Publications

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  • 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.

  • Cow-Calf Beef Production in Mexico

    LDPM-196-01, November 18, 2010

    This report characterizes Mexican beef cow-calf production systems in the context of the many issues affecting Mexican beef and cattle markets, including geo-climatic factors, disease and pest challenges, patterns of landownership, changes in export regions, and changes in domestic consumption as they relate to cow-calf production.

  • "No-Till" Farming Is a Growing Practice

    EIB-70, November 02, 2010

    ERS summarizes U.S. trends in the use of reduced-tillage practices on cropland planted to eight major crops--barley, corn, cotton, oats, rice, sorghum, soybeans, and wheat -- from 2000 to 2007, and provides estimates of acreage under no-till in 2009.

  • The Role of Agriculture in Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions

    EB-15, September 07, 2010

    Agriculture could play a prominent role in U.S. efforts to address climate change if farms and ranches undertake activities that reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions or take greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere. These activities may include shifting to conservation tillage, reducing the amount of nitrogen fertilizer applied to crops, changing livestock and manure management practices, and planting trees or grass. The Federal Government is considering offering carbon offsets and incentive payments to encourage rural landowners to pursue these climate-friendly activities as part of a broader effort to combat climate change. The extent to which farmers adopt such activities would depend on their costs, potential revenues, and other economic incentives created by climate policy. Existing Federal conservation programs provide preliminary estimates of the costs of agricultural carbon sequestration.

  • Direct Payments Can Influence Farmers’ Production Decisions

    Amber Waves, September 01, 2010

    ERS has identified multiple avenues through which Production Flexibility Contract payments could influence agricultural production, including providing easier access to capital markets, changing farmers’ risk preferences, or affecting land values, labor markets, and/or farmers’ expectations about future payments.

  • Wheat Outlook: August 2010

    WHS-10H01, August 25, 2010

    This report provides the results of ERS research on the economic consequences of ending the USDA Karnal bunt certification program for U.S. exports to countries that ban import of wheat from countries known to have the disease. USDA currently issues certificates that U.S. wheat shipments are from areas where KB is not known to occur.

  • America's Diverse Family Farms, 2010 Edition

    EIB-67, July 26, 2010

    ERS provides comprehensive information including number and size of U.S. farms, characteristics of operators, finances of farm businesses and households, and geographic distribution of farms.

  • The Farm Act's Regional Equity Provision: Impacts on Conservation Program Outcomes

    ERR-98, June 11, 2010

    The 2002 and 2008 Farm Acts increased funding for conservation programs that provide financial assistance to farmers to implement conservation practices on working farmland. Along with seeking cost-effective environmental benefits, these programs have a goal of spreading conservation funding equitably across States. The 2002 and 2008 Farm Acts strengthened this allocative goal by setting a minimum threshold for conservation funding for each State-one that exceeds historical funding for some States-for enrolling agricultural producers in specified conservation programs. This study uses conservation program data to examine evidence of the impacts of the Regional Equity provision of the 2002 Farm Act, and explores the tradeoffs that can occur among conservation program goals when legislation gives primacy to fund allocation. The study found that cross-State shifts in funding reduced the acres receiving conservation treatment for many resource problems, but increased the net economic benefits from treatments on some of them. Overall impacts on the types of producers enrolled were small.

  • Participation in Conservation Programs by Targeted Farmers: Beginning, Limited-Resource, and Socially Disadvantaged Operators' Enrollment Trends

    EIB-62, December 07, 2009

    Beginning, limited-resource, and socially disadvantaged farmers make up as much as 40 percent of all U.S. farms. Some Federal conservation programs contain provisions that encourage participation by such "targeted" farmers and the 2008 Farm Act furthered these efforts. This report compares the natural resource characteristics, resource issues, and conservation treatment costs on farms operated by targeted farmers with those of other participants in the largest U.S. working-lands and land retirement conservation programs. Some evidence shows that targeted farmers tend to operate more environmentally sensitive land than other farmers, have different conservation priorities, and receive different levels of payments. Data limitations preclude a definitive analysis of whether efforts to improve participation by targeted farmers hinders or enhances the conservation programs' ability to deliver environmental benefits cost effectively. But the different conservation priorities among types of farmers suggest that if a significantly larger proportion of targeted farmers participates in these programs, the programs' economic and environmental outcomes could change.

  • Cellulosic Ethanol From Crop Residue Is No Free Lunch?

    Amber Waves, December 01, 2009

    Harvesting crop residues for use as biofuel feedstocks may provide revenue to farmers but can also impose costs by reducing soil productivity and increasing loss of nutrients. Changes in soil erosion and fertilizer use may also result in off-farm environmental impacts.

  • Ethanol and a Changing Agricultural Landscape

    ERR-86, November 18, 2009

    The Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA) of 2007 established specific targets for the production of biofuel in the United States. Until advanced technologies become commercially viable, meeting these targets will increase demand for traditional agricultural commodities used to produce ethanol, resulting in land-use, production, and price changes throughout the farm sector. This report summarizes the estimated effects of meeting the EISA targets for 2015 on regional agricultural production and the environment. Meeting EISA targets for ethanol production is estimated to expand U.S. cropped acreage by nearly 5 million acres by 2015, an increase of 1.6 percent over what would otherwise be expected. Much of the growth comes from corn acreage, which increases by 3.5 percent over baseline projections. Water quality and soil carbon will also be affected, in some cases by greater percentages than suggested by changes in the amount of cropped land. The economic and environmental implications of displacing a portion of corn ethanol production with ethanol produced from crop residues are also estimated.

  • 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.