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U.S. certified organic acreage rebounded in 2011

Thursday, September 1, 2016

According to new ERS estimates, the U.S. had 3.1 million acres of certified organic cropland in 2011 and 2.3 million acres of certified organic pasture and rangeland, continuing the long-term growth trend in this sector. Certified pasture dipped between 2008 and 2010 as sluggish growth in consumer demand during the recession dampened the short-term outlook for organic producers. However, the growth in certified acreage of pastureland has more than recovered those losses and has reestablished its upward trajectory.? Certified pasture, including rangeland, shows variation from year to year, but certified cropland has been steadily increasing. This chart appears in "Growth Patterns in the U.S. Organic Industry" in the October 2013 Amber Waves and is based on data found in the ERS data product Organic Production, updated September 2013.

Western U.S. irrigated agriculture is shifting to more efficient methods

Thursday, September 1, 2016

About 75 percent of irrigated cropland in the U.S. is located in 17 western States based on the 2008 Farm and Ranch Irrigation Survey (the most recent available), conducted by USDA?s National Agricultural Statistics Service. While the amount of irrigated land in the West has increased by over 2 million acres since 1984, the amount of water applied has declined slightly as irrigation systems have shifted toward more efficient methods. In 1984, 71 percent of Western crop irrigation water was applied using gravity irrigation systems that tend to use water inefficiently. By 2008, operators used gravity systems to apply just 48 percent of water for crop production while pressure-sprinkler irrigation systems, which can apply water more efficiently, accounted for 51.5 percent of irrigation water use. In 2008, much of the acreage using pressure irrigation systems included drip, low-pressure sprinkler, or low-energy precision application systems. Improved pressure-sprinkler systems resulted in remarkably stable agricultural water use over the past 25 years, as fewer acre-feet were required to irrigate an increasing number of acres. This chart is found in?Water Conservation in Irrigated Agriculture: Trends and Challenges in the Face of Emerging Demands, EIB-99, September 2012.

Organic producers reported economic losses from unintended presence of genetically engineered crops

Thursday, September 1, 2016

U.S. organic farmers, and conventional farmers who produce crops for non-GE (genetically engineered) markets, must meet the tolerance levels for accidental GE presence set by domestic and foreign buyers. If their crops test over the expected tolerance level, farmers may lose their organic price premiums and incur additional transportation and marketing costs to sell the crop in alternative markets. Although data limitations preclude estimates of the impact just on organic farmers who grow the 9 crops with a GE counterpart, the data do reveal that 1 percent of all U.S. certified organic farmers in 20 States reported that they experienced economic losses (amounting to $6.1 million, excluding expenses for preventative measures and testing) due to GE commingling during 2011-14. The share of all organic farmers who suffered economic losses was highest in Illinois, Nebraska, and Oklahoma, where 6-7 percent of organic farmers reported losses. These States have a high percentage of farmers that produce organic corn, soybeans, and other crops with GE counterparts. While California has more organic farms and acreage than any other State, most of California?s organic production is for fruits, vegetables and other specialty crops that lack a GE counterpart. This map is based on data found in the ERS report, Economic Issues in the Coexistence of Organic, Genetically Engineered (GE), and Non-GE Crops, February 2016.

2014 Farm Act increases spending to support organic agriculture

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Federal support for organic production systems, including financial assistance for farmers completing the certification process and funding for organic research, has increased in each of the last three farm acts.? The Agricultural Act of 2014 expands funding to assist organic producers and handlers with the cost of organic certification. Mandatory funding more than doubles from the 2008 Farm Act?s mandate to $57.5 million over the lifespan of the 2014 Act. Total mandatory funding to improve economic data on the organic sector continues at $5 million over the lifespan of the Act; another $5 million is added to upgrade the database and technology systems of USDA?s National Organic Program. The 2014 Act also expands total mandatory organic research funding to $100 million. This chart is found in ERS? Highlights and Implications of the Agricultural Act of 2014.

Double-cropped acreage varies by region

Thursday, September 1, 2016

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

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

Thursday, September 1, 2016

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

Agriculture accounted for 10 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions in 2014

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Agriculture accounted for an estimated 10 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in 2014. In agriculture, crop and livestock activities are important sources of nitrous oxide and methane emissions, notably from fertilizer application, enteric fermentation (a normal digestive process in animals that produces methane), and manure storage and management. GHG emissions from agriculture have increased by approximately 10 percent since 1990. During this time period, total U.S. GHG emissions increased approximately 7 percent. This chart is from the Land and Natural Resources section of ERS?s Ag and Food Statistics: Charting the Essentials data product.

Changes in U.S. double-cropped acreage roughly mirror commodity prices

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Double-cropped acreage has varied from year to year. Because decisions about double cropping are made annually, fluctuations are likely as farmers respond to changing market and weather conditions. For example, higher commodity prices give farmers more incentive to intensify production and could offset revenue shortfalls from lower potential yields when double cropping. From 2004 to 2012, total double-cropped acreage roughly paralleled soybean, winter wheat, and corn prices. When commodity prices at the time of planting decisions were increasing or relatively high, total double-cropped acreage also increased. Total double-cropped acreage peaked at 10.9 million acres in 2008, when prices for soybeans, winter wheat, and corn also peaked. In 2005 and 2010, nearly every region witnessed declines in double-cropped acreage amid commodity price declines. This chart is found in the ERS report, Multi-Cropping Practices: Recent Trends in Double-Cropping, EIB-125, May 2014.

Most U.S. corn acres at risk of nitrogen losses to the environment

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Corn is the most widely planted crop in the U.S. and the largest user of nitrogen fertilizer. By using this fertilizer, farmers can produce high crop yields profitably; however nitrogen is also a source of environmental degradation when it leaves the field through runoff or leaching or as a gas. When the best nitrogen management practices aren?t applied, the risk that excess nitrogen can move from cornfields to water resources or the atmosphere is increased. Nitrogen management practices that minimize environmental losses of nitrogen include applying only the amount of nitrogen needed for crop growth (agronomic rate), not applying nitrogen in the fall for a crop planted in the spring, and injecting or incorporating fertilizer into the soil rather than leaving it on top of the soil. In 2010, about 66 percent of all U.S. corn acres did not meet all three criteria. Nitrogen from the Corn Belt, Northern Plains, and Lake States (regions that together account for nearly 90 percent of U.S. corn acres) contribute to both the hypoxic (low oxygen) zone in the Gulf of Mexico and to algae blooms in the Great Lakes. This chart is based on data found in the ERS report, Nitrogen Management on U.S. Corn Acres, 2001-10, EB-20, November 2012.

Land in shale areas more likely to leave Conservation Reserve Program

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Hydraulic fracturing for natural gas and oil trapped in shale formations has diverse impacts on agriculture. Farmers in shale regions have the potential to receive lease or royalty payments, but may face competition with energy companies for labor, water, and transportation infrastructure, and may also have an increased risk of soil or water contamination. In addition, shale energy development may affect farmers? participation in certain USDA programs, such as the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). CRP covered about 27 million acres of environmentally sensitive land at the end of 2013, with enrollees receiving annual rental and other incentive payments for taking eligible land out of production for 10 years or more. About 28 percent of CRP land is located in counties that overlay shale formations (?shale counties?). From 2007 to 2012, the CRP exit rate (including early exits and non-reenrollments) was greater, on average, in shale counties than in non-shale counties. Early exits and decisions not to re-enroll could be due to a number of factors, including the placement of oil or natural gas wells, pipelines, and access roads through CRP land. For acres that exit the CRP, landowners must pay an early-exit penalty, which is the sum of all CRP payments received since enrollment plus interest. This chart is found in the ERS report, Trends in U.S. Agriculture?s Consumption and Production of Energy: Renewable Power, Shale Energy, and Cellulosic Biomass, released on August 11, 2016.

Farmers adjust to rising fertilizer prices in a variety of ways

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Fertilizer prices have increased overall since 2006, reaching historical highs in 2008. Fertilizers are an important input into farming and higher prices have forced farmers to alter their use. Beginning in 2006, USDA?s Agricultural Resource Management Survey (ARMS) asked farm operators how they adjusted their operations in response to higher fertilizer and fuel prices. For most crops (soy, cotton, and wheat) farmers responded to higher prices by reducing their application rate. However, the largest users of fertilizer?corn farmers?responded most often that they managed fertilizer use more closely, for example by using practices such as soil testing, split applications, variable-rate applications, or soil incorporation. This chart is found in the ERS report,?Agriculture?s Supply and Demand for Energy and Energy Products, EIB-112, May 2012.

Many factors, including conservation payments, influence the adoption of conservation practices

Thursday, September 1, 2016

The Federal Government spent more than $6 billion in fiscal 2013 on conservation payments to encourage the adoption of practices addressing environmental and resource conservation goals, but such payments lead to additional improvement in environmental quality only if those receiving them adopted conservation practices that they would not have adopted without the payment. Some farmers have adopted specific conservation practices without receiving payments because doing so reduces production costs or preserves the long-term productivity of their farmland (e.g., conservation tillage). Many other farmers have not adopted conservation practices, presumably because the cost of doing so exceeds expected onfarm benefits, the value of which can vary based on many factors?soil, climate, topography, crop/livestock mix, producer management skills, and risk aversion. Since the value of onfarm benefits can vary widely across practices and farms, identifying which farmers will adopt a conservation practice only if they receive a payment is not straightforward, but research indicates that the likelihood a payment will result in additional environmental benefits increases as the implementation cost of the conservation practice increases and its impact on farm profitability declines. This chart is found in the ERS report, Additionality in U.S. Agricultural Conservation and Regulatory Offset Programs, ERR-170, July 2014.

Per-cow milk production is lower in hot climates

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Above a temperature threshold, an animal may experience heat stress, which results in changes in its respiration, blood chemistry, hormones, metabolism, and feed intake. Depending on the species, high temperatures can reduce meat and milk production and lower animal reproduction rates. Dairy cattle are particularly sensitive to heat stress; experiments have shown that high temperatures lower milk output and reduce the percentages of fat, solids, lactose, and protein in milk. A 2010 USDA survey of dairy farmers shows how climate influences milk production in practice.? For small, medium and large dairies, milk output per cow was lower in areas with high heat stress compared to areas with low or medium heat stress.? In much of the United States, climate change is likely to result in higher average temperatures, hotter daily maximum temperatures, and more frequent heat waves. Such changes could increase heat stress and lower milk production, unless new technologies are developed and adopted that counteract the effects of a warner climate. This chart is based on data found in the ERS report, Climate Change, Heat Stress, and Dairy Production, ERR-175, September 2014.

"No-till" practices are used on over half of major cropland acres

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Soil health improves when farmers refrain from disturbing the soil.?While no-till production systems are increasingly used on land in corn, soybeans, and wheat?the three largest U.S. crops by acreage?they are not necessarily used every year.?Field-level data, collected through the Agricultural Resource Management Survey, show that farmers often rotate no-till with other tillage systems. Farmers growing wheat (in 2009), corn (in 2010), and soybeans (in 2012) were asked about no-till use in the survey year and the 3 previous years.?No-till was used continuously over the 4-year period on 21 percent of surveyed acres. On almost half of the cropland surveyed, farmers did not use no-till.?Some of the benefit of using no-till, including higher organic matter and greater carbon sequestration, is realized only if no-till is applied continuously over a number of years. Nonetheless, because tilling the soil can help control weeds and pests, some farmers rotate tillage practices much like they rotate crops. This chart is drawn from data reported in?ARMS Farm Financial and Crop Production Practices, updated in December 2014.

Major crop producers apply most nitrogen fertilizer in the spring and after planting

Friday, April 22, 2016

Efficient nitrogen fertilizer applications closely coincide with plant needs to reduce the likelihood that nutrients are lost to the environment before they can be taken up by the crop. Fall nitrogen application occurs during the fall months before the crop is planted, spring application occurs in the spring months (before planting for spring-planted crops), and after-planting application occurs while the crop is growing. The most appropriate timing of nitrogen applications depends on the nutrient needs of the crop being grown. In general, applying nitrogen in the fall for a spring-planted crop leaves nitrogen vulnerable to runoff over a long period of time. Applying nitrogen after the crop is already growing, when nitrogen needs are highest, generally minimizes vulnerability to runoff and leaching. Cotton farmers applied a majority of nitrogen—59 percent—after planting. Winter wheat producers applied 45 percent of nitrogen after planting. Corn farmers applied 22 percent of nitrogen after planting, while spring wheat farmers applied 5 percent after planting. Farmers applied a significant share of nitrogen in the fall for corn (20 percent) and spring wheat (21 percent). Fall nitrogen application is high for winter wheat because it is planted in the fall. This chart is found in the ERS report, Conservation-Practice Adoption Rates Vary Widely by Crop and Region, December 2015.

Southern regions in the U.S. have the highest rates of cover crop adoption

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Cover crops are thought to play a role in improving soil health by keeping the soil “covered” when an economic crop is not growing. Cover crops reduce soil erosion, trap nitrogen and other nutrients, increase biomass, reduce weeds, loosen soil to reduce compaction, and improve water infiltration to store more rainfall. The 2010-11 Agricultural Resource Management Survey was the first USDA survey to ask respondents to report cover crop use (findings from the 2012 Agricultural Census—the most recent available—are similar). Approximately 4 percent of farmers adopted cover crops on some portion of their fields, accounting for 1.7 percent of total U.S. cropland (6.8 million acres) in 2010-11. Cover crop adoption was highest in the Southern Seaboard (5.7 percent) and lowest in the Heartland and Basin and Range (0.6 percent each). This distribution is likely due to the fact that cover crops are easiest to establish in warmer areas with longer growing seasons. Limited cover crop use overall, however, suggests that the benefits of cover crop adoption are being realized on few acres. This chart is from the ERS report, Conservation-Practice Adoption Rates Vary Widely by Crop and Region, December 2015.

Climate change is projected to cause declines and shifts in fieldcrop acreage across the United States

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

ERS research projects that climate change will result in a decline in national fieldcrop acreage over analysis years 2020, 2040, 2060, and 2080, when measured relative to a scenario that assumes continuation of reference climate conditions (precipitation and temperature patterns averaged over 2001-08). Acreage trends are explored for nine climate change scenarios, and substantial variability exists across climate change scenarios and crop sectors. When averaged over all climate scenarios, U.S. acreage in rice, hay, and cotton is projected to expand, while acreage in corn, soybeans, sorghum, wheat, and silage declines. Acreage response varies across crops as a function of the sensitivity of crop yields to changes in precipitation, temperature, and atmospheric carbon dioxide; the resulting changes in relative crop profitability; the coincidence of climatic shifts with geographic patterns of crop production; and variables related to the extent of crop reliance on irrigation. This chart is from the ERS report Climate Change, Water Scarcity, and Adaptation in the U.S. Fieldcrop Sector, November 2015.

Tillage practices vary across the United States

Monday, February 1, 2016

No-till and strip-till are two of many tillage methods farmers use to plant crops. In a no-till system, farmers plant directly into the undisturbed residue of the previous crop without tillage, except for nutrient injection; in a strip-till system, only a narrow strip is tilled where row crops are planted. These tillage practices contribute to improving soil health, and reduce net greenhouse gas emissions. During 2010-11, about 23 percent of land in corn, cotton, soybeans, and wheat was on a farm where no-till/strip-till was used on every acre (full adopters). Another 33 percent of acreage in these crops was located on farms where a mix of no-till, strip-till, and other tillage practices were used on only some acres (partial adopters). In the Prairie Gateway, Northern Great Plains, and Heartland regions—which account for 72 percent of corn, soybean, wheat, and cotton acreage—more than half of these crop acres were on farms that used no-till/strip-till to some extent. Partial adopters have the equipment and expertise, at least for some crops, to use no-till/strip-till; these farmers may be well positioned to expand these practices to a larger share of cropland acreage. This chart is from the ERS report, Conservation-Practice Adoption Rates Vary Widely by Crop and Region, December 2015.

No-till and strip-till were widely used —although not predominantly— on U.S. crop acres in 2010-11

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

No-till and strip-till are two of several tillage methods farmers use to plant crops. These practices disturb the soil less than other methods, reducing soil erosion, helping maintain soil carbon, and can contribute to improved soil health. In a no-till system, farmers plant directly into the undisturbed residue of the previous crop without tillage, except for nutrient injection; in a strip-till system, only a narrow strip is tilled where row-crops are planted. Overall, 39 percent of the combined corn, soybean, wheat, and cotton acres (the four most widely grown crops in the U.S.) were in no-till/strip-till in 2010-11 (89 million acres per year), with adoption rates higher for some crops. Farmers may be more likely to use no-till/strip-till on crops that are thought to be well suited for the practices (e.g., soybeans) and more likely to use conventional tillage or other conservation tillage methods for crops where no-till/strip-till management is perceived as more risky (e.g., corn). Some farmers may also vary tillage based on field characteristics or weather. Tillage practices are often part of conservation plans that must be in use on highly erodible land to meet eligibility requirements (conservation compliance) for most Federal agricultural programs, including commodity programs and (after 2014) crop-insurance premium subsidies. This chart is from the ERS report, Conservation-Practice Adoption Rates Vary Widely by Crop and Region, December 2015.

More efficient irrigation methods are being adopted on farmland in the Western United States

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

About 75 percent of irrigated cropland in the United States is located in the 17 western-most contiguous States, based on USDA’s 2013 Farm and Ranch Irrigation Survey (the most recent available). Between 1984 and 2013, while the amount of irrigated land in the West has remained fairly stable (at about 40 million acres) and the amount of water applied has been mostly flat (between 70 and 76 million acre-feet per year), the use of more efficient irrigation systems to deliver the water has increased. In 1984, 71 percent of Western crop irrigation water was applied using gravity irrigation systems that tend to use water inefficiently. By 2013, operators used gravity systems to apply just 41 percent of water for crop production, while pressure-sprinkler irrigation systems (including drip, low-pressure sprinkler, or low-energy precision application systems), which can apply water more efficiently, accounted for 59 percent of irrigation water use and about 60 percent of irrigated acres. This chart is found in the ERS topic page on Irrigation & Water Use, updated October 2015.

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