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Chain outlets make up a smaller share of restaurants in the Northeast and Pacific Northwest

Monday, March 25, 2019

Since May 2018, Federal regulations have required restaurant chains with 20 or more outlets nationwide to include the calorie content of all standard items on menus and menu boards. In 2015, chain outlets that would be subject to the new regulations accounted for over 250,000 restaurants in the United States—roughly 40 percent of the Nation’s restaurants. Eighty-five percent of these outlets were quick-service restaurants (also known as fast-food or limited-service restaurants) where food is ordered and paid for at a counter. The prevalence of chain restaurants varied nationwide in 2015, with relatively heavy concentrations in the South, Midwest, and parts of the West. In some counties in these regions, chains accounted for roughly 50 to 60 percent of all restaurants. In contrast, the Northeast and the Northwest States of Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Montana were less chain-dominated in 2015. Restaurant-goers in places with relatively few chain restaurants may have less exposure to calorie information about restaurant foods and beverages. This map appears in the September 2018 ERS report America’s Eating Habits: Food Away From Home.

Adults who use restaurant nutrition information consume fewer calories per day than similar adults who do not use the information

Friday, March 22, 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.

U.S. farmers adopting drought-tolerant corn about as quickly as they first adopted herbicide-tolerant and insect-tolerant varieties

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Droughts are among the most frequent causes of crop yield losses, failures, and subsequent crop revenue losses across the world. Genetically engineered (GE) and non-GE drought tolerance became broadly available in corn varieties between 2011 and 2013. By 2016, 22 percent of total U.S. corn acreage was planted with DT varieties. To better understand this growth rate, ERS researchers compared it to the adoption of GE herbicide-tolerant (HT) and insect-resistant (Bt) corn. Between 1996 and 2000, HT corn acreage increased from 3 to 7 percent of total U.S. corn acreage, while Bt corn acreage increased from just over 1 percent to 19 percent. By 2012, nearly 75 percent of U.S. corn acres were planted to varieties with at least one GE trait. In 2016, 91 percent of DT corn fields also had HT or Bt traits. Some evidence suggests that these three traits are complementary. For example, a corn crop will generally be less vulnerable to drought if it is not competing with weeds for water, and if its roots and leaves are not damaged by insect pests. This chart appears in the January 2019 ERS report, Development, Adoption, and Management of Drought-Tolerant Corn in the United States.

Use of excess Chinese rice stocks for feed use could affect global and Chinese rice and corn prices

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

In China, rice stocks (unused rice kept in storage) are projected to reach a record 113 million tons at the end of the 2018/19 marketing year this June, the 12th consecutive year of increasing stocks. Currently, China is estimated to hold about 70 percent of the world’s stocks of rice. Chinese policymakers are considering releasing excess rice stocks for use as an alternative to corn in livestock feed. The ERS 10-year baseline model shows that the effect of releasing rice into feed markets would depend on whether rice is substituted for corn held in stocks or for imported corn. In China, corn prices would fall much more sharply if rice is substituted for corn stocks rather than corn imports, according to the model, which simulated releases of stocks over a decade. However, globally, corn prices are only changed if corn imports are the source of the substitute. The model also shows that global rice prices would rise 2 percent regardless of the substitution source. This chart appears in the March 2019 Amber Waves article “The release of China’s rice stocks could impact global feed markets.

Crop production in the Heartland has shifted to farms with at least 1,000 acres

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Past ERS research on consolidation in the U.S. farm sector has documented a widespread shift in agricultural production to large-scale operations. This structural change has likely been partly driven by productivity advantages enjoyed by larger operations. Recent ERS research examined consolidation trends in the Heartland region—which includes all of Iowa, Illinois, and Indiana, and parts of Minnesota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Missouri, Kentucky, and Ohio. Between 1982 and 2012, the Heartland’s largest crop farms (more than 1,000 acres) increased their share of total production in the region from 17 percent in 1982 to 59 percent in 2012. In contrast, over the same period, the share of total production declined for the four smaller farm size categories. Midsized farms (250–500 acres) experienced the largest decline in market share, falling from about 30 percent in 1982 to 10 percent in 2012. In aggregate, the productivity of crop farms in the Heartland region increased by 64 percent, or 1.5 percent per year, between 1982 and 2012. ERS researchers estimate that about one-sixth of this productivity growth was attributable to the shift in production to larger farms. This chart appears in the December 2018 Amber Waves feature “Productivity Increases With Farm Size in the Heartland Region.”

Greenhouse tomato production spans most U.S. States

Monday, March 18, 2019

Errata: On March 19, 2019, the legend of the Chart of Note “Greenhouse tomato production spans most U.S. States” was corrected so that the second lowest category is properly listed as “100,000 pounds to 500,000 pounds.”

While Florida and California accounted for 76 percent of U.S. production of field-grown tomatoes in 2016, greenhouse production and use of other protected-culture technologies help extend the growing season and make production feasible in a wider variety of geographic locations. Some greenhouse production is clustered in traditional field-grown-tomato-producing States like California. However, high concentrations of greenhouses are also located in Nebraska, Minnesota, New York, and other States that are not traditional market leaders. Among the benefits that greenhouse tomato producers can realize are greater market access both in the off-season and in northern retail produce markets, better product consistency, and improved yields. These benefits make greenhouse tomato production an increasingly attractive alternative to field production despite higher production costs. In addition to domestic production, a significant share of U.S. consumption of greenhouse tomatoes is satisfied by imports. In 2004, U.S., Mexican, and Canadian growers each contributed about 300 million pounds of greenhouse tomatoes annually to the U.S. fresh tomato market. Since then, Mexico’s share of the greenhouse tomato market has grown sharply, accounting for almost 84 percent (1.8 billion pounds) of the greenhouse volume coming into the U.S. market. This chart appears in the ERS report “Unpacking the Growth in Per Capita Availability of Fresh Market Tomatoes,” released in March 2019.

Higher breastfeeding rates among WIC participants would yield health-related cost savings

Friday, March 15, 2019

USDA’s Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) encourages and supports breastfeeding among postpartum women participating in the program. Studies have found that breastfeeding confers a number of health benefits to both infant and mother. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusive breastfeeding for about 6 months, followed by continued breastfeeding until at least 12 months of age as complementary foods are introduced. A recent ERS study estimated the potential cost savings to WIC households and/or their private and government health insurance providers if 90 percent of WIC infants in 2016 had been breastfed for 12 months (first 6 months exclusively). Cost savings were calculated based on estimated reductions in nine pediatric and five maternal diseases. ERS researchers found the estimated cost savings would total $9.1 billion. Three-quarters of the savings, $6.9 billion, is derived from reductions in early deaths of mothers and infants. Medical costs, including physician fees and hospital costs, account for $1.5 billion of the savings, and nonmedical costs, such as lost wages from missed work days due to maternal illness or caring for a sick infant, account for another $0.6 billion. The data for this chart appear in “Economic Implications of Increased Breastfeeding Rates in WIC” from ERS’s Amber Waves magazine, February 2019.

December U.S. soybean stocks climbed to a record high in 2018

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Commodity “stocks” refer to the portion of a commodity that is not consumed domestically, exported, or otherwise used and is therefore kept in storage for later use. USDA’s latest Grain Stocks report indicates that U.S. soybean stocks were at an all-time high of 3.736 billion bushels in December 2018 as the first-quarter of the 2018/19 crop year (September–August) ended. Rising stocks are an indicator of excess supply and/or reduced demand. In this case, a large beginning supply and a 40-percent decline in first-quarter exports pushed December 1 soybean stocks well above the year-earlier inventory of 3.161 billion bushels. U.S. export shipments still lag far behind the pace of a year ago. The deficit is primarily related to the steep decline in trade with China, despite a few recent sales to state-owned companies there. Total U.S. soybean supply is forecast to reach a record-high 5 million bushels in 2018/19. Elevated stocks often foreshadow falling prices. In February, the forecast 2018/19 average soybean price received by farmers was narrowed to a range of $8.10–$9.10 per bushel, well below the 2017/18 average of $9.33 per bushel. This chart appears in the ERS Oil Crops Outlook newsletter, published in February 2019.

Government matching funds can incentivize producers to support agricultural research

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Over the years, some high-income countries have sought to diversify funding sources for their public agricultural research and development (R&D) systems. For example, the United States uses producer levies (or “checkoffs”) to raise funds for both research and market promotion. In 2014, 19 national and dozens of State producer levies raised about $1 billion in assessments on farm commodity sales. About 18 percent (or $180 million) of these levied funds were allocated to support research, mainly at State agricultural universities. By comparison, the Australian Government agreed in the 1980s to match the funds raised by producer levies to support agricultural research. By 1993, producer levies accounted for 18 percent (or 44 percent with matching funds and other grants) of total public agricultural R&D spending in Australia. The matching provision appeared to significantly strengthen the incentive for producers to establish levies to support research. In 2008/09, producer levies for agricultural research in Australia amounted to more than 0.6 percent of the gross value of commodity production (GVP). By comparison, total Federal and State producer levies raised in the United States in 2014 amounted to less than 0.05 percent of GVP. This chart appears in the ERS report Agricultural Research Investment and Policy Reform in High-Income Countries, released May 2018.

Meal-preparer characteristics differ between food thermometer users and nonusers

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Improperly cooked meat can carry harmful bacteria and pose serious health risks, particularly for people with weakened immune systems, older adults, and children. Food thermometers are recommended when preparing raw meat to verify that food is adequately cooked and pathogens are destroyed. Using data from the American Time Use Survey’s Eating and Health Module, ERS researchers found that 14 percent of at-home meal preparers used a food thermometer during a typical week in 2014 to 2016. Households that used food thermometers were more likely to have an annual household income of $50,000 or more. Based on monthly pretax earnings and adjusting for household size, they were more likely to be above 185 percent of the Federal poverty line. At-home meal preparers who used a food thermometer were also more likely to rate their physical health as excellent, participate in physical activities or exercise for fitness in a given week, be married, and have at least one child in the household. A version of this chart appears in the ERS report Consumer Food Safety Practices: Raw Milk Consumption and Food Thermometer Use, January 2019.

All major rice-producing States increased planted acreage in 2018

Monday, March 11, 2019

Almost all of the rice produced in the United States comes from six States: California, Texas, Missouri, Arkansas, Mississippi, and Louisiana. California is the major producer of short- and medium-grain varieties, while the remaining States mainly produce long-grain rice. The latest USDA data for the 2018/19 crop year show planted rice acreage increased in all of those States relative to the previous year, with Arkansas accounting for 58 percent of the 483,000-acre increase. Arkansas plantings for all types of rice were up 24 percent, to 1.4 million acres, with long grain accounting for the bulk of the increase. Farmers in Missouri and Mississippi increased long-grain rice acreage. Louisiana increased both long- and medium-grain acreage. Due to the drought in California from 2011 to 2017, planted acreage there has contracted since 2011. However, at 506 thousand acres, the California 2018/19 all-rice plantings broke the 500-thousand-acres barrier for just the second time since 2013. This chart appears in the ERS Rice Outlook: February 2019 newsletter.

Improving rural net migration rates were most common in recreation and retirement destinations

Friday, March 8, 2019

People moving to rural areas tend to favor more densely settled areas with attractive scenic qualities, or those near large cities. Over 1,100 rural counties (58 percent) showed positive changes in net migration (inmigrants minus outmigrants) between 2012–13 and 2016–17. These counties are often located in recreation and retirement destinations attractive to newcomers—such as the Upper Great Lakes, the Pacific Northwest, the southern Appalachians, Florida, and the Hill Country of central Texas. Nearly 500 of these counties switched from net outmigration in 2012–13 to net inmigration in 2016–17. Fewer people are moving to sparsely settled, less scenic, and remote locations, which compounds economic development challenges in those areas. Despite increasing net migration generally, 42 percent of rural counties experienced a decrease in net migration between 2012–13 and 2016–17. These counties are in low-density, remote areas in the Nation’s Heartland, in Appalachia from eastern Kentucky to Maine, and in high-poverty areas in the Southeast and border areas of the Southwest. Some of these areas have suffered job losses related to lower oil and gas production. This chart appears in the November 2018 ERS report Rural America at a Glance, 2018 Edition.

Argentina, Brazil, and Ukraine are capturing the growth in global corn trade

Thursday, March 7, 2019

The United States is the world’s largest exporter of corn, and its exports have exceeded other countries in all years on record except for 2012, a year of severe drought conditions in the Midwest. In 2018, U.S. exports were nearly three times that of any of the closest U.S. competitors: Argentina, Brazil, and Ukraine. Although the United States is likely to remain the leading corn exporter for years to come, little of the global growth in corn trade since 2010 can be attributed to the United States, compared to the gains of its closest competitors. Collectively, Argentina, Brazil, and Ukraine have nearly tripled their exports, growing from 30 million tons in 2010 to over 86 million in 2018. In contrast, U.S. exports grew from 47 million tons in 2010 to 62 million in 2018, an increase of 34 percent. From 2010 to 2018, global corn trade increased from 92 million tons to 167 million, an increase of 75 million tons. Of that 75 million, 80 percent of the gains can be attributed to Argentina, Brazil, and Ukraine while the remaining 20 percent came from the United States. This chart appears in the ERS Feed Outlook newsletter, released in February 2019.

Farm sector profits forecast to increase in 2019

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Inflation-adjusted U.S. net cash farm income in 2019 is forecast to increase $2.7 billion (2.9 percent) to $95.7 billion, while U.S. net farm income (a broader measure of farm sector profitability that incorporates non-cash items, including changes in inventories, economic depreciation, and gross imputed rental income) is forecast to increase $5.2 billion (8.1 percent) to $69.4 billion. The 2019 forecast increases are due to a combination of lower production expenses, which are subtracted out in the calculation of net income, and increases in the value of agricultural sector production. These factors contributing to higher income are expected to more than offset the forecast decline in direct Government farm payments. If forecast increases are realized, net farm income and net cash farm income would be 22.9 percent and 11.5 percent below their respective averages calculated over the 2000-17 period. Find additional information and analysis on ERS’s Farm Sector Income and Finances topic page, reflecting data released March 6, 2019.

Among people who have heard of MyPlate, over one-third of them try to follow the guide’s recommendations

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

ERS developed the Flexible Consumer Behavior Survey (FCBS) module, which, starting in 2007, has been part of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. FCBS collects data on U.S. consumers’ dietary knowledge, attitudes, and habits, including their awareness and use of USDA’s educational MyPlate graphic. ERS researchers used FCBS data to estimate the share of Americans who were aware of MyPlate and used it as a guide to support healthy eating patterns. In 2015–16, 26 percent of Americans age 16 and older reported that they had heard of MyPlate. This is a 6-percentage point increase from 2013–14, when 20 percent reported being aware of MyPlate. Among those who had heard of MyPlate in 2015–16, more than one-third of them (35 percent) indicated that they had tried to follow its recommendations—the same share as in 2013–14. Used in nutrition education and displayed on some food packaging, MyPlate depicts a place setting (with a plate and glass) divided into five basic food groups whose sizes correspond to suggested daily intake proportions. MyPlate replaced MyPyramid in June 2011. More information from FCBS can be found in the Food Consumption & Demand topic page on the ERS website, updated February 14, 2019.

Rising wages point to a tighter farm labor market in the United States

Monday, March 4, 2019

In recent years, farmers, growers, and ranchers throughout the United States have expressed concerns about the challenges of hiring an adequate number of qualified farmworkers at an economically viable wage. A prominent indicator of a tighter farm labor market in the United States is the rising real (inflation-adjusted) wage for farmworkers. Between 2014 and 2018, the average hourly real wage for nonsupervisory hired farmworkers (in 2018 dollars) rose from $12.00 to $13.25, an increase of 10.4 percent. This increase in the real wage for farm labor is the fastest experienced over a 4-year period during the past two decades. Moreover, growth in farmworker wages was faster than growth in nonfarm wages. From 2014 to 2018, the hourly real wage for all nonsupervisory production workers outside agriculture rose from $21.90 to $22.97 (in 2018 dollars), an increase of 3.5 percent. Meanwhile, the farm wage rose from 54.8 percent of the nonfarm wage in 2014 to 58.5 percent in 2018. This chart is updated with newly released 2018 data and appears in the February 2019 Amber Waves Finding, “Rising Wages Point to a Tighter Farm Labor Market in the United States.”

Food insecurity varies by adult employment status

Friday, March 1, 2019

The prevalence of food insecurity—having difficulty providing enough food for all household members at some time during the year—varies across U.S. households by employment status of adult members. While some types of households may be more likely to be food insecure, those households may be less numerous and therefore make up a small share of all food-insecure households. For example, food insecurity rates in 2017 were highest for households with no one employed or retired and someone unemployed looking for work (42.7 percent) or with someone out of the labor force because of a disability (43.0 percent), but those households accounted for 5.2 and 15.1 percent, respectively, of all food-insecure households. In contrast, the food insecurity rate among households with an adult working full time was a relatively low 9.4 percent, but those households made up slightly over half of all food-insecure households, demonstrating that full-time employment does not fully protect households from food insecurity. Wages and benefits—not just number of hours worked—along with non-food obligations for the family’s earnings, can have significant effects on a household’s food-insecurity risk. A version of this chart appears in the ERS data visualization “Food insecurity and very low food security by education, employment, disability status, and SNAP participation.

Use of herbicide-tolerant seeds increased quickly following their commercialization, but plateaued in recent years

Thursday, February 28, 2019

A genetically engineered (GE) plant has had DNA inserted into its genome using laboratory techniques. The first GE herbicide-tolerant (HT) crops, which can survive applications of herbicides like glyphosate or glufosinate that kill most other plants, were created by inserting genes from soil bacteria. Generally, the use of HT corn, cotton, and soybeans in the United States increased quickly following their commercialization in 1996. HT soybean use increased most rapidly, largely because weed resistance to herbicides called ALS inhibitors had developed in the 1980s. By comparison, HT corn use increased relatively slowly, perhaps because corn farmers could use the herbicide atrazine, an effective alternative to glyphosate that could not be applied to soybeans or cotton. The percent of acreage planted with HT corn, cotton, and soybeans has plateaued in recent years, partly because adoption rates for these seeds is already quite high and because weed resistance to glyphosate has continued to develop and spread. As the problems posed by glyphosate-resistant weeds intensify, crop varieties with new HT traits are being developed. For example, a new HT variety of soybeans that is tolerant of herbicides called HPPD inhibitors will be available to U.S. growers in 2019. This chart appears in the December 2018 Amber Waves data feature, "Trends in the Adoption of Genetically Engineered Corn, Cotton, and Soybeans.”

U.S. inventory of table-egg laying hens grew to its highest levels ever in 2018

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

The United States produces close to 7.9 billion dozen table eggs per year, via a population of table-egg-laying hens numbering in the hundreds of million. Once trade and storage are accounted for, this amounts to nearly 279 eggs available per person annually. In 2015, an outbreak of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) significantly reduced the Nation’s laying-hen inventories. After reaching a low point in June 2015, inventories began to recover and have since eclipsed previous record highs, reaching nearly 331 million in December 2018. Along with the rise in laying-hen numbers, egg-laying rates have also increased through genetic improvements, reaching over 79 eggs laid per 100 hens per day in December 2018. Currently, the capacity for daily production exceeds approximately 22 million dozen eggs. In 2019, USDA forecasts suggest egg production will reach 8 billion dozen with a domestic availability of 280 eggs per person. A version of this chart appears in the ERS Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry Outlook newsletter released in February 2019.

2018 Farm Act maintains current work requirements for USDA’s SNAP program

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Signed into law December 20, 2018, the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 (2018 Farm Act) reauthorized USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the Nation’s largest food assistance program, through fiscal 2023. Although the program’s eligibility guidelines and work requirements were a major focus of legislative debate, they were not changed in the final legislation. Under current rules, working-age SNAP recipients, with some exceptions, must register for work and accept a suitable job if offered. In addition, able-bodied adults ages 18-49 with no dependents (ABAWDs) who work less than 20 hours a week can receive SNAP benefits for only 3 months out of every 3 years. States can request from USDA a waiver of this time limit in locations where unemployment rates are high or jobs are insufficient, as measured by a limited set of economic indicators. As of December 2018, four States (Alaska, Louisiana, Nevada, and New Mexico)—along with the District of Columbia, Guam, and the Virgin Islands—had received USDA approval to waive the time limit on ABAWDs receiving SNAP benefits. Another 29 States had ABAWD time limit waivers in specific locations, and 17 States were enforcing the limit. USDA proposed new rules, published in the Federal Register on February 1, 2019, to tighten the conditions under which States could be approved to implement ABAWD waivers. This chart appears in the Nutrition Title section of The Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018: Highlights and Implications, produced by ERS researchers.

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