ERS Charts of Note
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.
Monday, March 22, 2021
In 2016, corn and soybean producers accounted for about 93 percent of future and options contracts used by U.S. farmers and 60 percent of all production covered by marketing contracts. With a futures contract, a farmer can assure a certain price for a crop that has not yet been harvested. An options contract allows a farmer to protect against decreases in the futures price, while retaining the opportunity to take advantage of increases in the futures price. While futures and options contracts are usually settled without delivery, marketing contracts arrange for delivery of a commodity by a farmer during a specified future time window for an agreed price. Farmers who use these risk management options frequently use more than one contract type. On average, farms that used futures contracts covered 41 percent of their corn production and 47 percent of their soybean production in 2016. Shares were relatively similar for marketing contracts, which covered about 42 percent of corn and 53 percent of soybean production. By comparison, corn and soybean farmers covered a little more than 30 percent of their production with options contracts for both commodities. This chart appears in the Economic Research Service report, Farm Use of Futures, Options, and Marketing Contracts, published October 2020.
Friday, March 19, 2021
During the initial COVID-19 surge between March and June 2020, large urban areas had the highest weekly death rates from the virus in the United States. Those numbers declined as medical professionals learned more about the virus, how to treat it, and how to prevent its spread. As the virus spread from major urban areas to rural areas, the second COVID-19 surge, from July to August 2020, brought more deaths to rural areas. The peak in deaths associated with this surge was smaller because testing was more widespread, the infected population was younger and less vulnerable, and treatments were more effective. However, in early September 2020, COVID-19 death rates in rural areas surpassed those in urban areas. This trend continued into a third, still ongoing, surge that spiked in rural areas during the holiday season and again shortly thereafter. Rural areas have shown higher death rates per 100,000 adults since September in part because they had higher rates of new infections than urban areas, but that is not the whole story. Rural COVID-19 deaths per 100 new infections 2 weeks prior (to account for the lag between infection and death) were 2.2 in the first 3 weeks of February—35 percent higher than the corresponding urban mortality rate of 1.6 deaths per 100 new infections 2 weeks earlier. The rural population appears to be more vulnerable to serious infection because of the older age of its population, higher rates of underlying medical conditions, lack of health insurance, and greater distance to an intensive care hospital. As of early February, death rates have started decreasing, possibly because of more widespread vaccinations among the most vulnerable populations. This chart updates data found in the February 2021 Amber Waves data feature, “Rural Residents Appear to be More Vulnerable to Serious Infection or Death from COVID-19.”
Wednesday, March 17, 2021
Expanded U.S. soybean exports—led in part by increased Chinese buying under the United States-China Phase One trade deal in combination with greater demand by domestic processors—are tightening the availability of U.S. soybeans this marketing year (September 2020-August 2021). With demand far surpassing increases in supply, USDA forecasts the inventory of soybeans by the end of the current marketing year to plunge to 120 million bushels. If realized, that would be lower than at any point since the historically low stock level of 92 million bushels in 2013–14. The forecast soybean stocks-to-use ratio, which is a measure of the market’s relative balance between ending supplies and total demand, is 2.6 percent—a notable decrease from the 13.3 percent of last year. Commodity prices and stocks have an inverse relationship: lower levels of stocks contribute to higher prices and higher levels of stocks contribute to lower prices. Rapidly declining soybean stocks continue to create the possibility of even higher prices, with February soybean prices already up to $13.82 a bushel, higher than any marketing year since 2012–13. The March Grain Stocks report from the National Agricultural Statistics Service will provide greater information on how fast the situation is changing. This chart is drawn from the USDA, Economic Research Service’s March 2021 Oil Crops Outlook report.
Monday, March 15, 2021
The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) is USDA’s third-largest food assistance program. Most stores authorized to accept WIC food benefits are typical food retailers, for which WIC redemptions comprise a small share of total food sales. Only 10 of the 90 WIC State agencies in 2018 authorized “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 typical food retailers by making WIC-approved products easy to find and emphasizing convenient checkout with cashiers who are familiar with handling WIC transactions. In 2018, 973 A50 stores operated in the United States and U.S. territories. These stores represented 2.2 percent of stores that accept WIC benefits nationwide but accounted for 10.6 percent of national WIC redemptions. States and U.S. territories with relatively high numbers of A50 stores in 2018 included California (493 stores), Puerto Rico (276 stores), and Texas (103 stores). A50 stores accounted for 78.9 percent of Puerto Rico’s WIC redemptions in 2018, compared with 42.6 percent of WIC redemptions in California and 21.5 percent in Texas. This chart appears in the Economic Research Service’s Amber Waves article, “Specialized Stores Serving Participants in USDA’s Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) Can Reduce Program Food Costs and Increase Food Store Access,” March 2021.
Friday, March 12, 2021
March 14 is known to many as Pi Day. When written as 3.14, the date resembles the mathematical constant, π, and for that reason, many celebrate the day’s circular reference by enjoying their favorite pie. In 2019, the United States grew $5.9 billion worth of seven of the fruits, vegetables, and tree nuts that tend to be popular for use as the main ingredient in pie making. The value of production of these seven commodities in 2019, as measured by U.S. cash receipts, was the highest for apples, which are produced abundantly in the United States both in terms of volume and production value. The U.S. apple crop reached a value of $2.75 billion in 2019, whereas production of blueberries reached $935 million. Cash receipts for other tasty fruit pie ingredients, cherries and peaches, were valued at $696 million and $519 million, respectively. As tree nuts, pecans are possibly one of America’s favorite non-fruit pie ingredients, and were valued at $471 million in terms of U.S. cash receipts. The pear crop of 2019 was valued at $315 million, while production of pumpkins, the ever-popular fall icon and mainstay of the holiday table, was valued at $180 million. This chart is drawn from Economic Research Service’s Fruit and Tree Nuts and Vegetables and Pulses Yearbook Tables.
Wednesday, March 10, 2021
Between 1999 and 2019, participation in USDA’s School Breakfast Program roughly doubled, increasing from 7.4 million children on a typical school day in fiscal year (FY) 1999 to 14.7 million in FY 2019. The Federal program makes healthy breakfasts available to all students in participating schools, with children from low-income households receiving the meals for free or at a reduced price. Most of the growth in participation over the last 2 decades has been among students receiving free breakfasts. Free breakfast participation rose from 5.7 million children in FY 1999 to 11.7 million in FY 2019, an increase of 5 million children. In FY 2019, 80 percent of breakfasts served were free, 5 percent were provided at a reduced price, and 15 percent were full price. Federal spending for the program totaled $4.5 billion in FY 2019—3 percent more than in the previous year. These data were collected before the COVID-19 pandemic and therefore do not account for pandemic-related conditions, including school closures and economic conditions. FY 2020 data that would reflect those circumstances are expected to be released during summer 2021. The data for this chart are from the USDA, Economic Research Service’s Child Nutrition Programs topic page.
Monday, March 8, 2021
From 2006 to 2009, the share of women in the hired farm workforce decreased slightly, but then climbed from 18.6 percent in 2009 to 25.5 percent in 2018. Hired farmworkers (which exclude self-employed farmers and their families) make up less than 1 percent of all U.S. wage and salary workers, but the overall number of hired farmworkers has remained relatively unchanged over this same period. Hired farmworkers often work in the production of fruits, vegetables, melons, dairy, and nursery and greenhouse crops. As can be seen from the rise in percentage from 2009 to 2018, in recent years, more women have taken on farm work. Overall, farm wages have risen over this period along with changes in the mix of capital and labor farms use during production. These changes may have resulted in a gradual shift in the share of women who comprise the hired farm labor force. This chart appears in the October 2020 Amber Waves data feature, “U.S. Farm Employers Respond to Labor Market Changes With Higher Wages, Use of Visa Program, and More Women Workers.”
Friday, March 5, 2021
Farm households often rely on off-farm employment to provide other benefits, including health insurance, and to supplement their income. Loss of off-farm employment because of the COVID-19 pandemic can strain a farm household’s financial well-being. In 2019, 50 percent of all U.S. family farm households had the principal operator, the principal operator’s spouse, or both the principal operator and spouse working in an off-farm, wage-earning job. The shares of households working off-farm varied by the farm’s economic class. For small farms with less than $100,000 in annual gross farm sales, 51 percent had the principal operator, the spouse, or both work off the farm. By comparison, 34 percent of large farms with annual gross farm sales of $1 million or more had the principal operator, the spouse, or both work off the farm. As the farm’s sales size increases, the share of principal operators working off the farm decreased. Smaller family farms generally don’t earn enough from farm sources alone to cover household living expenses, whereas larger farms usually require increasingly more on-farm labor and management resources. While this information predates the COVID-19 pandemic, it can provide insights into the potential impact of decreased employment rates, which can result in the loss of off-farm employment for many farm households. This chart updates data found in the USDA, Economic Research Service report, America’s Diverse Family Farms, 2019 Edition, released December 2019.
Wednesday, March 3, 2021
The U.S. Federal Government announced social distancing guidelines in March 2020 to slow the spread of COVID-19, and many U.S. jurisdictions followed by issuing stay-at-home orders. As a result, many people have been working from home since then, which prompts the question: Do individuals who work from home spend time on their daily tasks differently than those who work away from home? While USDA, Economic Research Service (ERS) researchers do not have time-use data from the COVID-19 period for the United States, analyses of past time-use patterns provide some insights. ERS researchers used data from the 2017-18 Leave and Flexibilities Job Module of the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ American Time Use Survey to study the amount of time respondents spent in food preparation and eating at home, according to the location from which they worked the day covered by the interview. They found that over an average weekday in 2017-18, prime working-age adults who worked from home were more likely to prepare food (75 percent versus 63 percent) and to spend more time doing so (41 minutes compared with 30 minutes) than individuals who worked away from home. Individuals who worked from home spent 49 minutes eating at home, which was nearly double the amount reported by individuals who worked away from home (27 minutes). Teleworkers may consume a healthier diet if the greater time spent preparing food translates into eating more home-prepared meals and less eating out. Home-prepared meals tend to be lower in calories and higher in positive nutrients than meals prepared away from home, according to studies by ERS researchers. This chart appears in the ERS’ Amber Waves article, “Working From Home Leads to More Time Spent Preparing Food, Eating at Home,” February 2021.
Monday, March 1, 2021
Despite shipping record-breaking volumes of U.S. beef to China from July to December 2020, the United States supplied only 1.3 percent of China’s total imports of beef. Beef-exporting competitors of the United States—Canada, Brazil, Argentina, Australia, Uruguay, and New Zealand—account for the vast majority (93 percent) of the total volume of China’s total beef imports worth $9.518 billion. This may be in part because the U.S. value per pound of beef shipped to China is higher than most of its competitors in the China beef market, with the exception of Canada. Both the United States and Canada primarily export a grain-fed product distinct from what China typically imports from other countries. In 2020, the U.S. unit value per pound of frozen boneless beef—the product the United States has been exporting to China in recent years—averaged $3.42. Canada’s unit value for beef imported in China exceeded that of the United States at $4.01 per pound, while other competitors’ unit values ranged from $2.08 to $2.85. Despite a higher unit price of U.S. beef, China’s commitment to purchase an additional $200 billion of American-made goods and services over 2020 and 2021 under the United States–China Phase One trade deal could lead to continued growth of U.S. beef exports. This chart is drawn from the USDA, Economic Research Service’s January 2021 Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry Outlook.
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.