Publications

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  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Regional Trends in Extension System Resources

    AIB-781, April 07, 2003

    In 1914, when the Cooperative Extension Service was founded, about 30 percent of U.S. workers were in agriculture-related occupations; by the late 1990s, that share had declined to about 1 percent. The Extension System ("Extension") has changed along with its audience. The number of full-time-equivalent Extension personnel dropped by 12 percent from 1977 to 1997. Regional personnel FTE allocation patterns were mostly similar to the national ones, with the largest declines found in community resource development and 4-H youth programs. Staff years dedicated to agriculture and natural resources increased modestly, as did staff years dedicated to home economics and nutrition.

  • In the Long Run: Productivity Continues To Be the Engine of Growth in Agriculture

    Amber Waves, February 03, 2003

    Agricultural productivity growth averaged 1.68 percent from 1948 to 1999. However, the net contribution of all inputs to growth in output was less than one-tenth of 1 percentage point per year.

  • U.S. Agriculture, 1960-96: A Multilateral Comparison of Total Factor Productivity

    TB-1895, May 21, 2001

    This study provides estimates of the growth and relative levels of agricultural productivity for the 48 contiguous States for the period 1960 to 1996. For the full 1960-96 period, every State exhibits a positive and generally substantial average annual rate of productivity growth. There is considerable variance, however. The wide disparity in growth rates resulted in substantial changes in the ranking order of States by productivity. For each year, we calculate the coefficient of variation of productivity levels. We use these coefficients to show that the range of levels of productivity has narrowed over time, although the pattern of convergence was far from uniform. The fact that in some States, productivity grew faster than others and yet the cross-section dispersion decreased, implies that the States whose productivity grew most rapidly were those with lower initial levels of productivity. This result is consistent with Gerschenkron's notion of the advantage of relative backwardness. The States that were particularly far behind the productivity leaders had the most to gain from the diffusion of technical knowledge and proceeded to grow most rapidly. We also observe a positive relation between capital accumulation and productivity growth, implying embodiment of technology in capital.

  • Natural Resources, Agricultural Productivity, and Food Security

    AIB-765-3, April 26, 2001

    This issue brief describes ERS research on international differences in the quality of natural resources and their effects on agricultural productivity and food security.

  • Adoption of Agricultural Production Practices: Lessons Learned from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Area Studies Project

    AER-792, January 01, 2001

    The U.S. Department of Agriculture Area Studies Project was designed to characterize the extent of adoption of nutrient, pest, soil, and water management practices and to assess the factors that affect adoption for a wide range of management strategies across different natural resource regions. The project entailed the administration of a detailed field-level survey to farmers in 12 watersheds in the Nation to gather data on agricultural practices, input use, and natural resource characteristics associated with farming activities. The data were analyzed by the Economic Research Service using a consistent methodological approach with the full set of data to study the constraints associated with the adoption of micronutrients, N-testing, split nitrogen applications, green manure, biological pest controls, pest-resistant varieties, crop rotations, pheromones, scouting, conservation tillage, contour farming, strip cropping, grassed waterways, and irrigation. In addition to the combined-areas analyses, selected areas were chosen for analysis to illustrate the difference in results between aggregate and area-specific models. The unique sample design for the survey was used to explore the importance of field-level natural resource data for evaluating adoption at both the aggregate and watershed levels. Further analyses of the data illustrated how the adoption of specific management practices affects chemical use and crop yields.