ERS Charts of Note

Subscribe to get highlights from our current and past research, Monday through Friday, or see our privacy policy.

Get the latest charts via email, or on our mobile app for Download the Charts of Note app on Google Play and Download the Charts of Note app on the App Store


Sales at retail food stores were higher in May 2022 than May 2019, but growth varied by food category

Thursday, June 30, 2022

Total retail food sales in the United States were higher the week ending May 1, 2022, $15.2 billion, compared with May 1, 2019, $12.7 billion, with substantial variation among categories. During the same period, the share of meats, eggs, and nuts increased from 16.8 percent to 17.1 percent, while the share of vegetables fell from 6.8 percent to 6.4 percent. The largest 3-year change was for fats and oils, which were 25.5 percent higher in sales value in 2022 compared with 2019. While the smallest 3-year change was for alcohol, which was 12.3 percent higher in sales value in 2022 compared with 2019. The USDA, Economic Research Service’s (ERS) Weekly Retail Food Sales data product provides a current and detailed picture of U.S. food-at-home retail sales. These data are clustered to food group levels and representative at the national and State levels. Two publicly available sets of the Weekly Retail Food Sales data are updated monthly by ERS: One with national totals and totals by 51 product subcategories (including alcohol), and the other with State totals for 39 States by 10 product categories (including alcohol). The data for this chart are available in ERS’s Weekly Retail Food Sales data product, updated on May 31, 2022.

Cost of a home-grilled cheeseburger up 21 cents from 2021

Wednesday, June 29, 2022

For Fourth of July cookouts this year, cheeseburgers could cost more than they did in 2021. In May 2022, the ingredients for a home-prepared 1/4-pound cheeseburger totaled $2.07 per burger, with ground beef making up the largest cost at $1.20 and cheddar cheese accounting for $0.35. This represents an increase of 11.3 percent compared to the $1.86 it cost to produce the same cheeseburger in May 2021. Retail prices for one-pound quantities of all ingredients were higher in May 2022 compared with May 2021. Ground beef prices increased 16.9 percent and accounted for 17 cents of the increase between 2021 and 2022. Cheddar cheese and bread costs each rose about 1 cent per burger from 2021 to 2022. Iceberg lettuce prices rose the most, by 23.3 percent, but the relatively small proportion it contributes to the total cost of a burger means it added just 2 cents to the total. This chart uses data from the ERS Food Price Outlook data product, which was updated on June 24, 2022, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Average Price data, and USDA Agricultural Marketing Service Weekly Advertised Fruit and Vegetables Retail Prices.

Rising incomes, urbanization position sub-Saharan Africa as growing export market for U.S. agricultural goods

Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Sub-Saharan Africa is a major influencer in global agricultural trends. Rising incomes, growing populations, and increasing urbanization position the region as a growing market for agricultural exports. Dietary patterns in many areas of this region have shifted with the rise in per-capita incomes as consumers increasingly favor more grain- and protein-rich diets over traditional staple foods. Agricultural production in this 46-country region is largely limited to subsistence farming, so many countries rely on imports to meet growing demand for agricultural and food products. The United States has emerged as a major supplier of agricultural exports to sub-Saharan Africa, particularly wheat and poultry. In 2001, the United States exported less than $0.5 billion in agricultural goods to the region. In 2019, $2.1 billion in U.S. agricultural exports—an estimated 1.5 percent of all U.S. agricultural exports—were shipped to sub-Saharan African countries. More than half that value was accounted for by Nigeria, South Africa, Angola, and Ethiopia. As economic development trends observed in these four countries continue to take shape in other markets, the outlook for U.S. export growth is strong. This chart first appeared in USDA’s Economic Research Service COVID-19 Working Paper: Single Commodity Export Dependence and the Impacts of COVID-19 in Sub-Saharan Africa, released in May 2022.

Land-grant universities and other cooperating institutions conduct the majority of agricultural R&D

Monday, June 27, 2022

Roughly 70 percent of public agricultural research and development (R&D) in the United States is performed by universities and other nonfederal cooperating institutions. Land-grant universities alone account for about half of all public agricultural R&D spending. State forestry schools, veterinary schools, and historically black colleges and universities account for most of the remaining agricultural R&D conducted at nonfederal institutions. State land-grant universities and agricultural experiment stations primarily perform research on topics of interest to their State or region, though this research has a national impact in the form of training scientists and generating basic scientific insights. USDA agencies such as the Agricultural Research Service and Forest Service perform the other 30 percent of public agricultural research, focusing on national and regional topics. This chart appears in the ERS’s Amber Waves article, “Investment in U.S. Public Agricultural Research and Development Has Fallen by a Third Over Past Two Decades, Lags Behind Major Trade Competitors,” published June 2022.

Federal spending on food assistance reached record high of $182.5 billion in 2021

Thursday, June 23, 2022

USDA, Economic Research Service (ERS) released “The Food and Nutrition Assistance Landscape: Fiscal Year 2021 Annual Report” on Wednesday, June 22. The report examines program trends and policy changes in USDA’s largest U.S. food and nutrition assistance programs through fiscal year 2021. An overview of the annual ERS report will be provided in a webinar at 1 p.m. EDT, Thursday, June 23. To join or register, click here.

Spending on USDA’s food and nutrition assistance programs jumped 43 percent in fiscal year (FY) 2021 to an inflation-adjusted record high of $182.5 billion. This increase reflected the heightened need for food assistance during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and the subsequent Federal response. In FY 2021, USDA expanded program benefits, approved waivers allowing flexibility in the administration of existing food and nutrition assistance programs, and continued to operate two temporary programs, Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer (P-EBT) and the Farmers to Families Food Box Program (Food Box Program). P-EBT and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) experienced the largest increases in spending from FY 2020, 162 percent and 44 percent, respectively. These increases reflect P-EBT’s operation throughout all of FY 2021 (compared with only part of FY 2020) and the issuance of SNAP emergency allotments, which temporarily raised all recipients’ benefits up to or above the maximum benefit for their household size. Combined spending on the four largest child nutrition programs (the National School Lunch Program, School Breakfast Program, Child and Adult Care Food Program, and Summer Food Service Program) increased, as did spending on both the Food Box Program and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). This chart is based on data available as of April 2022 that are subject to revision and a chart appearing in the USDA, Economic Research Service’s Food and Nutrition Assistance Landscape: Fiscal Year 2021 Annual Report, released June 22, 2022.

Honey imports continue to rise, offsetting declining U.S. production

Wednesday, June 22, 2022

Over the last 30 years, U.S. honey production has declined by around 1.4 percent per year while honey imports have grown by 7.6 percent per year, filling the domestic supply deficit. Imports have exceeded domestic honey production since 2005 and accounted for 74 percent of total U.S. honey supplies in 2021. The top three foreign suppliers—India, Vietnam, and Argentina—supply more than 71 percent of imported honey. Honey imports have expanded with rising domestic consumption of honey and honey-sweetened products. This expansion reached an all-time high in 2021, when domestic production was at the lowest volume since 1991. In 2021, production in all three major honey-producing States—North Dakota, South Dakota, and California—were 25 percent lower than their 1991 levels while production in the rest of the States declined by almost half during the same period. With the number of honey-producing colonies mostly unchanged, the year-to-year marked decline in 2021 production was mainly due to decreased honey production per colony. Average honey production per colony fell from 55 pounds in 2020 to 47 pounds in 2021, the lowest volume since the early 1990s. The widespread drought that year in key honeybee foraging grounds reduced floral resources available to make honey, contributing to lower honey production compared to 2020. More generally, in recent years, commercial beekeepers have focused on pollination services, particularly for almonds, instead of honey production. This shift in focus has contributed to the lower per colony output trend. This chart is drawn from the USDA, Economic Research Service’s Sugar and Sweetener Outlook, June 2022.

Number of U.S. farms continues slow decline as farm size slowly rises; overall land used remains constant

Tuesday, June 21, 2022

After peaking at 6.8 million farms in 1935, the number of U.S. farms and ranches fell sharply through the early 1970s. Rapidly falling farm numbers in the mid-20th century reflect the growing productivity of agriculture and increased nonfarm employment opportunities. Since then, the number of U.S. farms has continued to decline, but much more slowly. In 2021, there were 2.01 million U.S. farms, down from 2.20 million in 2007. With 895 million acres of farmland nationwide in 2021, the average farm size was 445 acres, only slightly greater than the 440 acres recorded in the early 1970s. This chart appears in the ERS data product Ag and Food Statistics: Charting the Essentials, updated June 2022.

U.S. imports of products included in infant formula category surged in March and April 2022

Thursday, June 16, 2022

On February 17, 2022, a major U.S. manufacturer voluntarily recalled several domestically produced varieties of powdered infant formula because of bacterial contamination concerns. The recall strained U.S. supplies of infant formula, causing reduced availability in grocery stores. The reduction of the domestic infant formula supply in retail channels has corresponded with surging imports of infant formula manufactured abroad. These imports fall under a broader category of the Harmonized Tariff Schedule of the United States for “preparations suitable for infant and young children, put up for retail sale,” which includes infant formulas. Excluding certain non-dairy products, imports of these products totaled 6.7 million pounds in April 2022. This marked a 1.6-million-pound increase from March and 4.1-million-pound year-over-year increase from April 2021. Mexico and Ireland were the leading suppliers of U.S. infant formula imports over that time. Although infant formula imports increased in March and April, domestic infant formula supplies significantly declined in May 2022, partially as a result of surging consumer demand. To further mitigate the domestic infant formula shortage, the U.S. Government unveiled actions in May 2022 to import large volumes of formula from overseas. This chart first appeared in the May 2022 Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry Outlook and has been updated with recent data.

Federal Government is primary funder of U.S. agricultural research and development

Tuesday, June 14, 2022

The Federal Government provides 64 percent of public agricultural research and development (R&D) funding in the United States. State governments and non-governmental sources, including funds generated by the universities themselves, account for the other 36 percent of funds for public agricultural R&D. Federal funds are delivered via external grants to universities and other cooperating institutions, and through appropriations to USDA agencies. Most of the Federal funding for agricultural research performed by non-Federal institutions is managed by USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA). NIFA allocates these funds through capacity grants to land grant and minority-serving institutions as well as through competitive grants that are open to all universities. Of the $1.663 billion in outlays for agricultural research by USDA research agencies (primarily the Agricultural Research Service, Economic Research Service, and the Forest Service), about $165 million was allocated to cooperative research agreements with universities. The National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, and other Federal agencies are also important funders of agricultural R&D, accounting for about 15 percent of the Federal total. Agricultural research funded by these agencies is performed primarily at universities. This chart appears in the ERS’s Amber Waves article, “Investment in U.S. Public Agricultural Research and Development Has Fallen by a Third Over Past Two Decades, Lags Behind Major Trade Competitors,” published June 2022.

U.S. consumers spent more money on food away from home than food at home in 2021, returning to pre-pandemic trend

Monday, June 13, 2022

Real, or inflation-adjusted, annual food spending in the United States has increased every year since 1997 except in 2008, 2009, and 2020. Sales increased from 1997 to 2019 for both food at home (FAH), food intended for off-premise consumption from retailers such as grocery stores, and food away from home (FAFH), food consumed at outlets such as restaurants or cafeterias. Over this period, real FAH spending increased at a slower rate (43.5 percent) than for FAFH (73.9 percent). In 2020, during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, real total food expenditures fell 6.6 percent from 2019. U.S. consumers’ food-spending patterns changed as efforts were made to limit the spread of COVID-19, which included stay-at-home orders. FAFH spending decreased by 15.8 percent in 2020, while FAH spending increased by 3.9 percent. In 2021, real total food expenditures increased 12.2 percent from 2020. With increased household income during the economic recovery and relaxed safety measures around indoor dining and social distancing, FAFH spending increased by 21.1 percent in 2021 from the previous year and was the primary driver of the overall food spending increase. FAH spending increased by 4 percent. The data for this chart come from the ERS’s Food Expenditure Series data product.

U.S. retail cotton use rebounded in 2021

Thursday, June 9, 2022

U.S. retail cotton use—an estimate of consumer usage of products made from cotton—jumped nearly 30 percent in 2021 to nearly 10 billion pounds, the highest in 13 years. The recovery coincided with the rebound of the U.S. economy following the onset of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic in 2020, when U.S. retail cotton use tumbled to its lowest point in more than 25 years. In the United States, most cotton clothing purchased in retail channels is imported. Import levels are used as an economic indicator for the global textile and apparel industry. U.S. cotton product imports—mostly clothing—fell by more than 10 percent in 2020, while cotton mill use and product exports—mostly yarn and fabric—also slowed with the economic downturn. By 2021, U.S. cotton product imports rose to their highest level since 2007. Although 2021 U.S. cotton mill use and product exports each increased by a similar percentage as product imports, the import volume was substantially larger. In addition, the U.S. per capita estimate of retail cotton usage increased to nearly 30 pounds in 2021, the highest amount since 2010. Despite the recent rebound, global economic expansion is projected to moderate in 2022 and the growth rate in retail cotton usage is expected to slow. This information is drawn from the Economic Research Service’s March 2022 Cotton and Wool Outlook.

Public agricultural R&D spending in the United States has declined in recent years

Wednesday, June 8, 2022

Spending on agricultural research and development (R&D) comes from private and public sources. Public R&D, however, has traditionally been the primary source directly oriented toward improving farm technology and productivity. Since the early 2000s, expenditures have declined in real terms for agricultural R&D performed by public institutions, including USDA laboratories, land grant universities, and other cooperating institutions. Researchers with USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS) found that R&D expenditures are now only slightly above the 1970 level of about $5 billion and well below the 2002 peak of just under $8 billion (constant 2019 dollars). Research expenditures were adjusted for inflation using the National Institutes of Health’s Biomedical Research and Development Price Index (BRDPI). This chart appears in the ERS’s Amber Waves article, “Investment in U.S. Public Agricultural Research and Development Has Fallen by a Third Over Past Two Decades, Lags Behind Major Trade Competitors,” published June 2022.

School foods were the richest source of dairy in children’s diets in 2017–2018

Tuesday, June 7, 2022

From 2017 to 2018, meals, snacks and other foods at school were the richest source of dairy for children ages 2 to 19. These foods provided an average of 1.99 cups of dairy products per 1,000 calories consumed each day. The USDA, Economic Research Service’s (ERS) Food Consumption and Nutrient Intakes data product provides calculations of the average daily consumption of food groups and selected nutrients by food sources. It uses food consumption data collected from a nationally representative sample of U.S. consumers by the USDA and the Department of Health and Human Services. Food sources are comprised of foods prepared at home and foods prepared away from home, including foods from restaurants, fast food establishments, and schools. The dairy foods group, as defined by USDA dietary guidance, is a major source of calcium and includes milk, cheese, yogurt, lactose-free milk, and fortified soy milk. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020–25, recommend individuals 2 years and older should consume 2–3 cups of dairy per day, depending on age and calorie level of dietary pattern. Although no age group meets this recommendation, children come the closest, with school foods making an important contribution. This chart was drawn from the ERS’s Amber Waves article, “Food Consumption and Nutrient Intakes Data Product Shines a Light on U.S. Diets”, September 2021.

From 2002 to 2019, Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) spending increased for technical assistance to support Farm Bill program implementation

Monday, June 6, 2022

Conservation technical assistance is a service that helps producers develop skills and knowledge for maintaining the natural resources involved in agricultural production. USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) provides technical assistance through several different programs. The Conservation Technical Assistance (CTA) program provides comprehensive planning services and technical support for the adoption of conservation practices across the agricultural landscape. NRCS also provides free technical assistance to producers and landowners participating in working lands programs such as the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) that primarily provide financial assistance for practice adoption. Similarly, NRCS provides technical support for participants in land conservation programs, which provide financial payments to producers and landowners that put land into long-term conservation, such as the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). Finally, NRCS administers several science and technology programs, among which the largest amount of funding goes to soil surveys. Spending for the CTA program has decreased in the studied period (2002-2019) by 23 percent, once adjusted for inflation. On the other hand, spending on technical assistance in support of working lands programs that primarily provide financial assistance has increased over the period from $163 million to $761 million. Spending on technical assistance for land conservation has increased, and spending on science and technology has decreased over the same period. This chart was drawn from the USDA, Economic Research Service report USDA Conservation Technical Assistance and Within-Field Resource Concerns, published May 2022.

Sunflower oil production makes up 9 percent of all vegetable oil produced globally

Thursday, June 2, 2022

Sunflower oil is one of the top four vegetable oils produced and consumed around the world. Commonly found in salad dressings, sunflower oil is widely used by consumers, likely for its light taste and healthy dosage of vitamin E. In the 2020/21 marketing year, sunflower oil accounted for 9 percent of major vegetable oils produced globally. Ukraine is the major global producer and exporter of sunflower oil, producing a total of 5.9 million tons in 2020/21, or 31 percent of all sunflower oil output, and 3 percent of major vegetable oils produced globally. Furthermore, Ukraine exported roughly 90 percent of its sunflower oil production in 2020/21 to trade partners such as the European Union, India, China, Egypt, and Turkey. These destinations together accounted for 65 percent of global sunflower oil exports. Market uncertainty about sunflower oil supplies from Ukraine has created additional demand for other vegetable oils, such as palm, soybean, and canola. Supplies of these alternatives are expected to be tight in the 2021/22 marketing year, contributing to elevated vegetable oil prices. This chart is drawn from USDA, Economic Research Service’s Oil Crops Outlook, April 2022.

USDA’s NRCS is the most common source of technical assistance for crop fields with self-reported soil and water related resource concerns

Wednesday, June 1, 2022

USDA asked farmers to self-report soil and water related resource concerns on their cotton, wheat, oat, and soybean fields for USDA’s 2015, 2017, and 2018 Agricultural Resource Management Survey (ARMS). USDA also asked farmers to report any sources of technical assistance which helped address their on-field soil and water concerns. USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) defines a resource concern as an expected degradation of a natural resource used in farming to the degree that its sustainability or intended use is impaired. NRCS provides free technical assistance both as a standalone service under the Conservation Technical Assistance program (CTA) and to support implementation of practices receiving financial assistance from programs such as the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). Producers can also seek technical assistance from other USDA agencies, the Cooperative Extension System, or sources such as conservation districts or State agencies. According to recent ARMS data, about 67 percent of fields that received any technical assistance received it from NRCS, with 46 percent of assisted fields receiving assistance exclusively from NRCS. Twenty five percent of assisted fields received assistance from multiple sources. This chart was drawn from the USDA, Economic Research Service report USDA Conservation Technical Assistance and Within-Field Resource Concerns, published May 5, 2022.

Cheese accounts for largest share of per capita U.S. dairy product consumption

Tuesday, May 31, 2022

While overall U.S. dairy consumption remained flat from 1979 to 2019, daily cheese consumption more than doubled, according to loss-adjusted food availability data from the USDA, Economic Research Service (ERS), which adjusts the amount of basic commodities available in the food supply for food spoilage, plate waste, and other losses to more closely approximate actual consumption. Overall U.S. dairy consumption remained roughly the same over this 40-year period, at just under 1.5 cup-equivalents of dairy products per person per day. However, daily cheese consumption grew to 0.72 cup-equivalents per person in 2019 from 0.34 cup-equivalents per person in 1979. Yogurt consumption grew almost fivefold to 0.05 cup-equivalents per person. Fluid milk consumption stood at 0.5 cup-equivalents per person in 2019, down from 0.9 cup-equivalents per person in 1979. Several factors contributed to this decline, including competition from alternative beverages, an aging population with differing preferences across generations, and changing consumer attitudes regarding milk fats. This chart is from ERS’s Ag and Food Statistics: Charting the Essentials, updated April 2021.

More farmers are adding fall cover crops to their corn-for-grain, cotton, and soybean fields

Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Cover crops are an increasingly popular management practice that farmers use to provide seasonal living cover between their primary commodity cash crops. Farmers often plant cover crops in the fall to provide winter cover for soil that otherwise would be bare. Over the past decade, fall cover crop adoption has grown in the United States, according to data from USDA’s Agricultural Resource Management Survey (ARMS). On fields growing corn for grain, one of the most commonly grown commodity crops, 0.6 percent of the acreage used a fall cover crop before the 2010 crop. By 2016, 5.5 percent of corn-for-grain acreage had a preceding fall cover, and by 2021, 7.9 percent of corn-for-grain acreage followed a fall cover crop. This represents a 44-percent increase in fall cover crop adoption on corn-for-grain fields between 2016 and 2021. The growth in adoption of cover crops on cotton fields is similar, with a 46-percent increase between 2015 and 2019. The ARMS surveys asked farmers to report on the cropping history, including the history of cover crop use, for each selected field. The average within-survey growth in cover crop adoption was similar for each target crop, as evident in the average year-over-year changes. A version of this chart appeared in the USDA, Economic Research Service report Cover Crop Trends, Programs, and Practices in the United States, released in February 2021. This chart adds data for 2019 cotton and 2021 corn-for-grain fields.

U.S. wine imports reach nearly $7.5 billion in 2021

Tuesday, May 24, 2022

In the United States, growing consumption of wine has contributed to an increase in wine imports, from 127 million gallons in fiscal year 2000 to 456 million gallons in FY 2021, reaching nearly $7.5 billion in value. Most wine imports come from the European Union (EU), accounting for 75 percent of the total value and 50 percent of the volume. Specifically, the top two countries of origin, Italy and France, each supplied about $2.5 billion in wine imports in FY 2021, although the volume from Italy was more than twice that of France because of its lower average price. In 2020, imports from the EU temporarily decreased in response to a 25-percent U.S. tariff placed in late 2019 on French, German, Spanish, and English wine that was lifted in early 2021. Until 2017, Australia was the third-largest supplier, providing as much as 21 percent of U.S. imports of wine, although that decreased to just 4 percent in 2021 following a prolonged drought and ongoing shifts in global markets. During this time, New Zealand’s share grew to 7 percent. South America, mainly Argentina and Chile, supplied as much as 15 percent of U.S. wine imports in 2012 but now provides less than 7 percent. U.S. wine imports are projected to increase to $7.7 billion in FY 2022. While the United States is a net importer of wine, it exported $1.5 billion in 2021 to destinations including Canada, the United Kingdom, and Japan. This chart is drawn from the Outlook for U.S. Agricultural Trade, published by USDA’s Economic Research Service, February 2022.

Infants in USDA’s WIC Program consumed an estimated 56 percent of U.S. infant formula in 2018

Monday, May 23, 2022

Disruptions to the U.S. infant formula market may impact participants in USDA’s Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) because many infants receive formula from the program. The share of formula in the United States that is consumed by WIC infants ages 0 to 12 months is estimated to have been about 56 percent in 2018 compared to 58 percent in 2005. Both estimates are derived from the numbers of WIC and non-WIC infants and the estimated shares of each group that consume formula. The estimates assume that all formula-fed infants consume the same amount of formula independently of WIC participation status, age, weight, and other factors. The information on breastfeeding and formula-feeding practices for WIC and non-WIC infants comes from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Immunization Survey, for which 2018 is the most current data publicly available. The numbers of WIC and non-WIC infants come from USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service. Even though fewer than half of all infants in the United States participated in WIC in 2018, WIC infants are more likely to be formula-fed compared with non-WIC infants, resulting in an estimated 56 percent share of formula consumption in 2018. This chart updates information in the ERS report, Rising Infant Formula Costs to the WIC Program: Recent Trends in Rebates and Wholesale Prices, February 2010.