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.

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.

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.