ERS Charts of Note
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Monday, May 15, 2023
Thirty percent of groundwater organizations cite nitrate contamination as a groundwater quality concern. Nitrates can come from animal manure and chemical fertilizers that leach into groundwater. When groundwater pumping exceeds the volume of groundwater recharge, the concentration of contaminants like nitrates can increase. Nitrate contamination is a concern on more than half of the groundwater-fed irrigated acreage within groundwater organization service areas. USDA’s Survey of Irrigation Organizations collected information on the estimated 735 local entities that manage on-farm groundwater use through statutory, regulatory, or other powers. While nitrate contamination was the most common groundwater quality concern reported, contamination by salinity, other nutrients, and heavy metals are a concern for 27, 19, and 18 percent of groundwater organizations, respectively. Contaminated groundwater can harm crops or make the water unusable for irrigation entirely. This chart appears in the Economic Research Service report Irrigation Organizations—Groundwater Organizations published in April 2023.
Thursday, April 27, 2023
In September 2017, Hurricanes Irma and Maria caused major destruction across Puerto Rico’s agricultural sector. The destruction of infrastructure, operations, and crops led to an exodus of farmworkers, which further hampered the farm sector’s ability to recover. Data from the USDA, National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), Census of Agriculture, conducted every 5 years, show how the hurricanes impacted Puerto Rico’s farm income and expenses. Between 2012 and 2018, the number of farms declined by nearly 38 percent. Gross cash receipts—the sum of the sale of agricultural commodities, cash from farm-related income, and participation in Government farm programs—fell 19 percent in inflation-adjusted dollars from $718 million to $585 million. Cash expenses for Puerto Rican farms also decreased, falling 16 percent from $594 million to $500 million. Puerto Rico Planning Board’s data for net agricultural farm income, which includes non-cash income and expenses such as inventory changes, show a similar decline over the span of time that includes years not captured by NASS census data. From 2012 to 2020, net agricultural farm income (not adjusted for inflation) fell by $101 million. This chart first appeared in the USDA, Economic Research Service report, Puerto Rico’s Agricultural Economy in the Aftermath of Hurricanes Irma and Maria: A Brief Overview, April 2023.
Wednesday, April 19, 2023
The top two concerns raised by groundwater organizations related to groundwater depletion are degraded water quality and declining well capacity. Groundwater organizations are the local entities that influence on-farm groundwater use through statutory, regulatory, or other powers. In the United States, there are an estimated 735 such organizations that manage roughly 60 percent of all groundwater-fed irrigated acreage in the country. A national survey of these organizations found that 31 percent of them reported degraded water quality and 30 percent reported declining well capacity in 2019 as groundwater depletion concerns. These two issues affect about 53 and 59 percent of the acreage within organization service areas, respectively. When groundwater pumping exceeds the volume of groundwater recharge, the quality and quantity of the remaining water declines. For example, saltwater intrusion caused by groundwater depletion is a concern for many coastal and inland aquifers, since high salinity levels can hinder the growth of most common crops. Well capacity is another important groundwater depletion concern, since it limits the amount of water that can be applied to a crop within a given time, which can reduce irrigated crop yields and farm profits. Groundwater depletion has affected several of the nation’s most economically important aquifers, including the High Plains (Ogallala) and Central Valley aquifers. Additionally, 14 percent of groundwater organizations reported abandoned wells as an issue and 25 percent reported stream interaction issues, in which depleted groundwater can reduce streamflow and harm associated ecosystems. This chart appears in the Economic Research Service economic brief Irrigation Organizations: Groundwater Management, published in April 2023.
Tuesday, April 11, 2023
The proximity of livestock production helps explain the type of manure farmers apply to crops. Livestock production is geographically concentrated in the United States, and manure can be expensive to transport because of its low nutrient density and high proportion of water. Accordingly, farmers typically apply the type of manure that is available from local animal production. Since most hogs are produced in the Midwest, hog manure is applied more often to corn and soybeans that are grown in the region. Dairies, which tend to be located in the western, midwestern, and northeastern U.S., supply the largest share of manure applied to corn, barley, and oats. Most chickens are raised in the southeastern U.S. and poultry manure is used to meet crop nutrient needs of cotton and peanuts that are mainly grown in the region. Beef cattle operations in the Great Plains supply more than 50 percent of the manure applied to wheat acreage. In 2020, manure was applied to about 8 percent of the 240.9 million acres planted to seven major U.S. field crops. This chart appears in the USDA, Economic Research Service report Increasing the Value of Animal Manure for Farmers, published March 2023.
Wednesday, April 5, 2023
Manure has long been used as a source of primary plant nutrients, including nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. However, the proportions available in manure are unlikely to match a crop’s nutrient needs perfectly. For instance, while manure could be used to satisfy many crops’ nitrogen requirements, this would result in more phosphorus being applied than what most crops need. Excessive application of manure on cropland can cause nutrients to accumulate in soil, leach, or to run off into nearby bodies of water. To help avoid over-application of nutrients, farmers can test the nutrient content of manure, restrict manure applications, and/or apply just enough supplemental commercial fertilizer nutrients to meet their crop’s needs. Between 2013 and 2019, producers of seven major crops in the United States who used manure were asked how much manure they applied per acre on these croplands. Using this information, ERS estimated crop nutrient application rates. Corn received the highest application rate of nitrogen from a manure source—92 pounds per acre—followed by cotton, wheat, barley, oats, soybeans, and peanuts. Cotton led phosphorus application at 37 pounds per acre, and corn led potassium application at 59 pounds per acre. Soybeans and peanuts require less nitrogen fertilization; therefore, they were applied with the lowest manure nitrogen application rates. Manure applied to soybeans and peanuts is valued primarily for its phosphorus and potassium. In 2020, manure was applied to about 8 percent of the 240.9 million acres planted to 7 major U.S. field crops. This chart appears in the USDA, Economic Research Service report Increasing the Value of Animal Manure for Farmers, published March 2023.
Monday, March 27, 2023
Auto-steer and guidance system adoption on U.S farms increased sharply in the past 20 years, with use on more than 50 percent of the acreage planted to corn, soybeans, winter wheat, and cotton as of 2019, the most recent year for which data are available. Adoption rates were 58.4 percent of acres planted to corn in 2016, 55.9 percent of winter wheat acres in 2017, 54.5 percent of soybean acres in 2018, and 64.5 percent of cotton acres in 2019. USDA, Economic Research Service researchers examined producer responses from various Agricultural Resource Management Surveys (ARMS) to better understand how auto-steer and guidance systems use has evolved. Using GPS, these technologies visualize and track the position of tractors, harvesters, and sprayers in the field in real time. Autonomous steering permits automatically guided fertilizing, harvesting, and other tasks in the field with minimal involvement from the farmer, increasing field efficiency (i.e., fewer errors), reducing operator fatigue, and freeing up operator time in the equipment’s cab. This chart is based on information in the Economic Information Bulletin, Precision Agriculture in the Digital Era: Recent Adoption on U.S. Farms, published in February 2023.
Thursday, March 23, 2023
For most crops, small-scale farmers are more likely than large-scale farmers to apply manure. The smallest 25 percent of farms (by planted area) were more likely to apply manure than any other farm size group for five of seven crops studied: corn, barley, oats, soybeans, and wheat—all except cotton and peanuts. For example, among the smallest 25 percent of corn farmers, roughly half applied manure. On the other hand, only 13 percent of the largest corn farmers applied manure to their corn. This pattern of small-scale farmers using manure as a crop nutrient source more than other size farmers may be partly explained by specialization. Larger crop farms are more likely to specialize and not diversify their operations with animal production, limiting access to manure produced on the farm. Manure was applied to about 8 percent of the 240.9 million acres planted to the seven major U.S. field crops. Manure supplies nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium to growing crops and can improve soil quality. This chart appears in the USDA, Economic Research Service report Increasing the Value of Animal Manure for Farmers, published March 2023.
Number of on-farm anaerobic digesters systems used to decompose organic waste has increased over time
Wednesday, March 15, 2023
The number of on-farm anaerobic digester systems has steadily increased since 2000, according to AgSTAR, a collaborative program sponsored by the Environmental Protection Agency and USDA. An anaerobic digester is an airtight vessel in which bacteria digest, or decompose, organic waste such as manure, and the resulting biogas can be used to generate electricity or sold. A total of 322 on-farm systems were in operation at the end of 2021, including 50 that started operating that year. Recent growth in the number of digesters corresponds to increased demand for renewable fuel as a result of carbon credit trading and incentive programs. Further, more covered lagoons have been built as their costs have decreased. Although adoption began in the 1970s, steady growth of on-farm anaerobic digestion systems in the United States did not pick up until the 1990s. Growth then persisted until about 2013, after which it slowed considerably, then began increasing again. Many of the newer digester projects are designed to produce compressed natural gas that can be injected into pipelines to take advantage of carbon credit-trading programs such as California’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard program. Roughly 78 percent of all on-farm anaerobic digestion facilities in the United States are found on dairy farms. Digester adoption is highest in California, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania. This chart appears in the Economic Research Service report, Increasing the Value of Animal Manure for Farmers, published March 2023.
Friday, February 24, 2023
U.S. farms are adopting precision technologies at different rates, with the largest farms adopting auto-steer guidance technology at significantly higher rates. USDA, Economic Research Service researchers used data from four successive Agricultural Resource Management Surveys (ARMS) to assess the adoption of precision agriculture technologies across four major field crops. After sorting farms into five equally sized groups based on farm size, they found that the largest farms across all commodities had adopted guidance at the highest rates. Specifically, of farms growing corn in 2016, 73 percent of farms in the largest size category adopted guidance. The rates were similar for the group of largest farms growing other commodities in later years: 82 percent of the largest winter wheat farms in 2017, 68 percent of the largest soybean farms in 2018, and 67 percent of the largest cotton farms in 2019. Conversely, among the smallest farms, adoption of guidance systems was much lower: 10 percent of the smallest corn farms in 2016, 11 percent of the smallest soybean farms in 2018, and 7 percent of the smallest winter wheat farms in 2017, with the exception of cotton, which starts at a relatively high rate of 50 percent for the smallest cotton farms in 2019. Adoption rates vary based on field terrain, soil characteristics, the scale and scope of production, and farmers’ risk preferences. Other factors affecting adoption rates include the type of crop produced and farmers’ socioeconomic characteristics, such as age, education level, and years of experience. This chart appears in the Economic Information Bulletin Precision Agriculture in the Digital Era: Recent Adoption on U.S. Farms, published in February 2023.
North Carolina and New York lead U.S. in specialty crop applications to Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program (NAP)
Tuesday, November 1, 2022
USDA operates various Federal crop insurance and disaster aid programs to help producers mitigate the risks of agricultural production such as weather, price, or pests. But when sufficient data is not available to create an actuarially sound insurance product (one in which premiums paid should approximately equal indemnity payments), then producers can apply to the USDA, Farm Service Agency’s Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program (NAP). NAP covered about 115 million total acres in 2017. Specialty crops, which include fruits and vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits, and horticulture nursery crops, are often grown in areas where there are suitable soil and weather conditions. In 2020, North Carolina and New York had the highest number of specialty crop NAP applications. Each State had more than 5,000 applications. Across the U.S., NAP applications were made for 147 different specialty crops in 2020. This chart appears in the Economic Research Service report Specialty Crop Participation in Federal Risk Management Programs, published in September 2022.
Monday, August 8, 2022
In 2020, U.S. farms sold almost $10.7 billion of edible food commodities directly to consumer outlets and intermediary supply chains such as restaurant/grocery stores, regional distributors and local institutions—a nearly $2.8 billion (35 percent) increase from 2019. The overall increase in direct sales in 2020 occurred across most direct sales marketing channels, such as farmers markets, farm store/community supported agriculture (CSAs), restaurants/grocery stores, and regional distributors. From 2019 to 2020, sales at farmers markets and restaurants/grocery stores increased by 11 and 13 percent, respectively, whereas sales at farm stores, CSAs and other direct-to-consumer channels increased by 79 percent and sales to regional distributors increased by 73 percent. However, sales to local institutions declined by 86 percent in 2020 relative to 2019, likely because of closures or restricted operations related to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Overall, in 2020, 73 percent of total direct sales occurred through intermediary supply chains, while the remaining 27 percent were direct-to-consumer outlets. High-income direct sales farms, defined here as those with gross cash farm income (GCFI) of $350,0000 or more, increased their direct sales by $2.4 billion (38 percent) from 2019 to 2020, which accounted for 81 percent of all direct sales. Among low-income direct sales farms, defined as those with GCFI less than $75,000, 85 percent of their direct sales were though direct-to-consumer outlets in 2020. About 7 percent of America’s 2 million farms sold commodities though direct-to-consumer outlets, and almost 1 percent sold through intermediary supply chains. The other 93 percent of U.S. farms sell their commodities via other marketing channels, such as slaughterhouses, ethanol processors, grain mills, etc. This chart appears in the ERS report America’s Diverse Family Farms, 2021, published December 2021.
Large-scale family farms show stronger operating profit margins than other farms between 2011 and 2020
Tuesday, August 2, 2022
Large-scale family farms were more likely to have stronger financial performance than other farms, according to USDA, Economic Research Service (ERS) researchers using data from the 2011–20 Agricultural Resource Management surveys (ARMS). ERS researchers categorized farms as low risk if they had an operating profit margin (OPM)—the ratio of operating profit to gross farm income—greater than 25 percent. Large-scale family farms, defined as those with gross cash farm income (GCFI) of $1 million or more, were the most likely to have low-risk operating profit margins compared to nonfamily and family farms of other sizes. However, the share of large-scale family farms considered low risk declined from 48 percent in 2011 to 43 percent in 2020. Large-scale family farms make up 3 percent of U.S. farms but contribute 46 percent of the value of production in 2020. Small family farms, those with GCFI less than $350,000, were less likely to have an operating profit margin over 25 percent. The portion of small family farms operating at low risk fell from 18 percent in 2011 to 11 percent in 2020. This chart appears in the ERS report America’s Diverse Family Farms, 2021 published December 2021.
From 2002 to 2019, Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) spending increased for technical assistance to support Farm Bill program implementation
Monday, June 6, 2022
Conservation technical assistance is a service that helps producers develop skills and knowledge for maintaining the natural resources involved in agricultural production. USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) provides technical assistance through several different programs. The Conservation Technical Assistance (CTA) program provides comprehensive planning services and technical support for the adoption of conservation practices across the agricultural landscape. NRCS also provides free technical assistance to producers and landowners participating in working lands programs such as the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) that primarily provide financial assistance for practice adoption. Similarly, NRCS provides technical support for participants in land conservation programs, which provide financial payments to producers and landowners that put land into long-term conservation, such as the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). Finally, NRCS administers several science and technology programs, among which the largest amount of funding goes to soil surveys. Spending for the CTA program has decreased in the studied period (2002-2019) by 23 percent, once adjusted for inflation. On the other hand, spending on technical assistance in support of working lands programs that primarily provide financial assistance has increased over the period from $163 million to $761 million. Spending on technical assistance for land conservation has increased, and spending on science and technology has decreased over the same period. This chart was drawn from the USDA, Economic Research Service report USDA Conservation Technical Assistance and Within-Field Resource Concerns, published May 2022.
USDA’s NRCS is the most common source of technical assistance for crop fields with self-reported soil and water related resource concerns
Wednesday, June 1, 2022
USDA asked farmers to self-report soil and water related resource concerns on their cotton, wheat, oat, and soybean fields for USDA’s 2015, 2017, and 2018 Agricultural Resource Management Survey (ARMS). USDA also asked farmers to report any sources of technical assistance which helped address their on-field soil and water concerns. USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) defines a resource concern as an expected degradation of a natural resource used in farming to the degree that its sustainability or intended use is impaired. NRCS provides free technical assistance both as a standalone service under the Conservation Technical Assistance program (CTA) and to support implementation of practices receiving financial assistance from programs such as the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). Producers can also seek technical assistance from other USDA agencies, the Cooperative Extension System, or sources such as conservation districts or State agencies. According to recent ARMS data, about 67 percent of fields that received any technical assistance received it from NRCS, with 46 percent of assisted fields receiving assistance exclusively from NRCS. Twenty five percent of assisted fields received assistance from multiple sources. This chart was drawn from the USDA, Economic Research Service report USDA Conservation Technical Assistance and Within-Field Resource Concerns, published May 5, 2022.
Water- and wind-driven erosion affect a large portion of cropland, according to estimates from both model-based and farmer-reported data
Friday, May 20, 2022
Researchers at USDA, Economic Research Service (ERS) used the USDA’s Agricultural Resource Management Survey (ARMS) to identify farmers’ concerns about soil erosion on their fields, specifically fields growing oats or cotton in 2015, wheat in 2017, and soybeans in 2018. Across all acreage represented in the selected ARMS data, farmers reported that 25 percent of acres had water-driven erosion and 16 percent had wind-driven erosion. ERS researchers compared these self-reported measures to estimates from the National Resources Inventory (NRI), a science-based assessment conducted by USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service. The 2017 NRI found that about 18 percent of cultivated cropland had water-driven erosion. For the NRI, a field is determined as having a problem with water-driven erosion if annual soil losses exceed its soil loss tolerance, which is the maximum rate of annual soil loss that still permits sustained economic crop production. The NRI assessment also found that about 14 percent of all cultivated cropland had more soil losses from wind-driven erosion than its soil loss tolerance. The difference in rates of erosion between the two data sources may reflect farmer perceptions about what is considered an erosion problem relative to the criteria used in the NRI. This chart can be found in the ERS report USDA Conservation Technical Assistance and Within-Field Resource Concerns, published in May 2022.
Friday, May 6, 2022
When management practices degrade a natural resource used in farming to the degree that its sustainability or intended use is impaired, then a given land unit is said to have a resource concern. The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has identified 47 specific resource concerns affecting crop fields in the United States. ERS researchers classified the soil and water resource concerns from this list into seven broad categories in USDA’s Agricultural Resource Management Survey (ARMS). These seven broad concerns are on-field water quality, low organic matter, poor drainage, soil compaction, wind-driven erosion, water-driven erosion, and other concerns. Cotton, wheat, oat, and soybean farmers were asked to report if they were experiencing one or multiple of the seven categories of concerns on the fields surveyed by ARMS between 2015 and 2018. Overall, farmers represented across these surveys reported that 49 percent of their fields had at least one resource concern and 26 percent of their fields had two or more concerns. The percentages of fields with at least one self-reported resource concern varied by region. Resource concerns were most common in the Midwest, the largest region by the number of fields, and were least common in the South. Farmers growing soybeans reported that about 51 percent of their fields have one or multiple resource concerns. Farmers growing durum wheat, which covers 2-5 percent of the total wheat area in the country, reported one or more resource concerns on about 40 percent of fields. This chart is drawn from the USDA, Economic Research Service report “USDA Conservation Technical Assistance and Within-Field Resource Concerns,” published May 2022.
Most formal drought plans for irrigation organizations specify rules for drought-induced water restrictions
Wednesday, April 6, 2022
Guidelines for implementing drought-induced water restrictions on water deliveries and pumping are the most common component in the formal drought plans of irrigation organizations. In the 2019 Survey of Irrigation Organizations, USDA asked groundwater organizations and water delivery organizations, such as irrigation districts and ditch companies, questions about their formal drought planning. Around one-fifth of all organizations had a formal, written drought plan. Between 69 percent and 73 percent of water delivery organization plans and 80 percent of groundwater organization plans included details about drought-induced water restrictions as a component of their plans. Land fallowing provisions and off-year water storage strategies typically occurred in fewer than 20 percent of plans for most organizations. About one-third of large delivery organization plans included provisions for price increases and water supply augmentation during drought by purchasing additional water. This chart was drawn from the USDA, Economic Research Service report Irrigation Organizations: Drought Planning and Response (EB-33), published January 6, 2022.
Thursday, February 17, 2022
Irrigation delivery organizations, such as irrigation districts, ditch companies, mutuals and acequias, provide water to farms and ranches and can vary in size. The USDA 2019 Survey of Irrigation Organizations collected data about them in the 24 States where these organizations are most common. Analysis of the survey data indicated that most irrigation organizations are small or medium in scale based on the number of agricultural acres they serve. An estimated 44 percent serve fewer than 1,000 irrigable acres, and 40 percent serve between 1,000 and 10,000 acres. However, most land and off-farm irrigation water are supplied by large delivery organizations, which serve more than 10,000 acres. While they represent only 16 percent of organizations, they serve 78 percent of irrigated acres with off-farm water and deliver 80 percent of off-farm water. This chart appears in the ERS report Irrigation Organizations: Drought Planning and Response, release January 2022.
Local residents living in oil-dependent counties experienced long-term effects following the oil boom and bust of the 1980s
Monday, October 18, 2021
Errata: On October 22, 2021, the map presented in this Chart of Note was revised to show the correct number of counties in the contiguous United States.
Focusing on the rapid rise and decline of oil production in the 1970s and 1980s, researchers at USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS), the University of Oregon, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison studied the cumulative effects of oil booms (and subsequent busts) on households living in counties with the most dependence on oil extraction. The authors identified individuals living in “boom counties” in 1980, defined as those with greater than 2.5 percent employment in oil and natural gas extraction. On average, the incomes of boom households increased by $5,000 dollars annually during the early years of the 1975-1979 oil boom and $6,900 per year during the later boom of 1980-1984, compared with similar households in counties that were not producing oil. The subsequent bust, however, reduced household incomes on average by more than $8,000 annually from 1985 to 1992. These losses were driven in part by increased unemployment and the dissipation of relative wage gains during the boom. The earlier oil boom and bust appeared to have no effect on household income after 1993. The average household in a boom county saw cumulative income losses of $7,600 compared with households in non-boom counties between 1969 and 2012, the final year of the study. These income losses were experienced entirely by workers in their prime working age of 25-54. Boom household heads above 54 were also about 15 percent less likely to retire from 1989 to 1992, compared with non-boom household heads. To estimate the effects of booms and busts on employment, the researchers used annual household-level survey data from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics. This chart appears in the Amber Waves finding “Oil Booms Can Reduce Lifetime Earnings and Delay Retirement,” published October 2021.
Monday, September 27, 2021
Dicamba is a common herbicide used to control annual and perennial broadleaf weeds. Federal and State restrictions for the use of dicamba can influence a farmer’s decision to adopt genetically engineered dicamba-tolerant (DT) seeds. In 2019, for example, Federal restrictions limited the application of dicamba on cotton fields from one hour after sunrise to two hours before sunset, limited applications to 60 days after planting cotton, and required that fields in areas with endangered plant species maintain buffers on all sides of the field. Different States imposed additional restrictions or extensions for dicamba application. For example, Georgia, Oklahoma, and Texas were among states that expanded the dicamba spraying window further into the growing season from the allowed 60 days after planting by granting Special Local Need registrations to their farmers, which were allowed at the time. Data from USDA’s 2019 Agricultural Resource Management Survey show that, in States with earlier dicamba cut-off dates, less dicamba was applied after planting during the growing season. In Arkansas and Louisiana, where cut-off dates occur early in the growing season, 16 percent and 23 percent, respectively, of DT cotton acres were sprayed with dicamba after planting in 2019. By contrast, Georgia allows dicamba spraying until one week before harvest, which can occur as late as December. About 57 percent of DT cotton acres received after-planting applications of dicamba in Georgia in 2019. In 2020, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency instituted a single nationwide cut-off date of July 30. This chart appears in the July 2021 Amber Waves data feature, “Adoption of Genetically Engineered Dicamba-Tolerant Cotton Seeds is Prevalent Throughout the United States.”