ERS Charts of Note

Subscribe to get highlights from our current and past research, Monday through Friday, or see our privacy policy.
See also: Editor’s Pick 2016: Best of Charts of Note gallery.


Conservation Compliance has significantly reduced water erosion on fields designated as highly erodible

Friday, July 28, 2017

Conservation Compliance ties eligibility for most Federal farm program benefits to soil and wetland conservation requirements. Under Highly Erodible Land Conservation (HELC), for example, farmers who grow crops in fields designated as highly erodible land (HEL) must apply an approved conservation system—one or more practices that work together to reduce soil erosion. ERS researchers used a statistical model to compare water (rainfall) erosion on cropland in HEL fields to similar cropland not in HEL fields. Between 1982 and 1997, soil erosion reductions were significantly larger in HEL fields (39 percent, or 6.6 tons per acre) than in those not designated as HEL fields (24 percent, or 3.9 tons per acre). The difference—about 2.7 tons per acre—is statistically different from zero, suggesting that HELC did make a significant difference in soil erosion reduction. During 1997-2012, after the initial implementation of HELC was complete, ERS analysis finds that these soil conservation gains were maintained. This chart appears in the July 2017 Amber Waves feature, "Conservation Compliance in the Crop Insurance Era."

Exchange rate movements influence U.S. export competitiveness

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Agricultural goods can be broken into distinct categories based on value or level of processing. Bulk goods, like grains and oilseeds, are sold in large quantities at relatively low per unit costs. They also tend to be relatively standardized products. U.S. and foreign products in these categories are more readily substituted for each other, as changes in exchange rates alter relative prices among suppliers. Higher value goods, like meats, fruits and vegetables, and processed goods, are differentiated by factors such as brand, quality, or sanitary and phytosanitary standards. As a result, they may be less likely to be substituted across origins on the basis of price or relative price in the case of exchange rates. The U.S. trade weighted exchange rate index from the Federal Reserve Bank of Saint Louis has shown strong dollar appreciation since 2014, resulting in declining exports for both categories (bulk exports declined by 9 percent and high-value products fell by 10 percent). Typically, bulk goods would decline further than high-value goods during appreciation, but the 2012-13 U.S. drought had a significant impact on the supply of several major crops. As a result, export volume decreased, but value remained high because of higher commodity prices. By 2014, production of key bulk commodities like corn and soybeans recovered and have since continued to grow, drawing down prices. As prices have fallen and stocks have been replenished, export volume has increased, dulling the perceived impact of a rising dollar. This chart appears in the Amber Waves article, "U.S. Agricultural Trade in 2016: Major Commodities and Trends," released in May 2017.

Forty-three percent of households with food-insecure children in 2014-15 had incomes below the Federal poverty line

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

In 2014-15, 17.9 percent of U.S. households with children under the age of 18 were food insecure—they had difficulty putting enough food on the table for all their members. In about half of these households (8.6 percent of U.S. households with children), children were food insecure and experienced reduced dietary quality and food intake. Food insecurity is closely related to income as poor households are more likely to experience food insecurity. In 2014-15, 43 percent of households with food-insecure children had incomes below the Federal poverty line and one-quarter had incomes between the poverty line and 185 percent of the poverty line. Households with incomes below 185 percent of the poverty line may be eligible for programs like the free- or reduced-price National School Lunch Program. An ERS review of scientific research studies shows that participation in USDA school meals reduces food insecurity. However, about 19 percent of households with food-insecure children in 2014-15 may have been ineligible for such assistance. The data for this chart appear in the ERS report, Children’s Food Security and USDA Child Nutrition Programs, released on June 20, 2017.

Spring wheat conditions near record lows in the Northern Plains due to drought

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Hard Red Spring (HRS) wheat (the largest class of spring wheat) is predominately grown in the Northern Plains of the United States. This key production region, which includes Montana, North Dakota, and South Dakota, has been greatly affected by a lengthy dry spell that has plunged the area into varying levels of drought, ranging from abnormal dryness to exceptional drought. On July 9, widespread drought conditions were noted for both North and South Dakota as well as Eastern Montana, and the proportion of the HRS crop rated “good” to “excellent” was just 36 percent, 10 percent, and 11 percent, respectively. Challenging weather conditions have reduced projected yields, now forecast at 39 bushels per acre, and contribute to a 22 percent year-to-year decline in HRS production for the 2017/18 marketing year. Expectations for a small harvest have helped to rally spring wheat prices in recent weeks and supports this month’s 50 cent increase in the 2017/18 all wheat price. This chart appears in the ERS Wheat Outlook newsletter, released in July 2017.

About a third of U.S. food manufacturing jobs are in meat and poultry plants

Monday, July 24, 2017

In 2015, the U.S. food and beverage manufacturing sector employed more than 1.5 million people, or just over 1 percent of all U.S. nonfarm employment. Within the U.S. manufacturing sector, food and beverage manufacturing employees accounted for the largest share of employees (13.7 percent). In over 34,000 food and beverage manufacturing plants located throughout the country, these employees were engaged in transforming raw agricultural materials into products for intermediate or final consumption. Manufacturing jobs include processing, inspecting, packing, janitorial and guard services, product development, recordkeeping, and nonproduction duties such as sales, delivery, advertising, and clerical and routine office functions. Meat and poultry plants employed the largest share of food and beverage manufacturing workers (31 percent), followed by bakeries (16 percent), and fruit and vegetable processing plants (11 percent). This chart appears in the ERS data product, Ag and Food Statistics: Charting the Essentials.

Changes in farm commodity prices have a muted effect on grocery store and restaurant prices

Friday, July 21, 2017

Favorable weather conditions as well as droughts and floods can lead to changes in production levels of farm commodities and, in turn, swings in their prices. Volatility in farm commodity prices—measured by the Producer Price Index (PPI) for Farm Products—and in intermediate foods—measured by the PPI for Processed Foodstuff and Feedstuff—is often greater than price volatility in grocery stores and restaurants. Intermediate foods, such as vegetable oils and refined sugar, are used to produce final foods like cookies and bread. Prices at each stage generally move in the same direction, but the magnitude of the price changes varies. For instance, in 2016 the Farm Products PPI declined by 9.7 percent, the Processed Foodstuff and Feedstuff PPI fell by 2.7 percent, while the Consumer Price Index (CPI) for All Food (foods purchased in stores and eating places) rose, slightly, by 0.3 percent. Price fluctuations for intermediate foods and final foods are muted relative to that of farm products, since foods at later stages of production include less volatile costs for processing, transportation, packaging, and other wholesale and retail overhead costs. According to ERS’s Food Dollar Series, farm and agribusiness costs only represented 10.8 cents of every dollar spent on domestically-produced food in 2015. This chart is from ERS’s Food Price Outlook data product, updated July 3, 2017.

Rural median household income remains about 25 percent below the urban median

Thursday, July 20, 2017

In 2015, the median household income for rural (nonmetro) counties rose to $44,212, a 3.4 percent increase over the prior year. This was the second year in a row of rising real (adjusted for inflation) income for the median rural household, ending 6 years of income declines during and after the Great Recession of 2007-09. By comparison, urban (metro) median income has risen for 3 straight years, reaching $58,260 in 2015. However, these 2015 median incomes remain below their 2007 peaks of $45,816 for rural households and $60,661 for urban ones. Generally, rural median household income has remained about 25 percent below the urban median. Because the cost of living is generally lower in rural areas, the gap in purchasing power is likely smaller between rural and urban households. This chart appears in the ERS topic page for Income, updated June 2017.

Global food insecurity is projected to decline across all regions by 2027

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Given projections for low food prices and rising incomes, food security is expected to improve through 2027 for 76 low- and middle-income countries covered by ERS’s International Food Security Assessment, 2017-27. The share of the population in the 76 countries that is food insecure, defined as not having access to at least 2,100 calories per day, is projected to fall from 17.7 percent in 2017 to 8.9 percent in 2027, with the number of food-insecure people declining from just below 650 million to about 370 million. Food security indicators differ greatly by region. Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest share of food-insecure people, with 31.7 percent of the population food insecure in 2017. That share is projected to drop to around 20 percent of the region by 2027 as incomes rise. Asia is projected to significantly reduce its share of food insecure people by 2027 to less than 5 percent, a near three-fold decrease from the current 13.5 percent. Latin America and the Caribbean are expected to improve as well, but to a lesser degree. The most food secure region included in the study remains North Africa, which is expected to have only 1.3 percent of its population experiencing food insecurity by 2027. This chart appears in the ERS International Food Security Assessment, 2017-27 report, released on June 30, 2017.

U.S. certified organic cropland has increased most years since 2002

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Although the organic sector shows substantial regional and commodity concentration, all 50 States now have some organic production and processing. In 2015, the United States had 3.2 million acres of certified organic cropland and 2.2 million acres of certified organic pasture (including rangeland). That land accounted for less than 1 percent of all U.S. cropland and pasture, but continued the long-term growth trend in the organic sector. Between 2002 and 2015, U.S. certified organic cropland increased most years. The adoption of organic systems has been relatively higher in some sectors. For example, U.S. markets for organic vegetables, fruits, and herbs have been developing for decades. In 2015, 5 percent of fruit and vegetable acreage was managed under certified organic systems. In contrast, less than 0.3 percent of corn and soybean acreage—the two most widely planted U.S. crops—had adopted organic systems. This chart appears in the February 2017 Amber Waves feature "Growing Organic Demand Provides High-Value Opportunities for Many Types of Producers."

Grass and forage crops lead applications for the Noninsured Crop Disaster Program, but vegetable crops lead for buy-up option

Monday, July 17, 2017

USDA operates a number of Federal crop insurance and disaster aid programs to mitigate the downside risks inherent to agricultural production (e.g., damaging weather, price, or yield disruptions). However, crop insurance is only available to certain commodities in specified areas. Producers have been able to enroll in the Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program (NAP), which has been managed by the USDA, Farm Service Agency, since 1994. This program insures producers in situations when Federal crop insurance is unavailable to them due to their crop or location. Participants can choose from a basic option that provides catastrophic coverage for only a service fee, or they can pay a premium for higher coverage with the NAP Buy-Up program. Applications for NAP increased from 66,000 to 138,000 between 2014 and 2015. In 2015, the first year that NAP Buy-Up was offered, 16 percent of applicants purchased buy-up coverage. The majority of buy-up applications were for specialty crops like vegetables and fruits and tree nuts. This chart appears in the ERS Amber Waves article, "Applications for the Noninsured Crop Disaster Program Increased After the Agricultural Act of 2014," released in July 2017.

Natural gas price shocks increase the probability of food hardship

Friday, July 14, 2017

Poor households often lack the savings, assets, and income to protect themselves from unexpected increases in energy prices (called energy price shocks). A recent ERS study explored the relationship between energy price shocks and food hardship, including food insecurity—not having resources to acquire enough food for some or all household members. The study found that price shocks in gasoline, natural gas, and electricity increased the probability of households becoming food insecure and/or experiencing two other food hardship measures, with a larger response for low-income households compared to the average response for all households. Natural gas price shocks had the most consistent effects. Over 2000-14, annual price increases for natural gas ranged from 7 to 25 percent, and some years posted price declines. The study found that increases in natural gas prices above these typical increases, i.e. unexpected, large price rises estimated to average 41 percent above prior years’ prices, raised the probability of needing more money for food by 1.0 percentage point for all households in the data set and by 1.4 percentage points for low-income households. The unexpected, large price increases also increased the probability of food stress by 1.2 percentage points for all households and 2.2 percentage points for low-income households. Natural gas price shocks increased the probability of food insecurity by 2.3 percentage points for low-income households, more than double the response for all households. This chart appears in "Unexpected Hikes in Energy Prices Increase the Likelihood of Food Insecurity" from ERS’s Amber Waves magazine, July 2017.

Vietnam, Pakistan, and Burma expected to drive global rice exports upward in 2018

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Global rice trade is projected to increase 1 percent to 42.3 million tons in 2018, the third highest on record and the second consecutive year of expanded trade. A major factor behind the expanded trade in 2018 is increased exports from three of the top six exporters—Vietnam, Pakistan, and Burma. Vietnam’s 2018 exports are expected to increase 400,000 tons to 6.0 million tons due to increased demand from Southeast Asia, especially from the Philippines. China is again forecasted to be the largest export market for Vietnam’s rice. Pakistan is projected to export 4.1 million tons of rice in 2018, up 0.1 million from a year earlier, a result of a slightly larger crop. Burma is expected to export 1.7 million tons of rice in 2018, up 100,000 tons from 2017, primarily due to stronger demand from regional buyers and the European Union. In contrast, India’s exports are projected to drop 500,000 tons in 2018 due to a smaller crop and stronger domestic use. Thailand’s exports are expected to be flat in 2018, while U.S. rice exports are projected to decline 50,000 tons as a result of higher prices and tighter supplies. This chart appears in the ERS Rice Chart Gallery updated in June 2017.

Services—such as finance, real estate, and administration—had the highest share of employment for both rural and urban areas in 2015

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

In 2015, every industry group, except for farming, employed more workers in urban (metro) areas than in rural (nonmetro) areas. However, the share of employment in each industry varied in each area. For example, farming—counting both self-employed operators and their hired workers—accounted for about 6 percent of all rural employment, compared to 1 percent in urban areas. Manufacturing also employed a larger share of the rural (11 percent) than the urban (6 percent) workforce. Services—such as finance, real estate, and administration—had the highest share of employment for both rural and urban areas. But urban areas had a higher share of employment in services: 57 percent compared to 41 percent in rural areas. Trade, transportation, and utilities had the second highest share of employment, about 17 percent for both rural and urban areas. This chart appears in the ERS topic page for Rural Employment and Unemployment, updated June 2017.

Choice beef cuts selling at a higher premium over Select cuts this summer

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Many Americans spend more of their time outdoors during the summer months, and some of that outdoor time is spent attending barbecues or grilling their meals at home. Beef is a popular grilling option for many, but not all grades of beef are equally suitable. USDA meat inspectors provide grades (Prime, Choice, and Select) for U.S. beef that denote quality and suitability for different cooking methods. Prime and Choice meats are most suitable for grilling because of the larger amount of marbling, or fat, that helps keep the meat juicy and tender when cooked. Consumers pay premium prices for Prime and Choice beef, as opposed to Select, which is less expensive. Because outdoor grilling is popular during the summer months, there typically is an increase in sales for Choice beef. The monthly price spread, or premium, for Choice beef relative to Select beef reached a record high of $30.38 per hundredweight for the week ending June 9th and averaged $28.35 for the full month. It is not uncommon for the Choice/Select spread to increase in late spring and early summer, as the share of cattle designated Choice this time of year typically declines at the same time that demand increases, driving up the price of Choice beef. But this year, supplies of Choice beef were ample, suggesting that it was strong domestic demand for Choice beef that helped to propel the spread to record levels in June, rather than limited supply. The data in this chart are drawn from the Livestock & Meat Domestic Data set updated in June 2017.

Availability of frozen dairy products was 22 pounds per American in 2014

Monday, July 10, 2017

In honor of National Ice Cream Day, July 16, many Americans might celebrate with a scoop or two of their preferred frozen dairy treat. According to ERS’s Food Availability data, the food supply provided 21.9 pounds of frozen dairy products per person in 2014—a decline from 26.2 pounds per person 40 years ago. Ice cream (regular, low fat, and nonfat) is still America’s favorite frozen dairy treat, accounting for 84 percent of total frozen dairy product availability. Supplies of traditionally lower-fat options like low and nonfat fat ice cream and sherbet have either remained steady or declined over the course of the past 40 years, despite increased consumer interest in cutting calories and fat. After growing in popularity in the early 1990s, frozen yogurt availability has dropped from 3.5 pounds per capita in 1991 to 1.2 pounds in 2014. Competition from non-dairy frozen treats made from soy and nut milks, increased popularity of substitute products like refrigerated yogurt, and preferences for products without lactose may have contributed to declining frozen dairy product consumption. The data for this chart are from ERS’s Food Availability (Per Capita) Data System.

Urban areas offer higher earnings for workers with more education

Friday, July 7, 2017

The most recent data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2015 American Community Survey show that workers with higher levels of education had higher median earnings, both in rural and urban areas. Urban workers without a high school diploma earned about the same as their rural counterparts. However, at every higher level of educational attainment, the typical urban worker earned increasingly more than the typical rural worker with the same education. For example, the 2015 premium for working in an urban area was an estimated $2,088 a year for workers with a high school diploma—and $10,534 for those with a bachelor’s degree. Some studies suggest that higher urban earnings may encourage workers to leave rural areas, but factors like family ties and proximity to natural amenities (such as forest and lakes) may help keep or attract workers to rural areas. Educational attainment is only one of many potential characteristics that determine the wages that workers earn. Other characteristics not shown in the chart—such as work experience, job tenure, and ability—may also contribute to earnings. This chart appears in the July 2017 Amber Waves finding, "Urban Areas Offer Higher Earnings for Workers With More Education."

Consumption of grains by Americans is above recommendations

Thursday, July 6, 2017

The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that people requiring 2,000 calories per day consume 6 ounce-equivalents of grains, half of which should be whole grains. An ounce equivalent of grains is generally equal to 1 slice of bread, 1 cup of ready-to-eat cereal, ½ cup of cooked rice, pasta, or cereal, 1 tortilla (6 inch diameter), or 1 pancake (5 inch diameter). According to ERS’s loss-adjusted food availability, Americans consumed an average of 6.7 ounce-equivalents of wheat flour, corn products, and other grains (rye flour, oat products, and barley products) per day in 2014. This is a 35-percent increase from 5.0 ounce-equivalents per person per day consumed in 1970. While wheat flour consumption grew by 23 percent, consumption of corn products grew by 202 percent, reflecting the growing popularity of corn-based foods, such as tortillas and chips, and the use of cornstarch in processed foods. Consumption of rye flour, oat products, and barley products totaled 0.21 ounce-equivalents per person per day in 1970, and fell to 0.16 ounce-equivalents in 2014. This chart appears in "U.S. Diets Still Out of Balance with Dietary Recommendations" in the July 2017 issue of ERS’s Amber Waves magazine.

Fresh sweet cherries expected to be plentiful this summer

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

In June, USDA forecasted that the 2017 U.S. sweet cherry crop will reach 432,760 tons, up 24 percent from last year and the second largest on record, if realized. Production increases are forecasted in the top two producing States—Washington and California—ranging from 21 to 80 percent. While forecasted down slightly, sweet cherry crop production in Oregon, also a major grower, will be among the largest the State has generated. Sweet cherries make up the vast majority of U.S. fresh-market cherries, while tart or “sour” cherries are mainly processed and used in cakes, pies, and tarts or dried for additional uses. Yields in California benefitted from winter rains, following multiple seasons with drought conditions. An early May freeze, however, dampened crop expectations in Michigan. Significantly higher shipment volumes than last season have been reported in California, driving down cherry prices since late spring. The harvest has now moved to the Northwest, with ample summer supplies expected to meet the generally growing market domestically and abroad, barring any weather problems. Crop marketability and quality could change drastically upon maturity because cherries are highly susceptible to cracking from rains near or at the harvest-ready stage. This chart provides an update to data found in the ERS Fruit and Tree Nut Outlook newsletter released in June 2016.

Food system drove decline in U.S. per capita energy use between 2002 and 2007

Monday, July 3, 2017

The U.S. food system uses a substantial share of the national energy budget. In 2012, the food system used 11.9 quadrillion British thermal units (Btu), representing 12.5 percent of the 95.2 quadrillion Btu of total energy used. Not only does the food system use a large share of energy, it can also drive national trends in energy use due to its higher responsiveness to changes in energy prices. Evidence of the food system’s ability to drive energy use is clear when the data are expressed on a per capita basis to remove population-driven changes. Between 2002 and 2007—a period of rising energy prices—nonfood-related energy use increased by 2.5 million Btu per capita, while food-related energy use showed a cumulative per-capita change of -5.3 million Btu, equivalent to each American using about 48 gallons less gasoline over this 5-year period. One reason for the increase in non-food related energy use is that purchases of non-food goods outpaced food purchases during that time. Food-related energy reductions caused national average per capita energy use to decline by 2.7 million Btu between 2002 and 2007. This chart appears in "The Relationship Between Energy Prices and Food-Related Energy Use in the United States" in ERS’s Amber Waves magazine, June 2017.

After years of growth, U.S. farm real estate values have stalled since 2014

Friday, June 30, 2017

In recent years, farm real estate (including farmland and buildings) has accounted for about 80 percent of the value of U.S. farm assets—amounting to about $2.4 trillion in 2015. Strong farm earnings and historically low interest rates have supported the increase in farmland values since 2009. Since 2014, farm real estate values in many regions have leveled off; and, in 2016, the national average per-acre value declined slightly. This is partly a response to the recent declines in farm income, which may temper expectations of future farm earning potential. In addition, the 2016 USDA 10-year commodity outlooks suggest that the prices of major commodities will all stabilize at, or grow modestly from, their current price levels—which are significantly lower than those in 2011. Expectations of interest rate increases, which have been noted in some U.S. farm regions, also put downward pressure on land values. Given that farm real estate makes up such a significant portion of the balance sheet of U.S. farms, changes in its value can affect the financial well-being of individual farms and the farm sector. Over 60 percent of U.S. farmland was owner-operated in 2014; for these owners, increases in real estate values make it easier to obtain credit and service debt. For the farmers who rent the remaining 39 percent of farmland, higher real estate values can lead to higher rent expenses. This chart appears in the ERS topic page for Farmland Value, updated April 2017.