ERS Charts of Note

Subscribe to get highlights from our current and past research, Monday through Friday, or see our privacy policy.
See also: Editor’s Pick 2017: Best of Charts of Note gallery.

Reset

Cropland harvested declined by 3 million acres, largely due to uptick in crop failure

Thursday, February 1, 2018

The ERS Major Land Uses (MLU) series defines cropland used for crops as being comprised of three components: cropland harvested, crop failure, and cultivated summer fallow. Collectively, these components represent the land devoted to crop production in a given year. In 2017, cropland harvested declined to 314 million acres, 3 million acres less than the previous year’s area—the lowest recorded harvested cropland area since 2013 (311 million acres). A crop failure increase of 2 million acres largely contributed to this decline. The area that was double cropped, land from which two or more crops were harvested, held constant over the previous year at 6 million acres. Similarly, land used for cultivated summer fallow, which primarily occurs as part of wheat rotations in the semi-arid West, maintained its 2016 level of 12 million acres—the lowest recorded estimate since the start of the MLU series. The larger historical fluctuations in cropland used for crops are primarily attributable to Federal cropland acreage reduction programs, which affect the amount of idled cropland (cropland not directly involved in crop production in a given year). This chart uses historical data from the ERS Major Land Uses series, recently updated to include new 2017 estimates and revised 2016 estimates.

Share of land used for agricultural purposes has decreased 11 percentage points since 1949

Friday, December 8, 2017

The U.S. land area totals just under 2.3 billion acres. Land used in agriculture has become less common over time, declining from 63 percent in 1949 to 52 percent in 2012 (the latest data available). Gradual declines have occurred in cropland, while grazed forestland has decreased more rapidly. In 2012, 392 million acres of agricultural land were in cropland (18 percent less than in 1949), 655 million acres were in pasture and range (4 percent more), 130 million acres were in grazed forestland (59 percent less), and 8 million acres were in farmsteads and farm roads (45 percent less). In contrast, land used for rural parks and wilderness (included in nonagricultural special uses) has increased by 226 million acres since 1949, contributing to the relative growth in nonagricultural land use over time. Urban land, which represents a relatively small share of the U.S. land base, has nearly tripled in area since 1949 to accommodate economic and population growth. This chart appears in the December 2017 Amber Waves data feature, "A Primer on Land Use in the United States."

Rented U.S. farmland was concentrated in the Corn Belt, Northern Plains, and Delta States

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Of the 914 million acres of land in U.S. farms in 2012 (the latest data), 61 percent were owner-operated. The remaining land was rented, either from another farm operator or from a non-operator (an owner not actively engaged in farming). Farmland tenure arrangements vary across the country, with higher shares of renting and non-operator ownership in the Midwest and Plains regions. This geographic pattern is due to commodity specialization: the majority of land used to grow cotton and cash grains (such as rice, corn, soybeans, and wheat) is rented. According to data from the 2014 TOTAL Survey, cropland (54 percent) is more likely to be rented than pastureland (28 percent). This pattern is attributable to several factors, including the relatively low cost of purchasing pastureland compared to cropland. This chart appears in the August 2017 ERS report Major Uses of Land in the United States, 2012.

Declines in pollinator forage suitability concentrated in the Midwest

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

About one-third of the world’s food crops depend on pollinators like bees. Managed honeybees in the United States alone provide over $350 million worth of pollination services each year. Pollinators rely on the land to provide forage, the pollen and nectar of flowering plants that pollinators feed on to survive. If forage is inadequate, pollinator health may be poor. ERS developed a forage suitability index (FSI) to examine how broad trends in land use have affected the availability of forage for pollinators. Findings show the national average FSI increased by about 2 percent from 1982 to 2002, due in part to the introduction of USDA’s Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) in 1986. The mix of species farmers agree to plant on CRP land often improves pollinator forage. However, the national average FSI plateaued between 2002 and 2012. The FSI had a greater-than-average decline in North Dakota and South Dakota—the summer foraging grounds for many managed honeybee colonies. Decreases in CRP acreage and increases in soybean acreage, which provide poor forage for pollinators, helped drive this decline. This chart appears in the July 2017 Amber Waves finding, "Declines in Pollinator Forage Suitability Were Concentrated in the Midwest, the Over-Summering Grounds for Many Honeybees."

Forest and grassland pasture and range accounted for 57 percent of U.S. land use in 2012

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

The ERS Major Land Uses (MLU) series is the longest running, most comprehensive accounting of all major uses of public and private land in the United States. The series was started in 1945, and has since been published about every 5 years using the latest data from the National Agricultural Statistics Service’s Census of Agriculture. In the 2012 MLU data (the latest available), grassland pasture and range was the most common land use in the United States, representing 29 percent of U.S. land. The second most common was forest-use—land capable of producing timber or covered by forest and used for grazing—at 28 percent. The distribution of land use varies substantially across the country, based on factors such as soil, climate, and Federal and local policies and programs. Cropland is concentrated in the Corn Belt and Northern Plains regions, where several States (including Iowa, Kansas, and Illinois) have more than half of their land base devoted to cropland. Grassland pasture and range accounted for a large share of land in the Mountain (60 percent) and Southern Plains (59 percent) regions. The share of forest-use land was highest along the eastern seaboard in the Southeast (62 percent), Northeast (59 percent), Delta States (58 percent), and Appalachia (57 percent) regions. This chart appears in the ERS report Major Uses of Land in the United States, 2012, released August 2017.

Almond producers accounted for 80 percent—over $280 million—of pollination service fees in 2016

Monday, August 7, 2017

Farmers growing crops that depend on pollination can rely on wild pollinators in the area or pay beekeepers to provide honeybees or other managed bees, such as the blue orchard bee. In 2016, U.S. farmers paid $354 million for pollination services. Producers of almonds alone accounted for 80 percent of that amount—over $280 million. By comparison, producers of apples and blueberries paid about $10 million each. Pollination services helped support the production of these crops—which, in 2016, had a total production value of about $5.2 billion for almonds, $3.5 billion for apples, and $720 million for blueberries. Between 2007 and 2016, the production value of almonds grew by 85 percent in real terms, while the production value of both apples and blueberries grew by about 15 percent. Over the same period, the number of honey-producing colonies grew by 14 percent. This chart uses data found in the ERS report Land Use, Land Cover, and Pollinator Health: A Review and Trend Analysis, released June 2017.

After years of growth, U.S. farm real estate values have stalled since 2014

Friday, June 30, 2017

In recent years, farm real estate (including farmland and buildings) has accounted for about 80 percent of the value of U.S. farm assets—amounting to about $2.4 trillion in 2015. Strong farm earnings and historically low interest rates have supported the increase in farmland values since 2009. Since 2014, farm real estate values in many regions have leveled off; and, in 2016, the national average per-acre value declined slightly. This is partly a response to the recent declines in farm income, which may temper expectations of future farm earning potential. In addition, the 2016 USDA 10-year commodity outlooks suggest that the prices of major commodities will all stabilize at, or grow modestly from, their current price levels—which are significantly lower than those in 2011. Expectations of interest rate increases, which have been noted in some U.S. farm regions, also put downward pressure on land values. Given that farm real estate makes up such a significant portion of the balance sheet of U.S. farms, changes in its value can affect the financial well-being of individual farms and the farm sector. Over 60 percent of U.S. farmland was owner-operated in 2014; for these owners, increases in real estate values make it easier to obtain credit and service debt. For the farmers who rent the remaining 39 percent of farmland, higher real estate values can lead to higher rent expenses. This chart appears in the ERS topic page for Farmland Value, updated April 2017.

Farmland ownership concentrated among older operators and landlords, and male operators

Friday, April 28, 2017

The Tenure, Ownership, and Transition of Agricultural Land (TOTAL) survey provides demographic information that can reveal trends about who owns and rents U.S. farmland. In 2014, for example, 61 percent of U.S. farmland was owned by the farm operator (or owner-operated); those aged 55 and older accounted for nearly 80 percent of that land. By comparison, out of the 39 percent of farmland that was rented out, 80 percent was owned by non-operator landlords; nearly 70 percent of that land was owned by someone aged 65 or older. Building up the financial capacity to purchase farmland takes time, which contributes to the relatively advanced age of landowners. Farmland ownership also varies by gender, with male principal operators accounting for the majority of land (90 percent) owned by both owner-operators and operator landlords. However, land owned by non-operator landlords was more equally divided by gender, with women owning 46 percent of that land. This chart appears in the ERS data visualization 2014 Tenure, Ownership, and Transition of Agricultural Land (TOTAL) survey, released March 2017.

2016 estimates of cropland harvested return to 2014 levels, highest since 1997

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

The ERS Major Land Uses (MLU) series estimates land in various uses, including the acres devoted to crop production in a given year. These acres, collectively referred to as “cropland used for crops,” include acres of cropland harvested, acres on which crops failed, and cultivated summer fallow. At 318 million acres, cropland harvested in 2016 is estimated to have increased by 2 million acres from the previous year—returning to levels in 2014 and matching the highest cropland harvested area since 1997 (321 million acres). The area that was double cropped (two or more crops harvested) declined by 1 million acres, while land that experienced crop failure held constant at 7 million acres in 2016—remaining well below its 20-year average of 10 million acres. Cultivated summer fallow, which primarily occurs as part of wheat rotations in the semiarid West, continued its long-term decline and reached its lowest level (12 million acres) since the start of the MLU series. The larger historical fluctuations seen in cropland used for crops are largely attributable to Federal cropland acreage reduction programs, such as the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). Initiated in 1985, the CRP pays farmers to keep idle environmentally sensitive land that could otherwise be used in crop production. This chart uses historical data from the ERS MLU series, recently updated to include 2016 estimates.

Non-operators were more likely than operators to inherit farmland

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Land may be acquired in a number of ways, including sales, gifts, and inheritances. Arms-length purchases from nonrelatives are a traditional method for acquiring land, particularly for those without family or personal connections to agricultural landowners. In 2014, operating landowners—those who own farmland and operate some or all of it—purchased half of their land from nonrelatives. This group acquired another 27 percent of land through inheritances or gifts. In contrast, non-operator landlords—those who own and rent farmland but are not actively involved in its operation—acquired 30 percent of their land in purchases from nonrelatives. The majority of non-operator land (54 percent) was inherited or received as a gift. Since most farming operations are family farms, it is not surprising that a larger share of operator landowners’ land (18 percent) was purchased from a relative compared to non-operators (11 percent), as this suggests that land is being sold from one family generation to the next. This chart appears in the August 2016 Amber Waves feature, “Land Acquisition and Transfer in U.S. Agriculture.”

Fixed cash leases make up 70 percent of all farmland rental contracts

Thursday, November 3, 2016

In the contiguous 48 States, about 354 million acres (or 39 percent) of U.S. farmland were rented in 2014. Eighty percent of that rented land was owned by non-operator landlords who are not actively engaged in a farm operation, while the remainder was rented from one farm operator to another. Farmland may be rented out under a fixed rental rate per acre (fixed cash), a rate that depends on post-harvest crop prices or yields (flexible cash), or an agreement where the landlord receives a portion of produced output (share). A landlord may also let a tenant use the land for free. In 2014, approximately 70 percent of leases used a fixed cash rent payment. Share-based agreements were the second most common contract type, used in 17 percent of leases. Both flexible cash and free agreements accounted for less than 10 percent of agreements. Fixed cash made up the majority of agreements across different U.S. regions and landlord subtypes, such as individual and corporate ownership entities. This illustrates the broad shift from share to cash agreements in recent years: in 1999, 57 percent of leases used a fixed cash agreement and 21 percent a share agreement. A version of this chart appeared in the ERS report U.S. Farmland Ownership, Tenure, and Transfer, released on August 25, 2016.

Younger farm operators are less likely to own all of the land they farm

Monday, September 12, 2016

Farms can be classified as full-owner, part-owner, or full-tenant operations based on whether the farmer owns all, some, or none of the land in the operation. In 2014, 60 percent of farmland acres in the United States were found in part-owner operations, 32 percent in full-owner operations, and 8 percent in full-tenant operations. Acreage in full-tenant operations make up a much higher share—27 percent of acres operated—for younger farmers, and much less—7 percent—for farmers 65 or older. It can take time for farmers to build up the financial capacity to purchase land outright; rental agreements can help young farmers and ranchers gain access to land during this time. The majority of farmland, nearly three-fourths of U.S. acreage, is operated by farmers 55 and older, who account for 83 percent of all land in full-owner operations. A version of this chart is found in the ERS report, U.S. Farmland Ownership, Tenure, and Transfer, released on August 25, 2016.

Emergency haying and grazing on land in the CRP peaked in 2012

Thursday, September 1, 2016

USDA?s Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) engages farmers in long-term (10- to 15-year) contracts to establish conservation covers on environmentally sensitive land. As of June 2013, about 27 million acres of farmland were enrolled in the program. An important provision within CRP is that under certain circumstances, farmers can utilize their CRP lands for managed or emergency haying and grazing.?The haying and grazing of CRP land can provide important benefits to farmers, particularly during major droughts when other sources of livestock feed are scarce, and, if done correctly, can also improve the environmental value of the conservation covers. During the 2012 drought, farmers conducted emergency haying and grazing on almost 2.8 million acres and managed haying and grazing on another 700,000 acres. This chart is found in the Amber Waves article, ?The Role of Conservation Program Design in Drought-Risk Adaptation,? July 2013.

Average U.S. farm real estate values hit new high

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Worth $2.2 trillion, farm real estate (land and structures) accounted for 82 percent of the total value of U.S. farm assets in 2012. Because it comprises such a significant portion of the U.S. farm sector?s asset base, change in the value of farm real estate is a critical barometer of the farm sector's financial performance. Changes in farmland values also affect the financial well-being of agricultural producers, because farm real estate is the largest single component in a typical farmer's investment portfolio and it serves as the principal source of collateral for farm loans.?Following the 1980s farm crisis?during which farmland prices declined in response to rapidly rising interest rates and higher energy prices?farm real estate values have trended upward. Despite expectations of lower farm income this year, U.S. farm real estate values increased in 2014. This chart updates one found in the ERS report, Trends in U.S. Farmland Values and Ownership, EIB-92, February 2012.

Farm real estate values are highest close to population centers

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Over the last decade, most regions of the country experienced a boom-and-bust cycle in housing values. Because farmland is often the source of land used for new residential construction, changes in housing markets can affect farmland values. The value of farm real estate is typically highest for farmland located less than 10 miles from the borders of a population center, and then tapers off at greater distances. Further, farm real estate values are higher for farmland near larger cities. For example, the average value in 2008 for agricultural parcels within 5 miles of a city of at least 50,000 residents is approximately $16,801 per acre, while the average value for parcels within 5 miles of a town with at least 5,000 residents is $10,705. While the effects of the housing downturn may have the largest impacts on farmland near population centers, residential housing exists even in the most rural areas--so changes in rural housing markets have the potential to affect the values of far more farmland. ?This chart is found in ?Farmland Values on the Rise: 2000-2010? in the September 2012 issue of ERS?s Amber Waves magazine.

The 2012 Census of Agriculture finds slightly fewer U.S. farms

Thursday, September 1, 2016

After peaking at 6.8 million farms in 1935, the number of U.S. farms fell sharply until leveling off in the early 1970s. Falling farm numbers during this period reflected growing productivity in agriculture and increased nonfarm employment opportunities. Because the amount of farmland did not decrease as much as the number of farms, the remaining farms have more acreage?on average, about 430 acres in 2012 versus 155 acres in 1935. Preliminary data from the recently released Census of Agriculture show that in 2012, the United States had 2.1 million farms?down 4.3 percent from the previous Census in 2007. Between 2007 and 2012, the amount of land in farms in the United States continued a slow downward trend, declining from 922 million acres to 915 million. This chart is found in the ERS chart collection,?Ag and Food Statistics: Charting the Essentials, updated April 8, 2014.

Double-cropped acreage varies by region

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Over the last decade, growing demand for agricultural commodities?for both food and fuel?has increased the incentives for farm operators to raise production. Double cropping, the harvest of two crops from the same field in a given year, has drawn interest as a method to intensify production without expanding acreage. In the U.S., the prevalence of double cropping varies by region. The variation across regions reflects farmers? response to local conditions such as weather, climate (particularly growing season length), policy differences, and market incentives. The Southeast, Midwest, and Southern Plains regions lead the country in total double-cropped acreage. About one-third of the total double-cropped acreage over 1999-2012 was in the Southeast (2.7 million acres on average), and slightly more than one-fifth was in the Midwest (1.8 million acres on average). However, relative to each region?s total cropland acreage, the Northeast, Southeast, and Southwest all have larger shares of cropland used in double cropping than other regions. The Northeast had the largest share of double-cropped acreage (nearly 10 percent, on average) of the region?s total cropland, and the Northern Plains had the smallest (less than 0.5 percent on average). This chart is found in the ERS report, Multi-Cropping Practices: Recent Trends in Double-Cropping, EIB-125, May 2014.

Increasing U.S. organic food sales encourage growth in organic farming

Thursday, September 1, 2016

U.S. organic food sales have shown double-digit growth during most years since the 1990s and were estimated to have reached over $34 billion in 2013. According to the Nutrition Business Journal, organic food purchases now account for approximately 4 percent of total at-home U.S. food sales.? Certified organic farmland has also expanded, although not as fast as organic sales, as organic production of acreage-extensive feed grains and oilseed crops has lagged growth in other organic sectors. Fresh produce is still the top organic sales category, and California and other States that grow these high-value organic crops have experienced growth in organic acreage since the 1990s.? Overall, acreage used for organic agriculture accounted for 0.6 percent of all U.S. farmland in 2011 (0.5 percent of all U.S. pasture and 0.8 percent of all U.S. cropland). Major retailer initiatives to expand the number of organic products they sell could further boost demand. The 2014 Farm Act includes provisions to expand organic research, assist with organic certification costs, and provide other support for U.S. organic producers. This chart is found in ?Support for the Organic Sector Expands in the 2014 Farm Act? in the July 2014 Amber Waves online magazine.

Land in active crop production dips in 2015

Thursday, September 1, 2016

The ERS Major Land Uses (MLU) data series provides a snapshot of land use across the United States. While much of the MLU series is updated roughly every 5 years, cropland used for crops, the category representing the acres of land in active crop production, is updated on an annual basis. Cropland used for crops has three main components: cropland harvested (including acreage double-cropped), crop failure, and cultivated summer fallow. In 2015 (the most recent estimate), the total area of cropland used for crops in the United States was 335 million acres, down 6 million acres from the 2014 estimate and about 5 percent below the 30-year average. In 2015, cropland harvested declined by 1 percent (3 million acres) over the previous year. The area that was double-cropped?land from which two or more crops were harvested?declined by 1 million acres, a 13-percent decline from the 2014 double-cropped area of 8 million acres. Acres on which crops failed declined by 30 percent over the past year to 7 million acres, the lowest level since 2010. This chart is based on ERS?s Major Land Uses, summary table 3: Cropland used for crops, updated March 25, 2016.

Simulating the interactions between climate adaptation and conservation program design

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Farmers can adapt to their local climate in many ways, including through participation in USDA programs. In regions of the country that face higher levels of drought risk, farmers are more likely to offer eligible land for enrollment in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). As a consequence, CRP is both more competitive in these regions and drought-prone counties are more likely to face a binding CRP acreage enrollment cap. When counties are near their enrollment cap, farms are less likely to offer eligible land for CRP because those offers are less likely to be accepted for enrollment. In simulations of offer rates based on observed historical data, a national increase in the county CRP acreage enrollment cap to 35 percent of cropland in each county (from the current level of 25 percent), results in more offers from eligible farmers in drought prone regions of the Great Plains and the Intermountain West. This map is found in the ERS report, The Role of Conservation Programs in Drought Risk Adaptation, ERR-148, April 2013.

Charts of Note header image for left nav