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Productivity in U.S. agriculture, not increased input use, has fueled agricultural output growth

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Agricultural total factor productivity (TFP) is the difference between the aggregate total output of crop/livestock commodities and the combined use of land, labor, capital and material inputs employed in farm production. Growth in TFP implies that the adoption of new technology or improved management of farm resources is increasing average productivity or efficiency of input use. From 1948 to 2013, U.S. farm sector output grew by 170 percent with about the same level of farm input use over the period, and thus the positive growth in farm sector production was substantially due to productivity growth. While aggregate input use in agriculture has been relatively stable over time, the composition of agricultural inputs (not shown in this chart) has shifted. Between 1948 and 2013, labor use declined sharply by 78 percent, land use in agriculture dropped by 26 percent, while the use of intermediate goods (such as energy, agricultural chemicals, purchased services, and seed/feed) and capital (farm machinery and buildings) expanded. Long-term agricultural productivity is fueled by innovations in animal/crop genetics, chemicals, equipment, and farm organization that result from public and private research and development. This chart is found in the ERS data product Agricultural Productivity in the U.S., updated December 2015.

Agricultural production in India shifting to high-value outputs

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

India’s economic growth and rising incomes have expanded consumer food demand to include higher valued foods, such as fruit, vegetables, and some meat products. Indian farmers appear to be meeting these new growth opportunities. A look at average production shares in the 1980-84 and the 2004-08 periods shows that growth in production of animal and horticulture products reduced the share of production growth attributable to grains. Accordingly, India’s real value of farm production increased an average 3 percent each year, rising from 2.6 trillion rupees in 1980 to 7.3 trillion rupees in 2008, or from $42 billion to $116 billion. This chart is based on Propellers of Agricultural Productivity in India, December 2015.

Incentives drive public vs. private agricultural research and development expenditure mix

Monday, November 16, 2015

Across a broad range of topics for agriculture, food, and related issues, research and development (R&D) conducted by U.S. public research institutions (State and Federal institutions) tends to emphasize different themes than R&D conducted by private firms. The two sectors have overlapping research interests in areas related to farm production—crop, animal, and farm machinery innovation. However, in areas where reaping benefits from research results is more difficult for private firms—such as in the environmental impacts of agriculture, and human nutrition/food safety—public sector research dominates. The private sector tends to focus on areas such as food manufacturing, where research benefits are more readily captured by the specific innovator. Much of the private expenditures on food R&D, which does not directly affect farm-level productivity, is on new product development rather than on improved food manufacturing processes. New technologies such as gene transfer, along with intellectual property protection, have increased private incentives for crops research, and private crop research investment has grown. This chart appears in the ERS research report, Agricultural Productivity Growth in the United States: Measurement, Trends, and Drivers, ERR-189, released July 2015.

U.S. poultry and eggs output has grown more rapidly than dairy and meat animals

Friday, October 23, 2015

Total U.S. livestock output grew 130 percent from 1948 to 2011, with the poultry and eggs subcategory growing much faster than meat animals (including cattle, hogs, and lamb) and dairy products. In 2011, the real value of total poultry and egg production was more than seven times its level in 1948, with an average annual growth rate exceeding 3 percent. The rapid growth of poultry production is due largely to changes in technology—advances in genetics, feed formulations, housing, and practices—and increased consumer demand. Retail prices of poultry fell in the late 1970’s and 1980’s, relative to beef and pork prices, leading to expanded poultry consumption in that period. Increased domestic consumption and exports were also driven by consumer response to an expanding range of new poultry products, as the industry moved away from a reliance on whole birds and produc­tion shifted to cut-up parts and processed products such as boneless chicken, breaded nuggets/tenders, and chicken sausages. This chart is found in the ERS report, Agricultural Productivity Growth in the United States: Measurement, Trends, and Drivers, July 2015.

Increased productivity now the primary source of growth in world agricultural output

Friday, October 16, 2015

The average annual rate of global agricultural output growth slowed in the 1970s and 1980s, then accelerated in the 1990s and 2000s. In the latest period estimated (2001-12), global output of total crop and livestock commodities was expanding at an average rate of 2.5 percent per year. In the decades prior to 1990, most output growth came about from intensification of input use (i.e., using more labor, capital, and material inputs per acre of agricultural land). Bringing new land into agriculture production and extending irrigation to existing agricultural land were also important sources of growth. This changed over the last two decades, as input growth slowed. In 2001-12, improvements in productivity—getting more output from existing resources—accounted for about two-thirds of the total growth in agricultural output worldwide, reflecting the use of new technology and changes in management practices by agricultural producers around the world. This chart is based on the ERS data product, International Agricultural Productivity, updated October 2015.

Contract labor services a growing part of U.S. farm production

Monday, October 5, 2015

Agricultural technologies adopted over the last half-century, embodied in equipment, structures, seeds, and chemicals, allow farmers to use less labor. As a result, even though total agricultural production more than doubled between 1960 and 2011 (the latest estimates available), the amount of self-employed labor in agriculture fell by 70 percent, and the amount of hired labor fell by 60 percent. While most labor used on farms comes from the self-employed labor of farm families and hired labor (full and part-time employees), farmers also hire labor contractors to provide labor to farms, usually for specific tasks. Contract labor accounted for 1.2 percent of total costs in agriculture in 2011, compared to 13 percent for self-employed and hired labor. While the use of contract labor declined by half between 1960 and the mid-1980’s, tracking the decline in self-employed and hired labor, it has since grown as some farmers have shifted to contract labor in place of hired labor. A version of this chart is found in the ERS report, Agricultural Productivity Growth in the United States: Measurement, Trends, and Drivers, July 2015.

Sustained public investment in research supports longrun agricultural productivity growth

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Innovation funded by research and development (R&D) investment is the major driver of long-term agricultural productivity growth. ERS projected growth in agricultural productivity (measured as total factor productivity, or TFP) under alternative public R&D assumptions starting in 2010: a 1-percent increase in annual public research funding in real terms (Scenario 1); constant nominal public research funding (Scenario 2); and constant nominal public research funding with an assumed one-time 25-percent cut in 2014, followed by constant nominal funding at the lower level (Scenario 3). Because R&D takes a long time to bear fruit, TFP growth differs little among the scenarios in the first decade, but then growth rates diverge. From 2010 to 2050, the annual rate of TFP growth is expected to increase/fall from the historical average of 1.42 percent per year to 1.46, 0.86, and 0.63 percent for Scenario 1, 2, and 3, respectively. This chart is found in the September 2015 Amber Waves feature, "U.S. Agricultural Productivity Growth: The Past, Challenges, and the Future."

Labor and land inputs have fallen in U.S. agricultural production, use of intermediate goods has risen

Monday, July 27, 2015

U.S. farm output more than doubled between 1948 and 2011, while aggregate agricultural inputs increased by just 4 percent. However, the composition of agricultural inputs shifted. Between 1948 and 2011, labor use declined by 78 percent, while total land input dropped by 26 percent. The agricultural sector’s consumption of intermediate goods (such as energy, agricultural chemicals, purchased services, and seed/feed) grew by 140 percent, while capital inputs (equipment, buildings, and inventories) increased by 65 percent. The shift in the input mix away from labor and toward machinery and intermediate inputs reflects trends in relative prices, which dropped significantly relative to labor between 1948 and 2011. After 1980, the use of capital inputs fell, while the growth in intermediate inputs slowed considerably. Total agricultural input use fell by 15 percent in 1980-2011, even as output continued to grow. This chart is found in the ERS report, Agricultural Productivity Growth in the United States: Measurement, Trends, and Drivers, July 2015.

Genetically engineered seeds planted on over 90 percent of U.S. corn, cotton, and soybean acres in 2015

Monday, July 20, 2015

U.S. farmers have adopted genetically engineered (GE) seeds in the 20 years since their commercial introduction, despite their typically higher prices. Herbicide-tolerant (HT) crops, developed to survive the application of specific herbicides that previously would have destroyed the crop along with the targeted weeds, provide farmers with a broader variety of options for weed control. Insect-resistant crops (Bt) contain a gene from the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis that produces a protein toxic to specific insects, protecting the plant over its entire life. “Stacked” seed varieties carry both HT and Bt traits, and now account for a large majority of GE corn and cotton seeds. In 2015, adoption of GE varieties, including those with herbicide tolerance, insect resistance, or stacked traits, accounted for 94 percent of cotton acreage, 94 percent of soybean acreage (soybeans have only HT varieties), and 92 percent of corn acreage planted in the United States. This chart is found in the ERS data product, Adoption of Genetically Engineered Crops in the U.S., updated July 2015.

U.S. public sector plays a key role in collecting, conserving, and distributing crop genetic resources

Monday, June 22, 2015

As agriculture adapts to climate change, crop genetic resources can be used to develop new plant varieties that are more tolerant of changing environmental conditions. Crop genetic resources (or germplasm) consist of seeds, plants, or plant parts that can be used in crop breeding, research, or conservation. The public sector plays an important role in collecting, conserving, and distributing crop genetic resources because private-sector incentives for crucial parts of these activities are limited. The U.S. National Plant Germplasm System (NPGS) is the primary network that manages publicly held crop germplasm in the United States. Since 2003, demand for crop genetic resources from the NPGS has increased rapidly even as the NPGS budget has declined in real dollars. By way of comparison, the NPGS budget of approximately $47 million in 2012 was well under one-half of 1 percent of the U.S. seed market (measured as the value of farmers’ purchased seed) which exceeded $20 billion for the same year. This chart updates ones found in the June 2015 Amber Waves feature, Crop Genetic Resources May Play an Increasing Role in Agricultural Adaptation to Climate Change.

Productivity rises in global agriculture

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

By using new technologies, farmers can produce more food using fewer economic resources at lower costs. One measure of technological change is total factor productivity (TFP). Increased TFP means that fewer economic resources (land, labor, capital and materials) are needed to produce a given amount of economic output. However, TFP does not account for the environmental impacts of agricultural production; resources that are free to the farm sector (such as water quality, greenhouse gas emissions, biodiversity) are not typically included in TFP. As a result, TFP indexes may over- or under-estimate the actual resource savings from technological change. Growth in global agricultural TFP began to accelerate in the 1980s, led by large developing countries like China and Brazil. This growth helped keep food prices down even as global demand surged. This chart uses data available in International Agricultural Productivity on the ERS website, updated October 2014.

Half of U.S. cropland now on farms with 1,200 acres or more

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The average (mean) number of acres on crop farms has changed little over 3 decades, with a slight increase from 241 acres in 2007 to 251 in 2012. However, the mean misses an important element of changing farm structure; it has remained stable because while the number of mid-size crop farms has declined over several decades, farm numbers at the extremes (large and small) have grown. With only modest changes in total cropland and the total number of crop farms, the size of the average (mean) farm has changed little. However, commercial crop farms, which account for most U.S. cropland, have gotten larger, aided by technologies that allow a single farmer or farm family to farm more acres. The midpoint acreage (at which half of all cropland acres are on farms with more cropland than the midpoint, and half are on farms with less) effectively tracks cropland consolidation over time. The midpoint acreage of total and harvested cropland has increased over the last three decades, from roughly 500-600 acres in 1982 to about 1,200 acres in the most recent census of agriculture data (2012). This chart is extended through 2012 from one found in the ERS report, Farm Size and the Organization of U.S. Crop Farming, ERR-152, August 2013.

U.S. hog production increasingly occurs on the largest operations

Monday, January 12, 2015

While the number of all farms in the United States remained fairly constant, the number of hog farms fell by about 70 percent between 1992 and 2009, from over 240,000 to about 71,000. Despite fewer hog farms, the Nation’s hog inventory was stable during the period, averaging about 60 million head, with cyclical fluctuations between 56 and 68 million head. Thus, hog production consolidated as fewer, larger farms accounted for an increased share of total output. From 1992 to 2009, the share of the U.S. hog and pig inventory on farms with 2,000 head or more increased from less than 30 percent to 86 percent. In 2009, farms with 5,000 head or more accounted for 61 percent of all hogs and pigs. This chart is found in the ERS report, U.S. Hog Production From 1992 to 2009: Technology, Restructuring, and Productivity Growth, ERR-158, October 2013.

In the U.S., the private sector accounts for a little over half the total investment in food and agriculture research

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Private spending on food and agricultural research and development (R&D) in the United States has exceeded public-sector agricultural research expenditures most years since the late 1970s. In 2007 (the latest year for which complete data are available), the private sector accounted for about 53 percent of total food and agriculture-related research. Private research is nearly equally divided between food and agriculture. Public research is more oriented toward basic or fundamental science and scientific training, as well as topics like food safety—research that has high social value but for which private incentives are relatively weak. In addition, some public agricultural research funds are devoted to “other” governmental responsibilities, such as improving the environment and protecting natural resources, community development and related social goals, and economic and policy analysis. The public sector nearly matches the private sector’s investments in agricultural R&D, but spends far less on food-related research (with more emphasis on food safety rather than the private sector’s emphasis on product development). Public investment in conservation, community development, and other governmental functions has little counterpart in the private sector. This chart is a revised and updated version of one found in the June 2012 Amber Waves article, Private Industry Investing Heavily, and Globally, in Research To Improve Agricultural Productivity.

Agricultural productivity improving in Sub-Saharan Africa, but very slowly

Monday, February 25, 2013

Agricultural productivity growth is a critical factor in controlling the economic and environmental costs of feeding the world’s growing population. New ERS research finds that agricultural productivity in Sub-Saharan Africa has been growing by about one percent per year since the 1980s. A major driver has been adoption of new agricultural technologies developed through agricultural research. Investment by the CGAIR Consortium of international agricultural research centers has been particularly important, providing about $6 in productivity impacts for every $1 spent by these centers on research. However, rates of new technology adoption and agricultural productivity in Sub-Saharan Africa are still low relative to other developing countries. Resource degradation, policies that reduce economic incentives to farmers, the spread of HIV/AIDS, armed conflicts, and low national research and extension capacity have hindered agricultural productivity improvement in the region. This chart is based on the ERS report, Resources, Policies and Agricultural Productivity in Sub-Saharan Africa, ERR-145, released February 2013.

Productivity growth in food manufacturing is low relative to manufacturing in general

Monday, January 28, 2013

Productivity growth in food manufacturing has been far below growth rates for agriculture and manufacturing as a whole in the world’s major economies over the past three decades. Total factor productivity (TFP) measures the value added per combined unit of labor and capital employed in an industry. From 1980 to 2006, TFP growth in food manufacturing was substantially below that for total manufacturing and agriculture in the United States, the United Kingdom (UK), the “Eurozone,” and Japan. Only in the UK did food manufacturing productivity increase more than minimally; in Japan, productivity growth in food manufacturing was negative over this period. The TFP changes shown in the graph indicate the rate of capital- and labor-saving technical change in each industry, and reveal that relatively little of this innovation occurred in food manufacturing. This chart is based on data found in table 9.3 of Research Investments and Market Structure in the Food Processing, Agricultural Input, and Biofuel Industries Worldwide, ERR-130, December 2011.

Total factor productivity has become the primary source of growth in world agriculture

Friday, November 30, 2012

Agricultural output arises from either bringing more resources into production or by raising the productivity of those resources. Productivity of the sum of land, labor, capital and material resources is known as "total factor productivity" or TFP. Between 1961 and 2009, about 60 percent of the tripling in global agricultural output was due to increases in input use, implying that improvements in TFP accounted for the other 40 percent. TFP's share of output growth, however, grew over time, and by the most recent decade (2001-09), TFP accounted for three-fourths of the growth in global agricultural production. The rate of expansion in use of natural resources (land and water) has slowed slightly over time while the rate of growth in input intensification has fallen sharply. As such, the source of increase in agricultural yield has shifted markedly from input intensification to improvement in TFP. This chart appears in "New Evidence Points to Robust But Uneven Productivity Growth in Global Agriculture" in the September 2012 issue of ERS's Amber Waves magazine.

Improvement in agricultural total factor productivity is highly variable among and within countries

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Estimates of agricultural total factor productivity (TFP) growth vary widely among and within countries. In China, TFP growth is strong in coastal areas but less so in the interior. Brazil has robust TFP growth in coastal areas and in some parts of the interior where soybeans and cotton are now produced. Productivity growth is concentrated in the western and northern regions of Indonesia where production of export commodities like palm oil and cocoa is expanding rapidly. In the United States, productivity growth is moderately strong in the Corn Belt and Lake States but low in the Plains States, Appalachia, and major horticultural States of California and Florida. While a few countries in Sub-Saharan Africa are experiencing growth, others are recovering from earlier decades when their agricultural sectors suffered from the effects of war. Raising agricultural productivity growth in Sub-Saharan Africa will likely require significantly higher public and private investments, especially in agricultural research and extension, as well as policy reforms to strengthen incentives for farmers. This chart appears in "New Evidence Points to Robust But Uneven Productivity Growth in Global Agriculture" in the September 2012 issue of ERS's Amber Waves magazine.

Real agricultural prices have fallen since 1900, even as world population growth accelerated

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Improving agricultural productivity has been the world's primary safeguard against the needs of a growing population outstripping the ability of man and resources to supply food. Over the past 50 years, global gross agricultural output has more than tripled in volume, and productivity growth in agriculture has enabled food to become more abundant and cheaper. In inflation-adjusted dollars, agricultural prices fell by an average of 1 percent per year between 1900 and 2010, despite an increase in the world's population from 1.7 billion to nearly 7.0 billion over the same period. Nonetheless, food prices have been rising since around 2001. This has renewed concerns about the pace of agricultural productivity growth. If productivity growth slows, then more resources--land, labor, energy, fertilizers, and other inputs--would be needed to meet rising demand, raising the cost of food. This chart appears in "New Evidence Points to Robust But Uneven Productivity Growth in Global Agriculture" in the September 2012 issue of ERS's Amber Waves magazine.

Agricultural inputs of all types are sold globally

Monday, November 5, 2012

All of the leading firms in food manufacturing and agricultural input industries are multinational, offering product sales spread across several continents. One indicator of the degree of globalization of agricultural input markets is the global distribution of agricultural input sales. In 2006, member countries of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA--United States, Canada, and Mexico) accounted for about 23 percent of the global seed market and 30-36 percent of global sales of agricultural chemicals, farm machinery, animal feed, and animal health pharmaceuticals (including those for nonfood animals). The Europe-Middle East-Africa market (which is mostly Europe) had the largest aggregate seed sales in 2006, whereas Asia-Pacific countries used the most fertilizers and bought the most farm machinery. Together, Asia-Pacific and Latin America are indicative of the developing-country share of global agricultural input markets. They account for 37-51 percent of global sales of crop seed and chemicals, farm machinery, fertilizers, and animal feed. This chart is found in the ERS report, Research Investments and Market Structure in the Food Processing, Agricultural Input, and Biofuel Industries Worldwide, ERR-130, December 2011.

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