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European Union imports of corn have trended upwards since 2000

Friday, April 17, 2020

The European Union (EU) currently imports little corn from the United States, but since 2000, imports of corn by member countries of the EU have been rising, therefore increasing the prospect of future U.S. corn shipments to the EU. The import growth has been driven mainly by rising demand for animal feed, with feed use in 2018/19 rising to 68 percent of total EU corn supply (production and stocks plus imports), and surpassing total domestic production. One cause of the growing corn feed use is that the EU is substituting corn for wheat in its animal feed rations, shifting feed wheat into export channels. Much of the imported corn is coming from the Black Sea region—mainly Ukraine and, to a lesser degree, Russia. Ukraine has been rapidly expanding its production and export capacity, and has joined the United States, Brazil, and Argentina among the four largest corn exporters. This chart is drawn from Economic Research Service’s Feed Outlook, released in April 2020.

Among low-income households, nutrition scores of some dietary components are lower for those that are food-insecure

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

USDA monitors U.S. food security using a series of questions largely focused on whether a household can obtain sufficient quantities of food. However, the quality of foods acquired also affects personal wellbeing. USDA’s National Household Food Acquisition and Purchase Survey (FoodAPS) is unique among Federal surveys in that it collected information on both purchased foods and foods obtained for free, such as from food pantries and free school meals. Economic Research Service (ERS) researchers used FoodAPS data to examine the nutritional quality of a week’s worth of food at home—foods acquired at supermarkets, supercenters, farmers’ markets, convenience stores, and food pantries. The researchers focused on low-income households. They used the Healthy Eating Index-2010, which summarizes how well a set of foods compares to recommendations in the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, to assess diet quality. The index compiles scores for 12 components made up of specific food groups and subgroups. After controlling for individual- and household-level characteristics, only a handful of differences were associated with household food insecurity. For every 1,000 calories of food at home acquired, low-income food-insecure households acquired less total fruit, whole fruit, total protein, and seafood and plant proteins compared with low-income food-secure households. An extended version of this chart appears in “Food-Insecure Households Score Lower on Diet Quality Compared to Food-Secure Households,” in ERS’s March 2020 Amber Waves magazine.

Most conservation practices in USDA’s Environmental Quality Incentives Program are part of multi-practice contracts

Monday, April 13, 2020

Under USDA’s Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), farmers and ranchers voluntarily agree to implement specific conservation practices in exchange for technical and financial assistance. To study how well program incentives line up with participant motivations, ERS researchers collected practice status information about four years after the EQIP contracts were originally signed. Overall, most EQIP contracts were completed as planned—about 80 percent of conservation practices signed in 2010 were completed as originally specified by 2014. For the 20 percent of practices that were dropped, only about 40 percent occurred with the entire contract cancelled or terminated. Some EQIP contracts are simple (single conservation practice), but most contracts are complex (multiple practices). Simple contracts represented 5 percent of all practices on contracts signed in 2010, and slightly less than 5 percent of all conservation practices dropped by 2014. Complex contracts that were entirely cancelled or terminated contained 35 percent of all of the practices dropped (by 2014) even though those same contracts only represent 5 percent of all practices (completed and dropped by 2014). However, the largest share of dropped practices (almost 60 percent) occurred on complex contracts where at least one of the originally planned practices was completed as planned. This suggests that farmers’ incentives to complete conservation practices can vary within a contract. This chart uses data from the Economic Research Service (ERS) report, Working Lands Conservation Contract Modifications: Patterns in Dropped Practices, released March 2019. The topic is also discussed in the ERS Amber Waves article, “Partially Completed Conservation Contracts Reveal On-Farm Practice Incentives.”

Record high table egg lay rates in the second half of 2019 drove up egg production despite reduced flock size

Friday, April 10, 2020

In 2019, the United States produced more than 8 billion dozen table eggs, a 2.8-percent increase over 2018. Much of this growth came in the first half of 2019, driven by a larger layer flock—a flock of egg-laying hens—as well as higher egg lay rates. However, this growth resulted in an oversupply of eggs, which put significant downward pressure on egg prices. In response, the industry took measures beginning in June 2019 to downsize the layer flock. For the remainder of 2019, the layer flock inventory fell below or hovered around previous year levels. Nonetheless, table egg production in the second half of 2019 remained 1.5 percent higher over 2018 because of record-high lay rates. On November 1, 2019, the U.S. table egg lay rate reached 82 eggs per 100 layers, the highest rate on record. Lay rates, which have increased by approximately 11 percent since 2000, have been an important driver of growth in egg production. Several factors can affect lay rates, including day length, hen age, nutrition, disease, genetics, and flock management. Egg production decreases with shorter days, particularly during fall and winter, but this can be remedied with artificial lighting. Younger hens and older hens do not produce as many eggs as those hens of peak production age (approximately 26 weeks). Finally, advancements in nutrition, disease prevention, genetic selection, and improved flock management practices have contributed to improving overall hen health, which is associated with good lay rates. In the beginning of 2020, although lay rates continued to trend higher year over year, the layer flock contracted sizably. This tightening of supply has been met with a surge in demand, causing prices to increase in March. This chart is drawn from the Economic Research Service Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry Monthly Outlook, published March 2020, and the Livestock & Meat Domestic Data: Production Indicators.

Food insecurity among children most prevalent among single-mother households and low-income households in 2018

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

In 2018, one child or more was food insecure in 7.1 percent of U.S. households with children. These 2.7 million households with food insecurity among children were unable at one or more times during the year to provide adequate, nutritious food for their children due to a lack of money or other resources for obtaining food. However, food insecurity among children varied widely by household characteristics. Food insecurity among children was more than twice the national rate in female-headed households with children (15.9 percent), households with children headed by Black, non-Hispanic adults (14.8 percent), and low-income households with incomes below 185 percent of the Federal poverty line (16.5 percent). Food insecurity among children was also higher than the national average in households with children in principal cities of metropolitan areas (9.1 percent). This chart appears in the article, “Food Insecurity Among Children Has Declined Overall But Remains High for Some Groups,” in the December 2019 issue of the Economic Research Service’s Amber Waves magazine.

Agricultural consolidation has increased the midpoint acreage for most crops since 1987

Monday, April 6, 2020

Over the past three decades, the midpoint acreage—where half of the acres of a specific crop are on farms that harvest more than the midpoint, and half are on farms that harvest less—has shifted to larger farms for almost all crops. In 1987, for example, the midpoint acreage for corn was 200 acres; it increased to 685 acres by 2017. Four other major field crops (cotton, rice, soybeans, and wheat) showed a very similar pattern: the midpoint for harvested acreage increased between 1987 and 2017 by amounts ranging from 166 to 243 percent. The midpoints also increased persistently in each census year, with the single exception of a decline in cotton from 2007 to 2012. Economic Research Service researchers extended the analysis to 10 more field crops and to 40 fruit, tree nut, berry, vegetable, and melon crops. Consolidation was nearly ubiquitous, as the 2017 midpoint acreage exceeded its 1987 level for 53 of 55 crops (the exceptions were lemons and plums/prunes). Consolidation was also substantial—the average 1987-2017 midpoint increase across the 55 crops was 148 percent, and 44 of 55 crops showed at least a 100-percent increase. Finally, consolidation was persistent over time, with continued midpoint increases for 42 crops between 2012 and 2017. This chart appears in the February 2020 Amber Waves feature, “Consolidation in U.S. Agriculture Continues.”

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.

Farm share of U.S. food dollar rose in 2018

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

On average, U.S. farmers received 14.6 cents for farm commodity sales from each dollar spent on domestically produced food in 2018, up slightly from 14.4 cents in 2017. Known as the farm share, this amount rose for the first time since 2011. This increase coincides with a flattening in average prices received by U.S. farmers (as measured by the Producer Price Index for farm products) in 2017 and 2018, after steep declines in 2015 and 2016. A preliminary 2017 farm share estimate published last year was also 14.6 cents, but the 2017 figure has been revised downward to 14.4 cents in the newly-released updates. The Economic Research Service (ERS) uses input-output analysis to calculate the farm and marketing shares from a typical food dollar, including food purchased both at grocery stores and at restaurants and other eating-out places. The marketing share covers the costs of getting domestically produced food from farm to points of purchase, including costs related to packaging, transporting, processing, and selling to consumers at grocery stores and eating-out places. The relatively low farm share measures for 2015-18 occurred during a 7-year trend of increases in the portion of the food dollar going to the foodservice industry. Farmers receive a smaller share from eating-out dollars because of the added costs for preparing and serving meals at eating-out places, so more food-away-from-home spending also drives down the farm share. The data for this chart can be found in ERS’s Food Dollar Series data product, updated on March 23, 2020.

U.S rice imports in 2019 are projected at a record high for third consecutive year

Monday, March 30, 2020

Although rice is not considered a staple food in the United States, Americans are turning to the global rice market more than ever, with imports now accounting for about 1 percent of the value of all U.S. agricultural imports. In 2019/20, U.S. rice imports are projected at 32.5 million hundredweight (rough basis), up 9 percent from a year earlier and the third consecutive record. Imports now account for more than 20 percent of the total domestic rice market with two factors driving the recent records. First is a large increase in demand for Asian aromatic varieties, primarily jasmine rice from Thailand and basmati rice from India and Pakistan. These specific Asian aromatic varieties are not grown in the United States and account for around 70 percent of U.S. rice imports. Second, Puerto Rico is once again importing cheaper rice from China—about 8 percent of total U.S. rice imports—and largely replacing U.S. suppliers. Nearly all of China’s rice exports to Puerto Rico are from its Government-accumulated stocks of older rice that are sold at well below current trading prices. Also, freight costs are lower for rice shipped from China because of provisions of the U.S. Jones Shipping Act of 1920 (Merchant Marine Act of 1920, Section 27), which effectively raises the of cost of shipments between any two U.S. ports (such as New Orleans to San Juan, Puerto Rico). The United States also imports broken kernel rice for processed uses, with Brazil now the largest supplier. Finally, Italy regularly supplies small amounts of its Arborio rice to the United States. The information in this chart is based on information in the Economic Research Service Rice Yearbook Tables.

The U.S. is forecast to continue exporting more agricultural products than it imports in 2020

Friday, March 27, 2020

U.S. agricultural exports are projected to total $139.5 billion in fiscal year 2020, while agricultural imports are expected at $132.5 billion, according to the Economic Research Service’s latest outlook for U.S. agricultural trade. The totals represent a $4 billion increase in exports and $1.6 billion rise in imports over 2019, which would increase the trade surplus by $2.4 billion and reverse the trend of decreasing trade surplus in recent years. Record high pork exports are projected as global demand for U.S. pork is expected to grow because of declining Asian production stemming from the outbreak of African Swine Fever. Expectations of increased Chinese purchases of U.S. soybeans due to the relaxation of trade barriers further drive up total U.S. projected export growth, but uncertainty resulting from the COVID-19 outbreak tempers the outlook. Total U.S. imports are increased because of growth demand for horticultural products from the Americas, primarily fresh fruit, coupled with stronger imports of foreign vegetable oils, and are slightly offset by a reduction in fresh vegetable imports. This chart is drawn from the Economic Research Service report, Outlook for U.S. Agricultural Trade: February 2020.

Grocery store food prices up 0.9 percent in 2019 compared with 2018

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

The year 2019 was another year of low price inflation at the grocery store. As measured by Consumer Price Index data, average annual food-at-home prices in 2019 were 0.9 percent higher than in 2018. Most food categories posted modest price index increases of between 0.3 and 2.0 percent. Egg prices decreased the most, falling by 10.0 percent between 2018 and 2019, although eggs represent a small share of total grocery spending. Fresh fruits, fats and oils, and poultry had modest price decreases. The price index for fresh vegetables increased the most. Fresh vegetable prices were up 3.8 percent in 2019, mainly because of bad weather in several growing areas. People are often surprised when fruit and vegetable prices move in different directions as they did in 2019. This can happen because most production of these crops occurs on highly specialized farms that are located in different areas of the country, such as lettuce farms in Arizona or blueberry farms in Michigan. Bad weather in Idaho could increase the price of potatoes, but it will have almost no effect on the price of Florida oranges. This chart appears in the Food Prices and Spending section of the Economic Research Service’s (ERS) Ag and Food Statistics: Charting the Essentials. For ERS’s latest food price information and 2020 forecasts, see our Food Price Outlook data product.

Average U.S. farm real estate value remains near its historic high

Monday, March 23, 2020

Farm real estate, including land and the structures on that land, typically accounts for more than 80 percent of the total value of U.S. farm sector assets. Farmers often use the value of their real estate as collateral for farm loans. After a long period of appreciation following the farm crisis of the 1980s, farm real estate values have leveled off since 2015. U.S. farm real estate value in 2019 remained near its historic high, averaging $3,160 per acre—a modest increase of 0.2 percent over 2018. The Economic Research Service (ERS) forecast farm income to increase nationwide in 2019. This increase, combined with historically low interest rates, contributes to the ability of the farm sector to support higher farmland values. Regional farmland real estate values vary widely because of differences in general economic conditions, local farm economic conditions, government policy, and local geographic conditions. For example, farm real estate values in the Corn Belt are nearly twice the national average, while values in the Mountain region are less than half the national average. This chart appears in the ERS topic page for Farmland Value, updated March 2020.

U.S. avocado demand is climbing steadily

Friday, March 20, 2020

U.S. demand for avocados has increased steadily over the past two decades. Per capita consumption of avocados has tripled since 2001 to 8 pounds per person in 2018. Total U.S. production in 2018 was 364 million pounds, with California the major producer, accounting for 93 percent of U.S. avocado output in that year. U.S. acreage has declined over time, and production volume can vary between years. To support year-round demand, the United States imports avocados. In 2007, Mexico overtook Chile as the dominant supplier, and by 2018 accounted for 89 percent of fresh avocado imports. While Mexico sells avocados to the United States every month of the year, shipments are lower during the summer. In 2018, Peru was the second largest source of imports, and shipments increase during the summer. Although U.S. avocado production has dropped since 2001, growing demand has benefited domestic producers through higher prices. For example, the price received by California growers in 2018 is up 22 percent from 2011. Since avocados can mature on the tree for an extended period, U.S. growers look for opportunities when fruit quality is at its peak and market conditions are optimal to harvest and ship to domestic and export markets. This chart is based on Fruit and Tree Nut Yearbook Data released in October 2019.

Veterans’ diets scored higher on dairy and refined grains, but lower on empty calories

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

USDA and the National Cancer Institute developed the Healthy Eating Index (HEI) to measure how closely the foods and beverages that an individual consumes align with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Higher scores indicate a higher degree of compliance with recommendations. Economic Research Service (ERS) researchers used self-reported food intake data to compare veterans’ and nonveterans’ diets. After controlling for economic and demographic differences—for example, veterans tend to be older and are more often male—veterans’ and nonveterans’ average scores differed for three dietary components. Veterans scored higher on components for dairy products and refined grains, but lower on the empty calories component (meaning that empty calories accounted for a larger share of their total calories). In the HEI-2010, 12 component scores for specific food groups and subgroups—with maximum values ranging from 5 to 20—sum to a total score that measures overall diet quality, with a maximum value of 100. Veterans attained an average total HEI of 45.6 out of 100 versus 49.3 for nonveterans. The data for this chart come from the December 2019 ERS report, An Examination of Veterans’ Diet Quality. Veterans’ diet quality is also discussed in the February 2020 Amber Waves article, “Much Like Other Americans, Veterans Would Benefit From Improving the Quality of Their Diets.”

Nearly half of all principal operators of family farms and their spouses work off the farm, but the share varies by farm type

Monday, March 16, 2020

USDA’s Economic Research Service classifies farm households based on the annual gross cash farm income (GCFI) of the farm that they operate, and further separates small farms by the primary occupation of the principal operator. Data from USDA’s Agricultural Resource Management Survey consistently show that income earned off the farm is an important source of income for most farm households. Nearly half of all family farm operators and their spouses reported having a job off the farm in 2018. In general, spouses of principal operators are more likely to work off the farm, except among those classified as off-farm occupation farms. However, off-farm employment varies across farm types. For example, only 11 percent of operators of large farms and 3 percent of very large farms have a job off the farm, while between 17 and 19 percent of those operating low-sales, moderate-sales, and mid-size farms have an off-farm job. About 20 percent of operators on retirement farms hold off-farm jobs. This chart appears in the December 2019 report, America’s Diverse Family Farms: 2019 Edition.

Highest U.S. poverty rates are in the South, with over 20 percent poor in its rural areas

Friday, March 13, 2020

People living in poverty tend to be clustered in certain U.S. regions, counties, and neighborhoods, rather than being spread evenly across the Nation. Poverty rates in rural (nonmetro) areas have historically been higher than in urban (metro) areas, and the rural/urban poverty gap is greater in some regions of the country than others. At the regional level, poverty is disproportionately concentrated in the rural South. In 2014-18, the South had an average rural poverty rate of 20.5 percent—nearly 6 percentage points higher than the average rate in the region’s urban areas. An estimated 42.7 percent of the Nation’s rural population and 51.3 percent of the Nation’s rural poor lived in this region between 2014 and 2018. By comparison, 37.1 percent of the urban population and 39.4 percent of the urban poor lived in the South during that period. The poverty gap was smallest in the Midwest and the Northeast—with less than a percentage point difference between rural and urban poverty rates. This chart appears on the Economic Research Service topic page for Rural Poverty & Well-being, updated February 2020.

Weather sours U.S. and Mexican sugar production in 2019/20

Monday, March 9, 2020

Sugar production in the United States and globally is dependent upon two crops: sugarbeets, grown in higher, typically colder latitudes; and sugarcane, which grows in lower, typically more tropical latitudes. Poor weather conditions have diminished the production outlook for both the U.S. sugarbeet crop—particularly in North Dakota, Minnesota, and Montana—and the sugarcane crop, especially in Louisiana. Sugar output is also expected to be significantly lower for 2019/20 in Mexico—the United States’ largest foreign sugar supplier—as drought conditions in several key sugarcane-producing regions are expected to reduce output considerably. The combined 2019/20 U.S. and Mexican sugar production is projected to be 9.7 percent below that in 2018/19, the lowest collective output since 2011/12. The reduced supply expectations are the main reason why the U.S. sugar market is forecast to be at its tightest since 2010/11, and why current U.S. wholesale refined sugar prices are 19 percent higher for cane sugar and 26 percent higher for beet sugar compared with a year ago. This chart is based on information in the Economic Research Service Sugar and Sweeteners Monthly Outlook Report and the Sugar and Sweetener Yearbook Tables.

Less fluid milk in the U.S. marketplace, but more of it was low-fat in 2017 than 40 years earlier

Friday, March 6, 2020

According to Economic Research Service (ERS) food availability data, the per person supply of fluid cow’s milk available for Americans to drink decreased by 40 percent over 1977-2017, from 29.0 to 17.3 gallons per person. Whole milk availability drove this decline, falling from 18.7 gallons per person in 1977 to a low of 5.1 gallons in 2014, then up to 5.7 gallons in 2017. Availability of milk with 2 percent milk fat grew from 5.5 gallons per person in 1977 to a high of 9.2 gallons in 1989 before falling to 5.8 gallons in 2017. In 2005, 2 percent milk replaced whole milk as the most popular milk type. Availability of 1 percent milk has held steady at around 2.5 gallons per person for the last two decades, and skim milk reached its peak in 1997 at 3.9 gallons per person. Several factors—including competition from alternative beverages, an aging population, and changing consumer attitudes and preferences regarding milk fats—affect trends in U.S. per person milk availability. The data for this chart come from the ERS Food Availability (Per Capita) Data System.

U.S. acres planted with industrial hemp expanded rapidly in 2019

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

After a hiatus of almost 45 years, the Agricultural Act of 2014, Public Law 113-79 (the 2014 Farm Bill) reintroduced industrial hemp production in the United States through State pilot programs. Industrial hemp is a strain of Cannabis sativa that is low in active tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. It is grown specifically for a variety of industrial products. Production of industrial hemp beyond the pilot programs was legalized in the Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018, Public Law 115-334 (the 2018 Farm Bill). By mid-2019, 47 States had passed legislation to allow some form of hemp production and planted acreage reported to the USDA Farm Service Agency increased from zero in 2013 to 32,464 in 2018 to 146,065 in 2019. Hemp competes for acreage against crops with established markets and decades of agronomic research and industry experience. Through 2019, the largest hemp acreage is found in States that are not leading producers of conventional field crops such as corn, soybeans, wheat, or cotton. This chart is based on information in the Economic Research Service report, Economic Viability of Industrial Hemp in the United States: A Review of State Pilot Programs.

Minimum hourly agricultural wage rates are highest in Washington and Oregon

Monday, March 2, 2020

The H-2A Temporary Agricultural Program provides a legal means to bring in foreign-born workers into the United States on a short-term basis. Workers employed on an H-2A visa may remain in the U.S. for up to 10 months at a time. Employers must demonstrate and the U.S. Department of Labor must certify that efforts to recruit U.S. workers were not successful. Employers must also pay a State-specific minimum wage, known as the Adverse Effect Wage Rate (AEWR). The rate is set at the region’s average farm wage to prevent H-2A employment from negatively affecting domestic farmworkers by lowering their wages. For fiscal 2019, this minimum hourly wage was highest in Oregon and Washington at $15.03, followed by Hawaii at $14.73. The wage rate was also high in the Dakotas, Nebraska, and Kansas at $14.38. By comparison, Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina had the lowest minimum wages at $11.13. This chart appears in the Economic Research Service topic page for Farm Labor, updated January 2020.

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