Publications

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  • 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.

  • Marketing U.S. Organic Foods: Recent Trends From Farms to Consumers

    EIB-58, September 30, 2009

    Organic foods now occupy prominent shelf space in the produce and dairy aisles of most mainstream U.S. food retailers. The marketing boom has pushed retail sales of organic foods up to $21.1 billion in 2008 from $3.6 billion in 1997. U.S. organic-industry growth is evident in an expanding number of retailers selling a wider variety of foods, the development of private-label product lines by many supermarkets, and the widespread introduction of new products. A broader range of consumers has been buying more varieties of organic food. Organic handlers, who purchase products from farmers and often supply them to retailers, sell more organic products to conventional retailers and club stores than ever before. Only one segment has not kept pace-organic farms have struggled at times to produce sufficient supply to keep up with the rapid growth in demand, leading to periodic shortages of organic products.

  • Agricultural Land Tenure and Carbon Offsets

    EB-14, September 23, 2009

    Agricultural Land Tenure and Carbon Offsets examines the potential role that land ownership might play in determining the agricultural sector's involvement in carbon sequestration programs. By estimating the carbon sequestration potential of agricultural producers who own most of the land they operate, this report finds that land ownership should not be a constraining factor in agriculture's ability to provide carbon offsets.

  • Issues and Prospects in Corn, Soybeans, and Wheat Futures Markets

    FDS-09G-01, August 05, 2009

    The past 5 years have seen large increases in trading of corn, soybean, and wheat futures contracts by nontraditional traders, a trend that coincided with historic price increases for these commodities. These events have raised questions about whether changes in the composition of traders participating have contributed to movements in commodity prices beyond the effects of market fundamentals. Evidence suggests the link between futures and cash prices for some commodity markets may have weakened (poor convergence), making it more difficult for traditional traders to use futures markets to manage risk. This report discusses the role and objective of new futures traders compared with those of traditional futures traders and seeks to determine if the composition of traders in futures markets has contributed to convergence problems. Market activity is analyzed by focusing on positions of both traditional and new market traders, price levels, price volatility, and volume and open interest trends. Convergence of futures and cash prices is examined, along with implications and prospects for risk management by market participants. The report also discusses the implications for market performance and the regulatory response of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission.

  • Trade and Development When Exports Lack Diversification: A Case Study from Malawi

    ERR-77, July 30, 2009

    Developing countries, particularly those that depend heavily on a small number of agricultural exports, are vulnerable to domestic and international shocks. These countries often have difficulty achieving sustained economic growth. This analysis uses Malawi, a country that earns most of its foreign exchange from tobacco, as a case study of export concentration and heavy exposure to volatility. The econometric results suggest that the decline in Malawi's gross domestic product (GDP) when tobacco exports are falling is almost three times greater than the increase in GDP when exports are rising. Model based simulations indicate that variability in tobacco exports leads to slower economic growth because GDP falls by a relatively large amount in response to a given decrease in exports, while recovering little during an upswing in exports. Gains in tobacco yield and improvements in marketing efficiency, however, can help buffer Malawi's GDP from variability in export revenues.

  • Manure Use for Fertilizer and for Energy: Report to Congress

    AP-037, June 25, 2009

    The Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008 directed the U.S. Department of Agriculture to evaluate the role of animal manure as a source of fertilizer, and its other uses. About 5 percent of all U.S. cropland is currently fertilized with livestock manure, and corn accounts for over half of the acreage to which manure is applied. Expanded environmental regulation through nutrient management plans will likely lead to wider use of manure on cropland, at higher production costs, but with only modest impacts on production costs, commodity demand, or farm structure. There is widespread interest in using manure as a feedstock for energy production. While current use is quite limited, expanded government support, either direct or indirectly, could lead to a substantial increase in manure use as a feedstock. However, current energy processes are unlikely to compete with fertilizer uses of manure, because they leave fertilizer nutrients as residues, in more marketable form, and because manure-to-energy projects will be most profitable in regions where raw manure is in excess supply, with the least value as fertilizer.

  • Emerging Issues in the U.S. Organic Industry

    EIB-55, June 03, 2009

    Consumer demand for organic products has widened over the last decade. While new producers have emerged to help meet demand, market participants report that a supply squeeze is constraining growth for both individual firms and the organic sector overall. Partly in response to shortages in organic supply, Congress in 2008 included provisions in the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act (2008 Farm Act) that, for the first time, provide financial support to farmers to convert to organic production. This report examines recent economic research on the adoption of organic farming systems, organic production costs and returns, and market conditions to gain a better understanding of the organic supply squeeze and other emerging issues in this rapidly changing industry.

  • Fruit and Tree Nuts Outlook: June 2009

    FTS-337-01, June 03, 2009

    Specialized fruit and tree nut farms represent a substantial segment of the U.S. fruit and tree nut industry. By nature of the commodities produced and the markets targeted, these specialized farms require substantial investments in production inputs. Using data from USDA's Agricultural Resource and Management Survey (ARMS), this report investigates the major expense components of specialized fruit and tree nut farms in the United States from 1998 to 2006. Based on 3-year averages, the analysis compares farm expenses by farm size and across regions. Total cash expenses were highest in the West where the highest concentration of specialized fruit and tree nut farms are located, including a majority of the largest and most highly specialized farm operations. Labor was the largest cash expense for fruit and tree nut farms, followed by fertilizer and other agricultural chemical inputs.

  • Beginning Farmers and Ranchers

    EIB-53, May 15, 2009

    Beginning farmers and ranchers accounted for 10 percent of the sector's total value of production in 2007. ERS provides an overview of their characteristics and the farm businesses they operate.

  • An Illustrated Guide to Research Findings from USDA's Economic Research Service

    EIB-48, April 01, 2009

    This book contains a sampling of recent ERS research illustrating the breadth of the Agency's research on current policy issues: from biofuels to food consumption to land conservation to patterns of trade for agricultural products.

  • U.S. Public Agricultural Research: Changes in Funding Sources and Shifts in Emphasis, 1980-2005

    EIB-45, March 31, 2009

    Over the years, proposals have recommended shifting the focus of public agricultural research from applied to basic research, and giving higher priority to peer-reviewed, competitively funded grants. The public agricultural research system in the United States is a Federal-State partnership, with most research conducted at State institutions. In recent years, State funds have declined, USDA funds have remained fairly steady (with changes in the composition of funding), but funding from other Federal agencies and the private sector has increased. Efforts to increase competitively awarded funds for research have fluctuated over time, as have special grants (earmarks). Along with shifts in funding sources, the proportion of basic research being undertaken within the public agricultural research system has declined. This report focuses on the way public agricultural research is funded in the United States and how changes in funding sources over the last 25 years reflect changes in the type of research pursued.

  • Changes in Manure Management in the Hog Sector: 1998-2004

    EIB-50, March 31, 2009

    In recent years, structural changes in the hog sector, including increased farm size and regional shifts in production, have altered manure management practices. Also, changes to the Clean Water Act, State regulations, and increasing local conflicts over air quality issues, including odor, have influenced manure management decisions. This study uses data from two national surveys of hog farmers to examine how hog manure management practices vary with the scale of production and how these practices evolved between 1998 and 2004. Included are the effects of structural changes, recent policies on manure management technologies and practices, the use of nutrient management plans, and manure application rates. The findings suggest that larger hog operations are altering their manure management decisions in response to binding nutrient application constraints, and that environmental policy is contributing to the adoption of conservation compatible manure management practices.

  • Wheat Outlook: March 2009

    WHS-09C01, March 24, 2009

    The recent historic rise in farm input costs and wheat prices has had economic effects on the U.S. wheat sector. A cumulative distribution of forecasted production costs for wheat farms shows that current high (but falling) wheat prices will allow a greater share of producers to cover their production costs in 2008 (90 percent) than in 2004 (82 percent), despite higher input costs in 2008. However, if farm-gate prices for wheat continue to fall into 2009, and if prices for inputs do not drop off similarly, many more wheat producers may find themselves unable to cover production costs and the U.S. wheat sector may see further attrition of planted area.

  • Exploring Alternative Farm Definitions: Implications for Agricultural Statistics and Program Eligibility

    EIB-49, March 20, 2009

    Meeting agricultural policy and statistical goals requires a definition of U.S. agriculture's basic unit, the farm. However, these goals can be at odds with one another. USDA defines "farm" very broadly to comprehensively measure agricultural activity. Consequently, most establishments classified as farms in the United States produce very little, while most production occurs on a small number of much larger operations. While desirable for obtaining comprehensive national coverage, measurement and analysis based on the current definition can provide misleading characterizations of farms and farm structure in the United States. Additionally, more stringent requirements have been proposed for farms to qualify for Federal agricultural program benefits. This analysis outlines the structure of U.S. farms, discusses the current farm definition, evaluates several potential criteria that have been proposed to define target farms more precisely, and examines how these criteria affect both statistical coverage and program eligibility.

  • Factors Contributing to the Recent Increase in U.S. Fertilizer Prices, 2002-08

    AR-33, February 13, 2009

    U.S. prices of fertilizer nutrients began to rise steadily in 2002 and increased sharply to historic highs in 2008 due to the combined effects of a number of domestic and global long- and shortrun supply and demand factors. From 2007 to 2008, spring nitrogen prices increased by a third, phosphate prices nearly doubled, and potash prices doubled. The price spike in 2008 reflects low inventories at the beginning of 2008 combined with the inability of the U.S. fertilizer industry to quickly adjust to surging demand or sharp declines in international supply. Declining fertilizer demand, disruption in fall applications, increased fertilizer imports (July to August), and tightening credit markets for fertilizer purchases contributed to the decline of fertilizer prices in late 2008. The prospect for strong fertilizer demand in early 2009, high raw material costs for the manufacture of fertilizers, production cutbacks, and decreasing supplies from fertilizer imports, however, could put upward pressure on U.S. fertilizer prices in spring 2009.