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China is largest global funder of agricultural R&D

Monday, July 18, 2022

While in recent decades public agricultural research and development (R&D) funding in the United States has trended downward, several other major trading partners have increased their funding. The European Union’s expenditures have grown since 2000, as have the expenditures in India and Brazil. However, none experienced as rapid an increase as China, which became the largest funder of agricultural R&D after 2011, surpassing the European Union. By 2015, the last year for which the USDA, Economic Research Service has full data, China was spending more than $10 billion annually on agricultural R&D. That level of spending was roughly twice the U.S. expenditures in 2015 and nearly quintuple that of China’s own R&D spending in 2000. With China as a major importer of U.S. agricultural goods and Brazil a competitor to the U.S. in the global corn and soybean markets, these developments could have an impact on U.S. export competitiveness. For all countries in the figure, R&D expenditures are expressed as purchasing power parity (PPP) dollars at constant 2015 prices. This chart appears in the ERS’s Amber Waves article, “Investment in U.S. Public Agricultural Research and Development Has Fallen by a Third Over Past Two Decades, Lags Behind Major Trade Competitors,” published June 2022.

Land-grant universities and other cooperating institutions conduct the majority of agricultural R&D

Monday, June 27, 2022

Roughly 70 percent of public agricultural research and development (R&D) in the United States is performed by universities and other nonfederal cooperating institutions. Land-grant universities alone account for about half of all public agricultural R&D spending. State forestry schools, veterinary schools, and historically black colleges and universities account for most of the remaining agricultural R&D conducted at nonfederal institutions. State land-grant universities and agricultural experiment stations primarily perform research on topics of interest to their State or region, though this research has a national impact in the form of training scientists and generating basic scientific insights. USDA agencies such as the Agricultural Research Service and Forest Service perform the other 30 percent of public agricultural research, focusing on national and regional topics. This chart appears in the ERS’s Amber Waves article, “Investment in U.S. Public Agricultural Research and Development Has Fallen by a Third Over Past Two Decades, Lags Behind Major Trade Competitors,” published June 2022.

Federal Government is primary funder of U.S. agricultural research and development

Tuesday, June 14, 2022

The Federal Government provides 64 percent of public agricultural research and development (R&D) funding in the United States. State governments and non-governmental sources, including funds generated by the universities themselves, account for the other 36 percent of funds for public agricultural R&D. Federal funds are delivered via external grants to universities and other cooperating institutions, and through appropriations to USDA agencies. Most of the Federal funding for agricultural research performed by non-Federal institutions is managed by USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA). NIFA allocates these funds through capacity grants to land grant and minority-serving institutions as well as through competitive grants that are open to all universities. Of the $1.663 billion in outlays for agricultural research by USDA research agencies (primarily the Agricultural Research Service, Economic Research Service, and the Forest Service), about $165 million was allocated to cooperative research agreements with universities. The National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, and other Federal agencies are also important funders of agricultural R&D, accounting for about 15 percent of the Federal total. Agricultural research funded by these agencies is performed primarily at universities. This chart appears in the ERS’s Amber Waves article, “Investment in U.S. Public Agricultural Research and Development Has Fallen by a Third Over Past Two Decades, Lags Behind Major Trade Competitors,” published June 2022.

Public agricultural R&D spending in the United States has declined in recent years

Wednesday, June 8, 2022

Spending on agricultural research and development (R&D) comes from private and public sources. Public R&D, however, has traditionally been the primary source directly oriented toward improving farm technology and productivity. Since the early 2000s, expenditures have declined in real terms for agricultural R&D performed by public institutions, including USDA laboratories, land grant universities, and other cooperating institutions. Researchers with USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS) found that R&D expenditures are now only slightly above the 1970 level of about $5 billion and well below the 2002 peak of just under $8 billion (constant 2019 dollars). Research expenditures were adjusted for inflation using the National Institutes of Health’s Biomedical Research and Development Price Index (BRDPI). This chart appears in the ERS’s Amber Waves article, “Investment in U.S. Public Agricultural Research and Development Has Fallen by a Third Over Past Two Decades, Lags Behind Major Trade Competitors,” published June 2022.

Labor quality change, especially educational attainment, contributes positively to U.S. agricultural growth

Monday, April 18, 2022

Agricultural output in the United States nearly tripled between 1948 and 2017, with average annual output growth at 1.53 percent. While reduction of labor hours worked has contributed negatively, changes in labor quality have contributed positively to output growth over the years. Labor quality includes shifts in composition of demographic attributes, such as gender, age, educational attainment, employment type and other factors. ERS researchers group the study period into 12 sub-periods in accordance with U.S. economic business cycles (from peak to peak). Most of the contraction in total hours worked occurred between 1948 and 1969, during the expansionary period after World War II. By the 2007–17 economic business cycle, the decline in labor hours had its lowest negative effect on output growth, -0.16 percentage points. ERS researchers found that total labor quality had a positive effect on output growth in all economic business cycles except the 1979-81 period. The effects of labor quality on agricultural output growth were especially prominent before 1969. It accounted for nearly 25 percent of total output growth per year in the 1948–53, 1953–57, and 1960–66 subperiods, and 14 percent of annual output growth in the 1966-69 subperiod. Except for the period immediately after WWII, the major source of labor quality changes was an increase in educational attainment among farmworkers. On average, the increase in educational attainment accounted for more than 90 percent of the changes in labor quality between 1948 and 2017. Nevertheless, since 1969, the rise in educational attainment has slowed, and the overall influence of labor quality on output growth has diminished. This chart is drawn from the USDA, Economic Research Service report “Farm Labor, Human Capital, and Agricultural Productivity in the United States,” published Feb. 15, 2022.

Organic dairy farms see slower productivity growth than conventional operations

Tuesday, February 22, 2022

Organic dairy farms must follow a variety of USDA regulations to obtain certification and maintain their organic status. For example, they have to use organic grains and feed supplements, and they mostly rely on pasture-based feeding, which makes them more vulnerable to weather shocks such as drought or sudden and intense storms. These challenges mean productivity on organic dairy farms grows at a slower rate than on operations using conventional processes. Productivity is measured as total factor productivity (TFP), the ratio of the total amount of goods (in this case, milk) produced relative to all the inputs—such as labor, fertilizer, and other costs—used to produce those goods. USDA, Economic Research Service (ERS) researchers studied the difference in TFP growth between organic and conventional farms using data from organic dairy farms between 2005–16 and from conventional dairy farms between 2000–16. TFP grew at an annual rate of 0.66 percent for organic dairy farms compared with 2.51 percent among conventional dairy operations. Both organic and conventional farms saw productivity growth due to technological progress such as advanced equipment and improved genetics. While weather-related feed factors reduced productivity for organic farms, they contributed to a productivity growth for conventional dairy farms. Technical efficiency increased productivity slightly on organic farms, but reduced productivity on conventional farms, while scale-and-mix efficiency reduced productivity for both types of farms. This chart was included in the ERS report Sources, Trends, and Drivers of U.S. Dairy Productivity and Efficiency, published in February 2022.

U.S. labor productivity per hours worked grew from 1948 to 2017 in part because of changes in quality of labor, study finds

Wednesday, February 16, 2022

Agricultural output in the United States nearly tripled between 1948 and 2017 even as the amount of labor hours-worked declined by more than 80 percent. These opposing trends resulted in an increase in labor productivity growth in the U.S. farm sector. Labor productivity—calculated as average output per unit of labor input—is a popular measure for understanding economic growth. According to USDA, Economic Research Service (ERS) estimates, agricultural output per worker grew by 16 times from 1948 through 2017. At the same time, agricultural output per hour worked grew even faster, by 17 times, implying that average hours worked per worker declined. Labor productivity estimates can vary based on different ways labor is measured. One factor in the increased labor productivity is the quality of labor, measured by attributes such as age, gender, and the highest level of education a worker has reached. Because these attributes may affect worker performance, ERS researchers accounted for labor quality changes in analyzing farm labor productivity. When labor quality changes since 1948 were accounted for, labor productivity grew at a slower rate than those based simply on hours worked or employment. The reason is because labor quality is treated as a part of labor input instead of productivity. This implies that changes in labor quality, such as improvements in education, account for much of the change in labor productivity over the last seven decades. ERS researchers estimate that changes to farm worker attributes accounted for about 13 percent of growth in hourly based annual labor productivity during the time studied. This chart in included in the ERS report Farm Labor, Human Capital, and Agricultural Productivity in the United States, published Feb. 15, 2022.

Small family farms produce majority of poultry and eggs, and hay

Tuesday, January 18, 2022

In 2020, most of the values of cotton (62 percent), dairy (73 percent), and specialty crops (57 percent) were produced on large-scale family farms. USDA defines a family farm as one in which the principal operator and related family own the majority of the assets used in the operation. Large-scale family farms are those with an annual gross cash farm income of $1 million or more. However, small family farms produced the bulk of hay production (59 percent) and poultry and egg output (49 percent) in 2020. Poultry operations are often classified as “small” because most output is under a production contract arrangement, with a contractor paying a fee to a farmer who raises poultry to maturity. Additionally, more than one-quarter of beef production occurred on small family farms that generally have cow/calf operations. Another 42 percent of beef production occurred on large-scale family farms, which are more likely to operate feedlots. Midsize family farms production ranges from 8 to almost 30 percent of value of production. Nonfamily farms produce the smallest share of the value of production for most commodities. Of all the commodities, nonfamily farms contribute the most to specialty crop production at 27 percent. This chart is found in the Economic Research Service report, America’s Diverse Family Farms: 2021 Edition, released December 2021.

Increased efficiency has replaced input intensification as primary source of growth in global agricultural output

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Since the 1960s, global agricultural output by volume has increased at an average annual rate of 2.3 percent, fluctuating between 2 and 3 percent on a decade-to-decade basis. In the latest decade (2011–19), the global output of total crop, animal, and aquaculture commodities grew an average rate of 2.08 percent per year. Several factors contribute to output growth, including expansion of agricultural land, extension of irrigation to existing cropland, the intensification of input use (more labor, capital, and material inputs per acre), and total factor productivity (TFP), a measure of the contribution of technological and efficiency improvements in the farm sector. Before the 1990s, most output growth came from increases in input use, including expansion of land, irrigation, and intensification of other inputs. Since the 1990s, growth in TFP, rather than growth in inputs, accounted for most of the growth in world agriculture output. From 2011 to 2019, TFP globally grew at an annual rate of 1.31 percent, accounting for nearly two-thirds of output growth. This chart comes from the USDA, Economic Research Service data product International Agricultural Productivity, updated in October 2021.

Long-term productivity growth in agriculture varies across countries

Friday, December 10, 2021

Total factor productivity (TFP) growth reflects the rate of technological and efficiency improvements in the agricultural sector and productivity growth varies across countries. TFP measures the amount of agricultural output produced from the combined set of land, labor, capital, and material resources employed in the production process. Agricultural TFP grew most rapidly (at more than 2 percent on average) in the dark green-colored countries and most slowly (or not at all) in the light green-colored countries. National policies and institutions, especially those that promote innovation and technical change, play a significant role in driving TFP growth in agriculture. Strengthening the capacity of national agricultural research and extension systems to develop and deliver new agricultural technologies to farmers has been a critical factor in raising agricultural productivity. Information from the International Agricultural Productivity data product and related ERS research show that that Brazil and India’s TFP growth can be attributed to long-term investments in agricultural research. China’s TFP growth can be attributed to investments in research and institutional and economic reforms. In contrast, Russia’s low rate of agricultural TFP growth is attributed to inefficiencies under a planned economy (until 1991) followed by economic disruptions that accompanied its transition to a market economy. Under-investment in agricultural research and extension and poor market infrastructure remain important barriers to stimulating agricultural productivity growth in Sub-Saharan Africa. This data can be found in the International Agricultural Productivity data product, last updated in October 2021.

Research investments help many countries sustain growth in agricultural productivity

Monday, July 12, 2021

Raising the productivity of existing agricultural resources—rather than bringing new resources into production—has become the major source of growth in world agriculture. Farm productivity is measured by total factor productivity (TFP), an index that takes into account the land, labor, capital, and material resources employed in farm production and compares them with the total amount of crop and livestock output. If total output is growing faster than total inputs, then the total productivity of the factors of production (i.e., total factor productivity) is increasing. Using the latest available data through 2016, agricultural productivity has risen steadily in most industrialized countries at between 1 and 2 percent a year since at least the 1970s. Since the 1990s, many developing countries as well as transition economies that belonged to the former Soviet bloc also have increased their agricultural productivity. Long-term research investments to develop new technologies have been especially important to sustaining higher agricultural TFP growth rates in large, rapidly developing countries such as Brazil and India. Institutional and economic reforms, combined with technological changes, have led to significant benefits for Chinese agriculture. Additionally, Russian agriculture rebounded after the early 1990s economic transition from a planned to a market-based economy, and the southern region of the country achieved notable productivity improvement. In contrast, under-investment in agricultural research remains an important barrier to stimulating agricultural productivity growth in Sub-Saharan Africa. This chart appears in USDA, Economic Research Service data product for International Agricultural Productivity, updated November 2019.

Climatic trends dampened productivity growth on Wisconsin dairy farms

Monday, November 16, 2020

In 2019, Wisconsin’s production of fluid milk was second only to California’s. According to data from USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service, Wisconsin generated 30.6 billion pounds of milk that year, with milk sales totaling $5 billion. In recent years, Wisconsin dairy farms have been exposed to substantial weather volatility characterized by frequent droughts, storms, and temperature extremes (both hot and cold). This has resulted in considerable fluctuations in dairy productivity. Researchers from the Economic Research Service (ERS) among others, found that total factor productivity (TFP), which measures the rate of growth in total output (aggregate milk produced) relative to the rate of growth in total inputs (such as the number of cows, farm labor, feed, and machinery), increased at an average annual rate of 2.16 percent for Wisconsin dairy farms between 1996 and 2012. This increase was primarily driven, at an annual rate of 1.91 percent, by technological progress—such as improved herd genetics, advanced feed formulations, and improvements in milking and feed handling equipment. However, trends in rainfall and temperature variation were responsible for a 0.32 percent annual decline in the productivity of Wisconsin dairy farms during the same period. For example, an average increase in temperature of 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit reduced milk output for the average Wisconsin dairy farm by 20.1 metric tons per year. This is equivalent to reducing the herd size of the average farm by 1.6 cows every year. This chart appears in ERS’s October 2020 Amber Waves finding, “Climatic Trends Dampened Recent Productivity Growth on Wisconsin Dairy Farms.”

Productivity growth has contributed positively to U.S. agricultural output in all sub-periods since 1948

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

The total output—including livestock, crops, and other farm related outputs—produced by U.S. farms nearly tripled between 1948 and 2017, growing at an average annual rate of 1.53 percent. This output growth was primarily attributable to increased productivity, which grew at an average of 1.46 percent per year. Total inputs—including capital, land, labor, and intermediate goods—increased by 0.07 percent annually, by comparison. Though total input use grew slowly during this period, its composition shifted considerably. The use of intermediate goods (such as feed, seeds, and chemicals) increased by more than 130 percent, while agricultural labor declined by 76 percent and the amount of land devoted to agriculture was down by more than 25 percent. The continuing growth in intermediate goods contributed 0.58 percentage points per year to output growth, the highest among all inputs (capital, labor, and intermediate goods). However, the contribution of intermediate goods to output growth has been small (even negative in some years) since 1981. Over the long-term, productivity growth has been the major driver of agricultural growth. Productivity growth—spurred by innovations in animal and crop genetics, chemicals, equipment, and farm organization through research—is the only factor that contributed positively to agricultural growth in all sub-periods (measured from peak to peak between business cycles) since 1948. This chart appears in the July 2020 Amber Waves article, “Productivity Is the Major Driver of U.S. Farm Sector’s Economic Growth.”

Most new antibiotic approvals for food animals have been generic drugs also used for humans

Monday, May 11, 2020

U.S. regulations on antibiotic use in food animal production have focused on antibiotics important for human disease treatment, which the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) terms “medically important.” If current human antibiotics lose efficacy and new ones are not developed, the ability to treat human infections may be hindered. In 2017, FDA policies ended the use of medically important antibiotics for growth promotion in food animals. Antibiotics deemed “currently not medically important” are not used to treat human illnesses and can still be used for animal growth promotion. Other uses of medically important antibiotics in food animal production require veterinarian oversight. These policies follow earlier actions in the European Union (EU) banning medically important antibiotics for growth promotion. Most new antibiotic approvals for food animals have been generic drugs that are also used for humans. Between 1992 and 2015, about 70 percent of antibiotics were considered medically important. This suggests that animal pharmaceutical companies are increasingly developing generic antibiotics for food animals, not new varieties of antibiotics. Although new approvals for non-medically important, non-generic antibiotics for food animals declined, they still averaged about 1.3 per year in 2015. This chart appears in the ERS report, The U.S. and EU Animal Pharmaceutical Industries in the Age of Antibiotic Resistance, released May 2019.

Productivity growth helped accelerate growth in world agricultural output through 2016

Friday, April 3, 2020

The growth rate of the world’s agricultural output has varied over the decades. Output growth slowed in the 1970s and 1980s, but then accelerated in the 1990s and 2000s. In the latest period for which estimates are available (2001-16), global output of total crop and livestock commodities grew by an average rate of 2.45 percent per year. The different bar colors in the chart show the sources of this output growth. In the decades prior to 1990, most output growth came about from intensification of input use (more labor, capital, and material inputs per acre). Bringing new land into agriculture production and extending irrigation to existing agricultural land were also important sources of growth. During the periods of 1991-2000 and 2001-16, however, the rate of growth in input use significantly slowed. Instead, improvements in agricultural productivity—getting more output from existing resources—drove global output growth. Total factor productivity (TFP) grew from the adoption of new technologies, management practices, and other efficiency improvements in farming around the world. Between 2001 and 2016, TFP accounted for 77 percent of the total growth in agricultural output worldwide. This chart appears in the Economic Research Service topic page for International Agricultural Productivity Summary Findings, updated November 2019.

Productivity growth is the major source of growth in U.S. agricultural output

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Technological developments in agriculture have been influential in driving changes in the farm sector. Innovations in animal and crop genetics, chemicals, equipment, and farm organization have enabled continuing output growth without adding much to inputs (including land, labor, machinery, and intermediate goods). As a result, even as the amount of land and labor used in farming declined, total farm output nearly tripled between 1948 and 2017. During this period, agricultural output grew at an average annual rate of 1.53 percent, compared to 0.07 percent for total farm inputs. Output growth was largely driven by the growth in agricultural productivity, as measured by total factor productivity (TFP)—the difference between the growth of aggregate output and growth of aggregate inputs. Between 1948 and 2017, TFP grew at an average annual rate of 1.46 percent. In the short term, TFP estimates can fluctuate from time to time—reflecting transitive events, such as bad weather or oil shocks—but it usually recovers and returns to its long-term trend growth, as has happened in recent years. This chart appears in the ERS data product, Agricultural Productivity in the U.S., updated January 2020.

USDA agencies funded $287.7 million towards 213 research projects on automation or mechanization in specialty crops, 2008-2018

Friday, February 14, 2020

At $64.7 billion, specialty crops comprised one-third of U.S. crop receipts and one-sixth of receipts for all agricultural products in 2017. Many specialty crops are labor-intensive in production, harvesting, or processing. For example, harvest often requires workers to accurately distinguish ripe and unripe fruits and vegetables and gently pick, sort, or package the fruit or vegetable by hand without damage. A long-term decline in the supply of farm labor in the U.S. has encouraged producers to select less labor-intensive crops, invest in labor-saving technologies, and develop strategies to increase labor productivity. A number of USDA programs support the development and use of automation or mechanization in the production and processing of U.S. specialty crops. From 2008-2018 these programs in the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), the Agricultural Research Service (ARS), and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) funded $287.7 million toward 213 projects to develop and enhance the use of automation or mechanization in specialty crop production and processing. Projects covered a broad spectrum of technologies, including job aid and machinery automation; machine learning and data analysis; mechanical harvesting and processing; precision agriculture; remote sensing and drones; and sensors. Each of the USDA programs are designed differently to achieve unique objectives, although each program addresses the development and use of automation or mechanization in specialty crops in some form. The data in this chart are available in the February 2020 ERS report, Developing Automation and Mechanization for Specialty Crops: A Review of U.S. Department of Agriculture Programs.

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.

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.

Productivity of farms in the Heartland increased over time, but more slowly for smallest farms

Friday, October 11, 2019

Recent ERS research examined productivity trends in the Heartland region, which includes all of Iowa, Illinois, and Indiana, and parts of Minnesota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Missouri, Kentucky, and Ohio. Findings show that the smallest crop farms (less than 100 acres) fell further behind larger farms in terms of productivity between 1982 and 2012. Total factor productivity (TFP)—a measure of the quantity of output produced relative to the quantity of inputs used—grew at similar rates across farm-size classes except for the smallest, which had slower growth rates. (However, data for 2012 reflects a severe drought in the Heartland region that year and so does not follow historical trend lines.) While the TFP for farms in the four largest size categories increased by 47 to 59 percent between 1982 and 2012, TFP for the smallest farms increased by only 17 percent. Some technological advances in recent decades, such as very large combine harvesters and precision agriculture technologies, were not as advantageous for the smallest farms to adopt due to cost. This may help explain why the farm productivity growth of the smallest farms has lagged behind that of larger operations. This trend has resulted in a deterioration of the competitive position of farms in the smallest size category, and has likely contributed to a decline in their share of total output. This chart appears in the December 2018 Amber Waves feature “Productivity Increases With Farm Size in the Heartland Region.”