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Costs of producing soybeans in the United States rise as returns fluctuate over time

Monday, July 26, 2021

The total cost of producing one acre of soybeans in the United States increased by 14 percent between 2012 and 2020. At the same time, grower revenue—the returns a grower receives from producing an acre of soybeans—decreased by 14 percent. Returns, which equal the price of soybeans multiplied by the yield, fell from $597 an acre in 2012 to $431 in 2015. In 2016, returns rose to $492 before falling to $429 in 2019. In 2020, returns rebounded to $522 an acre, the highest level since 2014. Grower returns are closely associated with soybean prices, which fluctuated between 2012 and 2020. Prices peaked at $14.21 per bushel in 2012 before dropping to $8.61 per bushel in 2018 and 2019, even as yields per acre trended higher. Total costs—which include operating costs such as seed, fertilizer, and chemicals, as well as allocated overhead costs such as labor and capital recovery of machinery and equipment—grew from $438 to $500 between 2012 to 2020. Largely because of an increase in soybean prices, soybean returns in 2020 exceeded costs for the first time in three years. Costs for most aspects of soybean production increased from 2012 to 2020. The biggest cost increases were for capital recovery of machinery and equipment, as well as for the opportunity cost of land—a category that reflects income that might have been earned from renting out the land. This chart is drawn from USDA, Economic Research Service's (ERS) Oil Crops Outlook, June 2021, and is based on data collected from the ERS Commodity Costs and Returns data product.

Value of U.S. agricultural exports forecast to reach record high in 2021

Friday, July 23, 2021

After reaching a 5-year high in 2020, the value of U.S. agricultural exports is forecast to reach an all-time high in fiscal year (FY) 2021, which ends September 30. Led by strong shipments of corn and soybeans, as well as livestock, poultry, and dairy products, total export values are projected to reach $164.0 billion. Based on trade data to date and expectations for reduced competition from Brazil, which has intensified already strong demand, U.S. corn exports are forecast to reach record levels totaling $17.2 billion in FY 2021. Likewise, expectations for continued robust export demand of U.S. soybeans in FY 2021, mainly from China, support a record-high export value of $28.9 billion. Since 1996, U.S. agricultural exports have nearly tripled because of a range of factors, including China’s joining the World Trade Organization in 2001 and the advent of the North American Free Trade Agreement in the mid-1990s (succeeded by the United States–Mexico–Canada Agreement). Like exports, in FY 2021, imports are projected to reach an all-time high, largely driven by observations of surging imports to date of fresh and processed fruits and vegetables, as well as alcoholic beverages. This chart is drawn from data in USDA, Economic Research Service’s Outlook for U.S. Agricultural Trade, May 26, 2021.

Commercial farms received the highest average Government payments in 2019

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Government payments to farm operator households totaled $14.8 billion in 2019, based on data from USDA’s Agricultural Resource Management Survey. More than 30 percent of about 1.97 million U.S. farms received some Government payments that year, with an average payment of $24,623. The distribution of payments varied by farm type, which USDA’s Economic Research Service defines based on gross cash farm income (GCFI) and operator type. About 74 percent of commercial farms (those with $350,000 or more in annual GCFI) received Government payments in 2019, with an average payment of $84,775. By comparison, about 31 percent of intermediate farms (less than $350,000 in annual GCFI and a principal operator whose primary occupation is farming) received Government payments, with an average payment of $11,731. About 24 percent of all residence farms (less than $350,000 in annual GCFI and a principal operator who is retired from farming or has a primary occupation other than farming) received Government payments, with an average payment of $8,147. The distribution of payments also varied by the type of Government program. Across programs, average payments were always highest for commercial farms and typically lowest for residence farms, with intermediate farms in the middle. For example, average countercyclical payments in 2019 were $28,093 for commercial farms, compared with $5,800 and $2,660 for intermediate and residence farms, respectively. The only exception was in conservation payments, where intermediate farms had the lowest average payments. This chart appears in the July 2021 Amber Waves finding, Commercial Farms Received the Most Government Payments in 2019. For more information on the Federal programs discussed above, visit the topic page for Farm & Commodity Policy.

Trans fat levels in U.S. youth dropped from 1999 to 2010

Monday, July 19, 2021

A 2020 USDA, Economic Research Service (ERS) study analyzed data publicly released for the first time in March 2019 and found that blood plasma levels of trans fats among youth fell by more than three-fifths (61.9 percent) from 1999-2000 to 2009-2010. Trans fats raise artery-clogging “bad” cholesterol (low-density lipoprotein, or LDL) levels and lower “good” cholesterol (high-density lipoprotein, or HDL) levels. Thus, increased intake of trans fats can result in an elevated risk of cardiovascular disease. The decrease in blood plasma levels of trans fats among youth came after a recommendation in the 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans to limit consumption of trans fats and a Federal Government requirement that trans fats content be included on packaged food labels. While young people are at a lower risk of developing cardiovascular disease than adults, intake of trans fats in early childhood and adolescence could set in motion processes that lead to the disease in adulthood. Data on blood plasma levels of trans fats of children (ages 6-11 years) and adolescents (ages 12-19 years) living in the United States were drawn from the 1999-2000 and 2009-2010 waves of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, a nationally representative survey that assesses the health and nutritional status of the U.S. population. Blood plasma levels of the type of trans fat often found in partially hydrogenated oils fell by about two-thirds (67.2 percent) from 1999-2000 to 2009-2010, compared with a 60.5 percent decline in blood plasma levels of the type often found in dairy products. This chart appears in the ERS’ Amber Waves article, Trans Fat Levels Among U.S. Youth Fell From 1999 to 2010, June 2021. See also an Amber Waves finding from June 2017, Blood Levels of Trans Fats Among American Adults Fell from 1999 to 2010.

USDA’s Summer Food Service Program provided a record number of meals in fiscal year 2020

Friday, July 16, 2021

USDA’s Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) typically provides nutritious meals to children and teens in low-income areas during unanticipated school closures between October and April or when schools are not in session, such as during summer break. In fiscal year (FY) 2020, the program served a record number of nearly 1.3 billion meals to children and teens, 8.9 times more than in FY 2019. Whereas participation in the program typically peaks in July, the SFSP in 2020 provided the most meals in May and continued to serve more than 200 million meals in September. The Government spent $4.1 billion on the program in FY 2020, up from $475 million in FY 2019. This increase reflects the expanded need for food assistance during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and the Federal response to meet that need. The closure of schools and childcare providers beginning in March 2020 disrupted the distribution of meals through what are typically the largest of USDA’s Child Nutrition Programs: the National School Lunch Program, the School Breakfast Program, and the Child and Adult Care Food Program. In response, USDA issued waivers expanding the scope and coverage of the SFSP by allowing qualifying organizations to serve free meals throughout the year and in all areas, among other changes. This chart is based on data available as of January 2021 that is subject to revision and made available on the USDA, Economic Research Service’s (ERS) Summer Food Service Program section of the Child Nutrition Programs topic page, updated July 2021.

U.S. residents scooped more ice cream in 2000 than in 2019

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

U.S. residents have been scooping less of their favorite frozen treats than two decades ago. In 2019, the most recent year for which complete data are available, U.S. residents consumed around 21 pounds of frozen dairy products per capita, about 4 pounds per capita less than in 2000. Consumption of regular ice cream in 2019 totaled 12.1 pounds per person, a decrease of about 4 pounds, or 25 percent, from 2000. At 6.6 pounds, per capita consumption of low fat and nonfat ice cream was about the same in 2019 as in 2000. Consumption of other frozen dairy products, which include frozen yogurt, sherbet, and miscellaneous frozen dairy products, decreased from 3.4 to 2.3 pounds per person. The downward trend in consumption of frozen dairy products corresponds with a 17 percent decline in consumption of caloric sweeteners between 2000 and 2019, reflecting increased consumer awareness about sugar intake. This chart is drawn from Dairy Data published by USDA, Economic Research Service (ERS). Information concerning caloric sweeteners is from ERS Sugar and Sweeteners Yearbook Tables.

Research investments help many countries sustain growth in agricultural productivity

Monday, July 12, 2021

Raising the productivity of existing agricultural resources—rather than bringing new resources into production—has become the major source of growth in world agriculture. Farm productivity is measured by total factor productivity (TFP), an index that takes into account the land, labor, capital, and material resources employed in farm production and compares them with the total amount of crop and livestock output. If total output is growing faster than total inputs, then the total productivity of the factors of production (i.e., total factor productivity) is increasing. Using the latest available data through 2016, agricultural productivity has risen steadily in most industrialized countries at between 1 and 2 percent a year since at least the 1970s. Since the 1990s, many developing countries as well as transition economies that belonged to the former Soviet bloc also have increased their agricultural productivity. Long-term research investments to develop new technologies have been especially important to sustaining higher agricultural TFP growth rates in large, rapidly developing countries such as Brazil and India. Institutional and economic reforms, combined with technological changes, have led to significant benefits for Chinese agriculture. Additionally, Russian agriculture rebounded after the early 1990s economic transition from a planned to a market-based economy, and the southern region of the country achieved notable productivity improvement. In contrast, under-investment in agricultural research remains an important barrier to stimulating agricultural productivity growth in Sub-Saharan Africa. This chart appears in USDA, Economic Research Service data product for International Agricultural Productivity, updated November 2019.

Rye and winter wheat were the most common cover crops on corn, soybean, and cotton fields

Friday, July 9, 2021

Cover crops—which farmers add to a crop rotation in between the planting of two crops—provide living, seasonal soil cover with a variety of benefits, such as increased soil moisture capacity, weed suppression, and reduced nutrient runoff. Researchers from USDA, Economic Research Service (ERS) reported which cover crops were grown the fall before planting corn, cotton, and soybeans. For corn fields intended for use as grain or silage (the harvesting of the entire plant for forage) in 2016, more than 90 percent of acres with cover crops used a grass or small grain cover crop, such as rye, winter wheat, or oats. At 63 percent of acreage, rye was more than twice as common as winter wheat (26 percent) as the cover crop on corn for grain fields. Rye and winter wheat were also the most common cover crops on soybean fields in 2018. Winter wheat was the most common cover crop used on cotton fields in 2015. This likely reflects the role of wheat stubble in protecting cotton seedlings from wind and the potentially negative impact of certain chemicals produced by cereal rye on growing cotton plants. This chart appears in the ERS report Cover Crop Trends, Programs, and Practices in the United States, released in February 2021. It also appears in the July 2021 Amber Waves finding Grass Cover Crops, Such as Rye and Winter Wheat, Were the Most Common Cover Crops Used Before Planting Corn, Soybeans, and Cotton.

Use of dicamba-tolerant seeds common among most major cotton-producing States in 2019

Wednesday, July 7, 2021

Weed management, which increases the quality of the harvest and farm profit, is an essential component of cotton production. A common herbicide used to control annual and perennial broadleaf weeds is dicamba. In 2016, Monsanto first commercialized genetically engineered (GE) dicamba-tolerant (DT) cotton seeds. The genetic engineering process inserts into a plant’s genome traits, such as the ability to tolerate herbicide applications. Data from USDA’s Agricultural Resource Management Survey, which covered the majority of cotton-producing States, show that U.S. farmers quickly adopted DT cotton seeds. By 2019, the percentage of upland cotton (cotton with short staple length) acres planted with DT seeds had reached 69 percent in the 12 surveyed States. The States with the most DT seed use in 2019 were Mississippi, Missouri, South Carolina, and Tennessee—in which approximately 88 percent, 85 percent, 83 percent, and 80 percent of cotton acres were planted with DT varieties, respectively. This chart appears in the July 2021 Amber Waves data feature, Adoption of Genetically Engineered Dicamba-Tolerant Cotton Seeds is Prevalent Throughout the United States.

Share of income spent on food in U.S. dropped 10 percent in 2020 to historic low

Friday, July 2, 2021

During the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and economic recession in 2020, the share of U.S. consumers’ disposable personal income (DPI) spent on food decreased 10.1 percent from the previous year to 8.62 percent, the lowest share in the past 60 years. DPI is the amount of money that U.S. consumers have left to spend or save after paying taxes. The share of DPI spent on food in the United States was relatively steady over the last 20 years, decreasing from 9.95 percent in 2000 to 9.58 percent in 2019. Consumers spent 1.4 percent more of their incomes on food at supermarkets, convenience stores, warehouse club stores, supercenters, and other retailers (food at home) from 2019 to 2020, while they spent 22.2 percent less of their incomes on food at restaurants, fast-food places, schools, and other places offering food away from home over the same period. Changes in the shares of income spent on food in 2020 resulted, in part, from pandemic-related closures and restrictions at food-away-from-home establishments, as well as from the largest annual DPI increase in 20 years. The increase in DPI was driven by additional Government assistance to individuals in 2020, including stimulus payments to households and increased unemployment insurance benefits. The data for this chart come from the Economic Research Service’s Food Expenditure Series data product. See also the Amber Waves article Average Share of Income Spent on Food in the United States Remained Relatively Steady from 2000 to 2019, published in November 2020.

Global cotton mill use rebounds from COVID-19 disruptions

Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Cotton mill use generally follows world economic activity. When the global economy contracts (expands), consumers often decrease (increase) purchases of items such as clothing. As the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic weakened the world economy in 2020, numerous industrial disruptions occurred, including textile and apparel operations. Correspondingly, world cotton mill use in marketing year 2019 (August 2019-July 2020) declined to a 16-year low, with the 14.6 percent year-over-year decrease unmatched during the previous 100 years. However, as the global economy begins to recover from the pandemic, world cotton mill use has increased. Based on USDA’s June 2021 forecast, marketing year 2020 global cotton mill use is estimated to regain most of the past season’s lost volume, and the projected 14.8 percent year-over-year expansion is the second highest during the past century. Global cotton mill use has increased more than 10 percent year-over-year in only 7 other years since 1920, with most of those gains following significant recessionary declines. Although the global economy and cotton mill use continues to recover from the pandemic’s impact, the 2020 rebound in cotton mill use has arguably been just as historic as the unprecedented 2019 decline. This information and the effects on global cotton supply and demand are discussed in the USDA, Economic Research Service’s June 2021 Cotton and Wool Outlook.

Cost of a home-grilled cheeseburger up 11 cents from 2019

Tuesday, June 29, 2021

For Fourth of July cookouts this year, cheeseburgers could be a bit pricier than they were in 2019. The latest available prices from May 2021 show the ingredients for a home-prepared quarter-pound cheeseburger totaled $1.89 per burger, with ground beef making up the largest cost at $1.03 and cheddar cheese accounting for $0.34. This same cheeseburger would have cost $1.78 to prepare in May 2019, an increase of 6.3 percent. Retail prices for one-pound quantities of all ingredients, except tomatoes, were higher in May 2021 compared with May 2019. USDA, Economic Research Service (ERS) is using 2019 for comparison because 2020 was an unusual year for food prices. Higher ground beef prices accounted for more than half the 11-cent increase between 2019 and 2021, while cheddar cheese costs were 1 cent more per burger in May 2021. Bread and iceberg lettuce prices rose the fastest—17.2 and 11.4 percent, respectively—but these ingredients represented a relatively small portion of the total cost of a burger. Bread and lettuce added 4 cents to a burger’s total cost in 2021. Tomato prices remained roughly the same over this period. This chart uses data from the ERS Food Price Outlook data product.

After surge, U.S. production area of popular greenhouse vegetables slows

Friday, June 25, 2021

For over a decade, U.S. consumers have increased their demand for year-round availability of tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers. The domestic produce industry initially responded by increasing protected-culture cultivation of these popular crops, usually through the use of greenhouses. Available data indicate the greenhouse area used to produce U.S. peppers rose 186 percent between 2009 and 2014, and greenhouse cucumber production area increased 83 percent. Subsequently, changes in the area devoted to protected-culture vegetable production have been mixed. For example, greenhouse area devoted to cucumber and pepper production in 2019 was down 42 and 30 percent, respectively, compared to the change between 2009 and 2014. In contrast, lettuce and tomato protected culture area was up 28 and 23 percent, respectively, over the same period. Between 2014 and 2019, imports of greenhouse-grown produce have increased significantly, a factor in the lackluster growth in cultivated area in the United States. Further, imported produce has increased U.S. supplies and pressured domestic prices downward, dampening incentives to expand U.S. greenhouse production. This chart appeared in the Economic Research Service’s April 2021 Vegetable and Pulses Outlook.

Farms with higher sales had a larger share of households with positive farm income

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Farm households earn income from both farm operations and off-farm sources, such as off-farm employment, pensions, and capital gains. In 2019, more than half (51 percent) of all U.S. farm households had positive net returns, where total revenue from farming exceeded total costs. Farms with higher sales had a larger share of households with positive farm income. For example, 39 percent of farm households with annual gross sales less than $10,000 had positive farm income, compared with 85 percent of farms with sales of $1 million or more. At the same time, 56 percent of households operated the smallest farms with sales of less than $10,000, compared with 4 percent operating the largest ones with annual sales of $1 million or more. Households operating larger farms relied more on income from farming than households operating smaller farms. For instance, households that operated farms with sales of $1 million or more—and that had net positive returns—earned a median share of 87 percent of their income from farming. For those with sales less than $10,000, that median share was 5 percent. This chart is based on data from the ERS data product ARMS Farm Financial and Crop Production Practices, updated December 2020.

Costs of major foodborne illnesses in the United States increased to $17.6 billion in 2018

Monday, June 21, 2021

The USDA, Economic Research Service (ERS) estimates that inflation and income growth drove up the costs resulting from 15 foodborne illnesses in the United States by $2 billion from $15.5 billion in 2013 to $17.6 billion in 2018. For this estimate, ERS included medical care costs, the value of lost earnings, and a monetary measure of death based on individuals' willingness to pay to reduce the risk of dying from foodborne illness. The biggest factor behind the increase in the overall costs of foodborne illnesses was the effect of inflation and income growth on the value people place on preventing deaths. However, the value of prevented deaths as a share of overall costs decreased slightly in 2018 compared to 2013 due to the substantial inflation in medical costs. Health effects from foodborne illness can vary by pathogen (bacteria, viruses, and parasites), ranging from a few days of diarrhea to more serious outcomes, such as kidney failure, cognitive impairment, and even death. Determining the overall costs of these health effects provides a common metric to compare impacts of different pathogens, a way to aggregate impacts across illnesses, and a means of comparing the costs of experiencing those illnesses with the costs of preventing them. More information can be found in the ERS’s updated Cost Estimates of Foodborne Illnesses data product. This chart appears in the ERS’s Amber Waves article, “Economic Cost of Major Foodborne Illnesses Increased $2 Billion From 2013 to 2018,” April 2021.

Demand for honey increasingly met through imports as U.S. production plateaus

Friday, June 18, 2021

U.S. imports of honey have surged by 73 percent in the last 10 years, reaching a near-record 433 million pounds in 2020. While domestic honey production has remained stable at around 156 million pounds per year, American consumers’ taste for honey and honey-sweetened products has grown. Imports now comprise a majority of total U.S. honey supplies. In 2020, imports accounted for 70 percent of total honey available for use in the United States, up from 54 percent in 2010. Since 2010, leading suppliers of imported honey by market share have varied, with Vietnam rising to the top position in 2020, followed by Argentina, India, Brazil, and Ukraine. Combined, these top 5 suppliers represented 88 percent of all imports in 2020. The growing volume of imports in the U.S. honey market has not been without controversy. In April 2021, U.S. producers filed anti-dumping petitions with the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) against several top supplying countries. The preliminary ruling found reasonable indication that imports of raw honey from Argentina, Brazil, India, Ukraine, and Vietnam allegedly sold in the United States at less than fair value have materially injured the U.S. honey industry. The Department of Commerce will issue a report containing its preliminary anti-dumping duty determinations on honey imports later this year. This chart is drawn from the USDA, Economic Research Service’s (ERS) Sugar and Sweetener Outlook, June 2021. See also ERS report, Honey Bees on the Move: From Pollination to Honey Production and Back, published in June 2021.

China’s imports of corn and several corn substitutes rebounded in 2020

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

China’s corn imports jumped to a record 11.3 million metric tons in 2020, more than twice the volume imported in past years. The increase reflected rapidly increasing Chinese corn prices and China’s commitment to buy U.S. agricultural products under the Phase One trade agreement between China and the United States. Corn is the predominant ingredient in China’s growing animal feed production and is widely used in other food, starch, and alcohol products. In past years, a cumbersome import quota made it difficult for Chinese feed mills and processors to import corn, so they often imported substitutes such as sorghum, barley, distillers’ grains, cassava, and field peas that have low prices and no quotas. Imports of all feed ingredients were relatively low during 2019 because of high tariffs on U.S. commodities and a lull in feed demand due to a disease epidemic that reduced China’s swine herd. In 2020, imports of corn and its substitutes increased to a combined total of more than 30 million metric tons. Large purchases by Chinese state-owned companies and a rapid increase in Chinese corn prices appear to have driven the increase in corn imports—which exceeded the quota for the first time. Rebuilding of the swine herd and waivers of retaliatory tariffs on U.S. sorghum may have contributed to the increase in imports of substitutes. However, imports of U.S. distillers’ grains were still constrained by high duties imposed by a 2016 Chinese anti-dumping investigation. This chart appeared in the USDA, Economic Research Service’s Feed Outlook, May 2021.

Average age of hired farm workforce increased from 2006 to 2019

Monday, June 14, 2021

With fewer young immigrants entering the U.S. farm workforce, the average age of foreign-born hired farmworkers rose in 2019. That, in turn, pulled up the average age for the U.S. farm workforce as a whole. According to the latest data from the American Community Survey, the average age of foreign-born farmworkers increased by nearly 7 years from 2006 to 2019, from 35.7 to 41.6 years. In contrast, the average age for farmworkers born in the United States remained roughly constant over the same period. The average age of all farmworkers increased from 35.8 years in 2006 to 39.5 years in 2019. U.S. farmworkers, who make up less than 1 percent of the Nation’s workforce, are more likely to be Hispanic of Mexican origin and less likely to be citizens than are workers in occupations other than agriculture, according to the American Community Survey. This chart updates data found in the October 2020 Amber Waves data feature, “U.S. Farm Employers Respond to Labor Market Changes With Higher Wages, Use of Visa Program, and More Women Workers.”

Low inventories of chicken, especially wings, constrain supplies as restaurants reopen

Friday, June 11, 2021

As restaurants gradually return to regular operations after more than a year of capacity constraints related to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, they may find challenges trying to stock enough chicken and chicken wings to meet growing demand. Broiler (chicken) production in the first quarter of 2021 was down 3 percent from a year earlier, while stocks of chicken meat in cold storage are at record lows. In combination, these conditions create low chicken availability at a time when demand is building. Broiler meat in cold storage at the end of March totaled 700 million pounds, 220 million pounds less than the same time last year and 79 percent of the 3-year-average for March. Chicken wings, which have been in high demand as takeout food during the pandemic, are at their lowest level in cold storage since 2012 and around 17 million pounds below the same time last year. If the chicken industry were to respond by expanding production, rebounds would probably take at least 9 to 12 weeks—the approximate time it takes for a broiler to hatch and reach maturity. This chart is drawn from USDA, Economic Research Service’s Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry Outlook, May 2021.

Largest shares of women principal farm operators found on poultry and other livestock operations in 2019

Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Women play an integral part in farming, either as a principal operator or as a secondary operator. In 2019, more than half (51 percent) of all farming operations in the United States had a woman principal or at least one woman secondary operator. Women were primarily responsible for the day-to-day operation decisions—the “principal operator”—on 14 percent of farms. In 37 percent of operations, women were “secondary operators,” meaning they were involved in decisions for the operation but were not the principal operators. The share of principal farm operators who were women varied by commodity specializations. In 2019, the two largest shares of women principal operators were found on farms specializing in poultry (31 percent) and other livestock (about 30 percent). Operations specializing in dairy production had the largest share of operations with at least one woman secondary operator, about 54 percent. The smallest share (about 33 percent) of women operators, either principal or at least one secondary, was found on cotton farms. Among operations with at least one woman operator, 78 percent of the women were the principal operator’s spouse and worked on the farm. This chart is found in the Economic Research Service report, America’s Diverse Family Farms: 2020 Edition, released December 2020. It also appears in the June 2021 Amber Waves article, “Women Identified as Operators on 51 Percent of U.S. Farms in 2019.”

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