ERS Charts of Note
Wednesday, August 16, 2017
Improvements in average diets are welcome developments, but lower income households continue to fall short of nutritional targets. A closer look at consumption of protein, fat, and fruits and vegetables for the three most food-insecure regions—Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), Latin America and Caribbean (LAC), and Asia (minus the Commonwealth of Independent States countries)—reveals insufficient food access for the lowest income groups in all regions. The disparity between low-income versus high-income intake levels within each region is particularly pronounced in the case of proteins. Here, average daily consumption in all three regions studied is close to the recommended level of 10 percent of total diets, with SSA’s consumption falling slightly below the threshold. While the highest income decile has a protein share 20 percent above the target, the lowest income consumers are 20-30 percent below, with the lowest level in LAC, followed by SSA. This example illustrates that food security is not only linked to a country’s average income levels, but also, importantly, to how this income is distributed within the country. While average incomes in LAC are higher than in SSA and Asia, income distribution is more unequal, leaving the lowest income households more vulnerable to food insecurity. This chart appears in the ERS International Food Security Assessment, 2017-27 report, released on June 30, 2017.
Tuesday, August 15, 2017
The aging of the overall farm population raises questions about whether there are enough beginning farms to replace those that exit farming. Between 2005 and 2014, the share of beginning farms generally declined across all farm sizes, though overall farm numbers were relatively steady during this period. A beginning farm is one where all operators have 10 years or less farming experience. Very-low sales farms—those with annual gross cash farm income (GCFI) under $10,000—had the most beginning farms across these years, but also saw the greatest decline: from 27 percent in 2005 to 24 percent in 2014. By comparison, the share of beginning midsize farms—those with GCFI between $350,000 and $999,999—hovered around 9 percent during this period. In 2014, that represented about 12,000 midsize farms. This chart and the factors affecting these results appear in the ERS report The Changing Organization and Well-Being of Midsize U.S. Farms, 1992-2014, released October 2016.
Monday, August 14, 2017
Rising prices for farm commodities generally have a larger impact on grocery store price tags than on restaurant menus. The reason? Different cost structures, as shown by ERS’s Food Dollar Series. This series apportions total annual expenditures by U.S. consumers on domestically-produced food and beverages to 12 industry groups based on the value added by each industry. In 2015, farm production and agribusiness industries accounted for 13.8 cents of the food-at-home dollar (foods and beverages purchased from grocery stores and other retailers) and 3.2 cents of the food-away-from-home dollar (foods and beverages from fine dining establishments, fast casual chains, and coffee shops). Thus, grocery store prices are more closely connected to farm prices than restaurant prices. The largest share of the away-from-home food dollar—72.3 cents in 2015—was spent on the services provided by restaurants, including the labor of baristas, bakers, and busboys. Sixty-two percent of this value added by foodservice establishments (44.7 cents) covered the salaries and benefits of employees involved in preparing and serving meals and cleaning up afterwards. This chart appears in "Since 2009, Restaurant Prices Have Generally Risen Faster Than Grocery Store Prices" in ERS’s Amber Waves magazine, August 2017.
Friday, August 11, 2017
There are two main types of irrigation systems: gravity and pressurized irrigation. Gravity irrigation uses the force of gravity and field borders or furrows to distribute water across a field. Pressurized irrigation, on the other hand, delivers water to the field under pressure in lateral, hand-move, and center-pivot pipe systems with attached sprinklers. In the 17 most Western States—where water use for agriculture was greatest—total irrigated acres and total water use remained relatively stable between 1984 and 2013, the latest data available. However, the share of water applied using gravity systems steadily declined from 71 percent in 1984 to 41 percent in 2013. Meanwhile, the share using pressure-sprinkler systems steadily increased from 28 percent in 1984 to 59 percent in 2013. Irrigated acres followed similar trends, with acreage using gravity systems declining over time and pressure-sprinkler systems increasing. During that period of time, irrigators shifted to using more pressure-sprinkler systems to improve their irrigation efficiency and to reduce irrigation costs. This chart appears in the June 2017 Amber Waves data feature, "Understanding Irrigated Agriculture."
Thursday, August 10, 2017
From 2006 to 2015, upland cotton exports decreased by 34 percent, production by 42 percent, and mill use by 31 percent. Key factors that drove these shifts include: increased competition from foreign suppliers, prolonged droughts that lowered production, lower import demand from China, and competition from synthetic fibers (such as polyester). While many factors limited cotton market opportunities through 2015, USDA baseline projections through 2026, which provide a long run view of the U.S. farm sector, nonetheless indicate that exports of U.S. upland cotton and mill use are expected to increase relative to the 2006-15 time period. Between 2016 and 2026, U.S. upland cotton exports and mill use are projected to rise by 3 and 7 percent, respectively, while production is expected to drop by less than 1 percent (stocks are also projected to decrease over this period). The major factors expected to drive this change are increased global demand from rising incomes and populations and the cotton crop’s reputation of superior quality relative to its competitors. This chart appears in the Amber Waves article, "U.S. Upland Cotton Exports and Mill Use Projected To Improve," released in August 2017.
Wednesday, August 9, 2017
America’s love affair with frozen smoothies continues to grow and along with it consumption of its quintessential ingredient, frozen fruit. Between the early 1980s and 2015, the annual supply of frozen fruit available for consumption, led by a doubling in demand for frozen berries, grew by 61 percent to 4.8 pounds per person—about 5 percent of 2015’s total U.S. fruit availability. While strawberries remain consumers’ favorite frozen fruit—accounting for 40 percent of availability in 2015—blueberries and raspberries increased their share from 8 percent in 1980-85 to 20 percent in 2010-15. Peaches led the growth in availability of non-berry frozen fruits, followed by cherries. Frozen apples, used mainly in commercial and foodservice baking, lost market share, dropping from 17 to 8 percent of frozen fruit availability over 1980-2015. Consumer demand for healthy, convenient foods and manufacturers’ use of improved freezing technologies to improve product quality, along with colorful packaging and smoothie-ready fruit combinations and add-ins, underlie the growth in frozen fruit consumption. The data for this chart are from ERS’s Food Availability (Per Capita) Data System, updated July 26, 2017.
Tuesday, August 8, 2017
Decade averages of per capita availability of fresh and processed vegetables show that fresh vegetable availability increased from around 90 pounds per person in the 1970s to a high of almost 150 pounds per person in the 2000s. Although per capita fresh vegetable availability is down slightly in the current decade (data are through 2016), average availability is still well above the 1990s and earlier decades. Processed vegetable per capita availability tells a slightly different story; remaining relatively flat between 110 and 130 pounds per capita since the 1970s. Since the peak in the 1990s, processed vegetable availability has trended downwards. For both fresh and processed vegetable categories, tomatoes and potatoes are the most popular. In the processed category, tomato and potato use have declined steadily since the mid-1990s. Additionally, since 1990, the per capita availability of fresh tomatoes has been steadily increasing, which suggests that some people may be shifting from processed to fresh preparations. This chart appears in the Amber Waves article, "Newly Updated ERS Data Shows 2016 Production, Trade Volume, and Per Capita Availability of Vegetables and Pulses," released in August 2017.
Monday, August 7, 2017
Farmers growing crops that depend on pollination can rely on wild pollinators in the area or pay beekeepers to provide honeybees or other managed bees, such as the blue orchard bee. In 2016, U.S. farmers paid $354 million for pollination services. Producers of almonds alone accounted for 80 percent of that amount—over $280 million. By comparison, producers of apples and blueberries paid about $10 million each. Pollination services helped support the production of these crops—which, in 2016, had a total production value of about $5.2 billion for almonds, $3.5 billion for apples, and $720 million for blueberries. Between 2007 and 2016, the production value of almonds grew by 85 percent in real terms, while the production value of both apples and blueberries grew by about 15 percent. Over the same period, the number of honey-producing colonies grew by 14 percent. This chart uses data found in the ERS report Land Use, Land Cover, and Pollinator Health: A Review and Trend Analysis, released June 2017.
Friday, August 4, 2017
Peanuts have always been a popular American food item, from peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to baseball stadium snacks. But not since 1991 have there been more acres of peanuts planted in the United States as there are now. The 1.8 million acres planted for the 2017/18 marketing year is the third highest on record. Since 2014, planted acreage has increased each year, after mostly trending downward for over 20 years. During that time, production did not fall due to increasing yields per acre, allowing farmers to dedicate less land to peanuts while maintaining steady output. The growth in acreage over the past 4 years has led to a sharp increase in the amount of peanuts on the market. If expectations are met, the 2017/18 peanut crop is expected to reach 6.45 billion pounds. This would only rank behind the 2012/13 record harvest of 6.75 billion pounds. Much of these gains have led to an increase in U.S. peanut exports, which have doubled since 2011. This chart is drawn from the ERS Oil Crops Outlook newsletter released in July 2017.
Thursday, August 3, 2017
The USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA) provides loans to farmers through a number of programs. Direct Operating Microloans are designed to be more convenient and accessible than FSA’s traditional Direct Operating Loans (DOLs) for groups such as beginning farmers, women, and veterans. The number of new FSA direct loan borrowers—those who had not previously received an FSA direct loan, such as a traditional DOL or Microloan—increased substantially in 2009. During that time more farmers turned to FSA, as commercial sources of credit tightened during the Great Recession. Since then, the number of new FSA direct loan borrowers increased overall, though the number receiving traditional DOLs fell in 2013, when the Microloan program began. This suggests that the Microloan program may have attracted new borrowers that otherwise might have applied for traditional DOLs. At the time of receiving their first Microloan, 8,182 borrowers (71 percent) were new to FSA direct loans. Microloans are much smaller than traditional DOLs, with a maximum loan limit of $50,000 compared to $300,000. A version of this chart appears in the ERS report USDA Microloans for Farmers: Participation Patterns and Effects of Outreach, released December 2016.
Wednesday, August 2, 2017
Whole turkey prices in 2017 fell relative to 2016 and have remained strikingly flat since January. Typically, wholesale turkey prices have a seasonal trend, with prices climbing from their bottom level in the beginning of the year to a peak near Thanksgiving. The average price for a whole frozen hen in June was actually slightly below January’s price. Between 2013 and 2015, June whole turkey prices averaged 8 percent higher than in January. Prices for breast meat are also below 2016 levels, indicating that demand may not be keeping up with current supply levels. Sustained low prices are often a signal to producers to slow the pace of growth, but production in 2017 has remained above 2016 levels through the first half of the year. It is unclear whether the declines in the wholesale market will translate to reduced retail prices leading up to Thanksgiving. This chart appears in the ERS Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry Outlook newsletter released in July 2017.
Tuesday, August 1, 2017
ERS researchers recently examined the association of food security status with 10 chronic diseases in working-age adults living in households with incomes at or below 200 percent of the Federal poverty level. They looked at the prevalence of the chronic diseases across four levels of household food security, ranging from high food security (household had no problems or anxiety about consistently obtaining adequate food) to very low food security (eating patterns of one or more household members were disrupted and food intake was reduced). The researchers discovered that adults in households that were less food secure were significantly more likely to have one or more chronic diseases and the likelihood increased as food insecurity worsened. Low-income adults in households with very low food security were 40 percent more likely to have one or more of the chronic diseases examined than low-income adults with high food security. Moreover, the researchers found that food insecurity status was a stronger predictor of chronic illness than income for low-income working age adults. This chart appears in Food Insecurity, Chronic Disease, and Health Among Working Age Adults, released on July 31, 2017.
Monday, July 31, 2017
Genetically engineered (GE) seeds have become widely used in major field crop production in the United States. Herbicide-tolerant (HT) crops were developed to survive the application of certain herbicides (such as glyphosate and glufosinate) that previously would have destroyed the crop along with the targeted weeds. Insect-resistant crops contain a gene from the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) that produces a protein that is toxic to specific insects. Seeds that have both herbicide-tolerant and insect-resistant traits are referred to as “stacked.” Three crops (corn, cotton, and soybeans) make up the bulk of the acres planted to GE crops. Recent data show that the adoption of stacked corn varieties has increased sharply, from 9 percent of U.S. corn acres in 2005 to 77 percent in 2017. Adoption rates for stacked cotton varieties have also grown rapidly, from 34 percent in 2005 to 80 percent in 2017 (soybeans have only HT varieties). Generally, many different GE traits can be stacked; varieties with three or four GE traits are now common in U.S. corn and cotton production. This chart is drawn from the ERS data product Adoption of Genetically Engineered Crops in the U.S.
Friday, July 28, 2017
Conservation Compliance ties eligibility for most Federal farm program benefits to soil and wetland conservation requirements. Under Highly Erodible Land Conservation (HELC), for example, farmers who grow crops in fields designated as highly erodible land (HEL) must apply an approved conservation system—one or more practices that work together to reduce soil erosion. ERS researchers used a statistical model to compare water (rainfall) erosion on cropland in HEL fields to similar cropland not in HEL fields. Between 1982 and 1997, soil erosion reductions were significantly larger in HEL fields (39 percent, or 6.6 tons per acre) than in those not designated as HEL fields (24 percent, or 3.9 tons per acre). The difference—about 2.7 tons per acre—is statistically different from zero, suggesting that HELC did make a significant difference in soil erosion reduction. During 1997-2012, after the initial implementation of HELC was complete, ERS analysis finds that these soil conservation gains were maintained. This chart appears in the July 2017 Amber Waves feature, "Conservation Compliance in the Crop Insurance Era."
Thursday, July 27, 2017
Agricultural goods can be broken into distinct categories based on value or level of processing. Bulk goods, like grains and oilseeds, are sold in large quantities at relatively low per unit costs. They also tend to be relatively standardized products. U.S. and foreign products in these categories are more readily substituted for each other, as changes in exchange rates alter relative prices among suppliers. Higher value goods, like meats, fruits and vegetables, and processed goods, are differentiated by factors such as brand, quality, or sanitary and phytosanitary standards. As a result, they may be less likely to be substituted across origins on the basis of price or relative price in the case of exchange rates. The U.S. trade weighted exchange rate index from the Federal Reserve Bank of Saint Louis has shown strong dollar appreciation since 2014, resulting in declining exports for both categories (bulk exports declined by 9 percent and high-value products fell by 10 percent). Typically, bulk goods would decline further than high-value goods during appreciation, but the 2012-13 U.S. drought had a significant impact on the supply of several major crops. As a result, export volume decreased, but value remained high because of higher commodity prices. By 2014, production of key bulk commodities like corn and soybeans recovered and have since continued to grow, drawing down prices. As prices have fallen and stocks have been replenished, export volume has increased, dulling the perceived impact of a rising dollar. This chart appears in the Amber Waves article, "U.S. Agricultural Trade in 2016: Major Commodities and Trends," released in May 2017.
Wednesday, July 26, 2017
In 2014-15, 17.9 percent of U.S. households with children under the age of 18 were food insecure—they had difficulty putting enough food on the table for all their members. In about half of these households (8.6 percent of U.S. households with children), children were food insecure and experienced reduced dietary quality and food intake. Food insecurity is closely related to income as poor households are more likely to experience food insecurity. In 2014-15, 43 percent of households with food-insecure children had incomes below the Federal poverty line and one-quarter had incomes between the poverty line and 185 percent of the poverty line. Households with incomes below 185 percent of the poverty line may be eligible for programs like the free- or reduced-price National School Lunch Program. An ERS review of scientific research studies shows that participation in USDA school meals reduces food insecurity. However, about 19 percent of households with food-insecure children in 2014-15 may have been ineligible for such assistance. The data for this chart appear in the ERS report, Children’s Food Security and USDA Child Nutrition Programs, released on June 20, 2017.
Tuesday, July 25, 2017
Hard Red Spring (HRS) wheat (the largest class of spring wheat) is predominately grown in the Northern Plains of the United States. This key production region, which includes Montana, North Dakota, and South Dakota, has been greatly affected by a lengthy dry spell that has plunged the area into varying levels of drought, ranging from abnormal dryness to exceptional drought. On July 9, widespread drought conditions were noted for both North and South Dakota as well as Eastern Montana, and the proportion of the HRS crop rated “good” to “excellent” was just 36 percent, 10 percent, and 11 percent, respectively. Challenging weather conditions have reduced projected yields, now forecast at 39 bushels per acre, and contribute to a 22 percent year-to-year decline in HRS production for the 2017/18 marketing year. Expectations for a small harvest have helped to rally spring wheat prices in recent weeks and supports this month’s 50 cent increase in the 2017/18 all wheat price. This chart appears in the ERS Wheat Outlook newsletter, released in July 2017.
Monday, July 24, 2017
In 2015, the U.S. food and beverage manufacturing sector employed more than 1.5 million people, or just over 1 percent of all U.S. nonfarm employment. Within the U.S. manufacturing sector, food and beverage manufacturing employees accounted for the largest share of employees (13.7 percent). In over 34,000 food and beverage manufacturing plants located throughout the country, these employees were engaged in transforming raw agricultural materials into products for intermediate or final consumption. Manufacturing jobs include processing, inspecting, packing, janitorial and guard services, product development, recordkeeping, and nonproduction duties such as sales, delivery, advertising, and clerical and routine office functions. Meat and poultry plants employed the largest share of food and beverage manufacturing workers (31 percent), followed by bakeries (16 percent), and fruit and vegetable processing plants (11 percent). This chart appears in the ERS data product, Ag and Food Statistics: Charting the Essentials.
Friday, July 21, 2017
Favorable weather conditions as well as droughts and floods can lead to changes in production levels of farm commodities and, in turn, swings in their prices. Volatility in farm commodity prices—measured by the Producer Price Index (PPI) for Farm Products—and in intermediate foods—measured by the PPI for Processed Foodstuff and Feedstuff—is often greater than price volatility in grocery stores and restaurants. Intermediate foods, such as vegetable oils and refined sugar, are used to produce final foods like cookies and bread. Prices at each stage generally move in the same direction, but the magnitude of the price changes varies. For instance, in 2016 the Farm Products PPI declined by 9.7 percent, the Processed Foodstuff and Feedstuff PPI fell by 2.7 percent, while the Consumer Price Index (CPI) for All Food (foods purchased in stores and eating places) rose, slightly, by 0.3 percent. Price fluctuations for intermediate foods and final foods are muted relative to that of farm products, since foods at later stages of production include less volatile costs for processing, transportation, packaging, and other wholesale and retail overhead costs. According to ERS’s Food Dollar Series, farm and agribusiness costs only represented 10.8 cents of every dollar spent on domestically-produced food in 2015. This chart is from ERS’s Food Price Outlook data product, updated July 3, 2017.
Thursday, July 20, 2017
In 2015, the median household income for rural (nonmetro) counties rose to $44,212, a 3.4 percent increase over the prior year. This was the second year in a row of rising real (adjusted for inflation) income for the median rural household, ending 6 years of income declines during and after the Great Recession of 2007-09. By comparison, urban (metro) median income has risen for 3 straight years, reaching $58,260 in 2015. However, these 2015 median incomes remain below their 2007 peaks of $45,816 for rural households and $60,661 for urban ones. Generally, rural median household income has remained about 25 percent below the urban median. Because the cost of living is generally lower in rural areas, the gap in purchasing power is likely smaller between rural and urban households. This chart appears in the ERS topic page for Income, updated June 2017.