ERS Charts of Note

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Schools in the Northeast are more likely to serve local foods every school day

Monday, May 22, 2017

In 2013, ERS and USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service collaborated on the first Farm to School Census to collect data from public school districts on the use of local foods in school meals. The information collected included how frequently local foods were served and which ones were served more often. Milk, fruit, and vegetables were the most frequently served locally-produced foods. ERS researchers found that, after controlling for other characteristics that vary across school districts, districts in the Northeast and the Mid-Atlantic were 28 and 17 percentage points, respectively, more likely to serve local foods daily than those in the Southwest. School districts in cities were 11 percentage points more likely to serve local foods daily than districts in rural areas, and districts with 5,000 or more students were 9 percentage points more likely to do so than districts with less than 5,000 students. This chart appears in "School Districts in the Northeast Are Most Likely to Serve Local Foods on a Daily Basis" in the May 2017 issue of ERS’s Amber Waves magazine.

Poorest U.S. households spent 33 percent of their incomes on food in 2015

Friday, May 19, 2017

While households spend more money on food as their incomes rise, food expenditures represent a smaller portion of income as households allocate additional funds to other goods. In 2015, U.S. households in the highest income quintile spent an average of $12,350 on food—both from grocery stores and eating out. This spending accounted for 8.7 percent of their incomes. Middle income households spent an average of $5,799 on food, or 12.4 percent of their incomes. Households in the lowest income quintile spent less for food on average—$3,767 in 2015—but their food expenditures accounted for 33 percent of their incomes. Two years earlier, the lowest income quintile spent 36.2 percent of their incomes on food. The share of income spent on food depends on several factors, including food prices and incomes. While retail food price inflation was relatively low in 2013, income levels were also lower than in 2015, contributing to the higher percent of income spent on food in 2013 by the lowest income households. Food expenditures as a share of income could fall in 2016 and 2017 across income levels due to declining retail food prices in 2016 and a continued trend downwards in prices for some foods in 2017. This chart is from ERS’s Selected charts from Ag and Food Statistics: Charting the Essentials, 2017, released April 28, 2017.

U.S. agricultural exports have historically exceeded imports, leading to trade surplus

Thursday, May 18, 2017

The United States has had a surplus in agricultural trade every year since 1959. Agricultural exports have accounted for 10 to 11 percent of total U.S. exports in recent years, while agricultural imports accounted for about 5 percent of total imports. The result is that agriculture has become a reliable trade surplus sector, but the size of the surplus has varied greatly recently. U.S. imports generally have tended to rise more smoothly because the United States has a developed, stable economy with a preference for out-of-season goods and high-value items. Meanwhile, the country’s major export commodities include soybeans, corn, and wheat. These crops have trade figures that tend to fluctuate more in response to price changes because there is little to differentiate between the U.S. and its competitors’ raw goods, compared to higher value processed products. This chart appears in the ERS Amber Waves data feature, U.S. Agricultural Trade in 2016: Major Commodities and Trends, released in May 2017.

Survival rates of manufacturing plants vary by county type and ownership structure

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Between the 2001 and 2007-09 recessions, U.S. manufacturing employment fell by close to 30 percent. In many communities, the closing of a manufacturing plant can reduce local employment, earnings, and government tax revenue. To improve understanding of the factors affecting the survival of manufacturing plants, ERS studied plant survival over a 15-year period (1996 to 2011). Over this period, the average survival rate—the share of plants that were still employers—in rural (nonmetro) counties was 57 percent. By comparison, plants in urban (metro) counties had an average survival rate of 53 percent during this period. Survival rates also varied by ownership structure: Overall, independent plants (single-unit plants with only one physical location) had a 59-percent survival rate, while multi-unit plants had a 50-percent survival rate. Independent plants located in rural counties had the highest average survival rate (62 percent). Although States and regions have long tended to put more effort into recruiting and retaining multi-unit plants, the research shows that independent plants are more likely to survive—in both rural and urban counties. This chart appears in the ERS report Rural Manufacturing Resilience: Factors Associated With Plant Survival, 1996-2011, released May 2017.

U.S. pulse crops set for another record year for acres planted

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Led by expectations of surging seedings for lentils and chickpeas in 2017, aggregate U.S. area planted to pulse (the dry edible seed of a legume plant) crops is projected to reach a new record high of more than 4.06 million acres. Chickpea planted area is forecast to rise to nearly 500,000 acres, an increase of more than 53 percent compared to the prior year. This production growth is due to its sustained price strength and favorable returns relative to other crops such as wheat and corn. Lentil planted area is expected to expand by 13 percent to 1.055 million acres. In 10 years’ time, lentil planted area has more than tripled, boosted by expanding sales to India and growing domestic consumption, both of which have supported prices and encouraged plantings. Dry bean area planted, exclusive of garbanzo bean (also known as chickpeas) is projected to have a modest increase, up about 2 percent to 1.368 million acres and just slightly below the 10-year average area planted of 1.415 million acres. Dry peas are the only pulse crop projected to have fewer acres seeded in 2017. This chart appears in the ERS Vegetables and Pulses Outlook report, released on April 28, 2017.

Deforestation due to agriculture in Brazil has generally declined over time

Monday, May 15, 2017

Increasing global population and demand for food have led to rising agricultural production and demand for land for farming purposes. Expanded agricultural land has often come from tropical deforestation in developing countries that have become major exporters of commodities like beef, soybeans, and palm oil. In Brazil, for example, deforestation is linked most closely with the production of beef in the Amazon basin and the Cerrado region. Historically, cattle account for over 80 percent of deforestation in the Amazon and 88 percent in the Cerrado. At its peak in 1995, beef accounted for 3.75 million hectares of deforestation in Brazil, compared to 0.71 million hectares in 2013. Deforestation due to soybean production has generally remained low, particularly in the Amazon. Soybean production has mostly increased by expanding onto previously cleared cropland or pasture, rather than by contributing directly to deforestation. In more recent years, higher yields and policy changes have contributed to a decline in deforestation rates in Brazil. This chart appears in the ERS report International Trade and Deforestation: Potential Policy Effects via a Global Economic Model, released April 2017.

Exports account for more than 50 percent of U.S. cotton and almond production

Friday, May 12, 2017

Exports play a significant role for U.S. agricultural producers. For many commodities, exports make up a sizeable share of the market for U.S. production. In the case of cotton and almonds, the United States sends more of its product abroad than is consumed domestically. Roughly 75 percent of all U.S. cotton is exported, with the majority going to countries in North and Central America like Canada, Mexico, and Nicaragua. U.S.-produced almonds, grown almost exclusively in California, represent nearly 79 percent of global supply and are naturally shipped worldwide, with 67 percent of production exported. Rice, soybeans, and wheat also depend heavily on export markets as the destination for about half of domestic supply. The wealth of cropland throughout the Midwest and other parts of America gives domestic suppliers the capacity to scale production beyond the needs of the U.S. market, allowing agriculture’s share of the U.S. economy to grow. This chart appears in the ERS publication Selected charts from Ag and Food Statistics: Charting the Essentials, 2017, released April 28, 2017.

Gains in productivity have fueled the growth in U.S. agricultural output

Thursday, May 11, 2017

From 1948 to 2013, U.S. farm sector output grew by 170 percent with about the same level of farm input use over the period. This output growth resulted mainly from gains in productivity, as measured by total factor productivity (TFP)—the difference between the growth of aggregate output and growth of aggregate inputs (such as land and labor). Between 1948 and 2013, total output grew at an average annual rate of 1.52 percent, agricultural TFP at 1.47 percent, and input use at only 0.05 percent. Long-term agricultural productivity is fueled by innovations in animal/crop genetics, chemicals, equipment, and farm organization that result from public and private research and development. This chart appears in the ERS publication Selected charts from Ag and Food Statistics: Charting the Essentials, 2017, released April 28, 2017.

What time of day do Americans engage in primary and secondary eating?

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Errata: On May 12, 2017, three numbers in the text of this Chart of Note were revised to correct for erroneous double counting during the indicated 3-hour time period. The corrected percentages are 59 percent reported primary eating and drinking between 5:00 and 7:59 pm, 50 percent between 11:00 am and 1:59 pm, and 34 percent between 7:00 and 9:59 am in 2015.


Data from the Eating and Health Module of the American Time Use Survey provide a snapshot of when Americans eat and drink as their main activity (primary eating and drinking), or when they eat while doing something else (secondary eating). Over an average day in 2015, 95 percent of people age 15 and older engaged in primary eating and drinking at least once, with an average of 2.1 times. Americans have two peak times for primary eating and drinking—noon to 12:59 pm and 6:00 to 6:59 pm. More Americans make time for dinner than for lunch as a primary activity; 59 percent reported primary eating and drinking between 5:00 and 7:59 pm and 50 percent between 11:00 am and 1:59 pm. A third (34 percent) reported eating breakfast as a primary activity between 7:00 and 9:59 am in 2015. Those breakfast skippers—and others—may be grazing throughout the day, as 54 percent ate as a secondary activity at least once during a typical day in 2015, with an average of 1.4 times. From 9 am to 9 pm, at least 5 percent of Americans engaged in secondary eating each hour. The top three activities that accompanied secondary eating were watching television and movies, paid work, and socializing with others. A version of this chart appears in ERS’s Eating and Health Module (ATUS) data product.

Larger family farms show stronger financial performance than smaller farms

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Ongoing innovations in agriculture have enabled a single farmer, or farm family, to manage more acres or more animals. Farmers who take advantage of these innovations to expand their operations can reduce costs and raise profits because they can spread their investments over more acres. In 2015, larger family farms displayed stronger financial performance, on average, than smaller farms. For example, 74 percent of very large family farms—those with gross farm cash income (GCFI) of $5 million or more—had estimated operating profit margins (OPM) of at least 10 percent. This represents the safer yellow and green zones, with lower financial risk. By comparison, 54 percent of midsize family farms (GCFI of $350,000 to $999,999) also had an OPM of at least 10 percent. Most small farms (GCFI under $350,000) in the red zone (OPM under 10 percent), had a negative OPM, the result of losses from farming. Small farms account for 90 percent of U.S. farms, but only contribute about a quarter of the value of production. The majority of their operator households’ income comes from off-farm sources. This chart appears in the March 2017 Amber Waves data feature, "Large Family Farms Continue To Dominate U.S. Agricultural Production."

Households shopping at supermarkets, supercenters, and warehouse club stores have highest healthy basket scores

Monday, May 8, 2017

Over the past two decades, some store formats—including supercenters, dollar stores, and warehouse club stores—have increased their share of Americans’ spending on “at-home food”—food and beverages purchased from retail stores. Shifts between store formats could have implications for shopping patterns. A recent ERS study computed “healthy basket” scores for monthly at-home food and beverage purchases. The higher the score, the closer a household’s purchases aligned with healthy-diet expenditure shares. Baskets were categorized by the format accounting for the household’s largest share of food expenditures. Scores were highest for households predominantly shopping at warehouse club stores (8.3), supermarkets (8.2), and supercenters (8.0). Household food baskets dominated by purchases from drug stores, convenience stores, and dollar stores had the least healthful purchases. Over 2008-12, an average of 67 percent of households in the data predominantly shopped at supermarkets, 17 percent at supercenters, and 6 percent at warehouse club stores. The other 10 percent shopped predominately at drug, dollar, convenience, and other store formats. This chart appears in "Households Purchase More Produce and Low-Fat Dairy at Supermarkets, Supercenters, and Warehouse Club Stores" in ERS’s Amber Waves magazine, May 2017.

Western irrigation has become more efficient over time

Friday, May 5, 2017

Efficient irrigation systems can help maintain farm profitability in an era of increasingly limited and more costly water supplies. More efficient gravity irrigation uses the force of gravity and field borders or furrows to distribute water across a field. It may also use laser-leveling to improve flood irrigation. More efficient pressure-sprinkler irrigation delivers water under lower pressure sprinklers and systems using drip/trickle tubes and micro-spray nozzles. The efficiency of irrigation systems is particularly important in the Western States—such as Nebraska, California, and Texas—where water demand for agriculture is greatest and diminishing water supplies are expected to affect future water availability. Data from USDA’s Farm and Ranch Irrigation Survey (FRIS) show that irrigated agriculture in the West has become more efficient over time. More efficient irrigation systems (both gravity and pressure-sprinkler) were used on about 36 percent of total irrigated acres in the West in 1994, but increased to nearly half by 2013. More efficient pressure-sprinkler irrigation alone accounted for about 15 percent in 1994, but more than 37 percent in 2013. The share of acres using more efficient gravity systems peaked in the late 1990s, but then declined as farmers increasingly turned to the even more efficient pressure-sprinkler systems. This chart is based on the ERS data product U.S. Irrigated Agriculture in the United States, released April 2017.

Avocado imports play a significant role in meeting growing U.S. demand

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Per capita use of avocados tripled since the beginning of the 2000s and now totals over 7 pounds per person annually in the United States. In the 2015/16 marketing year, total domestic availability reached a record high of 2.3 billion pounds. In addition to the country’s large and growing Hispanic population (who regard avocados as a staple), the rise of the fruit’s availability reflects its growing popularity for use in foods like guacamole and in various sandwiches. Increasing consumer awareness of the benefits of “healthy fats,” like the mono-unsaturated fats found in avocados, has also played a role in its growth. Domestically, avocados are grown in Florida (on average, over 16 percent of total), California (over 80 percent), and Hawaii (less than 1 percent), and net production has not kept up with consumer demand. Nearly all of the growth in per capita consumption since the mid-2000s has been satisfied by rising imports, particularly from Mexico which comprised a vast majority of total import volume. Chile once supplied a majority of U.S. avocado imports but was outranked by Mexico beginning in 2005. Phytosanitary reasons prevented entry of Mexican avocados into the United States for many years, but since the implementation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the country’s limited access to the U.S. market has slowly expanded. Now, imports from Mexico are allowed in all 50 States on a year-round basis. This chart appears in the ERS Fruit and Tree Nut Outlook report released in April 2017.

Nearly 14,000 USDA Microloans issued between 2013 and 2015

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

In January 2013, USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) launched the Direct Farm Operating Microloan program to better serve the credit needs of small farms, beginning farmers, farmers from socially disadvantaged groups (women and minorities), and veterans. These loans (up to $50,000) are designed to be more convenient and accessible to groups not traditionally served through FSA’s credit programs. Relative to FSA’s traditional Direct Operating Loans, for example, the Microloan program has a shorter application and more relaxed requirements for farm management experience, production history, and collateral. FSA has issued over 13,800 Microloans as of mid-November 2015. The number of loans increased 13 percent from 2013 to 2014 and 31 percent from 2014 to 2015. Farmers belonging to one or more of the program’s targeted groups—beginning farmers, SDA borrowers, and veterans—received nearly 90 percent of Microloans issued. Overall, beginning farmers received the most Microloans (81 percent) out of any group. This chart appears in the March 2016 Amber Waves finding, "Nearly 14,000 USDA Microloans Issued Between 2013 and 2015."

Organic shares of U.S. retail sales vary by food category

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

While U.S. organic food sales account for a small share of the country’s total food sales, they exhibited double-digit growth during all but 3 years (2009-11) during 2000-14. ERS analysis of U.S. organic sales data for five retail food categories shows that the organic market share increased for four of the five categories between 2009 and 2014. The highest organic market share in 2014 was for milk (14 percent of total organic and nonorganic sales), followed by eggs and fresh vegetables (both at nearly 7 percent). Foods frequently fed to children, like milk, tend to have higher organic market share than other foods. Industry estimates find that the organic fresh fruit and vegetable category has the highest sales of all organic categories, but their share of total produce sales is smaller than for milk. The decline in market share of organic yogurt between 2010 and 2014 may reflect growing nonorganic sales of Greek-style yogurt and yogurt drinks—products that were not readily available in organic forms. This chart appears in "Growing Organic Demand Provides High-Value Opportunities for Many Types of Products" in the February 2017 issue of ERS’s Amber Waves magazine.

Contrasting area planted records projected for soybeans and wheat

Monday, May 1, 2017

The latest projections for crop area plantings in 2017 indicate contrasting records for soybeans and wheat. Soybean plantings for 2017 are projected to reach 89.5 million acres, a new record-high. In contrast, forecast wheat plantings of 46.1 million acres would be a record low, if realized. Taken together, these planted area projections indicate that many farmers are switching from wheat to soybean production in several key wheat-growing States, including Kansas, Michigan, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, and Texas. Since 2011, soybean acreage in these seven States has expanded by one-third, while wheat area has contracted. Farmers are likely responding to the higher prices and potential returns associated with soybeans, after multiple years of wheat prices trending lower. For the 2016/17 marketing year, the projected midpoint season-average farm-gate price for soybeans was $9.55 per bushel, slightly higher than the 2015/16 average of $8.95 per bushel. The all-wheat price for the 2016/17 marketing year is projected at $3.85 per bushel, more than a dollar below the 2015/16 season-average price and the lowest since 2005/06. This chart appears in the ERS Wheat Outlook report released in April 2017.

Farmland ownership concentrated among older operators and landlords, and male operators

Friday, April 28, 2017

The Tenure, Ownership, and Transition of Agricultural Land (TOTAL) survey provides demographic information that can reveal trends about who owns and rents U.S. farmland. In 2014, for example, 61 percent of U.S. farmland was owned by the farm operator (or owner-operated); those aged 55 and older accounted for nearly 80 percent of that land. By comparison, out of the 39 percent of farmland that was rented out, 80 percent was owned by non-operator landlords; nearly 70 percent of that land was owned by someone aged 65 or older. Building up the financial capacity to purchase farmland takes time, which contributes to the relatively advanced age of landowners. Farmland ownership also varies by gender, with male principal operators accounting for the majority of land (90 percent) owned by both owner-operators and operator landlords. However, land owned by non-operator landlords was more equally divided by gender, with women owning 46 percent of that land. This chart appears in the ERS data visualization 2014 Tenure, Ownership, and Transition of Agricultural Land (TOTAL) survey, released March 2017.

Tight fuel ethanol supplies in Brazil boost imports from the United States

Thursday, April 27, 2017

U.S. fuel ethanol exports are up significantly for the 2016/17 marketing year, primarily driven by increased exports to Brazil. The change is related to an increase in Brazil’s sugar prices, which is due to strong international demand for the country’s sugar exports. As a result, the country’s sugarcane refiners have shifted processing capacity from ethanol to sugar. Since Brazil has a 27-percent ethanol inclusion mandate for gasoline, the decline in output has left fuel refiners short of supplies. This has caused an increase in ethanol shipments from the United States, where corn supply is abundant, making up for Brazil’s shortfall. U.S. ethanol shipments to Brazil began rising in October 2016, jumping 138 percent that month. The pace has continued at an elevated level through February 2017, the latest month for which trade data are available. From October 2016 through February 2017, fuel ethanol shipments to Brazil surged 547 percent, compared with the same period a year earlier. In addition, U.S. shipments to the world rose 65 percent and exports to Canada, also a major buyer, rose by 57 percent. This chart appears in the ERS Feed Outlook report released in April 2017.

Rural school districts less likely to serve local food frequently in school meals

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

According to USDA’s 2013 Farm to School Census, 35 percent of all U.S. school districts reported serving local food in school meals during the 2011-12 school year. Twenty-two percent of all school districts served at least one locally-sourced food item daily or more than weekly, and 19 percent of school districts—containing 30 percent of U.S. school children—served local food daily. ERS researchers analyzed data from the Farm to School Census to identify which types of school districts were more likely versus less likely to serve local foods frequently in school meals. Rural school districts were 11.2 percentage points less likely to serve local food daily than school districts in cities, after accounting for other school district characteristics, such as region, enrollment level, per capita income of the surrounding county’s residents, and county-level density of farmers’ markets. School districts in suburbs and towns were also significantly less likely to serve local food daily compared to districts in cities. The data for this chart are from the ERS report, Daily Access to Local Foods for School Meals: Key Drivers, March 2017.

Declining cotton stocks in China leading to a reduction of global stocks

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

The latest USDA cotton projections for marketing year 2016/17 indicate that world ending stocks are forecast at 90.9 million bales, 6 percent below the previous season and 19 percent (nearly 21 million bales) lower than 2014/15’s record of 111.7 million bales. Global cotton stocks in 2016/17 are expected to decline in back-to-back years after five consecutive seasons of rising supplies. Earlier cotton prices support policies in China that contributed to the buildup in global stocks, culminating in nearly 67 million bales of cotton at the end of 2014/15. Likewise, the recent trend of declining supplies is attributable to more recent policies in China that discouraged production, limited raw cotton imports, and began the process of reducing the surplus in government-held stocks. In 2016/17, China’s cotton stocks are forecast at 49.1 million bales, nearly 18 million bales below the record and the lowest in 5 years. With combined stocks in the rest of the world expected higher in 2016/17, China’s share of global stocks are projected to decrease to 54 percent, compared with 60 percent during the previous three seasons. This chart appears in the ERS Cotton and Wool Outlook report released in April 2017.