ERS Charts of Note

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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.

Households operating larger farms get more of their income from farming

Friday, March 24, 2017

In 2015, farm households had a median total income of $76,735 per household—a third greater than that of all U.S. households ($56,516). Median total household income increased with farm size, with the median income of households operating small family farms approximating the U.S. median household and those operating larger family farms far exceeding it. The source of household income also varied with farm size: As farm size decreased, off-farm income represented a larger share of total household income. Households operating midsize and large farms (gross cash farm income or GCFI greater than $350,000) earned the majority of their total household income from their farm operations. By comparison, more than half of households operating small farms (GCFI less than $350,000) incurred small losses from farming, so the majority of their total household income came from off-farm sources. Wages from off-farm jobs accounted for more than half of off-farm income across all farm households. Farm households also receive significant income from transfers (such as Social Security or private pensions), interest and dividends, and non-farm business income. This chart appears in the ERS data product Ag and Food Statistics: Charting the Essentials, updated March 2017.

Mexico is the leading destination for U.S. dairy products

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Mexico has consistently been the leading export destination for U.S. dairy products, with the combination of nonfat dry milk (NDM) and skim milk powder (SMP) as the top export product. (NDM and SMP are two very similar products grouped together in export data.) In 2016, 54 percent of NDM/SMP produced in the United States was exported, and 43 percent of these exports went to Mexico. However, there is a great deal of uncertainty concerning the future of exports to Mexico due to a strong dollar and possible changes in trade policy. The United States accounted for 94 percent of Mexico’s imports of NDM/SMP in 2016. Other sources included New Zealand, Spain, Canada, and Germany. If Mexico were to reduce imports from the United States, those countries would be in a better position to increase their share of trade. This chart appears in the ERS Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry Outlook report released in March 2017.

Fruits and vegetables top organic food sales

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Although U.S. organic food sales account for a small share of total U.S. food sales, they have exhibited double-digit growth during most years since 2000, when USDA set national organic standards. In 2015, the Nutrition Business Journal estimated U.S. organic retail sales at $37.1 billion—with organic food accounting for about 5 percent of total U.S. at-home food expenditures, more than double the share in 2005. Organic sales in all food categories have grown over the last decade. Fresh fruits and vegetables remained the top selling organic category in 2015, accounting for 40 percent of total organic sales. Dairy, the second top selling organic category, accounted for 15 percent of total sales. This chart appears in the February 2017 Amber Waves feature “Growing Organic Demand Provides High-Value Opportunities for Many Types of Producers.”

Decline in farm share of U.S. food dollar mirrors drop in farm commodity prices

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

On average, U.S. farmers received 15.6 cents for farm commodity sales from each dollar spent on domestically-produced food in 2015, down from 17.2 cents in 2014. Known as the farm share, this amount is at its lowest level since 2006, and coincides with a steep drop in 2015 average prices received by U.S. farmers, as measured by the Producer Price Index for farm products. ERS uses input-output analysis to calculate the farm and marketing shares from a typical food dollar, including food purchased at grocery stores and at restaurants, coffee shops, and other eating out places. 2015 was the fourth consecutive year that the farm share has declined, but the 2015 decline was substantially more than in the three previous years. The drop in farm share also coincides with four consecutive years of increases in the share of food dollars paying for services provided by the foodservice industry. Since farmers receive a smaller share from eating out dollars, due to the added costs for preparing and serving meals, more food-away-from-home spending will also drive down the farm share. The data for this chart can be found in ERS’s Food Dollar Series data product, updated on March 16, 2017.

After 15 years, the United States resumed bone-in chicken exports to South Africa in 2016

Monday, March 20, 2017

Until 2001, the United States was the largest supplier of bone-in chicken to the South African market. But in 2001, South Africa imposed anti-dumping duties on U.S. chicken leg quarters, after which U.S. exports dropped nearly to zero. In 2015, under pressure from the U.S. poultry industry, Congress threatened to exclude South Africa from the upcoming renewal of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), unless the country provided greater market access to U.S. poultry. South Africa agreed in June 2015 to allow a quota of 65,000 metric tons of U.S. bone-in chicken at the most favored nation tariff rate of 37 percent. The first U.S. chicken entered the South African market in March 2016. Total U.S. exports of bone-in chicken to South Africa during 2016 reached 21,291 metric tons, taking 11 percent of the market. The U.S. share came at the expense of Brazil and Argentina, both of which saw a drop in their exports to South Africa. The largest supplier was the European Union (EU), which maintained its 74 percent share of South African imports of bone-in chicken. This chart appears in the March 2017 Amber Waves finding, "South Africa Resumes Imports of U.S. Chicken Following 15 Years of Anti-Dumping Duties."

U.S. soybean domestic use and exports projected to increase through 2026

Friday, March 17, 2017

The newly released USDA agricultural baseline projects strong demand for soybean meal and oil over the next decade. These gains reflect low expected feed prices, increasing livestock production, and steady demand by foreign importers. Strong global demand for soybeans—particularly in China—boosts U.S. soybean trade over the projection period. While soybean exports are projected to rise, competition from South America—primarily Brazil—will lead to a reduced U.S. share of global soybean trade. U.S. soybean meal use is projected to increase about 1 percent per year over the baseline period. Domestic soybean meal consumption, which accounts for roughly 75 percent of total disappearance, is projected to increase at just over 1 percent per year. U.S. soybean oil use is also projected to rise about 1 percent per year over the projection period. Soybean oil exports are projected to rise only modestly due to increased competition. This chart appears in the ERS Agricultural Projections to 2026 report released in February 2017.

Food accounts for 12.5 percent of American households’ budgets

Thursday, March 16, 2017

With a 12.5-percent share, food ranked third behind housing (32.9 percent) and transportation (17 percent) in a typical American household’s 2015 expenditures. Breaking down food spending further, 7.2 percent of expenditures were spent at the grocery store and 5.4 percent at restaurants. Price changes for the items in the different budget categories relative to each other play a role in the categories’ shares of annual household consumer expenditures. Over the last 10 years, retail food price inflation has often outpaced economy-wide inflation. Between 2006 and 2015, prices for all U.S. goods and services rose an average of 2 percent per year, while food prices increased an average of 2.7 percent. Despite higher food price inflation, food’s share of consumer expenditures fell slightly (0.1 percentage points) over the decade, as the budget shares for health care and personal insurance and pensions rose. Food’s share of consumer expenditures may be smaller in 2016 as grocery store food prices fell by 1.3 percent in 2016. This chart appears in the ERS data product, Ag and Food Statistics: Charting the Essentials.

Meat production on the rise in former Soviet Union countries

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Former Soviet Union countries, Russia, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan experienced significant contractions in meat production in the 1990s and early 2000s. This trend reversed since 2005, with meat production over 70 percent greater in 2011-15 than the low point in 2001-05. The move from a centrally planned to a market based economy in the 1990s upended the growth of the livestock sector. Because of severe financial constraints, the large budget subsidies to agriculture—and especially the previously favored livestock sector—were mostly terminated, which led to reduced production. Aided by renewed subsidies and other policies beneficial to the industry, the livestock sector in these countries rebounded. From 2000 to 2015, average annual meat production rose in Kazakhstan (39 percent), Russia (116 percent), and Ukraine (50 percent). This chart appears in the ERS report Changing Crop Area in the Former Soviet Union Region released in February 2017.

SNAP increasingly serves the working poor

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) serves a large and diverse population of low-income households. In a typical month in fiscal 2015, SNAP provided average monthly benefits of $127 per person to 45.8 million people living in 22.5 million households. Increasingly, SNAP is serving a larger share of households where one or more members are employed. Between fiscal 1989 and 2015, the share of SNAP households with earnings rose from 19.6 percent to 31.8 percent. In contrast, the percent of those receiving cash welfare (AFDC/TANF) declined from 41.9 percent to 5.8 percent over the same period. In fiscal 2015, 54.9 percent of households with children had some earned income, while 7.4 percent of households with elderly individuals and 10.7 percent of households with non-elderly individuals with disabilities had earnings. In fiscal 2015, 63.8 percent of SNAP households relied on income sources other than earnings and TANF benefits. These income sources include Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Social Security, unemployment insurance, General Assistance, child support, and/or pensions. SNAP households may also receive non-cash assistance such as housing and medical care. The data for this chart are from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) topic page on the ERS Web site.

Public and private sectors specialize in different areas of agricultural research

Monday, March 13, 2017

Both the public and private sectors fund agricultural research and development (R&D), but focus on different areas. The private sector specializes in areas where R&D results in improved commercial products and services, particularly food and feed manufacturing as well as farm machinery and engineering. The public sector, in contrast, conducts most of the R&D on areas that have social value, but do not result in easily sold products. These areas include environment and natural resources and human nutrition and food safety. The public and private sectors conduct significant research on plant systems and crop protection as well as on animal systems and animal health. However, a closer inspection reveals that each sector invests in these areas differently. Much of the private R&D on plant and animal systems aims at new commercial products like agricultural pesticides and veterinary pharmaceuticals. In contrast, public R&D focuses on topics like improving field practices and studying pest populations, animal pathogens, and soil attributes. This chart appears in the November 2016 Amber Waves feature, "U.S. Agricultural R&D in an Era of Falling Public Funding."

A declining share of SNAP households contain children

Friday, March 10, 2017

In fiscal 2015, USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) provided 22.5 million low-income U.S. households with monthly benefits to supplement their resources for buying food. Of these households, 42.7 percent had children, 20.2 percent had a nonelderly member receiving disability benefits, and 19.6 percent contained an elderly person. The share of SNAP households with children is down from 54.7 percent in 2003, while the shares of SNAP households with an elderly member or a nonelderly member receiving Federal or State disability benefits have remained relatively constant. The fall in the share of SNAP households with children may reflect the increase in participation of households without children due to the tough economic times that accompanied the 2007-09 recession and policy changes that allowed more non-child households to be eligible for SNAP. This chart appears in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) topic page on the ERS website, updated on February 16, 2017.

Over half of farmers had health insurance coverage through an employer

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Health insurance can help people and households manage the cost and uncertainty of healthcare expenses. Most Americans with health insurance coverage receive it through their employers, and farm households are no exception. Although many farm operators are self-employed, in the majority of farm households either the operator or spouse is employed off-farm. In 2015, more than half of farm household members had health insurance coverage through an employer—close to the rate for the overall U.S. population. Farmers reported similar rates to the general population in purchasing their health insurance directly from an insurance company—and are less likely to receive health insurance from a government-provided program, such as Medicare or Medicaid. Over 89 percent of farmers had some form of health insurance, similar to the general population (nearly 91 percent). This chart appears in the topic page for Health Insurance Coverage, updated December 2016.

U.S. rice supplies projected to reach near-record levels in 2016/17

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

U.S. supplies of rice increased 58 percent since the 1990/91 marketing year. The majority of this growth occurred in the long-grain variety, where supplies grew 67 percent, compared with 35 percent gains in short/medium grain rice. Imports make up an increasing share of supply in recent years, but still remain below 9 percent of the total. Farm prices for both rice categories were relatively stable between 1990/91 and 2006/07, but a global rice crisis in 2008 led to a significant increase in prices, particularly of the medium/short variety, which reached an average of $25 per hundredweight in 2008/09. Prices declined following the crisis, but still remain elevated relative to historic levels. Supply is projected to total 294 million hundredweight in the 2016/17 marketing year. This would be the second highest total on record for the United States, trailing only 2010/11 when record production led to 297 million hundredweight in the U.S. market. Just under half of U.S. rice supply is exported with the remainder consumed or stored domestically. This chart is drawn from data discussed in the ERS Rice Outlook report released in February 2017.

Million-dollar farms accounted for over half of production in 2015

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Agricultural production has been shifting to larger farms for many years. Farms with over $1 million in gross cash farm income (GCFI) accounted for half of the value of U.S. farm production in 2015, up from about a third in 1991. Most million-dollar farms (90 percent) are family farms; only 10 percent are nonfamily farms. Larger million-dollar farms (over $5 million in GCFI) nearly doubled their share of production between 1991 and 2015. Smaller million-dollar farms (GCFI between $1 million and $4,999,999) increased their share from 19 percent to 29 percent. This marks a shift in the share of production from small farms (GCFI under $350,000). Small farms accounted for 46 percent of production in 1991; by 2015, they accounted for less than 25 percent. Farmers who take advantage of ongoing innovations to expand their operations can reduce costs and raise profits because they can spread their investments over more acres. This chart appears in the ERS report America's Diverse Family Farms, 2016 Edition, released December 2016.

Who experiences very low food security?

Monday, March 6, 2017

Each year a portion of American households are food insecure—they struggle to afford enough food for all household members. Very low food security, the severe range of food insecurity, affected 5 percent of U.S. households in 2015. Members of households with very low food security reported cutting back on or skipping meals, and in some cases, going a whole day without eating. The prevalence of very low food security varies considerably across household characteristics. Single mother and single father households, women and men living alone, Black non-Hispanic and Hispanic headed households, households with incomes near or below poverty, and households in nonmetropolitan counties have rates of very low food security significantly above the national average. Rates were highest for households with incomes below the Federal poverty line—about 17 percent were very low food secure in 2015. This chart is drawn from a chart that appears in the ERS infographic, “What Is Very Low Food Security and Who Experiences It?,” in the December 2016 issue of ERS’s Amber Waves magazine.

Rural poverty remains regionally concentrated

Friday, March 3, 2017

Poverty is not evenly distributed throughout the United States. Americans living in poverty tend to be clustered in certain U.S. regions and counties. Nonmetro (rural) counties with a high incidence of poverty are mainly concentrated in the South, which had an average poverty rate of nearly 22 percent between 2011 and 2015. Rural counties with the most severe poverty are located in historically poor areas of the Southeast—including the Mississippi Delta and Appalachia—as well as on Native American lands, predominantly in the Southwest and North Central Midwest. The incidence of rural poverty is relatively low elsewhere, but generally more widespread than in the past due to a number of factors. For example, declining employment in the manufacturing sector since the 1980s contributed to the spread of poverty in the Midwest and the Northeast. Another factor is rapid growth in Hispanic populations over the 1990s and 2000s—particularly in California, Nevada, Arizona, Colorado, North Carolina, and Georgia. This group tends to be poorer than non-Hispanic whites. Finally, the 2007-09 recession resulted in more widespread rural poverty. This chart appears in the ERS topic page for Rural Poverty & Well-being, updated February 2017.

Consumption exceeding production in the global cotton industry for second consecutive year

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Prior to the 2015/16 marketing year, global cotton production had exceeded consumption for 4 consecutive years. This led to increasing ending stocks and downward pressure on cotton prices. In addition to the negative production incentives from low prices and excess stocks, poor weather conditions further reduced global cotton production in 2015/16. Consumption exceeded production in 2015/16 by 15 million bales and falling prices stabilized. In 2016/17, projected production has remained below consumption and prices have increased. The global cotton industry also continues to face price competition from synthetic fibers to maintain market share. Consumption is only projected to grow by 1 percent in 2016/17 and is up only 4 percent over a 5-year period. This chart is drawn from the ERS Cotton and Wool Outlook tables released in February 2017.

What is “very low food security”?

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Household food security statistics published annually by ERS are based on responses to survey questions in the annual Food Security Supplement to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey. Respondents are asked about conditions and behaviors that characterize households when they are having difficulty meeting basic food needs. In a household classified as having “very low food security,” the food intake of its members was reduced and their normal eating patterns were disrupted at times during the year because the household lacked money and other resources for food. In 2015, the 6.3 million U.S. households with very low food security reported the following specific conditions (along with other conditions): 96 percent reported that they had cut the size of meals or skipped meals because there was not enough money for food; 95 percent reported that they had eaten less than they felt they should because there was not enough money for food; and 67 percent reported that they had been hungry but did not eat because they could not afford enough food. This chart is drawn from a chart that appears in the ERS infographic, “What Is Very Low Food Security and Who Experiences It?,” in the December 2016 issue of ERS’s Amber Waves magazine.

With fewer breeding sows than in the past, efficiency gains have resulted in more pigs per sow per year

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

To measure productivity gains, the hog industry commonly uses the average number of pigs produced by breeding sows per year. To meet demand, farmers needed a far larger number of breeding sows in 1970 than present day due to lower litter rates. The breeding inventory for that year was 65 percent higher than the current inventory, but the litter rate per sow was only 7.4 pigs. On average, this resulted in just over 10 pigs produced per sow. In 2016, an increased litter rate of 10.6 and more frequent farrowings led to an average of 20.95 pigs per sow. These efficiency gains are because of genetic improvements of breeding stock, advancements in survival rates, and more effective cycling of sows between breeding and recovery periods. This chart appears in the ERS Livestock Dairy and Poultry Outlook report released in January 2017.