Publications

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  • 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.

  • Trends and Developments in Hog Manure Management: 1998-2009

    EIB-81, September 14, 2011

    In the past decade, hog production has increasingly become consolidated, with larger operations producing a greater volume of hog manure on smaller areas. With less cropland for spreading the manure, hog farmers may be compensating through more effective manure management. The authors use data from 1998 to 2009 collected in three national surveys of hog farmers. Over this period, structural changes in the hog sector altered how manure is stored and handled. Changes to the Clean Water Act, State regulations, and local conflicts over air quality also affected manure management decisions. The findings further suggest that environmental policy has influenced conservation-compatible manure management practices. The authors examine how the use of nutrient management plans and of practices such as controlled manure application rates vary with scale of production and how these practices changed over the study period. This report is an update of an earlier report, Changes in Manure Management in the Hog Sector: 1998-2004.

  • On the Doorstep of the Information Age: Recent Adoption of Precision Agriculture

    EIB-80, August 24, 2011

    The adoption of precision agriculture, which encompasses a suite of farm-level information technologies, can improve the efficiency of input use and reduce environmental harm from the overapplication of inputs such as fertilizers and pesticides. Still, the adoption of precision agricultural technologies and practices has been less rapid than envisioned a decade ago. Using Agricultural Resource Management Survey (ARMS) data collected over the past 10 years, this report examines trends in the adoption of four key information technologies-yield monitors, variable-rate application technologies, guidance systems, and GPS maps-in the production of major field crops. While yield monitoring is now used on over 40 percent of U.S. grain crop acres, very few producers have adopted GPS maps or variable-rate input application technologies.

  • Trade, the Expanding Mexican Beef Industry, and Feedlot and Stocker Cattle Production in Mexico

    LDPM-206-01, August 22, 2011

    This report characterizes Mexican feeder-calf and fed cattle production systems in the context of the imports of Mexican feeder cattle into the United States. The increase in cattle feeding in Mexico will increasingly affect U.S. feeder cattle imports and U.S. beef exports to Mexico in ambiguous ways as Mexican population and incomes increase. Cattle production also depends on geo-climatic factors, disease and pest challenges, feeding systems, and feeder cattle export patterns.

  • Impacts of Higher Energy Prices on Agriculture and Rural Economies

    ERR-123, August 18, 2011

    ERS looks at direct and indirect impacts of higher energy prices on the agricultural and rural sectors, with scenarios developed for specific energy price changes.

  • The Ethanol Decade: An Expansion of U.S. Corn Production, 2000-09

    EIB-79, August 18, 2011

    ERS examines how the farm sector reacted to increased demand for corn needed to fuel a 9-billion-gallon rise in ethanol production in the past decade. In the United States, corn is the primary ethanol feedstock.

  • Public Agriculture Research Spending and Future U.S. Agricultural Productivity Growth: Scenarios for 2010-2050

    EB-17, July 25, 2011

    By 2050, global agricultural demand is projected to grow by 70-100 percent due to population growth, energy demands, and higher incomes in developing countries. Meeting this demand from existing agricultural resources will require raising global agricultural total factor productivity (TFP) by a similar level. The rate of TFP growth of U.S. agriculture has averaged about 1.5 percent annually over the past 50 years, but stagnant (inflation-adjusted) funding for public agricultural research since the 1980s may be causing agricultural TFP growth to slow down. ERS simulations indicate that if U.S. public agricultural R&D spending remains constant (in nominal terms) until 2050, the annual rate of agricultural TFP growth will fall to under 0.75 percent and U.S. agricultural output will increase by only 40 percent by 2050. Under this scenario, raising output beyond this level would require bringing more land, labor, capital, materials, and other resources into production.

  • Grassland to Cropland Conversion in the Northern Plains: The Role of Crop Insurance, Commodity, and Disaster Programs

    ERR-120, June 30, 2011

    ERS examined how quickly landowners were converting grasslands to cropland in the Northern Plains and the role of crop insurance and other farm programs in their decisions.

  • Public Research Yields High Returns... Measured in More Than Dollars

    Amber Waves, June 16, 2011

    Though standard economic approaches may be difficult to apply to evaluations of some benefits of public investments in agricultural research, economic reasoning can provide qualitative analysis even when benefits are difficult to quantify.

  • 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.

  • The Diverse Structure and Organization of U.S. Beef Cow-Calf Farms

    EIB-73, March 28, 2011

    The beef cow-calf industry is characterized by large numbers of small farms, although large farms account for most of the production. Operators of beef cow-calf farms have varying goals for their cattle enterprises.

  • Contracting Expands for Field Crops

    Amber Waves, March 14, 2011

    Contracts cover a growing share of U.S. corn, soybean, and wheat production. Rising use likely reflects increased price variability, a wider availability of risk management tools, and structural change in agriculture.

  • Higher Carbon Prices Could Spur Adoption of Methane Digesters

    Amber Waves, March 14, 2011

    Currently, methane digesters’ costs often exceed their benefits to livestock producers, but higher prices in voluntary, regional, or national carbon markets could make them profitable for many operations.

  • Farmers Develop Strategies To Reduce Energy Input Costs

    Amber Waves, March 14, 2011

    Between 2002 and 2008, fuel and fertilizer prices rose sharply, contributing to higher total farm energy-intensive input costs. The increase prompted farmers to employ energy-saving strategies and to use energy more efficiently.

  • Agricultural Contracting Update: Contracts in 2008

    EIB-72, February 14, 2011

    ERS examines the effects of current Federal tax provisions regarding low- and moderate-income households in rural America, focusing on the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and the Child Tax Credit (CTC).

  • The Influence of Rising Commodity Prices on the Conservation Reserve Program

    ERR-110, February 11, 2011

    This report considers how increased commodity prices might influence enrollment in and benefits from the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) using two complementary models: a likely-to-bid model that uses National Resources Inventory data to simulate offers to the general signup portion of the CRP and an opt-out model that simulates retention of current CRP contracts. Under several higher crop price scenarios, including one that incorporates 15 billion gallons of crop-based biofuels production, maintaining the CRP as currently configured will lead to significant expenditure increases. If constraints are placed on increasing rental rates, it might be possible to meet enrollment goals with moderate increases in CRP rental rates-but this will mean accepting lower average Environmental Benefits Index scores as landowners with profitable but environmentally sensitive lands choose not to enroll.

  • Measuring the Indirect Land-Use Change Associated With Increased Biofuel Feedstock Production: A Review of Modeling Efforts: Report to Congress

    AP-054, February 10, 2011

    The House Report 111-181 accompanying H.R. 2997, the 2010 Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies Appropriations Bill, requested the USDA's Economic Research Service (ERS) in conjunction with the Office of the Chief Economist, to conduct a study of land-use changes for renewable fuels and feedstocks used to produce them. This report summarizes the current state of knowledge of the drivers of land-use change and describes the analytic methods used to estimate the impact of biofuel feedstock production on land use. The models used to assess policy impacts have incorporated some of the major uncertainties inherent in making projections of future conditions, but some uncertainties will continue exist. The larger the impact of domestic biofuels feedstock production on commodity prices and the availability of exports, the larger the international land-use effects of likely to be. The amount of pressure placed on land internationally will depend in part on how much of the land needed for biofuel production is met through an expansion of agricultural land in the United States. If crop yield per acre increases through more intensive management or new crop varieties, then less land is needed to grow a particular amount of that crop.

  • Carbon Prices and the Adoption of Methane Digesters on Dairy and Hog Farms

    EB-16, February 07, 2011

    Biogas recovery systems collect methane from manure and burn it to generate electricity or heat. Burning methane reduces its global warming potential, thereby reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Climate change mitigation policies that effectively put a price on GHG emissions could allow livestock producers to "sell" these reductions to other greenhouse gas emitters who face emissions caps or who voluntarily wish to offset their own emissions. Depending on the direction and scope of future climate change legislation, income from carbon off set sales could make methane digesters profitable for many livestock producers. By modeling the main determinants of producers' decisions to adopt biogas recovery systems, we illustrate how the price of carbon influences this decision and the potential supply of carbon offsets from the livestock sector.

  • Climate Change Policy and the Adoption of Methane Digesters on Livestock Operations

    ERR-111, February 07, 2011

    Methane digesters-biogas recovery systems that use methane from manure to generate electricity-have not been widely adopted in the United States because costs have exceeded benefits to operators. Burning methane in a digester reduces greenhouse gas emissions from manure management. A policy or program that pays producers for these emission reductions-through a carbon offset market or directly with payments-could increase the number of livestock producers who would profit from adopting a methane digester. We developed an economic model that illustrates how dairy and hog operation size, location, and manure management methods, along with electricity and carbon prices, could influence methane digester profits. The model shows that a relatively moderate increase in the price of carbon could induce significantly more dairy and hog operations, particularly large ones, to adopt a methane digester, thereby substantially lowering emissions of greenhouse gases.

  • U.S. Farmers Increasingly Adopt “No-Till” for Major Crops

    Amber Waves, December 01, 2010

    Widespread adoption of less intensive tillage practices could enable U.S. agriculture to sequester substantial amounts of carbon and contribute to efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Less intensive tillage would also reduce water sedimentation and chemical pollution as well as atmospheric dust and haze.