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  • New Traders in Corn, Soybean, and Wheat Futures Markets Scrutinized

    Amber Waves, December 01, 2009

    The growing participation of nontraditional traders in futures markets, such as index funds and swap dealers, has coincided with increasing volatility in commodity markets and a weakening of the usual correlation between futures and cash prices. ERS research, however, finds no link between these trends and the growing presence of nontraditional traders.

  • Comparing Two Sources of Retail Meat Price Data

    ERR-88, November 17, 2009

    The livestock industry uses information on meat prices at different stages in the marketing system to make production decisions. When grocery stores began using electronic scanners to capture prices paid for meat, it was assumed that the livestock industry could capitalize on having these point-of-sale data available as a measure of the value of its products. This report compares scanner price data with publicly available data collected by the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Of the two data types, scanner data provide more information about retail meat markets, including a wider variety of meat-cut prices, multiple measures of an average price, the volume of sales, and the relative importance of discounted prices. The scanner data sample, however, is not statistically drawn, and complicated processing requirements delay its release, which makes scanner data less useful than BLS data for analyzing current market conditions.

  • The Post-Buyout Experience: Peanut and Tobacco Sectors Adapt to Policy Reform

    EIB-60, November 16, 2009

    ERS identifies market forces that have affected the peanut and tobacco industries following the end of longstanding system protections - in 2002 for peanuts and 2004 for tobacco.

  • The Debt Finance Landscape for U.S. Farming and Farm Businesses

    AIS-87, November 16, 2009

    Income and wealth for farm businesses have changed noticeably this decade. Debt levels have been rising, asset levels have outpaced debt despite a recent fall in land prices, and equity has more than doubled for farm businesses. However, recent declines in farm income and falling land prices have raised concerns about the financial position of U.S. farms. Total farm sector debt reached a record $240 billion in 2008, a $26-billion increase over 2007. Debt is expected to decline to $234 billion in 2009. The distribution of debt among farm operators has also been changing. In 1986, nearly 60 percent of farms used debt financing. By 2007, the number had dropped to 31 percent. In essence, farm debt has become more concentrated in fewer, larger farm businesses. Lenders and farm operators indicate that real estate accounts for the largest use of farm debt. Debt repayment capacity utilization (DRCU) of farm operators has dropped since the 1980s. DRCU dropped from 27 percent in 2000 to 22 percent in 2007. Larger farms are more likely to use more of their debt capacity.

  • Characteristics, Costs, and Issues for Organic Dairy Farming

    ERR-82, November 02, 2009

    ERS addresses size, regional differences, and pasture use in organic milk production. Economic forces have pressured organic dairies to operate more like their conventional counterparts and take advantage of economies of size.

  • Rising Wheat Prices Outpace Input Costs

    Amber Waves, September 01, 2009

    Because wheat prices in 2009 remain well above historical levels, 90 percent of U.S. wheat producers are expected to have covered their production costs during 2009/09, despite rising prices of fuel, fertilizer and other inputs.

  • Issues and Prospects in Corn, Soybeans, and Wheat Futures Markets

    FDS-09G-01, August 05, 2009

    The past 5 years have seen large increases in trading of corn, soybean, and wheat futures contracts by nontraditional traders, a trend that coincided with historic price increases for these commodities. These events have raised questions about whether changes in the composition of traders participating have contributed to movements in commodity prices beyond the effects of market fundamentals. Evidence suggests the link between futures and cash prices for some commodity markets may have weakened (poor convergence), making it more difficult for traditional traders to use futures markets to manage risk. This report discusses the role and objective of new futures traders compared with those of traditional futures traders and seeks to determine if the composition of traders in futures markets has contributed to convergence problems. Market activity is analyzed by focusing on positions of both traditional and new market traders, price levels, price volatility, and volume and open interest trends. Convergence of futures and cash prices is examined, along with implications and prospects for risk management by market participants. The report also discusses the implications for market performance and the regulatory response of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission.

  • Trends In U.S. Cotton Basis Since 2001

    CWS-09D01, June 25, 2009

    Price volatility in 2008 generated interest in underlying cotton cash and futures markets and highlighted the importance of market participants' expectations about basis changes over time in production, marketing, and hedging decisions. This analysis examines trends in average U.S. cotton basis and changes in the convergence of cash and futures prices as cotton futures contract expiration dates near between 2001 and 2009 to provide perspective for the average basis movements experienced in 2008. Though this analysis does not identify the factors leading to differences in average convergence paths since 2001, it finds that, while average cotton cash and futures prices converged in all years, the pattern in 2008 was significantly different from the other sample years.

  • Emerging Issues in the U.S. Organic Industry

    EIB-55, June 03, 2009

    Consumer demand for organic products has widened over the last decade. While new producers have emerged to help meet demand, market participants report that a supply squeeze is constraining growth for both individual firms and the organic sector overall. Partly in response to shortages in organic supply, Congress in 2008 included provisions in the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act (2008 Farm Act) that, for the first time, provide financial support to farmers to convert to organic production. This report examines recent economic research on the adoption of organic farming systems, organic production costs and returns, and market conditions to gain a better understanding of the organic supply squeeze and other emerging issues in this rapidly changing industry.

  • Fruit and Tree Nuts Outlook: June 2009

    FTS-337-01, June 03, 2009

    Specialized fruit and tree nut farms represent a substantial segment of the U.S. fruit and tree nut industry. By nature of the commodities produced and the markets targeted, these specialized farms require substantial investments in production inputs. Using data from USDA's Agricultural Resource and Management Survey (ARMS), this report investigates the major expense components of specialized fruit and tree nut farms in the United States from 1998 to 2006. Based on 3-year averages, the analysis compares farm expenses by farm size and across regions. Total cash expenses were highest in the West where the highest concentration of specialized fruit and tree nut farms are located, including a majority of the largest and most highly specialized farm operations. Labor was the largest cash expense for fruit and tree nut farms, followed by fertilizer and other agricultural chemical inputs.

  • Beginning Farmers and Ranchers

    EIB-53, May 15, 2009

    Beginning farmers and ranchers accounted for 10 percent of the sector's total value of production in 2007. ERS provides an overview of their characteristics and the farm businesses they operate.

  • Economic Aspects of Revenue-Based Commodity Support

    ERR-72, April 07, 2009

    ERS examines the economic effects of two theoretical scenarios in which commodity support is determined by shortfalls in farm revenue, unlike current price-based programs or yield-based assistance.

  • Feed Outlook: April 2009

    FDS-09D01, April 01, 2009

    The byproducts of making ethanol, sweeteners, syrups, and oils used to be considered less valuable than the primary products. But the increased livestock-feed market for such byproducts in the past few years has switched that perception to one of the ethanol industry making grain-based "co-products" that have market value separate from the primary products. Co-products such as dried distiller's grains, corn gluten feed, corn gluten meal, corn oil, solubles, and brewer's grains have become economically viable components, along with traditional ingredients (such as corn, soybean meal, and urea), in feed rations.

  • An Illustrated Guide to Research Findings from USDA's Economic Research Service

    EIB-48, April 01, 2009

    This book contains a sampling of recent ERS research illustrating the breadth of the Agency's research on current policy issues: from biofuels to food consumption to land conservation to patterns of trade for agricultural products.

  • U.S. Public Agricultural Research: Changes in Funding Sources and Shifts in Emphasis, 1980-2005

    EIB-45, March 31, 2009

    Over the years, proposals have recommended shifting the focus of public agricultural research from applied to basic research, and giving higher priority to peer-reviewed, competitively funded grants. The public agricultural research system in the United States is a Federal-State partnership, with most research conducted at State institutions. In recent years, State funds have declined, USDA funds have remained fairly steady (with changes in the composition of funding), but funding from other Federal agencies and the private sector has increased. Efforts to increase competitively awarded funds for research have fluctuated over time, as have special grants (earmarks). Along with shifts in funding sources, the proportion of basic research being undertaken within the public agricultural research system has declined. This report focuses on the way public agricultural research is funded in the United States and how changes in funding sources over the last 25 years reflect changes in the type of research pursued.

  • The 2008/2009 World Economic Crisis: What It Means for U.S. Agriculture

    WRS-09-02, March 30, 2009

    The world economic crisis that began in 2008 has major consequences for U.S. agriculture. The weakening of global demand because of emerging recessions and declining economic growth result in reduced export demand and lower agricultural commodity prices, compared with those in 2008. These, in turn, reduce U.S. farm income and place downward pressures on farm real estate values. So far, the overall impact on U.S. agriculture is not as severe as on the broader U.S. economy because the record-high agricultural exports, prices, and farm income in 2007 and 2008 put U.S. farmers on solid financial ground. Moreover, the debt equity ratios in agriculture tend to be more conservative than those in most other sectors of the economy. There is much uncertainty concerning the depth and extent of the crisis. The outcomes for U.S. agriculture are dependent on whether or not there is a global realignment of exchange rates to correct current macroeconomic imbalances.

  • Wheat Outlook: March 2009

    WHS-09C01, March 24, 2009

    The recent historic rise in farm input costs and wheat prices has had economic effects on the U.S. wheat sector. A cumulative distribution of forecasted production costs for wheat farms shows that current high (but falling) wheat prices will allow a greater share of producers to cover their production costs in 2008 (90 percent) than in 2004 (82 percent), despite higher input costs in 2008. However, if farm-gate prices for wheat continue to fall into 2009, and if prices for inputs do not drop off similarly, many more wheat producers may find themselves unable to cover production costs and the U.S. wheat sector may see further attrition of planted area.

  • Exploring Alternative Farm Definitions: Implications for Agricultural Statistics and Program Eligibility

    EIB-49, March 20, 2009

    Meeting agricultural policy and statistical goals requires a definition of U.S. agriculture's basic unit, the farm. However, these goals can be at odds with one another. USDA defines "farm" very broadly to comprehensively measure agricultural activity. Consequently, most establishments classified as farms in the United States produce very little, while most production occurs on a small number of much larger operations. While desirable for obtaining comprehensive national coverage, measurement and analysis based on the current definition can provide misleading characterizations of farms and farm structure in the United States. Additionally, more stringent requirements have been proposed for farms to qualify for Federal agricultural program benefits. This analysis outlines the structure of U.S. farms, discusses the current farm definition, evaluates several potential criteria that have been proposed to define target farms more precisely, and examines how these criteria affect both statistical coverage and program eligibility.

  • Farm Income Expected to Decline in 2009

    Amber Waves, March 01, 2009

    Based on USDA’s early forecast, after 7 consecutive years of increases, U.S. cash receipts from crops are expected to drop by 10 percent from the record level reached in 2008. But at $162.4 billion, crop receipts in 2009 would still reflect the second highest level ever attained. Most of the decline is expected to come from corn and wheat sales, but nearly all crop commodities are forecast to have lower receipts in 2009.

  • Federal Funding in Rural America Goes Far Beyond Agriculture

    Amber Waves, March 01, 2009

    For the first time in the nearly 40 years that ERS has been analyzing the geographic distribution of Federal spending, rural areas received more in total per capita Federal funding ($7,473) in fiscal year (FY) 2005 than urban areas ($7,391).