ERS Charts of Note
Friday, February 26, 2021
U.S. agricultural exports generate economic benefits beyond the agricultural sector as well as provide support for farm prices and farm income. While the volume of agricultural exports is projected to expand during 2021-30, U.S. exports of major crop and livestock commodities are also expected to face stiff competition from other exporters, particularly Brazil and the European Union (EU). U.S. exports of corn and cotton are expected to remain the largest in the world, but average U.S. world export market shares for nearly all commodities are expected to slip during the next decade compared with the previous decade. Brazil is expected to feature strongly in the competitive outlook. The country is expected to expand its planted area, which would support increased export market shares for a variety of commodities, including corn, soybeans, and cotton, as well poultry, beef, and pork. The EU is expected to further expand its role as the world’s largest pork exporter and, along with Ukraine, boost market share in wheat by exploiting its proximity to major wheat markets. In the United States, only cotton is expected to strengthen in market share, despite competition from Brazil, India, and the Economic Community of West African States. This chart is drawn from data in the USDA report, USDA Agricultural Projections to 2030, released in February 2021.
Wednesday, February 24, 2021
Higher educational attainment generally is associated with higher median earnings, higher employment rates, and greater workforce opportunity. Among all rural residents who are 25 years old or older, the percentage who had completed a bachelor’s degree or higher rose from 15 percent in 2000 to 21 percent in 2019. In addition, the share of the rural population 25 or older without a high school degree or equivalent dropped from 24 percent in 2000 to 12 percent in 2019. However, ethnic and racial disparities persist in education. Rural Hispanics continued to have the highest share of people without a high school degree in 2019 at 34 percent, despite significant gains in high school and higher educational attainment rates since 2000. Over the same period, Blacks or African Americans had the largest decrease of rural individuals without a high school degree (21 percentage points). This change narrowed the gap between the shares of Blacks or African Americans and Whites who had graduated from high school but had not completed a bachelor’s degree. Nevertheless, the share of rural Blacks or African Americans without a high school degree (20 percent) was nearly double that of Whites (11 percent) in 2019. This chart updates data found in the November 2020 Amber Waves finding, “Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Educational Attainment Persist in Rural America.”
Monday, February 22, 2021
People in the United States are slowly expanding the variety of vegetables on their plates, data from the USDA, Economic Research Service (ERS) show. The vegetables food group is composed of five main subgroups: legumes, dark green, other vegetables, red and orange (including tomatoes), and starchy (including potatoes). Each offers an array of important vitamins, minerals, and dietary fiber. From 2000 to 2019, the combined share of dark green vegetables, red and orange vegetables (excluding tomatoes), and legumes available to eat in the United States increased from 16 percent to 22 percent. Increased availability of dark green vegetables over this period—led by a 47-percent jump in romaine and leaf lettuce—added additional variety for U.S. consumers. While the overall amount of vegetables available over the last two decades has decreased 4 percent, from 417.4 pounds per capita in 2000 to 400.1 pounds in 2019, there has been an increase in availability in recent years due in part to the expansion in varieties available for consumption. ERS’s Food Availability (Per Capita) Data System provides annual estimates of the per-capita availability for more than 200 food commodities consumed in the United States. This chart appears in the ERS Amber Waves article, “U.S. Supplies of Vegetables Available To Eat in 2019 Down Slightly From 2000, But Variety Has Grown,” February 2021.
Thursday, February 18, 2021
According to USDA’s 2019 Survey of Irrigation Organizations, irrigation delivery organizations such as irrigation districts and ditch companies supplied an estimated 41.4 million acre-feet of off-farm water to U.S. farms and ranches in 2019. These organizations also delivered water to other customers: 2.3 million acre-feet to domestic users, 1.5 million acre-feet to industrial users, and 1.5 million acre-feet to other irrigation organizations. In addition, organizations intentionally released water from their systems for other purposes, including 3.1 million acre-feet for downstream users, 1.2 million acre-feet for managed groundwater recharge, and 1.0 million acre-feet to meet environmental requirements. Beyond these intentional deliveries and releases, a total of 10.7 million acre-feet of water left organization systems as conveyance losses, which represents water lost to groundwater seepage or evaporation during transport or storage. This implies an average conveyance loss rate of 16 percent. As the second largest outflow from water delivery systems, reducing conveyance losses is an important focus for water conservation efforts. However, hydrologic systems are complex natural systems, so conveyance losses in many cases provide benefits elsewhere in the environment. For example, conveyance losses may provide unmanaged groundwater recharge or indirect flows into surface water systems that can support wildlife habitat. This chart is based on data found in USDA’s Survey of Irrigation Organizations, updated December 17, 2020.
Wednesday, February 17, 2021
Food prices increased more rapidly than average in 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic prompted shifts in consumption patterns and supply chain disruptions. However, researchers at the USDA, Economic Research Service (ERS) expect food price inflation to retreat over the course of 2021 and converge closer to the 20-year historical average. During the pandemic, supply chains pivoted from servicing restaurants to stocking retailers, primarily grocery stores. COVID-19 outbreaks disrupted agricultural production and processing, particularly in the meat sector, leading to reduced supply and higher prices. Societal and economic response to the pandemic will continue to influence food prices in 2021, and uncertainties about the future of disease transmission, stay-at-home orders, and vaccinations introduce challenges to forecasting food price inflation. Restaurant re-openings, supply chain adjustments, rates of unemployment, and shifting safety net programs may all affect food prices. Over time, inflation tends to revert to historical averages as years of high rates of inflation are often succeeded by years of low inflation. The years following the 2008 and 2011 price spikes offer examples of this pattern. This trend suggests food price inflation rates are likely to decrease in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, but there is substantial uncertainty about the rate of decline. Using data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Consumer Price Index, ERS researchers project retail food prices will increase between 1 and 2 percent in 2021, at or below the 20-year average of 2 percent. More information on ERS’s monthly food price forecasts can be found in the ERS Food Price Outlook data product, which will be updated February 25, 2021.
Wednesday, February 17, 2021
U.S. agricultural exports in fiscal year 2021 are expected to increase to $152 billion, up 12 percent from the previous year, and nearing the record set in 2014. Through 2030, exports are expected to grow 1.9 percent annually as the world’s economies rebound from the COVID-19 pandemic, resuming an expansion near the pre-pandemic growth path. Key to these trade projections are the outlook for the rebound and the longer-term resumption of robust economic growth in Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and Latin America, important developing country markets where food import demand is most sensitive to rising incomes. Rising 2021 export values are also supported by higher near-term prices for a range of commodities, including soybeans, cotton, wheat, and meat products. The near-term price trend is anticipated to be followed by generally stable prices through 2030. High-value products, a category that includes horticultural and animal products, as well as processed and semi-processed grains and oilseeds, accounted for 69 percent of U.S. agricultural exports in 2020. That share is expected to drop to 64 percent in 2021 as export values of bulk commodities such as soybeans, cotton, and wheat surge. Exports of high-value agricultural products are expected to resume outpacing the growth in bulk commodities in fiscal years 2022 through 2030, while foreign competition is projected to continue to limit growth in U.S. bulk commodity exports over that same time period. This chart is taken from USDA Agricultural Projections to 2030, released in February 2021.
Friday, February 12, 2021
Current USDA projections indicate that, despite the negative impacts of COVID-19 on global economies in 2020, average rates of economic growth are expected to strengthen across most global regions during 2021-30 compared with the previous decade. Key for U.S. agriculture is higher projected growth in incomes—as measured by changes in real Gross Domestic Product (GDP)—in developing regions. Income gains and dietary shifts in these regions drive most of the growth in global import demand for U.S. agricultural commodities. Projections indicate higher gains in incomes across developing country regions, including South and Southeast Asia, the Middle East, North Africa and Latin America. Slower projected growth in East Asia reflects an anticipated continued deceleration in China’s growth during 2021-30, although it will remain one of the world’s fastest growing economies. Developing countries in all regions experienced major pandemic-related contractions in GDP in 2020, but most are forecast to recover in 2021. Uncertainty in the pace of disease control and the length of economic recovery may lead to changes in the 2021-30 outlook for some countries, however. The data in this chart appear in the “Early-Release Tables from USDA Agricultural Projections to 2030,” published on November 6, 2020, and are accessible via the Economic Research Service Agricultural Baseline topic page. The full report, USDA Agricultural Projections to 2030, will be released on February 16, 2021.
Wednesday, February 10, 2021
Futures prices—the price of a contract to deliver a commodity at a certain time in the future—for wheat, corn, and soybeans have been trending upward since August 2020. This 6-month trend of rising prices accelerated in the first weeks of 2021, demonstrating stronger price gains in anticipation of USDA’s revised production forecasts for major U.S. grains in the World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates (WASDE) for January 2021. Hard red winter wheat futures prices for the nearby month (e.g., prices associated with an active futures contract with the shortest time to maturity/delivery) rose 72 cents per bushel (13 percent) during the 30-day period just ahead of the January 12, 2021 release of the WASDE. During the same 30-day period, corn and soybean contracts for nearby month delivery rose 98 cents and $2.69 per bushel, respectively (approximately 23 percent each), and the season average farm price of soybeans reached their highest level since the marketing year of 2013-14. The realization of tightening supplies coupled with robust demand from export markets, most notably China, have stimulated steady price increases for the big three U.S. row crops—wheat, corn, and soybeans. Additionally, dry conditions in key areas of corn and soybean production in South America have reduced regional production prospects and the outlook for global supplies, providing further support to associated U.S. commodity prices. This chart is drawn from the USDA, Economic Research Service’s January 2021 Wheat Outlook, Oil Crops Outlook, and Feed Grains Outlook reports.
Monday, February 8, 2021
USDA’s 2019 Survey of Irrigation Organizations identified 2,543 irrigation organizations that delivered off-farm water directly to U.S. farms and ranches, including irrigation districts, ditch companies, acequias, and similar entities. Water is measured in “acre-feet,” or the amount of water needed to cover one acre of land under a foot of water. Irrigation delivery organizations obtained their water supplies, which totaled more than 70 million acre-feet, from a variety of sources. About 29 million acre-feet came from Federal water projects, which are large water storage and distribution systems built and maintained by the Bureau of Reclamation, the Army Corps of Engineers, and the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Irrigation organizations diverted an additional 22 million acre-feet directly from natural water bodies, such as rivers, streams, lakes, and ponds. The next largest sources of water were State water projects and private or local water projects, which delivered a combined 14 million acre-feet of water to organizations in 2019. Other water sources include water from other reservoirs, often owned by the organizations themselves (2 million acre-feet); water purchased or contracted from other suppliers (2 million acre-feet); groundwater pumped from well fields into water conveyance infrastructure (1 million acre-feet); water obtained directly from municipal and industrial suppliers (0.5 million acre-feet); and water captured from agricultural drainage systems (0.3 million acre-feet). This chart is based on data found in USDA’s Survey of Irrigation Organizations, updated December 17, 2020.
Friday, February 5, 2021
USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS) forecasts inflation-adjusted U.S. net cash farm income (NCFI, gross cash income minus cash expenses) to increase $26.6 billion (23.7 percent) in 2020, and then decrease $10.4 billion (7.5 percent) to $128.3 billion in 2021. U.S. net farm income (NFI) is forecast to increase $37.8 billion (44.2 percent) in 2020 and then decrease $12.0 billion (9.7 percent) to $111.4 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 realized, this would be the first year NFI has fallen since 2016. However, both NCFI and NFI would remain above their respective 2019 levels as well as above their respective averages over the 2000-19 period. Underlying these forecasts, cash receipts for farm commodities are projected to rise $13.6 billion (3.6 percent) in 2021. Direct Government payments to farmers are expected to fall $21.8 billion (46.3 percent) after increasing $24 billion (104.0 percent) in 2020. This decline is largely caused by lower anticipated payments from supplemental and ad hoc disaster assistance for COVID-19 relief. Find additional information and analysis on the ERS topic page for Farm Sector Income and Finances, reflecting data released on February 5, 2021.
Wednesday, February 3, 2021
States have substantial latitude in choosing the types of retailers authorized to accept food benefits from USDA’s Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). Almost all States authorize large retailers, while some authorize medium, small, and non-traditional food retailers, such as convenience stores and pharmacies. A handful of States, including California, authorize “above-50-percent” (A50) stores, which derive more than 50 percent of their food sales from WIC redemptions. A50 stores can offer advantages for WIC participants over traditional food retailers by making WIC-approved products easy to find and employing cashiers who are familiar with handling WIC transactions. ERS researchers and collaborators used WIC transaction data for the Greater Los Angeles area during 2009-2012 to address a hypothetical question: If California had not authorized A50 stores, what would have been participants’ travel distances to the nearest WIC-approved store? Without A50 stores in Greater Los Angeles, researchers estimated that 74.8 percent of WIC participants would have traveled farther to buy food at other stores, with 23.7 percent traveling an additional 1 to 2 miles and 20.7 percent traveling an additional 2 or more miles. A version of this chart appears in the Economic Research Service report, Cost Containment and Participant Access in USDA's Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC): Evidence from the Greater Los Angeles, CA, Area, February 2021.
Tuesday, February 2, 2021
In light of shifts in eating habits due to COVID-19, USDA, Economic Research Service (ERS) researchers recently analyzed national survey data on foods eaten and where they were acquired. Data show that in the United States during 2013-16, almost half the chicken consumed was obtained at restaurants and other eating places away from home. ERS researchers looked at the most recent data available, from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys conducted during 2013-16. They estimated the consumption of 63 commodities by two food sources: food at home (foods obtained at grocery stores, supercenters, and other retailers) and food away from home (foods obtained at away-from-home eating places). Among meat, poultry, and fish during 2013-16, the food most eaten at restaurants and other eating places away from home was chicken (47 percent). This was followed by beef (39 percent) and fish (36 percent). Pork had the lowest away-from-home share (27 percent), behind turkey (30 percent). Results from the ERS analysis indicate that when people in the United States consume more of their food at home because of the pandemic, consumption of specific commodities may be affected differently because people tend to eat a different mix of foods at home. This chart is based on a chart in the ERS COVID-19 Working Paper, Shares of Commodity Consumption at Home, Restaurants, Fast Food Places, Schools, and Other Away from Home Places: 2013-16, released December 2020.
Friday, January 29, 2021
Tariff-rate quotas (TRQs) are a two-tiered tariff available to member countries of the World Trade Organization, including the United States. They function by allowing a specified quantity of goods into a market at a low, in-quota rate. After the in-quota amount is filled, the product can still be imported, but at a higher tariff. While tariff-rate quotas often provide access for markets that might have been closed to trade, some might not function as intended. Researchers at USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS) analyzed tariff-rate quotas under the World Trade Organization (WTO) and found that 19 percent can be characterized as functional, meaning they provide sufficient market access by functioning as designed. For 22 percent, the quota gets filled, but economic conditions suggest more trade could be occurring. These are called binding TRQs. Other tariff-rate quotas that often lack demand because of market conditions or high tariff rates—low demand TRQs—represent 46 percent of the tariff-rate quotas in the WTO. The remainder of tariff-rate quotas are classified as underutilized. For that 13 percent, the demand for additional imports may be constrained by administrative procedures or other nontariff measures that impede trade. This chart is drawn from the ERS report, Agricultural Market Access Under Tariff-Rate Quotas, January 2021.
Wednesday, January 27, 2021
As COVID-19 disrupted life at home, work and school in 2020, U.S. consumers shifted where they obtained their food. For many people, grocery store foods replaced meals and snacks previously eaten in restaurants, college dining halls, sports venues, and other eating-out places. To better gauge the potential effect on commodity sectors due to changes in access to commercial eating places, Economic Research Service (ERS) researchers recently studied national survey data on foods eaten and where they were acquired. ERS researchers used recent 2013-16 data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey to estimate the consumption of 63 commodities by two food sources: food at home (foods obtained at grocery stores, supercenters, and other retailers) and food away from home (foods obtained at away-from-home eating places). Their analysis shows that consumers obtained 38 percent of their meat, poultry and fish at restaurants and other eating places away from home during 2013-16. The fats and oils food group showed the same share. On the other end of the data, the share of nuts obtained at eating-out establishments was 11 percent, as most consumers bought that product from stores. For the same period, consumers obtained a larger share of vegetables (36 percent) away from home compared with fruits (16 percent). As people in the United States consume more of their food at home because of the pandemic, consumption of specific commodities may be affected differently. This chart appears in the ERS COVID-19 Working Paper, Shares of Commodity Consumption at Home, Restaurants, Fast Food Places, Schools, and Other Away from Home Places: 2013-16, released December 2020.
Monday, January 25, 2021
In a beginning farm, all operators—the person or people who makes most of the day-to-day decisions about the farm business—have no more than 10 years previous experience as a farm operator. Between 2013 and 2017, beginning farm households earned almost as much total household income as established farms—$150,877 versus $152,504 on average. However, off-farm income accounted for a greater share of total household income for beginning farms (77 percent, or $115,925) than for established farms (56 percent, or $85,605). Between 2013 and 2017, 55 percent of beginning farm principal operators worked off-farm, compared with 41 percent of established farm operators. The spouse of a beginning farm operator was also more likely to work off-farm than the spouse of an established farm operator. Between 2013 and 2017, the spouse of a principal operator worked off-farm on 60 percent of beginning farms, compared with 41 percent of established farms. This chart appears in the ERS report, An Overview of Beginning Farms and Farmers, released September 2019.
Friday, January 22, 2021
Consumer interest in cauliflower has been re-emerging in recent years. Fresh cauliflower was popular in the early 20th century, with per capita availability peaking in 1946 at a record 3.6 pounds. Its popularity rose again in the late 1970s and 1980s before falling to 1.2 pounds per capita in 2012, then began to rise, reaching 3 pounds per person in 2019. This renewed interest in cauliflower is largely based on the widespread popularity of low-carb and gluten-free dietary trends. These trends have embraced the vegetable both in fresh form and as an ingredient in a variety of products, such as pizza crusts, pastas, tortillas, and crackers. Most fresh-market cauliflower available for domestic consumption is produced in California and Arizona. Together, the two States account for 93 percent of U.S. fresh cauliflower acreage. However, as consumption of cauliflower has risen, import penetration in the U.S. fresh cauliflower market also has soared. In 2019, imports accounted for nearly 23 percent of domestic fresh-market availability, up from 13 percent in 2014. Mexico is a year-round supplier and the source for about three-fourths of annual import volume, while Canada provides most of the remainder. This chart appears in the Economic Research Service’s December 2020 Vegetables and Pulses Outlook report.
Thursday, January 21, 2021
Federal spending on USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) in fiscal year 2019 totaled $60.4 billion and accounted for 65 percent of all USDA food and nutrition assistance spending. On average, 35.7 million people participated in the program each month in fiscal year 2019, or about 11 percent of the U.S. population. In 2013, when average monthly participation peaked at 47.6 million people in the aftermath of the 2007-09 recession, 15 percent of the population participated in SNAP. USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) works with State partners to administer SNAP. States face different economic conditions and are allowed by Federal law and FNS regulations to exercise state-specific policy options that can affect participation as well. The percent of State residents receiving SNAP benefits in fiscal year 2019 ranged from 19.8 percent in New Mexico to 4.2 percent in Wyoming, partly reflecting the higher rates of unemployment and poverty in New Mexico compared with Wyoming. Between 2013 and 2019, all 50 States and the District of Columbia saw a decrease in the share of residents receiving SNAP benefits as economic conditions improved in the United States and job opportunities expanded. The data in these maps pre-date the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on SNAP participation. Fiscal year 2020 data are expected to be released by summer 2021. This chart appears in the Economic Research Service’s Amber Waves article, “Taking a Closer Look at Supplemental Nutrition Assistance (SNAP) Participation and Expenditures,” August 2020.
Tuesday, January 19, 2021
Off-farm income supplements farm income for most farm households, in addition to offering benefits such as health insurance. In 2019, about 71 percent of farm households had one or more household members earning an off-farm salary or wage. More than 40 percent of principal operators worked off-farm, contributing about 54 percent of the total off-farm labor hours reported for their households. Principal operators who reported off-farm employment worked on average 15 hours off the farm per week in 2019. Compared with the seasonality of on-farm work, off-farm work offered principal operators more consistency—with operators working about 25 percent of total off-farm hours in each quarter of the year. However, principal operators who worked more on-farm tended to work less off-farm across a variety of commodities. On average, principal operators with livestock, beef cattle, and fruit and tree nut farm operations worked fewer on-farm hours and more off-farm hours in 2019. Principal operators on those farms may be more vulnerable to disruptions in the off-farm economy, such as increased unemployment because of the COVID-19 pandemic. This chart updates data found in the December 2018 Amber Waves finding, “Farm Households Divide Their Time Between On-Farm and Off-Farm Labor.”
Friday, January 15, 2021
The 2019 Survey of Irrigation Organizations (SIO), jointly conducted by USDA’s Economic Research Service and National Agricultural Statistics Service, collected information about different types of organizations involved in the local management of water supplies for irrigated farms and ranches. Irrigation organizations directly influence on-farm water use through delivery of irrigation supplies and management of groundwater withdrawals. According to the survey’s data, in 2019, there were an estimated 2,677 irrigation organizations in the 24 States where most U.S. irrigation occurred. About 95 percent of these organizations—such as irrigation districts and ditch companies—had a primary function of delivering water directly to farms, typically through a system of irrigation storage facilities, canals, pipelines, acequias, and ditches. About 27 percent of organizations were involved in at least some aspect of groundwater management as a primary function, with 23 percent of organizations engaging in both water delivery and groundwater management. Groundwater management may include monitoring aquifer conditions, collecting pumping data, charging pumping fees, issuing permits for new wells, or overseeing aquifer recharge efforts. Some irrigation organizations perform secondary functions, such as delivering water to municipal and residential users (14 percent of organizations); managing agricultural water drainage (11 percent); and generating electricity (3 percent). This chart is based on data found in USDA’s Survey of Irrigation Organizations, updated December 17, 2020.
Wednesday, January 13, 2021
From 2010 through 2019, retail—or grocery—food prices rose an average of 1.2 percent a year nationally. However, food-at-home price inflation varies by locality. Retail food prices rose an average of 1.7 percent a year in Honolulu over the decade, while price inflation in the Dallas-Fort Worth area averaged 0.6 percent a year. Averaging 10 years of annual data smooths out year-to-year “noise”—volatile price swings that are not indicative of the overall trend. Differences in transportation costs and retail overhead expenses, such as labor and rent, can explain some of the variation among cities because retailers often pass local cost increases on to consumers in the form of higher prices. Furthermore, differences in consumer preferences among cities for specific foods may help explain variation in inflation rates. For example, a city whose residents strongly prefer foods with less price inflation (such as fresh fruits and vegetables at 1.1 percent a year in 2010–19) might experience lower food-at-home price inflation than a city whose residents buy more beef and veal, which increased an average of 3.6 percent a year in 2010–19. This chart appears in an Economic Research Service data visualization, Food Price Environment: Interactive Visualization, released September 2020.