ERS Charts of Note
Monday, April 23, 2018
USDA offers financial assistance to farmers for implementing a wide range of conservation practices through the Environmental Quality Incentives Programs (EQIP). Two of the most popular EQIP practices for addressing soil-related resource concerns are no-till (or strip-till row crop planting) and cover crops. Farmers practicing no-till plant crops without using any sort of plow to turn residue from the prior crop into the soil. Cover crops (such as clover, field peas, and annual ryegrass) are typically grown over the winter, between plantings of commodity crops. Planting a cover crop can improve soil health, reduce erosion, and reduce nutrient pollution to lakes, streams, and rivers. Between 2005 and 2016, USDA funding for cover crops in EQIP increased from about $5 million to more than $90 million in nominal terms. Over this same period, funding for no-till declined, in part due to increasing adoption of no-till by farmers even without payment. The larger total annual obligations for cover crops in more recent years partly reflects the higher per-acre costs of implementing cover crops. This may include seed costs and the cost of removing the cover crop. This chart updates data found in the September 2016 Amber Waves feature, “An Economic Perspective on Soil Health.”
Monday, March 26, 2018
Fertilizers provide nutrients (such as nitrogen) essential in crop production. The amount of fertilizer farmers apply can be affected by changes in fertilizer prices paid, variation in production practice, crop mix, and the prices received from crop sales. Fertilizer prices paid and the prices received for crops increased in tandem at a fairly modest rate from 1960 through 2002. Between 2002 and 2008, annual fertilizer prices paid increased rapidly—generally much faster than increases in crop prices received by farmers—and became more volatile. Fertilizer price increases through 2008 were largely driven by high energy prices and the record costs of natural gas (a basic input to produce nitrogen). In response to record fertilizer prices in 2008, farmers reduced their use of fertilizers, contributing to a large decline (18 percent) in fertilizer prices through 2010. Fertilizer prices recovered somewhat—driven by strong domestic demand for plant nutrients due to high crop prices and limited domestic production capacity—but are currently trending downward, along with crop prices received. This chart appears in the ERS data product Fertilizer Use and Price, updated February 2018.
Tuesday, March 13, 2018
In 2016, the agricultural sector consumed 1,872 trillion Btu of energy, accounting for about 1.9 percent of total U.S. primary energy consumption. Farms consume energy in many forms, mainly diesel (44 percent of direct energy consumption), electricity (24 percent), natural gas (13 percent), gasoline (11 percent), and liquefied petroleum gas (7 percent). Diesel and, to a lesser extent, gasoline are used to power farm machinery. Electricity is used mainly for irrigation, cooling, and lighting. Natural gas and LP gas are used in heating and grain drying. Large amounts of natural gas are required in the manufacturing of fertilizer and pesticide, so these amounts are categorized as indirect energy consumption on farms. Overall, about three-fifths of energy in 2016 used in the agricultural sector was consumed directly on-farm, while two-fifths were consumed indirectly in the form of fertilizer and pesticides. Recent increases in diesel and fertilizer consumption come in response to declining oil and natural gas prices. From 2012 to 2015, agriculture became more energy intensive, as energy consumption grew over 10 percent compared with about 6 percent growth in agricultural output. This chart updates data found in the ERS report, Trends in U.S. Agriculture's Consumption and Production of Energy: Renewable Power, Shale Energy, and Cellulosic Biomass, released August 2016.
Thursday, February 1, 2018
The ERS Major Land Uses (MLU) series defines cropland used for crops as being comprised of three components: cropland harvested, crop failure, and cultivated summer fallow. Collectively, these components represent the land devoted to crop production in a given year. In 2017, cropland harvested declined to 314 million acres, 3 million acres less than the previous year’s area—the lowest recorded harvested cropland area since 2013 (311 million acres). A crop failure increase of 2 million acres largely contributed to this decline. The area that was double cropped, land from which two or more crops were harvested, held constant over the previous year at 6 million acres. Similarly, land used for cultivated summer fallow, which primarily occurs as part of wheat rotations in the semi-arid West, maintained its 2016 level of 12 million acres—the lowest recorded estimate since the start of the MLU series. The larger historical fluctuations in cropland used for crops are primarily attributable to Federal cropland acreage reduction programs, which affect the amount of idled cropland (cropland not directly involved in crop production in a given year). This chart uses historical data from the ERS Major Land Uses series, recently updated to include new 2017 estimates and revised 2016 estimates.
Friday, December 8, 2017
The U.S. land area totals just under 2.3 billion acres. Land used in agriculture has become less common over time, declining from 63 percent in 1949 to 52 percent in 2012 (the latest data available). Gradual declines have occurred in cropland, while grazed forestland has decreased more rapidly. In 2012, 392 million acres of agricultural land were in cropland (18 percent less than in 1949), 655 million acres were in pasture and range (4 percent more), 130 million acres were in grazed forestland (59 percent less), and 8 million acres were in farmsteads and farm roads (45 percent less). In contrast, land used for rural parks and wilderness (included in nonagricultural special uses) has increased by 226 million acres since 1949, contributing to the relative growth in nonagricultural land use over time. Urban land, which represents a relatively small share of the U.S. land base, has nearly tripled in area since 1949 to accommodate economic and population growth. This chart appears in the December 2017 Amber Waves data feature, "A Primer on Land Use in the United States."
Tuesday, December 5, 2017
In 2013, large-scale U.S. irrigated farms, those with $1 million or more in annual farm sales, accounted for most (about 79 percent) of the value of irrigated farm production. Large-scale farms also accounted for over half of the irrigated acres in the open (AIO) and about 60 percent of applied water. These farms dominate these characteristics largely because their size allows them to spread costs over many more acres. For example, in the West, irrigation pumping costs per acre for large-scale farms generally average about half that for low-sales farms, those with under $150,000 in farm sales. In total, U.S. farms irrigated about 55.4 million acres, which required the application of more than 88.5 million acre-feet (MAF) of water—equivalent to about 28.8 trillion gallons. The irrigation of AIO accounted for nearly all the water use (98 percent). Crops irrigated on AIO include corn, wheat, and soybeans as well as vegetables, berries, and nut trees. This chart appears in the June 2017 Amber Waves data feature, "Understanding Irrigated Agriculture."
Tuesday, October 31, 2017
Of the 914 million acres of land in U.S. farms in 2012 (the latest data), 61 percent were owner-operated. The remaining land was rented, either from another farm operator or from a non-operator (an owner not actively engaged in farming). Farmland tenure arrangements vary across the country, with higher shares of renting and non-operator ownership in the Midwest and Plains regions. This geographic pattern is due to commodity specialization: the majority of land used to grow cotton and cash grains (such as rice, corn, soybeans, and wheat) is rented. According to data from the 2014 TOTAL Survey, cropland (54 percent) is more likely to be rented than pastureland (28 percent). This pattern is attributable to several factors, including the relatively low cost of purchasing pastureland compared to cropland. This chart appears in the August 2017 ERS report Major Uses of Land in the United States, 2012.
Tuesday, September 19, 2017
With less labor and land being used in production over time, U.S. agriculture depends on raising the productivity of these resources for growth. Average national corn yield (a productivity measure) rose from around 30 bushels per acre in the 1930s (where it stood since USDA began measuring them in the 1860s) to nearly 180 bushels per acre in the present decade. This sustained growth in productivity was driven by the development and rapid adoption of a series of successive biological, chemical, and mechanical innovations. Every few years farmers adopt the latest hybrid seed variety, for example. These seeds are likely to have multiple genetically modified (GM) traits designed to protect the crop against pests and diseases or infer other valuable qualities—such as resistance to the corn borer, a major insect pest of the crop. Recently, the rapid adoption of tractor guidance systems has greatly improved the speed and efficiency of tillage and planting operations and the precision of seed, fertilizer, and pesticide applications. By 2010, such systems were used on 45 percent of corn planted acres. This chart updates data found in the ERS report, The Seed Industry in U.S. Agriculture: An Exploration of Data and Information on Crop Seed Markets, Regulation, Industry Structure, and Research and Development, released February 2004.
Friday, August 11, 2017
There are two main types of irrigation systems: gravity and pressurized irrigation. Gravity irrigation uses the force of gravity and field borders or furrows to distribute water across a field. Pressurized irrigation, on the other hand, delivers water to the field under pressure in lateral, hand-move, and center-pivot pipe systems with attached sprinklers. In the 17 most Western States—where water use for agriculture was greatest—total irrigated acres and total water use remained relatively stable between 1984 and 2013, the latest data available. However, the share of water applied using gravity systems steadily declined from 71 percent in 1984 to 41 percent in 2013. Meanwhile, the share using pressure-sprinkler systems steadily increased from 28 percent in 1984 to 59 percent in 2013. Irrigated acres followed similar trends, with acreage using gravity systems declining over time and pressure-sprinkler systems increasing. During that period of time, irrigators shifted to using more pressure-sprinkler systems to improve their irrigation efficiency and to reduce irrigation costs. This chart appears in the June 2017 Amber Waves data feature, "Understanding Irrigated Agriculture."
Monday, June 12, 2017
The irrigation of agricultural land varies across farm sizes. Most irrigated farms in 2013 (about two-thirds) were low-sales operations with under $150,000 in annual gross cash farm income (GCFI). Low-sales farms that irrigate average less than 50 irrigated crop acres per farm—compared to 1,200 acres for large-scale irrigated farms with $1 million or more in GCFI. However, large-scale farms accounted for over half of irrigated acres, 60 percent of applied water, and 79 percent of the value of irrigated farm production. Large-scale farms dominate these characteristics because their size allows them to spread costs over many more acres (compared to other farms). For example, irrigation pumping costs for large-scale farms in the West generally average about half that for low-sales farms. In 2013, U.S. farms irrigated about 55.4 million acres and applied more than 88.5 million acre-feet (MAF) of water, equivalent to about 28.8 trillion gallons. The irrigation of cropland—which included crops like corn, wheat, and soybeans—accounted for nearly all the water use (98 percent). This chart appears in the June 2017 Amber Waves data feature, "Understanding Irrigated Agriculture."
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.
Friday, May 5, 2017
Efficient irrigation systems can help maintain farm profitability in an era of increasingly limited and more costly water supplies. More efficient gravity irrigation uses the force of gravity and field borders or furrows to distribute water across a field. It may also use laser-leveling to improve flood irrigation. More efficient pressure-sprinkler irrigation delivers water under lower pressure sprinklers and systems using drip/trickle tubes and micro-spray nozzles. The efficiency of irrigation systems is particularly important in the Western States—such as Nebraska, California, and Texas—where water demand for agriculture is greatest and diminishing water supplies are expected to affect future water availability. Data from USDA’s Farm and Ranch Irrigation Survey (FRIS) show that irrigated agriculture in the West has become more efficient over time. More efficient irrigation systems (both gravity and pressure-sprinkler) were used on about 36 percent of total irrigated acres in the West in 1994, but increased to nearly half by 2013. More efficient pressure-sprinkler irrigation alone accounted for about 15 percent in 1994, but more than 37 percent in 2013. The share of acres using more efficient gravity systems peaked in the late 1990s, but then declined as farmers increasingly turned to the even more efficient pressure-sprinkler systems. This chart is based on the ERS data product U.S. Irrigated Agriculture in the United States, released April 2017.
Friday, April 14, 2017
Females comprised nearly 14 percent of U.S. principal operators—the individual most responsible for the day-to-day decisions on the farm (or ranch)—in 2012. Considering additional, secondary operators as well as principal operators, however, gives a more complete picture of the involvement of females in farming. Including secondary operators more than triples the count of female farmers—from about 288,300 to nearly 970,000—and increases their share of farm operators to almost 31 percent. Including secondary operators has less of an effect on the number of male farmers, increasing their count by 21 percent, from about 1.8 to 2.2 million. Female secondary operators tend to be less involved in farming than female primary operators. About 33 percent of female secondary operators report farming as their major occupation, compared with 43 percent of female primary operators. Roughly 40 percent of secondary female operators work off-farm at least 200 days per year, slightly higher than the corresponding 35-percent estimate for female principal operators. This chart updates data from the ERS report Characteristics of Women Farm Operators and Their Farms, released April 2013.
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.
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.
Friday, February 17, 2017
Some USDA programs offer financial and technical assistance to farmers who volunteer to implement conservation practices. The Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) is one such program that provides assistance to livestock producers to improve nutrient management and to reduce manure nutrient runoff. Nationally, 60 percent of EQIP funding is designated for livestock producers. Between 2006 and 2013, EQIP issued 7,452 contracts to producers in Chesapeake Bay counties alone—totaling nearly $243 million (adjusted for inflation). On average, that amounted to 932 contracts and $30 million per year over that period (in 2013 dollars). Each EQIP contract may fund multiple conservation practices. The largest share of spending was for waste-storage facilities, followed by protection of heavy-use areas to reduce sedimentation and nutrient runoff. This chart appears in the ERS report, Comparing Participation in Nutrient Trading by Livestock Operations to Crop Producers in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, released in September 2016.
Monday, February 13, 2017
Landowners can lease farmland for energy production, such as for oil exploration or wind turbines. For example, households that own the oil and gas rights for their property or for land in other States may lease these rights to an energy company. In 2014, the majority of income from royalties or leases associated with energy production was earned from selling or leasing these rights. In Oklahoma, Utah, and Kansas, about 20 percent of farms received income from energy production. In States with active development of shale oil or gas, about 12 percent of farms received an average income of $65,781 from energy production—compared with 6 percent and $56,162 for the entire United States. Average payments were highest in North Dakota ($157,000) and Pennsylvania ($154,000), mainly due to oil and gas drilling in the Bakken and Marcellus shales. Total payments from energy companies to farms reached $2.9 billion in 2014, up from $2.3 billion in 2011. This chart appears in the November 2016 Amber Waves article, Share of Farm Businesses Receiving Lease and Royalty Income From Energy Production Varies Across Regions.
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.
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.
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.