ERS Charts of Note
Monday, March 29, 2021
Errata: On April 1, 2021, the title was revised to include nonoperator landlords. The text citing total rented farmland acreage owned by those residing within 200 miles of their farmland was corrected to 83 percent. No other data were affected.
In 2014, 39 percent of farmland acreage in the 48 contiguous States was rented. Of this share, 80 percent was owned by landlords who did not operate the farms. ERS researchers examined the data obtained from the 2014 Tenure, Ownership, and Transition of Agricultural Land (TOTAL) survey to study the characteristics of nonoperator landlords and their tenants in the 25 most important agricultural States by cash receipts. The study found that nonoperator landlords residing within 50 miles of their land owned the majority (67 percent) of rented farmland acreage in 2014. Eighty-three percent of total rented farmland acreage is owned by those who lived 200 miles or less from their farmland. Total rented acres progressively declined as the distance between landlords and tenants increased. Those living more than 1,000 miles away, for example, owned only 4 percent of total rented farmland acreage. While some nonoperator landlords lived in major U.S. coastal cities, most lived in major cities in agricultural States. Nonoperator landlords were also more likely to be retired farm operators or descendants who inherited agricultural land, rather than investors from more distant parts of the country. Nonoperator landlords who lived farther away from their rented land tended to have larger holdings than those who lived nearby. This chart appears in the Economic Research Service report Absent Landlords in Agriculture – A Statistical Analysis, released March 2021.
Friday, March 26, 2021
The recently released USDA Cold Storage stocks report showed February 2021 ending stocks of pork in the United States at 491 million pounds, more than 24 percent below levels in February 2020. With USDA forecasting 2021 hog prices to average more than 29 percent above prices last year, it is unlikely pork stocks will build to pre-COVID-19 levels in 2021. Pork stocks have remained significantly below year-earlier levels since last spring, in response to turbulence in the U.S. pork processing sector related to the COVID-19 pandemic. In May 2020, stocks fell more than 23 percent from April 2020 levels because of major disruptions in pork production that included several temporary processing plant shutdowns. In February 2021, ending volume represented about 22 percent of February's estimated federally inspected pork production. A more typical stocks-to-production ratio for February is about 29 percent. USDA is forecasting prices of live equivalent 51-52 percent lean hogs to average about $56 per hundredweight, 29 percent higher than hog prices averaged in 2020. The increase reflects, in part, expectations for continued robust consumer demand for pork products. Lower levels of pork stocks could limit the price-moderating role that stocks have played in the past, in the event of unforeseen spikes in pork prices. This chart is drawn from USDA, Economic Research Service’s Livestock, Dairy and Poultry Outlook, March 2021.
Wednesday, March 24, 2021
The share of food dollars spent at grocers, supercenters, and other food-at-home (FAH) retailers in the United States rose in 2020 above Great Recession levels in 2008 as the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted the way people consumed food. The share of spending at FAH establishments began a sharp climb from 48 percent in February 2020, and by April 2020, 66 percent of food spending was devoted to at-home consumption. Shifts to greater FAH spending occurred as states issued stay-at-home mandates and people generally avoided public gatherings. The economic recession likely exacerbated this shift as FAH purchases are more cost-efficient. Even after its April 2020 peak, the share of FAH spending reached the same level in August 2020 as it was in August 2008, during the Great Recession. After that, food spending shares generally followed typical seasonal patterns, although at a level more like the Great Recession than 2018, remaining stable with a slight increase in FAH spending in the colder, winter months. ERS researchers will continue to examine food expenditure data to determine whether this change will endure beyond the pandemic and recession. The data for this chart come from the USDA, Economic Research Service’s Food Expenditure Series data product.
Monday, March 22, 2021
In 2016, corn and soybean producers accounted for about 93 percent of future and options contracts used by U.S. farmers and 60 percent of all production covered by marketing contracts. With a futures contract, a farmer can assure a certain price for a crop that has not yet been harvested. An options contract allows a farmer to protect against decreases in the futures price, while retaining the opportunity to take advantage of increases in the futures price. While futures and options contracts are usually settled without delivery, marketing contracts arrange for delivery of a commodity by a farmer during a specified future time window for an agreed price. Farmers who use these risk management options frequently use more than one contract type. On average, farms that used futures contracts covered 41 percent of their corn production and 47 percent of their soybean production in 2016. Shares were relatively similar for marketing contracts, which covered about 42 percent of corn and 53 percent of soybean production. By comparison, corn and soybean farmers covered a little more than 30 percent of their production with options contracts for both commodities. This chart appears in the Economic Research Service report, Farm Use of Futures, Options, and Marketing Contracts, published October 2020.
Friday, March 19, 2021
During the initial COVID-19 surge between March and June 2020, large urban areas had the highest weekly death rates from the virus in the United States. Those numbers declined as medical professionals learned more about the virus, how to treat it, and how to prevent its spread. As the virus spread from major urban areas to rural areas, the second COVID-19 surge, from July to August 2020, brought more deaths to rural areas. The peak in deaths associated with this surge was smaller because testing was more widespread, the infected population was younger and less vulnerable, and treatments were more effective. However, in early September 2020, COVID-19 death rates in rural areas surpassed those in urban areas. This trend continued into a third, still ongoing, surge that spiked in rural areas during the holiday season and again shortly thereafter. Rural areas have shown higher death rates per 100,000 adults since September in part because they had higher rates of new infections than urban areas, but that is not the whole story. Rural COVID-19 deaths per 100 new infections 2 weeks prior (to account for the lag between infection and death) were 2.2 in the first 3 weeks of February—35 percent higher than the corresponding urban mortality rate of 1.6 deaths per 100 new infections 2 weeks earlier. The rural population appears to be more vulnerable to serious infection because of the older age of its population, higher rates of underlying medical conditions, lack of health insurance, and greater distance to an intensive care hospital. As of early February, death rates have started decreasing, possibly because of more widespread vaccinations among the most vulnerable populations. This chart updates data found in the February 2021 Amber Waves data feature, “Rural Residents Appear to be More Vulnerable to Serious Infection or Death from COVID-19.”
Wednesday, March 17, 2021
Expanded U.S. soybean exports—led in part by increased Chinese buying under the United States-China Phase One trade deal in combination with greater demand by domestic processors—are tightening the availability of U.S. soybeans this marketing year (September 2020-August 2021). With demand far surpassing increases in supply, USDA forecasts the inventory of soybeans by the end of the current marketing year to plunge to 120 million bushels. If realized, that would be lower than at any point since the historically low stock level of 92 million bushels in 2013–14. The forecast soybean stocks-to-use ratio, which is a measure of the market’s relative balance between ending supplies and total demand, is 2.6 percent—a notable decrease from the 13.3 percent of last year. Commodity prices and stocks have an inverse relationship: lower levels of stocks contribute to higher prices and higher levels of stocks contribute to lower prices. Rapidly declining soybean stocks continue to create the possibility of even higher prices, with February soybean prices already up to $13.82 a bushel, higher than any marketing year since 2012–13. The March Grain Stocks report from the National Agricultural Statistics Service will provide greater information on how fast the situation is changing. This chart is drawn from the USDA, Economic Research Service’s March 2021 Oil Crops Outlook report.
Monday, March 15, 2021
The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) is USDA’s third-largest food assistance program. Most stores authorized to accept WIC food benefits are typical food retailers, for which WIC redemptions comprise a small share of total food sales. Only 10 of the 90 WIC State agencies in 2018 authorized “above-50-percent” (A50) stores, which derive more than 50 percent of their food sales from WIC redemptions. A50 stores can offer advantages for WIC participants over typical food retailers by making WIC-approved products easy to find and emphasizing convenient checkout with cashiers who are familiar with handling WIC transactions. In 2018, 973 A50 stores operated in the United States and U.S. territories. These stores represented 2.2 percent of stores that accept WIC benefits nationwide but accounted for 10.6 percent of national WIC redemptions. States and U.S. territories with relatively high numbers of A50 stores in 2018 included California (493 stores), Puerto Rico (276 stores), and Texas (103 stores). A50 stores accounted for 78.9 percent of Puerto Rico’s WIC redemptions in 2018, compared with 42.6 percent of WIC redemptions in California and 21.5 percent in Texas. This chart appears in the Economic Research Service’s Amber Waves article, “Specialized Stores Serving Participants in USDA’s Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) Can Reduce Program Food Costs and Increase Food Store Access,” March 2021.
Friday, March 12, 2021
March 14 is known to many as Pi Day. When written as 3.14, the date resembles the mathematical constant, π, and for that reason, many celebrate the day’s circular reference by enjoying their favorite pie. In 2019, the United States grew $5.9 billion worth of seven of the fruits, vegetables, and tree nuts that tend to be popular for use as the main ingredient in pie making. The value of production of these seven commodities in 2019, as measured by U.S. cash receipts, was the highest for apples, which are produced abundantly in the United States both in terms of volume and production value. The U.S. apple crop reached a value of $2.75 billion in 2019, whereas production of blueberries reached $935 million. Cash receipts for other tasty fruit pie ingredients, cherries and peaches, were valued at $696 million and $519 million, respectively. As tree nuts, pecans are possibly one of America’s favorite non-fruit pie ingredients, and were valued at $471 million in terms of U.S. cash receipts. The pear crop of 2019 was valued at $315 million, while production of pumpkins, the ever-popular fall icon and mainstay of the holiday table, was valued at $180 million. This chart is drawn from Economic Research Service’s Fruit and Tree Nuts and Vegetables and Pulses Yearbook Tables.
Wednesday, March 10, 2021
Between 1999 and 2019, participation in USDA’s School Breakfast Program roughly doubled, increasing from 7.4 million children on a typical school day in fiscal year (FY) 1999 to 14.7 million in FY 2019. The Federal program makes healthy breakfasts available to all students in participating schools, with children from low-income households receiving the meals for free or at a reduced price. Most of the growth in participation over the last 2 decades has been among students receiving free breakfasts. Free breakfast participation rose from 5.7 million children in FY 1999 to 11.7 million in FY 2019, an increase of 5 million children. In FY 2019, 80 percent of breakfasts served were free, 5 percent were provided at a reduced price, and 15 percent were full price. Federal spending for the program totaled $4.5 billion in FY 2019—3 percent more than in the previous year. These data were collected before the COVID-19 pandemic and therefore do not account for pandemic-related conditions, including school closures and economic conditions. FY 2020 data that would reflect those circumstances are expected to be released during summer 2021. The data for this chart are from the USDA, Economic Research Service’s Child Nutrition Programs topic page.
Monday, March 8, 2021
From 2006 to 2009, the share of women in the hired farm workforce decreased slightly, but then climbed from 18.6 percent in 2009 to 25.5 percent in 2018. Hired farmworkers (which exclude self-employed farmers and their families) make up less than 1 percent of all U.S. wage and salary workers, but the overall number of hired farmworkers has remained relatively unchanged over this same period. Hired farmworkers often work in the production of fruits, vegetables, melons, dairy, and nursery and greenhouse crops. As can be seen from the rise in percentage from 2009 to 2018, in recent years, more women have taken on farm work. Overall, farm wages have risen over this period along with changes in the mix of capital and labor farms use during production. These changes may have resulted in a gradual shift in the share of women who comprise the hired farm labor force. This chart appears in the October 2020 Amber Waves data feature, “U.S. Farm Employers Respond to Labor Market Changes With Higher Wages, Use of Visa Program, and More Women Workers.”
Friday, March 5, 2021
Farm households often rely on off-farm employment to provide other benefits, including health insurance, and to supplement their income. Loss of off-farm employment because of the COVID-19 pandemic can strain a farm household’s financial well-being. In 2019, 50 percent of all U.S. family farm households had the principal operator, the principal operator’s spouse, or both the principal operator and spouse working in an off-farm, wage-earning job. The shares of households working off-farm varied by the farm’s economic class. For small farms with less than $100,000 in annual gross farm sales, 51 percent had the principal operator, the spouse, or both work off the farm. By comparison, 34 percent of large farms with annual gross farm sales of $1 million or more had the principal operator, the spouse, or both work off the farm. As the farm’s sales size increases, the share of principal operators working off the farm decreased. Smaller family farms generally don’t earn enough from farm sources alone to cover household living expenses, whereas larger farms usually require increasingly more on-farm labor and management resources. While this information predates the COVID-19 pandemic, it can provide insights into the potential impact of decreased employment rates, which can result in the loss of off-farm employment for many farm households. This chart updates data found in the USDA, Economic Research Service report, America’s Diverse Family Farms, 2019 Edition, released December 2019.
Wednesday, March 3, 2021
The U.S. Federal Government announced social distancing guidelines in March 2020 to slow the spread of COVID-19, and many U.S. jurisdictions followed by issuing stay-at-home orders. As a result, many people have been working from home since then, which prompts the question: Do individuals who work from home spend time on their daily tasks differently than those who work away from home? While USDA, Economic Research Service (ERS) researchers do not have time-use data from the COVID-19 period for the United States, analyses of past time-use patterns provide some insights. ERS researchers used data from the 2017-18 Leave and Flexibilities Job Module of the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ American Time Use Survey to study the amount of time respondents spent in food preparation and eating at home, according to the location from which they worked the day covered by the interview. They found that over an average weekday in 2017-18, prime working-age adults who worked from home were more likely to prepare food (75 percent versus 63 percent) and to spend more time doing so (41 minutes compared with 30 minutes) than individuals who worked away from home. Individuals who worked from home spent 49 minutes eating at home, which was nearly double the amount reported by individuals who worked away from home (27 minutes). Teleworkers may consume a healthier diet if the greater time spent preparing food translates into eating more home-prepared meals and less eating out. Home-prepared meals tend to be lower in calories and higher in positive nutrients than meals prepared away from home, according to studies by ERS researchers. This chart appears in the ERS’ Amber Waves article, “Working From Home Leads to More Time Spent Preparing Food, Eating at Home,” February 2021.
Monday, March 1, 2021
Despite shipping record-breaking volumes of U.S. beef to China from July to December 2020, the United States supplied only 1.3 percent of China’s total imports of beef. Beef-exporting competitors of the United States—Canada, Brazil, Argentina, Australia, Uruguay, and New Zealand—account for the vast majority (93 percent) of the total volume of China’s total beef imports worth $9.518 billion. This may be in part because the U.S. value per pound of beef shipped to China is higher than most of its competitors in the China beef market, with the exception of Canada. Both the United States and Canada primarily export a grain-fed product distinct from what China typically imports from other countries. In 2020, the U.S. unit value per pound of frozen boneless beef—the product the United States has been exporting to China in recent years—averaged $3.42. Canada’s unit value for beef imported in China exceeded that of the United States at $4.01 per pound, while other competitors’ unit values ranged from $2.08 to $2.85. Despite a higher unit price of U.S. beef, China’s commitment to purchase an additional $200 billion of American-made goods and services over 2020 and 2021 under the United States–China Phase One trade deal could lead to continued growth of U.S. beef exports. This chart is drawn from the USDA, Economic Research Service’s January 2021 Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry Outlook.
Friday, February 26, 2021
U.S. agricultural exports generate economic benefits beyond the agricultural sector as well as provide support for farm prices and farm income. While the volume of agricultural exports is projected to expand during 2021-30, U.S. exports of major crop and livestock commodities are also expected to face stiff competition from other exporters, particularly Brazil and the European Union (EU). U.S. exports of corn and cotton are expected to remain the largest in the world, but average U.S. world export market shares for nearly all commodities are expected to slip during the next decade compared with the previous decade. Brazil is expected to feature strongly in the competitive outlook. The country is expected to expand its planted area, which would support increased export market shares for a variety of commodities, including corn, soybeans, and cotton, as well poultry, beef, and pork. The EU is expected to further expand its role as the world’s largest pork exporter and, along with Ukraine, boost market share in wheat by exploiting its proximity to major wheat markets. In the United States, only cotton is expected to strengthen in market share, despite competition from Brazil, India, and the Economic Community of West African States. This chart is drawn from data in the USDA report, USDA Agricultural Projections to 2030, released in February 2021.
Wednesday, February 24, 2021
Higher educational attainment generally is associated with higher median earnings, higher employment rates, and greater workforce opportunity. Among all rural residents who are 25 years old or older, the percentage who had completed a bachelor’s degree or higher rose from 15 percent in 2000 to 21 percent in 2019. In addition, the share of the rural population 25 or older without a high school degree or equivalent dropped from 24 percent in 2000 to 12 percent in 2019. However, ethnic and racial disparities persist in education. Rural Hispanics continued to have the highest share of people without a high school degree in 2019 at 34 percent, despite significant gains in high school and higher educational attainment rates since 2000. Over the same period, Blacks or African Americans had the largest decrease of rural individuals without a high school degree (21 percentage points). This change narrowed the gap between the shares of Blacks or African Americans and Whites who had graduated from high school but had not completed a bachelor’s degree. Nevertheless, the share of rural Blacks or African Americans without a high school degree (20 percent) was nearly double that of Whites (11 percent) in 2019. This chart updates data found in the November 2020 Amber Waves finding, “Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Educational Attainment Persist in Rural America.”
Monday, February 22, 2021
People in the United States are slowly expanding the variety of vegetables on their plates, data from the USDA, Economic Research Service (ERS) show. The vegetables food group is composed of five main subgroups: legumes, dark green, other vegetables, red and orange (including tomatoes), and starchy (including potatoes). Each offers an array of important vitamins, minerals, and dietary fiber. From 2000 to 2019, the combined share of dark green vegetables, red and orange vegetables (excluding tomatoes), and legumes available to eat in the United States increased from 16 percent to 22 percent. Increased availability of dark green vegetables over this period—led by a 47-percent jump in romaine and leaf lettuce—added additional variety for U.S. consumers. While the overall amount of vegetables available over the last two decades has decreased 4 percent, from 417.4 pounds per capita in 2000 to 400.1 pounds in 2019, there has been an increase in availability in recent years due in part to the expansion in varieties available for consumption. ERS’s Food Availability (Per Capita) Data System provides annual estimates of the per-capita availability for more than 200 food commodities consumed in the United States. This chart appears in the ERS Amber Waves article, “U.S. Supplies of Vegetables Available To Eat in 2019 Down Slightly From 2000, But Variety Has Grown,” February 2021.
Thursday, February 18, 2021
According to USDA’s 2019 Survey of Irrigation Organizations, irrigation delivery organizations such as irrigation districts and ditch companies supplied an estimated 41.4 million acre-feet of off-farm water to U.S. farms and ranches in 2019. These organizations also delivered water to other customers: 2.3 million acre-feet to domestic users, 1.5 million acre-feet to industrial users, and 1.5 million acre-feet to other irrigation organizations. In addition, organizations intentionally released water from their systems for other purposes, including 3.1 million acre-feet for downstream users, 1.2 million acre-feet for managed groundwater recharge, and 1.0 million acre-feet to meet environmental requirements. Beyond these intentional deliveries and releases, a total of 10.7 million acre-feet of water left organization systems as conveyance losses, which represents water lost to groundwater seepage or evaporation during transport or storage. This implies an average conveyance loss rate of 16 percent. As the second largest outflow from water delivery systems, reducing conveyance losses is an important focus for water conservation efforts. However, hydrologic systems are complex natural systems, so conveyance losses in many cases provide benefits elsewhere in the environment. For example, conveyance losses may provide unmanaged groundwater recharge or indirect flows into surface water systems that can support wildlife habitat. This chart is based on data found in USDA’s Survey of Irrigation Organizations, updated December 17, 2020.
Wednesday, February 17, 2021
Food prices increased more rapidly than average in 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic prompted shifts in consumption patterns and supply chain disruptions. However, researchers at the USDA, Economic Research Service (ERS) expect food price inflation to retreat over the course of 2021 and converge closer to the 20-year historical average. During the pandemic, supply chains pivoted from servicing restaurants to stocking retailers, primarily grocery stores. COVID-19 outbreaks disrupted agricultural production and processing, particularly in the meat sector, leading to reduced supply and higher prices. Societal and economic response to the pandemic will continue to influence food prices in 2021, and uncertainties about the future of disease transmission, stay-at-home orders, and vaccinations introduce challenges to forecasting food price inflation. Restaurant re-openings, supply chain adjustments, rates of unemployment, and shifting safety net programs may all affect food prices. Over time, inflation tends to revert to historical averages as years of high rates of inflation are often succeeded by years of low inflation. The years following the 2008 and 2011 price spikes offer examples of this pattern. This trend suggests food price inflation rates are likely to decrease in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, but there is substantial uncertainty about the rate of decline. Using data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Consumer Price Index, ERS researchers project retail food prices will increase between 1 and 2 percent in 2021, at or below the 20-year average of 2 percent. More information on ERS’s monthly food price forecasts can be found in the ERS Food Price Outlook data product, which will be updated February 25, 2021.
Wednesday, February 17, 2021
U.S. agricultural exports in fiscal year 2021 are expected to increase to $152 billion, up 12 percent from the previous year, and nearing the record set in 2014. Through 2030, exports are expected to grow 1.9 percent annually as the world’s economies rebound from the COVID-19 pandemic, resuming an expansion near the pre-pandemic growth path. Key to these trade projections are the outlook for the rebound and the longer-term resumption of robust economic growth in Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and Latin America, important developing country markets where food import demand is most sensitive to rising incomes. Rising 2021 export values are also supported by higher near-term prices for a range of commodities, including soybeans, cotton, wheat, and meat products. The near-term price trend is anticipated to be followed by generally stable prices through 2030. High-value products, a category that includes horticultural and animal products, as well as processed and semi-processed grains and oilseeds, accounted for 69 percent of U.S. agricultural exports in 2020. That share is expected to drop to 64 percent in 2021 as export values of bulk commodities such as soybeans, cotton, and wheat surge. Exports of high-value agricultural products are expected to resume outpacing the growth in bulk commodities in fiscal years 2022 through 2030, while foreign competition is projected to continue to limit growth in U.S. bulk commodity exports over that same time period. This chart is taken from USDA Agricultural Projections to 2030, released in February 2021.
Friday, February 12, 2021
Current USDA projections indicate that, despite the negative impacts of COVID-19 on global economies in 2020, average rates of economic growth are expected to strengthen across most global regions during 2021-30 compared with the previous decade. Key for U.S. agriculture is higher projected growth in incomes—as measured by changes in real Gross Domestic Product (GDP)—in developing regions. Income gains and dietary shifts in these regions drive most of the growth in global import demand for U.S. agricultural commodities. Projections indicate higher gains in incomes across developing country regions, including South and Southeast Asia, the Middle East, North Africa and Latin America. Slower projected growth in East Asia reflects an anticipated continued deceleration in China’s growth during 2021-30, although it will remain one of the world’s fastest growing economies. Developing countries in all regions experienced major pandemic-related contractions in GDP in 2020, but most are forecast to recover in 2021. Uncertainty in the pace of disease control and the length of economic recovery may lead to changes in the 2021-30 outlook for some countries, however. The data in this chart appear in the “Early-Release Tables from USDA Agricultural Projections to 2030,” published on November 6, 2020, and are accessible via the Economic Research Service Agricultural Baseline topic page. The full report, USDA Agricultural Projections to 2030, will be released on February 16, 2021.