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Popularity of sweet potatoes, a Thanksgiving staple, continues to grow

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

If sweet potatoes are on your Thanksgiving menu this year, you are not alone. According to the Economic Research Service’s (ERS) food availability data, supplies of sweet potatoes available for U.S. consumers to eat averaged 7.2 pounds per capita per year in 2017-19, up from an average 3.9 pounds in 1997-99. Availability is calculated by adding domestic production, initial inventories, and imports, then subtracting exports and end-of-year inventories. These national supplies are then divided by the U.S. population to estimate per capita availability. Consumer interest in nutrition and food companies expanding their sweet potato-based offerings, such as sweet potato fries, may be contributors to the rise in sweet potato availability. Sweet potatoes are high in vitamin A and vitamin C. A cup of boiled sweet potatoes without the skin (and without any added fats or marshmallow toppings) contains 249 calories and 287 percent of the daily recommended amount of vitamin A, 47 percent of vitamin C, and 29 percent of dietary fiber for a 2,000 calories-per-day diet. This chart uses data from ERS’s Food Availability (Per Capita) Data System.

Illinois, home of two processing plants, leads U.S. pumpkin production

Monday, November 23, 2020

Pumpkins are in high demand in America during the fall and winter holidays, whether to be used as decoration or as a key ingredient in various desserts. There are two broad categories of pumpkin to fit the two main uses: Halloween pumpkins (also known as ornamental pumpkins) and processing pumpkins (used for food). Illinois leads the country in pumpkin production overall, growing roughly three to four times more pumpkins than any other state, depending on the year. Much of this is driven by the state’s dominance of the processing pumpkin market. About three fourths of the processing pumpkins acres in the country are grown and canned in Illinois, where two major canning facilities are located. Almost 80 percent of Illinois’ pumpkin production is for processing pumpkins, with no other top state producing more than 5 percent of its share as processing pumpkins. Further information on pumpkins can be found on the Economic Research Service Trending Topics page on Pumpkins: Background & Statistics.

Despite locust outbreak, grain production in most acutely affected African countries set to be highest on record

Friday, November 20, 2020

Several countries in the “Horn” region of Africa are facing the brunt of what the U.N. Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) describes as the “worst desert locust crisis in 25 years.” Paradoxically, grain production in those countries is forecast to hit record volumes. The current desert locust outbreak originated in mid-2018 when successive rain events in the arid Arabian Desert spurred vegetation development. The latter, in turn, provided ample feedstock for the burgeoning locust population. Trade winds blew the pests into Africa in early 2019, where the locusts settled into the low-elevation arid to semi-arid grasslands. Regionally abundant rainfall through the end of 2019 and into 2020 supported vegetation growth, which once again aided in the expansion of locust swarms. However, the locusts primarily remained in low-elevation grasslands, largely avoiding the higher-elevation grain production zones. Further, the rainfall that increased feedstock for the locusts also helped increase yields for agricultural crops, such as corn, barley, sorghum, and wheat. Ultimately—and despite a significant locust infestation—grain production in this region is forecast not only above the 2019 levels but also to reach the highest level on record. This situation mirrors that of the less severe locust infestation of 2003-05, during which aggregate grain production rose during the height of the outbreak. This chart is drawn from material included in the Economic Research Service’s Wheat and Feed Outlook reports from August 2020, and has been updated with November data.

One-third of U.S. counties in 2018 had one or more farmers markets that accepted SNAP benefits

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Farmers markets are great sources of fresh fruits, vegetables, and other healthy foods. USDA has expressed a commitment to increasing access to these foods for low-income households participating in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). As with retail food stores, farmers markets must be authorized by USDA to accept SNAP benefits. Data from USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service show that 72 percent of U.S. counties reported having at least one farmers market in 2018. Of those counties, 45 percent—32 percent of all 3,143 U.S. counties—reported having one or more farmers markets that accepted SNAP benefits. The number of farmers markets in a county that report accepting SNAP benefits is one of the updated statistics in the Economic Research Service’s (ERS) Food Environment Atlas. The Atlas assembles statistics on more than 280 food environment indicators at the county or State level that can influence food choices and diet quality. According to the Atlas, 1,015 counties had one or more farmers markets that accepted SNAP benefits as a form of payment, and 49 counties had 10 or more farmers markets that accepted SNAP benefits. The data for this map can be found in ERS’s Food Environment Atlas, updated September 2020.

Climatic trends dampened productivity growth on Wisconsin dairy farms

Monday, November 16, 2020

In 2019, Wisconsin’s production of fluid milk was second only to California’s. According to data from USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service, Wisconsin generated 30.6 billion pounds of milk that year, with milk sales totaling $5 billion. In recent years, Wisconsin dairy farms have been exposed to substantial weather volatility characterized by frequent droughts, storms, and temperature extremes (both hot and cold). This has resulted in considerable fluctuations in dairy productivity. Researchers from the Economic Research Service (ERS) among others, found that total factor productivity (TFP), which measures the rate of growth in total output (aggregate milk produced) relative to the rate of growth in total inputs (such as the number of cows, farm labor, feed, and machinery), increased at an average annual rate of 2.16 percent for Wisconsin dairy farms between 1996 and 2012. This increase was primarily driven, at an annual rate of 1.91 percent, by technological progress—such as improved herd genetics, advanced feed formulations, and improvements in milking and feed handling equipment. However, trends in rainfall and temperature variation were responsible for a 0.32 percent annual decline in the productivity of Wisconsin dairy farms during the same period. For example, an average increase in temperature of 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit reduced milk output for the average Wisconsin dairy farm by 20.1 metric tons per year. This is equivalent to reducing the herd size of the average farm by 1.6 cows every year. This chart appears in ERS’s October 2020 Amber Waves finding, “Climatic Trends Dampened Recent Productivity Growth on Wisconsin Dairy Farms.”

Larger corn and soybean farms used more futures, options, and marketing contracts in 2016

Friday, November 13, 2020

U.S. farmers can use a variety of market tools to manage risks. With a futures contract, the farmer can assure a certain price for a crop that has not yet been harvested. An option contract allows the farmer to protect against decreases in the futures price, while retaining the opportunity to take advantage of increases in the futures price. Futures and options usually do not result in actual delivery of the commodity, because most participants reach final financial settlements with each other when the contracts expire. In a marketing contract, by contrast, a farmer agrees to deliver a specified quantity of the commodity to a specified buyer during a specified time window. Corn and soybean farms account for most farm use of each of these contracts, and larger operations are more likely to use them than small. With more production, larger farms have more revenue at risk from price fluctuations, and therefore a greater incentive to learn about and manage price risks. Fewer than 5 percent of small corn and soy producers used futures contracts, compared with 27 percent of large producers. Less than 1 percent of small corn and soy producers used options, compared with 13 percent of large producers. And about 19 percent of small corn and soy producers used marketing contracts, compared with 58 percent of large producers. This chart is based on data found in the Economic Research Service report, Farm Use of Futures, Options, and Marketing Contracts, published October 2020. It also appears in the November 2020 Amber Waves feature, “Corn and Soybean Farmers Combine Futures, Options, and Marketing Contracts to Manage Financial Risks.”

European Union’s Farm to Fork initiative to reduce use of agricultural inputs may increase food prices and further global food insecurity

Thursday, November 12, 2020

Researchers at USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS) recently evaluated the potential impacts of the European Commission (EC)’s Farm to Fork and Biodiversity Strategies initiative that calls for restrictions in the use of agricultural inputs such as land, antimicrobials, fertilizers, and pesticides in European Union (EU) agricultural production. The proposal pledges to use EC trade policies and other international efforts to promote a vision of sustainability in agriculture, suggesting intentions to extend the reach of the policy beyond the EU. A mandated reduction in these inputs impacts food prices in three ways: production costs could increase as farmers substitute labor for other inputs; production could decrease as a result of fewer inputs being used; and prices on the international market could increase due to tightening of available supplies. Depending on how broadly these measures to reduce the use of agricultural inputs would be adopted globally, U.S. food prices could rise by 1 to 62 percent, and worldwide food prices could grow by 9 to 89 percent. These rising costs could affect consumer budgets and ultimately reduce worldwide gross domestic product (GDP) by $94 billion to $1.1 trillion, and consequentially, increase the number of food-insecure people in the world’s most vulnerable regions by 22 million to 185 million. This chart is drawn from the ERS report, Economic and Food Security Impacts of Agricultural Input Reduction Under the European Union Green Deal’s Farm to Fork and Biodiversity Strategies.

U.S. households in the lowest income quintile spent an average of 36 percent of income on food in 2019

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Households spend more money on food as their incomes rise, but the amount spent represents a smaller share of their overall budgets. In 2019, households in the lowest income quintile, with an average 2019 after-tax income of $12,236, spent an average of $4,400 on food (about $85 a week). Households in the highest income quintile, with an average 2019 after-tax income of $174,777, spent an average of $13,987 on food (about $269 a week). The three-fold increase in spending between the lowest and highest income quintiles is not the result of a three-fold increase in consumption, however. Rather, as people gain more disposable income, they often shift to more expensive food options, including dining out. Even with this shift, as income increases, the percent of income spent on food goes down. In 2019, food spending represented 36.0 percent of the lowest quintile’s income, 14.1 percent of income for the middle quintile, and 8.0 percent of income for the highest quintile. The statistics in this chart predate the coronavirus pandemic and its impacts. This chart appears in the Food Prices and Spending section of the Economic Research Service’s Ag and Food Statistics: Charting the Essentials data product.

Economic recovery, competition shape projections of U.S. farm prices to 2030

Monday, November 9, 2020

USDA projections for changes in nominal (not adjusted for inflation) U.S. farm prices between 2020 and 2030 indicate a mixed outlook shaped by the expected recovery in U.S. and global demand, continued export competition, and market conditions during 2020. For crops, the strongest gains are projected for wheat and cotton. Wheat prices are projected to rise as domestic and export demand begin to outpace domestic production, while higher cotton prices are driven by a projected recovery in export demand. Modest changes in prices for U.S. corn and soybeans from current levels reflect the relatively steady demand for these products during 2020, together with the moderating influences of productivity gains and continued export competition. Among livestock products, farm prices of hogs, broilers, and eggs are projected higher by 2030, as economic recovery restores growth in domestic and export demand. U.S. beef cattle prices are expected to rise during the early years of the 10-year projection period, before declining somewhat as the multi-year cattle cycle and a longer-term trend of sluggish demand growth turn prices downward. The projections are based on an assumed long-term macroeconomic outlook that includes a recovery in income growth—beginning in 2021—from the declines that have occurred in most economies during 2020. The outlook for the U.S. economy, and for many important U.S. agricultural markets and competitors, however, remains uncertain. This chart is based on projections prepared by the USDA Interagency Projections Committee using data available as of October 9, 2020, and released by the Office of the Chief Economist on November 6, 2020. Updates are shown in the Economic Research Service Agricultural Baseline Database.

WIC participation fell by 30 percent between fiscal years 2010 and 2019

Friday, November 6, 2020

USDA’s Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) helps to safeguard the health of low-income pregnant, breastfeeding, and postpartum women, as well as infants and children up to age 5 who are at nutritional risk by providing supplemental foods, nutrition education, and health care referrals at no cost to participants. On average, 6.4 million people per month participated in the program in fiscal year 2019, 7 percent fewer than in the previous fiscal year and a 30-percent drop from the program’s historical high of 9.2 million participants in fiscal year 2010. The number of WIC participants in each category—women, infants, and children—fell by 6-7 percent between fiscal years 2018 and 2019. This marked the ninth year in the program’s history that participation for all three groups fell. Declining U.S. births and improving economic conditions have likely played a role in the falling WIC caseloads. In fiscal year 2019, children 1-4 years of age made up 51 percent of all participants, while infants constituted 25 percent and women constituted 24 percent. The data in this chart pre-dates the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on WIC participation. This chart appears in the Economic Research Service publication, The Food Assistance Landscape: Fiscal Year 2019 Annual Report, July 2020.

Falling global GDP surrounding worldwide pandemic likely to weaken U.S. agricultural exports in 2020

Wednesday, November 4, 2020

The toll of the COVID-19 pandemic on the global economy is expected to cause the world’s gross domestic product (GDP) to decline in 2020 for the first time since 2009. Because GDP is expected to shrink in some of the United States’ foremost agricultural export destinations, U.S. agricultural exports are expected to fall as a result of the reduction in overseas demand for agricultural goods. According to the Economic Research Service’s (ERS’s) latest Outlook for U.S. Agricultural Trade, U.S. agricultural exports are projected down $0.5 billion from 2019 at $135 billion in fiscal year 2020. Across the world, GDP is forecast to fall by 5.2 percent (adjusted for inflation) during fiscal year 2020. GDP in the Asia and Oceania region, which comprises the largest proportion of U.S. agricultural exports, is expected to decline by more than 4 percent in 2020. In North America, GDP is expected to fall by 6.1 percent, largely because of the expected reductions in the GDPs of Canada and Mexico—the top two purchasing countries of U.S. agricultural exports. By 2021, however, a return to positive GDP growth rates is expected among most major trading regions, and exports are projected to increase $5 billion over 2020 to reach $140.5 billion in fiscal year 2021. This chart is drawn from ERS’s August 2020 Outlook for U.S. Agricultural Trade.

Farm production expenses forecast to decrease in 2020, the sixth year in a row

Monday, November 2, 2020

Farm sector production expenses (including expenses associated with operator dwellings) are forecast to decrease by $4.6 billion (1.3 percent) to $344.2 billion in 2020 in nominal terms, i.e. not adjusted for inflation. These expenses represent the costs of all inputs used to produce farm commodities and strongly affect farm profitability. Although overall production expenses are expected to decrease, changes in specific expenses vary. Specific expenses forecast to increase in 2020 account for approximately 69 percent of total expenses and are projected to collectively rise by $6.0 billion relative to 2019 before adjusting for inflation. These include the two largest expense categories—feed purchases (1.4 percent increase from 2019) and cash labor (3.1 percent). In contrast, expenses expected to decrease account for 31 percent of total expenses and are forecast to collectively decline by $10.6 billion from 2019 to 2020. Specifically, livestock and poultry purchases are anticipated to decrease by 7.5 percent, pesticides by 2.1 percent, and oil and fuel spending by 13.9 percent. In addition, interest expenses are forecast to be at their lowest level since 2014 (not adjusted for inflation), dropping by 27.1 percent ($5.6 billion) from 2019 as a result of historically low interest rates. After adjusting for inflation, total production expenses in 2020 are 19 percent below the record high of $427.1 billion in 2014, continuing a six-year streak of declining expenses. This chart appears in the ERS topic page for Farm Sector Income and Finances, updated September 2020.

Nonmetro population change has remained near zero in recent years

Friday, October 30, 2020

The U.S. population in nonmetro (rural) counties stood at 46.1 million in July 2019, accounting for 14 percent of U.S. residents spread across 72 percent of the Nation's land area. Nonmetro population growth has remained close to zero in recent years and was just 0.02 percent from July 2018 to July 2019, according to the latest county population estimates from the U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census. As in previous periods of economic difficulties, such as in the mid-1980s and early 2000s, nonmetro America experienced a steep decline in population growth rates during the Great Recession. Unlike those previous periods of difficulty, the post-recession population recovery during the 2010s has been quite slow. Nonmetro population growth fell from a peak of 0.7 percent in 2006-07 to -0.14 percent in 2011-12. The nonmetro growth rate has been lower than in metropolitan (metro) counties since the mid-1990s, and the gap widened considerably in recent years. This chart appears in the July 2020 Amber Waves data feature, “Modest Improvement in Nonmetro Population Change During the Decade Masks Larger Geographic Shifts.”

Food at home’s share of total food spending hit a high of 66 percent in April 2020

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

The share of U.S. food expenditures occurring at grocery stores, supercenters, and other food-at-home retailers typically displays a consistent seasonal pattern. U.S. consumers devote relatively more money to food-at-home spending in the winter months—a time of Thanksgiving and holiday gatherings. The summer months see the highest share of spending at food-away-from-home places such as restaurants, cafeterias, and other eating-out places. While seasonal patterns have stayed constant until 2020, the share of total food spending dedicated to food at home has not. In 1998, food at home’s share was above 55 percent of total food spending throughout the year. Ten years later, 2008 saw the share of food spending devoted to food at home decrease a few percentage points despite the Great Recession of 2007-2009. In 2018, food at home’s share was below 50 percent in all but the winter months. The COVID-19 pandemic has upended past seasonal trends and expanded food at home’s share of total food spending. Food at home in August 2020 accounted for 54 percent of total food spending, after peaking at 66 percent in April 2020. The data for this chart come from the Economic Research Service’s Food Expenditure Series data product, updated October 16, 2020.

Pumpkins: Ten States produce most of the value of America’s popular fall icon

Monday, October 26, 2020

Pumpkins are one of the most famous symbols of fall. Many consumers enjoy traveling to local farms to pick out their own pumpkins from a patch, carving Halloween jack-o’-lanterns, or making pumpkin desserts. Production is widely dispersed throughout the United States, with all States producing some pumpkins. However, about 62 percent of pumpkin acres were cultivated in only ten States. By acreage and by weight, Illinois is consistently the Nation’s largest pumpkin producer. Unlike all other States, most of Illinois’ pumpkins are used for pie filling and other processed foods. The lower price associated with pumpkins destined for further processing explains why Illinois was second in the value of pumpkin production at $17.1 million in 2019. Pumpkins from the other States surveyed annually by USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service were primarily intended for decorative (or carving) use. California leads the Nation in terms of value of production, at $22.8 million. Anecdotal reports from growers and agricultural extensions suggest strong pumpkin crops this year for Illinois and California. Retail prices for pumpkins typically fluctuate week to week leading up to Halloween. At the end of the third week of October 2020, the average retail price for jack-o’-lantern style pumpkins was $3.63 per pumpkin, the same price compared to the same week in 2019. This chart is drawn from Economic Research Service’s Trending Topics page, Pumpkins: Background & Statistics.

U.S. export sales of soybeans set a fast start in 2020/21 with revived demand in China

Friday, October 23, 2020

The United States is a leading global producer and exporter of soybeans, and their export represents a significant source of demand for U.S.-produced soybeans. The export of U.S. soybeans in the 2020/21 crop year is already off to a strong start. Total outstanding export sales—the contracts by country that have not been shipped at any given time during the marketing year—totaled 34.2 million metric tons (1,257 million bushels), as of October 8, 2020, nearly three times the level of a year earlier. This surge is likely the result of strengthening livestock feed demand in China and depleted supplies for competing exporters, particularly Brazil. The increase is also a major contributor to the price rally currently underway, with new-crop soybean futures at a two-year high. This chart is drawn from Economic Research Service’s Oil Crops Outlook, October 2020.

USDA’s Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program in Kansas largely attracts participants with higher rates of groundwater depletion

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Agriculture in the semi-arid region overlying the High Plains Aquifer, which spans parts of eight states, relies on groundwater. In several areas, significantly more groundwater is extracted than is returned to the aquifer each year, leading to declining water levels. In Kansas, USDA’s Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) specifically focuses on retiring irrigated cropland to reduce stress on limited water resources. To represent the amount of water that retired rights would have used in the absence of CREP, in effect the amount of use reduced by the program, ERS researchers used a group of 98 unenrolled farmers similar to 98 enrolled farmers based on factors like farm size, crops grown, and soil quality. Trends of unenrolled matched farmers are largely representative of the average unenrolled farmer in the Western District, where most enrollments have occurred, and which has experienced the most significant aquifer depletion. From 1996 to 2017, unenrolled matched farmers decreased their water use by 0.94 percent a year relative to 1996 levels, compared to 0.64 percent a year for the average unenrolled farmer in the Western District. Furthermore, although unenrolled matched farmers initially experienced more rapid depletion, declines in saturated thickness have been very similar for the two groups since 2008. This chart appears in the October 2020 Amber Waves feature, “Incentives to Retire Water Rights Have Reduced Stress on the High Plains Aquifer.”

World Statistics Day: Agricultural Trade Multipliers showcase the many ways agricultural exports affect U.S. economy

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

The Agricultural Trade Multipliers, one of many data products offered by the USDA, Economic Research Service (ERS), provide annual estimates of the effects of trade in farm and food products on the U.S. economy. These effects, when expressed as multipliers, reflect the amount of economic activity and jobs generated by agricultural exports. Similarly, the agricultural trade multiplier can be utilized to evaluate impacts of shocks such as COVID-19 on the agricultural sector. As this Chart of Note shows, exports constitute a large market for U.S. farm and food products and send ripples of activity through the nation’s economy. For instance, farm purchases of fuel and fertilizer to produce agricultural commodities for export spur economic activity in the manufacturing, trade, and transportation sectors, and the movement of these exports requires data processing, financial, legal, managerial, and administrative services. In 2018, U.S. agricultural exports valued at $139.6 billion generated an additional $162.9 billion in economic activity, for a total of $302.5 billion in economic output; thus, on average, every dollar of U.S. agricultural product exported generated $1.17 of additional domestic economic activity. No sector benefited more than the services, trade, and transportation sector, which realized $88.2 billion worth of additional economic activity due to U.S. agricultural exports. On the farm, agricultural exports supported an additional $22.1 billion of business activity beyond the value of the agricultural exports themselves. This chart is drawn from ERS’s Effects of Trade on the U.S. Economy, released March 2020.

The share of children receiving free school lunches and breakfasts rose between 2009 and 2019

Monday, October 19, 2020

In 2019, before the spring 2020 school closings in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, more than 29 million children participated in USDA’s National School Lunch Program (NSLP) and close to 15 million participated in the School Breakfast Program (SBP) on a typical school day. Children are certified to receive free or reduced-price meals — or they pay full price — based on their families’ incomes. Between 2009 and 2019, the number of children receiving free lunches was offset by a drop in reduced- and full-price meal participation. As a result, total NSLP participation declined by about 2 million, with free lunch participation making up 68 percent of total participation in 2019, compared with 52 percent in 2009. Over the same decade, free breakfast participation rose by 3.7 million and full-price breakfast participation rose by 0.2 million. This offset the 0.4-million decline in reduced-price breakfast participation, resulting in a 3.5-million increase in total SBP participation. In both 2009 and 2019, SBP served primarily students from low-income households, with 72 percent of participants receiving free breakfast in 2009 and 80 percent in 2019. This chart appears in “Free School Lunch, Breakfast Participation Rose Between 2009 and 2019” in the Economic Research Service’s Amber Waves magazine, October 2020.

World Food Day: A look at international food spending and calorie availability

Friday, October 16, 2020

In observation of World Food Day on October 16, this Chart of Note highlights disparities in household spending on food across the globe. Countries vary in how much consumers spend on food at home as a share of consumption expenditure. (Consumption expenditure includes all household spending, but not savings.) In high-income countries such as the United States and the United Kingdom, the shares of spending allocated to food at home are low because food cost is smaller relative to income and people eat out more often. In 2018, these two countries spent less than 10 percent of their consumption expenditure on food at home—food bought from supermarkets, supercenters, and other food stores. In Kenya and other low-income countries, at-home food’s share of consumption expenditure can exceed 50 percent. Per capita calorie availability follows the reverse pattern. According to the most recent available data, U.S. per capita calorie availability was among the highest at 3,682 calories per day, while Kenya’s was estimated at only 2,206 calories per day, reflecting differences between the countries’ supplies of food available for people to eat. The data in this chart predate the COVID-19 pandemic and its impacts on food supply chains and food demand. This chart appears in the Food Prices and Spending section of the Economic Research Service’s web product, Ag and Food Statistics: Charting the Essentials.

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