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Global food security improves in 2023 with higher incomes, lower vegetable oil prices

Thursday, September 21, 2023

USDA’s International Food Security Assessment (IFSA) model estimates how food prices and incomes affect food demand and access in 83 low- and middle-income countries. Food security is then evaluated by estimating the share of a country’s population that is unable to access sufficient calories to sustain a healthy and active lifestyle. In IFSA countries in 2023, almost 229 million fewer people are estimated to be food insecure compared with 2022, a 16.8-percent decrease. That improvement stems from average annual income growth of 3.7 percent for countries included in the IFSA. In 2023, the average per capita Gross Domestic Product—a proxy for income—for the IFSA countries was $2,415, higher than the $2,253 average for 2020–22. In addition, the drop in the price of vegetable oils contributes to food security improvements in 2023. Vegetable oil is a common component of many foods and, according to the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations, makes up about 10 percent of calories consumed in a day in low-income countries. The year-to-year reduction in food insecurity indicates recovery from factors that continue to affect the global economy, including the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, high inflation rates for food and farm production inputs, and the ongoing Russian military invasion of Ukraine. This chart appears in the USDA, Economic Research Service report International Food Security Assessment, 2023-33, published in August 2023.

More than half of apples available for U.S. consumption are used in juices

Wednesday, September 20, 2023

Apples are a fall staple, showing up in lunch boxes, pies, cobblers, crisps, and cider. In 2021, 45.9 pounds of apples per person were available for domestic consumption, according to USDA, Economic Research Service’s (ERS) Food Availability data product. Fifty-two percent of the available apples for U.S. domestic use (23.7 pounds per person) was in the form of juice or cider, or about 2 gallons per person. Fresh apples accounted for 34 percent (15.8 pounds per person). Canned, frozen, dried, and other forms made up the remaining 14 percent of apple availability in 2021. Over the last 10 years, per-person apple availability reached a high of 49.2 pounds per person in 2016. Much of the decrease since 2016 was because of declining availability of fresh apples. In 2016, fresh apple availability was 19.3 pounds per person. This chart uses data from ERS’ Food Availability (Per Capita) Data System (FADS), updated in April 2023.

Pennsylvania leads country in organic mushroom production

Tuesday, September 19, 2023

Pennsylvania led the United States in organic mushroom production with about 9.6 million square feet devoted to organic mushrooms in 2021. That amounts to about 61 percent of total U.S. square footage, a significant increase from 39 percent in 2019. California followed Pennsylvania, producing about 3.3 million square feet in 2021. Pennsylvania also leads the United States in conventional mushroom production. Mushrooms generally are produced in a controlled environment, so natural soil and temperature conditions are likely not factors in Pennsylvania’s dominance in this industry. Instead, Pennsylvania farmers have been significant producers of mushrooms since the 1880s and have the specialized knowledge and ventilated housing needed for extensive mushroom production, as well as organic straw and manure for use as composted substrate (the surface material on which mushrooms are grown). Farmers grow Agaricus, which includes the common white button mushroom, portabello, and crimini varieties, as well as specialty mushrooms such as shiitake, oyster, and other exotic mushrooms. The Mushroom Council, an organization of U.S. fresh mushroom producers, reports that at the retail level in 2022, organic crimini mushrooms made up 43 percent of the volume of organic sales, white 42 percent, portabello 9 percent, shiitake 3 percent, and other specialty mushroom varieties 3 percent. This chart appears in the USDA, Economic Research Service special article U.S. Organic Mushroom Industry Overview in the Vegetables and Pulses Outlook: December 2022, published in December 2022.

Crop research and development spending tracks sales revenue by major seed companies

Monday, September 18, 2023

Total research and development (R&D) spending on crop improvement by the seven largest seed companies (as well as their legacy companies) increased from less than $2 billion in 1990 to more than $6.5 billion by 2021, closely tracking with increases in company revenues from seed and agrichemical sales. Intellectual property rights protections for new seed innovations—especially genetically modified seeds—allow seed companies to set prices for their products with a temporary legal monopoly. The profits earned are a return for R&D investments and costs to commercialize the inventions. These profits also allowed seed companies to spend more on crop R&D, accelerate the rate of new variety introductions with higher productivity potential, and charge higher prices reflecting the value of improved seeds. Collectively, these 7 companies have invested about 10 percent of their agricultural revenues in R&D. This chart appears in the USDA, Economic Research Service publication Concentration and Competition in U.S. Agribusiness, published in June 2023, and the Amber Waves article Expanded Intellectual Property Protections for Crop Seeds Increase Innovation and Market Power for Companies, published in August 2023.

With domestic chili pepper production cooling off, imports have heated up

Thursday, September 14, 2023

Although domestic chili pepper production has been falling for more than a decade, the rate of reduction has accelerated in recent years. In 2014, U.S. producers in Arizona, California, New Mexico, and Texas grew more than 480 million pounds of chili peppers. By 2022, production had dropped to about 175 million pounds. Generally, this 60-percent decrease can be attributed to reduced acreage and yields. To offset decreasing domestic production and to meet rising demand, many U.S. companies and consumers have purchased imported peppers, most of which are grown in Mexico. In 2014, about 2 out of every 10 chili peppers consumed domestically were produced domestically. By 2022, this share had fallen to less than 1 out of every 10. From 2014 to 2022, the number of peppers exported remained steady, ranging from 66 million pounds to 106 million. However, the share of U.S. peppers exported more than tripled, increasing from 14 percent in 2014 to 46 percent in 2022. Although 8 percent more chili peppers were available in 2022 than in 2014, fewer were grown by U.S. producers. This chart is drawn from USDA, Economic Research Service’s Vegetables and Pulses Yearbook.

Fewer than one-third of U.S. adults think their diets were very good or excellent

Wednesday, September 13, 2023

In the period covering January 2017 to March 2020, just under 3 in 10 adults, or 29 percent, reported the healthfulness of their diets was “very good” or “excellent.” That is 3.5 percentage points lower than the corresponding share reported in 2005–06. These data can be found in the latest publicly available wave of the Flexible Consumer Behavior Survey (FCBS), which collects information on U.S. consumers’ knowledge, attitudes, and beliefs about nutrition and food choices. For context, 41 percent of adults surveyed in the 1989–1991 Continuing Survey of Food Intakes of Individuals rated the healthfulness of their diets as “very good” or excellent, suggesting a continuing downward trend in the health quality individuals ascribe to their diets. In the 2017–March 2020 survey, adults age 20 and over were asked to assess their diet quality by responding to the question: “In general, how healthy is your overall diet?” They could choose “poor,” “fair,” “good,” “very good,” or “excellent.” Since 2007, USDA, Economic Research Service (ERS) has sponsored the FCBS by providing partial funding for data collection and survey administration. FCBS is a module of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) and its data reflect national trends about changing dietary behaviors of U.S. consumers. This chart appears on ERS’ Flexible Consumer Behavior Survey topic page, updated in June 2023.

Costs of U.S. <i>Vibrio</i> infections projected to increase as seas warm from climate change

Tuesday, September 12, 2023

Vibrio are bacteria that thrive in warm brackish and marine waters. Many Vibrio can cause human illness through foodborne and waterborne exposure. Climate change is expected to expand the range and season of Vibrio infections as sea surface temperatures become warmer. Researchers from USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS), U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the private consulting firm Industrial Economics Inc. recently used data on sea surface temperatures and non-cholera Vibrio infection surveillance data to project how much climate change could increase the incidence of these infections in the United States. ERS’ per-case cost estimates of foodborne illnesses were used to project the costs of additional illnesses, including medical or treatment costs, productivity losses (the value of time affected by illness), and the value of a statistical life (an economic measure of preventing premature mortality). Results show that higher sea surface temperatures associated with moderate increases in greenhouse gas concentration (lower emissions scenario) may cause U.S. Vibrio infections (not including cholera) to increase 50 percent by 2090 relative to 1995. If global warming is not mitigated (higher emissions scenario), then such cases are projected to increase by more than 100 percent in that time period. The annual total cost of these illnesses more than doubles from nearly $2.6 billion in 1995 to $6.1 billion in 2090 (in 2022 dollars) under a lower greenhouse gas emissions scenario and more than triples to nearly $8.6 billion under the higher emissions scenario. Across both scenarios, about 95 percent of total costs are attributable to deaths caused by Vibrio infections. This chart appears in the ERS Amber Waves article, Climate Change Projected To Increase Costs of U.S. Vibrio Infections, published in June 2023.

Agricultural labor expenses forecast to increase by almost 2 percent in 2023

Monday, September 11, 2023

Total cash labor expenses for the U.S. agriculture sector are forecast to be $43.35 billion for 2023, based on the August 2023 forecast by USDA, Economic Research Service. This would be an increase of $0.78 billion, or 1.8 percent, over the 2022 level of $42.57 billion (in inflation-adjusted 2023 dollars). The projected 2023 level would remain below the high set in 2017 in inflation-adjusted labor expenses. Labor expenses are an important component of agricultural production costs. For every $100 spent on production expenses, almost $10 goes toward labor. Total labor expenses include contract and hired labor payments but exclude non-cash employee compensation. This information updates information in the Amber Waves article U.S. Agriculture Labor Expenses Forecast To Increase More Than 4 Percent in 2023, published in July 2023.

Tequila from Mexico drove boost in U.S. imports of alcoholic beverages in 2022

Thursday, September 7, 2023

The United States imported $26.6 billion in alcoholic beverages in 2022. Total U.S. imports of distilled spirits, beer, and wine accounted for 14 percent of all U.S. agricultural imports. Distilled spirits were the largest and fastest growing segment of these products, accounting for almost half—$12 billion—of U.S. alcohol imports. Tequila from Mexico led the growth among distilled spirits, while imports of products such as whiskey and vodka, which traditionally are higher, decreased. Adjusting for inflation, between 2014 and 2019, tequila imports increased from $1.1 billion to $4.9 billion. While the United States is the largest market for Mexico’s tequila, international demand, especially in Europe, also has been strong. Drought in key agave-growing regions as well as a less favorable currency exchange rate have led to a reduced U.S. forecast for distilled spirit imports in 2023 and 2024. In 2022, total U.S. beer import values reached $6.7 billion, and wine imports reached $7.8 billion, both of which are expected to cool in 2023 and into 2024. The United States also exported $3.9 billion of alcoholic beverages in 2022. U.S. exports of distilled spirits, largely bourbon, have grown, while wine and beer exports have remained flat. This chart is drawn from the Outlook for U.S. Agricultural Trade published by USDA’s Economic Research Service in August 2023.

Rural counties dependent on recreation had the most food-away-from-home outlets in 2019

Wednesday, September 6, 2023

Rural U.S. counties that economically depend on natural amenities, tourism, and recreation generally had more options for dining out per 1,000 people in 2019 than those with other leading industries, such as mining, manufacturing, or farming. Roughly 2,000 U.S. counties were considered rural in 2019, where rural is broadly defined as any area that is nonmetropolitan. About 12 percent of those counties had recreation as their primary industry. Those rural, recreation-dependent counties had nearly 3.5 restaurants and other food-away-from-home (FAFH) establishments per 1,000 people, higher than rural counties dependent on other industries. Other types of rural economies had fewer restaurants and other FAFH outlets per 1,000 people, ranging from 2.2 outlets per 1,000 people in farming-dependent counties to 2.6 in mining-dependent counties. Metropolitan counties had average densities between 1.4 and 3.1 FAFH establishments per capita. This chart appears in the ERS Amber Waves article, Among Rural U.S. Counties, Those With Recreation-Dependent Economies Had Most Options Per Capita for Dining Out in 2019, published in August 2023.

Irrigation water delivery organizations play important role in conveying water in the western United States

Tuesday, September 5, 2023

Water is withdrawn from surface and groundwater sources for agricultural, industrial and municipal use. Farmers in the United States source water for irrigation by diverting it from on-farm surface water bodies like rivers or streams, directly pumping groundwater, or receiving water via the canals and ditches of water delivery irrigation organizations. In the four regions of the western United States (consisting of the Northwest (Idaho, Oregon, and Washington), Pacific (California and Nevada), Southwest (Arizona, New Mexico, Utah), and Eastern Rockies (Colorado, Montana, Wyoming) regions) irrigation water delivery organizations accounted for almost 60 percent of the water that is withdrawn for all uses in an average year. In contrast, in the High Plains (Kansas, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, and Texas) and Southeast (Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, and South Carolina), where surface and ground water resources for irrigation are available without large-scale coordination, these organizations conveyed water that amounted to about 3 percent of all water withdrawn in an average year. Irrigation water delivery organizations play a particularly large role in the Southwest, where in 2019 they conveyed 11 million acre-feet of water, which is 73 percent of the 15 million acre-feet withdrawn for all uses in an average year. This chart appears in the ERS report Irrigation Organizations: Water Inflows and Outflows, published in August 2023.

Farm sector profits forecast to fall in 2023 from record highs in 2022

Thursday, August 31, 2023

The USDA, Economic Research Service (ERS) forecasts inflation-adjusted U.S. net cash farm income (NCFI) to decrease by $60.5 billion (28.9 percent) from 2022 to $148.6 billion in 2023. Similarly, U.S. net farm income (NFI) is forecast to fall by $48.0 billion (25.4 percent) from 2022 to $141.3 billion in 2023. NCFI is calculated as gross cash income minus cash expenses. NFI is a broader measure of farm sector profitability that incorporates noncash items including changes in inventories, economic depreciation, and gross imputed rental income. The projected decreases in 2023 come after both NCFI and NFI reached all-time highs in 2022. NCFI reached $209.1 billion in 2022, and NFI reached $189.3 billion. Underlying these forecasts, cash receipts for farm commodities are projected to fall by $41.4 billion (7.5 percent) from 2022 to $513.6 billion in 2023. This includes forecasted declines of $13.9 billion (23.6 percent) in milk receipts and $11.6 billion (12.6 percent) in corn receipts. In addition, production expenses are expected to increase by $14.8 billion (3.3 percent) to $458.0 billion in 2023. Finally, direct Government payments to farmers are projected to fall by $3.5 billion (21.6 percent) from 2022 to $12.6 billion in 2023, because of lower supplemental and ad hoc disaster assistance. Find additional information and analysis on the USDA, ERS’ topic page Highlights from the Farm Income Forecast, reflecting data released on August 31, 2023.

Global wheat prices cooling with larger exporter supplies expected in 2023

Wednesday, August 30, 2023

After reaching historic highs in May 2022, U.S. and global wheat prices have since cooled as supply concerns for many key wheat exporters have abated. Wheat export prices for the United States, Russia, and France in July 2023 are all well below the peaks observed in May 2022 as an effect of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. Ample wheat supplies expected in the 2023/24 marketing year (July–June) in the European Union, of which France is a member, and Russia are contributing to low prices for those exporters. Markets recently reacted to the July 17 expiration of the Black Sea Grain Initiative, which had sustained Ukraine’s exports through the Black Sea for nearly a year. Russia’s subsequent attacks on Ukraine’s port infrastructure were further reflected in global wheat prices. However, Ukraine is expected to continue shipping some commodities via alternative routes, so price changes were relatively minimal compared with more extreme swings at the start of the conflict. Prices for other suppliers, such as France, were up slightly from May 2023 but 27 percent lower than in July 2022. U.S. hard red winter wheat export prices decreased 10 percent in July 2023 from July 2022 and were 34 percent lower from May 2022. Even so, they are higher compared with other key exporters, partly driven by ongoing drought in major U.S. growing regions. This chart is drawn from the USDA, Economic Research Service Wheat Outlook, August 2023.

Fries on the rise: Nearly half of potatoes now go into frozen products

Tuesday, August 29, 2023

The majority of potatoes in the United States are now sold in processed forms such as frozen, chipped, dehydrated, or canned. With the introduction of french fries as a key side dish in quick-service restaurants, the share of potatoes that go into frozen products has risen in each decade since 1979. As a result, almost half of all potatoes going into food in the United States are now used to create frozen products—most of which are french fries. Meanwhile, the share of potatoes used as fresh table potatoes has declined decade by decade. Even the favorable trend in french fries has seen some bumps along the way. After peaking in the late 1990s and early 2000s, the long-run upward trend in frozen potato availability slowed as many consumers embraced low-carb diets or sought alternative food choices and cuisines. However, by the mid-2010s, frozen potato availability once again turned upward, with per capita availability during the pandemic-influenced 2019–21 period up 8 percent from a decade earlier (2009–11). According to industry data and USDA, Economic Research Service (ERS) research in the early 2000s, about 90 percent of frozen french fries move through various food service venues. Quick-service restaurants alone account for about two-thirds of french fry usage. This chart is drawn from the ERS data product Vegetables and Pulses Yearbook Tables.

U.S. obesity rates grew in most regions during first year of pandemic

Monday, August 28, 2023

Adult obesity rates varied widely among Census regions of the United States before the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. During the pandemic, regional obesity rates grew further apart. From 2019 to March 2020, adult obesity rates ranged from a low of 36.7 percent in the West to the highest rate at 43.1 percent in the South, a 6.4-percentage point difference. The regional differences expanded to 7.2 percentage points during the first year of the pandemic, from a low of 37.4 percent in the Northeast to a high of 44.6 percent in the Midwest. The only region that experienced a decline in obesity rates during the first year of the pandemic was the Northeast. The West had the lowest adult obesity rate before the pandemic but experienced the largest increase of any region during the first year of the pandemic, a 2.8-percentage point increase. The obesity rate increase in the West was nearly twice the increase in the South, which had the highest regional obesity rate before the pandemic. The Midwest had the second-highest rate before the pandemic but increased nearly twice as much as the South, emerging as the region with the highest obesity rate during the first year of the pandemic, ending in March 2021. This chart appears in the USDA, Economic Research Service COVID-19 Working Paper: Obesity Prevalence Among U.S. Adult Subpopulations During the First Year of the COVID-19 Pandemic.

Aerial imagery remains mostly grounded on U.S. farms

Thursday, August 24, 2023

Use of aerial imagery provided by aircraft, drones, and satellites remains limited on U.S. farms. USDA has tracked adoption of many agricultural production technologies through its annual Agricultural Resource Management Survey (ARMS) of U.S. farms. Farmers using drones and aircraft can survey large stretches of farm and ranch land. Aerial imagery helps identify land features or vegetation patterns that are more easily visible from above and thus aids in crop mapping, livestock monitoring, land surveying, crop spraying, and crop dusting. According to the most recent data for various row crops, aerial imagery was used on 7.0 percent of acres planted to corn in 2016 and 9.8 percent for soybeans in 2018. The adoption rate on winter wheat-planted acreage in 2017 was 3.5 percent, with comparable adoption in 2019 on cotton acres (2.8 percent) and sorghum (4.6 percent). For context, in 2016, these adoption rates were lower than those of related technologies like yield maps (43.7 percent) and soil maps (21.5 percent), which provide visualizations of how yields and soil properties vary within and across fields. The ongoing digitalization of U.S. agriculture presents considerable opportunities for improvement in farmers’ productivity, environmental footprint, and risk management. This chart appears in the USDA, Economic Research Service report Precision Agriculture in the Digital Era: Recent Adoption on U.S. Farms, published in February 2023.

Emergency allotments central to SNAP spending growth during pandemic

Wednesday, August 23, 2023

USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is designed to expand during economic downturns. SNAP participation and inflation-adjusted spending grew each year from fiscal year (FY) 2007–13 following the Great Recession and from FY 2019–21 following the recession caused by the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. However, aspects of program growth differed between these periods. Average monthly participation increased faster, for longer, and by a greater amount following the Great Recession than it did after the COVID-19 recession, peaking at 47.6 million participants in FY 2013. Although participation grew less from FY 2019–21, inflation-adjusted spending rose more quickly given the shorter time span, from $67.5 billion in FY 2019 to $120.8 billion in FY 2021 (an average 39.5-percent increase per year). Emergency allotments were central to SNAP spending growth during the pandemic. Emergency allotments were issued as monthly supplements in response to the pandemic, bringing all recipients’ benefits to the maximum allowed each month beginning in 2020 (and later providing a minimum of $95 per month for all recipients). In FY 2021, emergency allotments and other disaster supplements accounted for $39.2 billion, almost a third of total spending. Excluding spending on emergency allotments and other disaster supplements, total spending was only $81.6 billion in FY 2021, about $15 billion less than FY 2013 spending, adjusting for inflation. Emergency allotments ended in 17 States over FY 2021–22 and in the remainder of States in early 2023. This chart appears in the USDA, Economic Research Service’s Amber Waves article, U.S. Food and Nutrition Assistance Programs Continued To Respond to Economic and Public Health Conditions in Fiscal Year 2022, released August 2023.

California continues to lead U.S. peach harvest

Tuesday, August 22, 2023

While Georgia is on many consumers’ minds when it comes to fresh, juicy peaches, California is by far the largest peach-producing State in the United States. In 2022, California’s harvest yielded 475,000 tons of fruit, with South Carolina a distant second at 67,400 tons, and Georgia in third place with production at 24,800 tons. California has been the long-time leading producer both for freestone peaches for the fresh market and clingstone peaches for processing. However, the State’s peach production has been trending lower for almost two decades, contributing to an overall drop in U.S. peach production. Total production in the United States in 2022 was estimated at 625,680 tons, 8 percent smaller than the crop in 2019. In 2022, California’s peach harvest was about 5 percent smaller than in 2019 and nearly 27 percent lower than 10 years earlier. Latest reports from USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service forecast 2023 peach production to be 13 percent lower than in 2022. Georgia and South Carolina peaches were beset with challenging weather conditions that included unseasonably warm weather in late winter followed by late spring cold snaps. This chart first appeared in the USDA, Economic Research Service Fruit and Tree Nut Outlook, published in September 2022, and has been updated with recent data.

Irrigation organizations in Pacific region more likely to trade water with other irrigation organizations

Monday, August 21, 2023

Irrigation water delivery organizations play a key role in delivering water to farms, ranches, and nonagricultural users in the United States. Results from the 2019 Survey of Irrigation Organizations (SIO) show that 2,477 organizations in western regions were directly involved in delivering water to farms. About 70 percent of the water withdrawn from freshwater sources for irrigation in the western regions of the United States is managed by irrigation water delivery organizations. In most regions, organizations that allow transfers internally between their users were more common than organizations engaging in external trades with other entities. Some of these organizations trade water by leasing it to or from other irrigation organizations, municipalities, environmental groups, or other interested parties. In the Pacific region, 17 percent of organizations engage in these external leases, compared to between 3 and 7 percent in other regions in the western United States. Water exchanges may also occur internally between water users within a delivery organization’s own water delivery system, if allowed by the organization. Internal transfers between users in an organization occurred in 5 percent of organizations in the Pacific and between 8 and 11 percent of organizations in other regions of the western United States. This chart appears in the USDA Economic Research Service publication Irrigation Organizations: Water Inflows and Outflows, published in August 2023.

Smaller cow-calf operations still outnumber large operations, but herd sizes have increased

Thursday, August 17, 2023

In the United States, most cow-calf operations are relatively small and have fewer than 50 cows though a few very large operations (with more than 1,000 cows) can be found. On cow-calf farms, calves are birthed, raised, and weaned on site. While some calves remain on the farm until they reach slaughter weight, most are either moved directly to feedlots after weaning or retained on-farm for additional weight gain before being sold to feedlots. Unlike many other animal production operations, cow-calf farms generally do not require a major upfront investment in capital assets specific to cow-calf production, such as housing. The combination of relatively lower cow-calf specific startup costs and pasture as a primary source of feed has resulted in a variety of operation sizes on a range of land types for both full- and part-time farmers. Data from USDA, National Agricultural Statistics Service, Census of Agriculture indicate that between 1997 and 2017, most cow-calf operations remained small. In 2017, 54 percent of farms with beef cows had fewer than 20 cows, slightly down from 1997. However, across the two decades, the overall number of cow-calf operations in the United States decreased by 19 percent, while the average herd size of operations grew. These changes in farm number and herd size, while notable, have not been as significant as industry shifts in hog and dairy production. This chart is drawn from the USDA, Economic Research Service report Structure, Management Practices, and Production Costs of U.S. Beef Cow-Calf Farms, published in July 2023.