ERS Charts of Note
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Thursday, March 30, 2017
Precision agriculture (PA) delivers localized crop production management through a number of different technologies, including guidance systems, and variable rate technology (VRT). These technologies require a significant investment of capital and time, but may offer cost savings and higher yields through more precise management of agricultural inputs like pesticides and fertilizers. For example, VRT adapts machinery and field operation equipment—such as sprayers and seeders—to automatically control input flow rates for precise field locations. Guidance systems, on the other hand, use GPS to automatically steer farm equipment—such as combines and tractors—helping reduce operator fatigue. In 2012 (the most recent data available), yield monitors and guidance systems had the highest rate of adoption on soybean farms: 51 and 34 percent, respectively. For all PA technologies, the percent of soybean cropland acres was higher than the percent of farms—showing that larger farms have higher adoption rates for these technologies. Soybeans are the second most planted crop in the United States, after corn. Farms often rotate soybeans annually with corn, so PA adoption rates for these two major crops were relatively similar. This chart appears in the ERS report Farm Profits and Adoption of Precision Agriculture, released October 2016.
Wednesday, February 1, 2017
The ERS Major Land Uses (MLU) series estimates land in various uses, including the acres devoted to crop production in a given year. These acres, collectively referred to as “cropland used for crops,” include acres of cropland harvested, acres on which crops failed, and cultivated summer fallow. At 318 million acres, cropland harvested in 2016 is estimated to have increased by 2 million acres from the previous year—returning to levels in 2014 and matching the highest cropland harvested area since 1997 (321 million acres). The area that was double cropped (two or more crops harvested) declined by 1 million acres, while land that experienced crop failure held constant at 7 million acres in 2016—remaining well below its 20-year average of 10 million acres. Cultivated summer fallow, which primarily occurs as part of wheat rotations in the semiarid West, continued its long-term decline and reached its lowest level (12 million acres) since the start of the MLU series. The larger historical fluctuations seen in cropland used for crops are largely attributable to Federal cropland acreage reduction programs, such as the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). Initiated in 1985, the CRP pays farmers to keep idle environmentally sensitive land that could otherwise be used in crop production. This chart uses historical data from the ERS MLU series, recently updated to include 2016 estimates.
Wednesday, December 14, 2016
Farmers and ranchers use a number of practices to build or restore soil health. One such practice is cover cropping. Farmers plant cover crops or cover crop mixes between plantings of commodity crops (usually in the winter). Reasons for planting cover crops include reducing erosion, preserving soil moisture, and increasing organic matter. Common cover crops include clover, field peas, and annual ryegrass. Cover crops are not harvested and so do not provide revenue for a farmer, although sometimes farms get direct value out of a cover crop through grazing their livestock on the crop. The use of cover cropping is concentrated in the southern and eastern United States. Regional differences in the adoption of cover cropping may be related to differences in climate, regional agricultural markets, and State incentive programs. For example, Maryland has relatively high rates of adoption because of a program that pays farmers to grow cover crops in order to improve water quality in the Chesapeake Bay. This chart appears in the September 2016 Amber Waves feature, “An Economic Perspective on Soil Health.”
Monday, December 12, 2016
Precision agriculture delivers localized crop production management through a number of different technologies. One of them, variable rate technology (VRT), adapts machinery and field operation equipment—such as sprayers and seeders—to automatically control input flow rates. Farmers can even use VRT to plant different types of seeds at different locations with a single pass of the tractor. However, installing and maintaining equipment with VRT capabilities comes at a relatively high cost. Empirical estimates showed that, in 2010, VRT still improved profits on corn farms by about 1 percent. Between 2010 and 2013, VRT adoption also reached about 20 percent of planted acres in corn, soybean, rice, and peanut production. This chart appears in the ERS report Farm Profits and Adoption of Precision Agriculture, released October 18, 2016.
Friday, October 28, 2016
Since the early 2000s, farms have increased renewable energy production with technologies like solar panels, wind turbines, and methane digesters. From 2007 to 2012, the number of farms generating on-farm renewable energy more than doubled to nearly 58,000—or 2.7 percent of U.S. farms. This does not include the roughly 16,600 farms that leased wind rights to others or that produced ethanol and biodiesel on the farm. Adoption of on-farm renewable energy systems varies across the country but it is concentrated in the Western United States, Illinois, and New England. In these regions, about two in five farm businesses produce renewable energy in some counties. The Southeastern States, which have fewer subsidies and programs supporting renewable power, had low adoption rates. This chart appears in the August 2016 ERS report Trends in U.S. Agriculture’s Consumption and Production of Energy: Renewable Power, Shale Energy, and Cellulosic Biomass.
Tuesday, October 25, 2016
Farmers can receive Federal financial assistance for implementing a wide range of conservation practices from the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). Adopting no-till and planting cover crops are two common agricultural practices that can improve soil health. Farmers receiving payments for no-till agree to plant crops without using any sort of plow to turn residue from the prior crop into the soil. Those receiving payments for cover crops plant certain crops (such as clover, field peas, and annual ryegrass) or a mixture of crops to maintain cover and add organic matter. Cover crops are usually grown over the winter, between plantings of commodity crops. From 2005 to 2013, USDA funding for cover crops in EQIP increased ten-fold—from about $5 million to more than $50 million in nominal terms. Over this same period, funding for no-till adoption declined. This shift in focus can be attributed to a variety of factors, such as increasing adoption of no-till by farmers even without payment and improving availability of cover crop seeds and educational materials. This chart appears in the September 2016 Amber Waves feature, “An Economic Perspective on Soil Health.”
Wednesday, October 19, 2016
Guidance systems use global positioning system (GPS) coordinates to automatically steer farm equipment like combines, tractors, and self-propelled sprayers. Guidance systems help reduce operator fatigue and pinpoint precise field locations, within a few inches. Freed from steering, operators can access timely coordinates from a screen, monitor other equipment systems more closely, and correct problems more quickly. Guidance systems also reduce costs by improving the precision of sprays and the seeding of field crop rows. Between 2010 and 2013, these systems were adopted on 45 to 55 percent of planted acres for several major crops, including rice, peanuts, and corn. Once adopted for a particular crop, the use of guidance systems tends to be rapidly adopted by other crop farmers. The ease-of-use and functionality of these systems has also increased along with adoption rates. This chart appears in the ERS report Farm Profits and Adoption of Precision Agriculture , released October 18, 2016.
Friday, October 14, 2016
Farms rely on electricity to power many essential systems, including irrigation, ventilation, and heating and cooling. Sometimes, due to seasonal demand, farms pay high prices for electricity. How much farms spend on electricity as a percentage of total expenses in a given year varies with farm size and principal commodity. In 2014, the highest share of electricity expenses by commodity were on farms concentrating on the production of peanuts (5.5 percent). By farm size, small poultry producers had the highest share of electricity expenses, 12.8 percent—about 8 times more than large poultry producers. With the exception of peanut producers, large farms had the lowest shares of electricity expenditure among all farm sizes. Large peanut producers likely had a higher share of electricity expenses compared to small producers because irrigation and on-farm drying of harvested peanuts were more economical on large farms. This chart appears in the August 2016 ERS report Trends in U.S. Agriculture’s Consumption and Production of Energy: Renewable Power, Shale Energy, and Cellulosic Biomass.
Friday, September 30, 2016
In 2010, to help meet water quality goals, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) adopted a limit on the amount of pollutants that the Chesapeake Bay can receive. Nitrogen and phosphorus, in particular, can lead to adverse effects on public health, recreation, and ecosystems when present in excess amounts. The EPA estimates that applications of manure contribute 15 percent of nitrogen and 37 percent of phosphorus loadings to the Bay. Furthermore, ERS estimates that animal feeding operations (AFOs), which raise animals in confinement, account for 88 percent of manure nitrogen and 84 percent of manure phosphorus generation in that watershed. ERS also estimates that about a third of nitrogen and half of phosphorus produced at AFOs can be recovered for later use. That adds to about 234 million pounds of nitrogen and 106 million pounds of phosphorus recovered. These nutrients can then be redistributed regionally to fertilize agricultural land, thereby lessening nutrient run-off problems in the Bay. The remaining nutrients cannot be recovered. Both nitrogen and phosphorus may be lost during collection, storage, and transportation; nitrogen may also volatize into the atmosphere. This chart is based on the ERS report Comparing Participation in Nutrient Trading by Livestock Operations to Crop Producers in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, released in September 2016.
Monday, August 15, 2016
Farms consume energy directly in the form of gasoline, diesel, electricity, and natural gas; and indirectly in energy-intensive inputs such as fertilizer and pesticides. Farm businesses—operations with annual gross cash farm income of over $350,000 or smaller operations where farming is reported as the operator’s primary occupation—vary in mix and intensity of direct and indirect energy use. In 2014, farm businesses concentrating on rice, peanut, wheat, and cotton production spent 43-49 percent of their total cash expenses on direct and indirect energy inputs, more than any other crop and livestock producers. Fertilizer and pesticides, which are indirect energy uses because they require large amounts of energy to manufacture, account for the greatest share of energy expenses among farm businesses primarily producing crops. For livestock producers, feed is also an important indirect energy expense but, in this analysis, these costs are accounted for in the crop budgets. Fertilizer expenses accounted for 18-22 percent of total cash expenses for farm businesses concentrating in wheat, corn, and other cash-grain production, and 14-17 percent for farm businesses primarily producing other field crops. Cotton and rice production were associated with relatively high shares of direct energy inputs: fuel is used to apply chemicals and electricity powers irrigation equipment. Peanut producers, which use electricity for irrigation and on-farm drying of harvested peanuts, had the highest share of electricity use at 6 percent, followed by farm businesses concentrating on poultry and cotton at 4 percent. 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.
Monday, May 2, 2016
For weed control, U.S. corn and soybean farmers rely on chemical herbicides which were applied to more than 95 percent of U.S. corn acres in 2010 and soybean acres in 2012. Over the course of the last two decades, U.S. corn and soybean farmers have increased their use of glyphosate (the active ingredient in herbicide products such as Roundup) and decreased their use of herbicide products containing other active ingredients. This shift contributed to the development of over 14 glyphosate-resistant weed species in U.S. crop production areas. Glyphosate resistance management practices (RMPs) include herbicide rotation, tillage, scouting for weeds, and other forms of weed control. In some cases, ERS found that usage rates for RMPs increased from 1996 to 2012. In other cases, RMP use dropped from 1996 to 2005/06 but increased as information about glyphosate-resistant weeds spread. For example, herbicides other than glyphosate were applied on 93 percent of planted soybean acres in 1996, 29 percent in 2006, and then 56 percent in 2012. This chart is found in the April 2016 Amber Waves finding, “U.S. Corn and Soybean Farmers Apply a Wide Variety of Glyphosate Resistance Management Practices.”
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.
Tuesday, April 12, 2016
The ERS Major Land Uses (MLU) data series provides a snapshot of land use across the United States. While much of the MLU series is updated roughly every 5 years, cropland used for crops, the category representing the acres of land in active crop production, is updated on an annual basis. Cropland used for crops has three main components: cropland harvested (including acreage double-cropped), crop failure, and cultivated summer fallow. In 2015 (the most recent estimate), the total area of cropland used for crops in the United States was 335 million acres, down 6 million acres from the 2014 estimate and about 5 percent below the 30-year average. In 2015, cropland harvested declined by 1 percent (3 million acres) over the previous year. The area that was double-cropped—land from which two or more crops were harvested—declined by 1 million acres, a 13-percent decline from the 2014 double-cropped area of 8 million acres. Acres on which crops failed declined by 30 percent over the past year to 7 million acres, the lowest level since 2010. This chart is based on ERS’s Major Land Uses, summary table 3: Cropland used for crops, updated March 25, 2016.
Thursday, March 17, 2016
Livestock farmers use antibiotics to treat, control, and prevent disease, and also for production purposes, such as increasing growth and feed efficiency. A new U.S. Food and Drug Administration initiative seeks to eliminate the use of medically important antibiotics for production purposes. In the 2011 Agricultural Resource Management Survey (ARMS) on broilers (the most recent year available), producers were asked whether they raised their broilers without antibiotics in their feed or water unless the birds were sick, which implies not using antibiotics for growth promotion or disease prevention. In 2011, growers reported that about half of birds (48 percent) were only given antibiotics for disease treatment. This response also accounts for 48 percent of operations and 48 percent of production (by live weight). Approximately a third (32 percent) of operators stated that they did not know if they provided antibiotics via feed or water for purposes other than disease treatment; this means the proportion of reporting operations that only supplied antibiotics for disease-treatment purposes could be as high as 80 percent. Contracted growers (accounting for 96 percent of broiler production) may not know if antibiotics are in the feed provided by the company for whom they raise broilers. These statistics suggest that in 2011, between 20 and 52 percent of birds were given antibiotics for reasons other than disease treatment. This chart is found in the Amber Waves feature, “Restrictions on Antibiotic Use for Production Purposes in U.S. Livestock Industries Likely To Have Small Effects on Prices and Quantities,” November 2015.
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.
Restrictions on antibiotic use for production purposes in U.S. hogs and broilers likely to have modest effects on prices, quantities
Tuesday, February 2, 2016
Livestock farmers use antibiotics to treat, control, and prevent disease, and also for production purposes, such as increasing growth and feed efficiency. A new U.S. Food and Drug Administration initiative seeks to eliminate the use of medically important antibiotics for production purposes. ERS research shows that only a portion of hog and broiler producers use antibiotics for production purposes, and the productivity increases from such uses are 1-3 percent. Modelling the effect of production-specific antibiotic restrictions suggests that such a policy would have a modest effect on wholesale prices and quantities produced of chicken and pork—less than a 1-percent increase in wholesale prices and a net decline in production of less than 0.5 percent. Because prices increase more than quantities decrease, gross revenues (price times quantity) would increase slightly. This chart is based on the table found in the Amber Waves feature, “Restrictions on Antibiotic Use for Production Purposes in U.S. Livestock Industries Likely To Have Small Effects on Prices and Quantities,” November 2015.
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.
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.
Monday, November 30, 2015
Hog producers use Hog producers use antibiotic drugs to treat/control animal diseases, but they also feed them to their hogs to prevent disease and to promote faster growth through improved absorption of feed. There is growing concern that widespread use of antibiotics in humans and animals may encourage microbial resistance and make the drugs less effective for maintaining their health, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is moving to end the growth-promotion uses of medically important antibiotics in animal agriculture. Antibiotic use varies across the hog sector, according to a USDA survey of hog producers, and the FDA’s action will affect some but not all producers. Over half of pigs in the nursery stage do not receive antibiotics for growth promotion, and that figure could be as high as 75 percent, because 26 percent of hogs were raised by growers that stated they did not know if antibiotics are in the feed. Some contract growers don’t know if antibiotics are in the feed provided by the company for whom they raise hogs. Antibiotics are more likely to be used for growth promotion in finishing hogs (those being fed to market weight), but even here at least 40 percent of hogs did not receive the drugs for growth promotion. This chart is found in the ERS report, Economics of Antibiotic Use in U.S. Livestock Production, ERR-200, November 24, 2015. antibiotic drugs to treat/control animal diseases, but they also feed them to their hogs to prevent disease and to promote faster growth through improved absorption of feed. There is growing concern that widespread use of antibiotics in humans and animals may encourage microbial resistance and make the drugs less effective for maintaining their health, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is moving to end the growth-promotion uses of medically important antibiotics in animal agriculture. Antibiotic use varies across the hog sector, according to a USDA survey of hog producers, and the FDA?s action will affect some but not all producers. Over half of pigs in the nursery stage do not receive antibiotics for growth promotion, and that figure could be as high as 75 percent, because 26 percent of hogs were raised by growers that stated they did not know if antibiotics are in the feed. Some contract growers don?t know if antibiotics are in the feed provided by the company for whom they raise hogs. Antibiotics are more likely to be used for growth promotion in finishing hogs (those being fed to market weight), but even here at least 40 percent of hogs did not receive the drugs for growth promotion. This chart is found in the ERS report, Economics of Antibiotic Use in U.S. Livestock Production, ERR-200, November 24, 2015.