Editors' Pick Charts of Note 2018

This chart gallery is a collection of the best Charts of Note from 2018. These charts were selected by ERS editors as those worthy of a second read because they provide context for the year’s headlines or share key insights from ERS research.

Rural child poverty was most concentrated in the Mississippi Delta

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

About one in four (23.5 percent) rural children in the United States were poor in 2016, compared to about one in five (20.5 percent) of urban children. Forty-one counties in the U.S. had child poverty rates of 50 percent or higher on average between 2012 and 2016. Thirty-eight of these counties were rural (nonmetro) counties, heavily clustered in the South (31 out of 38). The rural counties with the highest child poverty rates were Mellette County, South Dakota (70.9 percent); Issaquena County, Mississippi (68.7 percent); and East Carroll Parish, Louisiana (68.4 percent). Thirteen of the rural counties with child poverty rates of 50 percent or higher were in Mississippi—mainly along the Mississippi Delta region where child poverty rates have been persistently high, particularly among the black or African American child population. This chart appears in the ERS topic page for Rural Poverty & Well-being, updated April 2018.

As income rises, households tend to devote a larger share of their at-home food spending to vegetables

Monday, April 16, 2018

ERS researchers used household-level data from Information Resources Inc. to investigate how food spending patterns differ by household income and age of the household food shopper. The researchers found that as per person income rises, households spend a larger portion of their at-home food expenditures on vegetables. This was true for all four generations examined, though the increase for Traditionalists was small. Poorer Millennials assigned lower shares of at-home food spending to vegetables than Traditionalists and Baby Boomers with similar incomes. Millennials with higher incomes apportioned more of their food budgets to vegetables, surpassing Traditionalists when per capita household income was around $30,000. The wealthiest Millennial households (per capita income greater than $50,000) dedicated about 8 percent of their food budgets to vegetables, compared to around 6 percent for the other generation groups in the same income decile. The rise in vegetable purchases among wealthier Millennials may reflect Millennials’ preference for healthy foods. A version of this chart appears in the ERS report, Food Purchase Decisions of Millennial Households Compared to Other Generations, released December 2017.

SNAP households acquire about as many calories as other households but spend less

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Households may have similar food needs but different budgets with which to meet them. ERS researchers used data from USDA’s National Household Food Acquisition and Purchase Survey (FoodAPS) to estimate the number of calories acquired (purchased or obtained for free) and the money spent to get them for three groups: households participating in USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), low-income non-SNAP households, and higher income non-SNAP households. Researchers adjusted for the age, gender, and number of household members using an adult equivalent measure. Average acquired calories per adult equivalent were similar for all three groups, but food expenditures were not. Expenditure estimates from FoodAPS data show that SNAP households spent roughly $37 less per adult equivalent per week on food than higher income non-SNAP households. SNAP households devoted less of their food dollars to purchases from restaurants and other away-from-home sources, and instead relied more on school meals and family and friends. For at-home foods, SNAP households may have visited lower priced stores or bought a different mix of foods to stretch their food budgets. This chart appears in the February 2018 Amber Waves article, "Supermarkets, Schools, and Social Gatherings: Where Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and Other U.S. Households Acquire Their Foods Correlates with Nutritional Quality."

Productivity has replaced resource intensification as the primary source of growth in global agriculture output

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Since the 1990s, productivity growth has driven the growth in global agricultural output of total crop and livestock commodities, helping to make food more abundant and cheaper worldwide. Global output growth initially slowed in the 1970s and 1980s, but then accelerated in the 1990s and 2000s. In the latest period (2001-14), global output of total crop and livestock commodities expanded at an average rate of 2.5 percent per year. In the decades prior to 1990, most output growth came about from intensification of input use, such as using more labor, capital, and material inputs per acre of agricultural land. Bringing new land into agricultural production and extending irrigation to existing agricultural land were also important sources of growth. Over the last two decades, however, the rate of growth in agricultural resources (land, labor, capital, etc.) has significantly slowed. By comparison, improvements in total factor productivity have increased, accounting for about two-thirds of global output growth during 2001-14. TFP growth reflects the use of new technology, efficiency improvement, and changes in management by agricultural producers around the world. This chart appears in the ERS topic page for International Agricultural Productivity, updated October 2017.

U.S. wheat exports have fallen over the last decade as competitors have taken up market share

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

While the United States remains a major global supplier of wheat, it has struggled to attract new markets and has seen its export totals decline over the last decade. In 2014-16, annual U.S. wheat exports averaged nearly 3 million bushels less than in 2005-09, according to an ERS analysis. U.S. wheat exports have decreased as Russia, Ukraine, and the European Union (EU) have gained market share in several key U.S. markets. Although the United States has retained and even increased its wheat exports to some of its markets, such as Mexico and the Philippines, export volumes to several other markets have contracted. In one striking example, Egypt, one of the world’s top wheat importers, formerly purchased the bulk of its wheat from the United States but now receives most of its imports from Russia, Ukraine, and the EU. A similar shift is happening with Nigeria and Yemen. Much of the growth in U.S-displacing wheat exports from Russia and Ukraine is in low-quality milling wheat (for food consumption) and feed grain. This chart appears in the October 2018 Amber Waves article, “Major Changes in Export Flows Over the Last Decade Show the U.S. Is Losing Market Share in Global Grain Trade.”

Labor’s share of the retail food dollar was up to 50.6 cents in 2016, driven by Americans’ appetite for eating out

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

In 2016—of a typical dollar spent by U.S. consumers at grocery stores and restaurants on domestically produced food—50.6 cents were received by hired labor in the form of salaries and benefits. That marked the second year in a row that labor’s share was over half of the food dollar, reflecting higher spending on eating out, as well as small increases in labor costs for foodservice workers over time. Foodservice labor—servers, cooks, and others—received 22.3 cents of the food dollar in 2016, up from 21.7 cents in 2015. Salaries and benefits for non-foodservice labor were down 0.3 cent from 2015. After foodservices, the next two largest sources of labor costs in 2016 were retailing and wholesaling (11.1 cents) and food processing and packaging (8.7 cents). Farm production relies less on hired labor than other food related industries do, and—combined with agribusinesses that provide specialized farm inputs—contributed only 2.1 cents of 2016’s food dollar labor costs. Many factors drive year-to-year changes in labor’s share of the food dollar, from the adoption of labor-saving technologies to changes in average wage rates. This chart is from ERS’s Food Dollar Series data product.

The regional composition of U.S. exports has shifted toward developing East Asia over time

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

A marked shift in the destinations for U.S. agricultural exports has accompanied the increased participation of developing economies in global agricultural trade. Elimination of agricultural trade barriers within North America boosted exports to Canada and Mexico—partners with the United States in the North American Free Trade Agreement. Rising household incomes and changing trade policies in developing East Asia (China and Southeast Asia, less Singapore) led to a near tripling in that region’s share of U.S. agricultural exports. China’s share of U.S. agricultural exports swelled from 3 percent on average during 1995-99 to 16 percent during 2011-15. A single product—soybeans—accounts for half of this increase. However, the strong growth in demand for U.S. agricultural exports in East Asia and North America has been offset by a sharp decline in the share going to Europe and high-income economies in East Asia, particularly Japan. In the European Union, a number of barriers—including concerns over genetically modified products—continue to hamper U.S. agricultural trade. This chart appears in the ERS report The Global Landscape of Agricultural Trade, 1995-2014, released in November 2017.

Rapid growth in China’s agricultural imports paralleled its foreign exchange reserves

Monday, May 7, 2018

Since China officially joined the World Trade Organization in December, 2001, its role within the global economy has expanded. In addition to its rising role as an agricultural exporter, China’s growing economy has created more demand for food than can be satisfied domestically. As a result, the country has taken a more global approach through trade and foreign investment. China’s outward agricultural investment coincided with several related economic trends, including rapid growth in agricultural imports and foreign exchange reserves. The first prominent official endorsements of “going global” in agriculture appeared during 2007-08, as the value of China’s agricultural imports surged during those years. After a brief dip during the global financial crisis, China’s agricultural import growth accelerated from 2009 to 2013. The growing agricultural trade deficit prompted greater concern among Chinese officials about national food security. China’s foreign exchange reserves also grew rapidly during those years, peaking at $4 trillion in 2014. These reserves provided financial resources to support outward investment. However, foreign investment flows continued to accelerate after foreign exchange reserves and agricultural imports declined during 2014-16. This chart appears in the ERS report, China's Foreign Agriculture Investments, released in April 2018.

Adults who use nutrition information from restaurants consume fewer calories than those who do not

Friday, November 16, 2018

As part of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), respondents are asked whether they have seen nutrition or health information about foods on restaurant menus and, if so, whether they used that information to decide what to order. An ERS analysis of NHANES data from 2007-14 reveals that adults who reported seeing and using information on a full-service or a fast-food restaurant menu consumed 284 or 307 fewer calories per day, respectively, than did adults who reported seeing but not using the information—a calorie intake gap that is 14-15 percent of a 2,000-calorie reference diet. In full-service restaurants, wait staff take consumers’ orders for food from their tables and consumers pay after the meal is eaten. In fast-food restaurants, consumers order and pay for food from a counter before eating. The energy intake gaps between information users and nonusers can be attributed to differences in calories obtained from various sources, including grocery stores, supermarkets, and other stores. For instance, fast-food restaurant menu label users consumed 271 and 1,296 calories per day from fast-food restaurants and from stores, respectively, while nonusers consumed 345 calories per day from fast-food restaurants and 1,483 from stores. The statistics for this chart are from the ERS report, The Association Between Restaurant Menu Label Use and Caloric Intake, released on October 31, 2018.

Hurricane Irma further reduced already shrinking Florida citrus production

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

On September 10, 2017, Hurricane Irma made U.S. landfall on Cudjoe Key, FL. Despite weakening as it moved up the Florida coast, Irma’s high winds and damaging rains affected a large swath of the State, including key citrus and winter vegetable production areas. The citrus crop–consisting of oranges, grapefruit, and other citrus–was particularly hard hit as the hurricane knocked down ripening fruit, uprooted trees, and flooded citrus groves. Further, fruit that remains on hurricane-weakened trees is at increased risk of dropping. Before the hurricane, early projections reflected an ongoing contraction driven by the spread of citrus greening disease, a bacterial disease that can ultimately kill orange trees. In October, the USDA forecasted post hurricane Florida citrus production at nearly 60 million boxes. In January 2018, a clearer picture of the hurricane’s effect on citrus production emerged, and Florida’s production was trimmed to under 52 million, 34 percent below 2016/17 marketing year levels. This chart appears in the February 2018 Amber Waves finding, "Hurricane Irma Hits Florida’s Agricultural Sector."

Small family farms accounted for half the farmland, but only 23 percent of production

Thursday, April 26, 2018

In 2016, 99 percent of U.S. farms were family farms, where the principal operator and his or her relatives owned the majority of the business. Small family farms—those with less than $350,000 in annual gross cash farm income (GCFI)—accounted for about 90 percent of U.S. farms, half of all farmland, and a quarter of the value of production. By comparison, large-scale family farms—those with $1 million or more in GCFI—made up only 3 percent of U.S. farms and 18 percent of farmland, but contributed 45 percent of production. Nonfamily farms, such as partnerships of unrelated partners and corporations, accounted for just 1 percent of U.S. farms and 10 percent of production. The 19 percent of nonfamily farms with GCFI of $1 million or more accounted for 88 percent of all nonfamily farms’ production. This chart appears in the ERS report America’s Diverse Family Farms: 2017 Edition, released December 2017.

Farm sector profits forecast to decline in 2018

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Net cash farm income and net farm income are two conventional measures of farm sector profitability. Inflation-adjusted U.S. net farm income is forecast to decline $11.4 billion (14.8 percent) from 2017 to $65.7 billion in 2018, while inflation-adjusted U.S. net cash farm income is forecast to decline $14.6 billion (13.8 percent) to $91.5 billion. The forecast declines are largely due to higher production expenses, which if realized, would reduce net income. Additionally, government payments are forecast to decline $2.3 billion (19.1 percent). However, the 2018 forecast for government payments, net farm income, and net cash income do not include payments under the Market Facilitation Program (MFP), because it is too early to tell from the details announced August 27, 2018 how many farm producers will complete MFP enrollment and receive payment in 2018. Inflation-adjusted net farm income is forecast to be just slightly above its level in 2016 and at its second lowest level since 2002; inflation-adjusted net cash farm income is forecast to be at its lowest level since 2009. Net cash farm income measures cash receipts from farming as well as farm-related income, including government payments, minus cash expenses. Net farm income is a more comprehensive measure that incorporates non-cash items, including changes in inventories, economic depreciation, and gross imputed rental income. Find additional information and analysis on ERS’s Farm Sector Income and Finances topic page, released August 30, 2018.