ERS Charts of Note
Wednesday, April 1, 2020
On average, U.S. farmers received 14.6 cents for farm commodity sales from each dollar spent on domestically produced food in 2018, up slightly from 14.4 cents in 2017. Known as the farm share, this amount rose for the first time since 2011. This increase coincides with a flattening in average prices received by U.S. farmers (as measured by the Producer Price Index for farm products) in 2017 and 2018, after steep declines in 2015 and 2016. A preliminary 2017 farm share estimate published last year was also 14.6 cents, but the 2017 figure has been revised downward to 14.4 cents in the newly-released updates. The Economic Research Service (ERS) uses input-output analysis to calculate the farm and marketing shares from a typical food dollar, including food purchased both at grocery stores and at restaurants and other eating-out places. The marketing share covers the costs of getting domestically produced food from farm to points of purchase, including costs related to packaging, transporting, processing, and selling to consumers at grocery stores and eating-out places. The relatively low farm share measures for 2015-18 occurred during a 7-year trend of increases in the portion of the food dollar going to the foodservice industry. Farmers receive a smaller share from eating-out dollars because of the added costs for preparing and serving meals at eating-out places, so more food-away-from-home spending also drives down the farm share. The data for this chart can be found in ERS’s Food Dollar Series data product, updated on March 23, 2020.
Monday, March 30, 2020
Although rice is not considered a staple food in the United States, Americans are turning to the global rice market more than ever, with imports now accounting for about 1 percent of the value of all U.S. agricultural imports. In 2019/20, U.S. rice imports are projected at 32.5 million hundredweight (rough basis), up 9 percent from a year earlier and the third consecutive record. Imports now account for more than 20 percent of the total domestic rice market with two factors driving the recent records. First is a large increase in demand for Asian aromatic varieties, primarily jasmine rice from Thailand and basmati rice from India and Pakistan. These specific varieties are not grown in the United States and account for around 70 percent of U.S. rice imports. Second, Puerto Rico is once again importing cheaper rice from China—about 8 percent of total U.S. rice imports—and largely replacing U.S. suppliers. Nearly all of China’s rice exports to Puerto Rico are from its Government-accumulated stocks of older rice that are sold at well below current trading prices. Also, freight costs are much lower for rice shipped from China because of provisions of the U.S. Jones Shipping Act of 1920 (Merchant Marine Act of 1920, Section 27), which effectively raises the of cost of shipments between any two U.S. ports (such as New Orleans to San Juan, Puerto Rico). The United States also imports broken kernel rice for processed uses, with Brazil now the largest supplier. Finally, Italy regularly supplies small amounts of its Arborio rice to the United States. The information in this chart is based on information in the Economic Research Service Rice Yearbook Tables.
Friday, March 27, 2020
U.S. agricultural exports are projected to total $139.5 billion in fiscal year 2020, while agricultural imports are expected at $132.5 billion, according to the Economic Research Service’s latest outlook for U.S. agricultural trade. The totals represent a $4 billion increase in exports and $1.6 billion rise in imports over 2019, which would increase the trade surplus by $2.4 billion and reverse the trend of decreasing trade surplus in recent years. Record high pork exports are projected as global demand for U.S. pork is expected to grow because of declining Asian production stemming from the outbreak of African Swine Fever. Expectations of increased Chinese purchases of U.S. soybeans due to the relaxation of trade barriers further drive up total U.S. projected export growth, but uncertainty resulting from the COVID-19 outbreak tempers the outlook. Total U.S. imports are increased because of growth demand for horticultural products from the Americas, primarily fresh fruit, coupled with stronger imports of foreign vegetable oils, and are slightly offset by a reduction in fresh vegetable imports. This chart is drawn from the Economic Research Service report, Outlook for U.S. Agricultural Trade: February 2020.
Wednesday, March 25, 2020
The year 2019 was another year of low price inflation at the grocery store. As measured by Consumer Price Index data, average annual food-at-home prices in 2019 were 0.9 percent higher than in 2018. Most food categories posted modest price index increases of between 0.3 and 2.0 percent. Egg prices decreased the most, falling by 10.0 percent between 2018 and 2019, although eggs represent a small share of total grocery spending. Fresh fruits, fats and oils, and poultry had modest price decreases. The price index for fresh vegetables increased the most. Fresh vegetable prices were up 3.8 percent in 2019, mainly because of bad weather in several growing areas. People are often surprised when fruit and vegetable prices move in different directions as they did in 2019. This can happen because most production of these crops occurs on highly specialized farms that are located in different areas of the country, such as lettuce farms in Arizona or blueberry farms in Michigan. Bad weather in Idaho could increase the price of potatoes, but it will have almost no effect on the price of Florida oranges. This chart appears in the Food Prices and Spending section of the Economic Research Service’s (ERS) Ag and Food Statistics: Charting the Essentials. For ERS’s latest food price information and 2020 forecasts, see our Food Price Outlook data product.
Monday, March 23, 2020
Farm real estate, including land and the structures on that land, typically accounts for more than 80 percent of the total value of U.S. farm sector assets. Farmers often use the value of their real estate as collateral for farm loans. After a long period of appreciation following the farm crisis of the 1980s, farm real estate values have leveled off since 2015. U.S. farm real estate value in 2019 remained near its historic high, averaging $3,160 per acre—a modest increase of 0.2 percent over 2018. The Economic Research Service (ERS) forecast farm income to increase nationwide in 2019. This increase, combined with historically low interest rates, contributes to the ability of the farm sector to support higher farmland values. Regional farmland real estate values vary widely because of differences in general economic conditions, local farm economic conditions, government policy, and local geographic conditions. For example, farm real estate values in the Corn Belt are nearly twice the national average, while values in the Mountain region are less than half the national average. This chart appears in the ERS topic page for Farmland Value, updated March 2020.
Friday, March 20, 2020
U.S. demand for avocados has increased steadily over the past two decades. Per capita consumption of avocados has tripled since 2001 to 8 pounds per person in 2018. Total U.S. production in 2018 was 364 million pounds, with California the major producer, accounting for 93 percent of U.S. avocado output in that year. U.S. acreage has declined over time, and production volume can vary between years. To support year-round demand, the United States imports avocados. In 2007, Mexico overtook Chile as the dominant supplier, and by 2018 accounted for 89 percent of fresh avocado imports. While Mexico sells avocados to the United States every month of the year, shipments are lower during the summer. In 2018, Peru was the second largest source of imports, and shipments increase during the summer. Although U.S. avocado production has dropped since 2001, growing demand has benefited domestic producers through higher prices. For example, the price received by California growers in 2018 is up 22 percent from 2011. Since avocados can mature on the tree for an extended period, U.S. growers look for opportunities when fruit quality is at its peak and market conditions are optimal to harvest and ship to domestic and export markets. This chart is based on Fruit and Tree Nut Yearbook Data released in October 2019.
Wednesday, March 18, 2020
USDA and the National Cancer Institute developed the Healthy Eating Index (HEI) to measure how closely the foods and beverages that an individual consumes align with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Higher scores indicate a higher degree of compliance with recommendations. Economic Research Service (ERS) researchers used self-reported food intake data to compare veterans’ and nonveterans’ diets. After controlling for economic and demographic differences—for example, veterans tend to be older and are more often male—veterans’ and nonveterans’ average scores differed for three dietary components. Veterans scored higher on components for dairy products and refined grains, but lower on the empty calories component (meaning that empty calories accounted for a larger share of their total calories). In the HEI-2010, 12 component scores for specific food groups and subgroups—with maximum values ranging from 5 to 20—sum to a total score that measures overall diet quality, with a maximum value of 100. Veterans attained an average total HEI of 45.6 out of 100 versus 49.3 for nonveterans. The data for this chart come from the December 2019 ERS report, An Examination of Veterans’ Diet Quality. Veterans’ diet quality is also discussed in the February 2020 Amber Waves article, “Much Like Other Americans, Veterans Would Benefit From Improving the Quality of Their Diets.”
Monday, March 16, 2020
USDA’s Economic Research Service classifies farm households based on the annual gross cash farm income (GCFI) of the farm that they operate, and further separates small farms by the primary occupation of the principal operator. Data from USDA’s Agricultural Resource Management Survey consistently show that income earned off the farm is an important source of income for most farm households. Nearly half of all family farm operators and their spouses reported having a job off the farm in 2018. In general, spouses of principal operators are more likely to work off the farm, except among those classified as off-farm occupation farms. However, off-farm employment varies across farm types. For example, only 11 percent of operators of large farms and 3 percent of very large farms have a job off the farm, while between 17 and 19 percent of those operating low-sales, moderate-sales, and mid-size farms have an off-farm job. About 20 percent of operators on retirement farms hold off-farm jobs. This chart appears in the December 2019 report, America’s Diverse Family Farms: 2019 Edition.
Friday, March 13, 2020
People living in poverty tend to be clustered in certain U.S. regions, counties, and neighborhoods, rather than being spread evenly across the Nation. Poverty rates in rural (nonmetro) areas have historically been higher than in urban (metro) areas, and the rural/urban poverty gap is greater in some regions of the country than others. At the regional level, poverty is disproportionately concentrated in the rural South. In 2014-18, the South had an average rural poverty rate of 20.5 percent—nearly 6 percentage points higher than the average rate in the region’s urban areas. An estimated 42.7 percent of the Nation’s rural population and 51.3 percent of the Nation’s rural poor lived in this region between 2014 and 2018. By comparison, 37.1 percent of the urban population and 39.4 percent of the urban poor lived in the South during that period. The poverty gap was smallest in the Midwest and the Northeast—with less than a percentage point difference between rural and urban poverty rates. This chart appears on the Economic Research Service topic page for Rural Poverty & Well-being, updated February 2020.
Wednesday, March 11, 2020
Obtaining affordable and nutritious food can be difficult for people who live in low-income census tracts with low access to supermarkets, supercenters, or large grocery stores—called low-income, low-access, or LILA, census tracts (see chart for LILA definitions). Economic Research Service (ERS) researchers examined changes from 2010 to 2015 in the number of people living in LILA census tracts by State. Over this time, 30 States saw an increase in the share of their residents living in LILA tracts. In most cases, these increases resulted from more census tracts meeting the definition of low income after the Great Recession of 2007-09. New Hampshire had the greatest percentage-point increase, growing from 9 to 15 percent, followed by Mississippi (from 27 to 30 percent) and Georgia (from 20 to 23 percent). Between 2010 and 2015, 20 States plus the District of Columbia saw a decrease in the share of their populations living in LILA tracts. The share of residents living in LILA tracts in North Dakota fell the most—from 12 to 8 percent—followed by the District of Columbia (from 6 to 3 percent) and Rhode Island (from 8 to 5 percent). This chart appears in the ERS data visualization, “State by State estimates of low income & low access (LILA) populations.”
Monday, March 9, 2020
Sugar production in the United States and globally is dependent upon two crops: sugarbeets, grown in higher, typically colder latitudes; and sugarcane, which grows in lower, typically more tropical latitudes. Poor weather conditions have diminished the production outlook for both the U.S. sugarbeet crop—particularly in North Dakota, Minnesota, and Montana—and the sugarcane crop, especially in Louisiana. Sugar output is also expected to be significantly lower for 2019/20 in Mexico—the United States’ largest foreign sugar supplier—as drought conditions in several key sugarcane-producing regions are expected to reduce output considerably. The combined 2019/20 U.S. and Mexican sugar production is projected to be 9.7 percent below that in 2018/19, the lowest collective output since 2011/12. The reduced supply expectations are the main reason why the U.S. sugar market is forecast to be at its tightest since 2010/11, and why current U.S. wholesale refined sugar prices are 19 percent higher for cane sugar and 26 percent higher for beet sugar compared with a year ago. This chart is based on information in the Economic Research Service Sugar and Sweeteners Monthly Outlook Report and the Sugar and Sweetener Yearbook Tables.
Friday, March 6, 2020
According to Economic Research Service (ERS) food availability data, the per person supply of fluid cow’s milk available for Americans to drink decreased by 40 percent over 1977-2017, from 29.0 to 17.3 gallons per person. Whole milk availability drove this decline, falling from 18.7 gallons per person in 1977 to a low of 5.1 gallons in 2014, then up to 5.7 gallons in 2017. Availability of milk with 2 percent milk fat grew from 5.5 gallons per person in 1977 to a high of 9.2 gallons in 1989 before falling to 5.8 gallons in 2017. In 2005, 2 percent milk replaced whole milk as the most popular milk type. Availability of 1 percent milk has held steady at around 2.5 gallons per person for the last two decades, and skim milk reached its peak in 1997 at 3.9 gallons per person. Several factors—including competition from alternative beverages, an aging population, and changing consumer attitudes and preferences regarding milk fats—affect trends in U.S. per person milk availability. The data for this chart come from the ERS Food Availability (Per Capita) Data System.
Wednesday, March 4, 2020
After a hiatus of almost 45 years, the Agricultural Act of 2014, Public Law 113-79 (the 2014 Farm Bill) reintroduced industrial hemp production in the United States through State pilot programs. Industrial hemp is a strain of Cannabis sativa that is low in active tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. It is grown specifically for a variety of industrial products. Production of industrial hemp beyond the pilot programs was legalized in the Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018, Public Law 115-334 (the 2018 Farm Bill). By mid-2019, 47 States had passed legislation to allow some form of hemp production and planted acreage reported to the USDA Farm Service Agency increased from zero in 2013 to 32,464 in 2018 to 146,065 in 2019. Hemp competes for acreage against crops with established markets and decades of agronomic research and industry experience. Through 2019, the largest hemp acreage is found in States that are not leading producers of conventional field crops such as corn, soybeans, wheat, or cotton. This chart is based on information in the Economic Research Service report, Economic Viability of Industrial Hemp in the United States: A Review of State Pilot Programs.
Monday, March 2, 2020
The H-2A Temporary Agricultural Program provides a legal means to bring in foreign-born workers into the United States on a short-term basis. Workers employed on an H-2A visa may remain in the U.S. for up to 10 months at a time. Employers must demonstrate and the U.S. Department of Labor must certify that efforts to recruit U.S. workers were not successful. Employers must also pay a State-specific minimum wage, known as the Adverse Effect Wage Rate (AEWR). The rate is set at the region’s average farm wage to prevent H-2A employment from negatively affecting domestic farmworkers by lowering their wages. For fiscal 2019, this minimum hourly wage was highest in Oregon and Washington at $15.03, followed by Hawaii at $14.73. The wage rate was also high in the Dakotas, Nebraska, and Kansas at $14.38. By comparison, Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina had the lowest minimum wages at $11.13. This chart appears in the Economic Research Service topic page for Farm Labor, updated January 2020.
Friday, February 28, 2020
Food-insecure households have difficulty providing enough food for all members due to a lack of money or other resources for obtaining food. USDA measures food insecurity in households with children in several different ways. In 2018, 13.9 percent of U.S. households with children were food insecure: in these households, someone was food insecure, but not necessarily the children. In a little over half of these households—7.1 percent of U.S. households with children—both children and adults were food insecure. Both of these indicators, food insecurity in households with children and food insecurity among children, were at their lowest levels since 1998. The prevalence of very low food security among children was 0.6 percent in 2018. In these households experiencing the more severe range of food insecurity, caregivers reported that children were hungry, skipped a meal, or did not eat for a whole day because there was not enough money for food. This chart appears in “Food Insecurity Among Children Has Declined Overall But Remains High for Some Groups” in the December 2019 issue of the USDA, Economic Research Service Amber Waves magazine.
Wednesday, February 26, 2020
Fertilizers provide nutrients (such as nitrogen) essential in the production of crops. The amount of fertilizer farmers use can be affected by changes in the price of the fertilizer, variation in production practice (such as the type of tillage employed and crop mix), and the price received for the crops. From 1960 through 2002, both fertilizer prices paid and crop prices received by farmers increased in tandem at a fairly modest rate. Between 2002 and 2008, annual fertilizer prices paid by farmers increased rapidly (generally much faster than increases in crop prices received by farmers) and became more volatile. Fertilizer price increases through 2008 were largely driven by high energy prices and the record costs of natural gas (a basic input to produce nitrogen). In response to record fertilizer prices in 2008, farmers reduced their use of fertilizers, contributing to a decline of 18 percent in fertilizer prices through 2010. Fertilizer prices recovered somewhat through 2012—driven by strong domestic demand for plant nutrients due to high crop prices, and limited domestic production capacity—before declining again. Since June 2017, fertilizer prices have trended upwards, along with crop prices received. Using an index that sets 2011 price levels to 100, farmers paid 66.7 for fertilizer and received 86.8 for their crops in 2018. In other words, farmers paid less for fertilizer and received less money for their crops in 2018 than they did in 2011. This chart appears in the USDA, Economic Research Service data product, Fertilizer Use and Price, updated October 2019.
Monday, February 24, 2020
The USDA Quarterly Hogs and Pigs report issued on December 23, 2019 indicated that the U.S. hog industry achieved a third consecutive quarterly litter rate of 11 or more pigs per litter. National litter rates of 11 pigs per litter or more have been a long-standing goal of the U.S. hog industry, although such litter rates have been commonplace in Canada (particularly in Manitoba) and in Europe for quite some time. Factors contributing to the 11+ litter rates in the United States last year—the September-November litter rate of 11.09, the June-August litter rate of 11.11, and the March-May rate of 11 pigs per litter—are varied; they include innovations in pre- and postnatal sow and weanling management and care, sow nutrition, weather adaptations, and management of disease occurrences. Chief among litter-rate enhancement factors, however, are improvements in genetics. Superior litter rates in 2019 likely indicate that distribution and optimal utilization of high-quality genetics is gaining traction in the industry. The suggestion of “more to come” is supported by considerable anecdotal evidence of trickle down effects of genetics transfers from nucleus farms to multiplier farms and then on to commercial farms. It is likely that higher litter rates will characterize the near future of U.S. pork production as highly productive genetics spread further in the U.S. commercial hog sector. This chart was previously published in the USDA, Economic Research Service report, Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry Outlook: January 2020.
Friday, February 21, 2020
Since 2010, the United States has been losing its dominant position as a corn import supplier to South Korea. Although Mexico is the largest foreign market for U.S. corn, before 2011 South Korea was a large and stable purchaser. However, the U.S. share in South Korea’s corn imports has dropped from 84 percent during the years of 2007-2011 to 46 percent during 2015-2019. In 2012, drought in the United States contributed to the loss in its corn export share vis-à-vis South Korea (and the entire world market) in that year. Yet, the main reason for the decline in U.S. corn export share with South Korea since 2012 has been that the amount of corn supplied by export competitors—in particular, Brazil and Argentina—has risen as large crops in those countries increased their price competitiveness (with some annual fluctuation). South Korea is a very price-sensitive grain importer, and Brazil and Argentina have been supplying corn at attractively low prices. The U.S. loss of corn import share in South Korea is part of a general trend of declining U.S. corn export share in the world, despite higher global corn trade and slightly growing U.S. corn production. This chart was previously published in the ERS Feed Outlook report released in January 2020.
Thursday, February 20, 2020
Grocery store food prices in the United States have seen low inflation or deflation since 2015. Given current conditions, ERS expects a continuation of the low inflation trend into 2020. Food-at-home prices are forecast to increase between 0.5 and 1.5 percent, below the current 20-year historic average of 2.0 percent. The previous period of low inflation in retail food prices, which occurred in 2009 and 2010, was due largely to the economy-wide downturn caused by the 2007-09 Great Recession. The current period of low food-price inflation, however, is taking place during a time of U.S. economic expansion. Contributing factors for this period of low food-price inflation include retail pricing strategies, efficient food supply chains, slow wage growth, and relatively low oil prices. Within grocery sub-categories, price changes in 2020 are expected to vary. More information on ERS’s monthly food price forecasts can be found in the ERS Food Price Outlook data product, which will be updated on February 25, 2020.
Wednesday, February 19, 2020
Technological developments in agriculture have been influential in driving changes in the farm sector. Innovations in animal and crop genetics, chemicals, equipment, and farm organization have enabled continuing output growth without adding much to inputs (including land, labor, machinery, and intermediate goods). As a result, even as the amount of land and labor used in farming declined, total farm output nearly tripled between 1948 and 2017. During this period, agricultural output grew at an average annual rate of 1.53 percent, compared to 0.07 percent for total farm inputs. Output growth was largely driven by the growth in agricultural productivity, as measured by total factor productivity (TFP)—the difference between the growth of aggregate output and growth of aggregate inputs. Between 1948 and 2017, TFP grew at an average annual rate of 1.46 percent. In the short term, TFP estimates can fluctuate from time to time—reflecting transitive events, such as bad weather or oil shocks—but it usually recovers and returns to its long-term trend growth, as has happened in recent years. This chart appears in the ERS data product, Agricultural Productivity in the U.S., updated January 2020.