the Food Price Outlook topic page on the ERS website. Originally published on Tuesday, April 23, 2013.
For most of the last century, U.S. corn accounted for between 50 and 75 percent of world corn exports, but over the last decade the United States has lost its dominance in world corn markets. The U.S. ethanol program provided underlying support for corn prices after 2005 and, together with rising global feed demand and policies in some foreign countries, encouraged expansion in foreign corn production, with Brazil and Ukraine notably successful. In 2012/13 (October/September), with several years of below trend U.S. yields compounded by severe drought, foreign corn has become increasingly competitive in world markets. U.S. corn export market share is forecast to fall to less than 20 percent in 2012/13. With record U.S. corn production projected for 2013/14, U.S. export share is expected to increase and the United States is expected to return as the largest exporter. But the U.S. market share is forecast to remain well below 50 percent, while Brazil, Ukraine, and Argentina are each forecast to account for 15 to 20 percent of world corn trade. This chart is adapted from the Feed Grains Chart Gallery. Originally published on Thursday, August 1, 2013.
In 2009, as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), Congress temporarily increased the maximum benefit levels of USDA?s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) by 13.6 percent, with the intention that, over time, rising food prices would eliminate the ARRA increase. By 2011, inflation had cut the value of the ARRA increase by about half and the percentage of SNAP-recipient households with very low food security had increased to 13.8 percent from 12.1 percent in 2009. Very low food security is characterized by reduced food intake and disrupted eating patterns. Low-income non-SNAP households did not experience worsening food security during this time. ERS analyses of the pre- and post-ARRA periods suggest that future increases in the maximum SNAP benefit of 10 percent would reduce the number of SNAP households with very low food security by about 22 percent, and reducing the maximum benefit by 10 percent would increase that number by about 29 percent. This chart appears in Effects of the Decline in the Real Value of SNAP Benefits from 2009 to 2011, ERR-151, August 2013. Originally published on Friday, August 16, 2013.
China has been an important source of recent growth in U.S. agricultural exports, and there has been concern about the implications of recent increases in China?s domestic farm support. While it is often presumed that subsidies and price supports give Chinese farmers an advantage, these policies actually may improve prospects for U.S. agricultural exports by raising costs and prices of Chinese commodities above international levels. As a World Trade Organization (WTO) member, China agreed to relatively low tariffs and eliminated most barriers to imports apart from tariff rate quotas for several types of cereal grains, cotton, and sugar. Consequently, as China raises domestic price supports above international prices, the country tends to attract more imports. As a result, China today is a net importer of the commodities that are the main targets of its domestic support programs?grains, oilseeds and cotton. This chart can be found in Growth and Evolution in China?s Agricultural Support Policies, ERR-153. Originally published on Tuesday, August 13, 2013.