ERS Charts of Note

Subscribe to get highlights from our current and past research, Monday through Friday, or see our privacy policy.
See also: Editors' Pick: Charts of Note 2019 gallery.


Palm oil rally sparked by growing biodiesel use in Malaysia and Indonesia

Friday, January 17, 2020

Palm oil is the world’s most widely consumed vegetable oil, used for a multitude of edible goods as well as for industrial applications, including biodiesel. Production of palm oil is dominated by the two top producers—Indonesia and Malaysia. Rising consumption of palm oil by major producing countries and falling output of vegetable oil by major importers, including India, China, and the European Union, have led to recent price increases for Malaysian palm oil. By October 2019, Malaysian prices had climbed to a 13-month high, and further price strengthening is possible next year. In addition to increased demand, palm oil supply and stocks are projected lower due to slowing production. For Malaysia, USDA lowered its estimate of palm oil production for October 2019 through September 2020 to 21 million metric tons. The reduction can be tied to Malaysian rainfall over the last 12 months being significantly below average, which can adversely affect palm oil yields for up to a year. A slower rise in palm oil output coincided with decisions by the Indonesian and Malaysian governments to increase the percentage that biodiesel must comprise in the total fuels supply. Starting in 2020, Malaysia will double its biodiesel requirement to 20 percent. This chart appears in the ERS Oil Crops Outlook newsletter released in November 2019.

Veterans consume a higher share of calories from added sugars and solid fats than nonveterans

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

In a recent study, ERS researchers used self-reported food intake data to explore how veterans’ diets compare with those of nonveterans. The researchers found that, much like other Americans, veterans do not closely follow healthy eating recommendations in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, jointly issued every 5 years by USDA and the Department of Health and Human Services. Veterans were found to have somewhat lower quality diets than nonveterans after controlling for demographic differences, such as the fact that veterans tend to be older and are more often male. Veterans’ lower diet quality was primarily due to their higher consumption of calories from added sugars and solid fats. Between 2003 and 2016, added sugars represented 16.4 percent of total calories for veterans, on average, versus 13.8 percent for demographically similar nonveterans. Added sugars include cane and beet sugar, syrups, and other caloric sweeteners. The Dietary Guidelines encourages individuals to keep calories from added sugars below 10 percent of total calories. Veterans obtained another 18.1 percent of their total calories from solid fats, as compared with 15.6 percent for nonveterans. Solid fats are the fats found in meats, poultry, dairy products, hydrogenated vegetable oils, and some tropical oils. The data for this chart come from the ERS report, An Examination of Veterans’ Diet Quality, December 2019.

The fate of expiring Conservation Reserve Program acreage varied with its conservation practice

Monday, January 13, 2020

ERS researchers tracked the fate of 7.6 million acres of Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) land in contracts that expired between 2013 and 2016. About 36 percent of expiring land (2.76 million acres) reenrolled into the CRP. Of the about 4.89 million acres that exited the program (i.e. were not reenrolled), nearly 80 percent of the land was put into some type of crop production—with the remainder going into grass, tree, and other non-agricultural covers. CRP land associated with tree practices was the most likely to be reenrolled in the program, at a rate of 47 percent, compared with 35 percent of land in grass practices and 29 percent of land in wildlife practices. Of land that did not reenroll, 77 percent of land in a tree practice retained a tree cover, and only 13 percent went to annual crop production. In contrast, 65 percent of land in a wetland practice and 59 percent of land in a grass practice went to annual crop production. This chart appears in the January 2020 ERS report, The Fate of Land in Expiring Conservation Reserve Program Contracts, 2013-2016.

As income increases, the share of income spent on food falls

Friday, December 20, 2019

As their incomes rise, households spend more money on food, but it represents a smaller share of their overall budgets. In 2018, households in the lowest income quintile, with an average 2018 after-tax income of $11,695, spent an average of $4,109 on food (about $79 a week). Households in the highest income quintile spent an average of $13,348 on food (about $257 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. Rather, people choose to buy different types of food as they gain more disposable income. One example is dining out. One-third of food spending by the lowest income quintile goes to food away from home, whereas food away from home accounts for half of total food spending for the top quintile. Even with a shift to more expensive food options, as income increases, the percent of income spent on food goes down. In 2018, food spending represented 35.1 percent of the bottom quintile’s income, 13.6 percent of income for the middle quintile, and 8.2 percent of income for the top quintile. This chart appears in the Food Prices and Spending section of ERS’s Ag and Food Statistics: Charting the Essentials data product.

ICYMI... Family farm households rely on various sources of income

Thursday, December 19, 2019

The composition of family farm household income varies by the type of farm. For example, households operating commercial family farms earned most of their income on the farm ($225,264 on average in 2017). Residence family farm households relied mostly on off-farm wages and salaries ($69,493 on average). Intermediate family farm households, meanwhile, had relatively high retirement and disability income ($19,222 on average), in part because these households had the oldest principal operators on average. Less than half of all farm households had positive incomes from their farm operations in 2017. Among commercial farm households, 86 percent had positive income from farming, compared to 51 percent of intermediate farm households and 35 percent of residence farm households. At the median, U.S. farm households earned $67,500 from non-farm sources, compared to a median loss of $800 from farming operations. This chart appears in the Amber Waves infographic “Farm Households Rely on Many Sources of Income,” published June 2019. This Chart of Note was originally published June 14, 2019.

U.S. apple crop estimate up

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

With the onset of cold weather the U.S. apple harvest for the 2019/20 marketing year (August-July) is wrapping up. The 2019/20 U.S. apple crop is forecast at 10.6 billion pounds, up 4 percent from a year ago as output gains in Western States (largely Washington and California) outweigh declines in Eastern States. The top apple State, Washington, expects a 7.2-billion pound crop of excellent quality, up 7 percent from last year. While this increase signals higher fresh-market supplies, flat-to-slightly-smaller crops in Michigan, New York, and Virginia may hinder gains in processed production. Overall, larger production indicates a possible downward pressure on apple-grower prices during the 2019/20 season-relative to 2018/19, likely boosting overall demand, especially in the fresh market. Pricing early in 2019/20, however, was supported by relatively strong late-2018/19 fresh apple grower prices due to tighter supplies. This chart is based on the ERS Fruit and Tree Nut Outlook newsletter, released September 2019.

ICYMI... SNAP participation continued to contract in 2018

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is the cornerstone of USDA’s food and nutrition assistance programs, accounting for 68 percent of all Federal food and nutrition assistance spending in fiscal 2018. An average of 40.3 million people per month participated in the program in fiscal 2018, 4 percent fewer than in fiscal 2017. As the fifth consecutive year of declining participation, fiscal 2018’s caseload was 15 percent less than the historical high average of 47.6 million participants per month in fiscal 2013. The decrease in SNAP participation in 2018 was likely associated with the country’s continued economic improvement in recent years. Federal spending for SNAP fell by 5 percent in fiscal 2018 to $65.0 billion—19 percent less than the historical high of $79.9 billion set in fiscal 2013. This chart appears in the ERS report, The Food Assistance Landscape: FY 2018 Annual Report, released on April 18, 2019. This Chart of Note was originally published May 7, 2019.

New antibiotics for food animals decreased as a share of overall veterinary drug approvals between 1992 and 2015

Monday, December 16, 2019

Many antibiotics developed for use in animal production are “cast-offs” from products originally intended to be marketed to humans. Therefore, the decline in the development of new human antibiotics suggests there may a similar decline in the development of new antibiotics for food animal production. The share of food-animal antibiotics as a portion of all veterinary drug approvals has declined from 62 percent in 1992-94 to 40 percent in 2013-15. The decline reflects increasing development of new animal drugs approved for companion animals, from 30 percent of all approvals in 1992-94 to 47 percent in 2013-15. Given the overall decline in the number of all animal drug approvals between 1992 and 2015, the decline in the share of food-animal antibiotics approvals also reflects a decline in the number of approvals for such drugs. This chart appears in the ERS report, The U.S. and EU Animal Pharmaceutical Industries in the Age of Antibiotic Resistance, released May 2019. See also the Amber Waves article, “Developing Alternatives to Antibiotics Used in Food Animal Production,” published in May 2019.

Median farm household income in 2018 was greater than the median U.S. household income, except among retirement and low-sales farm households

Friday, December 13, 2019

Farm households often earn higher incomes than other types of households. In 2018, 57 percent of U.S. farm households received incomes at or above the median for all U.S. households, which was $63,179 that year. ERS classifies farm households into 7 types based on their annual gross cash farm income (GCFI), and groups small farms by the primary occupation of the principal producer. Median household incomes for 5 out of 7 farm types exceeded both the median U.S. household and the median income for households with self-employment income. However, the median income for all family farm households is lower than the median among all U.S. households with self-employment income. Overall, only 3 percent of farm households had lower wealth than the median U.S. household. This chart appears in the December 2019 report, America’s Diverse Family Farms: 2019 Edition.

ICYMI... Brazil projected to outpace other top beef-exporting countries over the next decade

Thursday, December 12, 2019

In 2018, Brazil was the world’s largest exporter of beef, providing close to 20 percent of total global beef exports, outpacing India, the second-largest exporter, by 527,000 metric tons carcass weight equivalent (CWE). Moreover, USDA projects that Brazil will continue its export growth trajectory for the next decade, reaching 2.9 million metric tons, or 23 percent of the world’s total beef exports, by 2028. Increased beef demand worldwide has encouraged increased production. China and Hong Kong remain the top two destinations for Brazil’s beef exports, accounting for 44 percent of Brazil’s total beef shipments in 2018. China in 2012 lifted a Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE)-related ban on Brazilian beef and has since become a top importer. With an increase in the number of Brazil’s beef plants authorized to export to China, exports are expected to increase further in 2019 and over the next decade. In comparison with Brazil, the United States ranks fourth in global beef exports and represented 14 percent of total beef exports in 2018. This chart appears in the July 2019 Amber Waves article, “Brazil Once Again Becomes the World’s Largest Beef Exporter.” This Chart of Note was originally published July 15, 2019.

Number of people living in low-income areas with low access to food stores grew in some States over 2010-15

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Limited access to food stores (supermarkets, supercenters, and large grocery stores) stocking a variety of affordable and nutritious food can make it harder for some Americans to eat a healthy diet, especially for those with low incomes. For people who live in low-income census tracts with low access to food stores (called LILA census tracts), the quality of their diets could be at risk. Estimates calculated by ERS reveal that from 2010 to 2015, the number of people who lived in LILA census tracts in the United States increased by 2 million. Ohio had the greatest increase in number of people living in LILA tracts—an additional 301,000 Ohio residents lived in LILA tracts in 2015 compared with 2010. Georgia, Florida, Tennessee, and Michigan were also among the States with the largest increases in LILA population. In most cases, the increase in a State’s population living in a LILA census tract was the result of more census tracts meeting the definition of low income after the Great Recession of 2007-09. Texas had the greatest decrease in LILA population from 2010 to 2015, with the number of people living in LILA census tracts falling by 140,000. Minnesota, Pennsylvania, New York, and New Jersey saw the number of their residents living in LILA tracts fall by between 62,000 to 113,000 people over this period. This chart appears in the ERS data visualization, “State by State estimates of low income & low access (LILA) populations.”

ICYMI... Rural families headed by single adults had higher poverty rates than urban counterparts in 2017

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Family type has a significant bearing on poverty. For example, families headed by two adults are likely to have more sources of income than single-adult families—and are therefore less likely to be poor. In 2017, nearly 33.8 percent of rural families headed by a female with no spouse present and 18.5 percent of those headed by a male with no spouse present fell below the poverty threshold. In contrast, 6 percent of rural families with a married couple were poor. On average, 11.6 percent of all rural families were poor. Poverty rates for single-adult families were higher than average for urban area residents as well in 2017, but overall family poverty rates were higher in rural than in urban areas. This chart appears in the ERS topic page for Rural Poverty & Well-being, updated March 2019. This Chart of Note was originally published May 29, 2019.

Poor weather during sugarbeet harvest reduces expected U.S. sugar production for 2019/20

Monday, December 9, 2019

The 2019/20 sugarbeet crop (which operates on an August-to-July crop year) was significantly affected by poor weather during the harvest season. Cold and wet conditions resulted in frozen ground in many regions—particularly in the major-producing States of Minnesota and North Dakota. Sugarbeets had to be left in the ground, unharvested, as equipment could not dig into the frozen soil to harvest this root vegetable, and many that were harvested late in the season were damaged and deemed unsuitable for processing. According to USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service’s (NASS) November 1 forecast, 14 percent of planted sugarbeet acreage is expected to go unharvested. In a typical year, 1.5 percent to 3.5 percent of the crop goes unharvested. The reduction in sugarbeet production accounts for a 5-percent decline in expected domestic sugar production, compared with October USDA forecasts. This chart is based on data in the ERS Sugar and Sweeteners Outlook released in November 2019.

Limited-service restaurants’ share of the eating-out market has grown over the past two decades

Friday, December 6, 2019

ERS’s Food Expenditure Series points to Americans’ growing appetite for eating out. Expenditures at food-away-from-home establishments—restaurants, school cafeterias, sports venues, and other eating places—totaled $930.6 billion in 2018, compared with the $780.9 billion spent on food at home in grocery stores, supercenters, convenience stores, and other retailers. Full-service restaurants with wait staff and limited-service restaurants—where food is ordered and paid for at a counter or drive-through window—dominate the food-away-from-home market. Full-service restaurants’ share of the food-away-from-home market rose from 35.6 percent in 1998 to 36.3 percent in 2018, while limited-service restaurants posted a larger increase in market share from 33.6 to 36.6 percent over the same period. The share of food-away-from-home expenditures occurring at hotels and motels and at schools and colleges declined between 1998 and 2018, while the shares at recreational places and at retail stores and vending increased slightly. The data in this chart, along with more information on U.S. food sales and expenditures, can be found in ERS’s Food Expenditure Series data product.

ICYMI... Since 1970, increasing cattle weights have fueled growth of U.S. beef production as cattle used have decreased

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Over the last 50 years, U.S. beef production (measured as volume of meat produced) steadily increased by 25 percent, even while the number of cattle destined for beef production decreased by 6 percent. When beef production, numbers of cattle, and average cattle weights are viewed as indices (with a base year of 1970), the trend becomes clear. Since 1970, beef production has increased by roughly 25 percent. Over the same period, however, the number of cattle used in beef production has fallen by 6 percent. The decline in the number of cattle has been countered by a more than 30-percent increase in average cattle weights, driven mainly by increases in the average weights of steers and heifers, which represent 80 percent of cattle destined for beef production. Changes in breeding practices have produced heifers and steers with higher growth rates and higher feed conversion efficiencies in pastures and feedlots. USDA forecasts beef production to reach record levels in 2019 and again in 2020. Both years are expected to surpass the previous record set in 2002, but with 8 percent fewer cattle than in 2002. This chart appears in the ERS Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry Outlook newsletter, released in May 2019. This Chart of Note was originally published June 5, 2019.

Public agricultural research expenditures as a percentage of agricultural GDP has fallen in high-income countries since 2009

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

One way of comparing research and development (R&D) investment across countries is to measure R&D spending relative to the size of the economy, or as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). While the United States spends more on public agricultural R&D than other high-income countries, U.S. expenditures relative to the size of its agricultural sector have been about average. Over time, agricultural R&D spending has tended to rise as a percentage of agricultural GDP in virtually all countries. This tendency reflects the greater technological sophistication of agriculture, as well as the broadening of research agendas beyond production agriculture to include more emphasis on various societal issues, including food safety, rural development, and the environment. In the United States, public spending on agricultural R&D as a percentage of GDP peaked in the mid-2000s at about 3.5 percent of agricultural GDP but significantly declined since 2009. By 2013, public spending fell to 2 percent of agricultural GDP. U.S. agricultural research intensity is now below average for high-income countries. Leading regions, such as Northwest Europe and high-income Asia, have agricultural R&D spending of around 4.5 percent of agricultural GDP. Public agricultural research intensities also leveled off or even fell in the agricultural-exporting countries of Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. Research intensities in Southern European and Mediterranean countries and in Central European countries have been consistently lower than those in other high-income countries. This chart appears in the ERS report, Agricultural Research Investment and Policy Reform in High-Income Countries, released May 2018.

ICYMI... Foodservice employees are more likely to use a food thermometer at home

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Public health officials recommend using food thermometers when cooking meat, poultry, and seafood to verify that the food is adequately cooked and that disease-causing pathogens, which could be in the food, are destroyed. Using data from the American Time Use Survey’s Eating and Health Module, ERS researchers found that 13.7 percent of at-home meal preparers used a food thermometer when preparing any meals with meat, poultry, or seafood during a typical week in 2014 to 2016. ERS researchers further examined whether at-home meal preparers with occupations related to food preparation were more likely to use a food thermometer. For at-home meal preparers who worked in the leisure and hospitality industry, 17.6 percent used food thermometers at home. Just over 20 percent of those who worked in the accommodation and foodservice industry, and 24.2 percent of those who worked in food preparation and serving occupations reported using food thermometers at home. These estimates exceed the national average, suggesting the training that foodservice employees receive for work partially carries over to behavior at home. This chart appears in the article, “Not All Consumers Are Following Food Safety Advice From Health Officials” in ERS’s Amber Waves magazine, April 2019. This Chart of Note was originally published May 22, 2019.

ICYMI... American adults consumed ready-to-eat foods more often in 2015–16 than in 2007–08

Friday, November 29, 2019

Flexible Consumer Behavior Survey (FCBS) module, developed by ERS, has been part of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey since 2007. FCBS questions are designed to collect data on U.S. consumers’ dietary knowledge, attitudes, and habits, including their consumption of frozen meals and “ready-to-eat” foods such as salads, soups, chicken, sandwiches, and cooked vegetables from the salad bars and deli counters of grocery stores. Preparing food at home can be a time-intensive activity, and some American adults turn to prepared foods offered in grocery stores when faced with time constraints. ERS researchers used FCBS data to examine changes between 2007–08 and 2015–16 in the frequency of eating grocery-store-prepared dishes and frozen meals and pizzas. Although the average number of times Americans age 20 and older reported consuming frozen meals or pizzas in the past month was similar in both time periods, average past-month consumption of ready-to-eat foods increased by about 26 percent, from 1.9 times in 2007–08 to 2.4 times in 2015–16. Many grocery stores have expanded their ready-to-eat options in recent years. More information from the Flexible Consumer Behavior Survey can be found in the Food Consumption & Demand topic page on the ERS website. This Chart of Note was originally published April 26, 2019.

Farm sector profits forecast to increase in 2019

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Inflation-adjusted U.S. net cash farm income (gross cash income less cash expenses) is forecast to increase $13.6 billion (12.9 percent) to $119.0 billion in 2019. U.S. net farm income (a broader measure of farm sector profitability that incorporates noncash items including changes in inventories, economic depreciation, and gross imputed rental income) is forecast to increase $7.0 billion (8.2 percent) from 2018 to $92.5 billion in 2019. The forecast increases are due to a combination of lower production expenses, which are subtracted out in the calculation of net income, as well as increases in government payments and farm-related income. These factors contributing to higher income are expected to more than offset the forecast decline in cash receipts from commodity sales. If forecast changes are realized, net farm income would stand at 2.8 percent above its inflation-adjusted average calculated over the 2000-18 period and net cash farm income would be 10.0 percent above its 2000-18 average. Find additional information and analysis on ERS’s Farm Sector Income and Finances topic page, reflecting data released November 27, 2019.

Potatoes and tomatoes are America’s top vegetable choices

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

If mashed potatoes are on your Thanksgiving menu, you are not alone. Potatoes rank number one among vegetables in terms of consumption. In 2017, 49.2 pounds of fresh and processed potatoes per person were available for Americans to eat after adjusting for losses, according to ERS’s loss-adjusted food availability data. The loss-adjusted food availability data series takes per capita supplies of food available for human consumption and more closely approximates actual consumption by adjusting for some of the spoilage, plate waste, and other losses in restaurants and grocery stores, as well as at home. Loss-adjusted availability of fresh potatoes was 22.9 pounds per person in 2017, followed by frozen potatoes at 20.5 pounds per person. Loss-adjusted availability of canned and dehydrated potatoes, along with potato chips and shoestrings, totaled 5.9 pounds per person in 2017. While loss-adjusted canned tomato availability, at 16.1 pounds, leads fresh tomatoes, total tomato loss-adjusted availability—fresh and canned—came in second (28.7 pounds per person). Loss-adjusted availability of fresh and dehydrated onions was 11.3 pounds per person in 2017. Head lettuce came in fourth at 8.3 pounds per person while romaine and leaf lettuce surpassed carrots and sweet corn, reaching 6.8 pounds per person. Consumption of carrots and sweet corn finished the list of America’s top 7 vegetable choices. This chart appears in the Food Availability and Consumption section of ERS’s Ag and Food Statistics: Charting the Essentials data product, updated September 2019.

Charts of Note header image for left nav