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Fresh sweet cherries expected to be plentiful this summer

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

In June, USDA forecasted that the 2017 U.S. sweet cherry crop will reach 432,760 tons, up 24 percent from last year and the second largest on record, if realized. Production increases are forecasted in the top two producing States—Washington and California—ranging from 21 to 80 percent. While forecasted down slightly, sweet cherry crop production in Oregon, also a major grower, will be among the largest the State has generated. Sweet cherries make up the vast majority of U.S. fresh-market cherries, while tart or “sour” cherries are mainly processed and used in cakes, pies, and tarts or dried for additional uses. Yields in California benefitted from winter rains, following multiple seasons with drought conditions. An early May freeze, however, dampened crop expectations in Michigan. Significantly higher shipment volumes than last season have been reported in California, driving down cherry prices since late spring. The harvest has now moved to the Northwest, with ample summer supplies expected to meet the generally growing market domestically and abroad, barring any weather problems. Crop marketability and quality could change drastically upon maturity because cherries are highly susceptible to cracking from rains near or at the harvest-ready stage. This chart provides an update to data found in the ERS Fruit and Tree Nut Outlook newsletter released in June 2016.

Managed honeybee colony numbers increased since 2006 even as colony mortality remained high

Friday, June 23, 2017

About one-third of the world’s food crops depend on pollinators, such as managed honeybees and more than 3,500 species of native bees. These pollinators face a variety of stressors that can impact their health, such as insect pests, pesticide exposure, and habitat changes. Honeybee mortality, as measured by the loss of a honeybee colony, has remained high over the last decade. In 2006-07, approximately 30 percent of honeybee colonies were lost during the over-winter period (October 1 through April 1). The over-winter loss rate has since diminished (22 percent in 2014-15), but over-summer losses have grown. The net result is that about 44 percent of colonies perished in 2015-16, compared with 36 percent in 2010-11. While recent public attention has focused largely on colony mortality trends, overall colony numbers have increased since 2006. This was accomplished with intensified beekeeper management, including splitting colonies, adding new queens, and offering supplemental feeding. This chart is based on the ERS report Land Use, Land Cover, and Pollinator Health: A Review and Trend Analysis, released June 2017.

Farm-level prices for agricultural commodities rose for much of the 2000s, but declined in recent years

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Although prices for agricultural commodities frequently vary from year to year, they have generally moved higher in the past decade. In these aggregate measures, by 2014, price indices for crops were up more than 35 percent above their 2006 levels, while those for livestock rose over 75 percent from 2006 to 2014. Prices for both crops and livestock have fallen since 2015 (crop prices began falling earlier in 2013), as U.S. and global markets responded to higher prices by increasing production. While the aggregate prices received for all agricultural production fell 17 percent, livestock and its related products fell by 26 percent since 2014. The fall in prices for livestock coincides with declining input costs for feed commodities like corn and soybean. Additionally, this reflects the beginning of the recovery in the cattle and beef industry that had seen production declines since 2010. Crop prices also declined, but to a lesser extent at 10 percent since 2014. This chart appears in the ERS publication, "Selected charts from Ag and Food Statistics: Charting the Essentials, 2017," released April 28, 2017.

Herbicide-tolerant sugarbeets accounted for 98 percent of sugarbeet acreage by 2013

Thursday, June 1, 2017

The United States produced about 8 million metric tons of sugar in 2013. Over half of that sugar came from sugarbeets. However, weed infestations can reduce yields, lower forage quality, and increase the severity of insect infestations. Compared to conventional sugarbeets, planting genetically engineered, herbicide-tolerant (GE HT) sugarbeets simplifies weed management. Specific herbicide (such as glysophate) applications kill weeds but then leave the GE HT sugarbeets growing. Studies suggest that farmers who plant GE HT sugarbeets can increase yields, while reducing the costs of weed management. Once introduced commercially in 2008, U.S. farmers adopted GE HT sugarbeets quickly. That year, farmers planted GE HT sugarbeets on about 60 percent of all sugarbeet acreage; by 2009, that number had grown to 95 percent. As of 2013, approximately 1.1 million acres of GE HT sugarbeets (98 percent of all sugarbeet acreage), with a production value of over $1.5 billion, were harvested in the United States. Minnesota, North Dakota, Idaho, and Michigan accounted for over 80 percent of sugarbeet production that year. This chart is based on the ERS report The Adoption of Genetically Engineered Alfalfa, Canola, and Sugarbeets in the United States, released November 2016.

Productivity gains, declining acreage lower cotton production costs

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

USDA estimates commodity costs and returns based on periodic of commodity producer surveys. Cotton producers were surveyed in 1997, 2003, 2007, and most recently in 2015. Total economic costs estimated from these cotton surveys declined from about $1.40 per pound in 1997 to $0.92 in 2015. Declining real costs of cotton production reflect productivity gains in the industry that can be traced to the adoption of new cotton production technologies and changes in where cotton is grown. Productivity gains were particularly rapid during 1997-2003 as genetically modified (GM) cotton was widely adopted and real production costs fell nearly 20 percent. Between 2003 and 2015 real production costs fell another 20 percent, while cotton acreage declined 36 percent. Cotton became more concentrated in the low-cost Southern Plains region and declined in the high-cost areas of California and the Mississippi Delta region. This chart is drawn from the ERS Commodity Costs and Returns data product, updated in May 2017.

Dedicating land to energy crops (like switchgrass) would shift land use

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Crops dedicated for use in energy production, such as switchgrass, are potential renewable sources for liquid fuels or bioelectricity. Switchgrass is a perennial grass native to most of North America that grows well on rain-fed marginal land. However, markets do not presently exist for large-scale use of this energy resource. An ERS study simulated the agricultural land use impacts of growing enough switchgrass to generate 250 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity annually with a bioelectricity subsidy by 2030—approximately the amount generated by U.S. hydropower today. The introduction of dedicated energy crops on a large scale could affect other agricultural land uses, the prices of other crops, and trade in agricultural products. For example, the simulation predicted that land converted to switchgrass would come mostly from land used for crops like hay and corn. Pasture and forest land use would be affected at about the same level. An increase in U.S. land area for switchgrass would also lead to smaller changes in land use abroad due to agricultural product trade. This chart appears in the April 2017 Amber Waves finding, "Dedicating Agricultural Land to Energy Crops Would Shift Land Use."

Adoption of herbicide-tolerant alfalfa increased in recent years

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Alfalfa is the fourth largest U.S. crop in terms of acreage and production value, behind only corn, soybeans, and wheat. Most of the alfalfa grown in the United States is used as feed, particularly for dairy cattle. However, weed infestations can reduce alfalfa yields, lower forage quality, and increase the severity of insect infestations. Planting genetically engineered (GE), herbicide tolerant (HT) alfalfa reduces crop damage from specific herbicides. Alfalfa tends to be seeded (on average) once every 7 years, so GE HT alfalfa adoption rates have increased relatively slowly compared to other GE HT crops, such as corn, cotton, and soybeans. In 2013, about 810,000 acres were planted with GE HT alfalfa, approximately a third of newly seeded acres that year. This chart appears in the ERS report The Adoption of Genetically Engineered Alfalfa, Canola, and Sugarbeets in the United States, released November 2016.

U.S. soybean domestic use and exports projected to increase through 2026

Friday, March 17, 2017

The newly released USDA agricultural baseline projects strong demand for soybean meal and oil over the next decade. These gains reflect low expected feed prices, increasing livestock production, and steady demand by foreign importers. Strong global demand for soybeans—particularly in China—boosts U.S. soybean trade over the projection period. While soybean exports are projected to rise, competition from South America—primarily Brazil—will lead to a reduced U.S. share of global soybean trade. U.S. soybean meal use is projected to increase about 1 percent per year over the baseline period. Domestic soybean meal consumption, which accounts for roughly 75 percent of total disappearance, is projected to increase at just over 1 percent per year. U.S. soybean oil use is also projected to rise about 1 percent per year over the projection period. Soybean oil exports are projected to rise only modestly due to increased competition. This chart appears in the ERS Agricultural Projections to 2026 report released in February 2017.

USDA projections show U.S. corn use is expected to grow through 2026

Friday, February 24, 2017

Newly released USDA agricultural projections through 2026 suggest that demand for U.S. corn will grow steadily over the next decade. Rising yields will boost production and support the growing demand. With the exception of a drop in 2017, corn production is expected to increase through the forecast period. Lower corn prices and increasing corn production suggest that more corn will be used for feed and residual use, helping to fuel rising meat production. A slight increase in corn-based ethanol production is projected through the 2018/19 marketing year, after which it is expected to decline to levels just below those in 2015. Falling domestic demand reflects a declining trend in U.S. gasoline consumption due to fuel-efficient vehicles, reduced vehicle usage, infrastructure, and other constraints on growth in the ethanol fuel markets. The United States is expected to remain the world’s largest corn exporter over the projection period. Rising incomes, particularly in developing economies, translate to an increasing demand for meat, bolstering the market for U.S. corn as a feed grain. This chart appears in the USDA Agricultural Projections to 2026 report released in February 2017.

Switchgrass potential as an energy crop varies across USDA regions

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Dedicated energy crops, such as switchgrass, are potential renewable feedstocks for liquid fuels or electricity generation. However, markets do not presently exist for large-scale use of this resource. Switchgrass is a perennial grass native to most of North America that grows well on rain-fed marginal land. It has the greatest growth potential in regions where it has a comparative yield advantage relative to other crops. An ERS study simulated the impact on farmland use from growing enough switchgrass to generate 250 TWh of electricity annually by 2030, an amount approximately equal to present U.S. hydroelectricity generation. The study found that such a significant increase in demand for switchgrass would entail shifting land from other crops to switchgrass, and that these effects would vary regionally. In the Appalachian region, for example, the crop most affected is hay, with smaller reductions in corn and soybeans. In the Southeast and Northern Plains, acreage reductions are shared among the crops more uniformly. In total, about 29 million acres of switchgrass may be grown annually in the United States under this scenario, representing 8 percent of cropland. This chart appears in the ERS report Dedicated Energy Crops and Competition for Agricultural Land, released January 2017.

Almost all U.S. sugarbeets and canola planted in 2013 used genetically engineered seeds

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Genetically engineered (GE), herbicide-tolerant (HT) varieties of crops were first developed in 1996 to survive herbicides that previously would have destroyed the crop along with the targeted weeds. The success of major GE crops—more than 90 percent of U.S. corn, soybean and cotton use GE seeds with HT or insect-resistant traits—enabled the commercialization of HT canola in 1998 and of HT alfalfa and sugarbeets in 2005. Two of these crops have seen rapid adoption in recent years: about 95 percent of U.S. canola and over 99 percent of sugarbeet acres planted in 2013 had HT traits. By comparison, only 13 percent of alfalfa acres harvested had HT traits that year. This slower adoption rate is expected—alfalfa is a perennial crop and only about one-seventh of the alfalfa acreage is newly seeded each year. This chart is based on the ERS report The Adoption of Genetically Engineered Alfalfa, Canola, and Sugarbeets in the United States, released November 2016.

India is the world's leading importer of soybean oil

Thursday, June 9, 2016

India is the world’s largest importer of soybean oil, surpassing China in 2013/14 as China’s expanding crushing industry began to focus on importing raw soybeans for processing into meal and oil. China’s soybean oil imports are projected to grow modestly over the next 10 years to reach 1.4 million tons by 2025/26, while India’s imports could reach 3.9 million tons over the same period. India’s large population and rising incomes, combined with poor soybean yields and limited area for expanding production, increase its reliance on imports to meet domestic vegetable oil demand. Despite its history of high import tariffs on vegetable oils—40 percent for soybean oil and as high as 85 percent for other oils—India has long been a major importer of vegetable oil. In 2008, in response to high food prices, India slashed its soybean oil tariffs, further contributing to the projected rise in imports. Argentina is the world’s largest exporter of soybean oil and the primary supplier to both India and China. The United States is the world’s second largest exporter of soybean oil, accounting for about 10 percent of global soybean oil trade, with most of that oil destined to markets in the Western Hemisphere. This chart is from the May 2016 Amber Waves article, “Major Factors Affecting Global Soybean and Products Trade Projections.”

China's demand for imported soybeans expected to remain strong

Monday, May 16, 2016

China is the world’s largest importer of soybeans. The country’s dominance as an importer reflects government policies that favor imports of soybeans over feed grains, coupled with dietary shifts toward more animal proteins, which creates a strong demand for soybean meal used for livestock feed rations. In 1995, China adopted a policy of 95 percent self-sufficiency for grains, and from 2008 to 2012 the country increased price supports for wheat, rice, and corn at higher rates than those for soybeans, making soybean production less attractive to farmers and resulting in an 18-percent decline in domestic production while soybean imports jumped 50 percent. China’s border policies also favor soybean imports. Import tariffs for soybeans are lower than those for soybean meal or oil, resulting in China’s oilseed-crushing industry becoming the largest in the world, and supplied mainly with imported soybeans. With China’s policies continuing to favor grain production over soybeans and its feed and livestock industries expected to continue growing, the country’s demand for imported soybeans is projected to remain strong over the next decade, increasing from 83 million tons in 2016/17 to 109.5 million tons in 2025/26. This chart is from the May 2016 Amber Waves article, “Major Factors Affecting Global Soybean and Products Trade Projections.”

Soybeans dominate expansion of cropland in Argentina

Friday, May 13, 2016

Land planted to soybeans in Argentina grew from fewer than 5 million hectares in 1992/93 (April-March) to 20 million hectares in 2015/16, while wheat and corn area has seen little or no growth over this period (1 hectare = 2.47 acres). Soybean meal is a major component of livestock feed, and growing demand for meat and livestock products worldwide has supported increased soybean production and trade. In Argentina, tax policies have played a role in soybean production as well. In 2002, the country imposed taxes on its agricultural exports as a way to generate government revenue. Argentina applies lower export taxes on soybean meal and oil than it does on raw soybeans, which stimulated the construction of large oilseed crushing facilities and, consequently, led to more soybean meal and oil exports. In 2008, the Government of Argentina increased export taxes and imposed a permitting system that further restricted exports of products such as corn, wheat, and beef. Soybean products face fewer obstacles in export markets and abundant opportunities to expand planted area through double cropping and adjusting crop-pasture rotations on marginal lands in the northwest part of Argentina. As a result, Argentina’s soybean area has expanded rapidly and is projected to reach over 22 million hectares by 2025/26. This chart is from the May 2016 Amber Waves article, “Major Factors Affecting Global Soybean and Products Trade Projections.”

Prices for grains and oilseeds projected to remain below recent highs

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Larger global production of grains and oilseeds in response to higher prices in recent years has increased world supplies of corn, wheat, and soybeans. At the same time, income growth in developing countries has weakened and the U.S. dollar has strengthened, affecting both global agricultural demand and U.S. exports, resulting in lower near-term prices for those crops. Longer run developments for global agriculture and U.S. trade reflect steady world economic growth, population gains, and continued global demand for biofuel feedstocks. Those factors combine to support longer run increases in consumption, trade, and prices of agricultural products. Thus, following the near-term declines, moderate prices gains are projected over the next ten years. This chart is from USDA Agricultural Projections to 2025.

Composition of production expenses varies by farm commodity specialization

Friday, June 19, 2015

The variation in the percent of total expenses represented by individual expenses across different types of farms reflects how specialized U.S. agriculture has become. While wide differences generally exist between crop and livestock farms, USDA’s Agricultural Resource Management Survey (ARMS) allows a breakdown of expense shares within the major farm types. Livestock purchases are the largest component of total expenses for beef cattle farms, primarily because of the relatively high cost of feeder steers. Because of the lower cost of their animal purchases, feed expenses are the largest component of total expenses for other animal farms (primarily hog, poultry, and dairy). Specialty crop farms (fruit/nuts, vegetables, and nursery/greenhouse) have a higher share of labor expenses than field crop farms, because they occupy fewer acres and are less mechanized. In contrast, field crop farms, especially corn farms, have higher shares of expenses going to principal crop-related expenses (fertilizer, seeds, and chemicals), and rent. Fuel expenses are relatively consistent, varying between 3 percent of total expenses for other animal farms to 8 percent for other field crop farms. This chart is based on results from USDA’s ARMS Farm Financial and Crop Production Practices data.

Lower energy prices reduce crop production expenses

Friday, June 12, 2015

Oil and natural gas prices dropped in the latter half of 2014, with expectations that energy prices would remain lower than previously projected through 2016. Lower energy prices affect crop production expenses, which in turn influence planting decisions and commodity prices. The effect of energy prices on the cost of producing particular crops depends on the level and share of production costs for direct energy inputs such as fuel and oil, as well as for inputs such as energy-intensive nitrogen fertilizers and agricultural chemicals. Rice, cotton, and corn have high energy-related production expenses, so lower energy prices are expected to reduce operating expenses for those crops the most. Lower production costs provide an incentive to plant additional acreage, so plantings of most crops are expected to rise from what they would have been without the decline in energy prices. The exception is soybeans, whose plantings are estimated to fall initially due to relatively small production cost changes and large cross-commodity influences from corn, as they often compete with one another. Nonetheless, the estimated acreage changes due to lower energy prices are small. This chart is based on information found in Effects of Recent Energy Price Reduction on U.S. Agriculture, BIO-04, June 2015.

California's irrigation varies by crop

Monday, April 27, 2015

The California drought continues into 2015—as of April, 44 percent of the State is classified under the exceptional drought rating (meaning that there are exceptional and widespread crop/pasture losses; and shortages of water in reservoirs, streams, and wells creating water emergencies, as determined by U.S. Drought Monitor, produced by the interdepartmental U.S. Government National Integrated Drought Information System [NIDIS]). Farmers in California grow a wide variety of crops using off-farm surface water, groundwater, and—to a limited extent—on-farm surface water. Crops such as rice, cotton, and beans that are most dependent on off-farm surface water are the most vulnerable to reductions in snowpack and reservoir storage due to the ongoing drought. In addition, farmers use a variety of irrigation technologies to apply water. Farms that use the least amount of gravity irrigation, such as orchards/vineyards/tree nuts, vegetables, and berries, are the most able to limit evaporation losses during the drought. In many cases, the most capital intensive crops and irrigation systems, such as almond orchards using drip irrigation systems, have been strategically located over the most reliable water supplies, which is why these crops are more likely to continue irrigating during the drought. The crops that represent the predominant sources of agricultural water use—orchards, rice, hay, and vegetables—consume large amounts of water primarily because they are grown on large amounts of acreage. This chart visualizes information found in California Drought: Farm and Food Impacts in the ERS newsroom, updated April 2015.

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.

Farm business reliance on energy-intensive inputs varies by commodity specialization

Monday, November 17, 2014

Agricultural businesses, particularly those specializing in crop production, are heavy users of energy and energy-intensive inputs. Ignoring the energy embodied in purchased machinery and services, energy-based purchases accounted for over 25 percent of farm operator expenses in 2012, on average. U.S. farm businesses are classified as industrial users of electricity; poultry production has the highest share of electricity expenses (5 percent) among all types of agricultural producers, while cotton and rice producers have the highest share of electricity expenses (3 percent) among crop producers, primarily for irrigation. While motor fuel accounts for about 6 percent of operator expenses, the farm sector is a heavy indirect consumer of natural gas. For example, up to 80 percent of the manufacturing cost of fertilizer can be for natural gas. Expenditures for fertilizer were over 11 percent of total operator expenses among farm businesses in 2012, with much higher expenditures for most crop farms. Natural gas as a source of electric power has been increasing in recent years, reaching 27 percent of electricity generation in 2013. As a result, the farm sector is particularly sensitive to fluctuations in the price of natural gas. This chart is found in the September 2014 Amber Waves data feature, "Agricultural Energy Use and the Proposed Clean Power Plan."

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