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Increased productivity now the primary source of growth in world agriculture

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

The average annual rate of global agricultural growth slowed in the 1970s and 1980s but then accelerated in the 1990s and 2000s. 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. Over the last two decades, however, the rate of growth in agricultural resources (land, labor, capital, etc.) slowed. In 2001-10, improvements in productivity—getting more output from existing resources—accounted for more than three-quarters of the total growth in global agricultural output, reflecting the use of new technology and changes in management by agricultural producers around the world. This chart is found in the ERS data product, International Agricultural Productivity, on the ERS website, updated November 2013.

Emergency haying and grazing on land in the CRP peaked in 2012

Friday, August 23, 2013

USDA’s Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) engages farmers in long-term (10- to 15-year) contracts to establish conservation covers on environmentally sensitive land. As of June 2013, about 27 million acres of farmland were enrolled in the program. An important provision within CRP is that under certain circumstances, farmers can utilize their CRP lands for managed or emergency haying and grazing. The haying and grazing of CRP land can provide important benefits to farmers, particularly during major droughts when other sources of livestock feed are scarce, and, if done correctly, can also improve the environmental value of the conservation covers. During the 2012 drought, farmers conducted emergency haying and grazing on almost 2.8 million acres and managed haying and grazing on another 700,000 acres. This chart is found in the Amber Waves article, “The Role of Conservation Program Design in Drought-Risk Adaptation,” July 2013.

Simulating the interactions between climate adaptation and conservation program design

Monday, May 20, 2013

Farmers can adapt to their local climate in many ways, including through participation in USDA programs. In regions of the country that face higher levels of drought risk, farmers are more likely to offer eligible land for enrollment in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). As a consequence, CRP is both more competitive in these regions and drought-prone counties are more likely to face a binding CRP acreage enrollment cap. When counties are near their enrollment cap, farms are less likely to offer eligible land for CRP because those offers are less likely to be accepted for enrollment. In simulations of offer rates based on observed historical data, a national increase in the county CRP acreage enrollment cap to 35 percent of cropland in each county (from the current level of 25 percent), results in more offers from eligible farmers in drought prone regions of the Great Plains and the Intermountain West. This map is found in the ERS report, The Role of Conservation Programs in Drought Risk Adaptation, ERR-148, April 2013.

Improving water-use efficiency remains a challenge for U.S. irrigated agriculture

Monday, May 6, 2013

U.S. agriculture accounts for 80-90 percent of the Nation’s consumptive water use (water lost to the environment by evaporation, crop transpiration, or incorporation into products). The 17 Western States account for nearly three-quarters of U.S. irrigated agriculture. While substantial technological innovation has already occurred in irrigation systems, significant room for improvement in farm irrigation efficiency still exists. Between 1994 and 2008, the combined share of Western irrigated acres using improved gravity-flow and low-pressure sprinkler systems has increased but the rate at which traditional irrigation systems have been replaced with more efficient, improved systems has slowed over the past decade. This chart comes from the Amber Waves September 2012 finding, Improving Water-Use Efficiency Remains a Challenge for U.S. Irrigated Agriculture.

Farm sector exposure to drought worsened during the summer of 2012

Thursday, April 4, 2013

As of mid-August 2012, 43 percent of farms in the United States were experiencing severe or greater levels of drought and another 17 percent were facing moderate levels of drought (for a description of severity levels, see A striking aspect of the 2012 drought was how the drought rapidly increased in severity in early July, during a critical time of crop development for corn and other commodities. The chart shows the progression from mid-June to mid-August of severe or greater drought within the agricultural sector. While drought conditions eased some during early September, for most crop production, exposure to drought during June-August determined the drought’s impact on agricultural production. From mid-June to mid-August, the share of farms under severe or greater drought increased from 16 to 43 percent of all farms. Total cropland under severe or greater drought increased from 20 to 57 percent, while total value of crops exposed increased from 16 to 50 percent. As of mid-July, areas with over half of the value of cattle production were already exposed to severe drought; by mid-August, almost two-thirds were exposed. This chart is based on the table found in U.S. Drought 2012: Farm and Food Impacts on the ERS website, updated March 2013.

Irrigated acres are concentrated in relatively few States

Friday, October 26, 2012

In 2007, 56.6 million farmland acres were irrigated across the United States. About 16.6 percent of U.S. harvested cropland acres were irrigated, while only 1.2 percent of pastureland acres were irrigated. Nearly three-quarters of U.S. irrigated agriculture occurred in the 17 contiguous Western States, including 73 percent of harvested irrigated cropland and 94 percent of irrigated pastureland. For 2007, 12 leading irrigation States accounted for 77.3 percent of all irrigated acres, including harvested cropland, pasture, and other lands. Nebraska's 8.6 million irrigated acres led all other States (15.1 percent of the U.S. total), followed by California with 8.0 million acres (14.2 percent), and Texas with 5 million acres (8.9 percent). Two Eastern States-Arkansas and Florida-were among the 12 leading irrigation States. Arkansas accounted for 4.5 million acres (7.9 percent) and Florida for 1.6 million acres (2.7 percent) of total U.S. irrigated acres. This chart comes from Water Conservation in Irrigated Agriculture: Trends and Challenges in the Face of Emerging Demand, EIB-99, September 2012.

Irrigated acres vary across regions and over time

Thursday, September 13, 2012

From 1982 to 1997, irrigated acres increased for most farm regions. Since 1997, however, most regions have seen either slow growth or a decline in irrigated acres. The largest growth in irrigated acres since 1997 is concentrated in the Northern Plains, Delta, and Corn Belt regions. Growth rates in the Northern Plains (primarily Nebraska) pushed irrigated acreage (at 11.9 million acres in 2007) above acreage irrigated in the Pacific region (at 11.6 million acres). Similarly, since 1997, irrigated acres in the Delta region surpassed acres irrigated in the Southern Plains. Over the same period, irrigated acres contracted in the relatively arid Mountain, Pacific, and Southern Plains regions. This chart comes from Water Conservation in Irrigated Agriculture: Trends and Challenges in the Face of Emerging Demand, EIB-99, September 2012.

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