Editor's Pick 2017: Best of Charts of Note

This chart gallery is a collection of the best Charts of Note from 2017. 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.

Likelihood of low-income adults having a chronic disease increases as food security worsens

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

ERS researchers recently used health, demographic, and food security information from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Health Interview Survey to examine the relationship between 10 chronic diseases in low-income working-age adults and the food security status of their households. The researchers controlled for a variety of household and individual characteristics that may be associated with health—such as income, health insurance, and marital status—to get a clearer picture of the strength of the association between food security status and health. In all cases, the likelihood of having the particular health condition increased as household food security worsened. Among the 5 most common of the 10 chronic diseases examined, predicted illness prevalences were 4.3 to 11.2 percentage points higher for low-income adults ages 19-64 in very low food secure households (eating patterns of one or more household members were disrupted and food intake was reduced) compared with those in high food secure households (households had no difficulty consistently obtaining adequate food). This chart appears in "Adults in Households With More Severe Food Insecurity Are More Likely To Have a Chronic Disease" in the October 2017 issue of ERS’s Amber Waves magazine.

Rail disruptions following Hurricane Harvey nearly halt grain deliveries to Texas Gulf ports

Friday, September 29, 2017

On August 25, Hurricane Harvey made landfall on the Texas coast, bringing record levels of rainfall to the Houston metropolitan area and nearby counties. Rainfall totals in some areas of Texas exceeded 50 inches. Not surprisingly, the resulting widespread flooding reduced rail service along the Gulf Coast and all but halted regional grain exports through the first week of September. Interruptions in grain transportation in the Gulf region have the potential to be particularly impactful on shipments of the U.S. wheat crop. The Federal Grain Inspection Service reports that an average of 46 percent of total U.S. wheat exports ship from Gulf ports in Texas and Louisiana. For the week ending August 31, there were virtually no wheat inspections reported for Gulf ports due to the shutdown of rail and port operations. For the week ending September 7, no wheat was inspected for export at either South Texas or East Gulf ports, while North Texas inspected a relatively modest 50,318 metric tons of hard red winter wheat, down from 160,512 metric tons for the same week in 2016. Wheat export inspections are anticipated to accelerate as rail service that provides access to Gulf loading facilities is restored. Although some railroad repairs may take months, others are expected to be restored more quickly. This chart appears in a special article in the latest Wheat Outlook newsletter released in September 2017.

Technological innovations have increased corn yields

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

With less labor and land being used in production over time, U.S. agriculture depends on raising the productivity of these resources for growth. Average national corn yield (a productivity measure) rose from around 30 bushels per acre in the 1930s (where it stood since USDA began measuring them in the 1860s) to nearly 180 bushels per acre in the present decade. This sustained growth in productivity was driven by the development and rapid adoption of a series of successive biological, chemical, and mechanical innovations. Every few years farmers adopt the latest hybrid seed variety, for example. These seeds are likely to have multiple genetically modified (GM) traits designed to protect the crop against pests and diseases or infer other valuable qualities—such as resistance to the corn borer, a major insect pest of the crop. Recently, the rapid adoption of tractor guidance systems has greatly improved the speed and efficiency of tillage and planting operations and the precision of seed, fertilizer, and pesticide applications. By 2010, such systems were used on 45 percent of corn planted acres. This chart updates data found in the ERS report, The Seed Industry in U.S. Agriculture: An Exploration of Data and Information on Crop Seed Markets, Regulation, Industry Structure, and Research and Development, released February 2004.

By multiple measures, global food security has improved significantly since 1990

Friday, August 25, 2017

The United States made commitments to end global food insecurity by 2030 as part of the 2015 Global Sustainable Development goals. In 2016, the country enacted the Global Food Security Act, which seeks to reduce food insecurity and poverty through agricultural-led growth, increased resilience, and a broad commitment to improved nutrition. Because initiatives to address international food insecurity are evidence driven, advances in measuring food security remain critical to monitoring and evaluating progress. Assessments using metrics that primarily capture food availability and access dimensions confirm significant improvements in global food security over the past few decades. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the prevalence of undernourished people in the developing world declined from 23.3 percent to 12.9 percent between 1990 and 2015. The ERS International Food Security Assessment, 2017-27, finds that the prevalence of undernourishment has more than halved between 1990 and 2015 for the 76 low- and middle-income countries that USDA regularly tracks. This chart appears in the ERS report "Progress and Challenges in Global Food Security," released in July 2017.

Exchange rate movements influence U.S. export competitiveness

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Agricultural goods can be broken into distinct categories based on value or level of processing. Bulk goods, like grains and oilseeds, are sold in large quantities at relatively low per unit costs. They also tend to be relatively standardized products. U.S. and foreign products in these categories are more readily substituted for each other, as changes in exchange rates alter relative prices among suppliers. Higher value goods, like meats, fruits and vegetables, and processed goods, are differentiated by factors such as brand, quality, or sanitary and phytosanitary standards. As a result, they may be less likely to be substituted across origins on the basis of price or relative price in the case of exchange rates. The U.S. trade weighted exchange rate index from the Federal Reserve Bank of Saint Louis has shown strong dollar appreciation since 2014, resulting in declining exports for both categories (bulk exports declined by 9 percent and high-value products fell by 10 percent). Typically, bulk goods would decline further than high-value goods during appreciation, but the 2012-13 U.S. drought had a significant impact on the supply of several major crops. As a result, export volume decreased, but value remained high because of higher commodity prices. By 2014, production of key bulk commodities like corn and soybeans recovered and have since continued to grow, drawing down prices. As prices have fallen and stocks have been replenished, export volume has increased, dulling the perceived impact of a rising dollar. This chart appears in the Amber Waves article, "U.S. Agricultural Trade in 2016: Major Commodities and Trends," released in May 2017.

Nonmetro counties in the majority of States would gain jobs from increased demand for U.S. agricultural exports

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

U.S. agricultural exports support about 1.1 million full-time, civilian jobs, according to 2017 ERS estimates (based on 2015 data). A recent ERS study considered how U.S. employment might be affected if the demand for these exports increased even further. To find out, ERS researchers used a computational model of the U.S. economy to explore the possible effects of a hypothetical 10-percent increase in foreign demand for U.S. agricultural products. The findings were broken apart between results for metro counties with less direct agricultural activity and nonmetro counties, where most farming occurs. Of the 47 states with nonmetro counties, 39 were estimated to gain jobs from an increase in export demand. The current level of employment in the agri-food sector (agricultural production plus food and beverage manufacturing) was a key factor in explaining the size of the simulation’s regional employment effects. There were 16 nonmetro regions where the agri-food sector accounted for more than 10 percent of total employment, ranging from nonmetro Iowa (11 percent) to Washington State (26 percent). As a group, these regions accounted for just 5 percent of U.S. employment but 32 percent of the total employment gain for the United States resulting from the simulated increase in agricultural exports. This chart appears in the ERS Amber Waves article, "Increased Demand for U.S. Agricultural Exports Would Likely Lead to More U.S. Jobs," released in June 2017.

Poorest U.S. households spent 33 percent of their incomes on food in 2015

Friday, May 19, 2017

While households spend more money on food as their incomes rise, food expenditures represent a smaller portion of income as households allocate additional funds to other goods. In 2015, U.S. households in the highest income quintile spent an average of $12,350 on food—both from grocery stores and eating out. This spending accounted for 8.7 percent of their incomes. Middle income households spent an average of $5,799 on food, or 12.4 percent of their incomes. Households in the lowest income quintile spent less for food on average—$3,767 in 2015—but their food expenditures accounted for 33 percent of their incomes. Two years earlier, the lowest income quintile spent 36.2 percent of their incomes on food. The share of income spent on food depends on several factors, including food prices and incomes. While retail food price inflation was relatively low in 2013, income levels were also lower than in 2015, contributing to the higher percent of income spent on food in 2013 by the lowest income households. Food expenditures as a share of income could fall in 2016 and 2017 across income levels due to declining retail food prices in 2016 and a continued trend downwards in prices for some foods in 2017. This chart is from ERS’s Selected charts from Ag and Food Statistics: Charting the Essentials, 2017, released April 28, 2017.

The majority of U.S. agricultural exports, by value, go to five key markets

Friday, April 21, 2017

The United States exported $135 billion worth of agricultural goods in 2016. This is down from a record of $150 billion in 2014. While the Nation exports agricultural goods to most countries worldwide, a significant share goes to major trading partners. In 2016, 61 percent of the value of agricultural exports went to Canada, China, Mexico, the European Union (EU-28), and Japan. The dominance of key markets is not a new phenomenon. In fact, these five destinations have accounted for close to 60 percent of agricultural export value since at least 2000. In the case of Canada and Mexico, proximity plays a large role in its trade relationship with the United States. Additionally, regional trade agreements increased trade between the country and its nearest neighbors. The large share of trade going to China, Japan, and the EU-28 is influenced by the sheer size of the economies involved. The EU-28, China, and Japan are the three leading economies after the United States in terms of gross domestic product, and each country accounts for a significant share of global imports of agricultural goods. This chart is drawn from data in the Foreign Agricultural Trade of the United States (FATUS) data product, updated in April 2017.

Agriculture contributed $992 billion to the U.S. economy in 2015

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Agriculture and agriculture-related industries contributed $992 billion to the U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) in 2015, a 5.5-percent share. The output of America’s farms contributed $136.7 billion of this sum—about 1 percent of GDP. The overall contribution of the agriculture sector to GDP is larger than this because related sectors rely on agricultural inputs like food and materials used in textile production in order to contribute added value to the economy. In 2015, farming’s contribution to GDP fell for the second consecutive year after reaching a high point of $189.9 billion in 2013. A major reason for this downward trend has been falling commodity prices like corn and soy, which peaked around 2013 and have since fallen by at least 30 percent. The category of food service, eating and drinking places has expanded over a similar timeframe and may be a beneficiary of the lower commodity prices at the farm level. This chart was updated in March 2017 and appears in the ERS data product, Ag and Food Statistics: Charting the Essentials.

Retail food prices in 2016 declined for the first time in nearly 50 years

Monday, March 27, 2017

In 2016, retail food prices decreased by 1.3 percent—the first time since 1967 that grocery store (food-at-home) prices were lower than those in the year before. Over the last 50 years, food-at-home prices have, on average, risen 4 percent annually. However, year-to-year price changes have varied over time. High food price inflation in the 1970s—price increases as large as 16.4 and 14.9 percent in 1973 and 1974—was precipitated by food commodity and energy price shocks, whereas food price increases were minimal in 2009 and 2010, as the 2007-09 recession put downward pressure on prices for many goods, including food. The unusual decline in retail food prices in 2016 can be attributed to a culmination of factors. Declining prices for retail meats, eggs, and dairy during that year are largely a story about rising commodity production. Lower transportation costs due to low oil prices and the strength of the U.S. dollar also placed downward pressure on food prices in the first half of 2016. This chart appears in “Consumers Paid Less for Grocery Store Foods in 2016 Than in 2015” in the March 2017 issue of ERS’s Amber Waves magazine.

Decline in farm share of U.S. food dollar mirrors drop in farm commodity prices

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

On average, U.S. farmers received 15.6 cents for farm commodity sales from each dollar spent on domestically-produced food in 2015, down from 17.2 cents in 2014. Known as the farm share, this amount is at its lowest level since 2006, and coincides with a steep drop in 2015 average prices received by U.S. farmers, as measured by the Producer Price Index for farm products. ERS uses input-output analysis to calculate the farm and marketing shares from a typical food dollar, including food purchased at grocery stores and at restaurants, coffee shops, and other eating out places. 2015 was the fourth consecutive year that the farm share has declined, but the 2015 decline was substantially more than in the three previous years. The drop in farm share also coincides with four consecutive years of increases in the share of food dollars paying for services provided by the foodservice industry. Since farmers receive a smaller share from eating out dollars, due to the added costs for preparing and serving meals, more food-away-from-home spending will also drive down the farm share. The data for this chart can be found in ERS’s Food Dollar Series data product, updated on March 16, 2017.

Rural poverty remains regionally concentrated

Friday, March 3, 2017

Poverty is not evenly distributed throughout the United States. Americans living in poverty tend to be clustered in certain U.S. regions and counties. Nonmetro (rural) counties with a high incidence of poverty are mainly concentrated in the South, which had an average poverty rate of nearly 22 percent between 2011 and 2015. Rural counties with the most severe poverty are located in historically poor areas of the Southeast—including the Mississippi Delta and Appalachia—as well as on Native American lands, predominantly in the Southwest and North Central Midwest. The incidence of rural poverty is relatively low elsewhere, but generally more widespread than in the past due to a number of factors. For example, declining employment in the manufacturing sector since the 1980s contributed to the spread of poverty in the Midwest and the Northeast. Another factor is rapid growth in Hispanic populations over the 1990s and 2000s—particularly in California, Nevada, Arizona, Colorado, North Carolina, and Georgia. This group tends to be poorer than non-Hispanic whites. Finally, the 2007-09 recession resulted in more widespread rural poverty. This chart appears in the ERS topic page for Rural Poverty & Well-being, updated February 2017.