ERS Charts of Note

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Educational attainment rates remain lower for rural minorities

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Higher educational attainment is closely tied to economic well-being—through higher earnings, lower unemployment, and lower poverty. While educational attainment in rural America has improved over time, rural areas still lag urban areas in educational attainment. Moreover, within rural areas, educational attainment varies across racial and ethnic categories. In general, minority populations within rural areas have relatively less education. About a quarter of adults age 25 and over in the rural Black population, 20 percent of Native Americans/Alaska Natives, and almost 40 percent of rural Hispanics had not completed high school or the equivalent in 2015. These shares are considerably higher than for rural Whites, with 13 percent lacking a high school diploma. Lower attainment levels for minorities may both reflect and contribute to high rates of poverty. Childhood poverty is highly correlated with lower academic success and graduation rates, while lower educational attainment is strongly associated with lower earnings in adulthood. This chart updates data found in the ERS report Rural America at a Glance, 2015 Edition, published November 2015.

Wholesale choice beef prices falling at a faster rate than retail

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Retail and wholesale food prices often move closely together. When wholesale prices rise, retail prices typically follow. The price of choice beef in wholesale and retail markets moved upward in 2014 and most of 2015. Wholesale prices increased from roughly $3 per pound to nearly $4 per pound by mid-2015. As wholesale prices rose, retail prices followed, moving from just over $5 per pound in January 2014 to a peak of $6.41 in June 2015. Both prices decreased in 2016, with the wholesale price falling below $3 in late 2016. While retail prices dropped also, they fell at a slower rate. As a result, the ratio of retail to wholesale prices has increased to above 2 to 1, 20 percent higher than the ratio in June 2015 when both prices were highest. This highlights an aspect of the interplay between wholesale and retail prices, in which retail prices respond slower when wholesale prices decline compared to when prices increase. The data in this chart are drawn from the ERS Meat Price Spreads data product updated in December 2016.

Brazil remains the largest global sugar exporter

Friday, January 13, 2017

Brazil is projected to remain the dominant sugar exporter in the 2016/17 marketing year, accounting for nearly 49 percent of global exports. Exports from Brazil are projected to increase by 11 percent in 2016/17 as more of the country’s sugarcane crop is produced into sugar, rather than ethanol. Exports declined in 2013/14 and 2014/15, before a small rebound in 2015/16, as financial returns for ethanol incentivized production away from sugar production. Even with periods of declining exports, Brazil has remained the most important producer in global sugar trade, accounting for no less than 44 percent of market share since 2008/09. Major competitors, such as Thailand, have increased their market share, particularly in the past 5 years, and are projected to increase their exports by 4 percent in 2016/17. This chart draws from the Sugar and Sweeteners Outlook report published in December 2016.

Meal preparation time varies across different U.S. demographic groups

Thursday, January 12, 2017

On an average day in 2014, Americans age 18 and over spent 37 minutes in food preparation and cleanup. However, the average time spent in “meal prep”—defined as preparing food and beverages, serving them, and cleaning up afterwards—varied considerably among different groups. Men spent an average of 22 minutes, whereas women spent an average of 51 minutes. Younger adults (age 18-24) spent an average of 21 minutes, while working-age adults (age 25-64) spent 38 minutes. Those age 65 or older spent an average of 43 minutes. Employed individuals spent less time in meal prep than those not employed, and those in households without children spent less time than those in households with children. Participants in USDA’s Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) had the longest average duration in meal prep time—62 minutes. Time spent preparing infant formula, breastfeeding, and pumping breast milk is included in meal prep time in the American Time Use Survey (ATUS). These time use data are from the ERS-developed 2014 Eating & Health Module—a supplement to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ ATUS. This chart appears in “Americans Spend an Average of 37 Minutes a Day Preparing and Serving Food and Cleaning Up” in ERS’s November 2016 Amber Waves magazine.

Non-operators were more likely than operators to inherit farmland

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Land may be acquired in a number of ways, including sales, gifts, and inheritances. Arms-length purchases from nonrelatives are a traditional method for acquiring land, particularly for those without family or personal connections to agricultural landowners. In 2014, operating landowners—those who own farmland and operate some or all of it—purchased half of their land from nonrelatives. This group acquired another 27 percent of land through inheritances or gifts. In contrast, non-operator landlords—those who own and rent farmland but are not actively involved in its operation—acquired 30 percent of their land in purchases from nonrelatives. The majority of non-operator land (54 percent) was inherited or received as a gift. Since most farming operations are family farms, it is not surprising that a larger share of operator landowners’ land (18 percent) was purchased from a relative compared to non-operators (11 percent), as this suggests that land is being sold from one family generation to the next. This chart appears in the August 2016 Amber Waves feature, “Land Acquisition and Transfer in U.S. Agriculture.”

California dairy production recovering as prices rise in 2016

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

California leads the Nation in dairy production, manufacturing roughly 20 percent of the Nation’s milk. The State is also the leading producer of butter and nonfat dry milk and is second to Wisconsin in cheese production. The ongoing drought in California has had an impact on the State’s dairy output, contributing to negative year-over-year growth since the end of 2014 until October 2016. In addition to drought conditions, prices received by California dairy farmers were down 30 percent in 2015 and dipped even further in 2016, before recovering in June 2016. The upward trend in prices received in late 2016 may help explain the movement back toward positive growth in California’s dairy production. This chart is drawn from data discussed in the ERS Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry Outlook report released in December 2016.

Eating out market drove chicken’s popularity

Monday, January 9, 2017

Per person chicken consumption in the United States more than doubled over the past four decades. Linking ERS’s loss-adjusted food availability data with food intake surveys from 1994-2008 reveals that the away-from-home market, which includes restaurants with wait staff, fast food places, school cafeterias, and other eating out places, drove much of the growth in U.S. chicken consumption over the 1994-2008 period. The share of total chicken consumption prepared by away-from-home eating out places rose from 41.9 percent during 1994-98 to 46.4 percent during 2007-08. Loss-adjusted chicken availability per person in the away-from-home market was 16.8 pounds in 1994-98 and rose to the range of 22.5 to 24.8 pounds during 2005-08. In contrast, chicken obtained at grocery stores (the food-at-home market) grew by just 2.6 pounds per person from 23.3 to 25.9 pounds. The greater growth in chicken consumption away from home is consistent with the introduction of chicken nuggets, chicken strips, and grilled chicken sandwiches and their rising popularity in fast food and other eating out places. This chart appears in the ERS report U.S. Food Commodity Availability by Food Source, 1994-2008, released on December 28, 2016.

Seventy percent of U.S. calories consumed in 2010 were from plant-based foods

Friday, January 6, 2017

ERS’s loss-adjusted food availability data provide estimates of the sources of calories in the U.S. diet. These data are derived from the supply of food available for consumption and adjusted for inedible peels and pits and for spoilage, plate waste, and other losses to more closely approximate actual intake. Loss-adjusted daily calories per person decreased by 2 percent between 2000 and 2010 from 2,545 to 2,481 calories. The share of calories from animal- and plant-based foods was the same in both years at 30 percent and 70 percent, respectively. In both years, grains were the primary contributor to daily calories per capita. Added plant-based fats and oils—such as salad and cooking oils, margarine, and shortening—ranked second, followed by meat, poultry, and fish. Per capita availability of calories from nuts showed the largest percentage change, posting a 25-percent increase to 72 calories per day in 2010. Calories from the vegetable and added sugar and sweeteners categories decreased by 11 percent. This chart appears in “A Look at Calorie Sources in the American Diet” in the December 2016 issue of ERS’s Amber Waves magazine.

Switchgrass potential as an energy crop varies across USDA regions

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Dedicated energy crops, such as switchgrass, are potential renewable feedstocks for liquid fuels or electricity generation. However, markets do not presently exist for large-scale use of this resource. Switchgrass is a perennial grass native to most of North America that grows well on rain-fed marginal land. It has the greatest growth potential in regions where it has a comparative yield advantage relative to other crops. An ERS study simulated the impact on farmland use from growing enough switchgrass to generate 250 TWh of electricity annually by 2030, an amount approximately equal to present U.S. hydroelectricity generation. The study found that such a significant increase in demand for switchgrass would entail shifting land from other crops to switchgrass, and that these effects would vary regionally. In the Appalachian region, for example, the crop most affected is hay, with smaller reductions in corn and soybeans. In the Southeast and Northern Plains, acreage reductions are shared among the crops more uniformly. In total, about 29 million acres of switchgrass may be grown annually in the United States under this scenario, representing 8 percent of cropland. This chart appears in the ERS report Dedicated Energy Crops and Competition for Agricultural Land, released January 2017.

Tighter global sugar supplies support recent price increases

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

World raw sugar prices increased in the 2015/16 marketing year after a four-year decline from 2010/11. Projections for 2016/17 support higher prices continuing through 2017. Projected human sugar consumption is expected to be greater than production for the second consecutive year, after a prolonged period of surplus production during the years of declining prices. Due to the global production deficit, global inventories are projected to be drawn down again in 2016/17, resulting in the lowest stocks-to-use ratio in more than 20 years. Through the first two months of 2016/17, raw sugar prices have been 50 percent higher than the previous year, due in large part to the relatively tight supply and use market outlook. This chart draws from the Sugar and Sweeteners Outlook report published in December 2016.

More Microloans issued in areas with more beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers

Tuesday, January 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. Although any farmer can apply for a Microloan, FSA reserves 70 percent of its funds for beginning farmers, women, and minorities. Correspondingly, FSA distributed more Microloans in regions with larger shares of farmers belonging to these groups, and in regions with smaller average farm size. Between 2013 and 2015, the number of Microloans increased each year in every region except for the Pacific, where the number of loans first dipped then rebounded above its 2013 level. ERS analysis found that the number of Microloans received by borrowers who were new to FSA direct loans substantially surpassed the number of new borrowers who received Microloan-sized traditional Direct Operating Loans (DOLs) in 2010-12, the three years preceding the introduction of the Microloans program. This difference suggests that the Microloan program likely attracted new borrowers who would not have received traditional DOLs if Microloans hadn’t existed. This chart appears in the ERS report USDA Microloans for Farmers: Participation Patterns and Effects of Outreach, published December 2016.

Midsize farm production has shifted towards cash grains and oilseeds, hogs, and poultry

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Midsize farms, those with gross cash farm income between $350,000 and $1 million, concentrate their production on grains and oilseeds. In 2014, over 40 percent of midsize farm production occurred on farms that specialized in these crops—8 percentage points higher than in 1992. Midsize farms that specialized in hogs and poultry also accounted for a higher share of production in 2014 than in 1992. However, midsize farms specializing in dairy, high-value crops, and other crops (such as tobacco and peanuts) represented a smaller share in 2014. Midsize dairy farms, for example, declined in number over this period—and total dairy production became more concentrated on large farms. Midsize farm contribution to total U.S. production has also declined from 26.7 percent to 20.9 percent during this period. This chart appears in the ERS report The Changing Organization and Well-Being of Midsize U.S. Farms, 1992-2014, released October 31, 2016.

Food insecurity in households with children fell 2.6 percentage points in 2015

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

The year 2015 marked the most significant annual improvement in food security since the Great Recession ended in 2009. In 2015, 16.6 percent of households with children were food insecure, down from 19.2 percent in 2014, meaning that 2.2 million fewer children in 2015 lived in households that had difficulty at some time during the year providing enough food for all their members due to a lack of resources. Members within a household may be affected differently by food insecurity. In about half of the food-insecure households with children in 2015, food insecurity was only reported among adults. But, in 7.8 percent of all U.S. households with children in 2015, both children and adults lacked consistent access to adequate, nutritious food at some time during the year. The 7.8-percent prevalence of food insecurity among children in 2015 was a decline from 9.4 percent in 2014 and down from a peak of 11.0 percent in 2008. This chart appears in the Amber Waves article, “Food Insecurity Among Children Declined to Pre-Recession Levels in 2015,” released November 7, 2016.

U.S. ethanol use continues to grow while prices reach decade lows

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

In the United States, production of ethanol is largely tied to federally mandated renewable fuel standards contained in the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 and the prior Energy Policy Act of 2005. The former calls for 36 billion gallons of renewable fuels in production by 2022, but requires that an increasing share – 21 billion gallons – of the mandate be met with advanced biofuels, which are biofuels produced from feedstocks other than corn starch (and with 50 percent lower-lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions than petroleum fuels). Corn based ethanol production has begun leveling off since 2010 as production nears the cap for non-advanced biofuels. As production has leveled off, the average annual price of ethanol has declined. The average ethanol price in 2016 was $1.55 per gallon, the lowest price since 2003. While the price of ethanol is also impacted by unrelated movements in the corn market, slowing growth of ethanol production has impacted the prices of both commodities. The data in this chart is drawn from the ERS U.S. Bioenergy Statistics data product updated in December 2016.

Average monthly SNAP benefits vary with changes in caseload composition, economic conditions, and policy changes

Monday, December 19, 2016

USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) provides low-income households with monthly benefits to supplement their resources for purchasing food. The amount of benefits provided increases with household size and decreases with household income. Between 1980 and 2015, average monthly benefits grew from $35 per person to $127 per person. Much of this increase reflects the fact that SNAP benefit levels are updated annually for inflation, so that rising food prices do not erode the purchasing power of the benefits. However, even when monthly benefits per person are adjusted for inflation, average benefits rise and fall as the characteristics of SNAP households, such as income, change in response to economic conditions and policy changes. Average monthly SNAP benefits increased from $98 per person in 1980 (measured in 2015 dollars) to $118 in 2008. The 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) provided all recipients with increased SNAP benefits, and average inflation-adjusted SNAP benefits jumped to $142 per person in that year. Benefits climbed to $150 in 2010, before dropping to $127 per person in 2015, as the ARRA benefit increase was phased out and economic conditions improved. This chart appears in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) topic page on the ERS website.

Baking supplies cost less in 2016 than in 2015

Friday, December 16, 2016

This holiday season, consumers buying baking ingredients will find their wallets stretch a bit farther. The total cost in 2016 for five baking staples—eggs, milk, margarine, sugar, and flour—was down from 2015. A 5-pound bag of flour, 4-pound bag of sugar, gallon of whole milk, pound of margarine, and a carton of eggs would have cost $13.30 in October of 2015 compared to $11.65 in October of 2016—a savings of $1.65. Consumers may notice the biggest savings when they reach into the refrigerated cooler for eggs. Egg prices have been halved, declining year-over-year by $1.42 per dozen as the egg industry recovers from last year’s Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza outbreak. Price changes for the other categories are smaller and vary depending on the ingredient. Milk, sugar, and margarine cost less this year, while a 5-pound bag of flour cost 6 cents more than last year. More information on retail food prices and forecasted inflation can be found in ERS’s Food Price Outlook data product, updated November 23, 2016.

U.S. trade surplus expected to increase in 2017

Thursday, December 15, 2016

USDA forecasts U.S. agricultural exports in fiscal year 2017 to reach $134 billion, up 1 percent from the previous forecast in August—largely due to expected increases in dairy and livestock byproduct exports. U.S. agricultural imports in fiscal year 2017 are projected at $113 billion, down 1 percent from the August forecast. Reduced imports of horticultural, sugar, and tropical products are leading this decline. As a result, the U.S. agricultural trade surplus is expected to increase to $22 billion in fiscal 2017. The forecasted surplus is an increase compared with the expected $17 billion surplus in fiscal 2016, but nearly half of the 2011 surplus of $43 billion. The U.S. agricultural sector consistently runs a trade surplus, benefiting the overall U.S. trade balance—which has run a deficit every year since 1976. The data in this chart is drawn from ERS’s quarterly Outlook for U.S. Agricultural Trade report released on November 30th, 2016.

Use of cover crops is more common in the southern and eastern United States

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Farmers and ranchers use a number of practices to build or restore soil health. One such practice is cover cropping. Farmers plant cover crops or cover crop mixes between plantings of commodity crops (usually in the winter). Reasons for planting cover crops include reducing erosion, preserving soil moisture, and increasing organic matter. Common cover crops include clover, field peas, and annual ryegrass. Cover crops are not harvested and so do not provide revenue for a farmer, although sometimes farms get direct value out of a cover crop through grazing their livestock on the crop. The use of cover cropping is concentrated in the southern and eastern United States. Regional differences in the adoption of cover cropping may be related to differences in climate, regional agricultural markets, and State incentive programs. For example, Maryland has relatively high rates of adoption because of a program that pays farmers to grow cover crops in order to improve water quality in the Chesapeake Bay. This chart appears in the September 2016 Amber Waves feature, “An Economic Perspective on Soil Health.”

U.S. dairy exports, by any measure, have increased significantly in recent years

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Dairy manufacturers separate and reassemble milk components to produce a variety of products. To analyze aggregate domestic and foreign demand for U.S. milk products, the products are often converted to a common milk equivalent. Two common measures are milk-fat basis and skim-solids basis. Depending on the product, the two measures may diverge significantly. Butter is very high in milk-fat and low in skim-solids, for example, while non-fat dry milk is the opposite. From 1995 to 2003, dairy product exports averaged 2.2 billion pounds per year on a milk-fat basis and 1.4 percent of total milk production. Since 2003, milk-fat basis exports have grown, reaching 12.4 billion pounds (6.0 percent of milk production) in 2014, but then falling to 8.8 billion pounds (4.2 percent) in 2015. Skim-solids basis exports have grown more, increasing from 5.2 billion pounds (3.4 percent of milk production) in 1995 to 39.0 billion pounds (18.9 percent) in 2014, before falling to 37.3 billion pounds (17.9 percent) in 2015. While both metrics have grown significantly, the larger increase in skim-solids basis exports indicates that products like non-fat dry milk, whey, and lactose have been especially popular on the export market. This chart appears in the ERS Growth of U.S. Dairy Exports report published in November 2016.

Variable rate technology used on about a fifth of planted acres for several major crops

Monday, December 12, 2016

Precision agriculture delivers localized crop production management through a number of different technologies. One of them, variable rate technology (VRT), adapts machinery and field operation equipment—such as sprayers and seeders—to automatically control input flow rates. Farmers can even use VRT to plant different types of seeds at different locations with a single pass of the tractor. However, installing and maintaining equipment with VRT capabilities comes at a relatively high cost. Empirical estimates showed that, in 2010, VRT still improved profits on corn farms by about 1 percent. Between 2010 and 2013, VRT adoption also reached about 20 percent of planted acres in corn, soybean, rice, and peanut production. This chart appears in the ERS report Farm Profits and Adoption of Precision Agriculture, released October 18, 2016.