Publications

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  • New Payment Limits, Lower Income Cap Unlikely To Have Significant Impact

    Amber Waves, November 01, 2008

    Despite payment limits and an income cap on eligibility for farm program payments, a substantial portion of payments continue to go to large farms. The 2008 Farm Act makes a number of changes to these provisions but is unlikely to have a significant impact on the distribution of farm program payments.

  • 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.

  • Next-Generation Biofuels: Near-Term Challenges and Implications for Agriculture

    BIO-01-01, May 14, 2010

    This report assesses the short-term outlook for production of next-generation biofuels and the near-term challenges facing the sector. Next-generation U.S. biofuel capacity should reach about 88 million gallons in 2010, thanks in large measure to one plant becoming commercially operational in 2010, using noncellulosic animal fat to produce green diesel. U.S. production capacity for cellulosic biofuels is estimated to be 10 million gallons for 2010, much less than the 100 million gallons originally mandated by the 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act. Near-term sector challenges include reducing high capital and production costs, acquiring financial resources for precommercial development, developing new biomass supply arrangements, many of which will be with U.S. farmers, and overcoming the constraints of ethanol's current 10-percent blending limit with gasoline.

  • Nitrogen in Agricultural Systems: Implications for Conservation Policy

    ERR-127, September 22, 2011

    Nitrogen is an important agricultural input that is critical for crop production. However, the introduction of large amounts of nitrogen into the environment has a number of undesirable impacts on water, terrestrial, and atmospheric resources. This report explores the use of nitrogen in U.S. agriculture and assesses changes in nutrient management by farmers that may improve nitrogen use efficiency. It also reviews a number of policy approaches for improving nitrogen management and identifies issues affecting their potential performance. Findings reveal that about two-thirds of U.S. cropland is not meeting three criteria for good nitrogen management related to the rate, timing, and method of application. Several policy approaches, including financial incentives, nitrogen management as a condition of farm program eligibility, and regulation, could induce farmers to improve their nitrogen management and reduce nitrogen losses to the environment.

  • Older Operators Often Run Small Family Farms, Particularly Retirement and Low-Sales Farms

    Amber Waves, March 05, 2018

    A notable characteristic of principal farm operators, the person most responsible for running the farm, is their relatively advanced age. In 2016, 36 percent of principal farm operators were at least 65 years old, compared with only 14 percent of self-employed workers in nonagricultural businesses. Older operators ran 37 percent of all small family farms.

  • Onfarm Energy Use Fairly Steady in 2001-11, But Share of Production Costs Rose

    Amber Waves, June 03, 2013

    Although agriculture’s demand for energy has historically been less than 2 percent of total U.S. energy consumption, energy-based inputs account for a significant share of agricultural production costs. For example, over 30 percent of total production expenditures by corn, sorghum, and rice farmers in 2011 were for energy-intensive inputs.

  • Partial Interests in Land: Policy Tools for Resource Use and Conservation

    AER-744, November 29, 1996

    Property rights arise out of law, custom, and the operation of private markets, with important implications for how land and other natural resources are used and conserved. Over the past several years, debate about the nature and scope of property rights has combined with budget concerns and reauthorization of the Farm Bill, the Clean Water Act, and the Endangered Species Act to focus public attention on Federal natural resource policy. This report examines the nature of land ownership and the evolving Federal role in land use and conservation, with particular attention to the voluntary acquisition and conveyance of conservation easements and other partial interests in land.

  • Peanut Outlook: Impacts of the 2008-09 Foodborne Illness Outbreak Linked to Salmonella in Peanuts

    OCS-10A-01, February 01, 2010

    The 2009 foodborne illness outbreak linked to Salmonella in peanut products resulted in one of the largest food safety recalls ever in the United States. The source of the outbreak handled a small share of the U.S. peanut supply, but the scope of the recalls was magnified because the peanut products were used as ingredients in more than 3,900 products. Consumer purchases of peanut-containing products initially slowed during the recalls, but retail purchases soon returned to normal and peanut processing held steady. The recalls do not appear to have had a lasting impact on peanut demand and production.

  • Policy Reform in the Tobacco Industry: Producers Adapt to a Changing Market

    EIB-77, May 26, 2011

    ERS analyzes tobacco producers' adjustments in production, investment, labor requirements, and contracting practices following elimination of tobacco quotas and tobacco price supports.

  • Possible Economic Consequences of Reverting to Permanent Legislation or Eliminating Price and Income Supports

    AER-526, January 01, 1985

    If the agricultural legislation expiring in 1985 is not replaced, farm price and income supports will revert from the programs provided for in the Agriculture and Food Act of 1981 and subsequent legislation to the programs provided for in the permanent support statutes. Reverting to the permanent support programs, dating back in some cases to the 1930s, would raise price and income support levels significantly and greatly reduce the role of market forces in determining farm returns. Conversely, if all price and income supports were eliminated in 1985, Government intervention in the market would end and supply and demand forces would determine farm returns. Adopting either of these two outerbound policy alternatives would have significant and far-reaching impacts on farm operations, the agribusiness sector, the general economy, and ultimately the world market for farm products.

  • Potential Farm-Level Effects of Eliminating Direct Payments

    EIB-103, November 16, 2012

    A number of Farm Act proposals call for ending the direct payment program. ERS analysis suggests that for the majority of farms receiving direct payments, this would not result in substantial decline in financial well-being.

  • Potential Implications of Health Care Reform for Farm Families

    Amber Waves, April 06, 2015

    The Affordable Care Act of 2010 (ACA) requires most U.S. citizens and legal residents to obtain health insurance coverage. Farm households with incomes between 138 percent and 400 percent of the FPL comprise 37 percent of the 1.61 million farm families. Some in this group are eligible for premium tax credits on a sliding scale.

  • Precision Agriculture Technologies and Factors Affecting Their Adoption

    Amber Waves, December 05, 2016

    Three common precision agricultural information technologies are global positioning system (GPS) guidance systems, GPS yield and soil monitors/maps, and variable-rate input application technologies (VRT). Research shows these technologies had similar positive, but small, impacts on corn profits of between 1 and 3 percent in 2010.

  • Private Investment in Agricultural Research and International Technology Transfer in Asia

    AER-805, November 06, 2001

    This report provides original estimates of private sector agricultural research and development efforts in Asia during the 1990s. The report examines seven Asia countries (India, Pakistan, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, and China). The examination provides an assessment of the trends in private sector R&D developments in the agricultural inputs industries in each country.

  • Producers Rely on Contracts To Manage Increased Price Risks

    Amber Waves, April 01, 2008

    U.S. agricultural production continues to shift away from cash markets and toward greater use of contracts. According to a new ERS study, agricultural contracts covered 41 percent of the value of agricultural production in 2005, up from 36 percent in 2001 and 28 percent in 1991.

  • Production Costs Critical to Farming Decisions

    Amber Waves, September 01, 2003

    This article outlines the relevance of production costs - both operating and total (including capital costs) - in farmers' decisions about production levels and mix, and about exit from the sector.

  • Productivity Drives Growth in U.S. Agriculture

    Amber Waves, September 03, 2007

    U.S. agriculture relied entirely on growth in total factor productivity (TFP) rather than input accumulation to expand output between 1948 and 2004. TFP growth in agriculture accounted for 12 percent of all TFP growth in the U.S. private economy between 1960 and 2004.

  • Productivity Growth Is Still the Major Driver in Growing U.S. Agricultural Output

    Amber Waves, September 06, 2016

    To monitor the U.S. farm sector’s performance, ERS develops total factor productivity (TFP) statistics measured as total agricultural output per unit of aggregate input, with each adjusted for price changes. Total factor productivity measures changes in the efficiency with which inputs are transformed into output.

  • Productivity Growth Slows for Specialized Hog Finishing Operations

    Amber Waves, February 03, 2014

    U.S. hog farm numbers dropped by 70 percent over 1991-2009 while hog inventories remained stable. The result has been an industry with larger hog enterprises, increased specialization in a single phase of production, greater reliance on purchased rather than homegrown feed, and greater use of production contracts. This structural change has led to higher productivity and lower pork prices.

  • Profile of Hired Farmworkers, 1998 Annual Averages

    AER-790, November 28, 2000

    An average of 875,000 persons 15 years of age and older did hired farmwork each week as their primary job in 1998. An additional 63,000 people did hired farmwork each week as their secondary job. Hired farmworkers were more likely than the typical U.S. wage and salary worker to be male, Hispanic, younger, less educated, never married, and not U.S. citizens. The West (42 percent) and South (31.4 percent) census regions accounted for almost three-fourths of the hired farmworkers. The rate of unemployment in the hired farm labor force (11.8 percent) was more than double that (4.5 percent) for all wage and salary workers. Hired farmworkers were also more likely to be paid less than the minimum wage, and to be low-wage workers. Consequently, their median weekly earnings continued to be much lower than those of all wage and salary workers. However, hired farmworkers' real median weekly earnings increased 4 percent between 1990 and 1998, while earnings for all wage and salary workers increased only 2 percent. This report examines regional and structural patterns of farm labor use, and demographic and employment characteristics of hired farmworkers, using data from the 1997 Census of Agriculture and the 1998 Current Population Survey (CPS) earnings microdata file.