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The majority of U.S. agricultural exports, by value, go to five key markets

Friday, April 21, 2017

The United States exported $135 billion worth of agricultural goods in 2016. This is down from a record of $150 billion in 2014. While the Nation exports agricultural goods to most countries worldwide, a significant share goes to major trading partners. In 2016, 61 percent of the value of agricultural exports went to Canada, China, Mexico, the European Union (EU-28), and Japan. The dominance of key markets is not a new phenomenon. In fact, these five destinations have accounted for close to 60 percent of agricultural export value since at least 2000. In the case of Canada and Mexico, proximity plays a large role in its trade relationship with the United States. Additionally, regional trade agreements increased trade between the country and its nearest neighbors. The large share of trade going to China, Japan, and the EU-28 is influenced by the sheer size of the economies involved. The EU-28, China, and Japan are the three leading economies after the United States in terms of gross domestic product, and each country accounts for a significant share of global imports of agricultural goods. This chart is drawn from data in the Foreign Agricultural Trade of the United States (FATUS) data product, updated in April 2017.

Dedicating land to energy crops (like switchgrass) would shift land use

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Crops dedicated for use in energy production, such as switchgrass, are potential renewable sources for liquid fuels or bioelectricity. Switchgrass is a perennial grass native to most of North America that grows well on rain-fed marginal land. However, markets do not presently exist for large-scale use of this energy resource. An ERS study simulated the agricultural land use impacts of growing enough switchgrass to generate 250 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity annually with a bioelectricity subsidy by 2030—approximately the amount generated by U.S. hydropower today. The introduction of dedicated energy crops on a large scale could affect other agricultural land uses, the prices of other crops, and trade in agricultural products. For example, the simulation predicted that land converted to switchgrass would come mostly from land used for crops like hay and corn. Pasture and forest land use would be affected at about the same level. An increase in U.S. land area for switchgrass would also lead to smaller changes in land use abroad due to agricultural product trade. This chart appears in the April 2017 Amber Waves finding, "Dedicating Agricultural Land to Energy Crops Would Shift Land Use."

SNAP participation more closely linked to poverty than unemployment rate

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is the Nation’s largest food assistance program. In an average month in fiscal 2016, 44.2 million people—about 14 percent of the Nation’s population—participated in the program. Unlike other food and nutrition assistance programs that target specific groups, SNAP is available to most needy households with limited income and assets, subject to certain work and immigration status requirements. As a means-tested program, the number of people eligible for SNAP is inherently linked to the health of the economy. The share of the population receiving SNAP benefits generally tracks the poverty rate and, to lesser degrees, the unemployment rate and the poverty rate for children under age 18. Improvement in economic conditions during the early stage of recovery may take longer to be felt by lower educated, lower wage workers who are more likely to receive SNAP benefits, resulting in a lagged response of SNAP participation to a reduction in the unemployment rate. This chart appears in the ERS report, The Food Assistance Landscape, FY 2016 Annual Report, released on March 30, 2017.

Taxable farm income has fluctuated over time

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Nearly 90 percent of family farms are structured as sole proprietorships. These entities are not subject to pay income tax themselves; rather, the owners of the entities (farmers) are taxed individually on their share of income. Numerous Federal income tax law provisions allow farmers to reduce their tax liabilities by reporting losses. From 1998 to 2008, for example, taxable losses from farming (the red area of the chart) rose from $16.7 billion to $24.6 billion. This was due, in part, to changes in the tax code beginning in 2001 that expanded the ability of farms to deduct capital costs—such as tractors and machinery—in the year the equipment was purchased and used. Between 2007 and 2014, strong commodity prices bolstered farm-sector profits (the green area), but taxable net farm income (the blue line) remained negative. Farm sole proprietors, in aggregate, have reported negative net farm income since 1980; in other words, they’ve reported a farm loss due to higher farm expenses than income. In 2014, the latest year for which complete tax data are available, U.S. Internal Revenue Service data showed that nearly 67 percent of farm sole proprietors reported a farm loss. This chart appears in the ERS topic page for Federal Tax Policy Issues, updated January 2017.

U.S. fresh blueberry demand continues to rise

Monday, April 17, 2017

Per capita use of blueberries nearly tripled since 2006, largely attributable to growing demand based on the potential health benefits of berries in the diet. In recent years, farmers have expanded production to help meet this demand. As a result, net domestic production doubled and imports increased by almost four times. In addition to increased demand, consumer preferences for year-round availability of popular fresh fruits and vegetables necessitates a greater reliance on imported goods. Domestic blueberry production primarily occurs in the spring and summer seasons. In the fall and winter, southern hemisphere countries like Chile are in their growing season and supply the United States with a significant share of its blueberry imports. In 2016, net domestic production fell slightly, while imports increased. This resulted from lower than expected production in States that normally supply the fresh market like, Georgia, Florida, New Jersey, North Carolina, and California. This chart appears in the ERS Fruit and Tree Nut Outlook report released in April 2017.

Counting secondary operators triples the number of female operators

Friday, April 14, 2017

Females comprised nearly 14 percent of U.S. principal operators—the individual most responsible for the day-to-day decisions on the farm (or ranch)—in 2012. Considering additional, secondary operators as well as principal operators, however, gives a more complete picture of the involvement of females in farming. Including secondary operators more than triples the count of female farmers—from about 288,300 to nearly 970,000—and increases their share of farm operators to almost 31 percent. Including secondary operators has less of an effect on the number of male farmers, increasing their count by 21 percent, from about 1.8 to 2.2 million. Female secondary operators tend to be less involved in farming than female primary operators. About 33 percent of female secondary operators report farming as their major occupation, compared with 43 percent of female primary operators. Roughly 40 percent of secondary female operators work off-farm at least 200 days per year, slightly higher than the corresponding 35-percent estimate for female principal operators. This chart updates data from the ERS report Characteristics of Women Farm Operators and Their Farms, released April 2013.

Imports of fresh and processed vegetables make up an increasing share of domestic consumption

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Trade plays a vital part in both fresh and processed vegetable markets, one that has increased over time. The United States imports a larger amount of fresh and processed vegetables than it exports. This is in contrast with U.S. agricultural trade as a whole, which consistently runs a trade surplus (exports exceed imports). In 2000, fresh and processed vegetable imports represented 12 percent of domestic use each. By 2016, the import share of domestic use had increased to over 30 percent for fresh vegetables and 22 percent for processed vegetables. The export market for vegetables has grown at a slower pace. Processed vegetable exports doubled between 2000 and 2016 from 7 to 14 percent of domestic use, while fresh vegetables decreased from 7 percent in 2000 to 6 in 2016. Growth in vegetable and other food commodity imports has been driven by expanding domestic demand and reduced trade costs like shipping and tariffs. Consumer preferences for year-round availability of seasonal foods and for vegetables not commonly grown domestically have also played a role in rising import shares. Cucumbers, tomatoes, and peppers are predominantly supplied by imports, while cauliflower has the largest export share. This chart is drawn from data in the annual ERS Vegetables and Pulses Yearbook tables updated in April 2017.

Number of new food and beverage products rebounded in 2016

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Introducing “new” products—new package sizes, new flavors, new packaging, and truly new products—is one way that food and beverage companies try to woo consumers and increase sales. After 2 years of declining numbers of product introductions, 21,435 new foods and beverages made their debut on U.S. retail shelves in 2016—the largest annual number of product introductions since 2007. The number of new nonfood grocery items (beauty and personal care; health and hygiene; pet food and merchandise; and paper and cleaning products) increased in 2016 as well. During the Great Recession of 2008-09, consumers sought familiar products and avoided impulse buying. To appeal to bargain-seeking customers who wanted to simplify their shopping trips as well as purchase familiar products, retailers devoted less shelf space to new products. The number of new food and beverage products in U.S. retail outlets, as tracked by Mintel’s Global New Product Database, fell from 22,142 in 2007 to 15,637 in 2009. The number of new foods and beverages rose again in 2010, while new nonfood grocery items continued their downward trend until 2016. This chart appears on ERS’s Processing & Marketing topic page, updated on March 9, 2017.

Domestic use of canola, corn, and palm oil growing at a faster rate than soybean oil

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

In 2016, soybean oil dominated the domestic use of edible oils and fats. Just over 50 percent of oil usage that year was sourced from soybeans. Interestingly, this is the lowest share of domestic use for soybean oil since at least 2003. Additional edible oils have grown in usage over this period. Canola, corn, and palm oils have each grown at a faster rate than soybean oil. Since 2011, canola, corn, and palm oil usage has grown 66, 57, and 21 percent, respectively. Over the same period, soybean oil use increased by 11 percent. The growth in canola oil consumption can be partially attributed to the thriving Canadian industry, which is the third largest producer in the world. The United States imported 1.9 million metric tons of canola oil from Canada in 2016, nearly half of the country’s total production. The growth of corn oil has been the result of expanded oil extraction from corn distillers grains and is likely primarily used for biodiesel fuel production. Global palm oil production has nearly doubled over the last 10 years and has resulted in a much larger export market, which has contributed to growing U.S. imports. Low prices at the wholesale level may help explain the appeal of canola and palm oil relative to other oils, but soybean oil remains the most price competitive. This chart is drawn from data in the annual ERS Oil Crops Yearbook tables updated in March 2017.

Shares of food spending at supermarkets and warehouse club stores increase as income rises

Monday, April 10, 2017

The U.S. food retailing sector offers a variety of store formats for purchasing at-home foods and beverages. A recent ERS analysis of 2008-12 data found that some formats are more popular with lower or higher income consumers than others. The study found that as income rose, households spent a larger share of their at-home food expenditures at supermarkets and warehouse club stores. Supermarkets accounted for 65.4 percent of food expenditures for consumers with annual incomes below $12,000 compared with 70.8 percent for consumers with incomes of $100,000 and above. Warehouse club stores, with membership fees and large package sizes, accounted for 10.2 percent of food spending for the highest income group, but only 3 percent of expenditures for the lowest income group. Supercenters, which sell a wide range of products and have a full supermarket, accounted for 18.9 percent of the lowest income group’s food expenditures, compared with 11.2 percent for the highest income group. Convenience and dollar stores—small segments of at-home food spending—also accounted for a larger share of food expenditures by lower income consumers. This chart appears in the ERS report, Store Formats and Patterns in Household Grocery Purchases, released March 22, 2017.

Rural education levels are improving, but still lag urban areas

Friday, April 7, 2017

Compared with rural (nonmetro) areas, urban (metro) areas have historically had a higher share of adults with bachelor’s, postgraduate, and professional degrees. Between 2000 and 2015, the share of urban adults with at least a bachelor’s degree grew from 26 to 33 percent, while in rural areas the share grew from 15 to 19 percent. This gap may be due to the higher pay offered in urban areas to workers with college degrees. Rural areas have improved in terms of high school completion: The share of rural adults with less than a high school diploma dropped to 15 percent in 2015, close to the share for urban adults (13 percent). The share of adults with an associate’s degree (and some college, no degree) was also similar in rural and urban areas. This chart appears in the April 2017 ERS report Rural Education at a Glance, 2017 Edition.

Agriculture contributed $992 billion to the U.S. economy in 2015

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Agriculture and agriculture-related industries contributed $992 billion to the U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) in 2015, a 5.5-percent share. The output of America’s farms contributed $136.7 billion of this sum—about 1 percent of GDP. The overall contribution of the agriculture sector to GDP is larger than this because related sectors rely on agricultural inputs like food and materials used in textile production in order to contribute added value to the economy. In 2015, farming’s contribution to GDP fell for the second consecutive year after reaching a high point of $189.9 billion in 2013. A major reason for this downward trend has been falling commodity prices like corn and soy, which peaked around 2013 and have since fallen by at least 30 percent. The category of food service, eating and drinking places has expanded over a similar timeframe and may be a beneficiary of the lower commodity prices at the farm level. This chart was updated in March 2017 and appears in the ERS data product, Ag and Food Statistics: Charting the Essentials.

SNAP participation and per person benefits both fell in 2016

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is the cornerstone of USDA’s food and nutrition assistance programs, accounting for 69 percent of all Federal food and nutrition assistance spending in fiscal 2016. An average 44.2 million people per month participated in the program in fiscal 2016, 3 percent fewer than the previous fiscal year and the third consecutive year of declining participation. Fiscal 2016’s caseload was the fewest SNAP participants since fiscal 2010 and 7 percent less than the 47.6 million participants per month in fiscal 2013. The decrease in 2016 was likely due in part to the country’s continued economic growth as well as the reinstatement in many States of the time limit—3 months of SNAP benefits within any 3-year period—on participation for able-bodied adults without dependents. Per person benefits averaged $125.51 per month in fiscal 2016, 1 percent less than the previous fiscal year and 6 percent less than the historical high of $133.85 set in fiscal 2011. This chart appears in the ERS report, The Food Assistance Landscape: FY 2016 Annual Report, released on March 30, 2017.

Adoption of herbicide-tolerant alfalfa increased in recent years

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Alfalfa is the fourth largest U.S. crop in terms of acreage and production value, behind only corn, soybeans, and wheat. Most of the alfalfa grown in the United States is used as feed, particularly for dairy cattle. However, weed infestations can reduce alfalfa yields, lower forage quality, and increase the severity of insect infestations. Planting genetically engineered (GE), herbicide tolerant (HT) alfalfa reduces crop damage from specific herbicides. Alfalfa tends to be seeded (on average) once every 7 years, so GE HT alfalfa adoption rates have increased relatively slowly compared to other GE HT crops, such as corn, cotton, and soybeans. In 2013, about 810,000 acres were planted with GE HT alfalfa, approximately a third of newly seeded acres that year. This chart appears in the ERS report The Adoption of Genetically Engineered Alfalfa, Canola, and Sugarbeets in the United States, released November 2016.

U.S. net textile and apparel imports steady in 2016

Monday, April 3, 2017

U.S. net textile and apparel fiber imports were stable in calendar year 2016, near 2015’s record total. In 2016, net imports approached 15.8 billion raw-fiber-equivalent pounds. Total fiber product imports reached 19.3 billion pounds in 2016, compared with 19.6 billion pounds in 2015. Meanwhile, textile and apparel product exports totaled 3.5 billion pounds in 2016, compared with nearly 3.8 billion pounds a year earlier. With synthetic product imports rising for 7 consecutive years, cotton’s share has declined steadily during this period. For the last 3 years, synthetic products have accounted for the largest share of total net imports. In 2016, synthetic textile and apparel products contributed 50 percent to total net imports, while cotton products supplied 43 percent and linen, wool, and silk products provided an additional 7 percent. Compared with 5 years ago, the contributions have been reversed. In 2011, cotton accounted for 50 percent of the total net imports, while synthetics provided 44 percent. This chart appears in the ERS Cotton and Wool Outlook report released in March 2017.

Schools serve a variety of locally-produced foods daily or more than weekly

Friday, March 31, 2017

Frequent use of local foods in school meals can bolster the market for local agricultural producers and increase student awareness and interest in healthier foods. In school year 2011-12, more than one in five U.S. school districts (22 percent) served at least one locally-sourced food item daily or weekly. The most popular local food categories were milk (offered daily or more than weekly by 15.4 percent of school districts), fruit (offered by 14.5 percent of districts), and vegetables (offered by 12.2 percent of districts). Locally-produced baked goods, meat, and eggs were also served frequently by some districts. A recent ERS report examined characteristics of school districts that frequently serve local foods. Districts more likely to serve local foods daily tended to be larger, in the Northeast, in urban areas, and in States where residents had higher rates of college completion. This chart appears in the ERS report, Daily Access to Local Foods for School Meals: Key Drivers, released on March 23, 2017.

Precision agriculture technologies adopted at different rates on soybean farms

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Precision agriculture (PA) delivers localized crop production management through a number of different technologies, including guidance systems, and variable rate technology (VRT). These technologies require a significant investment of capital and time, but may offer cost savings and higher yields through more precise management of agricultural inputs like pesticides and fertilizers. For example, VRT adapts machinery and field operation equipment—such as sprayers and seeders—to automatically control input flow rates for precise field locations. Guidance systems, on the other hand, use GPS to automatically steer farm equipment—such as combines and tractors—helping reduce operator fatigue. In 2012 (the most recent data available), yield monitors and guidance systems had the highest rate of adoption on soybean farms: 51 and 34 percent, respectively. For all PA technologies, the percent of soybean cropland acres was higher than the percent of farms—showing that larger farms have higher adoption rates for these technologies. Soybeans are the second most planted crop in the United States, after corn. Farms often rotate soybeans annually with corn, so PA adoption rates for these two major crops were relatively similar. This chart appears in the ERS report Farm Profits and Adoption of Precision Agriculture, released October 2016.

India remains the world’s largest dairy producer

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Errata:On April 21, 2017, the axis and text of this Chart of Note were revised so that the production units were correctly listed as million tons.

Errata: On March 29, 2017, the title of this Chart of Note was revised so that it correctly references India as the world’s largest dairy producer.

India is the largest milk-producing country in the world. The country is trailed by the United States, which is the second largest producer, in milk production by a large margin. India is unique among the major milk producers because more than half of its production comes from water buffalo, rather than cattle. Its dairy herd, also the largest in the world, has the biggest herds of both dairy cattle and water buffalo. Since 1980, production has grown consistently at an average of 4.5 percent per year. The rate of growth between water buffalo and cow’s milk has also been quite similar at 4.6 and 4.5 percent, respectively. In 2016, total production reached 154 million tons compared with 96 million produced in the United States. India surpassed the United States as the largest dairy producer in 1997, when both countries produced roughly 70 million tons, each. This chart appears in the March 2017 ERS Report “India’s Dairy Sector: Structure, Performance, and Prospects.”

The Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) is regionally concentrated

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

As of the end of 2016, the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) covered about 23.5 million acres of environmentally sensitive land in the United States. With a $1.8 billion annual budget, CRP is currently USDA’s largest conservation program in terms of spending. Farmers who enroll in CRP receive annual rental and other incentive payments for taking eligible land out of production for 10 years or more. Program acreage tends to be concentrated on marginally productive cropland that is susceptible to erosion by wind or rainfall. A large share of CRP land is located in the Plains (from Texas to Montana), where rainfall is limited and much of the land is subject to potentially severe wind erosion. Smaller concentrations of CRP land are found in eastern Washington, southern Iowa, northern Missouri, and the Mississippi Delta. This chart appears in the ERS data product Ag and Food Statistics: Charting the Essentials, updated March 2017.

Retail food prices in 2016 declined for the first time in nearly 50 years

Monday, March 27, 2017

In 2016, retail food prices decreased by 1.3 percent—the first time since 1967 that grocery store (food-at-home) prices were lower than those in the year before. Over the last 50 years, food-at-home prices have, on average, risen 4 percent annually. However, year-to-year price changes have varied over time. High food price inflation in the 1970s—price increases as large as 16.4 and 14.9 percent in 1973 and 1974—was precipitated by food commodity and energy price shocks, whereas food price increases were minimal in 2009 and 2010, as the 2007-09 recession put downward pressure on prices for many goods, including food. The unusual decline in retail food prices in 2016 can be attributed to a culmination of factors. Declining prices for retail meats, eggs, and dairy during that year are largely a story about rising commodity production. Lower transportation costs due to low oil prices and the strength of the U.S. dollar also placed downward pressure on food prices in the first half of 2016. This chart appears in “Consumers Paid Less for Grocery Store Foods in 2016 Than in 2015” in the March 2017 issue of ERS’s Amber Waves magazine.