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Food is the third largest spending category for American households at 12.6 percent

Monday, December 11, 2017

The average American household spent a slightly larger percentage of its income on total food—grocery and restaurant purchases—in 2016 than in 2015. The increase from 12.5 percent of expenditures in 2015 to 12.6 percent in 2016, possibly reflects 2016’s 0.3-percent rise in total food prices, combined with the 2.1-percent decline in transportation costs. With a 12.6 percent share, food ranked third behind housing (33 percent) and transportation (15.8 percent) in a typical American household’s 2016 expenditures. Breaking down food spending further, 7.1 percent of expenditures were spent at the grocery store and 5.5 percent at restaurants. Looking at expenditure shares over time, food’s share has steadily declined since 1984 (the first year of available data), when food expenditures accounted for 15 percent of consumer spending. As the share for food has declined, the shares of income spent on housing, health care, and entertainment have increased from 1984. This chart is one of the 34 charts and maps that can be found in the ERS publication, Selected charts from Ag and Food Statistics: Charting the Essentials, October 2017.

Share of land used for agricultural purposes has decreased 11 percentage points since 1949

Friday, December 8, 2017

The U.S. land area totals just under 2.3 billion acres. Land used in agriculture has become less common over time, declining from 63 percent in 1949 to 52 percent in 2012 (the latest data available). Gradual declines have occurred in cropland, while grazed forestland has decreased more rapidly. In 2012, 392 million acres of agricultural land were in cropland (18 percent less than in 1949), 655 million acres were in pasture and range (4 percent more), 130 million acres were in grazed forestland (59 percent less), and 8 million acres were in farmsteads and farm roads (45 percent less). In contrast, land used for rural parks and wilderness (included in nonagricultural special uses) has increased by 226 million acres since 1949, contributing to the relative growth in nonagricultural land use over time. Urban land, which represents a relatively small share of the U.S. land base, has nearly tripled in area since 1949 to accommodate economic and population growth. This chart appears in the December 2017 Amber Waves data feature, "A Primer on Land Use in the United States."

Meals at school and social gatherings make up 64 percent of free food events for SNAP households

Thursday, December 7, 2017

U.S. households obtain food from a variety of sources, including retail food stores, restaurants, schools, and work places. Some of these aquistions—such as meals at family gatherings and employer-provided meals and snack—are free to the household. Participants in USDA’s National Household Food Acquisition and Purchase Survey (FoodAPS) were asked to report each food acquisition event over the course of 7 days between April 2012 and January 2013, noting where the food was obtained and how much the household paid for each item or if the food was free. A food acquisition event can involve a single meal or snack, multiple meals, or a grocery store visit to obtain the week’s groceries. The share of free events was higher among SNAP participants (30 percent of total food acquisitions) as compared to low-income and higher-income nonparticipants (22 and 21 percent, respectively). SNAP participants reported larger shares of free events from schools and from social gatherings of family, friends, and others. Children from SNAP households are eligible to receive free meals from USDA school meals programs, which may make it easier for SNAP households to access these free meals. Further research is needed to understand the reasons for differences in free food events across groups. This chart is from "Nearly 30 Percent of the Times That SNAP Households Acquire Food, the Food Is Free" in the November 2017 issue of ERS’s Amber Waves magazine.

Oilseeds have grown significantly in share of total global agricultural trade while fibers have declined

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Among the product categories that make up the largest share of global trade value, movement in average import shares has varied with some products growing in significance and others declining. Over the four 5-year periods measured between 1995 and 2014, oilseed imports (bulk commodities) and their products (intermediate commodities) had the fastest growth in share of total value. In contrast, the share of trade in two bulk product categories—grains and tropical commodities (coffee, sugar, and cocoa)—declined over 1995-2014. For consumer-oriented products, the share of animal products, fruits and nuts, and vegetables in global agricultural trade declined slightly, while the share of processed food increased. Fibers, particularly cotton and others used for clothing, witnessed the steepest loss in share of total agricultural import value. Cotton consumption peaked in 2007 before falling off. China, the largest consumer of cotton fiber, reduced its imports beginning in 2012 to rely more on domestic production and carried over stocks from previous years. The growth in oilseed trade and their products has been one of the most significant developments in the global trade landscape, driven by growing imports from China and India and export growth from Southeast Asia and the Americas. This chart appears in the ERS report, The Global Landscape of Agricultural Trade, 1995-2014, released in November 2017.

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

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

In 2013, large-scale U.S. irrigated farms, those with $1 million or more in annual farm sales, accounted for most (about 79 percent) of the value of irrigated farm production. Large-scale farms also accounted for over half of the irrigated acres in the open (AIO) and about 60 percent of applied water. These farms dominate these characteristics largely because their size allows them to spread costs over many more acres. For example, in the West, irrigation pumping costs per acre for large-scale farms generally average about half that for low-sales farms, those with under $150,000 in farm sales. In total, U.S. farms irrigated about 55.4 million acres, which required the application of more than 88.5 million acre-feet (MAF) of water—equivalent to about 28.8 trillion gallons. The irrigation of AIO accounted for nearly all the water use (98 percent). Crops irrigated on AIO include corn, wheat, and soybeans as well as vegetables, berries, and nut trees. This chart appears in the June 2017 Amber Waves data feature, "Understanding Irrigated Agriculture."

Sodium content of some food products slowly declining

Monday, December 4, 2017

The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans urge consumers to make careful food choices to lower sodium intake from the current average of 3,440 mg per day to less than 2,300 mg. The Dietary Guidelines point out that most sodium consumed in the United States comes from salts added by food processors and foodservice establishments—hence the need for making careful choices in the grocery store and when eating out. Food companies face challenges in reducing sodium because of the role salt plays in the taste and cost of their products. Steep decreases in salt can lead to changes in product taste, which can result in lost sales. Salt is a relatively inexpensive ingredient, and food manufacturers currently do not have similarly-priced options to replace it in their products. A recent ERS report found that from 2008 to 2012, average sodium content in three food categories declined as new lower sodium products replace those with higher sodium contents, with a decrease of 2.5 percent in yogurt products, a 4-percent reduction in breakfast cereals, and a 3.5-percent decrease in snacks. The data for this chart are from the ERS report, An Assessment of Product Turnover in the U.S. Food Industry and Effects on Nutrient Content, published on November 20, 2017.

Payments from Government farm programs have shifted to higher-income farm households to varying degrees, but with declines in some since 2013

Friday, December 1, 2017

USDA’s commodity, Federal crop insurance, and conservation programs provided about $16.9 billion in financial assistance to farm producers and landowners in 2015. Over time, as agricultural production shifted to larger farms, these programs’ payments shifted to higher-income households—which often operate larger farms. In 1991, half of commodity program payments went to farms operated by households with incomes over $60,717 (adjusted for inflation). By 2015, this midpoint value, at which half of payments went to households with higher incomes, was $146,126. Similar trends hold for other programs, though with variability across programs and over time. For example, the midpoint income level for crop insurance indemnity payments increased from 2010 to 2013, but by 2015 had dropped below the 2008 level, to $143,806. For context, the median U.S. household income shows little change over the period and in 2015 was $56,516. Payments from commodity programs reduce financial risks to specific commodity producers, while payments from federally subsidized crop insurance mitigate yield and revenue risks. Payments from conservation programs aim to conserve natural resources and reduce environmental impacts from farming. This chart appears in the ERS report The Evolving Distribution of Payments from Commodity, Conservation, and Federal Crop Insurance Programs, released November 2017.

U.S. beef exports higher in every month of 2017 compared with a year earlier

Thursday, November 30, 2017

In every month in 2017, U.S. beef exports exceeded the prior year’s exports, according to the latest trade data through September. Year-to-date beef exports through September total just under 2.1 billion pounds, compared with 1.8 billion during the same time in 2016, a 15-percent increase. Much of the growth in U.S. beef exports can be attributed to increased shipments to Japan, which has received 29 percent more beef so far in 2017, compared with 2016. This rise has amounted to more than 140 million pounds of beef. The growth in U.S. beef exports has coincided with stronger domestic beef production and lower prices relative to recent years. An additional factor that influences U.S. trade, is the relative strength of the country’s dollar compared with its competitors. Between January and September 2017, the U.S. dollar depreciated by roughly 8 percent, according to the St. Louis Federal Reserve’s Trade-Weighted U.S. Dollar Index. A depreciating dollar relative to a trading partner makes U.S. goods more attractive because more dollars can be purchased with the same amount of the partner’s currency. This chart appears in the Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry Outlook Newsletter, released in November 2017.

Farm sector profits forecast to stabilize in 2017

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

After several years of decline, net farm income in 2017 for the U.S. farm sector as a whole is forecast to be relatively unchanged at $63.2 billion in inflation-adjusted terms (up about $0.5 billion, or 0.8 percent), while inflation-adjusted U.S. net cash farm income is forecast to rise almost $2.0 billion (2.1 percent) to $96.9 billion. Both profitability measures remain below their 2000-16 averages, which included substantial increases in crop and animal/animal product cash receipts from 2010 to 2013. Net cash farm income and net farm income are two conventional measures of farm sector profitability. Net cash farm income measures cash receipts from farming as well as cash farm-related income, including government payments, minus cash expenses. Net farm income is a more comprehensive measure that incorporates noncash items, including changes in inventories, economic depreciation, and gross imputed rental income. Find additional information and analysis on ERS’s Farm Sector Income and Finances topic page, released November 29, 2017.

Number of chain grocery stores increased from 2005 to 2015, while number of independent grocery stores showed little growth

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

From 2005 to 2015, according to Nielsen’s TDLinx data, the number of grocery stores in the United States grew from 46,735 to 50,056—an increase of 7.1 percent. Grocery stores are defined as self-service stores with a full line of major food departments and at least $1 million in sales. At the onset of the Great Recession of 2007-09, the number of independent grocery stores—those whose owners operate fewer than four stores at one time—flattened out at around 21,800 stores. The remaining grocery stores, or chain stores, grew in number by about 2,700 stores to 28,546 in 2015. As a result, independent stores’ share of total stores declined from 46 percent in 2007 to 43 percent in 2015. Independent grocery stores are generally smaller than chain stores but are often the only grocery stores found in underserved areas. ERS analysis found that over the decade, both independent and chain stores increased in counties with population growth, although chain stores were more responsive. This chart is from the ERS report, Independent Grocery Stores in the Changing Landscape of the U.S. Food Retail Industry, released on November 22, 2017.

Americans consume nearly 3 pounds of fresh mushrooms per year

Monday, November 27, 2017

Over 97 percent of the mushrooms produced in the United States fall under the genus known as Agaricus, which includes the common White Button mushrooms, often seen in grocery stores and salad bars, as well as portobello and crimini mushrooms. While some mushrooms are grown for processing uses (canned, dried, and frozen), 88 percent are sold in the fresh market. On average, Americans consume roughly 3 pounds of fresh Agaricus mushrooms each year. Of the amount consumed, 87 percent is produced domestically in States like California and Pennsylvania. A growing share is imported, moving from 4 percent of domestic consumption in 2000 to 13 percent in 2017. Mushroom consumption increased each year since 2013, but fell slightly in 2017, with domestic production falling by just over 1 percent. Even with that decline, however, per capita consumption of Agaricus mushrooms increased by nearly 22 percent since 2010. Additionally, modest increases in wholesale prices since 2016 resulted in increased value to producers despite the reduced output. This chart appears in the ERS Vegetables and Pulses Outlook newsletter, released in October 2017.

Cropland is shifting to larger farms, even as average size changes little

Friday, November 24, 2017

Errata: On November 24, 2017, the Chart of Note article “Cropland is shifting to larger farms, even as average size changes little” was reposted to correct a mislabeling in the chart’s legend.


U.S. cropland has shifted to larger farms over time. However, between 1982 and 2012, the average (or mean) acres of cropland and harvested cropland changed little. Acreage averages have been stable because the largest and smallest crop farms grew in number, while farms in the middle declined. With only small changes in total cropland and total crop farms, average acreages changed minimally. The trend in midpoint acreage—at which half of all cropland acres are on farms with more cropland than the midpoint and half are on farms with less—captures the consolidation of cropland better than average acreage. As cropland shifts to larger farms, the midpoint increases. Between 1982 and 2012, the midpoint acreage for both cropland and harvested cropland roughly doubled to about 1,200 acres each. This shift was aided by technologies that allowed a single farmer or farm household to farm more acres. This chart appears in the ERS report America's Diverse Family Farms, 2016 Edition, released December 2016.

Thanksgiving is a day for food, and Black Friday is a day for non-food shopping

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Do people really spend that much time preparing food, eating, drinking, and cleaning up the kitchen on Thanksgiving Day and on holiday shopping on Black Friday? The answer to both questions is, “Yes!” Over a survey period of 2003-16, Americans spent an average of 88 minutes eating and drinking on Thanksgiving. This was about 15 minutes greater than the time Americans spent eating and drinking on average for 6 other major holidays. Similarly, compared with the average for these non-Thanksgiving holidays, Americans spent much more time engaged in meal preparation and cleanup (127 minutes versus 46 minutes). Now, when it comes to the day after Thanksgiving, relative to other days, Americans tend to spend more of their time shopping for items other than food. Americans spent 46 minutes shopping for non-food items on an average Black Friday, which is about 250 percent higher than an average non-Thanksgiving holiday. More information on ERS’s Eating and Health Module of the American Time Use Survey can be found in ERS’s Eating and Health Module (ATUS) data product.

U.S. retail markup for whole turkeys is typically lowest around Thanksgiving

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Typical Thanksgiving meals are filled with many iconic foods like pumpkin pie and stuffing, and turkey is usually the centerpiece. This year, wholesale turkey prices have been sharply lower than in years past. Do low wholesale prices indicate lower retail prices? Not always. While wholesale and retail price movements are strongly correlated on a yearly basis, seasonal factors can disrupt this correlation. During the Thanksgiving holiday season, retail turkey prices are commonly near annual low points. The percentage markup from wholesale to retail price also declines to a low point during that period. The average markup between January 2014 and September 2017 was 42 percent. The November average markup over the same period was just 13 percent. The data indicate that competition between retailers for Thanksgiving business may lead to lower costs for consumers even as wholesale prices rise. Because wholesale prices this year have remained low late into the year, retail prices may fall below previous years or the trend of low retail markups in November may be disrupted. This chart appears in the Amber Waves article "Low Wholesale Turkey Prices in 2017 Should Translate to Lower Costs for Consumers This Thanksgiving," released in November 2017.

Bringing pumpkin pie to Thanksgiving dinner? A homemade one will cost you $4.12 this year

Monday, November 20, 2017

Errata: On November 20, 2017, the text was corrected to reflect that butter, sugar, and pie pumpkins were more expensive in September 2017 compared to September 2016, and flour and egg prices were lower.


As the fourth Thursday in November approaches, some shoppers may wonder how food price inflation will affect the cost of their favorite dishes, including pumpkin pie. In fact, for many Americans, it might be hard to imagine a Thanksgiving feast without it. In September 2017, the ingredients for a pumpkin pie totaled $4.12, with pumpkin making up 65 percent of that cost and butter accounting for 15 percent. This same pie would have cost $3.24 to bake in September 2016. Flour and egg prices were lower in September 2017 compared to September 2016, while milk prices remained relatively flat. Butter, sugar, and pie pumpkins—smaller, rounder, and denser than carving pumpkins—were all more expensive in September 2017 compared to a year earlier. Additional savings could be found this November, as retail stores often offer specials on holiday baking staples. More information on ERS’s food price forecasts can be found in ERS’s Food Price Outlook data product, updated October 25, 2017.

The share of households with wired broadband remains below 60 percent in nearly 800 rural counties, mostly in poor and remote regions

Friday, November 17, 2017

Internet service providers have been increasing access to broadband in rural areas by expanding DSL and cable technologies, wireless platforms, satellite systems, and (to a lesser extent) fiber-optic systems. Despite a slower growth rate in broadband subscriptions since 2010 compared with the previous decade, county-level data indicate that rural household connectivity continues to improve and expand geographically. Between 2010 and 2016, the number of rural counties in which wired broadband subscriptions exceeded the rural average (60 percent or more of households) increased from 281 to nearly 1,200. Rural counties newly above the 60-percent threshold for broadband are concentrated in the Northeast, Upper Midwest, and the Intermountain West. Extensive parts of rural Appalachia also saw improvement in broadband access to above 60 percent. Broadband service remains more limited in two types of rural regions: (1) isolated, sparsely settled counties in the Great Plains, Nevada, New Mexico, Alaska, and elsewhere; and (2) high-poverty, high-minority regions, such as on tribal lands in the West and stretching from southern Virginia to east Texas in the South. This chart appears in the ERS report Rural America at a Glance, 2017 Edition, released November 2017.

The United States is the world’s second leading exporter of fresh cherries with Canada as its leading destination

Thursday, November 16, 2017

U.S. sweet cherries continue to be competitive in the international market, although the U.S. role in the global cherry export market has diminished slightly during the past two decades as other major exporters have gained ground. Once the world’s leading fresh cherry exporter, the United States now ranks second, next to Chile. The Nation accounted for nearly 20 percent of the world’s average export volume during 2014-16 and around one-quarter of the average world cherry export value. During this 3-year period, the United States exported an average of 175.2 million pounds, while Chile exported an average of 211.0 million pounds. Canada is now the largest export destination for U.S. fresh cherries, outranking Japan, which dominated this market during the 1990s and most years from 2000 to 2005. More than one-third of total annual U.S. cherry export volume went to Canada during 2010-16. South Korea, China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan are also key markets for U.S. fresh cherries and together receive over 40 percent of total export volume annually. This chart appears in the ERS Fruit and Tree Nuts Outlook Special Article, "U.S. Cherries," released in September 2017.

The share of SNAP households that live far from a supermarket or large grocery store varies by county

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Distance from a supermarket or large grocery store offering a variety of affordable and nutritious foods can influence food choices and diet quality. Data from ERS’s Food Environment Atlas show that in 2015, 2.5 million households receiving benefits from USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) lived more than 1 mile from the nearest supermarket or large grocery store in urban areas or more than 10 miles from such stores in rural areas. In 98 counties—3 percent of the 3,143 U.S. counties—more than 10 percent of SNAP households lived more than 1 mile or 10 miles away from the nearest supermarket or large grocery store. The 10 counties with the highest shares of SNAP households living far from supermarkets and large grocery stores were in South Dakota, Alaska, Georgia, and Texas. For example, in Presidio County, Texas, 25 percent of SNAP households either lived more than 1 mile in urban neighborhoods—or 10 miles in rural areas—from the nearest supermarket or large grocery store. This map appears in USDA’s Food Environment Atlas, updated September 2017.

Productivity has driven the growth in U.S. agricultural output

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Technological developments in agriculture have been influential in driving changes in the farm sector. Innovations in animal and crop genetics, chemicals, equipment, and farm organization have enabled continuing output growth while using less inputs. As a result, even as the amount of land and labor used in farming declined, total agricultural output more than doubled between 1948 and 2015. During this period, agricultural output grew at an average annual rate of 1.48 percent, compared to 0.1 percent for total farm inputs (including land, labor, machinery, and intermediate goods). The major source of output growth is the increase in agricultural productivity, as measured by total factor productivity (TFP)—the difference between the growth of aggregate output and growth of aggregate inputs. Between 1948 and 2015, TFP grew at an average annual rate of 1.38 percent, accounting for more than 90 percent of output growth over that period. This chart appears in the ERS data product Agricultural Productivity in the U.S., updated October 2017.

Single-parent households face higher food insecurity than married-couple households with children

Monday, November 13, 2017

In 2016, 12.3 percent of U.S. households were food insecure—they had difficulty at some time during the year providing enough food for all their members because of a lack of money or other resources for food. While the prevalence of food insecurity has been falling since 2008, some types of households had levels of food insecurity in 2016 at or above levels prior to the 2007-09 recession. For example, food insecurity among households with children headed by a single mother was 31.6 percent in 2016, higher than this group’s 2007 rate of 30.2 percent. By the same token, the prevalence of food insecurity among single father households was 21.7 percent in 2016, well above the 17 percent prevalence in 2006. Both single mother and single father households had higher food insecurity rates than married couple households with children, reflecting the generally lower incomes of single mother and single father households. Married couple households with children and households with children under the age of 6 had 2016 food insecurity prevalence rates similar to their pre-recession levels. This chart is part of a set of interactive charts on food insecurity trends on the ERS Web site.

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