ERS Charts of Note
Wednesday, June 16, 2021
China’s corn imports jumped to a record 11.3 million metric tons in 2020, more than twice the volume imported in past years. The increase reflected rapidly increasing Chinese corn prices and China’s commitment to buy U.S. agricultural products under the Phase One trade agreement between China and the United States. Corn is the predominant ingredient in China’s growing animal feed production and is widely used in other food, starch, and alcohol products. In past years, a cumbersome import quota made it difficult for Chinese feed mills and processors to import corn, so they often imported substitutes such as sorghum, barley, distillers’ grains, cassava, and field peas that have low prices and no quotas. Imports of all feed ingredients were relatively low during 2019 because of high tariffs on U.S. commodities and a lull in feed demand due to a disease epidemic that reduced China’s swine herd. In 2020, imports of corn and its substitutes increased to a combined total of more than 30 million metric tons. Large purchases by Chinese state-owned companies and a rapid increase in Chinese corn prices appear to have driven the increase in corn imports—which exceeded the quota for the first time. Rebuilding of the swine herd and waivers of retaliatory tariffs on U.S. sorghum may have contributed to the increase in imports of substitutes. However, imports of U.S. distillers’ grains were still constrained by high duties imposed by a 2016 Chinese anti-dumping investigation. This chart appeared in the USDA, Economic Research Service’s Feed Outlook, May 2021.
Monday, June 14, 2021
With fewer young immigrants entering the U.S. farm workforce, the average age of foreign-born hired farmworkers rose in 2019. That, in turn, pulled up the average age for the U.S. farm workforce as a whole. According to the latest data from the American Community Survey, the average age of foreign-born farmworkers increased by nearly 7 years from 2006 to 2019, from 35.7 to 41.6 years. In contrast, the average age for farmworkers born in the United States remained roughly constant over the same period. The average age of all farmworkers increased from 35.8 years in 2006 to 39.5 years in 2019. U.S. farmworkers, who make up less than 1 percent of the Nation’s workforce, are more likely to be Hispanic of Mexican origin and less likely to be citizens than are workers in occupations other than agriculture, according to the American Community Survey. This chart updates data found 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, June 11, 2021
As restaurants gradually return to regular operations after more than a year of capacity constraints related to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, they may find challenges trying to stock enough chicken and chicken wings to meet growing demand. Broiler (chicken) production in the first quarter of 2021 was down 3 percent from a year earlier, while stocks of chicken meat in cold storage are at record lows. In combination, these conditions create low chicken availability at a time when demand is building. Broiler meat in cold storage at the end of March totaled 700 million pounds, 220 million pounds less than the same time last year and 79 percent of the 3-year-average for March. Chicken wings, which have been in high demand as takeout food during the pandemic, are at their lowest level in cold storage since 2012 and around 17 million pounds below the same time last year. If the chicken industry were to respond by expanding production, rebounds would probably take at least 9 to 12 weeks—the approximate time it takes for a broiler to hatch and reach maturity. This chart is drawn from USDA, Economic Research Service’s Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry Outlook, May 2021.
Wednesday, June 9, 2021
Women play an integral part in farming, either as a principal operator or as a secondary operator. In 2019, more than half (51 percent) of all farming operations in the United States had a woman principal or at least one woman secondary operator. Women were primarily responsible for the day-to-day operation decisions—the “principal operator”—on 14 percent of farms. In 37 percent of operations, women were “secondary operators,” meaning they were involved in decisions for the operation but were not the principal operators. The share of principal farm operators who were women varied by commodity specializations. In 2019, the two largest shares of women principal operators were found on farms specializing in poultry (31 percent) and other livestock (about 30 percent). Operations specializing in dairy production had the largest share of operations with at least one woman secondary operator, about 54 percent. The smallest share (about 33 percent) of women operators, either principal or at least one secondary, was found on cotton farms. Among operations with at least one woman operator, 78 percent of the women were the principal operator’s spouse and worked on the farm. This chart is found in the Economic Research Service report, America’s Diverse Family Farms: 2020 Edition, released December 2020. It also appears in the June 2021 Amber Waves article, “Women Identified as Operators on 51 Percent of U.S. Farms in 2019.”
Monday, June 7, 2021
Shutdowns, stay-at-home orders, and the need for social distancing led households to buy more food for consumption at home during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. In response to the economic downturn and pandemic conditions, supplemental emergency allotments were issued to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) households and Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer (P-EBT) benefits were distributed to households with children missing free and reduced-price school meals. This expansion of nutrition assistance led to a rapid increase in the dollar amount of these benefits issued to households and redeemed for food at home (FAH). In January and February 2020, SNAP benefit redemptions accounted for 6.8 percent of total FAH expenditures as estimated by the Food Expenditure Series. In March 2020, FAH spending spiked, causing SNAP’s share of FAH spending to fall. From March to June 2020, the introduction of P-EBT and increase in SNAP benefits led to rapid growth in these programs’ share of FAH spending. In June 2020, redemptions of these benefits peaked at $9.5 billion—making up 13.3 percent of FAH spending that month. This share fell the following three months. Overall, the share of total FAH spending attributable to SNAP and P-EBT from April through September 2020 was 11.7 percent—more than one in nine dollars and nearly 5 percentage points higher than SNAP’s share over the same months in 2019. 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.
Friday, June 4, 2021
Although people in the United States are eating more vegetables and fruit than they did in 1970, the average U.S. diet still falls short of Federal recommendations for these two major food groups, as well as for dairy, as provided in the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. In contrast to the recommended daily 2.5 cups of vegetables on a 2,000-calorie-per-day diet, people in the United States consumed an average of 1.9 cups in 2018, according to food availability data from the USDA, Economic Research Service (ERS). This represents 76 percent of the recommended amount, up from 63 percent in 1970. In 2018, U.S. consumers ate or drank an average of 1.5 cups of dairy products per day—50 percent of the recommended 3 cups and a decrease from 1.6 cups in 1970. Fruit consumption in the United States was the farthest below guidance at 41 percent of the recommended 2 cups. On average, U.S. consumption of foods in the meat, eggs, and nuts category and of grains in 2018 exceeded recommended amounts. The data for this chart come from the Loss-Adjusted Food Availability data series in ERS's Food Availability (Per Capita) Data System.
Wednesday, June 2, 2021
Driven largely by the increasing popularity of salads and “mini” or snacking varieties, U.S. demand for fresh cucumbers has been on an upward trend since the 1970s. Reflecting rising consumer demand, import volume has continued on a 50-year upward trend, contributing to the crowding-out of domestic field-grown production (down 62 percent since 2010). Before 2005, domestic fresh cucumber production exceeded the amount imported each year. Imports grew from a 35 percent share of availability in 1990-94 to 80 percent in 2015-20. By 2020, imports accounted for almost 90 percent of the domestic market. The share of imports in the U.S. fresh cucumber market continues to trend higher because of year-round demand for cucumbers and for varieties that tend to be cultivated in greenhouses. Imported cucumbers typically enter the United States during the winter, autumn, and early spring months when domestic supplies are limited. Fresh cucumber imports, largely from Mexico and Canada, totaled nearly 2.2 billion pounds in 2020, and 18 percent of imported cucumbers were grown in protected structures such as greenhouses. To a lesser extent, increased domestic greenhouse production, which now accounts for about 11 percent of U.S.-grown cucumbers, has siphoned off demand for field grown fresh cucumbers over the past two decades. This chart appeared in the Economic Research Service’s April 2021 Vegetable and Pulses Outlook.
Tuesday, June 1, 2021
According to the most recently available data, in 2016, 62 percent of U.S. dairy farms with at least 2,000 cows generated gross returns that exceeded total costs, compared with 43 to 44 percent of farms in the two next-largest classes (500-999 cows and 1,000-1,999 cows). In the smallest classes (10-49 cows and 50-99 cows), less than 10 percent of farms generated positive net returns. Total costs include cash expenses such as those for feed, fuel, and hired labor, but they also include estimates of the costs of the farm’s capital and of the family labor provided to operate the dairy farm. A farm that does not cover total costs can continue to operate, and to provide a living for the family operating the farm, if it covers cash expenses and the costs of the family’s labor (total cost except capital recovery). For example, while about 20 percent of farms with 100-199 cows earned positive net returns in 2016, 46 percent earned enough to cover all cash expenses and to provide a living for the farm family. However, these farms did not earn enough to cover annual costs of capital recovery (the replacement value of the capital, such as equipment and structures, used on the farm). Continued operation makes financial sense for those farms until the cash expenses of maintaining an aging plant rise enough to cut into the family’s income from dairy farming. This chart appears in the Economic Research Service report Consolidation in U.S. Dairy Farming, released July 2020. It also appears in the August 2020 Amber Waves feature, Scale Economies Provide Advantages to Large Dairy Farms.
Friday, May 28, 2021
Early during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, U.S. employment fell at rates not seen since the Great Depression, with the greatest declines occurring in metro areas. Before the pandemic, employment growth in metro areas had averaged 1.4 percent per year for the 12 months prior to March 2020, more than twice the rate in nonmetro areas (0.6 percent per year). After March 2020, the situation reversed. In April 2020, metro employment was 15.0 percent below 12 months earlier, while nonmetro employment was 12.2 percent lower. Employment has since largely recovered in both metro and nonmetro areas but remained lower in February 2021 than levels 12 months earlier. The extent to which employment was still depressed in February 2021 is greater in metro areas: Metro employment was 5.7 percent lower in February 2021 than in February 2020, while nonmetro employment was 3.4 percent lower. This chart appears in the Economic Research Service topic page, The COVID-19 Pandemic and Rural America, updated May 2021.
Thursday, May 27, 2021
Working-age veterans were 7.4 percent more likely to live in a food-insecure household than similar working-age nonveterans from 2005 to 2019, according to research by the USDA, Economic Research Service (ERS). ERS economists used food security data from the U.S. Bureau of the Census to examine the relationship between food insecurity and prior military service. Food-insecure households had difficulty providing enough food for all its members because of a lack of resources. To reflect the strength of the association more closely between food insecurity and prior military service, ERS controlled for differences in individual and household-level characteristics associated with food insecurity among working-age adults, age 18-64. Examples of these differences include income, disability status, educational attainment, and race and ethnicity. From 2005 to 2019, before making these adjustments, 12.0 percent of working-age veterans and 13.5 percent of working-age nonveterans were estimated to live in food-insecure households. However, after controlling for differences, the average annual predicted prevalence of working-age veterans living in food-insecure households was 12.2 percent compared to 11.4 percent of working-age nonveterans. In addition, predictions show that working-age veterans were more likely to live in households with very low food security. This is a more severe range of food insecurity that involves the reduction of food intake for one or more household members and disruption of normal eating patterns. This information is drawn from the ERS report, “Food Security Among Working-Age Veterans,” released May 26, 2021.
Monday, May 24, 2021
The United States is the world’s largest producer of poultry and beef and the third-largest pork producer. Abundant exportable supplies have enabled trade of major U.S. meats and products to run a continual surplus overall, with high demands for U.S. animal proteins in Asia and favorable trade agreements driving quantities exported above quantities imported for pork, broiler meat, and turkey. By volume, broiler meat (broilers are a subset of chickens) was the most traded U.S. meat in 2020. Exports of broiler meat accounted for 92 percent of total poultry (total chicken plus turkey) exports and exceeded imports by almost fiftyfold. Pork exports further contributed toward the growth in the meat trade surplus. In 2020, pork exports were sevenfold higher than pork imports, increasing more than 15 percent, or almost 1 billion pounds from a year earlier. In contrast, apart from 2018, the amount of beef imported by the United States has exceeded exports 7 of the last 8 years. Last year, U.S. beef exports declined more than 2 percent from a year ago, while beef imports rose more than 9 percent over the same period. This trade deficit reflects, in part, a robust U.S. demand for processing-grade beef. Turkey imports were up 72 percent and turkey exports were down 11 percent in 2020, with export levels resulting in a trade surplus for turkey. This chart is drawn from the USDA, Economic Research Service’s April 2021 Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry Outlook.
Friday, May 21, 2021
Liquidity is the ability to convert assets to cash quickly to satisfy short-term obligations without the assets losing material value. Researchers at the USDA, Economic Research Service (ERS) examined two measures of the U.S. farm sector’s liquidity: working capital and the times interest earned ratio. Working capital measures the amount of cash available to fund operating expenses after paying off debt to creditors due within 12 months (current debt). ERS forecasts U.S. farm sector working capital in 2021 at $74.3 billion, a 13.6-percent decrease from 2020 after adjusting for inflation. If realized, this would be the largest decline since 2016. By comparison, the times interest earned ratio measures the farm sector’s ability to service debt out of net farm income, so a higher times interest earned ratio indicates greater ease in making debt payments. ERS forecasts the times interest earned ratio will decrease from 9.2 in 2020 to 8.4 in 2021, after a forecasted increase in 2020. The weakening of this ratio in 2021 reflects the forecast decline in net farm income as well as the expected increase in interest expenses. Still, the times interest earned ratio is forecast to remain above 2014-19 levels. This chart appears in the ERS Amber Waves finding, Farm Sector Liquidity Forecast to Decline in 2021, released March 2021.
Wednesday, May 19, 2021
To keep up with growing consumer demand for strawberries, U.S. fresh strawberry production has increased over the last two decades (from 2000-19). In the United States, fresh strawberries are primarily grown in California (roughly 90 percent annually) and Florida (about 8 percent), followed by New York, North Carolina, Oregon, and Washington. With the development of newer varieties, strawberry season has expanded in both California and Florida. California produces strawberries year-round with peak harvest spanning from early spring until fall. California production has now increased from July to October with higher yielding varieties on decreased acreage, and shipments were 220 percent higher in 2019 than in 2000. Florida’s strawberry season typically begins in December and goes through March, but with the use of an early yielding variety, the Florida strawberry season now begins in November with relatively small volumes. Florida’s strawberry shipments more than doubled between 2000 and 2019. From all locations, strawberry supplies in the United States typically begin to rise in the spring, which is the perfect season to pick strawberries since National Pick Strawberries Day is on May 20. This information is from the special article Evolving Trends in the U.S. Fresh Strawberry Market in the Fruit and Tree Nuts Outlook Report: March 2021.
Monday, May 17, 2021
In 2019, restaurants and other eating places claimed 38.5 cents of the average U.S. food dollar, continuing a steady climb since 2009, when the food services industry’s share was 29.6 cents. Farm production was the only other industry with a rising food dollar share in 2019, up slightly to 7.6 cents from its 25-year low of 7.4 cents in 2018. The proportion of the food dollar was the smallest since 1993 for several industries in 2019: agribusiness (such as fertilizer and farm services), food processing, packaging, wholesale trade and retail trade. The 2019 food dollar reflects conditions before the COVID-19 pandemic. ERS’s annual Food Dollar Series provides insight into the industries that make up the U.S. food system and their contributions to total U.S. spending on domestically produced food. ERS uses input-output analysis to calculate the cost contributions from 12 industry groups in the food supply chain. Annual shifts in the food dollar shares between industry groups occur for a variety of reasons, including changes in the mix of foods consumer buy, costs of materials, ingredients, and other inputs, as well as changes in the balance of food at home and away from home. This chart is available for the years 1993 to 2019, and can be found in ERS’s Food Dollar Series data product, updated on March 17, 2021.
Friday, May 14, 2021
USDA, Economic Research Service (ERS) provides estimates, forecasts, and projections for net cash farm income and net farm income—two major profitability indicators of the financial health of the U.S. agricultural sector. 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. Net cash farm income, on the other hand, includes only gross cash income minus all cash expenses. Net cash farm income and net farm income estimates will not be available for 2020 until September 2021, but forecasts are available. In 2020, ERS forecasts net farm income to be at $123 billion, which was $31 billion more than the 20-year average and $38 billion (or 44 percent) higher than in 2019. ERS forecasts for net cash farm income in 2020 is close to $139 billion. This amount was $43 billion more than the 20-year average from 2000-2019 and $27 billion (or 25 percent) more than in 2019. ERS forecasts that both indicators increased significantly in 2020 as direct government payments to farm operations reached their highest level ever because of COVID-19 related aid, such as the Coronavirus Food Assistance Programs (CFAP) and the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). In 2021, ERS projects direct government payments to fall, pushing down both profitability indicators. Further projections estimate these profitability indicators to rise in 2022, then level off through 2030 because of a projected increase in production expenses. In 2030, both measures of farm income are projected to be lower than their 2020 forecasts. Net farm income is projected to remain slightly higher than the recent 20-year average, but net farm cash income is projected to be lower for 2021-30. This chart is based on data found in the ERS data products Farm Income and Wealth Statistics and Agricultural Baseline Database, updated February 2021.
Wednesday, May 12, 2021
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 spur economic activity in the manufacturing, trade, and transportation sectors, and the movement of these agricultural exports requires data processing, financial, legal, managerial, and administrative services. This additional economic activity is estimated annually by USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS) using an agricultural trade multiplier that measures the employment and output effects of trade in farm and food products on the U.S. economy. In 2019, U.S. agricultural exports valued at $142 billion generated an additional $160 billion in economic activity, for a total of $302 billion in economic output. This means that on average, every dollar of U.S. agricultural product exported generated an additional $1.13 of domestic economic activity. No sector outside of crop and livestock production benefited more than the services, trade, and transportation sector, which generated $88 billion worth of additional economic activity because of U.S. agricultural exports. On the farm, agricultural exports supported an additional $31 billion of business activity beyond the value of the agricultural exports themselves. This chart is drawn from ERS’s Agricultural Trade Multiplier, released April 2021. Note: ERS’s agricultural trade multiplier relies on an estimate of $141.6 billion for U.S. agricultural exports in 2019. This value includes exports of biodiesel, which USDA does not classify as an agricultural product, in addition to the $141.2 billion of exports identified by USDA as agricultural using the World Trade Organization’s definition of agricultural products.
Monday, May 10, 2021
On average, more than one in five Black non-Hispanic and Hispanic households with children reported that their children sometimes or often did not have enough to eat during the past week as of March 29, 2021. The Household Pulse Survey, which provides these food insufficiency estimates, was developed through a partnership with the U.S. Census Bureau to produce timely information on the economic and social effects of COVID-19 on U.S. households. Households were classified as having children with food insufficiency if the adult survey respondent said children in the household were not eating enough “sometimes” or “often” in the last 7 days because the household could not afford enough food. Up to 30.5 percent of Black non-Hispanic households with children experienced child food insufficiency during November 25–December 7, 2020, compared to 10.1 percent for White non-Hispanic households with children. Asian non-Hispanic and other non-Hispanic households with children experienced child food insufficiency at rates between these two groups. While the prevalence of child food insufficiency for all groups declined from peak levels by the end of March 2021, the disparities among ethnic groups remained. For more information on the Economic Research Service’s food security research, see the Food Security in the U.S. topic page on the website. See also the Food Sufficiency During the Pandemic trending topics page.
Friday, May 7, 2021
In 2020, the Federal Government provided assistance to farm operations that experienced losses because of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. The aid came in the form of loans from the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and payments from the two iterations of the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP), programs 1 (CFAP 1) and 2 (CFAP 2). PPP, administered by the U.S. Small Business Administration, provided loans to small businesses to help them keep their workers employed during the pandemic. CFAP, administered by USDA’s Farm Service Agency, provides assistance to agricultural producers whose operations were directly affected by the pandemic. The PPP loan amount each farm business could receive depended on their income and employment costs, while CFAP payments were based on commodity prices, previous sales, acres, and/or inventory. USDA, Economic Research Service (ERS) researchers compared the total amount of PPP loans plus CFAP payments received in each State in 2020 to its 2019 value of production (estimates of the 2020 value of production are not yet available). Massachusetts received the largest share of total loans and payments relative to the State’s 2019 value of production (12.2 percent), and South Dakota came in second at 11.1 percent of its 2019 production. California, which had the highest value of agricultural production in 2019, received the largest total amount of PPP and CFAP aid at $3.1 billion. Iowa, which had the second highest level of agricultural production in 2019, was No. 2 with $2.4 billion in assistance. This chart used data found in the ERS data product Farm Income and Wealth Statistics, Farm sector financial indicators, State rankings, updated February 2021.
Tuesday, May 4, 2021
The United States is a major exporter of agricultural products, with about 20 percent of its farm output sold abroad. Economic crises in foreign markets typically reduce U.S. export sales. Economic crises decrease countries’ Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and consumer demand, including demand for imported agricultural goods. Crises also often weaken, or depreciate, countries’ currency against the U.S. dollar, which lowers their imports by making foreign products more expensive compared with domestically produced substitutes. To examine how a worldwide economic crisis might affect U.S. agricultural exports, researchers at USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS) simulated a hypothetical economic crisis in the eight largest U.S. foreign agricultural markets. The exercise indicated that the value of U.S. exports of the seven commodities given in the chart could decline in the year of an economic crisis by $4 billion, an export drop of 6.6 percent (using average 2017-19 export volumes as the base). Model results show the value of U.S. exports of soybeans, beef, and pork falling by around 8 percent, and exports of wheat and corn by about 5 percent. The export value for a good equals its export volume multiplied by the trade price. Export values in the ERS exercise drop by a greater percentage than export volumes because the global economic crisis substantially decreases world demand, and thereby lowers prices, for traded agricultural products. The results of this exercise can provide insight into how the current world economic crisis caused by Coronavirus COVID-19 is affecting U.S. agricultural exports. This chart appears in the Economic Research Report Economic Crises and U.S. Agricultural Exports, released in April 2021.
Monday, May 3, 2021
In 2019, 123.2 pounds per person of caloric sweeteners were available for consumption by U.S. consumers, a 19 percent decrease from a high of 151.5 pounds per person in 1999. According to the USDA, Economic Research Service’s (ERS) Food Availability (Per Capita) Data System, availability of total corn sweeteners (high-fructose corn syrup, glucose syrup, and dextrose) contributed to the drop, falling from its peak of 83.6 pounds per person in 1999 to 52.7 pounds per person in 2019. High corn prices, price competition with refined cane and beet sugars and other caloric sweeteners, as well as shifting preferences among consumers and food manufacturers have contributed to this decline. Availability of refined cane and beet sugars fell from 102.3 pounds per person in 1972 to 60.0 pounds per person in 1986, then remained relatively flat for the next two and a half decades. Refined sugar availability began to rise in 2010, surpassing corn sweetener availability and reaching 68.4 pounds per person in 2019. Rising honey imports have contributed to recent increases in per capita honey availability, according to ERS’s Sugars and Sweeteners Yearbook Tables. In 2019, per capita honey availability stood at 1.3 pounds and per capita availability of edible syrups was 0.8 pounds. This chart is from ERS’s Ag and Food Statistics: Charting the Essentials data product, updated January 14, 2021.