ERS Charts of Note

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In 2015, annual earnings in rural areas were 15 percent lower than earnings in urban areas

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Earnings generally differ between rural and urban areas, and by industry. In 2015, overall annual earnings were 15 percent lower in rural areas. The gap between rural and urban earnings was largest in the producer service sector—which includes industries such as finance, insurance, and real estate; information; and professional, administrative, and related services. For example, rural information workers earned about $20,000 less than their urban counterparts in 2015. Producer service firms in urban areas employ more professional and managerial workers, contributing to the earnings premium in urban areas. The rural-urban earnings gap was also relatively large in manufacturing, where rural areas have long been associated with lower skill, less technically advanced operations. Still, median earnings in rural manufacturing are above those for any other rural sector except for mining. The relatively high earnings in manufacturing jobs explain the continued emphasis that many rural stakeholders place on attracting or retaining these jobs. This chart appears in the ERS report Rural America at a Glance, 2016 Edition, released November 2016.

Child food insecurity more common in households with school-age children than with children only under age 5

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Each year a portion of American households are food insecure—they struggle to afford enough food for all household members. In some of these households, children—along with adults—experience reductions in dietary quality and food intake. In 2014-15, children were food insecure in 8.6 percent of all U.S. households with children. Households that only included young children (0 to 4 years) had a lower prevalence of child food insecurity (4.3 percent) than those that included school-age children (8.1 to 10.3 percent depending on the age of the oldest child in the household). USDA child nutrition programs, such as WIC, the National School Lunch Program, and the School Breakfast Program, can be important sources of nutritious foods and meals for food-insecure children. A review of a number of scientific research studies shows that participation in USDA school meals reduces food insecurity and has positive effects on diet for those that do experience food insecurity. The data for this chart appear in the ERS report, Children’s Food Security and USDA Child Nutrition Programs, released on June 20, 2017.

Households accounted for more than one-third of U.S. food-related energy use in 2012

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Food-related energy use includes all energy used in the production and preparation of foods and beverages purchased by and for U.S. consumers. In 2012, a total of 11.9 quadrillion British thermal units (qBtu) were used throughout all stages of the food system. At the household level, 3.5 qBtu were used in kitchens and 0.6 qBtu were used for household food-related transportation. This includes energy used directly—to drive to the grocery store and to power refrigerators, stoves, and other kitchen appliances in the home—and indirectly—to build those appliances. The total 4.1 qBtu used by households accounted for over one-third of energy use attributed to the food system. Food and beverage processors, such as meat packers, commercial bakeries, and breweries, used 2.2 qBtu in 2012. Electricity was the most used energy commodity at 6.8 qBtu, or 58 percent of the total. Petroleum products and natural gas contributed similar shares at 20 and 18 percent, respectively, while other energy such as renewables, ranked last in its contribution to food system energy use at 0.5 trillion Btu. This chart appears in "The Relationship Between Energy Prices and Food-Related Energy Use in the United States" in ERS’s Amber Waves magazine, June 2017.

Growth in India’s dairy sector driven by movement toward higher yield cattle breeds

Monday, June 19, 2017

India is the world’s largest producer and consumer of milk and has the world’s largest dairy herd. The country’s milk production has been expanding at about 4.2 percent annually since 2000, matching growth in demand as higher incomes spur more fluid milk and dairy product consumption. About half of India’s milk production is from water buffalo, and the other half is from cattle, which includes indigenous breeds and crossbred animals. Crossbred cattle are mixes of indigenous and imported exotic dairy breeds, such as Holstein-Friesen, Jersey, and Brown Swiss. The indigenous component of the cattle milking herd has relatively low milk production, or yield, per animal and is shrinking, while the higher yielding crossbred component is now the fastest growing portion of the total herd. The water buffalo herd, with per animal milk yields in between those of the indigenous and crossbred herds, continues to expand, although recent data suggest that the pace may be slowing. This chart appears in the ERS Amber Waves article, "Changes in Herd Composition a Key to Indian Dairy Production," released in June 2017.

Beef cattle operations received more than half of all Microloans between 2013 and 2015

Thursday, June 15, 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. FSA issued over 13,800 Microloans as of mid-November 2015, which varied by the type of operation. The number of Microloans received by crop farmers remained fairly stable, while those received by livestock farmers increased each year—from about 2,300 in 2013 to nearly 4,000 in 2015. Crops include grain and oilseeds, vegetables, and fruits; livestock include beef cattle, dairy, and poultry. Beef cattle operations alone received more than half of all Microloans. Grain and oilseed farms, the next largest category, received about 15 percent. Beef cattle operations accounted for about a third of all operations in 2014, a much larger share than any other production category. They also tend to be relatively small, so small loans like Microloans (up to $50,000 each) might fulfill the financing needs of more beef cattle operations relative to other commodity specializations. This chart appears in the ERS report USDA Microloans for Farmers: Participation Patterns and Effects of Outreach, released December 2016.

Farm-level prices for agricultural commodities rose for much of the 2000s, but declined in recent years

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Although prices for agricultural commodities frequently vary from year to year, they have generally moved higher in the past decade. In these aggregate measures, by 2014, price indices for crops were up more than 35 percent above their 2006 levels, while those for livestock rose over 75 percent from 2006 to 2014. Prices for both crops and livestock have fallen since 2015 (crop prices began falling earlier in 2013), as U.S. and global markets responded to higher prices by increasing production. While the aggregate prices received for all agricultural production fell 17 percent, livestock and its related products fell by 26 percent since 2014. The fall in prices for livestock coincides with declining input costs for feed commodities like corn and soybean. Additionally, this reflects the beginning of the recovery in the cattle and beef industry that had seen production declines since 2010. Crop prices also declined, but to a lesser extent at 10 percent since 2014. This chart appears in the ERS publication, "Selected charts from Ag and Food Statistics: Charting the Essentials, 2017," released April 28, 2017.

WIC participation continues to fall

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

USDA’s Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) provides supplemental food, nutrition education, and health care referrals to low-income, nutritionally at-risk pregnant, breastfeeding, and postpartum women as well as infants and children up to age 5. In fiscal 2016, the program served an average of 7.7 million people per month, down 16 percent from its peak in fiscal 2010. For the 6th consecutive year, participation for all three major groups fell. The number of women and children receiving WIC assistance each fell by 4 percent in fiscal 2016, and the number of infants dropped by 3 percent. Improving economic conditions in recent years have likely played a role in the participation decline. Since applicants must have incomes at or below 185 percent of poverty or participate in certain other assistance programs to be eligible, the number of people eligible for WIC is closely linked to the health of the U.S. economy. Falling WIC caseloads may also reflect the decline in the number of U.S. births. During 2008-15, the number of births fell each year except in 2014. This chart appears in "WIC Participation Continues to Decline" in ERS’s Amber Waves magazine, June 2017.

Nonmetro counties in the majority of States would gain jobs from increased demand for U.S. agricultural exports

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

U.S. agricultural exports support about 1.1 million full-time, civilian jobs, according to 2017 ERS estimates (based on 2015 data). A recent ERS study considered how U.S. employment might be affected if the demand for these exports increased even further. To find out, ERS researchers used a computational model of the U.S. economy to explore the possible effects of a hypothetical 10-percent increase in foreign demand for U.S. agricultural products. The findings were broken apart between results for metro counties with less direct agricultural activity and nonmetro counties, where most farming occurs. Of the 47 states with nonmetro counties, 39 were estimated to gain jobs from an increase in export demand. The current level of employment in the agri-food sector (agricultural production plus food and beverage manufacturing) was a key factor in explaining the size of the simulation’s regional employment effects. There were 16 nonmetro regions where the agri-food sector accounted for more than 10 percent of total employment, ranging from nonmetro Iowa (11 percent) to Washington State (26 percent). As a group, these regions accounted for just 5 percent of U.S. employment but 32 percent of the total employment gain for the United States resulting from the simulated increase in agricultural exports. This chart appears in the ERS Amber Waves article, "Increased Demand for U.S. Agricultural Exports Would Likely Lead to More U.S. Jobs," released in June 2017.

Large-scale farms had the biggest share of irrigated acres and water use in 2013

Monday, June 12, 2017

The irrigation of agricultural land varies across farm sizes. Most irrigated farms in 2013 (about two-thirds) were low-sales operations with under $150,000 in annual gross cash farm income (GCFI). Low-sales farms that irrigate average less than 50 irrigated crop acres per farm—compared to 1,200 acres for large-scale irrigated farms with $1 million or more in GCFI. However, large-scale farms accounted for over half of irrigated acres, 60 percent of applied water, and 79 percent of the value of irrigated farm production. Large-scale farms dominate these characteristics because their size allows them to spread costs over many more acres (compared to other farms). For example, irrigation pumping costs for large-scale farms in the West generally average about half that for low-sales farms. In 2013, U.S. farms irrigated about 55.4 million acres and applied more than 88.5 million acre-feet (MAF) of water, equivalent to about 28.8 trillion gallons. The irrigation of cropland—which included crops like corn, wheat, and soybeans—accounted for nearly all the water use (98 percent). This chart appears in the June 2017 Amber Waves data feature, "Understanding Irrigated Agriculture."

Wheat production in 2017/18 expected to fall sharply

Friday, June 9, 2017

USDA published the first 2017/18 marketing year wheat balance sheet in this month’s World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates. Record-low winter wheat plantings combine with newly-reported harvested area and yield forecasts to indicate a sharp decline in winter wheat production. Low prices—especially for hard red winter wheat that qualified millions of bushels for loan deficiency payments—appear to have turned a number of growers away from wheat and toward crops such as soybeans, pulses, and corn in the new marketing year. Down 25 percent from 2016/17 to 1,246 million bushels, winter wheat production is the lowest since 2002. Other spring and durum wheat harvests are also forecast to be down year to year, leading to a projected total wheat production of 1,820 million bushels. If realized, total wheat production for 2017/18 will be nearly 500 million bushels or 21 percent lower than in 2016/17. In addition to low plantings, a late April snow storm affected large portions of the hard red winter wheat belt, lowering crop condition ratings in affected States, though the full extent of the weather event on winter wheat production is unclear at this time. This chart appears in the ERS Wheat Outlook Newsletter, released in May 2017.

More children participated in USDA’s Summer Food Service Program in 2016

Thursday, June 8, 2017

In 2016, USDA’s Summer Food Service Program provided meals to 2.8 million children on an average operating day in July, the peak month for program operations. This was a 7.7-percent increase from 2015’s July participation. Meals are served at a wide variety of USDA-approved sites including schools, camps, parks, playgrounds, housing projects, community centers, churches, and other public sites where children gather in the summer. Sites are eligible to offer free USDA-funded meals and snacks if the sites operate in areas where at least half of the children come from families with incomes at or below 185 percent of the Federal poverty level, or if more than half of the children served by the site meet this income criterion. In 2016, 47,981 sites offered summer meals, about 400 more than in 2015. Many low-income children also obtain free meals while school is out through the Seamless Summer Option of the National School Lunch and Breakfast Programs. This chart is from the Child Nutrition Programs: Summer Food Service Program topic page on the ERS Web site, updated May 22, 2017.

Rural unemployment rates declined for all education levels from 2010 to 2015

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Unemployment rates for rural adults are lower for those with higher educational attainment. But during the Great Recession (shaded area of the chart), unemployment rates across all education levels roughly doubled between 2007 and 2010. Rural working-age adults (ages 25-64) without a high school diploma saw their unemployment rates climb the most, compared to those with higher educational attainment. For example, the difference in unemployment rates between rural working-age adults without a high school diploma and those with at least a bachelor’s degree grew from about 6 percentage points in 2007 to 11 percentage points in 2011. As the rural economy recovered, both rural and urban unemployment rates fell and trended toward pre-recession levels. For example, after peaking at about 15 percent in 2010, the unemployment rate of rural adults without a high school diploma dropped under 10 percent by 2015. The overall unemployment rate in 2015 was 5.7 percent in rural areas, compared to 5.2 percent in urban areas. This chart appears in the April 2017 ERS report Rural Education at a Glance, 2017 Edition.

Corn area growth rates are high in the former Soviet Union region

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Corn planted area changes are uneven among the regions in the world, and the fastest to expand its corn area is by far the Former Soviet Union (FSU) region. The majority of the growth comes from Ukraine and Russia, countries that produced little corn in the past. Importantly, these countries have also become significant, albeit smaller, corn exporters, with combined exports increasing twelvefold over the last decade. Policy changes in the early 90s required farms to be self-financing and gave farmers decision-making freedom that allowed them to switch to more profitable crops like corn, sunflower seed, and soybeans, at the expense of rye, barley, oats, and pastures. Ukraine and Russia became more integrated into the world agricultural economy, such that trade, foreign agricultural investment, and technology transfer all expanded. All these developments have helped to drive the expansion of corn area and yields. As corn area and yields have grown, the FSU region has increased its share of global corn production from 1 percent in 1997-01 up to 5 percent in the 2017 forecast. Though their corn output is still small compared to the largest world producers (North America is expected to produce 38 percent of global corn in 2017), Ukraine has become a major corn exporter, behind the United States, Brazil, and Argentina. This chart appears in the ERS Feed Outlook Newsletter, released in May 2017.

Food price inflation continues to outpace overall inflation

Monday, June 5, 2017

From 2012 to 2016, the Consumer Price Index (CPI) for all food (grocery store and restaurant food) rose by 6.1 percent—a larger increase than the 4.5-percent rise in the all-items CPI. When the CPI for a specific category, such as food, rises faster than the all-items CPI, it indicates that prices for the category are rising faster than prices for consumer goods and services as a whole. Livestock and crop diseases, major weather events, and shocks to global food markets have caused price inflation for food to outpace many other consumer spending categories. Only prices for medical care and housing rose faster than food prices during 2012-16. Food prices experienced larger increases than prices for recreation and education and communication, and apparel and transportation prices fell over 2012 to 2016. The 10.3-percent decline in transportation prices—a result of falling gasoline prices in 2015 and 2016—helped hold down economy-wide inflation. Food-price inflation outpacing economy-wide inflation is not a recent phenomenon. Over the last decade, food-price inflation averaged 2.4 percent per year and overall inflation averaged 1.8 percent per year. This chart appears in ERS’s data product, Ag and Food Statistics: Charting the Essentials.

Improved performance on pathogen tests by chicken plants correlated with regulatory actions

Friday, June 2, 2017

USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) tests chicken and turkey carcasses as well as ground meats and poultry and chicken parts for non-typhoidal Salmonella in meat and poultry plants. Until 2008, plant performance on these tests was not disclosed to the public. In 2006, FSIS enacted an easy-to-understand metric for rating a chicken plant’s performance on Salmonella tests, and from 2008 to 2010, disclosed the identities of plants with mediocre or poor performance on the agency’s Web site. In 2011, FSIS established a stricter performance standard for chicken plants. A recent ERS report explored the impact of FSIS’s efforts to provide better and more information on chicken plants’ performance on Salmonella tests and the impact of the 2011 revision to the Salmonella performance standard for chicken. The researchers accounted for plant-level factors, such as the size and age of the plant, to isolate the effect of the policy changes on Salmonella levels. During 2006-14, the share of samples of broilers testing positive for Salmonella dropped from about 14 to 2 percent. ERS analysis found that 75 percent of the decline correlated with the timing of FSIS’s disclosure policy and the 2011 standard. This chart appears in the ERS report, Public Disclosure of Tests for Salmonella: The Effects on Food Safety Performance in Chicken Slaughter Establishments, and the Amber Waves article, "Regulation, Market Signals, and the Provision of Food Safety in Meat and Poultry," released on May 26, 2017.

Herbicide-tolerant sugarbeets accounted for 98 percent of sugarbeet acreage by 2013

Thursday, June 1, 2017

The United States produced about 8 million metric tons of sugar in 2013. Over half of that sugar came from sugarbeets. However, weed infestations can reduce yields, lower forage quality, and increase the severity of insect infestations. Compared to conventional sugarbeets, planting genetically engineered, herbicide-tolerant (GE HT) sugarbeets simplifies weed management. Specific herbicide (such as glysophate) applications kill weeds but then leave the GE HT sugarbeets growing. Studies suggest that farmers who plant GE HT sugarbeets can increase yields, while reducing the costs of weed management. Once introduced commercially in 2008, U.S. farmers adopted GE HT sugarbeets quickly. That year, farmers planted GE HT sugarbeets on about 60 percent of all sugarbeet acreage; by 2009, that number had grown to 95 percent. As of 2013, approximately 1.1 million acres of GE HT sugarbeets (98 percent of all sugarbeet acreage), with a production value of over $1.5 billion, were harvested in the United States. Minnesota, North Dakota, Idaho, and Michigan accounted for over 80 percent of sugarbeet production that year. This chart is based on the ERS report The Adoption of Genetically Engineered Alfalfa, Canola, and Sugarbeets in the United States, released November 2016.

Productivity gains, declining acreage lower cotton production costs

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

USDA estimates commodity costs and returns based on periodic of commodity producer surveys. Cotton producers were surveyed in 1997, 2003, 2007, and most recently in 2015. Total economic costs estimated from these cotton surveys declined from about $1.40 per pound in 1997 to $0.92 in 2015. Declining real costs of cotton production reflect productivity gains in the industry that can be traced to the adoption of new cotton production technologies and changes in where cotton is grown. Productivity gains were particularly rapid during 1997-2003 as genetically modified (GM) cotton was widely adopted and real production costs fell nearly 20 percent. Between 2003 and 2015 real production costs fell another 20 percent, while cotton acreage declined 36 percent. Cotton became more concentrated in the low-cost Southern Plains region and declined in the high-cost areas of California and the Mississippi Delta region. This chart is drawn from the ERS Commodity Costs and Returns data product, updated in May 2017.

Certified organic operations are concentrated in the West, Northeast, and Upper Midwest

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Although all 50 States have some organic production and processing, the proportion of farms that are certified organic varies across commodities produced and regions. Data from USDA’s organic regulatory program show that organic farm production and food-handling operations are concentrated in California (the country’s top fruit and vegetable producer), the Northeast (which has many small-scale organic farms), and the Upper Midwest (a major producer of organic milk). Northeastern States have the highest share of certified organic farmers, particularly Vermont and Maine, where about 5 to 6 percent of all farmers are certified organic. Organic processors, manufacturers, and other food-handling operations are concentrated around large metropolitan areas, while certified organic livestock operations are located predominantly in the Great Lakes region. The top 10 States for organic farm sales (see table to the right of chart) accounted for 78 percent of the total value of all U.S. certified organic commodities sold in 2015. California alone contributed 39 percent of total U.S. organic farm sales. This chart appears in the February 2017 Amber Waves feature "Growing Organic Demand Provides High-Value Opportunities for Many Types of Producers."

U.S. turkey production is forecast to continue growing into 2018

Friday, May 26, 2017

The May release of the USDA World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates (WASDE) contains the first forecasts for 2018 turkey supply and use. Turkey production is expected to continue expanding into 2018, driven by modest gains in exports and increasing domestic per capita use. The forecast for 2018 production is 6.255 billion pounds, a 2-percent increase over the current 2017 forecast of 6.122 billion pounds. The growth rate for 2018 would mirror the current growth expectations for 2017, also forecast to grow 2 percent compared with 2016. This would mark 3 consecutive years of production growth following the contraction in 2015 caused by highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) losses and trade restrictions on U.S poultry products. Per capita domestic use is expected to increase by just under 2 percent in 2018, with the remaining production increases going to export markets. This chart appears in the ERS Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry Outlook Newsletter released in May 2017.

Dairy farming offers profits, but also financial risks

Thursday, May 25, 2017

On average, larger dairy farms earn higher profits than smaller farms, spurring a steady shift of cows and production to larger operations. Between 2011 and 2015, farms with at least 1,000 milk cows earned the highest average rates of return on equity (ROE), a measure of profitability that captures the return to the capital that farmers have invested in the business. According to the 2012 Census of Agriculture (the latest data), these farms accounted for nearly half of all cows. By comparison, farms with less than 100 cows generally had negative average ROE between 2011 and 2015, but accounted for only 17 percent of all cows in 2012. Average ROE data can mask variation at the farm level: some farms are profitable and others are not. Low and negative ROE indicate that dairy farmers could earn more by investing their money elsewhere. Dairy farming carries financial risks for farms in all herd size classes. For example, ROE rose in 2014 as the prices that farmers receive for their milk rose to well over $20 per hundredweight of milk, but then fell sharply the following year as monthly milk prices declined by about 30 percent. This chart updates data from the ERS report Changing Structure, Financial Risks, and Government Policy for the U.S. Dairy Industry, released March 2016.