ERS Charts of Note
Friday, May 7, 2021
In 2020, the Federal Government provided assistance to farm operations that experienced losses because of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. The aid came in the form of loans from the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and payments from the two iterations of the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP), programs 1 (CFAP 1) and 2 (CFAP 2). PPP, administered by the U.S. Small Business Administration, provided loans to small businesses to help them keep their workers employed during the pandemic. CFAP, administered by USDA’s Farm Service Agency, provides assistance to agricultural producers whose operations were directly affected by the pandemic. The PPP loan amount each farm business could receive depended on their income and employment costs, while CFAP payments were based on commodity prices, previous sales, acres, and/or inventory. USDA, Economic Research Service (ERS) researchers compared the total amount of PPP loans plus CFAP payments received in each State in 2020 to its 2019 value of production (estimates of the 2020 value of production are not yet available). Massachusetts received the largest share of total loans and payments relative to the State’s 2019 value of production (12.2 percent), and South Dakota came in second at 11.1 percent of its 2019 production. California, which had the highest value of agricultural production in 2019, received the largest total amount of PPP and CFAP aid at $3.1 billion. Iowa, which had the second highest level of agricultural production in 2019, was No. 2 with $2.4 billion in assistance. This chart used data found in the ERS data product Farm Income and Wealth Statistics, Farm sector financial indicators, State rankings, updated February 2021.
Tuesday, May 4, 2021
The United States is a major exporter of agricultural products, with about 20 percent of its farm output sold abroad. Economic crises in foreign markets typically reduce U.S. export sales. Economic crises decrease countries’ Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and consumer demand, including demand for imported agricultural goods. Crises also often weaken, or depreciate, countries’ currency against the U.S. dollar, which lowers their imports by making foreign products more expensive compared with domestically produced substitutes. To examine how a worldwide economic crisis might affect U.S. agricultural exports, researchers at USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS) simulated a hypothetical economic crisis in the eight largest U.S. foreign agricultural markets. The exercise indicated that the value of U.S. exports of the seven commodities given in the chart could decline in the year of an economic crisis by $4 billion, an export drop of 6.6 percent (using average 2017-19 export volumes as the base). Model results show the value of U.S. exports of soybeans, beef, and pork falling by around 8 percent, and exports of wheat and corn by about 5 percent. The export value for a good equals its export volume multiplied by the trade price. Export values in the ERS exercise drop by a greater percentage than export volumes because the global economic crisis substantially decreases world demand, and thereby lowers prices, for traded agricultural products. The results of this exercise can provide insight into how the current world economic crisis caused by Coronavirus COVID-19 is affecting U.S. agricultural exports. This chart appears in the Economic Research Report Economic Crises and U.S. Agricultural Exports, released in April 2021.
Monday, May 3, 2021
In 2019, 123.2 pounds per person of caloric sweeteners were available for consumption by U.S. consumers, a 19 percent decrease from a high of 151.5 pounds per person in 1999. According to the USDA, Economic Research Service’s (ERS) Food Availability (Per Capita) Data System, availability of total corn sweeteners (high-fructose corn syrup, glucose syrup, and dextrose) contributed to the drop, falling from its peak of 83.6 pounds per person in 1999 to 52.7 pounds per person in 2019. High corn prices, price competition with refined cane and beet sugars and other caloric sweeteners, as well as shifting preferences among consumers and food manufacturers have contributed to this decline. Availability of refined cane and beet sugars fell from 102.3 pounds per person in 1972 to 60.0 pounds per person in 1986, then remained relatively flat for the next two and a half decades. Refined sugar availability began to rise in 2010, surpassing corn sweetener availability and reaching 68.4 pounds per person in 2019. Rising honey imports have contributed to recent increases in per capita honey availability, according to ERS’s Sugars and Sweeteners Yearbook Tables. In 2019, per capita honey availability stood at 1.3 pounds and per capita availability of edible syrups was 0.8 pounds. This chart is from ERS’s Ag and Food Statistics: Charting the Essentials data product, updated January 14, 2021.
Friday, April 30, 2021
The intensity of global food insecurity, indicated by a measure called the food gap, is projected to lessen over the coming decade in the world’s poorest regions, even amid decreased incomes associated with pandemic-related drops in Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The food gap measures how much food is needed to raise consumption at every income level to meet the nutritional target of 2,100 calories per capita per day, a minimum intake to sustain a healthy and active lifestyle. For the four regions studied in the USDA, Economic Research Service International Food Security Assessment (IFSA), the food gap in 2020 ranged from a low of 12 percent of the daily caloric target in North Africa to 20 percent in Sub-Saharan Africa. In Asia, income effects related to the Coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic are estimated to have increased the food gap’s share of the daily caloric target in 2020 by more than 1 percent, the most of any region. The least impacted region was North Africa, where that share is estimated to have increased by about half a percent. Despite lower economic growth prospects for the IFSA regions associated with the pandemic, the food gap is projected to narrow by 2030. Income growth, along with relatively stable prices for major grains and lower population growth, are contributing factors to this improvement; however, the gap is 12 percent higher than earlier estimates reported by USDA after pandemic-related revisions. This chart is drawn from the USDA, Economic Research Service COVID-19 Working Paper, International Food Security Assessment 2020–30: COVID-19 Update and Impacts on Food Insecurity.
Wednesday, April 28, 2021
The USDA, Economic Research Service’s (ERS) Food Access Research Atlas provides a map of neighborhoods with limited access to nutritious, affordable food for the entire United States. Limited access to high-quality, low-cost food may impede some consumers from achieving a healthy diet. The updated Atlas allows users to map low-income and low-supermarket access census tracts for 2019 and compare the results with those for 2015. Individuals can choose to display one or several of the measures of low-supermarket access that are based on residents’ distances from the nearest supermarket (more than 0.5 or 1 mile in urban areas or more than 10 or 20 miles in rural areas) and whether a substantial number of households have access to a vehicle. One measure considers a tract to be low-income and low-access (LILA) if it is low-income and contains a substantial number of vehicle-less households that live more than 0.5 miles from the nearest supermarket. Using this measure, the number of low-income and low-access census tracts in Pulaski County, Arkansas, for example, rose 4 percent from 2015 to 2019. Twenty-three percent of Pulaski County households lived in these tracts in 2019, including 6 percent who lived more than 0.5 miles from a supermarket and did not have a vehicle. This map was created using ERS’s Food Access Research Atlas, updated April 27, 2021.
Monday, April 26, 2021
Farm households obtain income from farming and off-farm income, such as salaries, pensions, and investment interest. Among farm businesses, off-farm wage and salary income varied by commodity specialization. For general crops, beef cattle, and poultry operations, average off-farm wage and salary income contributed more than half of total household income. Dairy operations, by comparison, averaged $37,339 in off-farm wage and salary income, the lowest of any commodity. Dairy operations require extensive and ongoing time commitments, so managing a dairy farm rarely permits an operator to work many hours off-farm. As a result, dairy farm households relied primarily on income from the operation, an average of $148,831 in 2019. This chart is based on data from the ERS data product ARMS Farm Financial and Crop Production Practices, updated December 2020.
Friday, April 23, 2021
Spending on USDA’s food and nutrition assistance programs jumped 30 percent in fiscal year (FY) 2020 to an inflation-adjusted record of $122.1 billion, abruptly reversing a six-year decline. This increase reflects the expanded need for food assistance during the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent Federal response to meet that need. This response included USDA waivers allowing flexibility in the administration of the Department’s 15 existing food and nutrition assistance programs and the creation of two programs, Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer (P-EBT) and the Farmers to Families Food Box Program (Food Box Program). The rise in FY 2020 expenditures was driven by increased spending on these two new programs, as well as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Special Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) expenditures remained relatively unchanged while pandemic-induced disruptions in the operation of schools, childcare centers and daycare homes led to declines in child nutrition spending. This chart is based on data available on the USDA, Economic Research Service’s (ERS) General Overview of Food Assistance and Nutrition Programs webpage, updated April 2021.
Thursday, April 22, 2021
The use of cover crops on U.S. cropland increased 50 percent between 2012 and 2017, according to data in the U.S. Census of Agriculture. Cover crops—such as unharvested cereal rye, oats, winter wheat, and clover—are typically added to a crop rotation during the period between two commodity or forage crops. Persistent year-after-year adoption of cover crops (defined as 3 or 4 years of adoption within a 4-year crop rotation) can increase the accumulation of soil organic matter and provide a living, seasonal coverage of soil. Together, those two outcomes benefit farmers and the ecosystem. For example, healthier soils with consistent living cover can reduce the runoff of sediments and nutrients into waterways, increase soil moisture capacity, and sequester carbon. Among fields that adopted a cover crop in at least 1 year of the rotation, persistent cover crop use occurred on 69 percent of cotton acres (2015), 56 percent of corn-for-silage acres (2016), 19 percent of corn-for-grain acres (2016), and 32 percent of soybean acres (2018). Nationally, cover crop acreage has increased over time as conservation programs have promoted cover crop adoption through research, technical assistance, and financial assistance. Many of the fields with only 1 or 2 years of cover crops are those that started planting in the third or fourth year surveyed, suggesting that they may be new adopters. This chart appears in the Economic Research Service report Cover Crop Trends, Programs, and Practices in the United States, released February 2021, and in the March 2021 Amber Waves article, Persistent Cover Crop Adoption Varies by Primary Commodity Crop.
Monday, April 19, 2021
Since 2000, U.S. imports of beef have represented about 11 percent of U.S. production and exports about 9 percent. U.S. beef trade is largely dependent on domestic production, and shocks to production can lead to a boost in import demand and a reduction in supplies available for export. The 2003 discovery of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) in Canada and then in the United States disrupted beef trade in North America. As a result, U.S. imports of beef rose to record levels in 2004 and 2005. U.S. beef exports, however, plummeted as trading partners banned U.S. beef. Consequently, as trade barriers were resolved, U.S. beef exports steadily grew. In the late 2000s, drought conditions caused reductions in the U.S. cattle herd. The herd shrank to its smallest size since 1952, lowering beef production in 2014–15 to levels not seen in 20 years. In the second quarter of 2020, weekly beef production fell as much as 34 percent, compared with the same period in 2019, at facilities where operations temporarily closed or shifts were reduced as COVID-19 spread through their labor forces. In 2021, U.S. beef exports are expected to grow as a percent of production, while imports are expected to fall. This chart is based on data released in the USDA, Economic Research Service’s Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry Outlook, April 2021.
Friday, April 16, 2021
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) Online Purchasing Pilot began in 2019 as mandated by the 2014 Farm Act and was quickly expanded in 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The pilot allows households in participating States to use their SNAP benefits to purchase groceries online from a limited number of authorized retailers. Households can similarly use Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer (P-EBT) benefits, which were issued in 2020 to households with children missing free and reduced-price school meals during the pandemic. Online transactions using benefits are subject to the same requirements as in-person transactions and cannot be spent on tips or fees. The number of States where SNAP and P-EBT benefits could be redeemed online grew from just one State at the beginning of 2020 to 46 States by the end of September 2020. As availability increased and the pandemic necessitated continued social distancing, the value of SNAP and P-EBT benefits redeemed online increased. In February 2020, households redeemed less than $3 million in benefits online, accounting for less than 0.1 percent of all benefits redeemed. By September, this amount grew to $196 million — 67 times its value in February. Overall, households redeemed $801 million in benefits online from February to September 2020. Despite this rapid growth, online redemptions accounted for only 2.4 percent of all benefits redeemed in September. This chart is based on a chart in the USDA, Economic Research Service’s COVID-19 Working Paper: Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer Redemptions during the Coronavirus Pandemic, released March 2021.
Wednesday, April 14, 2021
Created in 1916, the Federal estate tax is a tax on the transfer of property from a deceased person to their heirs at death. Legislation enacted over the last several years has greatly reduced the Federal estate tax by increasing the exemption amount from $675,000 in 2000 to $11.58 million in 2020. Under the present law, the estate of a person who owns assets above the exemption amount at death must file a Federal estate tax return. However, only returns that have an estate above the exemption after deductions for expenses, debts, and bequests to a surviving spouse or charity are subject to tax at a rate of 40 percent. Researchers from USDA, Economic Research Service (ERS) estimated that about 31,000 principal farm operators died in 2020. Of those estates, an estimated 189 (0.6 percent) will be required to file an estate tax return—and only 50 (0.16 percent) will owe Federal estate tax. Total Federal estate tax liabilities from farm estates owing taxes were forecasted to be $130.2 million in 2020 from a total estimated estate value of $56.3 billion. This chart appears in the April 2021 Amber Waves finding, “Less Than 1 Percent of Farm Estates Owed Federal Estate Taxes in 2020.”
Monday, April 12, 2021
USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS) reports production costs for corn and other major commodities in Commodity Costs and Returns, which includes estimated fertilizer costs for corn at the national level. From 2010 to 2019, fertilizer was a major expense in U.S. corn production, accounting for 33 to 44 percent of operating costs—a category that includes other variable expenses like seed, chemicals, fuel, and repairs. Fertilizer also comprised 16 to 24 percent of the average corn producer’s total costs, which include overhead charges like land costs, machinery depreciation, and farm taxes. Most U.S. corn acres are planted in April and May, and growers often purchase their inputs months in advance. Prices for fertilizer have risen since August 2020, with an even more pronounced surge starting in January 2021. Farmers who made fertilizer purchases for the 2021 corn crop before this uptick may incur similar fertilizer costs to the 2019 and 2020 crops, while those who have waited may pay significantly higher costs. This chart is drawn from ERS’s Commodity Costs and Returns data product.
Friday, April 9, 2021
China’s inspectors destroy or turn away almost 3,000 foreign food shipments annually for reasons such as lacking proper documentation, failing to meet labeling requirements, or having obvious damage or sanitation problems. Research conducted by USDA’s Economic Research Service shows China is more likely to reject consumer-ready packaged items such as baking products, snacks, health food, wine, and other beverages. These consumer-oriented items comprise a relatively large share of food imports from the European Union (EU) and United States, the two countries with the largest average annual number of rejections. China rejected an average of 207 U.S. food shipments annually during 2013–19, far fewer than the 740 European Union (EU) shipments refused annually. The large number of EU rejections is consistent with its status as leading supplier of China’s food imports with an average of $11.6 billion annually. The United States was the third-leading supplier, with an average of $4.6 billion (excluding soybeans, feeds and other agricultural items not used directly as food). However, the average annual number of rejected shipments (fewer than 60) from New Zealand, Canada, and Indonesia was low compared with the value of China’s imports from those countries. A factor influencing the number of China’s rejections is the mix of food products China imports from the EU and the United States. Consumer-ready products such as those from the EU and the United States tend to be rejected with higher frequency than products shipped in bulk such as powdered milk, canola, fresh fruit, and vegetable oil that China imports from other major food-supplying countries. This chart is drawn from the USDA, Economic Research Service report, China’s Refusal of Food Imports, March 2021.
Thursday, April 8, 2021
The U.S. Government expanded existing food assistance programs and introduced new ones in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent economic contraction in the United States in 2020. Some States began issuing monthly supplemental emergency allotments to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) households in March 2020, with the rest beginning to do so in April 2020. All States issued Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer (P-EBT) benefits to households with children who missed free or reduced-price school meals during the 2019-20 school year; the earliest States began issuing P-EBT benefits in April 2020. This led to a rapid increase in the dollar amount of food assistance benefits issued to households and redeemed for groceries during the pandemic. The value of total monthly redemptions roughly doubled from $4.7 billion in March 2020 to $9.5 billion in June 2020. Most P-EBT benefits for the 2019-20 school year were issued in May and June 2020, leading total redemptions to peak in June and decline over the next three months. By September, redemptions amounted to $8.1 billion. Overall, an average of $8.4 billion per month in combined SNAP and P-EBT benefits were redeemed from April through September 2020—an increase of 74 percent compared with the average value of benefits redeemed during the same 6 months in 2017-19. This chart is based on a chart in the USDA, Economic Research Service’s COVID-19 Working Paper: Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer Redemptions during the Coronavirus Pandemic, released March 2021.
Wednesday, April 7, 2021
Exports accounted for about 10 percent of the 5.7 billion pounds of turkey produced in the United States in 2020. While exporters sent the majority of turkey shipments to Mexico, China re-emerged as a buyer for the first time since 2014. In January 2015, China banned all imports of poultry from the United States because of U.S. outbreaks of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI). After nearly 5 years, China lifted its ban on U.S. poultry in November 2019. As China faced a protein deficit caused by African swine fever, demand for turkey products increased, causing China to quickly become the second largest foreign market for U.S. turkey, after Mexico. Despite this new growth market, turkey exports in 2020 fell from 2019 levels as global demand decreased and domestic production declined year over year as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Between 2010 and 2014, China's share of U.S. turkey exports averaged about 11 percent, or around 81 million pounds. China’s share of U.S. turkey exports in 2020 was around 7 percent, or 38 million pounds. The new demand from China did not make up for falling demand for turkey in Mexico and other parts of the world. Exports to Mexico were 22 million pounds below 2019. Exports to the rest of the world declined by 83 million pounds, including decreases in shipments to Benin, Hong Kong, South Africa, Peru, and Japan. In 2021, total turkey exports are forecast at 570 million pounds, which would be a slight decrease from 2020. This chart is drawn from the USDA, Economic Research Service’s Livestock, Dairy and Poultry Outlook, February 2021.
Friday, April 2, 2021
Since the late 1990s, an opioid epidemic has afflicted the U.S. population, particularly those in the prime working ages of 25-54. As a result, the National age-adjusted mortality rate from drug overdoses rose from 6.1 per 100,000 people in 1999 to 21.7 per 100,000 in 2017, then dipped to 20.7 per 100,000 in 2018 and rose back to 21.6 in 2019. Among the prime working age population, the drug overdose mortality rate was 37.8 deaths per 100,000 people in 2019. This rate was exceeded only by cancer (39.2 deaths per 100,000) in 2019 as a major cause of death in this population. ERS researchers, examining the opioid epidemic from 1999 to 2018, observed two distinct phases: a “prescription opioid phase” (1999-2011) and a succeeding “illicit opioid phase” (2011-2018), marked especially by the spread of fentanyl and its analogs. Updated data show the second phase has extended into 2019. Mortality data indicate that in the prescription opioid phase, drug overdose deaths were most prevalent in areas with high rates of physical disability, such as central Appalachia. Rural residents, middle-age men and women in their 40s and early 50s were most affected, as were Whites and American Indian/Alaskan Natives. Opioid prescriptions ceased driving the epidemic in 2011 as increased regulation and greater awareness of prescription addiction problems took hold. The illicit opioid phase that followed involved primarily heroin and synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl. Fentanyl and its analogs are often used to spike other addictive drugs, including prescription opioids, creating powerful combinations that make existing drug addictions more lethal. During the study period, this second phase was concentrated in the northeastern United States, particularly in areas of employment loss. This phase most often involved urban young adult males, ages 25 to 39. All the racial/ethnic groups studied—Hispanics, Blacks, American Indian/Alaskan Natives, and Whites—were affected. This chart updates data found in the Economic Research Service report The Opioid Epidemic: A Geography in Two Phases, released April 2021.
Wednesday, March 31, 2021
On average, U.S. farmers received 14.3 cents for farm commodity sales from each dollar spent on domestically produced food in 2019, up from a newly revised estimate of 14.2 cents in 2018. Known as the farm share, this amount increased slightly after 7 consecutive years of decline. Average prices received by U.S. farmers (as measured by the Producer Price Index for farm products) have been relatively stable for the last three years, following sharp declines in 2015 and 2016. The USDA, Economic Research Service (ERS) uses input-output analysis to calculate the farm and marketing shares from a typical food dollar, including food purchased at grocery stores and at eating-out establishments. The marketing share covers the costs of getting domestically produced food from farms to points of purchase, including costs related to packaging, transporting, processing, and selling to consumers at grocery stores and eating-out places. The farm and marketing shares of the food dollar in 2019 reflect conditions before the COVID-19 pandemic. Beginning in March 2020, the ERS monthly Food Expenditure Series reported sharp declines in the share of eating-out food dollars. Farmers receive a smaller share from eating-out dollars because of the added costs for preparing and serving meals at restaurants, cafeterias and other food-service establishments. The data for this chart can be found in ERS’s Food Dollar Series data product, updated March 17, 2021.
Monday, March 29, 2021
Errata: On April 1, 2021, the title was revised to include nonoperator landlords. The text citing total rented farmland acreage owned by those residing within 200 miles of their farmland was corrected to 83 percent. No other data were affected.
In 2014, 39 percent of farmland acreage in the 48 contiguous States was rented. Of this share, 80 percent was owned by landlords who did not operate the farms. ERS researchers examined the data obtained from the 2014 Tenure, Ownership, and Transition of Agricultural Land (TOTAL) survey to study the characteristics of nonoperator landlords and their tenants in the 25 most important agricultural States by cash receipts. The study found that nonoperator landlords residing within 50 miles of their land owned the majority (67 percent) of rented farmland acreage in 2014. Eighty-three percent of total rented farmland acreage is owned by those who lived 200 miles or less from their farmland. Total rented acres progressively declined as the distance between landlords and tenants increased. Those living more than 1,000 miles away, for example, owned only 4 percent of total rented farmland acreage. While some nonoperator landlords lived in major U.S. coastal cities, most lived in major cities in agricultural States. Nonoperator landlords were also more likely to be retired farm operators or descendants who inherited agricultural land, rather than investors from more distant parts of the country. Nonoperator landlords who lived farther away from their rented land tended to have larger holdings than those who lived nearby. This chart appears in the Economic Research Service report Absent Landlords in Agriculture – A Statistical Analysis, released March 2021.
Friday, March 26, 2021
The recently released USDA Cold Storage stocks report showed February 2021 ending stocks of pork in the United States at 491 million pounds, more than 24 percent below levels in February 2020. With USDA forecasting 2021 hog prices to average more than 29 percent above prices last year, it is unlikely pork stocks will build to pre-COVID-19 levels in 2021. Pork stocks have remained significantly below year-earlier levels since last spring, in response to turbulence in the U.S. pork processing sector related to the COVID-19 pandemic. In May 2020, stocks fell more than 23 percent from April 2020 levels because of major disruptions in pork production that included several temporary processing plant shutdowns. In February 2021, ending volume represented about 22 percent of February's estimated federally inspected pork production. A more typical stocks-to-production ratio for February is about 29 percent. USDA is forecasting prices of live equivalent 51-52 percent lean hogs to average about $56 per hundredweight, 29 percent higher than hog prices averaged in 2020. The increase reflects, in part, expectations for continued robust consumer demand for pork products. Lower levels of pork stocks could limit the price-moderating role that stocks have played in the past, in the event of unforeseen spikes in pork prices. This chart is drawn from USDA, Economic Research Service’s Livestock, Dairy and Poultry Outlook, March 2021.
Wednesday, March 24, 2021
The share of food dollars spent at grocers, supercenters, and other food-at-home (FAH) retailers in the United States rose in 2020 above Great Recession levels in 2008 as the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted the way people consumed food. The share of spending at FAH establishments began a sharp climb from 48 percent in February 2020, and by April 2020, 66 percent of food spending was devoted to at-home consumption. Shifts to greater FAH spending occurred as states issued stay-at-home mandates and people generally avoided public gatherings. The economic recession likely exacerbated this shift as FAH purchases are more cost-efficient. Even after its April 2020 peak, the share of FAH spending reached the same level in August 2020 as it was in August 2008, during the Great Recession. After that, food spending shares generally followed typical seasonal patterns, although at a level more like the Great Recession than 2018, remaining stable with a slight increase in FAH spending in the colder, winter months. ERS researchers will continue to examine food expenditure data to determine whether this change will endure beyond the pandemic and recession. The data for this chart come from the USDA, Economic Research Service’s Food Expenditure Series data product.