ERS Charts of Note
Wednesday, January 19, 2022
The importance of irrigation for the U.S. agricultural sector has evolved significantly over the past century. Irrigated acreage in the country has grown from fewer than 3 million acres in 1890 to more than 58 million acres in 2017. The expansion of irrigated acreage during this period reflects Federal, State, and local investment in irrigation infrastructure to deliver surface water to farms and ranches. Additionally, this expansion is partly due to advancements in well drilling and pumping technologies, which have facilitated growth in groundwater-based irrigated agriculture. Since 1969, the amount of water used per acre irrigated has decreased substantially. The average water use per acre irrigated was more than 2 acre-feet (1 acre-foot = 325,851 gallons) in 1969, which declined to nearly 1.5 acre-feet by 2018. Efficient water application technologies, such as the transition from gravity-based to pressurized irrigation systems, have driven the reduction in water use per acre of irrigated land. This chart was drawn from the USDA, Economic Research Service report “Trends in U.S. Irrigated Agriculture: Increasing Resilience Under Water Supply Scarcity,” published December 2021.
Tuesday, January 18, 2022
In 2020, most of the values of cotton (62 percent), dairy (73 percent), and specialty crops (57 percent) were produced on large-scale family farms. USDA defines a family farm as one in which the principal operator and related family own the majority of the assets used in the operation. Large-scale family farms are those with an annual gross cash farm income of $1 million or more. However, small family farms produced the bulk of hay production (59 percent) and poultry and egg output (49 percent) in 2020. Poultry operations are often classified as “small” because most output is under a production contract arrangement, with a contractor paying a fee to a farmer who raises poultry to maturity. Additionally, more than one-quarter of beef production occurred on small family farms that generally have cow/calf operations. Another 42 percent of beef production occurred on large-scale family farms, which are more likely to operate feedlots. Midsize family farms production ranges from 8 to almost 30 percent of value of production. Nonfamily farms produce the smallest share of the value of production for most commodities. Of all the commodities, nonfamily farms contribute the most to specialty crop production at 27 percent. This chart is found in the Economic Research Service report, America’s Diverse Family Farms: 2021 Edition, released December 2021.
Friday, January 14, 2022
Access to fast internet speeds has been crucial throughout the Nation with the increased online presence of school, work, and shopping due to the (Coronavirus) COVID-19 pandemic. In June 2019, the moderate- or high-speed broadband internet needed for high-quality video calls was available in the census blocks of more than 90 percent of U.S. residents. In rural counties, however, only 72 percent residents had access to those internet speeds. Only 63 percent of rural residents in counties with persistent poverty had moderate or high-speed broadband available in their census blocks. Counties are considered persistently poor if they have a poverty rate of 20 percent or more for four consecutive U.S. Census measurements dating back to 1980. Among persistently poor rural counties, high availability of moderate or high-speed internet was clustered in and around eastern Kentucky and southern Texas. Rural persistently poor counties in the Deep South and Southwest had low internet availability, as did rural counties in the lower Great Plains and western Mountain States that were not persistently poor. Rural counties without persistent poverty that had high internet availability were scattered throughout the eastern half of the United States and clustered in the upper Great Plains and eastern Mountain States. This map was first published in the USDA, Economic Research Service report Rural America at a Glance: 2021 Edition.
Thursday, January 13, 2022
The market phenomenon known as “countercyclical pricing”—when retail prices decrease in times of increased consumer demand—has been documented by economists in the prices of goods such as tuna during Lent or canned soup during winter. Recent analysis by USDA's Economic Research Service (ERS) provides another example of countercyclical pricing in fresh collard greens, a staple of Southern cuisine sometimes associated with good luck when eaten on the first day of the New Year. Popularity of the leafy green has risen since 2011, with annual availability increasing 43 percent from 0.88 pounds per capita to 1.26 pounds between 2011 and 2020. To observe consumer behavior, ERS researchers used retail scanner data consisting of billions of weekly U.S. retail food transactions captured from 2013 to 2018. They observed consistent annual surges in collard greens purchases during the weeks of Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day, accompanied by a smaller spike around Easter. They noted countercyclical pricing in all years of the available collard greens data, but the trend was most distinct in 2016. The volume of collard greens purchased that year exceeded the weekly average by 62 percent around Easter, 214 percent around Christmas, 274 percent around New Year’s Day, and 289 percent around Thanksgiving. However, collard greens prices fell below the weekly average by about 1 percent for Easter, 11 percent for Christmas, 20 percent for New Year’s, and 10 percent for Thanksgiving. This chart is drawn from ERS’ Vegetables and Pulses Outlook, November 2021.
Wednesday, January 12, 2022
Since the 1960s, global agricultural output by volume has increased at an average annual rate of 2.3 percent, fluctuating between 2 and 3 percent on a decade-to-decade basis. In the latest decade (2011–19), the global output of total crop, animal, and aquaculture commodities grew an average rate of 2.08 percent per year. Several factors contribute to output growth, including expansion of agricultural land, extension of irrigation to existing cropland, the intensification of input use (more labor, capital, and material inputs per acre), and total factor productivity (TFP), a measure of the contribution of technological and efficiency improvements in the farm sector. Before the 1990s, most output growth came from increases in input use, including expansion of land, irrigation, and intensification of other inputs. Since the 1990s, growth in TFP, rather than growth in inputs, accounted for most of the growth in world agriculture output. From 2011 to 2019, TFP globally grew at an annual rate of 1.31 percent, accounting for nearly two-thirds of output growth. This chart comes from the USDA, Economic Research Service data product International Agricultural Productivity, updated in October 2021.
Monday, January 10, 2022
The supply of fluid cow’s milk available for U.S. consumers to drink decreased by 42 percent from 1979 to 2019, from 28.1 gallons per person to 16.3 gallons, according to USDA, Economic Research Service (ERS) food availability data. Whole milk availability drove this decline, falling nearly 67 percent to 5.7 gallons per person in 2019 from 17.4 gallons in 1979. The amount of low-fat, skim, and 1 percent milk available for U.S. consumption grew slightly over the last 40 years to a combined 3.3 gallons per person in 2019 from 3.0 gallons in 1979. Availability of 2 percent milk initially grew from 6.1 gallons per person in 1979 to a high of 9.2 gallons in 1989 before falling to 5.4 gallons in 2019. Whole milk was replaced by 2 percent milk as the most consumed milk type in 2005. Availability of flavored milk and buttermilk remained relatively steady over the last four decades, totaling 1.8 gallons per person in 2019. Several factors affect trends in U.S. per person milk availability, including competition from alternative beverages, an aging population, and changing consumer attitudes and preferences regarding milk fats. The data for this chart come from the ERS Food Availability (Per Capita) Data System.
Friday, January 7, 2022
The Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic affected unemployment rates differently in rural and urban counties. In January 2020, just before the pandemic, the unemployment rates in rural counties, both persistently poor and not, were higher than in urban counties. In addition, the unemployment rates in persistently poor counties were higher than in counties that were not persistently poor (6 percent versus 4.6 percent, respectively, for rural counties). That changed with the pandemic-driven economic downturn. By April 2020, the unemployment rate among persistently poor rural counties had more than doubled to a peak of 12.6 percent. However, in other rural counties the unemployment rate had more than tripled, surpassing the unemployment rate in persistently poor rural counties with a peak of 13.7 percent. Similarly, in urban counties the unemployment rate more than tripled for persistently poor counties and quadrupled for other urban counties, surpassing the unemployment rates in rural counties. These changes in the unemployment rate suggest that the employment shock at the start of the pandemic was not as prominent in persistently poor counties as in counties that were not persistently poor, and that it had a larger effect on urban counties than rural counties. These changes are possibly due to differing employment dependence on industries that remained in operation, such as meatpacking, or that had less demand, such as retail and hospitality. By June 2020, the unemployment rate in not persistently poor rural counties had again fallen below the rate in persistently poor rural counties, while the rate in not persistently poor urban counties again fell below the rate in persistently poor rural counties by October 2020. As of October 2021, the unemployment rates in rural counties had returned to what they were before the pandemic, but the unemployment rate remained elevated in persistently poor urban counties. This chart updates data in the USDA, Economic Research Service report Rural America at a Glance: 2021 Edition, published in November 2021.
Wednesday, January 5, 2022
USDA’s Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) provides supplemental food packages, nutrition education, breastfeeding support, and health care referrals at no cost to low-income pregnant and postpartum women, infants, and children up to 5 years of age who are at nutritional risk. Fiscal year (FY) 2020 marked the 10th consecutive fiscal year WIC participation declined. On average, 6.2 million people a month participated in WIC in FY 2020, which ended September 30, 2020, a 2-percent drop from FY 2019 and a 32-percent drop from 2010. About half of all participants in FY 2020 were children 1 through 4 years of age, while women (23 percent) and infants (25 percent) made up the other half of participants. The reduction in participation was more pronounced for women and infants than for children. Participation fell 5 percent for women and 4 percent for infants from the previous fiscal year, whereas the number of children participating fell by 1 percent. This chart is based on data available as of January 2021 that is subject to revision and appears in the USDA, Economic Research Service’s Food and Nutrition Assistance Landscape: Fiscal Year 2020 Annual Report, released in August 2021.
Tuesday, January 4, 2022
Regional distribution of U.S. irrigated acreage changed significantly from 1949 to 2017. Trends in irrigated cropping patterns, technological advances, water availability, and changing growing-season weather drove this evolution. The arid Mountain and Pacific regions consistently irrigated the most farmland until 2007, when irrigated acreage in the Northern Plains region surpassed acreage in the Pacific region. Irrigated acreage in the Mountain and Pacific regions remained relatively constant over the 70-year period, despite increasingly limited opportunities for additional water development and increasing competition for water from non-agricultural sectors. The Northern Plains region has experienced the most substantial increase in irrigated acreage, expanding from less than 2 million acres in 1949 to nearly 12 million acres in 2017. The expansion of irrigated acreage in the Northern Plains is related to advances in groundwater pumping technologies, the diffusion of center pivot irrigation application systems, and the region’s abundant aquifer resources. The Southern Plains region experienced similar growth in irrigation until the 1980s, when dwindling groundwater supplies resulted in irrigated acreage declines. The Mississippi Delta and Southeast regions also have expanded irrigated acreage since 1949 reflecting, in part, changing cropping patterns, abundant aquifer water supplies, and producer responsiveness to changing precipitation levels during growing seasons. This chart was drawn from the USDA, Economic Research Service report Trends in U.S. Irrigated Agriculture: Increasing Resilience Under Water Supply Scarcity, published December 2021.
Monday, January 3, 2022
Wheat prices at the farm level rose substantially in 2021, but these changes did not result in correspondingly higher prices for consumer products made from wheat. This disparity reflects the historical pattern most observable from 2005–12, wherein the degree of movement in prices of wheat products was markedly less than the more dramatic changes in wheat prices. Cash wheat prices in Kansas City, MO—the market price that most closely reflects the prices mills pay for wheat—were up by more than 30 percent in 2021 from the same time in 2020. Similarly, the Producer Price Index (PPI) for flour milling—a measure of how wholesale flour prices change over time—also rose, registering an 18-percent year-on-year increase in 2021. In contrast, prices U.S. consumers paid for wheat-containing products, as measured by the Consumer Price Index (CPI), for cereal and bakery products, is projected up 2 percent. This year-to-year increase is below the overall inflation rate for 2021 and similar to the previous year’s gains. The muted and lagged impact of the wheat grain price surge on consumer product prices is in line with historical precedent in which commodity prices usually represent a small share of the consumer food dollar that is spent on processed foods such as bread and pasta. This chart was drawn from “The Effect of Rising Wheat Prices on U.S. Retail Food Prices,” which appeared in the USDA, Economic Research Service’s November 2021 Wheat Outlook.
Friday, December 17, 2021
In March 2020, as the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic forced the closure of schools nationwide, the provision of meals to children through USDA’s National School Lunch Program (NSLP) and School Breakfast Program (SBP) was disrupted. In response, Congress authorized the creation of the Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer (P-EBT) program to reimburse families whose children were eligible for free or reduced-price school meals for the value of the school meals their children missed due to pandemic-related school closures. In the first half of fiscal year (FY) 2020 (October 2019 through March 2020), spending on USDA’s largest child nutrition programs was about the same as in the first half of FY 2019 (October 2018 through March 2019). Those programs are the NSLP, SBP, Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP), and the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP). With the onset of the pandemic, spending on the NSLP, SBP, and CACFP fell to about $4.7 billion in the second half of FY 2020, a sharp decline compared to the roughly $9.9 billion spent on the programs over the same period in FY 2019. Although this decline was somewhat offset by about $3.9 billion in spending on SFSP in the latter half of FY 2020, overall spending on the four programs declined. However, P-EBT spending in the second half of FY 2020 amounted to about $10.7 billion, bringing total FY 2020 USDA expenditures on nutrition programs targeting children to $32.3 billion, or $8.7 billion more than all FY 2019 expenditures. This chart appears in the Amber Waves feature Coronavirus (COVID-19) Pandemic Transformed the U.S. Federal Food and Nutrition Assistance Landscape, released October 4, 2021.
Wednesday, December 15, 2021
U.S. fuel markets faced shocks in 2020 as shutdowns during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic meant fewer driving miles and, as a result, less demand for transportation fuel. Wholesale fuel prices slowly increased as demand rose again, but in recent months have surged to multiyear highs. Wholesale prices for Los Angeles Reformulated Gasoline Blendstock for Oxygenate Blending (RBOB), a common indicator for wholesale gasoline prices from the U.S. Department of Energy, Energy Information Administration fell below a dollar per gallon in the early months of the pandemic. Previous RBOB prices in January and February of 2020 were in line with the 2016-19 average of $1.80 a gallon. Wholesale ethanol prices, based on USDA, Agricultural Marketing Service data from locations in Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, South Dakota, and Wisconsin, were 10 percent below the 2016-19 average of $1.38 a gallon in early 2020. Prices for both fuels began to fall in March 2020 when stay-at-home orders were first issued and eventually reached lows of $0.47 a gallon for RBOB and $0.78 a gallon for ethanol in April 2020. Since then, both price series have trended upward. In November 2021, RBOB prices averaged $2.55 a gallon, while ethanol prices averaged $3.24 a gallon. Ethanol, which in the United States is primarily produced from corn, is blended with gasoline to increase octane levels and to meet Renewable Fuel Standard obligations. On average, about 10 percent of retail gasoline is comprised of ethanol. This article is drawn from USDA, Economic Research Service’s March 2021 Feed Outlook report and features updated data.
Monday, December 13, 2021
Irrigation organizations use a variety of methods to calculate on-farm water use so they can accurately track water use within their delivery systems. The methods used to calculate on-farm water use partially determine ways organizations can price water deliveries. For example, implementing volumetric water pricing is difficult unless organizations can directly meter on-farm water use. According to data collected in the USDA’s 2019 Survey of Irrigation Organizations, about 44 percent of irrigation water delivery organizations use direct metering to calculate on-farm water use, and about 42 percent of organizations use time-of-use estimation to determine water deliveries. The time-of-use method estimates the volume of water delivered based on the duration of deliveries and the characteristics of the conveyance infrastructure. About 17 percent of organizations calculate water deliveries based on self-reporting from irrigated farms and ranches. Many organizations use more than one method to determine on-farm water use. This chart was drawn from the USDA, Economic Research Service report Irrigation Organizations: Water Storage and Delivery Infrastructure, published October 2021.
Friday, December 10, 2021
Total factor productivity (TFP) growth reflects the rate of technological and efficiency improvements in the agricultural sector and productivity growth varies across countries. TFP measures the amount of agricultural output produced from the combined set of land, labor, capital, and material resources employed in the production process. Agricultural TFP grew most rapidly (at more than 2 percent on average) in the dark green-colored countries and most slowly (or not at all) in the light green-colored countries. National policies and institutions, especially those that promote innovation and technical change, play a significant role in driving TFP growth in agriculture. Strengthening the capacity of national agricultural research and extension systems to develop and deliver new agricultural technologies to farmers has been a critical factor in raising agricultural productivity. Information from the International Agricultural Productivity data product and related ERS research show that that Brazil and India’s TFP growth can be attributed to long-term investments in agricultural research. China’s TFP growth can be attributed to investments in research and institutional and economic reforms. In contrast, Russia’s low rate of agricultural TFP growth is attributed to inefficiencies under a planned economy (until 1991) followed by economic disruptions that accompanied its transition to a market economy. Under-investment in agricultural research and extension and poor market infrastructure remain important barriers to stimulating agricultural productivity growth in Sub-Saharan Africa. This data can be found in the International Agricultural Productivity data product, last updated in October 2021.
Wednesday, December 8, 2021
The USDA, Economic Research Service (ERS) monitors the incidence and severity of food insecurity in U.S. households annually. Food insecurity means that households were, at times, unable to acquire adequate food for one or more household members because of insufficient money and other resources. In 2020, the national prevalence of food insecurity was unchanged from 2019 at 10.5 percent. However, some population subgroups experienced changes in the prevalence of food insecurity from 2019 to 2020. For all households with children, the prevalence of food insecurity increased to 14.8 percent in 2020 from 13.6 percent in 2019. Households with Black, non-Hispanic reference persons (an adult household member in whose name the housing unit is owned or rented) saw an increase in the prevalence of food insecurity to 21.7 percent in 2020 from 19.1 percent in 2019. Married-couple families with children and households in the South also saw higher rates of food insecurity. However, a few population subgroups saw declines in the prevalence of food insecurity from 2019 to 2020, including women living alone; men living alone; households with White, non-Hispanic reference persons; and households in the Midwest. This chart appears in the ERS report, Household Food Security in the United States in 2020, released September 8, 2021.
Monday, December 6, 2021
U.S. fresh vegetable imports are higher than ever and help satisfy rising consumer demand for year-round produce, according to reports from USDA’s Economic Research Service. Imports rise during the winter months (January to March) when U.S. production reaches a seasonal lull, but shipments now increasingly overlap with traditional U.S. production seasons. Extension of imports into domestic production seasons, called “market creep,” affects the entire U.S. produce industry, supporting increased shipments from Mexico, Canada, and Central America. For example, winter imports of bell peppers from Mexico increased by 69 percent between the 2008–10 and 2018–20 time periods. Summer (July-September) is historically a prime marketing window for U.S.-grown bell peppers, yet U.S. imports of bell peppers from Mexico increased by 742 percent between the summers of 2008–10 and 2018–20. Liberalized trade agreements, comparatively lower foreign exchange rates, increased per capita consumption, and demand for wider variety of offerings have contributed to the rise in imports. This chart first appeared in the USDA, Economic Research Service Amber Waves feature, U.S. Fresh Vegetable Imports From Mexico and Canada Continue To Surge.
Friday, December 3, 2021
From 1990 to 2015, rural U.S. counties saw a noticeable change in the numbers and types of food retailers serving consumers, according to a recent USDA, Economic Research Service (ERS) report. Researchers separated grocery stores—the most common type of food retailer—into four categories: single location, local chain, regional chain, and national chain. In rural counties, national chains were the only grocery stores that increased in numbers over the 25 years, rising by 45.2 percent. While single location grocery stores outnumbered the three other types in rural counties, they demonstrated the deepest decline with a 42.7 percent drop. The sharpest decline happened after 2009. The reduction in the number of single location stores drove an overall decline in the total number of grocery stores. Local chains decreased by 34.7 percent, and regional chains by 8.9 percent. This chart appears in the ERS report The Food Retail Landscape Across Rural America, released June 2021.
Wednesday, December 1, 2021
USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS) forecasts inflation-adjusted net cash farm income (NCFI)—gross cash income minus cash expenses—to increase by $12.6 billion (10.5 percent) from 2020 to $133.0 billion in 2021. U.S. net farm income (NFI) is forecast to increase by $18.4 billion (18.7 percent) from 2020 to $116.8 billion in 2021. Net farm income is a broader measure of farm sector profitability that incorporates noncash items, including changes in inventories, economic depreciation, and gross imputed rental income. If this forecast is realized, NFI would be 24.2 percent above its 2000–20 average of $94.0 billion and the highest since 2013. NCFI would be 16.9 percent above its 2000–20 average of $113.8 billion and the highest since 2014. Driving these increases are cash receipts from farm commodities, which are projected to rise by $51.0 billion (13.5 percent) from 2020 to 2021, their highest level since 2014. Production expenses are expected to grow by $16.3 billion (4.4 percent) during the same period, somewhat moderating income growth. Additionally, direct Government payments to farmers are projected to fall by $20.2 billion (42.6 percent) in 2021. This decline follows record payments in 2020 and is largely due to lower anticipated payments from supplemental and ad hoc disaster assistance for Coronavirus (COVID-19) relief. Find additional information and analysis on ERS’s topic page for Farm Sector Income and Finances, reflecting data released December 1, 2021.
Tuesday, November 30, 2021
Demand for table eggs tends to increase when holiday gatherings and cold weather encourage home baking and cooking. In accordance, wholesale table egg prices—the prices retailers pay to producers for eggs—tend to increase ahead of holidays such as Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter. Leading up to the 2021 holiday season, however, wholesale prices of table eggs in the United States have fallen as effects of Coronavirus (COVID-19)-linked flock adjustments linger. In normal years, producers anticipate seasonal demand by adjusting the size of the table-egg laying flocks and the rate at which they produce eggs. In 2020, COVID-19-related disruptions in the demand for eggs led producers to reduce flock sizes. Flock sizes have slowly rebuilt since the summer of 2020 but remain smaller than the same time in 2019. However, the younger flocks produce more eggs per hen. The higher productivity can offset the effects of the small flock size and support increased production. At the beginning of October 2021 the size of the U.S. laying flock was just above the October 2020 levels and the rate of lay was 1.1 percent higher. This productivity bump is predicted to support about a 1 percent increase in October 2021 table egg production compared with a year ago, leading to a 9.6 percent price reduction compared to October 2020. This chart is drawn from the USDA, Economic Research Service Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry Monthly Outlook, published November 2021.
Monday, November 29, 2021
Water storage infrastructure includes dams and reservoirs that provide a way to store water across seasons and years to meet the demands of irrigators. According to data collected in the USDA’s 2019 Survey of Irrigation Organizations, less than 20 percent of water delivery organizations own and manage their own water storage reservoirs. The remaining water delivery organizations rely on natural streamflow or storage infrastructure owned by State or Federal agencies or other irrigation organizations. Large irrigation organizations, defined as those organizations that serve more than 10,000 irrigable acres, are the most likely to own water storage infrastructure. Almost 37 percent of large irrigation organizations have at least one water storage reservoir. Meanwhile, 21 percent of medium organizations and 10 percent of small organizations, have at least one reservoir. Storage infrastructure is particularly important in snowpack-dependent basins where the timing of spring runoff does not align with peak irrigation water demand. The role of water storage infrastructure will be critical as snowpack decreases, snowmelt runoff shifts to earlier in the growing season, and water demand increases. This chart can be found in the USDA, Economic Research Service report Irrigation Organizations—Water Storage and Delivery Infrastructure, published October 19, 2021.