ERS Charts of Note
Thursday, January 18, 2018
One of the major developments in the U.S. sugar market during the 2016/17 marketing year occurred when the beet and cane sugar sectors returned to the levels of the broader market. Ending stocks for cane and beet sugars diverged significantly in 2015/16, with extremely tight cane sugar supplies and ample beet sugar inventories. This resulted in large price differences in refined cane and beet sugars. The price differential also played an important role in reconciling the divergences in the cane and beet sugar sectors. Wholesale spot prices of refined cane sugar began the year at a 5.5-cent per pound premium to refined beet sugar. That premium grew to nearly 8 cents by March before narrowing to 2.5 cents by the end of the year. With demand for sugar continuing to grow steadily, the relative beet sugar price discount was one of the key market drivers that spurred the large beet sugar deliveries and drew down inventories. While the price differential narrowed, refined cane sugar prices finished the year higher than they started, reflecting both the constrained supplies in the cane sugar sector and the broader U.S. refined sugar market. This chart is drawn from the special article Beet and Cane Sugar Inventories Return to Comparable Levels After Divergence in 2015/16, published in the November ERS Sugar and Sweeteners Outlooknewsletter.
Wednesday, January 17, 2018
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 counties. During 2010-16, 325 rural counties experienced sustained natural decrease for the first time, adding to 645 rural counties with natural decrease during 2000-09. Areas that recently began experiencing natural decrease (the dark blue areas) are found in New England, northern Michigan, and high-poverty areas in the southern Coastal Plains. Such counties also are found in and around the margins of Appalachia, expanding a large region of natural decrease extending from Maine through northern Alabama. Between 2000 and 2016, over a thousand rural counties still experienced population growth from natural increase (more births than deaths). This chart appears in the September 2017 Amber Waves data feature, "Rural Areas Show Overall Population Decline and Shifting Regional Patterns of Population Change."
Tuesday, January 16, 2018
A marked shift in the destinations for U.S. agricultural exports has accompanied the increased participation of developing economies in global agricultural trade. Elimination of agricultural trade barriers within North America boosted exports to Canada and Mexico—partners with the United States in the North American Free Trade Agreement. Rising household incomes and changing trade policies in developing East Asia (China and Southeast Asia, less Singapore) led to a near tripling in that region’s share of U.S. agricultural exports. China’s share of U.S. agricultural exports swelled from 3 percent on average during 1995-99 to 16 percent during 2011-15. A single product—soybeans—accounts for half of this increase. However, the strong growth in demand for U.S. agricultural exports in East Asia and North America has been offset by a sharp decline in the share going to Europe and high-income economies in East Asia, particularly Japan. In the European Union, a number of barriers—including concerns over genetically modified products—continue to hamper U.S. agricultural trade. This chart appears in the ERS report The Global Landscape of Agricultural Trade, 1995-2014, released in November 2017.
Friday, January 12, 2018
The 2014-15 highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) outbreak was the largest poultry health disaster in U.S. history. More than 50 million birds were lost to the disease itself or to depopulation, overshadowing bird losses during any previous U.S. outbreak. HPAI resulted in lower commodity production when supplies had previously been growing. USDA’s November 2014 forecasts for 2015 anticipated a 3-percent annual increase in both broiler and turkey production and a 2-percent increase in egg production. These projections, however, preceded the outbreak, which lowered egg and turkey production substantially during and afterward. In contrast, HPAI did not affect broiler production, with production growth continuing through 2015 and aligning with prior forecasts. Egg production declined for about 9 months, with the sharpest reduction occurring from May to December 2015, as production remained 10 percent below 2014 levels. The impact of HPAI on turkey production was initially similar to its impact on egg production, but it rebounded faster. While monthly production for June-July 2015 averaged 10 percent below the prior year, monthly production in August-December 2015 averaged only 5 percent lower. 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.
Thursday, January 11, 2018
In 2016, the share of U.S. grocery sales held by the largest four and eight food retailers rose for the fourth consecutive year. Sales by the 20 largest food retailers totaled $515.3 billion in 2016 and accounted for nearly two-thirds of U.S. grocery sales. The shares of food industry retail sales recorded by the largest 4, 8, and 20 supermarket and supercenter retailers resumed their long-term trend of increased sales concentration in 2013 after decreasing slightly following the 2007-09 recession. Publix lost its spot in the top four food retailers in 2016 to Ahold Delhaize, which joined Walmart, Kroger, and Albertson’s. Much of the change in industry structure during the last few years was largely due to the impact of two big mergers—the acquisitions of Safeway by Albertson’s in 2015 and of Delhaize by Ahold the following year. Kroger has maintained its ranking, in part, by acquiring a number of smaller retailers such as Harris Teeter and Roundy’s during the last few years. Since 2013, 3 regional food retailers have joined the ranks of the top 20 due to mergers and A&P exiting the industry. A version of this chart appears on the Retailing and Wholesaling topic page on the ERS Web site, updated December 7, 2017.
Wednesday, January 10, 2018
Households spend more money on food (from grocery stores and eating out) when incomes rise, but food expenditures represent a smaller portion of income as households allocate additional funds to other goods. In 2016, U.S. households in the middle income quintile, with an average 2016 after-tax income of $47,681, spent an average of $6,224 on food, representing 13.1 percent of their incomes. The lowest income households—those with annual after-tax incomes of $11,832 and below in 2016—spent $3,862 on food on average, representing 32.6 percent of their incomes. Over time, food’s share in overall spending has been declining across income levels. Looking back to 1996, households in the lowest income quintile spent 41.9 percent of their incomes on food and middle income households spent 17 percent. Declining food expenditure shares have corresponded with rising shares of spending on housing and health care. This chart is one of the 34 charts and maps that can be found in the ERS publication, Selected charts from Selected charts from Ag and Food Statistics: Charting the Essentials, October 2017.
Tuesday, January 9, 2018
Innovation—the introduction of new products or ways of doing business that consumers value—is widely regarded as an essential component of resilient local economies. Using a comprehensive measure of innovation, ERS research found 23 percent of rural establishments (with five or more employees) and 31 percent of urban establishments to be substantive innovators. Findings also suggest that substantive innovation in rural establishments in some industries are similar (not statistically different) to their urban peers. The similarity in innovation rates across manufacturing industries is particularly striking given presumed advantages of deeper supplier, customer, and information networks in urban areas. However, urban innovation advantages appear in the Services sector, which includes tradable industries such as wholesale trade, information, and financial services. This may reflect differences in the level of competition facing tradable services in rural and urban areas. This chart appears in the October 2017 Amber Waves finding, "Grassroots Innovation Widespread in Rural Areas, and Concentrated in Manufacturing."
Monday, January 8, 2018
Intellectual property rights are intended to offer incentives for innovation by protecting new inventions from imitation and competition. When the modern U.S. Patent and Trademark Office was established in 1836, new plant varieties were considered products of nature and, therefore, not eligible for protection under any form of intellectual property. In 1930, asexually reproducing plants were the first to receive protection through plant patents, which have been issued primarily for fruits, tree nuts, and horticultural species. The remainder of the plant kingdom, including a broad range of commercial crops, became eligible for protection in 1970 with the introduction of plant variety protection certificates (PVPCs). However, PVPCs had exemptions for farmers to save seeds and for research uses. Full patent protection (without these exemptions) arrived in 1980 with the U.S. Supreme Court decision Diamond v. Chakrabarty. This ruling extended utility patent protection—the type of protection provided to most inventions in other areas—to plants. Despite being available for the least amount of time, annual utility patent grants for plant cultivars and lines have rapidly overtaken PVPCs and reached similar levels as plant patents. The rapid rise of utility patents mirrored the rapid rise in private research and development in the seed and agricultural biotech sector over a similar period. This chart updates data found in the ERS report Agricultural Resources and Environmental Indicators, 2006 Edition.
Friday, January 5, 2018
The number of U.S. ethanol plants more than quadrupled since 1999, as demand for ethanol has increased. This growth in the number of plants is driven mainly by the Renewable Fuel Standard program, which was first enacted in 2005. The initial increase in plant numbers after 2005 led to reduced capacity utilization with some plants not producing at their full potential. Since 2011, the number of new plants has generally remained level, allowing for production growth to be achieved through maximizing present capacity utilization. As of 2016, existing plants were operating at roughly 97 percent of total capacity, translating to over 15 billion gallons of ethanol produced. While such a high number might normally signal demand for new plants, limitations on the amount of ethanol that can be blended with gasoline in existing vehicles is effectively limited to 10 percent. Combined with lower gasoline consumption due to greater vehicle efficiency and lower miles driven, further domestic ethanol demand has been constrained. Because of these constraints, additional ethanol production is primarily intended for export markets and is sensitive to competition with the price of gasoline, which has fallen significantly since 2014. This chart appears in the ERS report Global Ethanol Mandates: Opportunities for U.S. Exports of Ethanol and DDGS, released in October 2017.
Thursday, January 4, 2018
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 any obese children. The study found that the parents with obese children were less likely to be married, employed, or have a college degree. For example, the shares of fathers and mothers who were employed were lower among obese-child households (87 percent for fathers and 60 percent for mothers) relative to parents in nonobese-child households (93 percent for fathers and 63 percent for mothers). In addition, less than a quarter of fathers and mothers had a college degree or higher among obese-child households, whereas more than one third of fathers and mothers had the same level of education among nonobese-child households. A version of this chart appears in "Households With at Least One Obese Child Differ in Several Ways From Those Without" in the December 2017 issue of ERS’s Amber Waves magazine.
Wednesday, January 3, 2018
In June 2017, the United States began shipping beef to China after a 14-year absence. U.S. beef was banned from China following the discovery of isolated cases of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE)–commonly known as mad cow disease–in the United States and Canada in 2003. Prior to 2003, China was among the top 10 U.S. beef export markets, but still significantly smaller than leading U.S. partners like Japan, Canada, and Mexico. In recent years, China has expanded its global beef imports and ranked as the second largest global beef importer behind the United States in 2016. U.S. beef shipments to China have grown since June and reached almost 2 million pounds in September alone. While 2 million pounds is less than 1 percent of September’s total U.S. beef exports, shipments to China are expected to grow as more U.S. suppliers receive proper USDA verifications to supply this market. This chart is drawn from the ERS Livestock and Meat International Trade Data product updated in December 2017.
Tuesday, January 2, 2018
Prolonged drought generally results in large reductions in the quantity of surface water delivered, affecting farm production systems that depend heavily on surface water for irrigation. Groundwater may substitute as a source for irrigation water when the availability of surface water declines. For example, although most farmers in California’s main agricultural areas rely on surface water for the largest share of their irrigation needs, many parts of the State have sufficient groundwater reserves to provide a partial buffer against the impacts of drought. However, recurring drought and groundwater “overdraft”—when the amount of water extracted is greater than the amount of water entering the aquifer—have resulted in large declines in aquifer levels in some areas. This chart appears in the June 2017 Amber Waves feature, "Farmers Employ Strategies To Reduce Risk of Drought Damages."
Friday, December 22, 2017
This chart gallery is a collection of the best Charts of Note from 2017. These charts were selected by ERS editors as those worthy of a second read because they provide context for the year’s headlines or share key insights from ERS research. See the entire collection at the Best of Charts of Note 2017 gallery page.
Thursday, December 21, 2017
Rural inpatient healthcare facilities—such as general hospitals, nursing care facilities, and residential mental health facilities—can improve the health of local communities and provide jobs. From 2001 to 2015, inpatient healthcare facilities experienced modest employment gains in rural counties, despite the effects of the Great Recession. At its peak in 2011, inpatient healthcare employment represented over 1.25 million wage and salary jobs in rural areas. The growth of inpatient healthcare jobs in rural areas often exceeded the growth in several sectors including agriculture, manufacturing, and mining. Between 2007 and 2010, rural inpatient healthcare jobs rose by 26,000. Rural inpatient healthcare facilities accounted for 7.6 percent of wage and salary employment in 2001, rising to 8.1 percent by 2015. This chart appears in the ERS report Employment Spillover Effects of Rural Inpatient Healthcare Facilities, released December 2017.
Wednesday, December 20, 2017
While food insecurity—measured as not having access to at least 2,100 calories per day—has declined across all regions of the world, challenges remain. Food insecurity is still prevalent in parts of Sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, and Latin America and the Caribbean. A key component of food security is access to fruits and vegetables, which are rich in essential nutrients. Latin America and the Caribbean has the highest fruit and vegetable intake level, being the only region with average consumption reaching the World Health Organization’s recommendation of 400 grams per capita of fruit and vegetable consumption per day. Sub-Saharan Africa falls short of the threshold for all income groups, and in Asia, only the highest income consumers are currently exceeding the target. Among the lowest income individuals across regions, however, consumers are especially sensitive to prices and are prone to rely on cheaper staple foods like grains over more expensive foods including fruits and vegetables. Globally, food security is projected to continue to improve as more developing nations grow economically, ultimately leading to increased fruit and vegetable consumption. This chart appears in the ERS Amber Waves feature, "International Food Security Assessment, 2017-27," released in July 2017.
Tuesday, December 19, 2017
People’s access to both grocery stores and eating out places may influence their food choices and diet quality. Easy-to-access retailers and restaurants that sell less healthy foods may lead to greater consumption of these foods. Data from ERS’s Food Environment Atlas show that the number of fast food restaurants in the United States—establishments where customers generally order or select foods and pay before eating—grew from 210,692 in 2009 to 228,677 in 2014. Part of this 9-percent growth reflects the growing popularity of more upscale chains featuring soups, sandwiches, or ethnic foods. The U.S. county with the largest increase in new fast food restaurants was Los Angeles County, California, followed by Cook County, Illinois. Los Angeles County added 680 new fast food restaurants (a 10-percent increase) from 2009 to 2014, and Cook County added 426 new fast food restaurants (an 11-percent jump). Between 2009 and 2014, 163 U.S. counties saw more than 50 percent growth in fast food restaurants. This map appears in "ERS’s Updated Food Environment Atlas Shows an Increase in Fast Food Restaurants Between 2009 and 2014" in the December 2017 issue of ERS’s Amber Waves magazine.
Monday, December 18, 2017
Farm production has been shifting to larger farms for many years, but this trend varies by commodity. In 2016, over 45 percent of U.S. farm production occurred on the 3 percent of U.S. farms classified as large-scale family farms—with at least $1 million in annual gross cash farm income before expenses (GCFI). These farms accounted for half of hog production and two-thirds of the production of both dairy and high-value crops like fruits and vegetables. Large-scale farms also contributed 60 percent of cotton’s value of production. By comparison, small family farms—with less than $350,000 GCFI—accounted for 90 percent of U.S. farms, but contributed less than 23 percent to U.S. farm production. These small farms, however, contributed larger shares of production for poultry (59 percent) and hay (50 percent). Nonfamily farms, which accounted for 1 percent of U.S. farms, contributed about 10 percent of U.S. farm production. This chart appears in the ERS report America’s Diverse Family Farms, 2017 Edition, released December 2017.
Friday, December 15, 2017
According to the latest USDA trade forecast, the 2018 fiscal year will look similar to 2017, but with a slightly higher trade balance (exports–imports) because of lower imports. Total agricultural exports are expected to value $140 billion dollars along with $117 billion dollars in imports. Taken together, the trade balance would reach a surplus of $23 billion compared with 2017, when the balance was near $22 billion. Both years mark a slight improvement over 2016 when exports and imports both fell, leaving a surplus of just $17 billion. Prior to 2015, the United States had a consistently higher trade balance, driven by lower total imports. This is largely due to appreciation of the U.S. dollar as the country’s economy recovered from the Great Recession. The 2018 forecast is driven by expectations of high demand for U.S. exports of corn and soybeans and their products. This chart is drawn from the Outlook for U.S. Agricultural Trade report, released in November 2017.
Thursday, December 14, 2017
Some U.S. demographic groups are more likely than others to be food insecure—meaning they struggled at some time during the year to provide enough food for all their members. Understanding which groups are at increased risk of food insecurity is helpful for targeting assistance to those most in need, as is understanding the frequency of a group’s occurrence in the food-insecure population. A group could have a relatively low risk of food insecurity, but be so large that the members of the group who are experiencing food insecurity make up a large share of all food-insecure households. For example, while the prevalence of food insecurity in 2016 was relatively low for households in suburbs or exurbs of principal cities (9.5 percent), this group accounted for one-third of food insecure households. Rural households had a food insecurity rate of 15 percent in 2016 and accounted for 18 percent of food-insecure households—a higher share than their 14-percent share of all U.S. households. 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.
Wednesday, December 13, 2017
Increased mortality among working-age adults in rural (nonmetro) counties is a recent and unanticipated trend contributing to rural population decline. In the aggregate, rural mortality rates declined for all ages combined, from an average annual rate of 815 deaths per 100,000 people in 1999-2001 to 785 deaths in 2013-15. During that same period, rural mortality increased more than 20 percent for 25- to 29-year-olds, from 135 to 165 deaths per 100,000 people. Mortality rates also increased for rural adults between the ages of 20-24 and 30-54. In urban (metro) areas, increased mortality during the period was limited to adults ages 20 to 29. Rising rates of prescription medication abuse, especially of opioids, and the related rise in heroin-overdose deaths are contributing to this unprecedented rise in age-specific mortality rates after a century or more of steady declines. This trend, if it continues, will not only lower rural population but will also increase the dependency ratio: the number of people likely to not be working (children and retirees) relative to the number of working-age adults. This chart appears in the ERS report Rural America at a Glance, 2017 Edition, released November 2017.