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Pork imports slow in China as domestic pork production rebounds

Friday, September 22, 2017

China produces roughly half of the world’s pork, generating 55 billion pounds per year since 2013. But, over the past decade it has nevertheless become a leading importer of the meat. Domestic pork production contracted in 2015 and 2016 because of lower pig supplies. That period followed 7 years of growth that drove prices below profitable levels. Imports soared during 2016, as shrinking Chinese pork supplies helped push the country’s pork prices to record levels. But, the most recent data show that imports have fallen about 52 percent from a year ago, reflecting an ongoing recovery in Chinese domestic production. Over the past year, the country reduced its pork imports from all major pork exporting countries, including the United States (-38.0 percent), Canada (-51.6 percent), the E.U. (-56.3 percent), and Brazil (-60.6 percent). In addition, a dozen or more feed and livestock companies have announced aggressive expansion plans within China. With higher domestic hog and pork production, supplies in China appear more than adequate, as the prices for feeder pigs, pork, and live hogs are all below the levels of a year ago. The chart appears in the September Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry Outlook report.

Index insurance programs have grown as a risk management tool in Sub-Saharan Africa

Thursday, September 21, 2017

In the developing countries of Africa, most of the crop production needed to feed the region comes from smallholder farmers. But because of the risk of catastrophic loss, many of these farmers are unwilling to fully invest in inputs like machinery or better seeds, despite the potential to increase their average production and income. Index insurance (insurance based on a measure of weather that is highly correlated with farm-level losses), could help increase agricultural investments by allowing smallholder farmers manage their risk in places where traditional insurance might not be offered. Successful programs recently focused on developing countries include the R4 Rural Resilience Initiative, Agriculture and Climate Risk Enterprise (ACRE Africa), and Index-Based Livestock Insurance (IBLI) in Kenya. These programs, which have grown significantly since 2009 when fewer than 1,000 farmers were covered, have taken a holistic approach by offering index insurance alongside other risk management services and credit assistance. In 2016, nearly 400,000 farmers were covered. There is evidence that index insurance is improving farmer productivity and well-being in some developing country cases. In Senegal, insured R4 program participants increased rice production at 10 times the rate of uninsured control group farmers from 2013 to 2015. Index insurance is a promising approach to providing insurance and improving risk management, but it is still at the early stages of adoption and is available to only a small number of Sub-Saharan Africa’s 50 million farms. This chart appears in the ERS report, "Progress and Challenges in Global Food Security," released in July 2017.

Some rural establishments are as likely to be innovative as their urban peers

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Innovation is widely regarded as an essential component of resilient local economies. Using a comprehensive measure of innovation, ERS research found that some establishments in the rural (nonmetro) nonfarm economy are as likely to be innovative as their urban (metro) peers. About half of large rural and urban establishments (100 employees or more) were found to be substantive innovators. Among all establishments in manufacturing and service-providing industries characterized by high rates of patenting, the percentage of substantive innovators in rural and urban areas were also similar. However, an urban innovation advantage was evident for small (5-19 employees) and medium (20-99 employees) establishments. For example, the research found about 29 percent of medium-sized rural establishments to be substantive innovators, compared to 41 percent of their urban peers. This chart appears in the ERS report, Innovation in the Rural Nonfarm Economy: Its Effect on Job and Earnings Growth, 2010-2014, released September 2017.

Technological innovations have increased corn yields

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

With less labor and land being used in production over time, U.S. agriculture depends on raising the productivity of these resources for growth. Average national corn yield (a productivity measure) rose from around 30 bushels per acre in the 1930s (where it stood since USDA began measuring them in the 1860s) to nearly 180 bushels per acre in the present decade. This sustained growth in productivity was driven by the development and rapid adoption of a series of successive biological, chemical, and mechanical innovations. Every few years farmers adopt the latest hybrid seed variety, for example. These seeds are likely to have multiple genetically modified (GM) traits designed to protect the crop against pests and diseases or infer other valuable qualities—such as resistance to the corn borer, a major insect pest of the crop. Recently, the rapid adoption of tractor guidance systems has greatly improved the speed and efficiency of tillage and planting operations and the precision of seed, fertilizer, and pesticide applications. By 2010, such systems were used on 45 percent of corn planted acres. This chart updates data found in the ERS report, The Seed Industry in U.S. Agriculture: An Exploration of Data and Information on Crop Seed Markets, Regulation, Industry Structure, and Research and Development, released February 2004.

Food spending of SNAP households is concentrated in the few days after receiving SNAP benefits

Monday, September 18, 2017

A growing number of studies find that households that participate in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) have cyclical food purchasing patterns. A large share of these households’ grocery store (food at home) spending occurs soon after the household receives its SNAP benefits, and then declines steadily throughout the rest of the month. ERS researchers, using data from USDA’s National Household Food Acquisition and Purchase Survey (FoodAPS), found a similar monthly pattern. SNAP households spent an average of $92 on food at home on the day of benefit receipt in 2012, almost all of which was purchased with SNAP benefits. Over the rest of the month, average daily food-at-home spending ranged from $9 to $30 per day, and the share of food-at-home spending from SNAP benefits trended downward over the month. SNAP households may be able to smooth their food consumption over the month by slowly drawing down their food stores over the course of the month. However, other studies have found that SNAP participants consume fewer calories and that diet quality decreases toward the end of the month. This chart appears in "USDA’s FoodAPS: Providing Insights Into U.S. Food Demand and Food Assistance Programs" in ERS’s Amber Waves magazine, August 2017.

Conservation Compliance links crop insurance premium subsidies to soil conservation

Friday, September 15, 2017

Most U.S. agricultural programs that provide payments to farmers require participating farmers to apply soil conservation systems on cropland that is particularly vulnerable to soil erosion. ERS research shows that this provision, Highly Erodible Land Compliance (HELC), is effective in reducing soil erosion when the farm program benefits that could be lost due to noncompliance exceed the cost of meeting conservation requirements. Under the 2014 Farm Act, some programs previously linked to HELC were eliminated, while new ones were created. In addition, crop insurance premium subsidies were re-linked to HELC for first time since 1996. Twenty-five million acres of highly erodible cropland are estimated to be in farms with relatively strong Compliance incentives (rightmost bars) under the Act. Without premium subsidies, farms with this level of HELC incentive would include only 14 million acres of highly erodible cropland. By comparison, farms with relatively weak Compliance incentives (the second and third sets of bars) include an estimated 27 million acres of highly erodible cropland. Without premium subsidies, farms with this level of HELC incentive would include an estimated 45 million acres of highly erodible cropland. A version of this chart appears in the ERS report, Conservation Compliance: How Farmer Incentives Are Changing in the Crop Insurance Era, released July 2017.

Obesity of parents is associated with obesity of children

Thursday, September 14, 2017

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 1 out of 5 children and adolescents (ages 2-19) are obese in the United States. A recent ERS study used data from USDA’s National Household Food Acquisition and Purchase Survey (FoodAPS) to look at how households with at least one obese child differ from households without an obese child. The study found that the parents of obese children were more likely to be unmarried, less educated, and have lower incomes. The researchers also found a strong association between parents’ and children’s obesity. About a quarter of mothers (27 percent) and fathers (25 percent) with no obese children were obese. In contrast, 42 percent of mothers and 43 percent of fathers with at least one obese child were obese. This strong association suggests that shared environments and genetic compositions likely play an important role in childhood obesity. The data for this chart are drawn from the ERS report, The Differences in Characteristics Among Households With and Without Obese Children: Findings From USDA’s FoodAPS, released on September 13, 2017.

Public sector spending on agricultural research declining in the United States and Western Europe, but rising in China, India, and Brazil

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

U.S. public sector funding for agricultural R&D is falling, both in absolute terms and relative to major countries and regions. Between 1990 and 2013, the U.S. share of spending among nations with major public agricultural R&D investments fell from about 23 to 13 percent. This decline was driven by a combination of falling U.S. spending (lately mirrored in Western Europe) and rapidly rising spending in developing countries such as India and, especially, China. Chinese government spending on agricultural R&D rose nearly eightfold in real (inflation-adjusted) terms between 1990 and 2013, surpassing U.S. spending in 2008 and more than doubling it in 2013. In simple dollar terms, the decline in U.S. public sector funding has been more than offset by a rise in U.S. private research spending, but the two are not substitutes, as each tends to specialize in different kinds of R&D. This chart appears in the November 2016 Amber Waves feature, "U.S. Agricultural R&D in an Era of Falling Public Funding."

U.S. agricultural exports forecast up in 2017 and slightly down in 2018

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

The value of U.S. agricultural exports is forecast at $139.8 billion for fiscal year (FY) 2017, up $10.2 billion from FY 2016, and following 2 consecutive years of declining export values. The increase reflects improvement in the global economy, a lower value for the U.S. dollar, and stronger markets for several individual commodities including grains, feed, and soybeans. The initial FY 2018 forecast shows that exports reach $139 billion, still above FY 2016 levels but slightly below current FY 2017 estimates. The value of FY 2017 agricultural imports is forecast at $116.2 billion, up $3.2 billion from last year and the highest level on record. However, the initial FY 2018 forecast reveals a $700 million decline for agricultural imports. The strong export increase and modest import increase for FY 2017 indicates that the agricultural trade surplus will rise to $23.6 billion, up $7 billion from FY 2016. Agricultural trade surplus is expected to remain virtually unchanged in FY 2018 due to the nearly identical declines in the value of exports and imports currently expected. This chart is from ERS’s Outlook for U.S. Agricultural Trade: August 2017.

Restaurant prices are usually less volatile than grocery store food prices

Monday, September 11, 2017

Grocery store food (food-at-home) prices tend to be more volatile than restaurant (food-away-from-home) prices, and this was true during 2009-16. Over this period, restaurant prices rose between 1.3 and 3.5 percent per year, while food price changes at the grocery store were more irregular, ranging from a 4.8-percent increase in 2011 to a decrease of 1.3 percent in 2016. In 2016, grocery store prices and restaurant prices moved in opposite directions. Food-away-from-home prices rose 2.6 percent on average, while food-at-home prices declined 1.3 percent. Although it may seem that prices for food—whether purchased at a grocery store or restaurant—should move in the same direction, differences in production processes and operating costs between the two food sectors can, in part, explain the divergence in 2016. Lower farm commodity prices and energy costs contributed to the decline in at-home food prices in 2016, but eating out places had to absorb rising wages and benefits for employees who prepare, serve, and clean up in foodservice establishments. This chart appears in "Since 2009, Restaurant Prices Have Generally Risen Faster Than Grocery Store Prices" in ERS’s Amber Waves magazine, August 2017.

Americans’ consumption of vegetables and legumes has moved closer to recommendations

Friday, September 8, 2017

The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that people on a 2,000 calorie-per-day diet consume 2½ cup-equivalents (cup-eq) of vegetables per day. A cup-eq of vegetables is generally equal to 1 cup of raw or cooked vegetables or vegetable juice, or 2 cups of raw leafy greens. The Guidelines include recommended amounts of five vegetable subgroups (dark green, red and orange, legumes, starchy, and other) and advise Americans to consume a variety of vegetables from each subgroup. According to ERS’s loss-adjusted food availability data (a proxy for consumption), the average American consumed 1.72 cup-eq of vegetables and legumes per day in 2015—69 percent of the daily recommendation for a 2,000 calorie-per-day-diet—and up from 1.49 cup eq in 1970. While starchy vegetable consumption declined by 17 percent (mostly due to drops in fresh potatoes and canned corn), daily dark green vegetable consumption grew from 0.02 cup-eq in 1970 to 0.15 cup-eq in 2015. Romaine and leaf lettuce and fresh broccoli were the largest contributors, reflecting the growing demand for salads and fresh vegetables. Consumption of legumes and other vegetables increased, closing in on the Guidelines’ recommendations. Red and orange vegetable consumption grew to 0.23 cup-eq per day in 2015, but is still just 30 percent of the recommendation. The data for this chart are from ERS’s Food Availability (Per Capita) Data System, updated July 26, 2017.

In recent years, population has declined in rural areas

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Population change includes two major components: natural change (births minus deaths) and net migration (in-migrants minus out-migrants). While natural change has gradually trended downward over time, net migration rates tend to fluctuate in response to economic conditions. Population growth from natural change (more births than deaths, also known as natural increase) was the norm historically. Between 2010 and 2016, however, the increase in rural population from natural change (270,000 more births than deaths) has not kept pace with the decrease in population from net migration (462,000 more people moved out than moved in). Declining birth rates, increasing mortality rates among working-age adults, and an aging population have led to the emergence of natural decrease (more deaths than births) in hundreds of U.S. counties—most of them rural. This chart appears in the September 2017 Amber Waves data feature, "Rural Areas Show Overall Population Decline and Shifting Regional Patterns of Population Change."

Prevalence of food insecurity in 2016 essentially unchanged from 2015

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

In 2016, 87.7 percent of American households were food secure throughout the year. The remaining households (12.3 percent) were food insecure—meaning that they had difficulty at some time during the year providing enough food for all their members because of a lack of resources. That level is essentially unchanged from 2015, but down from a high of 14.9 percent in 2011 and also continues the downward trend in food insecurity in recent years. Over a third of food insecure households (4.9 percent of U.S. households) experienced very low food security in 2016, meaning that at times the food intake of one or more household members was reduced and their eating patterns were disrupted because the household lacked money and other resources for food. The prevalence of very low food security was also essentially unchanged from 2015, but down from 5.6 percent in 2014. This chart appears in the ERS report, Household Food Security in the United States in 2016, released September 6, 2017.

France, Germany, and the United Kingdom lead the EU in wheat production, but new member states are leading in growth

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

The European Union (EU) is the largest wheat producer in the world. Within the EU, France, Germany, and the United Kingdom are the largest wheat producers. Wheat production in the most important wheat producing nations has been relatively steady since 2006, and these countries have not experienced a very large increase in average output or percentage of EU output. A number of smaller wheat-producing countries, however, have increased wheat output substantially over the last 10 years. These nations include many of the EU’s Eastern European new member states: Poland, Romania, the Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Hungary, and Slovakia. The increases have been particularly pronounced in the Baltic States of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia, which increased wheat output by more than 100 percent, since 2006. These countries moved from a 1.3 percent share of EU-28 wheat output in 2006 to a 4.3 percent share in 2016. These increases in the Baltic States are generally due to both increases in area planted to wheat and gains in yield per acre. This chart appears in the ERS Wheat Outlook newsletter released in August 2017.

Inflation in grocery store food prices varies across U.S. metropolitan areas

Friday, September 1, 2017

Increasing prices (inflation) for food sold in supermarkets, supercenters, convenience stores, and other retailers differ by U.S. metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs). For example, from 2007 to 2016, retail food prices rose 26.4 percent in Pittsburgh but only 12.8 percent in Anchorage. Several factors account for variations in food price inflation across MSAs. Changes to the costs associated with transporting food products to the grocery store can vary geographically, and volatile fuel prices can contribute to variation in retail food price inflation across MSAs. Fluctuations in retail overhead costs, such as labor and rent, may also differ from one area to another. Increases in retail overhead costs are often passed onto consumers as higher prices. However, in MSAs with falling consumer incomes, grocers may not be able to pass on price increases to budget-constrained consumers, dampening food price inflation. This chart appears in the ERS data product, Food Price Outlook, updated July 25, 2017.

Processed potato availability has fallen over time

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Processed vegetables make up roughly 44 percent of total per capita availability of vegetables in the United States. Potatoes (including frozen, chips, dehydrated, and canned) are the leading processed vegetable commodity available per capita. In 2016, there were over 75 pounds of processed potatoes available per capita. Since 1970, availability of processed potatoes has surpassed fresh potatoes in the United States. Spurred by the innovation of frozen French fry processing techniques in the 1950s and the increasing popularity of fast food chains, processed potatoes have composed 70 percent of total U.S. potato availability since 2010. The trend for processed potato availability has been sloping downward, however, since its peak in the mid to late 1990s. This gradual decline may indicate that Americans are shifting away from consuming processed vegetables in general. The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans cautions consumers from consuming excess saturated fats and sodium. This chart is adapted from a chart in the Amber Waves article, "Newly Updated ERS Data Shows 2016 Production, Trade Volume, and Per Capita Availability of Vegetables and Pulses," released in August 2017.

2017 net farm income and net cash farm income forecast up over 2016

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

After several years of declines, inflation-adjusted U.S. net farm income is forecast to increase about $0.9 billion (1.5 percent) to $63.4 billion in 2017, while inflation-adjusted U.S. net cash farm income is forecast to rise almost $9.8 billion (10.8 percent) to $100.4 billion. The expected increases are led by rising production and prices in the animal and animal product sector compared to 2016, while crops are expected to be flat. The stronger forecast growth in net cash farm income, relative to net farm income, is largely due to an additional $9.7 billion in cash receipts from the sale of crop inventories. The net cash farm income measure counts those sales as part of current-year income, while the net farm income measure counts the value of those inventories as part of prior-year income (when the crops were produced). Despite the forecast increases over 2016 levels, both profitability measures remain below their 2000-16 averages, which included surging crop and animal/animal product cash receipts from 2010 to 2013. Net cash farm income and net farm income are two conventional measures of farm sector profitability. Net cash farm income measures cash receipts from farming as well as farm-related income including government payments, minus cash expenses. Net farm income is a more comprehensive measure that incorporates non-cash items, including changes in inventories, economic depreciation, and gross imputed rental income. Find additional information and analysis on ERS’s Farm Sector Income and Finances topic page, released August 30, 2017.

Forest and grassland pasture and range accounted for 57 percent of U.S. land use in 2012

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

The ERS Major Land Uses (MLU) series is the longest running, most comprehensive accounting of all major uses of public and private land in the United States. The series was started in 1945, and has since been published about every 5 years using the latest data from the National Agricultural Statistics Service’s Census of Agriculture. In the 2012 MLU data (the latest available), grassland pasture and range was the most common land use in the United States, representing 29 percent of U.S. land. The second most common was forest-use—land capable of producing timber or covered by forest and used for grazing—at 28 percent. The distribution of land use varies substantially across the country, based on factors such as soil, climate, and Federal and local policies and programs. Cropland is concentrated in the Corn Belt and Northern Plains regions, where several States (including Iowa, Kansas, and Illinois) have more than half of their land base devoted to cropland. Grassland pasture and range accounted for a large share of land in the Mountain (60 percent) and Southern Plains (59 percent) regions. The share of forest-use land was highest along the eastern seaboard in the Southeast (62 percent), Northeast (59 percent), Delta States (58 percent), and Appalachia (57 percent) regions. This chart appears in the ERS report Major Uses of Land in the United States, 2012, released August 2017.

First-half of 2017 meat and dairy exports are higher than 2016 for all categories

Monday, August 28, 2017

The latest available U.S. trade data show that first-half of 2017 animal products exports are higher for all major commodities for 2016. An increase in global demand and a decline in the U.S. dollar likely contributed to favorable conditions for exports. According to the U.S. Federal Reserve’s Price-adjusted Broad Dollar Index, the value of the U.S. dollar fell 5.9 percent since December 2016. All of the products, except for eggs, are building on positive annual growth in 2016 relative to 2015. In the case of eggs, the 2015 U.S. highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) outbreak resulted in a sustained egg-laying flock rebuilding process that limited production and trade. With the exception of U.S. beef and veal exports, the largest share of which went to Japan, Mexico accounted for the largest share of U.S. animal product exports. Mexico’s share so far in 2017 ranges from a low of 15 percent of U.S. beef and veal exports to a high of 64 percent of all U.S. turkey exports. This chart appears in the ERS Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry Outlook newsletter, released in August 2017.

By multiple measures, global food security has improved significantly since 1990

Friday, August 25, 2017

The United States made commitments to end global food insecurity by 2030 as part of the 2015 Global Sustainable Development goals. In 2016, the country enacted the Global Food Security Act, which seeks to reduce food insecurity and poverty through agricultural-led growth, increased resilience, and a broad commitment to improved nutrition. Because initiatives to address international food insecurity are evidence driven, advances in measuring food security remain critical to monitoring and evaluating progress. Assessments using metrics that primarily capture food availability and access dimensions confirm significant improvements in global food security over the past few decades. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the prevalence of undernourished people in the developing world declined from 23.3 percent to 12.9 percent between 1990 and 2015. The ERS International Food Security Assessment, 2017-27, finds that the prevalence of undernourishment has more than halved between 1990 and 2015 for the 76 low- and middle-income countries that USDA regularly tracks. This chart appears in the ERS report "Progress and Challenges in Global Food Security," released in July 2017.

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