Editors' Pick: Charts of Note 2019

This chart gallery is a collection of some of the best Charts of Note from 2019. 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.


Employment has grown faster in metropolitan than nonmetro counties since the Great Recession

Monday, November 18, 2019

Employment in both nonmetro and metro counties fell by 5 percent between the end of 2007 and the end of 2009, reflecting the effects of the Great Recession. Since then, however, employment growth in rural areas has fallen behind metro employment growth. Between 2010 and 2018, nonmetro employment grew at an average annual rate of 0.4 percent, compared to 1.5 percent per year in metro areas. By the second quarter of 2019, nonmetro employment still remained more than 1 percent below the pre-recession level, while metro employment exceeded the pre-recession level by more than 9 percent. These differences in employment growth rates between nonmetro and metro areas may be related in part to differences in population growth. The slowest employment growth occurred in the same areas that had negative population growth—i.e., nonmetro counties with an urban population of less than 20,000. Employment growth since 2010 was faster than population growth in all groups of counties, indicating that a rising share of the population was employed. This chart appears in the November 2019 ERS report, Rural America at a Glance, 2019 Edition.

Inflation in retail food prices has trended down over the past 20 years

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Historically, grocery store food prices have generally risen each year. However, in 2016, retail food prices actually fell 1.3 percent and fell again in 2017 (0.2 percent). These back-to-back years of food price deflation helped lower the 20-year moving average for grocery store price inflation from 3.6 percent in 1999 to 2.0 percent in 2018. Beginning in 2015, increased U.S. production of agricultural commodities, such as beef cattle and eggs, and lower energy prices contributed to the 2016 and 2017 decreases in retail food prices. In addition, a strong U.S. dollar since 2014 made imported foods (i.e., many fruits and vegetables, fish, and sugar) less expensive. Another contributing factor to low retail food price inflation in recent years may be stepped up competition on the basis of price for U.S. consumers’ food dollars. This chart appears in the article, “Retail Food Price Inflation Has Slowed Over Time,” from the July 2019 edition of ERS’s Amber Waves magazine.

STEC outbreaks in romaine lettuce peak in April and October, 1998 to 2018

Monday, December 2, 2019

Leafy greens, including romaine lettuce, are the sixth most commonly consumed type of vegetable in the United States. About three-quarters of U.S. romaine shipments come from two regions, California’s Central Coast and Yuma, Arizona; the rest come from other areas in the United States, Mexico, and Canada. From May to November, about three-quarters of romaine lettuce shipments in the United States come from California’s Central Coast region, while from December to April, about three-quarters come from the Yuma, Arizona region. From 1998 to 2018, foodborne illnesses and outbreaks associated with romaine lettuce occurred most frequently during March, April, September, and October—the time of the season prior to shifts in regional production. In 2017 and 2018 there were three multi-state, multi-national foodborne illness outbreaks of Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli (STEC) O157:H7 associated with the consumption of romaine lettuce in the U.S. and Canada. These outbreaks led to a total of 376 illnesses, 158 hospitalizations, and 7 deaths. This chart appears in “Special Article: Seasonality in Romaine Outbreaks and Regional Shipments” in the Vegetables and Pulses Outlook newsletter, released in May 2019.

Avocado imports could rise further in 2018/19 as a weak crop outlook in California reduces domestic supply

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Imports play a significant role in meeting the U.S. demand for avocados. Since the mid-1990s, imports of avocados have grown sharply as per capita consumption has grown, representing 87 percent of domestic use in the 2017/18 marketing year. USDA forecasts that imports will make up an even larger share of supply in 2018/19, mainly because California’s crop is expected to be smaller than in recent years. Contributing factors to this reduced crop include record-breaking heatwaves in July 2018 followed by record-breaking wildfires, as well as recent rains and cold weather, and the general alternate-year-bearing nature of avocado trees (whereby a large crop one year is followed by a smaller crop the next year). Because over 80 percent of all U.S.-produced avocados each year are from California, California’s low harvest in 2018/19 should boost U.S. demand for imported avocados (especially from Mexico) even higher than it has been in recent years. If USDA’s forecast is realized, imports in 2018/19 will represent 93 percent of the domestic avocado supply. This chart appears in the ERS Fruit and Tree Nuts Outlook newsletter, released in March 2019.

U.S. retail food sales do not align with Federal dietary recommendations

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Newly established links between retail food sales data and USDA nutrition databases now allow researchers to study the healthfulness of Americans’ purchases at retail stores. ERS researchers scored the healthfulness of retail food sales using the Healthy Eating Index (HEI-2015), a measure that summarizes how well a set of foods conforms to the recommendations in the 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, developed jointly by the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Agriculture. In the Healthy Eating Index, the maximum possible score is 100, indicating conformance to Federal recommendations for 13 dietary components encompassing food groups (fruit, dairy, whole grains) and dietary elements (added sugars, fatty acids, sodium). For the nine adequacy components that make up a healthy diet, a high score indicates Americans are purchasing a sufficient amount of foods in these groups. A high score among the four components that nutritionists advise to consume in moderation indicates Americans are keeping purchases of foods containing these components in check. In total, retail food sales in 2013 scored 55, suggesting purchases are not well aligned with Federal dietary recommendations. Scores for whole grains, greens and beans, dairy, sodium, and added sugars were each below 50 percent of their maximum possible scores. This chart appears in the article “New Data Linkages Provide Healthfulness Measures for American Grocery Store Sales” from the June 2019 edition of ERS’s Amber Waves magazine.

U.S. organic commodity sales doubled between 2012 and 2017

Monday, September 23, 2019

Although the total value of U.S. agricultural sales remained relatively flat between 2012 and 2017, U.S. organic sales more than doubled to $7.3 billion. Growth in the U.S. organic sector has accelerated since the early 2010s as retailers, food manufacturers, and livestock producers have increased demand for organic food and inputs. Agricultural sales averaged $400,603 for organic operations in 2017, more than double the average agricultural sales for all farms ($190,245). The organic share of U.S. agricultural sales doubled to 2 percent between 2012 and 2017, and was over 6 percent in some States. California was the top State in both organic and overall agricultural sales. Most other top organic States were in the Pacific Northwest (a major grower of organic produce), Upper Midwest (a major producer of organic milk), and Northeast (which has many small-scale organic farms). Pennsylvania and North Carolina were among the States with the fastest growth between 2012 and 2017, with organic sales up ten- and eight-fold, respectively. In contrast, Iowa ranked second in overall agricultural sales and twelfth in organic sales, reflecting the low adoption of organic systems for U.S. grain production. This chart updates data found in the Amber Waves feature, “Growing Organic Demand Provides High-Value Opportunities for Many Types of Producers,” originally published in February 2017.

Higher SNAP benefits expand spending on other goods as well as food

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

When participants in USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) spend their benefits, the spending “multiplies” throughout the economy because businesses (and their employees) supplying food and other goods purchased by SNAP households have additional funds to make purchases of their own. ERS researchers recently estimated how a $1-billion increase in SNAP benefits would affect spending by SNAP and non-SNAP households. Most SNAP participants spend their own cash in addition to SNAP benefits to purchase adequate food. Thus, SNAP households would spend the full amount of the increased benefits at authorized food stores, but they also would redirect some of the cash that they had been spending on food at home to other goods or services. The additional SNAP benefits would have the largest effect on SNAP households’ spending on food and durable goods. The two top categories toward which non-SNAP households would direct their multiplier-induced additional income were savings and durable goods. Because of their low incomes, most SNAP households are likely to spend the entire income increase rather than save a portion of it. The data in the chart are from the ERS report, The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and the Economy: New Estimates of the SNAP Multiplier, and the Amber Waves article, “Quantifying the Impact of SNAP Benefits on the U.S. Economy and Jobs,” released July 18, 2019.

Climate change projected to increase cost of the Federal Crop Insurance Program

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Recent ERS research explored how climate change could affect the cost of the Federal Crop Insurance Program (FCIP). Researchers trained statistical models to predict crop yields from historical weather data, and used weather simulations from climate models to build scenarios showing how yields might respond to climate change. Economic models then simulated how farmers and markets might respond to changes in weather and yields. The study explored potential impacts in the year 2080, and compared climate scenarios arising from different projections of greenhouse gas emissions levels to a hypothetical future with climate similar to that of the past several decades. Under the scenario with moderate emissions reductions, in which farmers adapt to changes in climate with adjustments to what they plant, where they plant it, and how they manage it, the cost of today’s FCIP would be on average about 3.5 percent higher than under a future with a climate similar to that of the recent past. Under the scenario in which emissions trends continue, the cost of FCIP would increase by an average of 22 percent. The estimated increases in the cost of FCIP are an average across the climate models shown in the chart—some models are more optimistic, while others more pessimistic. Cost estimates are higher in scenarios with no adaptation. This chart appears in the ERS report, Climate Change and Agricultural Risk Management Into the 21st Century, released July 2019.

Share of Chinese soybean imports supplied by Brazil has increased; U.S. share has decreased

Monday, August 26, 2019

The United States and Brazil have accounted for most of the growth in world soybean exports, while China has been the world’s largest importer. In the 1990s, the United States was the predominant exporter of soybeans. During the late 1990s, both U.S. and Brazilian exports increased to supply China’s growing demand, but Brazilian exports grew more quickly. During the 1990s, the United States supplied more than 50 percent of China’s soybean imports, though the U.S. share gradually declined into the 2000s. Brazil’s share first matched that of the United States in 2002 when each country supplied about 35 percent of China’s soybean imports. From 2002 to 2011, each country’s share of China’s soybean imports fluctuated between 35 and 50 percent. Brazil’s share rose to almost 50 percent during 2012 to 2016 as the U.S. share fell to less than 40 percent. The U.S. share fell to 30 percent in 2017 as China’s tariff on U.S. soybeans took effect late in the market year. During the first 9 months of China’s 2018/19 market year, while the tariff took full effect, Brazil’s share rose to 77 percent, while the U.S. share fell to 10 percent. This chart appears in the ERS report, “Interdependence of China, United States, and Brazil in Soybean Trade,” released in June 2019.