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Government payments were highest to commercial farms in 2016

Friday, October 19, 2018

Federal Government programs distribute payments each year to farms, farm operators, and their households. For example, USDA’s Conservation Reserve Program and Environmental Quality Incentive Program provide payments to operators for conservation purposes. And USDA’s commodity programs, such as Price Loss Coverage and Agriculture Risk Coverage, pay producers when prices or revenues fall below a certain level. “Other payments” include disaster assistance programs and other Federal, State and local programs. In 2016, only 23 percent of all residence farms and 33 percent of all intermediate farms received any government payments, compared to 69 percent of all commercial farms. The amount of government payments received varied by farm type. Commercial farms that received payments got an average of $42,459, with commodity payments accounting for the majority (70 percent) of the total. On the other hand, conservation payments were relatively more important for residence and intermediate farms—accounting for about 70 percent and 38 percent of total payments, respectively. This chart updates data found in the August 2018 ERS report, Economic Returns to Farming for U.S. Farm Households.

How labor markets are defined matters when gauging SNAP participants’ response to economic conditions

Thursday, October 18, 2018

A recent ERS study examined the responsiveness of participants in USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to changes in local labor market conditions. The researchers used SNAP administrative records from Oregon to estimate the likelihood of nondisabled, or able-bodied, working-age people leaving SNAP as local labor market conditions improve. Favorable labor market conditions were more likely to lead to SNAP exits when labor market areas were defined as commuting zones, a definition that explicitly tries to capture areas where people live and work. In Oregon commuting zones, a 10-percent increase in the number of people employed was estimated to raise the likelihood that the average able-bodied, working-age (ages 25-59) SNAP participant left the program within a year by 8.7 percent, and a 10-percent increase in local new hires was estimated to raise the likelihood of leaving SNAP by 1.5 percent. Defining the local labor market area to coincide with Oregon counties, rather than commuting zones, resulted in smaller—but still positive—estimated effects. This chart appears in “Local Labor Market Conditions Impact Participation in USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program” in ERS’s Amber Waves magazine, September 2018.

U.S. wheat exports have fallen over the last decade as competitors have taken up market share

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

While the United States remains a major global supplier of wheat, it has struggled to attract new markets and has seen its export totals decline over the last decade. In 2014-16, annual U.S. wheat exports averaged nearly 3 million bushels less than in 2005-09, according to an ERS analysis. U.S. wheat exports have decreased as Russia, Ukraine, and the European Union (EU) have gained market share in several key U.S. markets. Although the United States has retained and even increased its wheat exports to some of its markets, such as Mexico and the Philippines, export volumes to several other markets have contracted. In one striking example, Egypt, one of the world’s top wheat importers, formerly purchased the bulk of its wheat from the United States but now receives most of its imports from Russia, Ukraine, and the EU. A similar shift is happening with Nigeria and Yemen. Much of the growth in U.S-displacing wheat exports from Russia and Ukraine is in low-quality milling wheat (for food consumption) and feed grain. This chart appears in the October 2018 Amber Waves article, “Major Changes in Export Flows Over the Last Decade Show the U.S. Is Losing Market Share in Global Grain Trade.”

Inflation-adjusted food spending by U.S. households fell during the Great Recession and did not recover until 2015

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

The Great Recession, which officially ran from December 2007 to June 2009, was the most severe economic downturn since the Great Depression. Using data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Consumer Expenditure Survey, ERS researchers examined household food spending from 2005 to 2016 using inflation-adjusted dollars to make the expenditures comparable across years. They found that total food spending declined by 7 percent from 2007 to 2010 and did not return to pre-recession levels until 2015. During this period, however, households adjusted their spending on food at grocery stores and other retailers (food at home) differently from spending at restaurants, fast-food places, and other food-away-from-home establishments. In every year except 2010, food-at-home spending exceeded 2005 levels. In contrast, spending at food-away-from-home establishments declined by 18 percent from 2006 to 2010 and did not recover to its 2005 level until 2016. Thus, the share of total household food expenditures spent on food away from home declined from 40.5 percent in 2005 to 36.3 percent in 2010, before rising to 38.8 percent in 2016. This chart appears in “Food Spending of Middle-Income Households Hardest Hit by the Great Recession” from ERS’s Amber Waves magazine, September 2018.

Under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, 0.11 percent of farm estates would have owed estate taxes in 2016

Monday, October 15, 2018

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), passed in December 2017, doubled the Federal estate tax exemption amount to $11.18 million per individual. The estate tax exemption amount has increased significantly since 2000, when the exemption was $675,000, resulting in fewer farm estates that must file a tax return and that owe estate taxes. ERS researchers estimated that 39,214 farm estates were created in 2016 and, had the TCJA been in effect in 2016, only 0.58 percent of these farm estates would have been required to file an estate tax return. After accounting for adjustments, deductions, and expenses, 0.11 percent would have owed estate taxes, with an aggregate estate tax liability estimated at $104 million. By comparison, ERS estimated that under the previous law, 2.05 percent of farm estates were required to file an estate tax return in 2016 and that 0.86 percent owed estate taxes. The aggregate liability was estimated at $496 million. This chart uses data found in the June 2018 ERS report, Estimated Effects of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act on Farms and Farm Households.

The value of oil and gas production on farmland amounted to $226 billion in 2014, or about two-thirds of total production

Friday, October 12, 2018

Oil and gas production disproportionally occurs in areas where large shares of land are operated by farmers and ranchers. In 2014, the value of oil and gas production on land operated by farms amounted to $226 billion, or about 67 percent of the total $338 billion in oil and gas production in the contiguous United States. Oil and gas production on farmland was concentrated in California, in a band from North Dakota to Texas, and in the Marcellus Shale, which reaches into Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Ohio. Most nonoperator landlords (who rent out the farmland they own to farmers) and most farm operators do not own the oil and gas rights associated with their land and are thus unable to receive payments. In the 1,080 counties with oil and gas production in 2014, only 13 percent of nonoperator landlords and 10 percent of farm operators reported receiving oil or gas payments. Payments to farmland owners (operators and nonoperator landlords) amounted to $7.4 billion—but ERS estimates this could have been as high as $40 billion if all farmland owners had also owned the oil and gas rights associated with their farmland. This chart appears in the June 2018 ERS report, Ownership of Oil and Gas Rights: Implications for U.S. Farm Income and Wealth.

The United States is not capturing the growth in global grain trade

Thursday, October 11, 2018

The United States maintained its status as the world’s grain superpower for most of the post-World War II period by being the leading corn and wheat producer and exporter. Before the beginning of this century, the United States annually exported about a third of globally traded wheat and around 70 percent of corn. The emergence of new low-cost producers and exporters in the global wheat and corn markets reduced the U.S. share of grain exports and transformed global grain trade. Competition from Russia, Ukraine, and Argentina has weighed down U.S wheat exports share, while Brazil, Argentina, and Ukraine are driving down the U.S. corn export share. World demand for wheat has been growing at a steady pace, driven mainly by population growth in low-income countries and a switch from rice to wheat consumption in countries that are traditionally heavy rice consumers. This chart appears in the October 2018 Amber Waves article, “Major Changes in Export Flows Over the Last Decade Show the U.S. Is Losing Market Share in Global Grain Trade.”

Prevalence of food insecurity varied by household characteristics in 2017

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

While the majority of U.S. households are food secure, a minority experience food insecurity at times during the year, meaning their access to adequate food for active, healthy living is limited by a lack of money or other resources. Some households experience very low food security, a more severe range of food insecurity, where the food intake of one or more household members is reduced and normal eating patterns are disrupted. Food insecurity includes both very low food security and low food security. In 2017, 11.8 percent of all U.S households were food insecure. The prevalence of food insecurity was substantially higher for low-income households; 36.8 percent of households with incomes below the Federal poverty line were food insecure. Among all U.S. households, food insecurity rates were the highest for single-mother households (30.3 percent) and lowest for multiple-adult households with no children (7.7 percent). A version of this chart appears in the ERS report, Household Food Security in the United States in 2017, September 2018.

Transportation costs help explain differences in the price of corn in Central Illinois and the Louisiana Gulf Coast

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

The United States produces large amounts of corn for domestic uses such as animal feed, food use, and ethanol production, but 15 percent of production is exported. USDA data provide wholesale price information for corn (yellow #2 class) sold at different locations in the United States. Two notable points are Central Illinois and the Louisiana Gulf Coast. Corn sold in Central Illinois is often perceived to be destined for domestic markets, while Louisiana Gulf Coast prices are often a reflection of prices for export markets due to the Gulf’s role as a key shipping hub. Since there are no observable differences in yellow #2 corn sold in Illinois and yellow #2 corn sold in Louisiana, it is natural that the difference in prices would reflect the added transportation costs necessary to move corn from major corn-producing states in the Midwest to a Gulf state like Louisiana. An analysis of the difference in price between these two markets shows that the price differential over time closely tracks the average additional costs of rail or barge transportation to the Louisiana Gulf Coast. This chart is drawn from the ERS Feed Outlook newsletter, released in September 2018.

Honey bee colony levels have remained stable despite elevated loss rates

Friday, October 5, 2018

In 2006, large and mysterious losses of honey bee colonies led entomologists to classify a set of diagnostic symptoms as Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) and spurred major efforts to measure, quantify, and understand pollinator loss. New data show that, between 2007 and 2013, winter colony loss rates in the United States averaged 30 percent, which is approximately double the loss rate of 15 percent previously thought to be normal. Elevated winter colony losses, however, have not resulted in enduring declines in colony numbers. Instead, the number of U.S. honey bee colonies is either stable or growing depending on the dataset being considered. At the State level, loss rates are uncorrelated with year-to-year changes in the number of colonies, suggesting that beekeepers are able to replace lost colonies within the course of a calendar year. In other terms, the data indicate that beekeepers are adding colonies at similar or higher rates than they are losing them to CCD or other causes. This chart appears in the October 2018 ERS Amber Waves article, “Despite Elevated Loss Rate Since 2006, U.S. Honey Bee Colony Numbers Are Stable or Growing.

Farm share of retail price for whole milk was up in 2017

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Over the past decade, the farm share for a gallon of whole milk—the ratio of what dairy farmers received (farm price) to what consumers paid in grocery stores (retail price)—has fluctuated between 40 and 61 percent. It peaked at 61 percent in 2014 as higher U.S. exports of cheese, butter, and nonfat dry milk allowed farmers to collect higher prices for farm milk. However, U.S. exports weakened in 2015 with changes in international dairy markets and slower growth in global demand for dairy products. Exports of cheese, for example, decreased by 14 percent from 2014 to 2015. The farm price of whole milk fell from $2.26 per gallon in 2014 to $1.65 in 2015 before bottoming out at $1.51 in 2016, or 47 percent of the retail price. In 2017, the farm price of whole milk returned to $1.65 per gallon, and dairy farmers received 51 percent of whole milk’s retail price. According to ERS forecasts released in September 2018, the annual average price received by dairy farmers for milk may be less in 2018 than 2017, but is expected to increase through 2019. This chart is based on the Price Spreads from Farm to Consumer data product on the ERS website.

High U.S. imports of Irish butter drove total U.S. butter imports to a record high in July

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Total U.S. butter imports—driven by high imports of butter sourced from Ireland—reached record levels in July, supplanting a record set in May 2004. Total U.S. butter imports for July were 7.5 million pounds, with 5.8 million pounds (about 77 percent) coming from Ireland. Irish butter contains at least 82 percent butterfat (compared with at least 80 percent for most U.S. butter), is sourced from cows that are mainly grass fed, and is usually sold at a premium. Irish butter’s higher butterfat content is marketed as being superior for baking and as more pure than lower butterfat options. The recent rise in butter imports from Ireland can be partly attributed to the success of this marketing strategy and Irish butter’s popularity with many well known professional bakers and chefs. This chart appears in the ERS Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry Outlook newsletter released in September 2018.

Income sources vary among SNAP households with different compositions

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

In a typical month in fiscal 2017, USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) provided average monthly benefits of $126 per person to 42.1 million low-income people living in 20.9 million households. SNAP households report receiving income from a variety of sources. The most prevalent income source is earnings, which were received by 32 percent of SNAP households in fiscal 2016. Social Security benefits were received by 27 percent of all SNAP households and 70 percent of those with elderly members. Supplemental Security Income (SSI), a cash assistance program designed to help low-income non-elderly disabled and elderly people, was received by 21 percent of all SNAP households, 68 percent of SNAP households with non-elderly disabled members, and 36 percent of those with elderly members. Around 9 percent of all SNAP households and 19 percent of those with children received child support payments. In 2016, 5 percent of all SNAP households and 11 percent of those with children received cash assistance from Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). SNAP households may also receive non-cash assistance such as housing vouchers and free or low-cost health care coverage. This chart is from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) topic page on the ERS website.

In 2018, U.S. average farm real estate value remains near 2015 historic high

Monday, October 1, 2018

Farm real estate (including land and the structures on the land) generally accounts for over 80 percent of U.S. farm sector assets, and often serves as collateral for farm loans. The value of U.S. farm real estate is thus a critical barometer of farm financial performance. After a long period of appreciation following the farm crisis of the 1980s, farm real estate values have leveled off in recent years. ERS research indicates that, in general, the substantial growth in farm real estate values since 2000 was attributable to high farm earning potential and historically low interest rates. In 2000, after adjusting for inflation, average U.S. farm real estate values were $1,541 per acre—and reached a historic high of $3,178 per acre in 2015. By 2018, U.S. farm real estate values averaged $3,140 per acre, with the leveling off in recent years coinciding with declines in farm sector income. Regional variation is significant, owing to factors such as differences in regional production potential and the demand for land in alternative uses, such as residential housing. This chart appears in the ERS topic page for Farmland Value, updated September 2018.

Conservation tillage is used on a majority of U.S. corn, soybean, and wheat acres

Friday, September 28, 2018

Conservation tillage helps protect soil by reducing soil disturbance and keeping the soil covered. These actions conserve soil moisture, reduce soil erosion, and, when used in conjunction with other practices, can help promote soil health. Healthy soils can improve environmental outcomes and benefit farmers. For example, greater rainfall infiltration and soil water-holding capacity can reduce runoff of sediment and nutrients while increasing drought resilience. Based on the most recent surveys, conservation tillage was used on a majority of wheat (67 percent), corn (65 percent), and soybeans (70 percent). However, conservation tillage was used on just 40 percent of cotton acres. No-till production, a type of conservation tillage where farmers plant directly into remaining crop residue without tilling, accounted for the majority of conservation tillage acres on wheat (45 percent of total acres) and soybeans (40 percent). Almost 50 percent of corn, soybean, wheat, and cotton acreage was in no-till or strip-till—a mulch till method where tillage occurs in a narrow strip where seeds are planted—at some time over a 4-year period (the survey year and 3 previous years). However, only about 20 percent of these acres were in no-till or strip-till all 4 years. This chart appears in the ERS report, Tillage Intensity and Conservation Cropping in the United States, released September 2018.

Reducing nutrient loadings to the Gulf of Mexico most cost effectively would concentrate efforts in the Lower Mississippi sub-basin

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Every summer, a large area forms in the Gulf of Mexico where dissolved oxygen is too low for many aquatic species to survive. This “hypoxic zone” is fueled by nutrient (nitrogen and phosphorus) runoff from the Mississippi/Atchafalaya River Basin (MARB), a region containing about 70 percent of U.S. cropland. Recent ERS research estimated that the least-cost strategy for reducing nutrient deliveries to the Gulf from cropland in the MARB would focus a large share of the nutrient-reducing practices and cropping changes in the Lower Mississippi sub-basin. Almost half of nitrogen (44 percent) and phosphorus (46 percent) reductions under the least-cost scenario would come from the Lower Mississippi. Although the baseline analysis estimates that agriculture in the Upper Mississippi sub-basin delivers the most nitrogen to the Gulf relative to other sub-basins (over 32 percent), the Lower Mississippi sub-basin’s proximity to the Gulf means that a higher percentage of nutrient losses there reaches the Gulf than from fields farther upstream. The Lower Mississippi was estimated to have relatively high per-acre nutrient losses and deliveries to the Gulf, as well as the lowest per-pound costs of reducing nitrogen deliveries for almost all conservation practices analyzed. This chart appears in the ERS report Reducing Nutrient Losses From Cropland in the Mississippi/Atchafalaya River Basin: Cost Efficiency and Regional Distribution, released September 2018.

The United States imports the majority of its coffee, by value, from Colombia and Brazil

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

As International Coffee Day approaches, Americans continue to demonstrate high demand for this caffeinated staple. However, the United States produces a minimal amount of coffee. The limited domestic production comes from Kona coffee grown in Hawaii and represents less than 1 percent of U.S. consumption. The rest is imported from coffee-growing regions around the world, including South and Central America and Southeast Asia. By a large margin, Colombia and Brazil are the largest sources of imports. In 2017, imports of unroasted coffee from Colombia were valued at over $1.2 billion, with just under $1.1 billion worth of coffee imported from Brazil. Other key markets are Vietnam and Indonesia in Southeast Asia, and Guatemala and Honduras in Central America. By value, these six countries represent 72 percent of all U.S. coffee imports. In all, 50 countries exported coffee valued at $1 million or more to the United States in 2017, with an additional 54 exporting lower valued amounts. This chart is drawn from the ERS U.S. Food Imports data product, updated in May 2018.

U.S. spending on food away from home continued to outpace food-at-home spending in 2017

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

U.S. consumers, businesses, and government entities spent $1.62 trillion on food and beverages in 2017. Spending at food-away-from-home establishments—restaurants, school cafeterias, sports venues, and other eating places—accounted for 53.8 percent of these expenditures, and the remaining 46.2 percent took place at grocery stores, supercenters, convenience stores, and other retailers. A 53.8-percent share of food expenditures does not equate to 53.8 percent of food quantities, as food purchased away from home is generally higher priced than food prepared at home. Food-away-from-home outlets incur costs for the workers required to prepare and serve food, as well as for buildings, equipment, and utilities. The away-from-home market, which accounted for about one-third of total food expenditures 50 years ago, saw its share grow through the decades, except in some recession years. During the 2007-09 recession, food away from home’s share of total food spending stayed at or just below 50 percent before surpassing its pre-recession share by rising to 50.2 percent in 2010 and continuing to grow to its 2017 share of 53.8 percent. The data for this chart are from the ERS report, Measuring the Value of the U.S. Food System: Revisions to the Food Expenditure Series, released on September 20, 2018.

North Carolina, recently affected by Hurricane Florence, accounted for an estimated 3 percent ($11 billion) of U.S. farm sector cash receipts in 2017

Monday, September 24, 2018

Each August, as part of the its Farm Income data product, ERS produces estimates of the prior year’s farm sector cash receipts—the cash income the sector receives from agricultural commodity sales. State-level estimates provide background information about States subject to unexpected changes that affect the agricultural sector, such as the recent hurricane that struck North Carolina and surrounding States. In 2017, cash receipts for all U.S. farm commodities totaled $374 billion. North Carolina contributed about 3 percent ($11 billion) of that total, ranking eighth among all States. Broilers (chickens that are raised for meat) accounted for the largest share of cash receipts in North Carolina at 31 percent ($4 billion), compared to 12 percent nationwide—followed by hogs at 21 percent ($2 billion), compared to 11 percent nationwide. The State ranked third in the nation in cash receipts for both broilers and hogs. North Carolina led the country in cash receipts from tobacco, sweet potatoes, and turkeys—accounting for 50, 47, and 15 percent of the U.S. total for those commodities, respectively—although they contributed a smaller share of the State’s total cash receipts. This chart uses data from the ERS U.S. and State-Level Farm Income and Wealth Statistics data product, updated August 2018.

Commodities primarily sourced domestically face the lowest compliance costs for the Produce Rule

Friday, September 21, 2018

The Food Safety Modernization Act of 2011 gave the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) new and comprehensive authority to issue rules for the improvement of food safety, including the Produce Rule, which regulates fresh fruit and vegetables that are minimally processed and frequently consumed raw. Using detailed data on the distribution of farm sizes, ERS researchers calculated the cost of compliance for the Produce Rule across commodities and regions. Among produce raised primarily domestically, celery, and broccoli face the lowest compliance costs, representing less than 0.5 percent of total sales revenue, while snap beans and pears face compliance costs nearing 3.0 percent. Although compliance costs can be larger still for certain tropical and primarily imported fruit (bananas and avocadoes), this finding likely reflects the very small scale of production on U.S. farms from which data for these calculations are collected. This chart appears in the August 2018 Amber Waves finding, “Food Safety Costs for Farms Vary Across Commodities Due to Differences in Farm Size.”

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