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ICYMI... U.S. farmers adopting drought-tolerant corn about as quickly as they first adopted herbicide-tolerant and insect-tolerant varieties

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Droughts are among the most frequent causes of crop yield losses, failures, and subsequent crop revenue losses across the world. Genetically engineered (GE) and non-GE drought tolerance became broadly available in corn varieties between 2011 and 2013. By 2016, 22 percent of total U.S. corn acreage was planted with DT varieties. To better understand this growth rate, ERS researchers compared it to the adoption of GE herbicide-tolerant (HT) and insect-resistant (Bt) corn. Between 1996 and 2000, HT corn acreage increased from 3 to 7 percent of total U.S. corn acreage, while Bt corn acreage increased from just over 1 percent to 19 percent. By 2012, nearly 75 percent of U.S. corn acres were planted to varieties with at least one GE trait. In 2016, 91 percent of DT corn fields also had HT or Bt traits. Some evidence suggests that these three traits are complementary. For example, a corn crop will generally be less vulnerable to drought if it is not competing with weeds for water, and if its roots and leaves are not damaged by insect pests. This chart appears in the January 2019 ERS report, Development, Adoption, and Management of Drought-Tolerant Corn in the United States. This Chart of Note was originally published March 21, 2019.

ICYMI... Use of herbicide-tolerant seeds increased quickly following their commercialization, but plateaued in recent years

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

A genetically engineered (GE) plant has had DNA inserted into its genome using laboratory techniques. The first GE herbicide-tolerant (HT) crops, which can survive applications of herbicides like glyphosate or glufosinate that kill most other plants, were created by inserting genes from soil bacteria. Generally, the use of HT corn, cotton, and soybeans in the United States increased quickly following their commercialization in 1996. HT soybean use increased most rapidly, largely because weed resistance to herbicides called ALS inhibitors had developed in the 1980s. By comparison, HT corn use increased relatively slowly, perhaps because corn farmers could use the herbicide atrazine, an effective alternative to glyphosate that could not be applied to soybeans or cotton. The percent of acreage planted with HT corn, cotton, and soybeans has plateaued in recent years, partly because adoption rates for these seeds is already quite high and because weed resistance to glyphosate has continued to develop and spread. As the problems posed by glyphosate-resistant weeds intensify, crop varieties with new HT traits are being developed. For example, a new HT variety of soybeans that is tolerant of herbicides called HPPD inhibitors will be available to U.S. growers in 2019. This chart appears in the December 2018 Amber Waves data feature, “Trends in the Adoption of Genetically Engineered Corn, Cotton, and Soybeans.” This Chart of Note was originally published February 28, 2019.

Drought-tolerant corn varieties often planted on non-irrigated fields

Monday, July 29, 2019

Droughts are among the most frequent causes of crop yield losses, failures, and subsequent crop revenue losses across the world. Farmers with access to ample sources of irrigation water can, at least partially, mitigate drought stress. Farmers can also plant drought-tolerant (DT) crop varieties—in 2016, DT varieties made up 22 percent of total U.S. corn acreage. DT traits improve the plant’s ability to take water up from soils and convert water into grain under a range of drought conditions. The use of irrigation does not preclude the use of DT corn. For example, nearly 31 percent of Nebraska’s irrigated fields were planted with DT varieties. Farmers’ decisions to irrigate their DT corn fields are influenced by many factors, including the extent of soil moisture deficits (if any), amount and timing of rainfall throughout the growing season, and irrigation expenses. However, most of the main U.S. corn producing States generally had higher levels of DT use on dryland fields. For example, 60 percent of non-irrigated fields in Nebraska were planted with DT varieties. This chart appears in the January 2019 ERS report, Development, Adoption, and Management of Drought-Tolerant Corn in the United States. Also see the article “Drought-Tolerant Corn in the United States: Research, Commercialization, and Related Crop Production Practices” from the March 2019 edition of ERS’s Amber Waves magazine.

Increased compliance enforcement would result in greater reductions in excess nitrogen applications

Friday, July 26, 2019

Excess nitrogen runoff from agriculture into the northern Gulf of Mexico is a major contributor to zones of reduced oxygen that pose seasonal dangers to aquatic life and fishing stocks. ERS has studied potential regulatory tools that could provide incentives to adopt nutrient-reducing management practices, such as requiring conservation compliance to qualify for USDA farm program benefits. ERS researchers explored the scope and effectiveness of a hypothetical “nutrient compliance” policy requiring farmers who receive Federal farm program benefits (including conservation and commodity program payments) to limit excess nitrogen fertilizer applications on land within the Mississippi/Atchafalaya River Basin (MARB). The researchers estimated that 14.4 percent of farms in the MARB, controlling 25.1 percent of cropland, apply nitrogen in excess of crop needs and receive program benefits—but that these farms contribute 88.1 percent of all excess nitrogen applications in the MARB. The analysis suggests that 8.7 percent of MARB farms would be affected by a compliance policy that disallows application of nutrients at levels greater than 40 percent above crop needs. Both the expected compliance benefits to farmers and hence the effectiveness of the nutrient compliance policy are influenced by the chance of being found out-of-compliance through inspection and enforcement. It was found that as enforcement goes down, fewer farms and crop area acres, and less excess nitrogen are affected. For example, assuming 100-percent enforcement, the analysis suggests that 71 percent of affected farms would have an incentive to comply (because program benefits exceed nutrient management costs). With an enforcement rate of 25 percent, by comparison, the share of farms estimated to comply falls to 31 percent of those affected by compliance (or 2.7 percent of all farms in the MARB), and the share of excess nutrients that would be controlled falls to 15.7 percent. This chart appears in the ERS report Reducing Nutrient Losses From Cropland in the Mississippi/Atchafalaya River Basin: Cost Efficiency and Regional Distribution, released September 2018.

Landlords who leased out agricultural land were also more likely to lease out oil and gas rights than operators who owned their land

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Nationally, 4.3 percent of farmland operators and 4.9 percent of non-operator landlords in 2014 reported receiving oil and gas payments. In counties that produced oil or gas that year, about 10 percent of operators and 13 percent of non-operator landlords reported receiving this income. Not all operators or non-operator landlords own their oil and gas rights, and of those who do, not all of them choose to lease out these rights to energy companies for oil and gas production. Out of those who reported owning oil and gas rights with positive value, non-operator landlords were 21 percentage points more likely than operator landowners to lease their rights to energy firms. Non-operator landlords who lived in the same county as their tenant were more likely to allow energy development to occur than non-operator landlords who lived in a different county. Operator landowners, who live on the property and farm it, may be less likely than non-operator landlords to lease their oil and gas rights because they would experience the costs associated with drilling and oil and gas production—including air pollution, increased truck traffic, and risk of water and soil contamination. This chart appears in the June 2018 ERS report, Ownership of Oil and Gas Rights: Implications for U.S. Farm Income and Wealth.

No-till and conservation tillage practices are more common on fields planted with drought-tolerant corn

Monday, June 10, 2019

Droughts are among the most frequent causes of crop yield losses, failures, and subsequent crop revenue losses across the world. In 2016, 22 percent of total U.S. corn acreage was planted with drought-tolerant (DT) varieties. DT traits improve the plant’s ability to take water up from soils and convert water into plant matter. This creates a natural link between DT corn adoption and use of other water-management practices in corn production, such as conservation tillage and irrigation. Minimal disturbance of soils through conservation tillage makes more water available to the crop by reducing evaporation. No-till management—a conservation practice in which farmers do not disturb soils using tillage operations—was used on 41 percent of DT corn fields in 2016, compared to 28 percent of non-DT corn fields. Overall, conservation tillage (including no-till) was used on 62 percent of DT corn fields and 53 percent of non-DT corn fields that year. The higher adoption rates for DT corn suggest that producers may be using conservation tillage to complement the DT corn’s ability to conserve water. This chart appears in the January 2019 ERS report, Development, Adoption, and Management of Drought-Tolerant Corn in the United States. Also see the article “Drought-Tolerant Corn in the United States: Research, Commercialization, and Related Crop Production Practices” from the March 2019 edition of ERS’s Amber Waves magazine.

Harvested cropland declined by 2 million acres in 2018, coinciding with a rise in crop failure

Friday, June 7, 2019

The ERS Major Land Uses series defines “cropland used for crops” as comprising three types: cropland harvested, crop failure, and cultivated summer fallow. In 2018, cropland harvested declined to 312 million acres—the lowest recorded harvested cropland area since 2013 (311 million acres) and 2 million acres less than in 2017. A 2-million-acre increase in crop failure due to drought conditions in several crop-producing areas contributed to the 2018 decline in cropland harvested. Land used for cultivated summer fallow, which primarily occurs as part of wheat rotations in the semi-arid West, also increased by 1 million acres to 16 million acres, continuing the reversal, which began in 2017, of a long-term decline in this category. The area that was double-cropped (i.e., two or more crops harvested) held constant over the previous year at about 6 million acres. This chart uses historical data from the ERS data product Major Land Uses, recently updated to include new 2018 estimates and revised 2017 estimates.

Use of insect-resistant cotton and corn seeds increased quickly and is now widespread

Monday, May 20, 2019

A genetically engineered (GE) plant has had DNA inserted into its genome using laboratory techniques. Some of the first GE crops were created by inserting genes from the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) into corn and cotton plants. Bt creates organic, crystalline insecticides that become concentrated in plant tissues, so these GE crops gained insect resistance. Demand increased quickly for Bt corn and cotton after their commercialization in 1996. Five years later, about 37 percent of cotton acres and 19 percent of corn acres had been planted with Bt seeds. By 2018, Bt adoption had increased to 85 percent of cotton acres and 82 percent of corn acres. Early differences in the adoption rates of these two GE crops may be related to the fact that insect infestations tend to be more severe in warmer climates. Cotton-growing areas are concentrated in the Southeastern United States and the Southern Plains, which tend to be warmer than growing areas in the Midwest, where most U.S. corn production takes place. This chart appears in the December 2018 Amber Waves data feature, “Trends in the Adoption of Genetically Engineered Corn, Cotton, and Soybeans.”

GPS guidance systems are used on about half of planted acres for major crops

Friday, May 17, 2019

Guidance systems use global positioning system (GPS) coordinates to automatically steer farm equipment like combines, tractors, and self-propelled sprayers. This helps reduce operator fatigue and pinpoint precise field locations within a few inches. Freed from steering, operators can access timely coordinates from a screen, monitor other equipment systems more closely, and correct problems more quickly. In addition, guidance systems reduce costs by improving the precision of sprays and the seeding of field crop rows. The ends of rows, in particular, benefit from more accurate application of inputs. Manually reversing farm machinery to return in the opposite direction in adjacent rows on a field can cause overlaps and missed spots for applied inputs. Guidance systems can also help extend working hours for field operations during time-sensitive production periods because guided machinery works well in the floodlit dark. Out of all precision agriculture technologies, guidance systems had the highest adoption rates—used on 67 percent of corn planted acres (in 2016), 57 percent of spring wheat (2009), 53 percent of rice (2013), 49 percent of peanuts (2013), and 45 percent of soybeans (2012). This chart appears in the May 2019 ERS report, Agricultural Resources and Environmental Indicators, 2019.

No-till and strip-till are widely adopted conservation practices, but are often used in rotation with full-width tillage

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Tillage—the mechanical manipulation of the soil—helps to prepare the soil for planting, control weeds, incorporate surface-applied manure or fertilizer, and encourage soil warming for early planting. In recent decades, some farmers have eliminated the use of tillage altogether using “no-till” methods, or limited tillage to narrow strips where row-crops will be planted using “strip-till” methods. No-till and strip-till minimize soil disturbance and keep crop residue on the soil surface to reduce erosion and conserve soil moisture. Recent ERS research shows that many farmers who use no-till or strip-till often alternate these practices with full-width tillage (tilling the entire soil surface). On land where corn was planted in 2016, for example, no-till or strip till was used continuously during 2013–2016 on 18 percent, no-till or strip-till was used alternately with full width tillage on 27 percent, and full-width tillage was used continuously on 55 percent. The exact mix of tillage practices varied across the surveys. One reason farmers alternate tillage practices is because of crop rotation. For example, corn and soybeans are often grown in rotation, but farmers used no-till or strip-till more often for soybeans (about 34 percent in 2012) than for corn (27 percent in 2016). In many cases, farmers use no-till when growing soybeans, but use full-width tillage when growing corn. This chart appears in the ERS report, Tillage Intensity and Conservation Cropping in the United States, released September 2018.

Regional strategies for reducing nitrogen loadings to the Gulf of Mexico differ according to how policy objectives are formulated

Monday, April 22, 2019

Every summer, a “hypoxic zone” forms in the Gulf of Mexico where dissolved oxygen is too low for many aquatic species to survive. This zone is fueled by nutrient (nitrogen and phosphorus) runoff from the Mississippi/Atchafalaya River Basin, a region containing about 70 percent of U.S. cropland. Recent ERS research modeled two scenarios for reducing nitrogen loadings to the Gulf of Mexico by 45 percent. The Gulf Constraint scenario reduces nitrogen loadings at the lowest cost, without consideration of the regional origin of nutrients. The greatest nitrogen reductions would occur in the Lower Mississippi sub-basin (reduced to 72 percent of the baseline amount) and in the Ohio sub-basin (43 percent). Because these regions are relatively close to the Gulf and have relatively high baseline nitrogen discharges per acre (i.e., high potential to reduce discharges by adopting low-cost conservation practices), the estimated cost of reducing nitrogen loadings originating here is generally lower than elsewhere. On the other hand, the Regional Constraints scenario evenly reduces nitrogen loadings by 45 percent from each of the sub-basins. Under the Regional scenario, total edge-of-field nitrogen reductions (and aggregate costs) are projected to rise relative to the Gulf scenario for the Tennessee, Upper Mississippi, Missouri, and Arkansas-White-Red sub-basins and drop for the Lower Mississippi region. This chart appears in the ERS report, Reducing Nutrient Losses From Cropland in the Mississippi/Atchafalaya River Basin: Cost Efficiency and Regional Distribution, released September 2018.

Lower completion rates for contracted practices are associated with greater impacts on participant behavior

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

The Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and other USDA working lands programs provide payments to farmers and ranchers who sign contracts to adopt certain conservation practices. Most contracted practices are implemented as planned. But some types of practices, such as installation of field borders and filter strips, are less likely to be completed. While USDA can reallocate funding that would have gone toward uncompleted practices, modifying contracts requires additional USDA staff resources and leads to delays in getting conservation efforts on the ground. However, there is a tradeoff between practices that have higher rates of completion and practices that have higher rates of “additionality.” Additionality is a measure of payment effectiveness that estimates the percentage of producers who adopted the practices because of the financial assistance. This research shows that practices that are less likely to be completed tend to have higher additionality. All efforts to incentivize behavior face a challenge in achieving greater additionality because it is difficult for program managers to observe the private incentives to adopt practices in the absence of payments. The tradeoff between additionality and completion rates is a direct reflection of these hidden incentives. One implication of this research is that practice completion rates, which can be easily calculated using program administrative data, could be used as an indirect measure of additionality. This chart appears in the ERS report, Working Lands Conservation Contract Modifications: Patterns in Dropped Practices, released March 2019.

U.S. farmers adopting drought-tolerant corn about as quickly as they first adopted herbicide-tolerant and insect-tolerant varieties

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Droughts are among the most frequent causes of crop yield losses, failures, and subsequent crop revenue losses across the world. Genetically engineered (GE) and non-GE drought tolerance became broadly available in corn varieties between 2011 and 2013. By 2016, 22 percent of total U.S. corn acreage was planted with DT varieties. To better understand this growth rate, ERS researchers compared it to the adoption of GE herbicide-tolerant (HT) and insect-resistant (Bt) corn. Between 1996 and 2000, HT corn acreage increased from 3 to 7 percent of total U.S. corn acreage, while Bt corn acreage increased from just over 1 percent to 19 percent. By 2012, nearly 75 percent of U.S. corn acres were planted to varieties with at least one GE trait. In 2016, 91 percent of DT corn fields also had HT or Bt traits. Some evidence suggests that these three traits are complementary. For example, a corn crop will generally be less vulnerable to drought if it is not competing with weeds for water, and if its roots and leaves are not damaged by insect pests. This chart appears in the January 2019 ERS report, Development, Adoption, and Management of Drought-Tolerant Corn in the United States.

Use of herbicide-tolerant seeds increased quickly following their commercialization, but plateaued in recent years

Thursday, February 28, 2019

A genetically engineered (GE) plant has had DNA inserted into its genome using laboratory techniques. The first GE herbicide-tolerant (HT) crops, which can survive applications of herbicides like glyphosate or glufosinate that kill most other plants, were created by inserting genes from soil bacteria. Generally, the use of HT corn, cotton, and soybeans in the United States increased quickly following their commercialization in 1996. HT soybean use increased most rapidly, largely because weed resistance to herbicides called ALS inhibitors had developed in the 1980s. By comparison, HT corn use increased relatively slowly, perhaps because corn farmers could use the herbicide atrazine, an effective alternative to glyphosate that could not be applied to soybeans or cotton. The percent of acreage planted with HT corn, cotton, and soybeans has plateaued in recent years, partly because adoption rates for these seeds is already quite high and because weed resistance to glyphosate has continued to develop and spread. As the problems posed by glyphosate-resistant weeds intensify, crop varieties with new HT traits are being developed. For example, a new HT variety of soybeans that is tolerant of herbicides called HPPD inhibitors will be available to U.S. growers in 2019. This chart appears in the December 2018 Amber Waves data feature, "Trends in the Adoption of Genetically Engineered Corn, Cotton, and Soybeans.”

Drought-tolerant corn accounted for about 40 percent of corn acreage in drought-prone Nebraska and Kansas in 2016

Monday, February 4, 2019

Droughts have been among the most significant causes of crop yield reductions and losses for centuries. Most crop farmers have limited options to reduce the damaging physical effects of drought. Although Federal disaster program and crop insurance payments tend to be higher during droughts, they typically do not fully compensate farmers for drought-related losses. Farmers with access to ample sources of irrigation water can, at least partially, mitigate drought stress: irrigation both provides water and cools the crop. However, many water-intensive crops, including corn, are mostly grown on non-irrigated cropland. Drought-tolerant (DT) corn was commercially introduced in 2011. By 2016, DT corn acreage made up 22 percent of total U.S. planted corn acreage, with the highest shares in drought-prone Nebraska (42 percent) and Kansas (39 percent). Regional differences in drought severity and how recently farmers had experienced drought significantly influenced the adoption of DT corn. For example, States with counties that had experienced at least one severe-or-worse drought between 2011 and 2015 had adoption rates of at least 25 percent. Northern corn-producing States—such as Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan—experienced less severe droughts during this time period and had lower adoption rates, ranging from 14 to 20 percent. This chart appears in the January 2019 ERS report, Development, Adoption, and Management of Drought-Tolerant Corn in the United States.

The costs of reducing nitrogen discharges to the Gulf of Mexico vary by region

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Every summer, a large area forms in the Gulf of Mexico where dissolved oxygen is too low for many aquatic species to survive. This “hypoxic zone” is fueled by nutrient (nitrogen and phosphorus) runoff from the Mississippi/Atchafalaya River Basin (MARB), a region containing about 70 percent of U.S. cropland. Implementing a cost-effective strategy to reduce nutrients arriving at the Gulf by 45 percent would involve a range of land-use reallocations and conservation practices within the MARB. ERS researchers estimated that the most cost-effective practice would generally be optimally placed wetland restoration, especially in the Lower Mississippi and Tennessee sub-basins. Buffers would also generally be more cost effective than on-field practices because they treat nutrient loss from their surrounding areas. However, the terrain within the MARB offers limited opportunities for buffer and optimal wetland placement. Drainage water management, nutrient management, and cover crops (when used with structural erosion controls) were also generally more cost effective than the other practices and combinations of practices as detailed in the chart legend. The lowest nitrogen reduction costs per pound discharged to the Gulf were estimated to occur in the Lower Mississippi, Tennessee, and Ohio sub-basins. This chart appears in the September 2018 Amber Waves feature, “Cost-Effective Strategies for Reducing Cropland Nutrient Deliveries to the Gulf of Mexico.”

The share of corn and cotton acreage planted with genetically engineered stacked seeds has climbed since 2000

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

In 2018, U.S. farmers planted over 90 percent of corn and cotton acres with genetically engineered (GE) seeds. These GE seeds can be herbicide tolerant (HT), insect resistant (Bt), or “stacked” with both HT and Bt traits. Use of stacked seeds has climbed since 2000, when approximately 1 percent of corn and 20 percent of cotton were produced using stacked seeds. In 2018, by comparison, approximately 80 percent of the corn and cotton planted in the United States used stacked seeds. Increases in the use of stacked seeds may be due to the development of new seed products. For instance, the first Bt corn plant resistant to rootworms was commercialized in 2003, and other rootworm-resistant corn varieties reached the market in 2005 and 2006. The commercialization of these new seed products may have encouraged some farmers planting HT seeds to consider a stacked seed variety instead. This chart appears in the December 2018 Amber Waves data feature, “Trends in the Adoption of Genetically Engineered Corn, Cotton, and Soybeans.”

No-till adoption slows for some crops

Friday, November 23, 2018

Conservation tillage reduces soil disturbance and keeps soil covered, thereby conserving soil moisture and lessening erosion. When used in conjunction with other practices, it can also help promote soil health. No-till, a type of conservation tillage where farmers plant directly into remaining crop residue without tilling, accounted for the majority of conservation tillage acreage for wheat (45 percent of total acres) in 2017 and soybeans (40 percent of total acres) in 2012. ERS researchers found that adoption of no-till, in general, increased from 2000 to 2007—particularly for wheat (2004-2009) and soybeans (2002-2006). In later periods, no-till adoption increased more slowly for wheat (2009-2017) and may have declined for soybeans (2006-2012) and cotton (2007-2015). Data for corn indicate only modest gains in adoption of no-till between 2005 and 2016. This chart appears in the ERS report, Tillage Intensity and Conservation Cropping in the United States, released in September 2018.

Genetically engineered soybean, cotton, and corn seeds have become widely adopted

Thursday, October 25, 2018

In 2018, U.S. farmers planted over 90 percent of soybean, cotton, and corn acres with genetically engineered (GE) seeds. Most of these GE seeds are herbicide tolerant (HT), insect resistant (Bt), or both (stacked). The share of U.S. soybean acres planted with HT seeds rose from about 7 percent in 1996 and plateaued at 94 percent in 2014. The share of HT cotton acreage expanded from about 2 percent in 1996 to a peak of 91 percent in 2014. The share of HT corn acreage grew relatively slowly at first, but reached about 90 percent in 2018. Meanwhile, the share of Bt corn acreage grew from 1 percent in 1996 to 82 percent in 2018. The share of Bt cotton acres also expanded, from nearly 15 percent in 1996 to 85 percent in 2018. Demand for GE seeds is affected by the severity of pest infestations, output prices, input prices, and the commercialization of new GE traits. For example, the introduction of new varieties of Bt corn resistant to corn rootworm and earworm may have contributed to the increase in Bt corn adoption rates since 2003. This chart appears in the ERS data product Adoption of Genetically Engineered Crops in the U.S., updated July 2018.

The value of oil and gas production on farmland amounted to $226 billion in 2014, or about two-thirds of total production

Friday, October 12, 2018

Oil and gas production disproportionally occurs in areas where large shares of land are operated by farmers and ranchers. In 2014, the value of oil and gas production on land operated by farms amounted to $226 billion, or about 67 percent of the total $338 billion in oil and gas production in the contiguous United States. Oil and gas production on farmland was concentrated in California, in a band from North Dakota to Texas, and in the Marcellus Shale, which reaches into Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Ohio. Most nonoperator landlords (who rent out the farmland they own to farmers) and most farm operators do not own the oil and gas rights associated with their land and are thus unable to receive payments. In the 1,080 counties with oil and gas production in 2014, only 13 percent of nonoperator landlords and 10 percent of farm operators reported receiving oil or gas payments. Payments to farmland owners (operators and nonoperator landlords) amounted to $7.4 billion—but ERS estimates this could have been as high as $40 billion if all farmland owners had also owned the oil and gas rights associated with their farmland. This chart appears in the June 2018 ERS report, Ownership of Oil and Gas Rights: Implications for U.S. Farm Income and Wealth.

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