ERS Charts of Note

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The price of fertilizer and the prices received for crops have both trended downward in recent years

Monday, March 26, 2018

Fertilizers provide nutrients (such as nitrogen) essential in crop production. The amount of fertilizer farmers apply can be affected by changes in fertilizer prices paid, variation in production practice, crop mix, and the prices received from crop sales. Fertilizer prices paid and the prices received for crops increased in tandem at a fairly modest rate from 1960 through 2002. Between 2002 and 2008, annual fertilizer prices paid increased rapidly—generally much faster than increases in crop prices received by farmers—and became more volatile. Fertilizer price increases through 2008 were largely driven by high energy prices and the record costs of natural gas (a basic input to produce nitrogen). In response to record fertilizer prices in 2008, farmers reduced their use of fertilizers, contributing to a large decline (18 percent) in fertilizer prices through 2010. Fertilizer prices recovered somewhat—driven by strong domestic demand for plant nutrients due to high crop prices and limited domestic production capacity—but are currently trending downward, along with crop prices received. This chart appears in the ERS data product Fertilizer Use and Price, updated February 2018.

Broiler weights start 2018 by showing continued growth

Friday, March 23, 2018

U.S. broiler meat production continues to grow, reaching 3.6 billion pounds in January 2018, almost 4 percent higher than the previous year. For the year, USDA expects broiler production to reach 42.6 billion pounds, almost 1 billion pounds more than was produced in 2017, and nearly 2 billion more than in 2016. One of the factors driving higher broiler meat production is a steady increase in the average weight of the birds slaughtered. Weights in January 2018 averaged 6.26 pounds, about one percent above a year ago, and more than 4 percent higher than January 2014. Broiler weights tend to follow a cyclical pattern, peaking during the late fall or early winter and achieving their lowest average weights at the height of the summer, but they have shown year-over-year gains in most months over the past 5 years. This chart is from the Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry Outlook newsletter, released in March 2018.

Farm debt service ratio forecast to stabilize in 2017 and 2018

Thursday, March 22, 2018

The farm sector debt service ratio measures the share of agricultural production used for debt payments. It provides a way to assess the farm sector’s ability to make scheduled interest and principal payments on farm debt when they are due. A higher debt service ratio implies a greater share of production income is needed to make debt payments, suggesting lower liquidity (the amount of capital readily available as cash). Following record-level agricultural production in 2013, the debt service ratio in 2012 and 2013 was at its lowest level since 1962 at 20 percent. The ratio then increased year-over-year to 26 percent in 2016. ERS forecasts the debt service ratio to increase slightly to 27 percent in 2017 and 2018, as debt payments have increased and the value of agricultural production has declined since 2013. However, the ratio remains well below the peak in 1983 even as farm sector debt approaches levels seen in the 1980s. Declining interest rates have helped to keep debt payments low, and the value of agricultural production has increased 38 percent since 2002, after adjusting for inflation. As a result, the debt service ratio is now near its 2002 value and its 35-year historical average. This chart uses data from the ERS data product, Farm Income and Wealth Statistics, updated February 2018.

Fiber content of yogurt and breakfast cereal products increasing

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans identifies fiber as a key nutrient that is under-consumed by many people. However, increasing fiber consumption requires that consumers be able to identify high-fiber foods, highlighting the importance of labeling and marketing. Recent ERS analysis found that the average fiber content in yogurt products increased by 20.2 percent between 2008 and 2012. New yogurt products with added fiber to promote the growth of probiotics and with toppings, such as granola, crushed cookies, and nuts, contributed to the increase. New yogurt products with either a probiotic health claim on the package or yogurt toppings contained twice as much fiber on average than new products without the health claim or toppings. Average fiber content among breakfast cereal products rose by 6.9 percent between 2008 and 2012. Consumers’ preferences for breakfast cereals made with fiber-rich whole grains have driven the increase in fiber levels. New cereal products carrying a whole grain claim contained almost 47 percent more fiber compared to new products without the claim. This chart appears in "Yogurt Products and Breakfast Cereals Increasing Their Fiber Contents" in the February 2018 issue of ERS’s Amber Waves magazine.

Global supply and demand conditions, as well as Government policy changes, contributed to long-term growth of U.S. dairy exports

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

U.S. dairy product exports grew from $1.4 billion in 2000 to $7.0 billion in 2014 (valued in 2017 U.S. dollars), about a sevenfold increase. Income growth in East Asia, Southeast Asia, Latin America, and other regions has led to increased dairy consumption and demand. Additionally, China’s market-based reforms opened one of the world’s largest markets for dairy product imports, and the country is now the third largest market for U.S. dairy exports. Further, a reduction in domestic support and export subsidies for dairy products by the European Union (EU) and the United States has brought greater openness to world markets and has expanded overall global dairy trade. However, the value of U.S. dairy exports fell in 2015 and 2016 due to weaker growth in global demand for dairy products (especially from China), a Russian ban on dairy imports from several countries, a strong U.S. dollar, and the discontinuation of milk supply quotas in the EU. Global demand for dairy products rose significantly in 2017, and the value of U.S. dairy exports increased to $5.2 billion, a 14-percent increase compared with 2016. This chart is updated through 2017 and is drawn from the report, Growth of U.S. Dairy Exports, released in November 2016.

Number of stores authorized to accept SNAP benefits grew by over 50 percent in the last decade

Monday, March 19, 2018

In 2016, low-income participants in USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) received an average of about $126 in benefits each month to purchase eligible food items in authorized retail food stores. To become an authorized SNAP store, retailers are required to meet various criteria based in part on the types of food offered for sale. As of September 2016, over a quarter million (260,115) food retailers were authorized to redeem SNAP benefits. From 2007 to 2013, the number of SNAP-authorized stores grew by 53 percent. This increase coincided with a sharp rise in the number of SNAP participants that was largely due to the economic downturn, including the Great Recession of 2007-09, which increased demand for food assistance. Much of the growth in the number of SNAP stores was the result of more convenience stores applying for and receiving authorization to accept SNAP benefits. The number of SNAP-authorized convenience stores doubled from 2007 to 2016. By 2016, convenience stores accounted for 45 percent of all SNAP-authorized stores, but these stores accounted for just 6 percent of SNAP redemptions. This chart is from "Eligibility Requirements for SNAP Retailers: Balancing Access, Nutrition, and Integrity" in ERS’s Amber Waves magazine, January 2018.

Decline in WIC participation persists

Friday, March 16, 2018

USDA’s Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) provides supplemental food, nutrition education, and health care referrals to low-income, nutritionally at-risk pregnant, breastfeeding, and postpartum women as well as infants and children up to age 5. In fiscal 2017, the program served an average of 7.3 million people per month, down 21 percent from its peak in fiscal 2010. For the 7th consecutive year, participation for all three major groups fell. The number of women, infants, and children participating in WIC each fell by 5-6 percent. Improving economic conditions in recent years have likely played a role in the participation decline. Since applicants must have incomes at or below 185 percent of poverty or participate in certain other assistance programs to be eligible, the number of people eligible for WIC is closely linked to the health of the U.S. economy. Falling WIC caseloads may also reflect the decline in the number of U.S. births. Since 2007, the number of births have fallen each year except in 2014. This chart appears in the ERS report, The Food Assistance Landscape: FY 2017 Annual Report, released on March 15, 2018.

Cropland has shifted to larger farms over the last three decades

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Agricultural production has shifted to much larger farming operations over the last three decades. In 1987, more than half (57 percent) of all U.S. cropland was operated by midsize farms that had between 100 and 999 acres of cropland. The largest farms with at least 2,000 acres operated only 15 percent of U.S. cropland that year. By 2012, midsize farms held 36 percent of cropland, the same share as that held by the largest farms. That shift occurred persistently over time, as the share held by the largest farms increased in each Census of Agriculture after 1987—in 1992, 1997, 2002, 2007, and 2012—while the share held by midsize farms fell in each census. By comparison, the share of cropland held by the smallest farms with less than 100 acres changed little over time, remaining at about 8 percent. Consolidation can occur through shifts in ownership, as operators of larger farms purchase land from retiring operators of midsize farms. However, most cropland is rented, and farms frequently expand by renting more cropland, often from retired farmers and their relatives. This chart appears in the ERS report, Three Decades of Consolidation in U.S. Agriculture, released March 2018.

Brazilian demand for U.S. ethanol remains high despite trade barriers

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Last year, the Brazilian Government announced a tariff rate quota for ethanol imports, where imports in excess of 600 million liters are subject to a 20-percent tariff. However, U.S. ethanol has been priced so low that it is still an economical alternative in Brazil. Currently, ethanol is $1.50 per gallon at the Gulf Coast Ports in the United States, while ethanol in Brazil is $2.32 per gallon. Demand for ethanol in Brazil is robust because of widespread use of flex-fuel vehicles and a mandate requiring a minimum of a 27-percent ethanol blend in gasoline. Due to price competitiveness and strong demand, Brazil, the second largest global ethanol producer, is also the largest overseas buyer of U.S. ethanol. One contributing factor is the internal distribution of ethanol in Brazil. Ethanol mills are mostly located in the sugar producing areas of southern Brazil. Because of infrastructure constraints, it is cheaper to ship ethanol by boat from the U.S. to the northern regions of Brazil than by overland transport through Brazil. Some new ethanol mills are located in Brazil’s northern corn-producing regions. An expansion of corn ethanol production in Brazil would likely make U.S. ethanol less competitive. This chart is drawn from the ERS Feed Outlook newsletter, released in March 2018.

Energy consumption in agriculture increased in 2016, driven mainly by diesel and fertilizer use

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

In 2016, the agricultural sector consumed 1,872 trillion Btu of energy, accounting for about 1.9 percent of total U.S. primary energy consumption. Farms consume energy in many forms, mainly diesel (44 percent of direct energy consumption), electricity (24 percent), natural gas (13 percent), gasoline (11 percent), and liquefied petroleum gas (7 percent). Diesel and, to a lesser extent, gasoline are used to power farm machinery. Electricity is used mainly for irrigation, cooling, and lighting. Natural gas and LP gas are used in heating and grain drying. Large amounts of natural gas are required in the manufacturing of fertilizer and pesticide, so these amounts are categorized as indirect energy consumption on farms. Overall, about three-fifths of energy in 2016 used in the agricultural sector was consumed directly on-farm, while two-fifths were consumed indirectly in the form of fertilizer and pesticides. Recent increases in diesel and fertilizer consumption come in response to declining oil and natural gas prices. From 2012 to 2015, agriculture became more energy intensive, as energy consumption grew over 10 percent compared with about 6 percent growth in agricultural output. This chart updates data found in the ERS report, Trends in U.S. Agriculture's Consumption and Production of Energy: Renewable Power, Shale Energy, and Cellulosic Biomass, released August 2016.

U.S. egg imports surged during and after the 2014-15 highly pathogenic avian influenza outbreak

Monday, March 12, 2018

The 2014-15 highly pathogenic avian influenza outbreak had a widespread impact on the U.S. poultry sector, hitting egg producers the hardest. The outbreak resulted in the loss of roughly 12 percent of the total U.S. table-egg laying population, which limited production and drove up domestic wholesale prices for all egg grades, including those used for processing by restaurants, bakers, and other food manufacturers. During this period, egg market supplies were bolstered by a very large increase in imports, including shell eggs graded for processing as well as liquid and dried egg products. Before 2015, these imports were marginal, attributable in part to rigorous country certification standards and less competitive prices due to typically robust domestic egg production (the Netherlands, for example, had to recertify after allowing their certification to lapse). After the outbreak, however, monthly imports of these items peaked above 15 percent of the processed eggs available domestically. As production recovered and domestic prices returned to pre-outbreak levels, U.S. egg imports returned to more stable levels, falling by 74 percent in 2017 to total 32 million dozen, just 2 million dozen more than the single month’s total in December 2015. This chart appears in the ERS report, Impacts of the 2014-2015 Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza Outbreak on the U.S. Poultry Sector, released in December 2017.

Global soybean imports are projected to grow 30 percent by 2027 with China leading the way

Friday, March 9, 2018

World soybean trade is projected to rise rapidly during the next 10 years according to USDA’s Agricultural Projections to 2027, climbing 48 million tons (30 percent) to 205 million tons by 2027. China, the world’s leading soybean importer, is expected to increase imports by 41 million tons over the projection period. China’s soybean imports have risen steadily since the late 1990s. In 2017, China accounted for about 64 percent of world soybean trade. China’s imports are projected to increase from 102 million tons in 2018 to 143 million tons in 2027, accounting for 86 percent of the total increase in trade. China’s share of global soybean imports would reach nearly 70 percent by 2027 if the projections are realized. The projections assume that China will continue to meet rising demand for edible vegetable oils and protein in feed by importing soybeans, while supporting domestic production of food and feed grains. China continues to add oilseed-crushing capacity that contributes to continued growth in soybean imports. The leading international soybean suppliers are Brazil and the United States, both of which should benefit from the additional demand from China and other trade partners. This chart is drawn from data in the USDA report, USDA Agricultural Projections to 2027, released in February 2018.

Employment in rural inpatient healthcare facilities was relatively more concentrated in the Upper Midwest and Northern Great Plains

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Rural inpatient healthcare facilities—such as general hospitals, nursing care facilities, and residential mental health facilities—can improve the health and economic well-being of local communities. At its peak in 2011, rural inpatient healthcare employment reached over 1.25 million wage and salary jobs, or about 8.5 percent of total rural (wage and salary) employment. However, employment in the rural inpatient healthcare sector varies by region. Between 2001 and 2015, rural counties with the most inpatient healthcare facility jobs per resident were concentrated in the Upper Midwest and Northern Great Plains. Regions with fewer inpatient healthcare jobs per resident include much of the West, the Southern Great Plains, and the South. The regional variation in rural healthcare employment per resident may reflect in part the relatively heavier dependence of some sparsely populated areas on hospital employment, and the difficulty many rural communities face in attracting and retaining physicians and other healthcare professionals. One study found, for example, that over 85 percent of rural counties had a shortage of primary care health professionals in 2005. Additionally, between January 2010 and December 2016, 78 rural hospitals closed—about 4 percent of the 1,855 total rural hospitals. This chart appears in the ERS report, Employment Spillover Effects of Rural Inpatient Healthcare Facilities, released November 2017.

Multiple-adult households without children account for over a quarter of U.S. food-insecure households

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

The prevalence of food insecurity—having difficulty providing enough food for all household members at some time during the year—varies across U.S. demographic groups. While some types of households may be less likely to be food insecure, the household groups could be so large that the households in the groups who are experiencing food insecurity make up a large share of all food-insecure households. For example, multiple-adult households without children had a lower food insecurity prevalence (8.0 percent) than single-mother households (31.6 percent) and single-father households (21.7 percent) in 2016. However, in the Nation as a whole, multiple-adult households without children—households that include married and unmarried couples with no children, or grown children, as well as households made up of relatives or roommates over the age of 18—are more numerous than single-parent households, so these multiple-adult households make up a larger share of all food-insecure households. In 2016, multiple-adult households without children accounted for 27 percent of all food-insecure households; single-mother households accounted for 20 percent; and single-father households accounted for 4 percent. A version of this chart appears in "Understanding the Prevalence, Severity, and Distribution of Food Insecurity in the United States" in the September 2017 issue of ERS’s Amber Waves magazine.

U.S. agricultural productivity continued to grow over time, while the real price of agricultural outputs tended to decline

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Productivity growth in the U.S. farm sector has implications for both U.S. and global food markets. The United States is one of the largest consumers and producers in world agricultural commodity markets. Slowing productivity growth that fails to keep pace with increasing food demand may lead to rising food prices. It may also put pressure on low-income households, as these households spend a greater share of their income on food. Transitory events—such as energy shocks or supply shortages due to bad weather—may cause agricultural commodity prices to rise, the long-term growth trend in U.S. agricultural productivity has enhanced food security and benefited consumers by reducing the real (inflation-adjusted) price of agricultural outputs over time. Between 1948 and 2015, total factor productivity increased by 152 percent, while real agricultural output price declined by nearly 65 percent. This chart appears in the March 2018 Amber Waves data feature, "Agricultural Productivity Growth in the United States: 1948-2015."

Households that buy fruits and vegetables directly from farmers tend to possess health-oriented attitudes and behaviors

Monday, March 5, 2018

A recent ERS study analyzed spending on fruits and vegetables by the 4,826 households that participated in USDA’s National Household Food Acquisition and Purchase Survey (FoodAPS). Among these households, 170 bought some of their fruits and vegetables directly from farmers at roadside stands, farmers’ markets, or other direct-to-consumer (DTC) outlets during their week of participation in the survey. Another 3,388 households bought fruits and vegetables exclusively at nondirect food stores. The researchers found that purchasing fruits and vegetables at a DTC outlet was positively associated with several healthy practices. For example, people buying fruits and vegetables directly from farmers were more likely to have a vegetable garden (45 versus 25 percent of non-DTC shoppers), to be aware of USDA’s MyPlate campaign to promote Federal dietary guidance, and to search the internet for information on healthy eating. Households that bought fruits and vegetables directly from farmers were also more likely to rate the healthfulness of their diets as excellent or very good. This chart appears in the ERS report, The Relationship Between Patronizing Direct-to-Consumer Outlets and a Household’s Demand for Fruits and Vegetables, January 2018.

Animal disease trade measures accounted for nearly one-third of concerns brought to World Trade Organization committee

Friday, March 2, 2018

Sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) regulations play an important role in ensuring food safety and protecting animal and plant resources. But such regulations are sometimes imposed improperly with countries favoring domestic producers and discriminating against imports from others. If a member country of the World Trade Organization (WTO) believes that a trade policy of another WTO member violates relevant agreements, it can initiate a dispute settlement case with the WTO’s Dispute Settlement Body. In the case of sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) measures, a member country can inform the WTO’s SPS Committee of its concerns about a particular measure. Many of these concerns—officially called Specific Trade Concerns (STCs)—are resolved before they escalate to the level of a formal dispute. From 1995 to 2015, the most common STCs brought before the WTO SPS Committee were related to trade measures imposed because of animal disease issues. This large share reflects strong growth in meat trade along with occasional animal disease outbreaks such as foot-and-mouth disease and bovine spongiform encephalopathy that gave many countries a rationale to restrict imports. Following animal disease-related concerns, the next most common concern was pesticide tolerances and maximum residue limits. This chart appears in the February 2018 Amber Waves feature, "World Agricultural Trade Experiences Sizable Growth but Still Faces Barriers."

Nearly 40 percent of U.S. farms run by multiple operators

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Commercial-sized farms often require more management and labor than an individual can provide. Additional operators can offer these and other resources, such as capital or farmland. Having a secondary operator may also provide a successor when an older principal operator phases out of farming. In 2016, nearly 40 percent of all U.S. farms had a multiple operators. Because nearly all farms are family owned, family members often serve as secondary operators. For example, 64 percent of secondary operators were spouses of principal operators. Some multiple-operator farms were also run by multiple generations, with a difference of at least 20 years between the ages of the youngest and oldest operators. These multiple-generation farms accounted for about 7 percent of all U.S. farms. Large-scale family farms and nonfamily farms were more likely to be operated by multiple generations, at about 20-25 percent of those farms. However, the operators in nonfamily multiple-generation farms were likely unrelated managers from different generations. This chart appears in the December 2017 ERS report, America’s Diverse Family Farms, 2017 Edition.

Americans purchase almost two-thirds of their calories from large grocery stores

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Americans acquire food from many sources—supermarkets, convenience stores, fast food outlets, and more. But in practice, large grocery stores dominate. A recent ERS analysis of household-level data from USDA’s National Household Food Acquisition and Purchase Survey (FoodAPS) found that three-quarters of U.S. households’ calories came from retail stores, with supermarkets, supercenters, and other large grocers providing 65 percent of calories by themselves. Small and specialty food stores like bakeries and farmers’ markets supplied 3 percent of calories and 6.5 percent came from convenience stores, dollar stores, and other stores. Restaurants and other eating places provided 17 percent of household calories. ERS researchers used the detailed FoodAPS data to calculate the nutrient value of food acquisitions and found that the overall nutritional quality of foods purchased at large grocery stores was higher than that of foods purchased at other retail outlets or restaurant and fast-food establishments. A version of this chart appears in the ERS report, Nutritional Quality of Foods Acquired by Americans: Findings from USDA’s National Household Food Acquisition and Purchase Survey, released on February 21, 2018.

Wetland Compliance incentives are strong in Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, and Iowa

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Wetlands provide a wide range of ecosystem services in all parts of the United States. For most U.S. agricultural programs, farmers who receive benefits must refrain from draining wetlands on their farm. The 2014 Farm Act re-linked crop insurance premium subsidies to this provision, known as Wetland Compliance (WC), for the first time since 1996. ERS researchers examined the effect of premium subsidies on farmer’s compliance incentives under the 2014 Farm Act. (Because of data limitations, ERS researchers focused on States that include the Prairie Pothole region: Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, and Iowa, where wetland habitat is critical to ducks and other migratory birds.) In Prairie Pothole States, WC incentives are strong. When the compliance incentive includes premium subsidies, an estimated 75 percent (2.6 million acres) of potentially convertible wetland is on farms where Compliance incentives (farm program benefits) are clearly large enough to offset revenue lost by not draining these lands for crop production. Severing the link between WC and crop insurance premium subsidies (while continuing the link between Compliance and other 2014 Farm Act programs) would reduce the number of potentially convertible wetlands with strong protection by 15 percent (from 2.6 to 2.2 million acres). This chart appears in the July 2017 report, Conservation Compliance: How Farmer Incentives Are Changing in the Crop Insurance Era.

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