ERS Charts of Note
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Monday, June 6, 2022
Conservation technical assistance is a service that helps producers develop skills and knowledge for maintaining the natural resources involved in agricultural production. USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) provides technical assistance through several different programs. The Conservation Technical Assistance (CTA) program provides comprehensive planning services and technical support for the adoption of conservation practices across the agricultural landscape. NRCS also provides free technical assistance to producers and landowners participating in working lands programs such as the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) that primarily provide financial assistance for practice adoption. Similarly, NRCS provides technical support for participants in land conservation programs, which provide financial payments to producers and landowners that put land into long-term conservation, such as the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). Finally, NRCS administers several science and technology programs, among which the largest amount of funding goes to soil surveys. Spending for the CTA program has decreased in the studied period (2002-2019) by 23 percent, once adjusted for inflation. On the other hand, spending on technical assistance in support of working lands programs that primarily provide financial assistance has increased over the period from $163 million to $761 million. Spending on technical assistance for land conservation has increased, and spending on science and technology has decreased over the same period. This chart was drawn from the USDA, Economic Research Service report USDA Conservation Technical Assistance and Within-Field Resource Concerns, published May 2022.
Wednesday, June 1, 2022
USDA asked farmers to self-report soil and water related resource concerns on their cotton, wheat, oat, and soybean fields for USDA’s 2015, 2017, and 2018 Agricultural Resource Management Survey (ARMS). USDA also asked farmers to report any sources of technical assistance which helped address their on-field soil and water concerns. USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) defines a resource concern as an expected degradation of a natural resource used in farming to the degree that its sustainability or intended use is impaired. NRCS provides free technical assistance both as a standalone service under the Conservation Technical Assistance program (CTA) and to support implementation of practices receiving financial assistance from programs such as the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). Producers can also seek technical assistance from other USDA agencies, the Cooperative Extension System, or sources such as conservation districts or State agencies. According to recent ARMS data, about 67 percent of fields that received any technical assistance received it from NRCS, with 46 percent of assisted fields receiving assistance exclusively from NRCS. Twenty five percent of assisted fields received assistance from multiple sources. This chart was drawn from the USDA, Economic Research Service report USDA Conservation Technical Assistance and Within-Field Resource Concerns, published May 5, 2022.
Friday, May 20, 2022
Researchers at USDA, Economic Research Service (ERS) used the USDA’s Agricultural Resource Management Survey (ARMS) to identify farmers’ concerns about soil erosion on their fields, specifically fields growing oats or cotton in 2015, wheat in 2017, and soybeans in 2018. Across all acreage represented in the selected ARMS data, farmers reported that 25 percent of acres had water-driven erosion and 16 percent had wind-driven erosion. ERS researchers compared these self-reported measures to estimates from the National Resources Inventory (NRI), a science-based assessment conducted by USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service. The 2017 NRI found that about 18 percent of cultivated cropland had water-driven erosion. For the NRI, a field is determined as having a problem with water-driven erosion if annual soil losses exceed its soil loss tolerance, which is the maximum rate of annual soil loss that still permits sustained economic crop production. The NRI assessment also found that about 14 percent of all cultivated cropland had more soil losses from wind-driven erosion than its soil loss tolerance. The difference in rates of erosion between the two data sources may reflect farmer perceptions about what is considered an erosion problem relative to the criteria used in the NRI. This chart can be found in the ERS report USDA Conservation Technical Assistance and Within-Field Resource Concerns, published in May 2022.
Friday, May 6, 2022
When management practices degrade a natural resource used in farming to the degree that its sustainability or intended use is impaired, then a given land unit is said to have a resource concern. The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has identified 47 specific resource concerns affecting crop fields in the United States. ERS researchers classified the soil and water resource concerns from this list into seven broad categories in USDA’s Agricultural Resource Management Survey (ARMS). These seven broad concerns are on-field water quality, low organic matter, poor drainage, soil compaction, wind-driven erosion, water-driven erosion, and other concerns. Cotton, wheat, oat, and soybean farmers were asked to report if they were experiencing one or multiple of the seven categories of concerns on the fields surveyed by ARMS between 2015 and 2018. Overall, farmers represented across these surveys reported that 49 percent of their fields had at least one resource concern and 26 percent of their fields had two or more concerns. The percentages of fields with at least one self-reported resource concern varied by region. Resource concerns were most common in the Midwest, the largest region by the number of fields, and were least common in the South. Farmers growing soybeans reported that about 51 percent of their fields have one or multiple resource concerns. Farmers growing durum wheat, which covers 2-5 percent of the total wheat area in the country, reported one or more resource concerns on about 40 percent of fields. This chart is drawn from the USDA, Economic Research Service report “USDA Conservation Technical Assistance and Within-Field Resource Concerns,” published May 2022.
Wednesday, April 6, 2022
Guidelines for implementing drought-induced water restrictions on water deliveries and pumping are the most common component in the formal drought plans of irrigation organizations. In the 2019 Survey of Irrigation Organizations, USDA asked groundwater organizations and water delivery organizations, such as irrigation districts and ditch companies, questions about their formal drought planning. Around one-fifth of all organizations had a formal, written drought plan. Between 69 percent and 73 percent of water delivery organization plans and 80 percent of groundwater organization plans included details about drought-induced water restrictions as a component of their plans. Land fallowing provisions and off-year water storage strategies typically occurred in fewer than 20 percent of plans for most organizations. About one-third of large delivery organization plans included provisions for price increases and water supply augmentation during drought by purchasing additional water. This chart was drawn from the USDA, Economic Research Service report Irrigation Organizations: Drought Planning and Response (EB-33), published January 6, 2022.
Thursday, February 17, 2022
Irrigation delivery organizations, such as irrigation districts, ditch companies, mutuals and acequias, provide water to farms and ranches and can vary in size. The USDA 2019 Survey of Irrigation Organizations collected data about them in the 24 States where these organizations are most common. Analysis of the survey data indicated that most irrigation organizations are small or medium in scale based on the number of agricultural acres they serve. An estimated 44 percent serve fewer than 1,000 irrigable acres, and 40 percent serve between 1,000 and 10,000 acres. However, most land and off-farm irrigation water are supplied by large delivery organizations, which serve more than 10,000 acres. While they represent only 16 percent of organizations, they serve 78 percent of irrigated acres with off-farm water and deliver 80 percent of off-farm water. This chart appears in the ERS report Irrigation Organizations: Drought Planning and Response, release January 2022.
Monday, October 18, 2021
Errata: On October 22, 2021, the map presented in this Chart of Note was revised to show the correct number of counties in the contiguous United States.
Focusing on the rapid rise and decline of oil production in the 1970s and 1980s, researchers at USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS), the University of Oregon, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison studied the cumulative effects of oil booms (and subsequent busts) on households living in counties with the most dependence on oil extraction. The authors identified individuals living in “boom counties” in 1980, defined as those with greater than 2.5 percent employment in oil and natural gas extraction. On average, the incomes of boom households increased by $5,000 dollars annually during the early years of the 1975-1979 oil boom and $6,900 per year during the later boom of 1980-1984, compared with similar households in counties that were not producing oil. The subsequent bust, however, reduced household incomes on average by more than $8,000 annually from 1985 to 1992. These losses were driven in part by increased unemployment and the dissipation of relative wage gains during the boom. The earlier oil boom and bust appeared to have no effect on household income after 1993. The average household in a boom county saw cumulative income losses of $7,600 compared with households in non-boom counties between 1969 and 2012, the final year of the study. These income losses were experienced entirely by workers in their prime working age of 25-54. Boom household heads above 54 were also about 15 percent less likely to retire from 1989 to 1992, compared with non-boom household heads. To estimate the effects of booms and busts on employment, the researchers used annual household-level survey data from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics. This chart appears in the Amber Waves finding “Oil Booms Can Reduce Lifetime Earnings and Delay Retirement,” published October 2021.
Monday, September 27, 2021
Dicamba is a common herbicide used to control annual and perennial broadleaf weeds. Federal and State restrictions for the use of dicamba can influence a farmer’s decision to adopt genetically engineered dicamba-tolerant (DT) seeds. In 2019, for example, Federal restrictions limited the application of dicamba on cotton fields from one hour after sunrise to two hours before sunset, limited applications to 60 days after planting cotton, and required that fields in areas with endangered plant species maintain buffers on all sides of the field. Different States imposed additional restrictions or extensions for dicamba application. For example, Georgia, Oklahoma, and Texas were among states that expanded the dicamba spraying window further into the growing season from the allowed 60 days after planting by granting Special Local Need registrations to their farmers, which were allowed at the time. Data from USDA’s 2019 Agricultural Resource Management Survey show that, in States with earlier dicamba cut-off dates, less dicamba was applied after planting during the growing season. In Arkansas and Louisiana, where cut-off dates occur early in the growing season, 16 percent and 23 percent, respectively, of DT cotton acres were sprayed with dicamba after planting in 2019. By contrast, Georgia allows dicamba spraying until one week before harvest, which can occur as late as December. About 57 percent of DT cotton acres received after-planting applications of dicamba in Georgia in 2019. In 2020, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency instituted a single nationwide cut-off date of July 30. This chart appears in the July 2021 Amber Waves data feature, “Adoption of Genetically Engineered Dicamba-Tolerant Cotton Seeds is Prevalent Throughout the United States.”
Friday, July 30, 2021
In 2016, cotton farmers began using genetically engineered (GE) cotton seeds that were tolerant of the herbicide dicamba, which controls annual and perennial broadleaf weeds. Before the commercialization of dicamba-tolerant (DT) seeds, cotton farmers had widely adopted GE glyphosate- and glufosinate-tolerant crop varieties. As adoption rates of these herbicide-tolerant crops increased, the use of glyphosate and glufosinate also increased, particularly glyphosate. On some fields, a small number of naturally resistant weeds, from a small number of weed species, were able to withstand glyphosate applications. Over time, these weeds bred and spread, passing on their natural resistance to the next generation. By 2019, there were glyphosate-tolerant weeds in most cotton-producing States, leading to a reduction in the herbicide’s effectiveness. Initially, farmers increased glyphosate application amount and frequency to overcome this problem, but as resistance worsened, farmers included additional herbicides, such as dicamba. Data from USDA’s 2019 Agricultural Resource Management Survey showed that farmers observed declines in the effectiveness of glyphosate in all States surveyed. Generally, there appeared to be more DT seed use where farmers reported a decline in the effectiveness of glyphosate. However, the States with the most glyphosate-resistant weeds were not always the States with the most DT cotton. For example, a decline in the effectiveness of glyphosate was observed on about 68 percent of the planted cotton acreage in Texas, but DT seeds were planted on only 63 percent of that State’s cotton acreage. This chart appears in the July 2021 Amber Waves data feature Adoption of Genetically Engineered Dicamba-Tolerant Cotton Seeds is Prevalent Throughout the United States.
Wednesday, July 7, 2021
Weed management, which increases the quality of the harvest and farm profit, is an essential component of cotton production. A common herbicide used to control annual and perennial broadleaf weeds is dicamba. In 2016, Monsanto first commercialized genetically engineered (GE) dicamba-tolerant (DT) cotton seeds. The genetic engineering process inserts into a plant’s genome traits, such as the ability to tolerate herbicide applications. Data from USDA’s Agricultural Resource Management Survey, which covered the majority of cotton-producing States, show that U.S. farmers quickly adopted DT cotton seeds. By 2019, the percentage of upland cotton (cotton with short staple length) acres planted with DT seeds had reached 69 percent in the 12 surveyed States. The States with the most DT seed use in 2019 were Mississippi, Missouri, South Carolina, and Tennessee—in which approximately 88 percent, 85 percent, 83 percent, and 80 percent of cotton acres were planted with DT varieties, respectively. This chart appears in the July 2021 Amber Waves data feature, Adoption of Genetically Engineered Dicamba-Tolerant Cotton Seeds is Prevalent Throughout the United States.
Thursday, February 18, 2021
According to USDA’s 2019 Survey of Irrigation Organizations, irrigation delivery organizations such as irrigation districts and ditch companies supplied an estimated 41.4 million acre-feet of off-farm water to U.S. farms and ranches in 2019. These organizations also delivered water to other customers: 2.3 million acre-feet to domestic users, 1.5 million acre-feet to industrial users, and 1.5 million acre-feet to other irrigation organizations. In addition, organizations intentionally released water from their systems for other purposes, including 3.1 million acre-feet for downstream users, 1.2 million acre-feet for managed groundwater recharge, and 1.0 million acre-feet to meet environmental requirements. Beyond these intentional deliveries and releases, a total of 10.7 million acre-feet of water left organization systems as conveyance losses, which represents water lost to groundwater seepage or evaporation during transport or storage. This implies an average conveyance loss rate of 16 percent. As the second largest outflow from water delivery systems, reducing conveyance losses is an important focus for water conservation efforts. However, hydrologic systems are complex natural systems, so conveyance losses in many cases provide benefits elsewhere in the environment. For example, conveyance losses may provide unmanaged groundwater recharge or indirect flows into surface water systems that can support wildlife habitat. This chart is based on data found in USDA’s Survey of Irrigation Organizations, updated December 17, 2020.
Monday, February 8, 2021
USDA’s 2019 Survey of Irrigation Organizations identified 2,543 irrigation organizations that delivered off-farm water directly to U.S. farms and ranches, including irrigation districts, ditch companies, acequias, and similar entities. Water is measured in “acre-feet,” or the amount of water needed to cover one acre of land under a foot of water. Irrigation delivery organizations obtained their water supplies, which totaled more than 70 million acre-feet, from a variety of sources. About 29 million acre-feet came from Federal water projects, which are large water storage and distribution systems built and maintained by the Bureau of Reclamation, the Army Corps of Engineers, and the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Irrigation organizations diverted an additional 22 million acre-feet directly from natural water bodies, such as rivers, streams, lakes, and ponds. The next largest sources of water were State water projects and private or local water projects, which delivered a combined 14 million acre-feet of water to organizations in 2019. Other water sources include water from other reservoirs, often owned by the organizations themselves (2 million acre-feet); water purchased or contracted from other suppliers (2 million acre-feet); groundwater pumped from well fields into water conveyance infrastructure (1 million acre-feet); water obtained directly from municipal and industrial suppliers (0.5 million acre-feet); and water captured from agricultural drainage systems (0.3 million acre-feet). This chart is based on data found in USDA’s Survey of Irrigation Organizations, updated December 17, 2020.
Friday, January 15, 2021
The 2019 Survey of Irrigation Organizations (SIO), jointly conducted by USDA’s Economic Research Service and National Agricultural Statistics Service, collected information about different types of organizations involved in the local management of water supplies for irrigated farms and ranches. Irrigation organizations directly influence on-farm water use through delivery of irrigation supplies and management of groundwater withdrawals. According to the survey’s data, in 2019, there were an estimated 2,677 irrigation organizations in the 24 States where most U.S. irrigation occurred. About 95 percent of these organizations—such as irrigation districts and ditch companies—had a primary function of delivering water directly to farms, typically through a system of irrigation storage facilities, canals, pipelines, acequias, and ditches. About 27 percent of organizations were involved in at least some aspect of groundwater management as a primary function, with 23 percent of organizations engaging in both water delivery and groundwater management. Groundwater management may include monitoring aquifer conditions, collecting pumping data, charging pumping fees, issuing permits for new wells, or overseeing aquifer recharge efforts. Some irrigation organizations perform secondary functions, such as delivering water to municipal and residential users (14 percent of organizations); managing agricultural water drainage (11 percent); and generating electricity (3 percent). This chart is based on data found in USDA’s Survey of Irrigation Organizations, updated December 17, 2020.
Wednesday, December 16, 2020
Genetically engineered (GE) crops are broadly classified as herbicide-tolerant (HT), insect-resistant (Bt), or “stacked” varieties that combine HT and Bt traits. HT crops can tolerate one or more herbicides and provide farmers with a broad variety of options for effective weed control by targeting weeds without damaging crops. Bt crops contain genes from the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis and provide effective control of insect pests, such as the tobacco budworm and pink bollworm. GE varieties of cotton were commercially introduced in the United States in 1995. GE seeds have accounted for the majority of cotton acres since 2000, expanding from 61 percent of acreage that year to 96 percent in 2020. During this time, the share of cotton acres planted with seeds that had the individual HT or Bt traits shrank as growers turned more often to stacked varieties that carried both traits. In 2000, about 26 percent of total cotton acres were HT only, 15 percent were Bt only, and 20 percent used stacked seeds. By 2020, 8 percent of acres were HT only, 5 percent were Bt only, and 83 percent used stacked seeds. This chart appears in the December 2020 Amber Waves article, “Use of Genetically Engineered Cotton Has Shifted Toward Stacked Seed Traits.”
Thursday, November 12, 2020
Researchers at USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS) recently evaluated the potential impacts of the European Commission (EC)’s Farm to Fork and Biodiversity Strategies initiative that calls for restrictions in the use of agricultural inputs such as land, antimicrobials, fertilizers, and pesticides in European Union (EU) agricultural production. The proposal pledges to use EC trade policies and other international efforts to promote a vision of sustainability in agriculture, suggesting intentions to extend the reach of the policy beyond the EU. A mandated reduction in these inputs impacts food prices in three ways: production costs could increase as farmers substitute labor for other inputs; production could decrease as a result of fewer inputs being used; and prices on the international market could increase due to tightening of available supplies. Depending on how broadly these measures to reduce the use of agricultural inputs would be adopted globally, U.S. food prices could rise by 1 to 62 percent, and worldwide food prices could grow by 9 to 89 percent. These rising costs could affect consumer budgets and ultimately reduce worldwide gross domestic product (GDP) by $94 billion to $1.1 trillion, and consequentially, increase the number of food-insecure people in the world’s most vulnerable regions by 22 million to 185 million. This chart is drawn from the ERS report, Economic and Food Security Impacts of Agricultural Input Reduction Under the European Union Green Deal’s Farm to Fork and Biodiversity Strategies.
Friday, September 25, 2020
Genetically engineered (GE) seeds were commercially introduced in the United States for major field crops in 1996, with adoption rates increasing rapidly in the years that followed. Currently, more than 90 percent of U.S. corn, upland cotton, and soybeans are produced using GE varieties. Most of these GE seeds are herbicide tolerant (HT), insect resistant (Bt), or both (stacked). The share of U.S. soybean acres planted with HT seeds rose from 7 percent in 1996 to 68 percent in 2001, before plateauing at 94 percent in 2014. Bt soybeans are not yet commercially available. HT cotton acreage expanded from approximately 10 percent in 1997 to a high of 95 percent in 2019. Adoption rates for HT corn grew relatively slowly at first, but then plateaued at 89 percent in 2014. Meanwhile, the share of Bt corn acreage grew from approximately 8 percent in 1997 to 82 percent in 2020. Increases in adoption rates for Bt corn may be due to the commercial introduction of new varieties resistant to the corn rootworm and the corn earworm. Bt cotton acreage also expanded, from 15 percent of U.S. cotton acreage in 1997 to 88 percent in 2020. This chart appears in the Economic Research Service data product, Adoption of Genetically Engineered Crops in the U.S., updated July 2020.
Monday, April 13, 2020
Under USDA’s Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), farmers and ranchers voluntarily agree to implement specific conservation practices in exchange for technical and financial assistance. To study how well program incentives line up with participant motivations, ERS researchers collected practice status information about four years after the EQIP contracts were originally signed. Overall, most EQIP contracts were completed as planned—about 80 percent of conservation practices signed in 2010 were completed as originally specified by 2014. For the 20 percent of practices that were dropped, only about 40 percent occurred with the entire contract cancelled or terminated. Some EQIP contracts are simple (single conservation practice), but most contracts are complex (multiple practices). Simple contracts represented 5 percent of all practices on contracts signed in 2010, and slightly less than 5 percent of all conservation practices dropped by 2014. Complex contracts that were entirely cancelled or terminated contained 35 percent of all of the practices dropped (by 2014) even though those same contracts only represent 5 percent of all practices (completed and dropped by 2014). However, the largest share of dropped practices (almost 60 percent) occurred on complex contracts where at least one of the originally planned practices was completed as planned. This suggests that farmers’ incentives to complete conservation practices can vary within a contract. This chart uses data from the Economic Research Service (ERS) report, Working Lands Conservation Contract Modifications: Patterns in Dropped Practices, released March 2019. The topic is also discussed in the ERS Amber Waves article, “Partially Completed Conservation Contracts Reveal On-Farm Practice Incentives.”
Wednesday, February 26, 2020
Fertilizers provide nutrients (such as nitrogen) essential in the production of crops. The amount of fertilizer farmers use can be affected by changes in the price of the fertilizer, variation in production practice (such as the type of tillage employed and crop mix), and the price received for the crops. From 1960 through 2002, both fertilizer prices paid and crop prices received by farmers increased in tandem at a fairly modest rate. Between 2002 and 2008, annual fertilizer prices paid by farmers 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 decline of 18 percent in fertilizer prices through 2010. Fertilizer prices recovered somewhat through 2012—driven by strong domestic demand for plant nutrients due to high crop prices, and limited domestic production capacity—before declining again. Since June 2017, fertilizer prices have trended upwards, along with crop prices received. Using an index that sets 2011 price levels to 100, farmers paid 66.7 for fertilizer and received 86.8 for their crops in 2018. In other words, farmers paid less for fertilizer and received less money for their crops in 2018 than they did in 2011. This chart appears in the USDA, Economic Research Service data product, Fertilizer Use and Price, updated October 2019.
Wednesday, October 2, 2019
Left untreated, severe weed infestations can reduce soybean yields by more than 50 percent. Glyphosate is a broad-spectrum herbicide that kills most broad-leaf weeds and grasses. Genetically engineered glyphosate-tolerant soybeans were commercialized in 1996, and in the years that followed, the share of acres planted with glyphosate-tolerant soybeans and treated with glyphosate increased rapidly. By 2006, almost 9 out of every 10 acres were planted with glyphosate-tolerant seeds. As glyphosate-tolerant seed use became more common, an increasing number of soybean farmers started using glyphosate as their sole source of weed control. By 2018, glyphosate-tolerant weeds were identified in the majority of soybean-producing States and were particularly problematic in States located southwest of the Corn Belt, such as Mississippi, Kansas, Tennessee, Arkansas, and Missouri. Herbicides other than glyphosate, such as dicamba, can help control glyphosate-tolerant weeds. In 2018, about 43 percent of U.S. soybean acreage was planted with dicamba-tolerant seeds. The States with the most dicamba-tolerant seed use were Mississippi (79 percent of soybean acreage), Tennessee (71 percent), and Kansas (69 percent). Notably, there appears to be more dicamba-tolerant seed use in the States with the most glyphosate-tolerant weeds. This chart appears in the October 2019 Amber Waves feature, “The Use of Genetically Engineered Dicamba-Tolerant Soybean Seeds Has Increased Quickly, Benefiting Adopters but Damaging Crops in Some Fields.”
Tuesday, August 27, 2019
Droughts are among the most frequent causes of crop yield losses, failures, and subsequent crop revenue losses across the world. Genetically engineered (GE) and non-GE drought tolerance became broadly available in corn varieties between 2011 and 2013. By 2016, 22 percent of total U.S. corn acreage was planted with DT varieties. To better understand this growth rate, ERS researchers compared it to the adoption of GE herbicide-tolerant (HT) and insect-resistant (Bt) corn. Between 1996 and 2000, HT corn acreage increased from 3 to 7 percent of total U.S. corn acreage, while Bt corn acreage increased from just over 1 percent to 19 percent. By 2012, nearly 75 percent of U.S. corn acres were planted to varieties with at least one GE trait. In 2016, 91 percent of DT corn fields also had HT or Bt traits. Some evidence suggests that these three traits are complementary. For example, a corn crop will generally be less vulnerable to drought if it is not competing with weeds for water, and if its roots and leaves are not damaged by insect pests. This chart appears in the January 2019 ERS report, Development, Adoption, and Management of Drought-Tolerant Corn in the United States. This Chart of Note was originally published March 21, 2019.