Publications

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  • Linking Land Quality, Agricultural Productivity, and Food Security

    AER-823, June 20, 2003

    As rising populations and incomes increase pressure on land and other resources around the world, agricultural productivity plays an increasingly important role in improving food supplies and food security. This report explores the extent to which land quality and land degradation affect agricultural productivity, how farmers respond to land degradation, and whether land degradation poses a threat to productivity growth and food security in developing regions and around the world.

  • Consumers and the Future of Biotech Foods in the United States

    Amber Waves, November 01, 2003

    When consumers are made aware that food products are biotech, how will they react? As the largest market for U.S. producers, American consumers will render the ultimate verdict on the future of agricultural biotechnology in the United States.

  • Have Seed Industry Changes Affected Research Effort?

    Amber Waves, February 01, 2004

    The unprecedented growth in U.S. agricultural productivity over the past 70 years owes much to a series of biological innovations embodied in major crop seeds, in particular, cotton, corn, soybeans, and wheat. These innovations are the result of the investment of considerable time and money into plant breeding research and development (R&D). However, the seed sector has changed: seed R&D has moved from being predominately public to predominately private, innovation protection is now pervasive, and the private seed industry has become highly concentrated. This article examines the extent of this shift in R&D from the public to the private domain and whether or not the shift is positively or negatively affecting research effort, and potentially agricultural productivity growth.

  • A Consideration of the Devolution of Federal Agricultural Policy

    AER-836, November 01, 2004

    Diverse needs and preferences across the United States provide justification for the devolution, or decentralization, of many Federal Government programs to the State or local level. The move toward devolution, however, has not been evidenced in U.S. agricultural policy, despite significant differences across States in such areas as commodity production, production costs, income distribution, and opportunities for off-farm work. The existing structure of USDA funding and program delivery already reflects an appreciation of the gains from devolution, with some programs accommodating differences in State and regional preferences. This report considers the implications of devolving $22 billion in 2003 budget outlays, mostly for domestic commodity and natural resource programs and rural development and housing programs.

  • Ag Productivity Drives Output Growth

    Amber Waves, June 01, 2005

    Productivity has been the engine of economic growth in U.S. agriculture, averaging 1.8 percent per year from 1949 to 2002. This rate (compounded annually) caused output to grow significantly so that by 2002, output was 2.6 times as high as it was in 1948.

  • Farm Poverty Lowest in U.S. History

    Amber Waves, September 01, 2005

    Fifty years ago, half of all U.S. farm families were poor. Today, however, farm poverty is at its lowest level in the Nation's history due to the availability of remunerative off-farm employment coupled with onfarm gains in labor productivity.

  • Crop Genetic Diversity Boosts Production But Faces Threats

    Amber Waves, September 01, 2005

    Crop yields have risen steadily over the last century due in part to sustained research, improvements to seeds, and access to diverse genetic resources. Crop genetic diversity, however, is threatened by habitat loss, conversion from farmer-developed varieties to scientifically bred varieties, and genetic uniformity in scientifically bred varieties.

  • Patenting and Licensing Are Tools for Technology Transfer

    Amber Waves, November 01, 2005

    Research at the USDA Agricultural Research Service and other public research agencies sometimes results in the discovery of potentially marketable products, technologies, and innovations. ARS can transfer these discoveries to the private sector through the use of patents and licensing agreements, which encourages further research, development and commercialization of new products that benefit consumers.

  • Possible Implications for U.S. Agriculture From Adoption of Select Dietary Guidelines

    ERR-31, November 20, 2006

    To help Americans meet nutritional requirements while staying within caloric recommendations, the 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans encourage consumption of fruits, vegetables, whole-grain products, and fat-free or low-fat milk or milk products. This report provides one view of the potential implications for U.S. agriculture if Americans changed their current consumption patterns to meet some of those guidelines. For Americans to meet the fruit, vegetable, and whole-grain recommendations, domestic crop acreage would need to increase by an estimated 7.4 million harvested acres, or 1.7 percent of total U.S. cropland in 2002. To meet the dairy guidelines, consumption of milk and milk products would have to increase by 66 percent; an increase of that magnitude would likely require an increase in the number of dairy cows as well as increased feed grains and, possibly, increased acreage devoted to dairy production.

  • Off-Farm Income, Technology Adoption, and Farm Economic Performance

    ERR-36, February 01, 2007

    ERS examines the relationship between off-farm work, farmers' technology choices, and the economic performance of farms and farm households.

  • Productivity Growth in U.S. Agriculture

    EB-9, September 04, 2007

    Innovation and changes in technology have been a driving force for gains in productivity growth in U.S. agriculture. USDA's Economic Research Service has developed annual indexes of agricultural inputs, outputs, and total factor productivity (TFP) for 1948 through 2004. American agriculture relies almost entirely on productivity growth to raise output. By lowering the cost of agricultural commodities, productivity growth benefits not only farmers but also food manufacturers and consumers.

  • Economic Returns to Public Agricultural Research

    EB-10, September 04, 2007

    Over the last several decades, the U.S. agricultural sector has sustained impressive productivity growth. The Nation's agricultural research system, including Federal-State public research as well as private-sector research, has been a key driver of this growth. Economic analysis finds strong and consistent evidence that investment in agricultural research has yielded high returns per dollar spent. These returns include benefits not only to the farm sector but also to the food industry and consumers in the form of more abundant commodities at lower prices.

  • On The Map: Agricultural Productivity Grew in Every State

    Amber Waves, September 01, 2008

    ERS provides estimates of annual growth in agricultural productivity for each of the 48 contiguous States. ERS calculates productivity as the difference between growth in agricultural output and growth in inputs used.

  • In the Long Run:Growth in Agricultural Productivity Limits Price Increases

    Amber Waves, September 01, 2008

    Prices across the U.S. economy rose an average of 3.4 percent per year between 1948 and 2007. Prices for agricultural inputs such as seeds, fertilizers, agricultural chemicals, equipment, and labor rose 3.6 percent annually over the same period.

  • Market Failures: When the Invisible Hand Gets Shaky

    Amber Waves, November 01, 2008

    Government intervention in agricultural markets may be warranted under circumstances where markets fail to allocate resources efficiently.

  • The Transformation of U.S. Livestock Agriculture: Scale, Efficiency, and Risks

    EIB-43, January 23, 2009

    ERS details the nature, causes, and effects of structural changes in U.S. livestock production as it shifts to larger, more specialized, and more tightly integrated enterprises.

  • Science, Technology, and Prospects for Growth in U.S. Corn Yields

    Amber Waves, December 01, 2009

    Recent increases in inflation-adjusted crop prices have sparked renewed interest in the potential for continued increases in crop yields. Investment in scientific research is key for boosting corn yields, making productivity, environmental, and bioenergy goals easier to attain.

  • Assessing the Benefits of Public Research Within an Economic Framework: The Case of USDA's Agricultural Research Service

    ERR-95, May 07, 2010

    Evaluation of publicly funded research can help provide accountability and prioritize programs. In addition, Federal intramural research planning generally involves an institutional assessment of the appropriate Federal role, if any, and whether the research should be left to others, such as universities or the private sector. Many methods of evaluation are available, peer review-used primarily for establishing scientific merit-being the most common. Economic analysis focuses on quantifying ultimate research outcomes, whether measured in goods with market prices or in nonmarket goods such as environmental quality or human health. However, standard economic techniques may not be amenable for evaluating some important public research priorities or for institutional assessments. This report reviews quantitative methods and applies qualitative economic reasoning and stakeholder interviewing methods to the evaluation of economic benefits of Federal intramural research using three case studies of research conducted by USDA's Agricultural Research Service (ARS). Differences among the case studies highlight the need to select suitable assessment techniques from available methodologies, the limited scope for comparing assessment results across programs, and the inherent difficulty in quantifying benefits in some research areas. When measurement and attribution issues make it difficult to quantify these benefits, the report discusses how qualitative insights based on economic concepts can help research prioritization.

  • Indonesian Agricultural Growth Leads to Increased Trade and Food Security

    Amber Waves, June 01, 2010

    Indonesian policy changes in the mid-1980s and mid-1990s provided incentives for agricultural producers to exploit the country’s comparative advantage in perennial crops and led to an increase in agricultural exports and per capita incomes. As a result, food insecurity in Indonesia declined by nearly half from 1981 to 2007.

  • Accelerated Productivity Growth Offsets Decline in Resource Expansion in Global Agriculture

    Amber Waves, September 01, 2010

    The rate of growth in global agricultural productivity has accelerated in recent decades and accounts for an increasing share of expanding agricultural production.