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Decline in WIC participation persists

Friday, March 16, 2018

USDA’s Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) provides supplemental food, nutrition education, and health care referrals to low-income, nutritionally at-risk pregnant, breastfeeding, and postpartum women as well as infants and children up to age 5. In fiscal 2017, the program served an average of 7.3 million people per month, down 21 percent from its peak in fiscal 2010. For the 7th consecutive year, participation for all three major groups fell. The number of women, infants, and children participating in WIC each fell by 5-6 percent. Improving economic conditions in recent years have likely played a role in the participation decline. Since applicants must have incomes at or below 185 percent of poverty or participate in certain other assistance programs to be eligible, the number of people eligible for WIC is closely linked to the health of the U.S. economy. Falling WIC caseloads may also reflect the decline in the number of U.S. births. Since 2007, the number of births have fallen each year except in 2014. This chart appears in the ERS report, The Food Assistance Landscape: FY 2017 Annual Report, released on March 15, 2018.

Cropland has shifted to larger farms over the last three decades

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Agricultural production has shifted to much larger farming operations over the last three decades. In 1987, more than half (57 percent) of all U.S. cropland was operated by midsize farms that had between 100 and 999 acres of cropland. The largest farms with at least 2,000 acres operated only 15 percent of U.S. cropland that year. By 2012, midsize farms held 36 percent of cropland, the same share as that held by the largest farms. That shift occurred persistently over time, as the share held by the largest farms increased in each Census of Agriculture after 1987—in 1992, 1997, 2002, 2007, and 2012—while the share held by midsize farms fell in each census. By comparison, the share of cropland held by the smallest farms with less than 100 acres changed little over time, remaining at about 8 percent. Consolidation can occur through shifts in ownership, as operators of larger farms purchase land from retiring operators of midsize farms. However, most cropland is rented, and farms frequently expand by renting more cropland, often from retired farmers and their relatives. This chart appears in the ERS report, Three Decades of Consolidation in U.S. Agriculture, released March 2018.

Brazilian demand for U.S. ethanol remains high despite trade barriers

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Last year, the Brazilian Government announced a tariff rate quota for ethanol imports, where imports in excess of 600 million liters are subject to a 20-percent tariff. However, U.S. ethanol has been priced so low that it is still an economical alternative in Brazil. Currently, ethanol is $1.50 per gallon at the Gulf Coast Ports in the United States, while ethanol in Brazil is $2.32 per gallon. Demand for ethanol in Brazil is robust because of widespread use of flex-fuel vehicles and a mandate requiring a minimum of a 27-percent ethanol blend in gasoline. Due to price competitiveness and strong demand, Brazil, the second largest global ethanol producer, is also the largest overseas buyer of U.S. ethanol. One contributing factor is the internal distribution of ethanol in Brazil. Ethanol mills are mostly located in the sugar producing areas of southern Brazil. Because of infrastructure constraints, it is cheaper to ship ethanol by boat from the U.S. to the northern regions of Brazil than by overland transport through Brazil. Some new ethanol mills are located in Brazil’s northern corn-producing regions. An expansion of corn ethanol production in Brazil would likely make U.S. ethanol less competitive. This chart is drawn from the ERS Feed Outlook newsletter, released in March 2018.

Energy consumption in agriculture increased in 2016, driven mainly by diesel and fertilizer use

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

In 2016, the agricultural sector consumed 1,872 trillion Btu of energy, accounting for about 1.9 percent of total U.S. primary energy consumption. Farms consume energy in many forms, mainly diesel (44 percent of direct energy consumption), electricity (24 percent), natural gas (13 percent), gasoline (11 percent), and liquefied petroleum gas (7 percent). Diesel and, to a lesser extent, gasoline are used to power farm machinery. Electricity is used mainly for irrigation, cooling, and lighting. Natural gas and LP gas are used in heating and grain drying. Large amounts of natural gas are required in the manufacturing of fertilizer and pesticide, so these amounts are categorized as indirect energy consumption on farms. Overall, about three-fifths of energy in 2016 used in the agricultural sector was consumed directly on-farm, while two-fifths were consumed indirectly in the form of fertilizer and pesticides. Recent increases in diesel and fertilizer consumption come in response to declining oil and natural gas prices. From 2012 to 2015, agriculture became more energy intensive, as energy consumption grew over 10 percent compared with about 6 percent growth in agricultural output. This chart updates data found in the ERS report, Trends in U.S. Agriculture's Consumption and Production of Energy: Renewable Power, Shale Energy, and Cellulosic Biomass, released August 2016.

U.S. egg imports surged during and after the 2014-15 highly pathogenic avian influenza outbreak

Monday, March 12, 2018

The 2014-15 highly pathogenic avian influenza outbreak had a widespread impact on the U.S. poultry sector, hitting egg producers the hardest. The outbreak resulted in the loss of roughly 12 percent of the total U.S. table-egg laying population, which limited production and drove up domestic wholesale prices for all egg grades, including those used for processing by restaurants, bakers, and other food manufacturers. During this period, egg market supplies were bolstered by a very large increase in imports, including shell eggs graded for processing as well as liquid and dried egg products. Before 2015, these imports were marginal, attributable in part to rigorous country certification standards and less competitive prices due to typically robust domestic egg production (the Netherlands, for example, had to recertify after allowing their certification to lapse). After the outbreak, however, monthly imports of these items peaked above 15 percent of the processed eggs available domestically. As production recovered and domestic prices returned to pre-outbreak levels, U.S. egg imports returned to more stable levels, falling by 74 percent in 2017 to total 32 million dozen, just 2 million dozen more than the single month’s total in December 2015. This chart appears in the ERS report, Impacts of the 2014-2015 Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza Outbreak on the U.S. Poultry Sector, released in December 2017.

Global soybean imports are projected to grow 30 percent by 2027 with China leading the way

Friday, March 9, 2018

World soybean trade is projected to rise rapidly during the next 10 years according to USDA’s Agricultural Projections to 2027, climbing 48 million tons (30 percent) to 205 million tons by 2027. China, the world’s leading soybean importer, is expected to increase imports by 41 million tons over the projection period. China’s soybean imports have risen steadily since the late 1990s. In 2017, China accounted for about 64 percent of world soybean trade. China’s imports are projected to increase from 102 million tons in 2018 to 143 million tons in 2027, accounting for 86 percent of the total increase in trade. China’s share of global soybean imports would reach nearly 70 percent by 2027 if the projections are realized. The projections assume that China will continue to meet rising demand for edible vegetable oils and protein in feed by importing soybeans, while supporting domestic production of food and feed grains. China continues to add oilseed-crushing capacity that contributes to continued growth in soybean imports. The leading international soybean suppliers are Brazil and the United States, both of which should benefit from the additional demand from China and other trade partners. This chart is drawn from data in the USDA report, USDA Agricultural Projections to 2027, released in February 2018.

Employment in rural inpatient healthcare facilities was relatively more concentrated in the Upper Midwest and Northern Great Plains

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Rural inpatient healthcare facilities—such as general hospitals, nursing care facilities, and residential mental health facilities—can improve the health and economic well-being of local communities. At its peak in 2011, rural inpatient healthcare employment reached over 1.25 million wage and salary jobs, or about 8.5 percent of total rural (wage and salary) employment. However, employment in the rural inpatient healthcare sector varies by region. Between 2001 and 2015, rural counties with the most inpatient healthcare facility jobs per resident were concentrated in the Upper Midwest and Northern Great Plains. Regions with fewer inpatient healthcare jobs per resident include much of the West, the Southern Great Plains, and the South. The regional variation in rural healthcare employment per resident may reflect in part the relatively heavier dependence of some sparsely populated areas on hospital employment, and the difficulty many rural communities face in attracting and retaining physicians and other healthcare professionals. One study found, for example, that over 85 percent of rural counties had a shortage of primary care health professionals in 2005. Additionally, between January 2010 and December 2016, 78 rural hospitals closed—about 4 percent of the 1,855 total rural hospitals. This chart appears in the ERS report, Employment Spillover Effects of Rural Inpatient Healthcare Facilities, released November 2017.

Multiple-adult households without children account for over a quarter of U.S. food-insecure households

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

The prevalence of food insecurity—having difficulty providing enough food for all household members at some time during the year—varies across U.S. demographic groups. While some types of households may be less likely to be food insecure, the household groups could be so large that the households in the groups who are experiencing food insecurity make up a large share of all food-insecure households. For example, multiple-adult households without children had a lower food insecurity prevalence (8.0 percent) than single-mother households (31.6 percent) and single-father households (21.7 percent) in 2016. However, in the Nation as a whole, multiple-adult households without children—households that include married and unmarried couples with no children, or grown children, as well as households made up of relatives or roommates over the age of 18—are more numerous than single-parent households, so these multiple-adult households make up a larger share of all food-insecure households. In 2016, multiple-adult households without children accounted for 27 percent of all food-insecure households; single-mother households accounted for 20 percent; and single-father households accounted for 4 percent. A version of this chart appears in "Understanding the Prevalence, Severity, and Distribution of Food Insecurity in the United States" in the September 2017 issue of ERS’s Amber Waves magazine.

U.S. agricultural productivity continued to grow over time, while the real price of agricultural outputs tended to decline

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Productivity growth in the U.S. farm sector has implications for both U.S. and global food markets. The United States is one of the largest consumers and producers in world agricultural commodity markets. Slowing productivity growth that fails to keep pace with increasing food demand may lead to rising food prices. It may also put pressure on low-income households, as these households spend a greater share of their income on food. Transitory events—such as energy shocks or supply shortages due to bad weather—may cause agricultural commodity prices to rise, the long-term growth trend in U.S. agricultural productivity has enhanced food security and benefited consumers by reducing the real (inflation-adjusted) price of agricultural outputs over time. Between 1948 and 2015, total factor productivity increased by 152 percent, while real agricultural output price declined by nearly 65 percent. This chart appears in the March 2018 Amber Waves data feature, "Agricultural Productivity Growth in the United States: 1948-2015."

Households that buy fruits and vegetables directly from farmers tend to possess health-oriented attitudes and behaviors

Monday, March 5, 2018

A recent ERS study analyzed spending on fruits and vegetables by the 4,826 households that participated in USDA’s National Household Food Acquisition and Purchase Survey (FoodAPS). Among these households, 170 bought some of their fruits and vegetables directly from farmers at roadside stands, farmers’ markets, or other direct-to-consumer (DTC) outlets during their week of participation in the survey. Another 3,388 households bought fruits and vegetables exclusively at nondirect food stores. The researchers found that purchasing fruits and vegetables at a DTC outlet was positively associated with several healthy practices. For example, people buying fruits and vegetables directly from farmers were more likely to have a vegetable garden (45 versus 25 percent of non-DTC shoppers), to be aware of USDA’s MyPlate campaign to promote Federal dietary guidance, and to search the internet for information on healthy eating. Households that bought fruits and vegetables directly from farmers were also more likely to rate the healthfulness of their diets as excellent or very good. This chart appears in the ERS report, The Relationship Between Patronizing Direct-to-Consumer Outlets and a Household’s Demand for Fruits and Vegetables, January 2018.

Animal disease trade measures accounted for nearly one-third of concerns brought to World Trade Organization committee

Friday, March 2, 2018

Sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) regulations play an important role in ensuring food safety and protecting animal and plant resources. But such regulations are sometimes imposed improperly with countries favoring domestic producers and discriminating against imports from others. If a member country of the World Trade Organization (WTO) believes that a trade policy of another WTO member violates relevant agreements, it can initiate a dispute settlement case with the WTO’s Dispute Settlement Body. In the case of sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) measures, a member country can inform the WTO’s SPS Committee of its concerns about a particular measure. Many of these concerns—officially called Specific Trade Concerns (STCs)—are resolved before they escalate to the level of a formal dispute. From 1995 to 2015, the most common STCs brought before the WTO SPS Committee were related to trade measures imposed because of animal disease issues. This large share reflects strong growth in meat trade along with occasional animal disease outbreaks such as foot-and-mouth disease and bovine spongiform encephalopathy that gave many countries a rationale to restrict imports. Following animal disease-related concerns, the next most common concern was pesticide tolerances and maximum residue limits. This chart appears in the February 2018 Amber Waves feature, "World Agricultural Trade Experiences Sizable Growth but Still Faces Barriers."

Nearly 40 percent of U.S. farms run by multiple operators

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Commercial-sized farms often require more management and labor than an individual can provide. Additional operators can offer these and other resources, such as capital or farmland. Having a secondary operator may also provide a successor when an older principal operator phases out of farming. In 2016, nearly 40 percent of all U.S. farms had a multiple operators. Because nearly all farms are family owned, family members often serve as secondary operators. For example, 64 percent of secondary operators were spouses of principal operators. Some multiple-operator farms were also run by multiple generations, with a difference of at least 20 years between the ages of the youngest and oldest operators. These multiple-generation farms accounted for about 7 percent of all U.S. farms. Large-scale family farms and nonfamily farms were more likely to be operated by multiple generations, at about 20-25 percent of those farms. However, the operators in nonfamily multiple-generation farms were likely unrelated managers from different generations. This chart appears in the December 2017 ERS report, America’s Diverse Family Farms, 2017 Edition.

Americans purchase almost two-thirds of their calories from large grocery stores

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Americans acquire food from many sources—supermarkets, convenience stores, fast food outlets, and more. But in practice, large grocery stores dominate. A recent ERS analysis of household-level data from USDA’s National Household Food Acquisition and Purchase Survey (FoodAPS) found that three-quarters of U.S. households’ calories came from retail stores, with supermarkets, supercenters, and other large grocers providing 65 percent of calories by themselves. Small and specialty food stores like bakeries and farmers’ markets supplied 3 percent of calories and 6.5 percent came from convenience stores, dollar stores, and other stores. Restaurants and other eating places provided 17 percent of household calories. ERS researchers used the detailed FoodAPS data to calculate the nutrient value of food acquisitions and found that the overall nutritional quality of foods purchased at large grocery stores was higher than that of foods purchased at other retail outlets or restaurant and fast-food establishments. A version of this chart appears in the ERS report, Nutritional Quality of Foods Acquired by Americans: Findings from USDA’s National Household Food Acquisition and Purchase Survey, released on February 21, 2018.

Wetland Compliance incentives are strong in Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, and Iowa

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Wetlands provide a wide range of ecosystem services in all parts of the United States. For most U.S. agricultural programs, farmers who receive benefits must refrain from draining wetlands on their farm. The 2014 Farm Act re-linked crop insurance premium subsidies to this provision, known as Wetland Compliance (WC), for the first time since 1996. ERS researchers examined the effect of premium subsidies on farmer’s compliance incentives under the 2014 Farm Act. (Because of data limitations, ERS researchers focused on States that include the Prairie Pothole region: Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, and Iowa, where wetland habitat is critical to ducks and other migratory birds.) In Prairie Pothole States, WC incentives are strong. When the compliance incentive includes premium subsidies, an estimated 75 percent (2.6 million acres) of potentially convertible wetland is on farms where Compliance incentives (farm program benefits) are clearly large enough to offset revenue lost by not draining these lands for crop production. Severing the link between WC and crop insurance premium subsidies (while continuing the link between Compliance and other 2014 Farm Act programs) would reduce the number of potentially convertible wetlands with strong protection by 15 percent (from 2.6 to 2.2 million acres). This chart appears in the July 2017 report, Conservation Compliance: How Farmer Incentives Are Changing in the Crop Insurance Era.

Soybean planted area is projected to surpass corn for the first time in 2019/20

Monday, February 26, 2018

For the first time, the area of soybeans planted in the United States is expected to exceed the area planted for corn in USDA’s newly released Agricultural Projections to 2027. The two crops are the most widely produced in the United States, accounting for more than half of all acres planted. There are many reasons for the growth in soybean area relative to corn. Corn production has benefited from sustained growth in yield per acre, allowing farmers to dedicate less land to corn while maintaining the same output. While soybean yields also improved, the relative gains are not as large. As corn yields grow, overall area planted to corn is projected to trend lower. Additionally, soybean demand is heavily tied to domestic and international demand for meat. Soybean meal is a primary component of animal feeds across species. Rising incomes in many emerging economies have translated to increased meat consumption and international demand for soybeans. This rising demand is expected to place upward pressure on soybean prices and increase producer return, incentivizing further plantings. This chart is drawn from data in the USDA report, USDA Agricultural Projections to 2027, released in February 2018.

U.S. farm real estate appreciation has slowed following a decline in U.S. net cash farm income

Friday, February 23, 2018

Farm real estate (including land and the structures on the land) accounts for over 80 percent of farm sector assets and represents a significant investment for many farms. U.S. farm real estate values have been rising since the farm crisis of the 1980s, reaching record high values in 2015. Beginning in the mid-2000s, higher farm incomes and lower interest rates contributed to rapid appreciation. Nationally, average per-acre farm real estate values more than doubled when adjusted for inflation, from $1,483 in 2000 to $3,060 in 2015. Cropland appreciated faster than pastureland (reflecting the relatively steep rise in grain and oilseed commodity prices), while farmland in the Midwest appreciated faster than other areas of the country. However, farmland appreciation slowed considerably from 2015 to 2016, with some regions experiencing small declines caused by falling commodity prices and net cash farm income. This chart appears in the February 2018 ERS report Farmland Values, Land Ownership, and Returns to Farmland, 2000-2016.

Grocery store food prices fell 0.2 percent in 2017

Thursday, February 22, 2018

2017 marked the second consecutive year that average grocery store prices declined. At-home food prices in 2017 were 0.2 percent lower than 2016 prices. This decline followed a larger 1.3-percent drop in 2016—the first decline in annual grocery store prices since 1967. In contrast to falling food prices, overall inflation (prices for all goods and services, including food) rose by 1.3 percent in 2016 and by 2.1 percent in 2017. During 2016-17, lower food-at-home prices were driven, in part, by increased U.S. production of agricultural commodities, such as beef cattle and eggs, lower transportation costs due to lower oil prices, and a strong U.S. dollar which can make imported foods less expensive. Grocery store price changes can be volatile year to year, however the 20-year moving average, or average price change for the previous 20 years, has been slowly declining from 4 percent in 1998 to 3.1 percent in 2008 to 2.1 percent in 2017. More information on ERS's food price forecasts can be found in ERS's Food Price Outlook data product, updated February 22, 2018.

The 2011-2013 drought triggered higher Livestock Forage Disaster Program payments to producers

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Livestock producers face many sources of production risk from uncertain environmental conditions that affect feed availability, animal mortality rates, and production costs. For instance, pasture is vulnerable to drought and wildfire and producers incur higher costs when they purchase commercial feed to make up for lost grazing. Feed costs typically represent the most significant cost of animal production. The Livestock Forage Disaster Program (LFP) was authorized in the 2008 and 2014 farm bills to provide eligible livestock producers with payments to partially cover additional monthly feed costs. A historic drought (October 2011-13) contributed significantly to increased program payments or outlays. Also, elevated costs of substitute feeds linked to the drought—specifi¬cally corn—increased the value of lost forage and average producer payments. The upsurge in LFP outlays under the 2014 Farm Act, compared to those under the 2008 Farm Act, coincided with the drought that severely affected the Plains States as the 2014 act retroactively covered payments triggered by events occurring as early as October 1st, 2011. This chart appears in the ERS report Federal Natural Disaster Assistance Programs for Livestock Producers, 2008-16, released in January 2018.

Working-age adults comprise 44 percent of SNAP participants

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

In an average month in fiscal 2017, USDA's Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) provided 42.1 million low-income Americans with benefits to purchase food at authorized food stores. The number of people receiving SNAP benefits has declined by 11.5 percent since the historical high of an average 47.6 million per month in fiscal 2013. In the 2016 fiscal year (the latest year for which demographic data are available), adults age 18-59 accounted for 44.1 percent of participants, children younger than age 5 accounted for 13.4 percent of participants, school-age children accounted for 30.7 percent of participants, and the elderly accounted for 11.8 percent of participants. The composition of SNAP participants, as well as the overall SNAP caseload, can be affected by both changing economic conditions and modifications to program requirements. The composition shifted after the 2007-09 recession, as more working-age adults became eligible for the program and applied for benefits. Working-age adults' share of the SNAP caseload increased from 42.1 percent in 2006 to 46.4 percent in 2013, and has declined each year since 2013. This chart is from ERS's data product, Ag and Food Statistics: Charting the Essentials.

Fruits and vegetables top organic food sales

Friday, February 16, 2018

Although U.S. organic food sales account for a small share of total U.S. food sales, they have exhibited double-digit growth during most years since 2000, when USDA set national organic standards. In 2016, the Nutrition Business Journal estimated U.S. organic retail sales at $40.2 billion—with organic food accounting for about 5 percent of total U.S. at-home food expenditures, more than double the share in 2006. Organic sales in every food category have grown over the last decade. Fresh fruits and vegetables were still the top selling organic category in 2016, accounting for 40 percent of total organic sales that year. Dairy, the second top selling organic category, accounted for 15 percent of total sales. In 2014, Gallup included questions on organics in its annual food consumption survey for the first time and found that 45 percent of Americans actively tried to include organic foods in their diets. The share of Americans who actively tried to include organic foods was higher (over half) for Americans ages 18 to 29 than for those ages 65 and older (one third). This chart updates data found in the February 2017 Amber Waves feature "Growing Organic Demand Provides High-Value Opportunities for Many Types of Producers."

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