ERS Charts of Note
Tuesday, November 19, 2019
Fifteen years ago, U.S. beef was banned in South Korea after the discovery of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) in the United States at the end of 2003. U.S. beef exports gradually reentered the market after the ban was partially lifted in 2006, and then markedly accelerated in the years following implementation of the 2012 United States-South Korea free trade agreement (KORUS), which reduced tariffs and non-tariff barriers. Recently emerging as an important market for U.S. beef exports, South Korea received more than half of the increase in U.S. total beef-export volume from 2017 to 2018, with 35 percent year-over-year growth. Further, South Korea received more than 20 percent of total U.S. beef exports in 2018. Likely drivers of this growth included strong consumer demand; lower tariffs than the next largest competitor, Australia; large exportable supplies of beef in the United States relative to Australia; and a relatively weaker U.S. dollar in the first half of the year. As a result, U.S. beef exports to South Korea exceeded the pre-BSE peak level of 597 million pounds in 2002, reaching 638 million pounds in 2018, and making the United States the largest supplier of beef to South Korea. This chart appears in the May 2019 ERS Amber Waves article, “U.S. Exports for Most Major Meat Commodities Grew in 2018.” This Chart of Note was originally published May 6, 2019.
Monday, November 18, 2019
Employment in both nonmetro and metro counties fell by 5 percent between the end of 2007 and the end of 2009, reflecting the effects of the Great Recession. Since then, however, employment growth in rural areas has fallen behind metro employment growth. Between 2010 and 2018, nonmetro employment grew at an average annual rate of 0.4 percent, compared to 1.5 percent per year in metro areas. By the second quarter of 2019, nonmetro employment still remained more than 1 percent below the pre-recession level, while metro employment exceeded the pre-recession level by more than 9 percent. These differences in employment growth rates between nonmetro and metro areas may be related in part to differences in population growth. The slowest employment growth occurred in the same areas that had negative population growth—i.e., nonmetro counties with an urban population of less than 20,000. Employment growth since 2010 was faster than population growth in all groups of counties, indicating that a rising share of the population was employed. This chart appears in the November 2019 ERS report, Rural America at a Glance, 2019 Edition.
Friday, November 15, 2019
ERS’s annual International Food Security Assessment (IFSA) estimates and projects levels of food insecurity at a national level for 76 low- and middle-income countries. ERS projects per capita food consumption based on food prices and income and evaluates it against a daily caloric target of 2,100 calories per person per day—the lower bound of average calorie requirements across all regions, assuming a healthy and active lifestyle. In 2019, 19 percent of the population in the 76 studied countries is estimated to be food insecure. This means that about 728 million people—out of a population of 3.8 billion in the studied countries—consume fewer than 2,100 calories a day. By 2029, based on projected income growth and sustained low food prices, the share of food-insecure people in these countries is expected to decline to 9 percent and the number to 399 million. The biggest improvements are projected for Asia, where strong economic growth, particularly in India and Southeast Asia, combined with slowing population growth, contribute to increasing per capita incomes and expected improved food security by 2029. This chart appears in the ERS report, “International Food Security Assessment, 2019-2029,” released in August 2019.
Thursday, November 14, 2019
As part of the Federal Government’s National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), respondents are asked whether they see nutrition or health information on fast-food and full-service restaurant menus. If the answer is “yes,” respondents are also asked whether they use that information to decide which foods to buy. ERS researchers compared daily calorie intakes of adults who saw and used the menu information with intakes of adults who noticed the information but chose not to use it. Because information users may differ from nonusers in other ways, ERS researchers also adjusted intakes for differences in socio-demographic characteristics and interview-related factors (e.g., whether intake occurred on a weekday or weekend). Even after accounting for such differences, ERS analysis of NHANES data from 2007–14 reveals that restaurant menu label users consumed 167–180 fewer calories per day than nonusers consumed—a calorie intake gap that is 8 to 9 percent of a 2,000-calorie reference diet. This chart appears in “New National Menu Labeling Provides Information Consumers Can Use To Help Manage Their Calorie Intake” in the October 2018 issue of the ERS Amber Waves magazine. This Chart of Note was originally published March 22, 2019.
Wednesday, November 13, 2019
Food insecure households have difficulty providing adequate food for all their members due to a lack of money or other resources for obtaining food. Those households experiencing the more severe very low food security face reduced food intake and disrupted eating patterns at times during the year. The food security measurement methods used by ERS are designed to identify occasional or episodic occurrences of food insecurity at any time in the past 12 months. Additional questions in the food-security survey provide information on whether food insecurity or very low food security occurred in the 30 days prior to the December survey. In 2018, food insecurity was experienced by 11.1 percent of U.S. households at any time during the year and by 5.9 percent of U.S. households from mid-November to mid-December. In 2018, very low food security affected 4.3 percent of U.S. households at any time during the year, and 2.4 percent of households from mid-November to mid-December, and 0.6 to 0.8 percent of U.S. households on any day in that 30-day period. This chart appears in the ERS report, Household Food Security in the United States in 2018, released in September 2019.
Tuesday, November 12, 2019
Between 2013 and 2017, there was an average of 18.9 million military veterans and 4.3 million persons on active duty or serving in the reserves or National Guard. Together, they accounted for 9.4 percent of the U.S. population 18 years and older. Military veterans and service members are well-positioned to be in agriculture, contributing to the development, growth and success of farming, agribusiness, and rural communities. Between 2013 and 2017, military veterans and service members represented 8.6 percent (or 270 thousand) of the 3.1 million persons working or trained in agriculture. Similar to their counterparts with no military experience, they were involved in agriculture across a range of agricultural occupations, industries, and fields of educational attainment. However, military veterans and service members represented a more diverse class of agricultural worker than did those without military service. Military veterans and service members in agriculture (about 46 percent) were more likely to be self-employed in their own business, professional practice, or on a farm—compared to 25 percent of people in agriculture without military service. They were also more likely to be a government employee or to work without pay in a family business or on a farm, whereas the latter were predominantly employees of a business or individual for wages, salaries, or commissions. This chart updates data found in the report Rural Veterans at a Glance.
Friday, November 8, 2019
Households participating in USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) receive their benefits in a lump-sum on a single day each month. The majority of benefits are redeemed within a week after households receive them. When benefits are distributed on a single day or over a few days each month, this can produce a surge in demand, followed by a large drop in demand—making it difficult for food retailers to adequately stock and staff stores throughout the month. States have the option to stagger benefit deliveries over the month, with a portion of SNAP recipients receiving benefits each distribution day. These distribution days can be consecutive or not. Benefit distribution schedules differ by State, and many have changed over time. A new ERS database documents monthly distribution schedules for each State, the District of Columbia, and New York City for 1998–2018. The number of States that distribute SNAP over 16 days or more each month has increased from 2 States in 1998 to 16 States in 2018. Most of the States with the longest span in their SNAP distribution schedule are in the South and Midwest. This map appears in the August 2019 Amber Waves article, “ERS’s SNAP Distribution Schedule Database Allows for New Research on Program Impacts.”
Thursday, November 7, 2019
Southeast Asia’s expanding population and increasing incomes, urbanization, and retail sectors are contributing to rising meat consumption and growing imports of feedstuffs. In addition to soybean meal, corn is a significant ingredient in animal feed, and corn imports are of growing importance to the region. USDA projects that Southeast Asia’s corn imports will grow by 8.7 million metric tons between the 2018/19 and 2028/29 marketing years to reach 22.9 million metric tons by 2028/29. Most of the growth is driven by Vietnam and Malaysia, the fastest growing corn-importing countries in the region. Malaysia produces almost no corn and relies exclusively on imports to meet the feed needs of its steadily growing poultry and egg industries. Vietnam has quickly grown into the largest corn importer in the region, importing 9.5 million metric tons in 2018/19. Since 2012, Vietnam has moved from the 19th-largest corn importer in the world to the 5th largest. Imports are projected to continue to rise and reach 14.9 million metric tons by 2028. In contrast to the growth seen in Malaysia and Vietnam, Indonesia’s corn imports have contracted since 2014/15 due to Government policies aimed at encouraging domestic corn production. This chart appears in the April 2019 Amber Waves article, “Southeast Asia’s Growing Meat Demand and Its Implications for Feedstuffs Imports.” This Chart of Note was originally published April 8, 2019.
Wednesday, November 6, 2019
Forecasts for U.S. pork exports for 2019 and 2020 were recently raised, due in large part to expectations of continued significant growth in Chinese demand for U.S. pork. China’s demand for imported pork has accelerated as African Swine Fever (ASF) spread throughout China during 2018-19. While ASF does not affect human beings, it kills most infected swine and presently has no vaccine nor a cure. In September 2019, China’s inventory of swine was down 41 percent from a year earlier, as many farmers slaughtered swine to prevent herds from becoming infected. By mid-October, China’s hog and pork prices had roughly doubled from previous-year levels as pork supplies tightened. To partially fill its supply shortfall, China increased pork imports from the United States and about 10 other countries. Despite 2018 retaliatory tariffs and taxes imposed by the Government of China of up to 78 percent on most U.S. pork products, 2019 U.S. exports of pork to China have increased 91 percent, through August. Total U.S. pork exports in 2019 are forecast at 6.85 billion pounds, 12 percent higher than a year earlier. In 2020, total U.S. pork exports of 7.3 billion pounds are anticipated to be 11 percent above 2019. These charts were compiled from data in various 2019 issues of the USDA, Economic Research Service’s monthly “Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry Outlook.”
Tuesday, November 5, 2019
USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) provides benefits for purchasing food in authorized food stores to needy households with limited incomes and assets. In fiscal 2018, an average of 40.3 million low-income individuals per month received SNAP benefits in the United States. The percent of Americans participating in the program declined from 15.0 percent in 2013 to 12.3 percent in 2018, marking the fifth consecutive year of a decline in the percent of the population receiving SNAP. In seven States—Colorado, Kansas, Minnesota, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Utah, and Wyoming—8 percent or fewer of residents received SNAP benefits in 2018. Between 2013 and 2018, 46 States and the District of Columbia saw a decrease in the share of residents receiving SNAP benefits, while 4 States experienced increases. Idaho showed the largest decline in percent of residents participating in SNAP—a 36-percent decline from 14.1 to 9.0 percent of residents. Eighteen States and the District of Columbia had declines in participation shares of at least 25 percent between 2013 and 2018. Nevada had the largest increase in participation share, growing from 12.9 to 14.5 percent of residents. The fiscal 2018 map appears in the "Food Security and Nutrition Assistance" section of the ERS data product, “Ag and Food Statistics: Charting the Essentials,” updated in June 2019. This Chart of Note was originally published July 18, 2019.
Monday, November 4, 2019
U.S. poverty rates differ by age group. In 2017, the difference between rural and urban poverty rates was greatest for children under the age of 5 (26.0 percent in rural areas versus 19.3 percent in urban areas). Federal poverty thresholds vary by household composition. For a family of two adults and one child, the poverty line in 2017 was an annual income of $19,730. Overall, child poverty rates under age 18 were 22.8 percent in rural areas and 17.7 percent in urban areas. In contrast, the poverty rates for senior adults (age 65 and older) were much closer at 10.1 percent in rural areas and 9.1 percent in urban areas. Working age adults (ages 18–64) followed the pattern of other age-groups, in that they had higher poverty rates in rural areas (16.0 percent) than in urban areas (12.1 percent). Poverty rates do not indicate how long individuals have experienced poverty. Some families cycle into and out of poverty over time, while others are persistently poor. Persistent poverty among children is of particular concern, as the cumulative effects may lead to poor health, limited education, and other negative outcomes. Also, research suggests that the more time a child spends in poverty or living in a high-poverty area, the greater the chance of being poor as an adult. This chart appears in the ERS topic page for Rural Poverty & Well-being, updated March 2019.
Friday, November 1, 2019
Total caloric sweetener deliveries in 2018 totaled over 40.7 billion pounds on a dry weight basis (water content removed), down 2 percent from 2017. This translates to 124.4 pounds per person, a 2.6-percent decline from the previous year. Refined sugar continues to make up an increasing share of per capita deliveries, while corn-based sweeteners, particularly high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS), have trended downward since the early 2000s. On a per-person basis, deliveries of HFCS have fallen 40 percent since 2000, while refined sugar increased by 5 percent over the same period. This period coincided with various occurrences—higher input prices from global commodity price spikes; the growth of corn-based domestic ethanol production; increased imports of sugar supplies from Mexico; and greater attention to food labels by food manufacturers and consumers. However, per capita refined-sugar deliveries have declined slightly since 2016, suggesting a broader decline in caloric sweetener demand. Other caloric sweeteners, such as the corn sweeteners dextrose and glucose, and other sweeteners like honey, maple syrup, molasses syrups, and fructose syrups, make up a relatively minor share of total deliveries. This chart appears in the ERS Sugar and Sweeteners Outlook newsletter released in August 2017.
Thursday, October 31, 2019
Farm real estate (including farmland and the structures on the land) accounts for over 80 percent of farm-sector assets and represents a significant investment for many farms. Beginning in the mid-2000s, higher farm incomes and lower interest rates contributed to rapid appreciation. Nationally, average per-acre farm real estate values more than doubled when adjusted for inflation, from $1,483 in 2000 to $3,010 in 2016. Two major uses of farmland are cropland and pastureland. From 2003 to 2014, U.S. cropland values doubled, appreciating faster than pastureland and reflecting a rise in grain and oilseed commodity prices. However, the value of cropland and farm real estate dipped slightly in 2008–09, reflecting the effect of the Great Recession and the downturn in the U.S. housing market. In contrast, average U.S. pastureland values remained relatively flat. This chart appears in the February 2018 ERS report, Farmland Values, Land Ownership, and Returns to Farmland, 2000–2016. This Chart of Note was originally published May 23, 2019.
Wednesday, October 30, 2019
On a typical school day in fiscal 2018, USDA’s School Breakfast Program (SBP) provided healthy breakfasts to 14.7 million students, slightly less than half of the 29.7 million who participated in the National School Lunch Program (NSLP). SBP began as a grants program targeting especially needy schools. After being permanently authorized in 1975, more schools adopted the program. For example, the number of schools participating in SBP grew by nearly 9 percent annually between fiscal 1989 and 1995. By fiscal 2016, more than 9 out of 10 schools offering NSLP lunches also offered breakfast. In fiscal 2000, 7.6 million students participated in SBP daily; by fiscal 2016, participation had reached 14.6 million. Since then participation has increased each year by less than 1 percent. Most participants have high need; 80 percent of breakfasts in 2018 were free and another 5 percent were provided at a reduced price. Participating schools receive reimbursements from USDA for meals served; reimbursement rates are higher for free and reduced price meals. Schools with high shares of needy students receive a higher “severe need” reimbursement rate. Spending for the program totaled $4.4 billion in fiscal 2018. This chart appears in the Child Nutrition Programs: Charts topic page on the ERS website.
Tuesday, October 29, 2019
The produce industry and commercial buyers (retailers, foodservice buyers, and produce processors) have been instrumental in pushing food safety practices forward. Retailers strive to ensure food safety while not having direct control over production practices. Many retail companies have turned to indirect means, using third-party audits, to make certain that the produce they buy is grown following certain food safety practices. In 1999, Safeway became the first U.S. grocery chain to require audits from its suppliers of “high risk” fresh produce. Many other retailers followed. Marketing orders—standards initiated by producers—began to emerge later as a means for specific commodity groups to provide assurance of safe practices to industry buyers and consumers. The California leafy greens industry in 2007 initiated the Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement (LGMA)—a voluntary program that requires participants to implement mandatory food safety practices, which include third-party audits—and many others followed. Retailer food safety requirements have shaped the current food safety landscape and will determine the extent to which the Food Safety Modernization Act’s recently implemented “Produce Rule” affects growers. This information grew out of ERS research, including the 2007 Amber Waves article, “Outbreak Linked to Spinach Forces Reassessment of Food Safety Practices.” This chart appears in the ERS report, “Food Safety Requirements for Produce Growers: Retailer Demands and the Food Safety Modernization Act,” released in April 2019. This Chart of Note was originally published April 4, 2019.
Monday, October 28, 2019
Contracts are widely used in the production and sale of U.S agricultural commodities. Farmers use contracts to obtain compensation for higher product quality, specify outlets for products, and provide assurance of sales to manage income risk or finance debt. Processors use contracts to gain timely flows of products and greater control over the characteristics and consistency of the products they acquire. Contracts cover relatively small shares of corn, soybean, and wheat production—and those shares have changed little in 20 years. In contrast, most poultry is produced under contract, and what is not produced under contracts between processors and growers is raised in facilities operated directly by processors. These differences between commodities reflect differences in markets and product characteristics. Because corn, wheat, and soybean producers have many potential buyers and can store their crops for long periods, cash markets work well for them. On the other hand, poultry producers make a substantial investment to produce birds that lose value quickly after reaching maturity, and there are usually just one or two local buyers for the product. Facing a risk that, without a contract in place, buyers would be able to force the price down, poultry producers are reluctant to invest in their business without the assurance of a contract. This chart appears in the December 2018 report, America’s Diverse Family Farms: 2018 Edition. It was also highlighted in the ERS’s Amber Waves Data Feature, “Marketing and Production Contracts Are Widely Used in U.S. Agriculture” in July.
Friday, October 25, 2019
In 2018, Americans spent an average of 9.7 percent of their disposable personal incomes (DPI) on food. After falling from 16.8 percent in 1960 to 9.9 percent in 2000, the share of DPI spent on total food by the typical American has ranged from 9.6 to 9.9 percent. The decline over the past six decades has come from Americans spending less of their incomes on food at home (food purchased from supermarkets, convenience stores, warehouse club stores, supercenters, and other retailers). The share of DPI spent on food at home has fallen from 13.3 percent in 1960 to 5.7 percent in 2000 and 5.0 percent in 2018. In contrast, the share of DPI spent on food away from home (food purchased from restaurants, fast-food places, schools, and other away-from-home eating places) has risen—from 3.6 percent in 1960 to 4.2 percent in 2000, holding constant at 4.4 percent during the 2007-09 recession, and reaching 4.7 percent in 2018. This chart appears in the Food Prices and Spending section of the ERS data product, Ag and Food Statistics: Charting the Essentials. More information on U.S. food sales and expenditures, can be found in ERS’s Food Expenditure Series data product.
Thursday, October 24, 2019
The 2018 Farm Bill reauthorizes the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program and extends funding levels through fiscal year 2023. Under the program, block grants are awarded to each State to support State and multistate projects that aim to enhance the competitiveness and long-term success of U.S. specialty crop producers. Specialty crops are defined as fruits and vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits, horticulture, and nursery crops (including floriculture), whereas non-specialty crops include grains and commodities such as rice, wheat, and dairy products. The specialty crop grant program objectives include: broadening domestic and international markets for U.S. producers, supporting producers with research and development related to specialty crops, increasing market availability and access, and addressing challenges confronting specialty crop producers. Grant projects span topics in marketing, research, pest and disease management, food safety, and the like. The amount of grants awarded to a State is based on production value and acreage in specialty crops. Under the 2014 Farm Bill, grants awarded totaled $329.1 million for fiscal years 2014–18. Nearly half of the total went to California, Washington, and Florida—key fruit- and vegetable-producing States. As the leading producer of fruits and vegetables, California, alone, received 32 percent of the total grant amount. This chart appears in the specialty crops section of Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018: Highlights and Implications, released in February 2019. This Chart of Note was originally published March 27, 2019.
Wednesday, October 23, 2019
The income that a household has available to pay its debt, referred to as the term debt coverage ratio (TDCR), is often used to measure loan repayment capacity. A TDCR less than 1.0 indicates the farm household is in a repayment capacity “red zone” and does not have sufficient income to meet its loan payments. ERS researchers found that over the last 20 years, the shares of medium and large farms with a repayment capacity in the red zone have exceeded the share of small farms in that zone. On average, households that operate small farms earn most of their income off the farm and have relatively little farm debt. In the years following the 2012 peak in net cash farm income, the share of medium and large farms in the red zone increased. The increase was particularly steep for large farms—from 8.1 percent in 2012 to 12.4 percent in 2017. In contrast, small farms remained largely insulated from the downturn in the agricultural economy because they relied relatively more on off-farm income. This chart appears in the ERS report, Financial Conditions in the U.S. Agricultural Sector: Historical Comparisons, released October 2019. It also appears in the Amber Waves feature, “Larger Farms and Younger Farmers Are More Vulnerable to Financial Stress.”
Tuesday, October 22, 2019
On average, U.S. farmers received 14.6 cents for farm commodity sales from each dollar spent on domestically produced food in 2017, down from 14.8 cents in 2016—a 1.4-percent decline. 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. Although 2017 was the 6th consecutive year the farm share dropped, the decline in 2017 was smaller than in 2016 (4.5 percent) and 2015 (9.9 percent). Unlike in the previous 2 years, average prices received by U.S. farmers went up in 2017 as measured by the Producer Price Index for farm products. The decline in farm share also coincides with 6 consecutive years of increases in the share of the food dollar going to the foodservice industry. Increases in food-away-from-home spending by consumers drives down the farm share of the food dollar. Farmers receive a smaller percentage from eating-out expenditures because food makes up a smaller share of total costs due to restaurants’ added costs for preparing and serving meals. The data for this chart can be found in ERS’s Food Dollar Series data product, updated March 2019. This Chart of Note was original published on This Chart of Note was originally published April 17, 2019.