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ERS Charts of Note

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See also: Editor’s Pick 2014: Best of Charts of Note gallery.

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California’s irrigation varies by crop  
Monday, April 27, 2015
The California drought continues into 2015—as of April, 44 percent of the State is classified under the exceptional drought rating (meaning that there are exceptional and widespread crop/pasture losses; and shortages of water in reservoirs, streams, and wells creating water emergencies, as determined by U.S. Drought Monitor, produced by the interdepartmental U.S. Government National Integrated Drought Information System [NIDIS]). Farmers in California grow a wide variety of crops using off-farm surface water, groundwater, and—to a limited extent—on-farm surface water. Crops such as rice, cotton, and beans that are most dependent on off-farm surface water are the most vulnerable to reductions in snowpack and reservoir storage due to the ongoing drought. In addition, farmers use a variety of irrigation technologies to apply water. Farms that use the least amount of gravity irrigation, such as orchards/vineyards/tree nuts, vegetables, and berries, are the most able to limit evaporation losses during the drought. In many cases, the most capital intensive crops and irrigation systems, such as almond orchards using drip irrigation systems, have been strategically located over the most reliable water supplies, which is why these crops are more likely to continue irrigating during the drought. The crops that represent the predominant sources of agricultural water use—orchards, rice, hay, and vegetables—consume large amounts of water primarily because they are grown on large amounts of acreage. This chart visualizes information found in California Drought: Farm and Food Impacts in the ERS newsroom, updated April 2015.
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Vietnam’s agricultural trade has grown rapidly in the past decade  
Friday, April 24, 2015
After Vietnam joined the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), its agricultural trade within the 10-member regional trade bloc expanded. The normalization of trade with the United States in 2001 and WTO accession in 2007 also provided catalysts for growth and integration. Subsequent preferential trade agreements (PTAs) have led to tariff reductions that have only recently begun to take effect. Today, Vietnam’s agricultural trade is still led by trade with its ASEAN partners; however, China has become a major export market and Vietnam’s largest trade partner, while the United States is a close second, and also the largest source of imports. Trade growth with both partners has been significant, growing 7- and 10-fold, respectively, while imports from South America have also grown. The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement, now under negotiation, is viewed as important to Vietnam’s long-term economic strategy as it could potentially secure markets abroad and facilitate the flow of foreign investment. Vietnam seeks greater access for its textile and footwear industry, while exporting countries, including the United States, see Vietnam as a market with growth potential. This report is from the Amber Waves article, “Japan, Vietnam, and the Asian Model of Agricultural Development and Trade.”
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Fast-food purchasers spend more time in secondary eating and drinking outside the home  
Thursday, April 23, 2015
On an average day over 2006-08—the most recent data available—just over half of Americans age 18 and older engaged in secondary eating or drinking, meaning they consumed food or beverages while doing another (primary) activity. Fast-food purchasers spent about the same amount of time in secondary eating on an average day as the total adult population (23.1 versus 23.9 minutes) but more time in secondary drinking (76.9 versus 65.4 minutes). In addition, fast-food purchasers spent more time engaged in eating/drinking multitasking during certain activities than the total population average. Fast-food purchasers spent more time in secondary eating and secondary drinking while at work, at entertainment venues, and during travel (either as driver or passenger) than the total population average. This information is from the ERS report, The Role of Time in Fast-Food Purchasing Behavior in the United States, November 2014.
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Incentive payments often boost adoption of conservation practices  
Wednesday, April 22, 2015
Under the Agricultural Act of 2014, Congress provided an estimated $28 billion in mandatory 2014-18 funding for USDA conservation program payments that encourage farmers to adopt conservation practices. If farmers would have adopted the practice even without financial incentive, however, the practices are not “additional,” and the payments provide income for farmers without improving environmental quality. Some farmers have adopted specific conservation practices without receiving payments because doing so reduces production costs or preserves the long-term productivity of their farmland (e.g., conservation tillage). Many other farmers have not adopted conservation practices, presumably because the cost of doing so exceeds expected onfarm benefits, the value of which can vary based on many factors, including soil, climate, topography, crop/livestock mix, producer management skills, and risk aversion. Since the value of onfarm benefits can vary widely across practices and farms, identifying which farmers will adopt a conservation practice only if they receive a payment is not straightforward. Additionality tends to be high for practices that are expensive to install, have limited onfarm benefits, or onfarm benefits that accrue only in the distant future (e.g., soil conservation structures, buffer practices, and written nutrient management plans). Practices that can be profitable in the short term are more likely to be adopted without payment assistance and tend to be less additional (e.g., conservation tillage). Research indicates that the likelihood a payment will result in additional environmental benefit increases as the implementation cost of the conservation practice increases (such as soil conservation structures) and its impact on farm profitability declines. This chart is based on data from the ERS report, Additionality in U.S. Agricultural Conservation and Regulatory Offset Programs, ERR-170, July 2014.
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Calorie shares of the diet in Tanzania, by region  
Tuesday, April 21, 2015
Food consumption patterns vary widely across different regions of Tanzania, leading to significant differences in food basket costs and impacts of changes in food prices.  Understanding these consumption patterns is key to measuring access to food in developing countries and supports U.S. policies targeting global food security.  ERS analyzed consumption patterns nationally and for three regions: the business capital Dar es Salaam, the Southern Highlands, and the Lake Zone in the northwestern corner of the country. On average, the Tanzanian diet relies heavily on starchy staples, with maize providing over 40 percent of household calories. But maize accounts for 51 percent of total calories in the Southern Highlands, where it’s produced in surplus, and just 32 percent of calories the deficit producing Lake Zone. In the Lake Zone, cassava is the other key staple, providing about 19 percent of total calories. Rice, beans, and cooking bananas are also important to the Tanzanian diet;in most areas, beans are the main source of protein. Total food basket costs are lowest in the Southern Highlands and highest in Dar es Salaam. This chart is based on data found in Measuring Access to Food in Tanzania: A Food Basket Approach.
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California drought continues, but produce inflation expected to be near historical average  
Monday, April 20, 2015
The California drought continues into 2015—as of March, 42 percent of the State is classified under the exceptional drought rating. Despite these conditions, U.S. fresh fruit and vegetable price inflation is expected to be close to its historical average in 2015. ERS predicts fresh fruit prices will increase 2.5 to 3.5 percent and fresh vegetable prices 2.0 to 3.0 percent. While California does grow a large percentage of many U.S. fresh fruits and vegetables, portions of the produce purchased in grocery stores are imported from various foreign markets. Currently, the strong U.S. dollar is making foreign produce relatively less expensive, putting downward pressure on U.S. retail produce prices. Commodities that are grown almost entirely in California and whose supplies are not largely supplemented by imports could begin to experience higher price increases in 2015. This chart appears in the Food Prices and Consumers section of the California Drought: Farm and Food Impacts page on the ERS website. Information on ERS’s food price forecasts can be found in ERS’s Food Price Outlook data product.
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Global stocks of rice are tightening in 2015  
Friday, April 17, 2015
Global ending stocks of most agricultural commodities, including feedgrains, oilseeds, wheat, and cotton are expected to reach multi-year highs in 2015. Ample supplies are reflected in prices that are well below the record levels of just a few years ago. Rice is an exception, with global ending stocks projected to decline for the second year in a row to reach their lowest level since the 2009/10 marketing year (August/July). At the same time, global use continues to grow, led by consumption growth in China, India, Bangladesh, the Philippines, and several other nations. As a result, the global stocks-to-use ratio is projected at just over 20 percent, the lowest it has been since 2007/08, a time when international concern over high commodity and food prices led several of the world’s leading rice producing and consuming countries to restrict exports and increase government-owned rice reserves. These actions resulted in a rapid rise in global rice prices and reduced trade. Today, even though global stocks are approaching levels that prompted substantial trade restrictions in early 2008, prices are lower and global rice trade remains at near-record levels. This chart is from the April 2015 Rice Outlook.
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Degree of rurality influences recent U.S. county population growth and decline  
Thursday, April 16, 2015
ERS Rural Urban Continuum (RUC) codes subdivide the broad metro/nonmetro categories into three metro and six nonmetro groupings. Recently released county-level estimates show that population change within the RUC ranged from over 4-percent growth in metro areas with 1 million or more people to 1-percent declines in the two rural, nonmetro categories. Overall population growth occurred in nonmetro counties with sizeable towns (more than 20,000 urban residents) despite net out-migration. In these counties, employment opportunities often attract younger populations, which in turn imparts higher rates of natural increase (more births than deaths) compared with other nonmetro counties. Conversely, long-term out-migration of younger people results in an older average population in the most rural counties, creating a pattern of natural decrease (more deaths than births). For decades, nonmetro counties that were physically adjacent to metro areas grew rapidly from suburbanization. This is no longer happening, due to the effects of the housing crisis, changing residential preferences that favor urban centers, and reclassification of fast-growing suburban counties from nonmetro to metro. This chart is found in the ERS topic page on Population and Migration, updated April 2015.
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Taxable net farm income increased in 2012, but was still negative  
Wednesday, April 15, 2015
U.S. farm households generally receive income from both farm and off-farm activities, and for many, off-farm income largely determines the household’s income tax liability. Since 1980, farm sole proprietors, in aggregate, have reported negative net farm income for tax purposes. Over the 1998-2008 period, both the share of farm sole proprietors reporting losses and the amount of losses reported generally increased, due in part to deduction allowances for capital expenses. Since 2007, strong commodity prices have bolstered farm sector profits and the net losses from farming have declined. In 2012, the latest year for which complete data are available, U.S. Internal Revenue Service data showed that nearly 70 percent of farm sole proprietors reported a farm loss, totaling almost $24 billion. The remaining farms reported profits totaling $18.2 billion. This chart updates the chart found in the February 2013 Amber Waves feature, “Federal Income Tax Reform and the Potential Effects on Farm Households.”
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Livestock sector is rebounding in the former Soviet Union region  
Tuesday, April 14, 2015
During the last decades of the USSR, the livestock sector grew substantially as the state heavily subsidized both the production and consumption of livestock goods. After the breakup of the Soviet Union, the livestock sectors of Russia, Ukraine, and other countries of the former USSR contracted. By the end of the 1990s, both animal inventories and meat production were half (or even less) than at the start of the decade, as these countries’ governments could no longer afford the large subsidies provided to the sector during the Soviet period. Beginning in 2000, the livestock sector in Russia, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan began to rebound, though output has not yet reached pre-reform levels. As gross domestic product (GDP) began to rise the governments in these countries had the financial resources to restore some of the subsidies to the sector. Russia also protected the sector with a system of tariff rate quotas on meat imports imposed in 2003. In addition, large modern livestock producers are increasing the efficiency and productivity of operations. The poultry and pork industries have grown, but the beef industry has yet to experience a turnaround. This chart is from the report, Rising Grain Exports by the Former Soviet Union Region: Causes and Outlook.
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Effects of the WIC program extend beyond its participants  
Monday, April 13, 2015
Each month, USDA’s Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) provides supplemental food, health care referrals, and nutrition education to over 8 million low-income, nutritionally at-risk women, infants, and preschool children. In 2012, just over half of all infants in the United States, and over a quarter of all pregnant and postpartum women and children younger than 5, participated in the program, representing a potentially lucrative market for manufacturers of some WIC-approved foods, such as cereals. WIC requires that all breakfast cereals provided through the program be fortified with iron and contain no more than 6 grams of sugars per dry ounce. In response to these requirements, some cereal manufacturers formulated (or reformulated) their products to meet WIC standards. Because these products can also be consumed by non-WIC individuals, WIC may impact the diet quality of all children and adults who eat WIC-approved breakfast cereals, not just participants. This chart is from “Painting a More Complete Picture of WIC: How WIC Impacts Nonparticipants” in the April 2015 issue of ERS’s Amber Waves magazine.
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Costs of restoring and preserving wetlands vary across the United States  
Friday, April 10, 2015
USDA’s costs of restoring and preserving new wetlands across the contiguous United States range from about $170 to $6,100 per acre, with some of the lowest costs in western North Dakota and eastern Montana and the highest in major corn-producing areas and western Washington and Oregon. To analyze conservation program expenditures, ERS researchers generated county-level estimates of wetland costs for each of the major wetland regions as designated by USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (outlined in black in the map), using primarily NRCS Wetland Reserve Program contract data. Variations in costs are driven by differences in land values and the complexity of restoring hydrology and wetland ecosystems. Information about how the costs of restoring and preserving wetlands vary spatially (together with the relative benefits) can inform wetland targeting policies within States/regions and across the U.S. This map is found in the ERS report, Targeting Investments to Cost Effectively Restore and Protect Wetland Ecosystems: Some Economic Insights, ERR-183, February 2015.
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Over 30 retail fruits cost less than 80 cents per cup equivalent  
Thursday, April 09, 2015
Food intake surveys find Americans consuming about half the amount of recommended fruits per day. One reason may be that some consumers perceive fruit to be expensive. ERS calculated average prices paid in 2013 for 63 fresh and processed fruits measured in cup equivalents. A cup equivalent is the edible portion that will generally fit in a 1-cup measuring cup; 1/2 cup for raisins and other dried fruits. The amount of fruit a person should eat per day depends on age, gender, and level of activity. For a 2,000-calorie diet, 2 cup equivalents of fruits per day is recommended. Fresh watermelon at 21 cents per cup equivalent and apple juice (made from concentrate) at 27 cents were the lowest priced fruits, while fresh blackberries, fresh raspberries, and canned cherries were the priciest. Thirty-five fruits cost less than 80 cents per cup equivalent. The data in this chart are from ERS's Fruit and Vegetable Prices data product on the ERS website, updated March 19, 2015.
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South Africa's corn production to drop as dryness cuts yields  
Wednesday, April 08, 2015
South Africa’s 2014/15 corn production is forecast at 11.5 million tons, down 23 percent from the previous year. Area harvested is expected to be unchanged from a year earlier, but yields are forecast to drop 10 percent from the 5-year average due to heat and dryness during critical growth stages. South Africa is normally one of the world’s top 10 corn exporters, with exports averaging 2.1 million tons over the last 5 years. While favorable weather and growing conditions in most major corn producing countries is supporting record world corn yields in 2014/15, South Africa, one of the last countries to harvest corn in the 2014/15 marketing year, is expected to lower corn exports by half to 1 million tons. South Africa produces both white and yellow corn, and both types are experiencing poor weather conditions this year. White corn is a staple food in South Africa, and due to the production shortfall it will require a price premium over yellow corn to channel it into human food use and away from feeding to animals. This chart is based on the March 2015 Feed Outlook report.
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Share of U.S. school districts serving locally produced foods varies by State  
Tuesday, April 07, 2015
The Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 established the USDA Farm to School Program to encourage school districts to use locally produced food for school-provided breakfasts and lunches. USDA’s Farm to School Census, covering school years 2011-12 and 2012-13, found that 36 percent of the 9,887 public school districts that responded to the Census served locally produced food in their school meal programs, and an additional 9 percent planned to serve local foods in the future. Many States have legislation encouraging local sources of foods for school meals, and in a handful of States (Rhode Island, Maryland, Delaware, Vermont, Maine, and Hawaii) more than 80 percent of school districts that completed the questionnaire reported serving some local foods. In 10 other States, 20 percent or fewer districts reported serving local foods. Some of the hurdles to serving local foods cited by school districts included lack of year-round availability of key items, high prices for local foods, and lack of availability of local foods from primary vendors. This map appears in “Many U.S. School Districts Serve Local Foods” in the March 2015 issue of ERS’s Amber Waves magazine.
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Rural population decline continues in 2014  
Monday, April 06, 2015
The number of people living in rural (nonmetropolitan) counties declined for the fourth year in a row according to population estimates released last week by the U.S. Census Bureau. While hundreds of individual counties have lost population over the years, especially in remote or sparsely-settled regions, this marks the first period of population decline for rural (nonmetro) areas as a whole. Population declines stem from a combination of fewer births, more deaths, and changing migration patterns. From July 2013 to July 2014, the increase in rural population that came from natural change (58,348 more births than deaths) did not match the decrease in population from net migration (89,251 more people moved out than moved in), leading to overall population loss. The contribution of natural change to rural population growth will likely continue its gradual downward trend due to historically low fertility rates and an aging population. Net migration rates are prone to short-term fluctuations in response to economic conditions. This chart is based on the data found in County-level Datasets: Population on the ERS website, updated April 2015.
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Manmade fibers behind increase in textile and apparel product imports  
Friday, April 03, 2015
U.S. net textile and apparel fiber imports rose for a second consecutive calendar year in 2014 to their highest level in 4 years. Net imports reached approximately 14.5 billion raw-fiber-equivalent pounds in 2014, compared with 13.9 billion pounds in 2013 and a record 15.1 billion pounds in 2007. In 2014, total fiber product imports grew 3 percent to their highest since 2010, while exports rose 1 percent to their highest level since 2008. U.S. net imports consist largely of cotton and manmade fiber products, but cotton’s share has declined in recent years due to the steady growth in the use of manmade fibers, due in part to their relative price advantage. In 2014, cotton textile and apparel products accounted for about 46 percent of the total, while manmade fibers contributed 47 percent. By comparison, just 5 years ago, cotton contributed nearly 56 percent of the total compared with manmade fibers’ share of 38 percent. This chart is from the March 2015 Cotton and Wool Outlook report.
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Average net cash income for farm businesses is forecast down in all regions in 2015  
Thursday, April 02, 2015
After historically high average net cash farm income (NCFI) in 2012 and 2013, average NCFI is expected to decline 22.7 percent in 2014F-15F for U.S. farm businesses (defined as farms with annual gross cash farm income greater than $350,000, or smaller operations where the operator’s primary occupation is farming), the lowest level since 2010-11 While declines are expected in all ERS resource regions, performance is expected to vary considerably, primarily driven by the regional commodity production specializations. The forecast sharp drop in dairy receipts contributes to an expected 34-percent decline in average NCFI in the Northern Crescent. The forecast decline in NCFI for the Fruitful Rim is driven by the expected drop in NCFI for specialty crop farms. Farm businesses’ average NCFI in the Basin and Range is forecast to decline due to declining receipts for sorghum and wheat. Expected declines in poultry and hog receipts drive lower projected average NCFI in the Eastern Uplands, while increasing livestock costs and decreasing crop receipts contribute to the decline in the Southern Seaboard. This map is found in the ERS topic page on Farm Business Income and the data are available in the February 2015 release of Farm Income and Wealth Statistics.
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Drop in fuel prices contributes to lower energy-related costs for major crops  
Wednesday, April 01, 2015
The share of operating expenses devoted to energy-related inputs used in agricultural production increased during the most recent period of high energy prices, and for many crops peaked in 2008 followed by a decline in 2010 with a drop in natural gas prices. Fertilizers (an energy-intensive input with up to 80 percent of its manufacturing cost in natural gas) are generally the largest component of farms’ energy-related costs and are highest for corn, accounting for 43 percent of all operating costs in 2013. For other major field crops, 2013 fertilizer cost shares ranged from 19 percent for cotton to 36 percent for wheat. The Department of Energy projects diesel fuel prices to fall by 34 percent in 2015, which is expected to lower the share of energy-related production expenses for all major crops. Reduced costs of production increase producer returns and can affect planting decisions in the aggregate, as well as cropping choices between competing crops. For most livestock producers, energy costs are a relatively small part of production costs relative to feed costs. This chart is based on the data available in Commodity Costs and Returns, updated December 2014.
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U.S. food shoppers do not usually shop at the closest grocery store  
Tuesday, March 31, 2015
A new survey funded by USDA, the National Household Food Acquisition and Purchase Survey (or FoodAPS), asked the main food shopper of the household where they did most of their food shopping. Researchers compared the distance to this store to the distance to the nearest supermarket or supercenter authorized to accept benefits from USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP-SM/SC). Researchers found that on average, all households—those receiving food assistance and those not—bypass the SNAP-SM/SC closest to their home to shop at another store, which may or may not be SNAP authorized, for their main grocery purchases. The average SNAP participant lived 1.96 miles from the nearest SNAP-SM/SC, but traveled 3.36 miles to their primary store for food shopping. WIC-participating households were 1.92 miles from the nearest SNAP-SM/SC, but traveled 3.15 miles to do their main grocery shopping. Non-poor households traveled 3.98 miles, while the closest SNAP-SM/SC was 2.21 miles from their home. Store proximity may be important, but price, quality, and selection also affect where households shop. In addition, households may food shop on their way home from work or other activities. The statistics for this chart are from the ERS report, Where Do Americans Usually Shop for Food and How Do They Travel to Get There?, released on March 23, 2015.
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The U.S. dairy herd will continue adjusting to market forces  
Monday, March 30, 2015
U.S. milk cow numbers are projected to rise through 2018 as high milk prices and lower feed costs provide favorable returns to producers. Lower returns due in part to higher feed costs are expected to lead to year-to-year declines in cow numbers from 2020-24. At the same time, U.S. milk output per cow is projected to increase through the projection period, reflecting continued technological and genetic developments. Domestic commercial use of dairy products is expected to increase faster than the growth in U.S. population over the next decade. The demand for cheese is expected to rise due to greater consumption of prepared foods and increased away‑from-home eating, while the long-term decline in per capita consumption of fluid milk products is likely to continue. The United States is expected to expand exports of dairy products; commercial U.S. dairy exports are projected to increase steadily over the next decade, reaching record levels on both a fat and a skim-solids basis. Production increases in other major dairy exporting countries are expected to lag growth in global import demand, supporting a favorable outlook for U.S. dairy exports. This chart is based on the report, USDA Agricultural Projections to 2024.
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Retail food prices up 3.5 percent at the end of 2014  
Friday, March 27, 2015
Grocery store food prices in the fourth quarter of 2014 were 3.5 percent higher than a year earlier. At-home food price inflation over the last 20 years has averaged around 2.6 percent per year, indicating that 2014 ended the year with higher than average food price inflation. Beef and veal prices saw the largest increase, rising 18.2 percent from the fourth quarter of 2013, the result of historically low U.S. herd sizes and steady consumer demand. Pork prices were up 9.3 percent, as Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea virus (PEDv) in the United States affected the supply of hogs available for market. However, some food categories saw price increases over the same time period that were lower than average. Retail prices for cereals and bakery products rose just 0.4 percent, and fats and oils rose 1.5 percent. The relatively low rate of inflation for these two categories was predominantly due to large supplies of soybeans and wheat from strong U.S. production. This chart is from ERS’s data product, Ag and Food Statistics: Charting the Essentials, updated March 23, 2015. More information on ERS’s food price forecasts can be found in ERS’s Food Price Outlook data product, updated March 27, 2015.
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Wheat prices in India tend to be less volatile than in world markets  
Thursday, March 26, 2015
Wheat is the primary food staple across much of northern India. Government policy interventions have generally kept domestic prices more stable than world prices (represented by the U.S. wheat price), particularly since the 2008 global price spike. Indian policies provide growers with Minimum Support Prices (MSPs), distribute wheat procured at the MSP to consumers at subsidized prices, subsidize storage of operational and buffer stocks, and regulate imports and exports through periodic trade bans and quotas. Low domestic stocks and rising world prices led India to boost wheat MSPs and limit exports during 2007-2009 but by 2012, the accumulation of surplus stocks led to the return of private sector exports. The increase in domestic wheat prices that occurred between 2007 and 2010 was much smaller than the more than 30 percent rise in domestic rice prices. ERS research using Indian household data indicates that, compared with Indian rice consumers, wheat consumers were more able to maintain consumption of wheat and other foods during the 2007-2010 period. This is an updated version of a chart that can be found in Coping Strategies in Response to Rising Food Prices: Evidence from India.
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Rice farms are adopting precision agriculture technologies  
Wednesday, March 25, 2015
Precision agriculture refers to a set of practices used to manage fields by measuring variations in nutrient needs, soil qualities, and pest pressures. In 2013, USDA conducted the latest Agricultural Resource Management Survey (ARMS) of the U.S. rice industry, interviewing farmers about production practices, resource use, and finances in the 10 largest rice-producing States. Some technologies have been rapidly adopted; in particular, yield monitoring increased in use to 60 percent of farms between 2006 and 2013. Monitors can identify variations in yields within a field, allowing farmers to adjust inputs and practices accordingly. Auto-steer or guidance systems are now used on over half of all rice farms; these reduce stress on operators, and reduce errors in input application overlaps and seeding cut-off at the end rows. The cost savings from using these two technologies can also be accompanied by increases in yields. This chart is found in the joint ERS/National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) report, 2013 ARMS—Rice Industry Highlights, based on ARMS Farm Financial and Crop Production Practices data.
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Food assistance expenditures fall for the first time in 15 years  
Tuesday, March 24, 2015
Federal expenditures for USDA’s 15 domestic food and nutrition assistance programs totaled $103.6 billion in fiscal 2014—a 5-percent drop from the previous fiscal year and the first decrease since fiscal 2000. The decrease was driven largely by an 8-percent decline in expenditures for USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which totaled $73.9 billion in fiscal 2014. Expenditures for all the other food and nutrition assistance combined increased by less than 1 percent. Lower SNAP expenditures reflected a decrease in both participation and average benefits per person. An average 46.5 million people per month participated in the program in fiscal 2014—2 percent fewer than the previous year—as economic conditions continued to improve. Benefits per person averaged $125.37 per month, or 6 percent less than the previous fiscal year, due largely to the November 2013 termination of the temporary increase in SNAP benefits mandated by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. This chart appears in ERS's The Food Assistance Landscape: FY2014 Annual Report, released on March 20, 2015.
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Global wheat, coarse grains, and soybean trade projected to continue increasing  
Monday, March 23, 2015
Global trade in soybeans and soybean products has risen rapidly since the early 1990s, surpassing global trade in both wheat and total coarse grains (corn, barley, sorghum, rye, oats, millet, and mixed grains). Continued growth in global demand for vegetable oil and protein meal, particularly in China and other Asian countries, is expected to keep soybean and soybean products trade above either wheat or coarse grain trade throughout the next decade. Increasing demand for grains, oilseeds, and other crops provides incentives to expand global area under cultivation and cropping intensity, although lower projected prices could constrain expansion. Globally, the total area planted to grains, annual oilseeds, and cotton is projected to expand at an average annual rate of 0.5 percent from 2015 to 2024, from 934 to 982 million hectares. Population growth is a significant factor driving overall growth in demand for agricultural products. Rising per capita income in most countries is also contributing to the demand for vegetable oils, meats, horticulture, dairy products, and grains. This chart is based on the report, USDA Agricultural Projections to 2024.
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The United States has a large and growing agricultural trade surplus with China  
Friday, March 20, 2015
In recent years, growth in U.S.-China agricultural trade has accelerated. During calendar years 2012-13, U.S. exports of agricultural products to China averaged $25.9 billion per year—a tenfold increase from the late 1990s. Sales to China doubled during 2004-08 and doubled again during 2008-12, while the share of U.S. agricultural exports going to China rose from about 3 percent during the 1990s to 18 percent during 2012-13. China became the largest overseas market for U.S. farm products in 2010. U.S. imports of agricultural products from China rose at a slower pace, reaching $4.4 billion in 2013—agriculture is one of the few sectors where the United States has a trade surplus with China.  During 2012-13, the United States accounted for over 24 percent of China’s agricultural imports by value and was its leading supplier of oilseeds, cotton, meat, cereal grains, cattle hides, distillers’ dried grains (mainly used for animal feed), and hay. Soybeans account for more than half of the total value of U.S. agricultural exports to China, averaging $14.1 billion during the 2012-13 calendar years, and are also the largest U.S. export of any type to China, accounting for about 11 percent of the value of total U.S. exports to China. This chart is based on the ERS report, China’s Growing Demand for Agricultural Imports.
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Farmers’ markets, other local food marketing channels show strong growth  
Thursday, March 19, 2015
Local foods is one of the fastest growing segments of U.S. agriculture, and the number of local food marketing outlets is increasing. Growing demand for local foods in the United States is, at least in part, the result of consumer interest in environmental and community concerns, including supporting local farmers/economies and increasing access to healthful foods. American farmers and consumers are increasingly finding more opportunities to sell and buy food locally. As of 2014, there were 8,268 farmers’ markets in the United States, up 180 percent since 2007, despite no growth in real farmer-to-consumer (direct) sales between 2007 and 2012. Local food sales may be increasingly indirect, that is through intermediaries rather than farmer-to-consumer. The number of regional food hubs, (enterprises that aggregate locally sourced food to meet wholesale, retail, institutional and even individual demand) has increased almost threefold since 2007, to a total of 302 in 2014. Farm to school programs have multiple objectives, ranging from nutrition education to serving locally-sourced food in school meals. According to the USDA Farm to School Census, 4,322 school districts have farm to school programs, a 430-percent increase since 2007. This chart is found in the ERS report, Trends in U.S. Local and Regional Food Systems: A Report to Congress, AP-068, January 2015.
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Recession affected visits to sit-down restaurants, not fast food  
Wednesday, March 18, 2015
Economic recovery since the Great Recession—which officially ran from December 2007 to June 2009—was slow, particularly for the labor market; the 8.7 million jobs lost during the recession were not recovered until May 2014. Tough economic times caused consumers to adjust their spending on discretionary items, including their eating out habits. Using American Time Use Survey (ATUS) diaries from 2003-11, ERS researchers found that visits to sit-down restaurants declined during and after the 2007-09 recession, while fast food visits were little changed. The share of adults purchasing fast food/carry out at a counter-service restaurant on a given day stayed fairly constant over 2007-11 at around 13 percent. In contrast, the share of adults visiting a sit-down restaurant once or more on an average day declined from 20 percent in 2006 to 17 percent in 2011. The drop in sit-down restaurant visits likely reflects people switching their eating out purchases to lower-cost fast food options and the expansion of fast food offerings—both menu items and restaurant formats, such as “fast casual” restaurants. This chart is from “Recession Had Greater Impact on Visits to Sit-Down Restaurants than Fast Food Places” in the March 2015 issue of ERS’s Amber Waves magazine.
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Americans are eating fewer potatoes and less cabbage than previous generations  
Tuesday, March 17, 2015
Many consumers will celebrate St. Patrick’s Day by preparing a traditional Irish-themed meal of corned beef, cabbage, and potatoes. While cabbage and potatoes remain seasonally popular, annual per capita consumption is trending lower. Beginning in the1970s and through the 1990s, consumption of fresh cabbage averaged about 8.5 pounds per capita, peaking at 9.3 pounds in 1993 with the growing availability of prepared, fresh-cut products such as slaws and salad mixes. Consumption has been trending lower since 2000, reaching as low as 6.3 pounds in 2012 before rebounding somewhat the past two years to 7.0 pounds in 2014. Consumption of fresh potatoes has been declining over a longer period, falling by about 20% during the 1970’s, before stabilizing during the 1980s and 1990s and trending lower again since 2000. The long-term decline reflects changes in the market as well as dietary shifts, including greater availability of processed potatoes (especially frozen) that supplant consumption of fresh potatoes, and growing interest in low-carbohydrate diets during the past decade that reduced consumption of all starches. This chart is based on data found in the Vegetable and Pulses Yearbook and the Food Availability Per Capita Data System.
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Livestock Forage Disaster Program payments spike in 2014  
Monday, March 16, 2015
The Livestock Forage Disaster Program (LFP) was initially authorized by the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008 to reimburse eligible farmers and ranchers for grazing losses due to a qualifying drought or fire through September 30, 2011 (the end of the period covered by the 2008 Act). The 2014 Farm Act made LFP a permanent program, and included payments retroactive to October 1, 2011. ERS’s farm income forecast for 2014 includes $4.4 billion in expected LFP payments, incorporated in the direct government payments category “ad hoc and disaster assistance payments.” The 2014 forecast is an over 700-percent increase over the sum of LFP payments made during the previous 5 years. This large spike—generally regarded as a one-time event—reflects large retroactive payments for 2012 and 2013, which account for 84.2 percent of the 2014 expected payout. The 2014 Farm Act included a number of changes that could raise future LFP payments, although not to 2014’s extraordinary level. This chart is found in the Amber Waves finding, “Livestock Forage Disaster Program Payments Increase in 2014.”
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Women operate about 14 percent of U.S. farms  
Friday, March 13, 2015
The share of U.S. farms operated by women nearly tripled over the past three decades, from 5 percent in 1978 to about 14 percent by 2012. Although there have always been women farm operators, national-level statistics to track their numbers and examine their characteristics were not available until the Census of Agriculture began asking for principal farm operators’ gender in 1978. 2012 marked the first census, however, in which the number (and share) of women-operated farms did not increase. The number of women-operated farms declined 6 percent between 2007 and 2012, similar to the 4-percent decline for men-operated farms. For both genders, most of the decline (about 75 percent) occurred in the smallest size category of farms (those with annual sales less than $1,000). Between the 1992 and 2007 censuses, the number of farms in this category increased substantially—in part because of increased efforts to find all small farms, including those operated by women. Fewer of these very small farms are overlooked now, resulting in more stable farm numbers. This chart updates one found in the ERS report, Characteristics of Women Farm Operators and Their Farms, EIB-111, April 2013.
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Russian grain production and exports are rising in tandem  
Thursday, March 12, 2015
During the final decades of the Soviet Union, Russia (along with the USSR in general) was a large importer of grain, with net imports in some years exceeding 20 million metric tons (mmt). However, since 2000, the country has become a major grain exporter (primarily of wheat), with net exports in some years exceeding 20 mmt. Underlying this reversal is the fact that the Russian livestock sector contracted substantially—by about half—during the 1990s, reducing not only the need for grain imports, but for domestic production, as well. Then, beginning in about 2000, Russian grain production began to rise substantially, creating large surpluses for export. Despite the country’s move from large grain importer to exporter, average annual grain output over 2011-14 was still below that of 1986-90. This highlights the degree to which the Soviet Union over-invested in its high-cost and inefficient livestock sector, which required large volumes of feed from both domestic and imported grain. Russian grain output and exports continue to trend higher, but can fluctuate considerably on a year-to-year basis because of Russia’s volatile continental weather. This chart is based on the report, Rising Grain Exports by the Former Soviet Union Region, Causes and Outlook.
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Productivity rises in global agriculture  
Wednesday, March 11, 2015
By using new technologies, farmers can produce more food using fewer economic resources at lower costs. One measure of technological change is total factor productivity (TFP). Increased TFP means that fewer economic resources (land, labor, capital and materials) are needed to produce a given amount of economic output. However, TFP does not account for the environmental impacts of agricultural production; resources that are free to the farm sector (such as water quality, greenhouse gas emissions, biodiversity) are not typically included in TFP. As a result, TFP indexes may over- or under-estimate the actual resource savings from technological change. Growth in global agricultural TFP began to accelerate in the 1980s, led by large developing countries like China and Brazil. This growth helped keep food prices down even as global demand surged. This chart uses data available in International Agricultural Productivity on the ERS website, updated October 2014.
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Southern States generally have a higher share of infants participating in WIC   
Tuesday, March 10, 2015
USDA’s Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) provides supplemental food, nutrition education, and referrals to health care and other social services to eligible low-income women, infants, and preschool children. In fiscal 2014, WIC served an average of 8.3 million people each month, including almost 2 million infants. State level data from fiscal 2012 reveal that on average, about 51 percent of all infants in the United States participated in the program. The share of  infants that participated in the program varied by State, ranging from a low of 30 percent in Utah to a high of 67 percent in Mississippi. In six States (Mississippi, Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, South Carolina, and Alabama)—all located in the southeastern United States—over 60 percent of all infants participated in WIC. Economic conditions impact both the percent of infants eligible to participate and the percent of eligible infants enrolled in the program. Participants in WIC must meet maximum income guidelines. A State with a more robust economy is more likely to have fewer residents who qualify for WIC. The statistics for this map can be found in the ERS report, The WIC Program: Background, Trends, and Economic Issues, 2015 Edition, January 2015.
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Nonbulk agricultural exports support more business activity than bulk exports  
Monday, March 09, 2015
Nonbulk agricultural exports (processed or high-value) have a larger proportional effect on the U.S. nonfarm economy than bulk exports (defined as soybeans and other oilseeds, wheat, rice, corn and other feed grains, tobacco, and cotton). In 2013, nonbulk exports of $96.9 billion stimulated an additional $137.7 billion of business activity (i.e., each dollar of non-bulk exports generated $1.42 of additional output). Bulk exports valued at $47.5 billion produced an additional $38.3 billion of business activity (i.e., each dollar of bulk exports generated $0.81 of additional output). In contrast to bulk exports, nonbulk exports of higher value or more processed products led to proportionally more additional business activity in the food processing, other manufacturing, and services, trade, and transport sectors. Of the 1.09 million jobs associated with U.S. agricultural exports in 2013, 768,300 (70 percent) supported nonbulk exports. This chart comes from the Agricultural Trade Multipliers data product.
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Motivating Americans to make dietary changes continues to be a challenge  
Friday, March 06, 2015
Research has shown that participants in USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) tend to consume lower quality diets than nonparticipants. Pessimism about the value of dietary change may be one of the culprits. Analysis of responses to questions in the Flexible Consumer Behavior Survey module of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) found that 40 percent of SNAP participants indicated that they felt no need to change their diets; in contrast, only 25 percent of higher income shoppers felt no need to make dietary changes. (Higher income adults are those with household incomes above 185 percent of the Federal poverty threshold.) SNAP participants were also more likely than other respondents to agree with the statement "some people are born to be fat and some thin; there is not much you can do to change this.” This may indicate differences in perceptions of self-efficacy among SNAP participants compared to higher income shoppers. Alternatively, it may be that the other stresses of living in poverty make maintaining diet and health as a top priority more difficult. This chart appears in “SNAP Households Must Balance Multiple Priorities to Achieve a Healthful Diet” in the November 2014 issue of ERS’s Amber Waves magazine.
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U.S. share of world wheat exports continues to decline  
Thursday, March 05, 2015
The United States is one of the world’s largest exporters of wheat—second only to the European Union and ahead of the world’s other major exporters including Canada, Australia and Russia—but its share of global wheat exports has trended lower over several decades and is expected to continue to decline over the next 10 years. While US wheat exports are expected to trend modestly higher from 2015 through 2024, exports from Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan could account for nearly half of the projected increase in world wheat trade, notwithstanding the weather-related production fluctuations that are common in this region. Growth in wheat imports is concentrated in developing countries where income and population gains drive increases in demand, including regions of West Africa, sub-Saharan Africa, Egypt and other parts of North Africa and the Middle East, Indonesia and Pakistan. In many of these markets, Black Sea and EU exporters maintain a cost advantage over the United States reflecting transportation distance, as well as the fact that U.S. wheat exports are almost exclusively for high-value food markets while much of the wheat imported by developing countries is for lower value uses including livestock feed. Nevertheless, the United States will remain one of the world’s leading suppliers of high-quality wheat, with exports projected to rise slowly during the coming decade, even as its share of global exports falls from 17.8 percent in 2015/16 to 16.1 percent in 2024/25. This chart is based on the report, USDA Agricultural Projections to 2024.
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Japan increasingly imports agricultural products from Asia and South America  
Wednesday, March 04, 2015
Japan is one of the largest markets for U.S. agricultural exports, and the United States has long been its largest supplier. However, in recent years the total value of U.S. agricultural exports to Japan has stagnated (in real terms) and the U.S. share of Japan’s agricultural imports has declined. U.S. exports to Japan of some major products—such as soybeans and fruits/preparations—are down since 2000, and others, such as wheat and corn, have remained flat. Japanese imports of U.S. pork are an exception, with strong growth over the last 15 years. The decline in the U.S. share of Japan’s agricultural imports reflects greater competition from competing suppliers, especially in South America and Asia. Japan has expanded its imports of soybeans, soy meal, poultry meat, and grains from South America; palm oil, rubber, and poultry meat from Southeast Asia; soy meal from South Asia; and alcoholic beverages and processed foods from nearby South Korea. Nevertheless, the United States remains Japan’s largest supplier of agricultural products despite trade policies there that maintain a high level of protection for domestically produced products such as wheat and rice and many consumer-ready foods. This chart is from “Japan, Vietnam, and the Asian Model of Agricultural Development and Trade,” in Amber Waves, February 2015.
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Fresh produce prices at direct-to-consumer outlets vary by region  
Tuesday, March 03, 2015
ERS researchers recently used quantity and expenditure data from a nationally representative survey of households and their retail food purchases to analyze prices of selected fruits and vegetables at direct-to-consumer (DTC) outlets, which include farmers’ markets, roadside fruit stands, and onfarm sales. Average prices at DTC venues exhibited regional variation for fresh tomatoes, potatoes, and apples, which were among the most popular fresh produce items purchased by Nielsen Homescan panelists in 2006. (2006 is the latest year that has detailed information on unpackaged and nonstandard-weight foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables.) Prices at DTC outlets in 2006 were lowest in the Rocky Mountain region and highest (for tomatoes and potatoes) in the Far West. DTC apple prices were highest in the Mid-Atlantic. DTC tomato prices varied most, ranging from $0.79 per pound in the Rocky Mountains to $1.30 per pound in the Far West. A version of this chart appears in the ERS report, Trends in U.S. Local and Regional Food Systems: A Report to Congress, January 2015.
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U.S. farm sector assets and equity (inflation-adjusted) forecast to decline in 2015 for the first time since 2009  
Monday, March 02, 2015
The rate of growth in U.S. farm sector assets and equity (assets minus debt) is forecast to moderate in 2015 compared with recent years, and to decline for the first time since 2009 after adjusting for inflation. Lower projected farm asset growth is primarily driven by decreases in financial assets and a small drop in farm real estate value. These declines reflect lower forecast net cash income for 2014-15, along with expectations of slightly higher interest rates. Farm sector debt is expected to increase in both nominal and inflation-adjusted terms in 2015. Debt is led higher by an increase in nonreal estate borrowing because lower cash income is expected to reduce cash available to cover operating expenses. As a result, the debt-to-asset ratio is expected to increase from 10.6 to 10.9 in 2015, marking the first increase since 2009. Dig deeper into the U.S. farm balance sheet with the data visualization released on February 10, 2015.
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Strict <em>Salmonella</em> standards contribute to safety of school lunches  
Friday, February 27, 2015
USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) provides about half of the ground beef served in the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) by purchasing raw and cooked ground beef products from U.S. meat producers. AMS-approved suppliers must meet AMS’s basic standards. AMS suppliers can be “active” and sell to the NSLP or be “inactive” and sell in commercial markets only. Active ground beef suppliers must adhere to a strict Salmonella standard. A recent ERS study found that on average, ground beef from all groups of producers examined had levels of Salmonella below the limit set by USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service. Researchers also found that AMS standards incentivize producers to supply ground beef to the NSLP that has lower levels of Salmonella contamination (0.7 percent of samples testing positive) than the ground beef the same suppliers sell to commercial buyers (1.6 percent of samples testing positive). Plants supplying ground beef to the NSLP performed better on Salmonella tests than commercial-only and inactive AMS plants. This chart appears in “Strict Standards Nearly Eliminate Salmonella From Ground Beef Supplied to Schools” in the February 2015 issue of ERS’s Amber Waves magazine.
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On average, Americans spend just under 10 percent of their incomes on food  
Thursday, February 26, 2015
Between 1960 and 2007, the share of disposable personal income spent on total food by Americans fell from 17.5 to 9.6 percent, as the share of income spent on food at home fell. The share of income spent on food purchased in grocery stores and other retailers declined from 14.1 percent in 1960 to 5.5 percent in 2007. At the same time, the percent of income spent on food purchased at restaurants, fast food places, and other away-from-home eating places increased from 3.4 to 4.1 percent. The share of income spent on total food began to flatten in 2000, as inflation-adjusted incomes for many Americans have stagnated or fallen over the last decade or so. In addition, between 2006 and 2013, food price inflation has been greater than overall inflation, making food more costly. In 2013, Americans spent 5.6 percent of their disposable personal incomes on food at home and 4.3 percent on food away from home. This chart appears in the ERS data product, Ag and Food Statistics: Charting the Essentials. More information on U.S. food sales and expenditures can be found in ERS’s Food Expenditures data product.
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African American population growth rates higher than U.S. average  
Wednesday, February 25, 2015
The estimated 42 million African Americans living in the United States in 2013 made up close to 13 percent of the population. During a post-recession population slowdown in the United States, African Americans have continued to experience relatively high rates of population growth, the result of higher fertility rates and a younger average population. Population estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau show gains among African Americans in all urban/rural county types except for the most sparsely-settled and remote areas (nonadjacent rural) during 2010-13. For the total population, suburbanization trends in the U.S. slowed markedly with the onset of the housing crisis and recession. Suburban fringe counties (metro outlying) now show slower rates of growth than the central cities of metro areas, although the African American population growth rate has not yet experienced this historic shift. Similarly, the African American population continues to show gains in those nonmetro counties most likely to be suburbanizing (nonmetro adjacent) at a time when those counties show overall population declines. This chart expands on one found in Shifting Geography of Population Change, a chapter in the ERS website topic page on Rural Population and Migration.
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Stagnant India oilseed production is supporting growth in vegetable oil imports  
Tuesday, February 24, 2015
Production incentives for Indian oilseeds are being eroded by declining prices for imported vegetable oils, which are down to a six-year low. Indian rapeseed area fell 7 percent in 2014/15 to 6.6 million hectares. Peanut production is down 4.6 million hectares (15 percent) from 2013/14, continuing a shift by Indian farmers to competing crops such as cotton.  Similarly, sunflowerseed area is down 13 percent in 2014/15. Cottonseed production is estimated to be nearly flat in 2014/15 and soybean production increased about 10 percent, reflecting an improved yield. Total oilseed production will be down about a half million metric tons from the previous year and 1.2 million metric tons from 2012/13.  To make up for lower domestic production, India’s imports of vegetable oil are forecast to be up more than 10 percent in 2014/15, the fourth consecutive year of growth. This trend has turned India into the world’s top importing country for vegetable oil, and a major factor in determining global prices. This chart is based on the February 2015 Oil Crops Outlook Report.
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China continues to import rice at a record pace  
Monday, February 23, 2015
Rice imports by China are expected to set a new record in 2015, surpassing 2014 levels by 200,000 metric tons and marking the fourth consecutive year of record imports.  Rice imports surged in 2012 to more than 7 times the average of the previous 5 years, and continued to grow each year thereafter. China remains the world’s largest rice producer and consumer, and has been largely self-sufficient in rice for more than 30 years and until recently, was typically a net rice exporter.  In 2012, China surpassed Nigeria to become the world’s largest rice importer. Vietnam and Burma are the largest suppliers of rice to China, along with Pakistan and Thailand. The United States is currently unable to ship rice to China due to ongoing disagreements over phytosanitary issues.  China’s record imports are not due to a short crop or tight supplies, but are the result of much lower prices for imported rice than for domestic rice, and continued growth in use partly due to an increasing population.   As the world’s largest rice consumer, even small dietary shifts can have a large effect on the supplies needed to meet consumer demand, and China is increasingly turning to the world market to feed its appetite not only for staple commodities such as rice, but also fruits, vegetables, meat and other consumer-oriented products.  This chart is based on the February 2015 Rice Outlook report. 
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China’s meat imports surge, driven by rising domestic demand and prices  
Friday, February 20, 2015
As China enters a new phase of its economic development, its demand for higher-valued products like meat and dairy products is growing rapidly. China’s imports of meats during 2013-14 were more than double the volume imported during the early 2000s. Growing demand and higher prices of domestic meat products have driven the growth in China’s meat imports over the past few years. China’s meat imports have shifted from items like chicken feet and animal offal to muscle meat, as living standards rose and China opened its market to more beef and mutton imports. The U.S. is currently the top supplier of China’s poultry and pork imports. U.S. exports of meat, dairy products, and other consumer-oriented products, such as fruits, nuts, and wine to China rose from $234 million in 2000 to $3 billion in 2013, comprising nearly 12 percent of the value of total U.S. agricultural exports to China that year. The growth in China’s meat imports could mean new opportunities for U.S. exporters. This chart is based on the ERS report, China’s Growing Demand for Agricultural Imports.
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U.S. fruit and vegetable trade has grown during NAFTA  
Thursday, February 19, 2015
U.S. fruit and vegetable trade with Canada and Mexico has increased more than 380 percent since the implementation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Canada and Mexico now account for over half of all U.S. trade in fruits and vegetables, up from 37 percent in 1994. Over the same period, the share of U.S. fruit and vegetable trade with South America and Central America has remained relatively steady, while the share accounted for by Asia and the EU declined considerably.  Mexico’s annual exports of fruit and vegetables to the United States (including juice) have more than tripled during the NAFTA period, approaching $9.4 billion in 2013. These exports have their roots in the development and growth over the past half century of a Mexican fruit and vegetable sector that is oriented toward the U.S. market. Annual U.S. fruit and vegetable exports to Mexico have more than tripled under NAFTA, reaching about $1.4 billion in 2013 and benefitting from the rapid expansion of Mexico’s supermarket sector, including several U.S. supermarket chains that operate there. At the same time, trade liberalization and broader use of greenhouse technology in Canada has allowed U.S. imports of fruit and vegetables from Canada to grow from $213 million in 1988 to $3.1 billion in 2013. Canada has long been a large market for the U.S. fruit and vegetable industry. During the NAFTA period, U.S. fruit and vegetable exports to Canada have grown from less than $2 billion in 1993 to $5.8 billion in 2013.  The chart is from the report, NAFTA at 20: North America’s Free Trade Area and its Impact on Agriculture.
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Lower oil prices may temper 2015 food price inflation  
Wednesday, February 18, 2015
Oil prices began declining in the last quarter of 2014, continuing their descent to just above $45 a barrel in January 2015 from $105 in July 2014. Barrel prices have not dipped this low since the end of the Great Recession in 2009. Through their impact on transportation costs and the cost of operating farm machinery, oil prices play a role in retail food prices, and declining oil prices could ease grocery store inflation. However, the effect is likely to be modest because processing costs and retailing overhead are larger cost components of retail food prices. Prices of foods requiring little processing, such as fresh fruits and vegetables, are more likely to be affected by lower oil prices than processed foods such as cereals and bakery products. As oil prices fell in 2009, fresh produce prices decreased 4.8 percent, while prices for cereals and bakery products rose 3.2 percent. Despite lower oil prices, ERS currently predicts overall food prices to rise between 2 and 3 percent in 2015, closely in line with 2014 food price inflation. Information on ERS’s food price forecasts can be found in ERS’s Food Price Outlook data product.
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Half of U.S. cropland now on farms with 1,200 acres or more  
Tuesday, February 17, 2015
The average (mean) number of acres on crop farms has changed little over 3 decades, with a slight increase from 241 acres in 2007 to 251 in 2012. However, the mean misses an important element of changing farm structure; it has remained stable because while the number of mid-size crop farms has declined over several decades, farm numbers at the extremes (large and small) have grown. With only modest changes in total cropland and the total number of crop farms, the size of the average (mean) farm has changed little. However, commercial crop farms, which account for most U.S. cropland, have gotten larger, aided by technologies that allow a single farmer or farm family to farm more acres. The midpoint acreage (at which half of all cropland acres are on farms with more cropland than the midpoint, and half are on farms with less) effectively tracks cropland consolidation over time. The midpoint acreage of total and harvested cropland has increased over the last three decades, from roughly 500-600 acres in 1982 to about 1,200 acres in the most recent census of agriculture data (2012). This chart is extended through 2012 from one found in the ERS report, Farm Size and the Organization of U.S. Crop Farming, ERR-152, August 2013.
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Cattle producer returns bolstered by higher cattle prices and lower feed costs  
Friday, February 13, 2015
Strong feeder cattle prices and declining feed costs are supporting high returns for cow-calf producers. The price of 750-800 lb. feeder steers at the Oklahoma National Stockyards exceeded $220 per hundredweight at the end of 2014, up $65 since January and over $100 since May 2013. At the same time, the price of corn (a major component of cattle feed) fell from above $7.00 per bushel in mid-2013 to under $4.00 per bushel by December 2014, reflecting a record 2014 crop projected at 14.4 billion bushels. Despite weaker demand, beef prices are at record high levels due to tight supplies and historically low cattle inventories. Expanding the cattle herd is a long-term process due to the time it takes cattle to mature, and requires holding some heifers off market for breeding purposes. Recently released data from USDA’s Cattle report suggests that inventories are beginning to grow, and cattle prices have begun to retreat. With corn prices forecast by USDA to average around $3.50 per bushel for the 2014/15 marketing year, returns to cow-calf operators should remain favorable into 2015. This chart is based on data from ERS’s Livestock & Meat Domestic Data and Feed Grains Database.
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Farms spend more on indirect energy inputs like fertilizer than direct energy inputs like fuel  
Thursday, February 12, 2015
The agricultural sector uses energy both directly (in the form of fuel and electricity) and indirectly (through use of energy-intensive inputs, such as fertilizers and pesticides). Data from the Agricultural Resource Management Survey show that on average, the share of operator expenses for indirect energy (about 17.1 percent) exceeds the share of expenses for direct energy (about 8.5 percent) among U.S. farm businesses, across all farm sizes. Small farm businesses have the highest share of direct energy expenditures (about 12 percent of all small farm production expenses), while medium-sized farm businesses have the highest share of indirect energy expenditures (about 22 percent of expenses). Large farm businesses have the lowest share of energy-based expenses, since large farms typically have higher expenses for labor than smaller farms, reducing energy’s share of total expenses. This chart is found in the September 2014 Amber Waves data feature, “Agricultural Energy Use and the Proposed Clean Power Plan.”
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Americans consumed 19 pounds of eggs per person in 2012  
Wednesday, February 11, 2015
According to ERS’s Loss-Adjusted Food Availability data, U.S. consumption of eggs fell during the 1970s and 1980s from 24 pounds per person in 1971 to 18.2 pounds in 1990. Egg consumption stayed fairly flat before rising some in the late 1990s. Concerns over cholesterol in eggs (related to heart disease), and an increase in fast food restaurants offering non-egg breakfast items such as yogurt, fruit salads, oatmeal, etc., likely influenced the decline. Roughly 70 percent of the 19 pounds of eggs per person (the equivalent of 144 eggs) that Americans consumed in 2012 were shell eggs, and 30 percent were processed egg products, where eggs have been removed from the shell, pasteurized, and then packaged in liquid, frozen, or dried form. Though some processed products are available in grocery stores, many processed egg products are used by food manufacturing and foodservice companies. On a daily basis, Americans consumed an average of 0.8 ounces of eggs per day in 2012, compared to 2.0 ounces of chicken, the most consumed protein in the meat, fish, eggs, and nuts group. In 2012, Americans consumed 529 daily calories per person from the meat, fish, eggs, and nuts group, with 34 calories coming from egg consumption. The data for this chart come from ERS’s Food Availability (Per Capita) Data System.
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Farm sector profitability expected to weaken in 2015  
Tuesday, February 10, 2015
U.S. net farm income—a measure of the sector’s profitability—is forecast to be $73.6 billion in 2015, down nearly 32 percent from 2014’s forecast of $108 billion. The 2015 forecast would be the lowest since 2009 and a drop of nearly 43 percent from the record high of $129 billion in 2013. Lower crop receipts (-$15.6 billion) and livestock receipts (-$10.1 billion) are the main drivers of the change, as production expenses are projected up less than 1 percent ($2.5 billion) and government payments are forecast to increase about 15 percent ($1.6 billion) in 2015. Net cash income is forecast at $89.4 billion, down about 22 percent from the 2014 forecast. Net cash income is projected to decline less than net farm income primarily because it reflects the sale of carryover stocks from 2014. This chart is found in 2015 Farm Sector Income Forecast, released February 10, 2015.
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U.S. hog industry is recovering from PEDv outbreak  
Monday, February 09, 2015
The litter rate (pigs per litter) is an efficiency indicator of the U.S. hog industry. Litter rates have been steadily increasing over time due to improvements in genetics, diet, and animal care and management. The emergence of Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea virus (PEDv) in the U.S. swine herd in the spring of 2013 caused a sharp—but temporary—drop in litter rates. PEDv afflicts young piglets in particular, and caused millions of newborn pigs to die as the disease spread to herds in 33 States. The virus flourishes in cold, damp climates, so its effect on litter rates was strong in the fall and winter months of late 2013 and early 2014. The pigs-per-litter rate began to decline in the fourth quarter of 2013, and then dropped sharply in the first quarter of 2014. Litter rates rebounded in the spring of 2014, responding to the warmer, dryer climates and to aggressive actions by producers, including increased biosecurity measures and vaccination. These measures contributed to lower disease incidence and limited losses of newborn pigs from PEDv; they are also expected to limit the incidence of the disease this winter and will help to minimize the impact of future outbreaks. This chart is based on information in the January 2015 Livestock, Dairy and Poultry Outlook.
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Despite record-high beef prices, 2014 food inflation was close to 20-year average  
Friday, February 06, 2015
Retail food price inflation has been more volatile in recent years. In 2007 and 2008, grocery store (food-at-home) prices rose 4.2 and 6.4 percent, respectively, as a result of rapid increases in farm-level rice, grain, and oilseed prices. The Great Recession helped push down at-home food price inflation to just 0.5 percent in 2009 and 0.3 percent in 2010. Inflation was again higher than the 20-year average in 2011, reaching 4.8 percent. However, in 2014 retail food prices rose 2.4 percent, near the 20-year annual average of 2.6 percent. While retail food price inflation was modest in 2014, food categories in the perimeter of the grocery store—beef and veal, pork, eggs, dairy, and fresh fruit—all experienced above average inflation. In contrast, items in the center aisles experienced inflation below average or, in some instances, even saw deflation; prices for sugars and sweets and for nonalcoholic beverages fell in 2014. Information on ERS’s food price forecasts can be found in ERS’s Food Price Outlook data product, updated January 23, 2015.
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U.S. Agricultural Trade has expanded under NAFTA  
Thursday, February 05, 2015
Agricultural trade among the North American Free Trade Agreement’s (NAFTA) member countries has grown since the agreement was implemented. The total value of intraregional agricultural trade (exports and imports) among all three NAFTA countries reached about $82.0 billion in 2013, compared with $16.7 billion in 1993 (the year before NAFTA’s implementation), and $8.8 billion in 1988 (the year before the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement’s (CUSTA) implementation). When the effects of inflation are taken into account, this expansion in intrare­gional agricultural trade corresponds to an increase of 233 percent between 1993 and 2013, compared to U.S. agricultural trade worldwide, which grew 126 percent over the same period. The vast majority of trade between these 3 nations involves the United States; U.S. agricultural trade with its 2 NAFTA partners alone reached $78.9 billion in 2013, compared with $16 billion in 1993. The expansion of U.S. trade under NAFTA reflects similar patterns of growth between exports and imports, highlighting the high degree of market integration across these nations. This chart is from the report, NAFTA at 20: North America’s Free Trade Area and its Impact on Agriculture.
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Schools get locally-produced foods from a variety of sources  
Wednesday, February 04, 2015
USDA encourages school districts to source locally-produced food through its Farm to School Program established as part of the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. Data from USDA’s Farm to School Census, reflecting responses from 9,887 public school districts (75 percent of all U.S. public school districts), reveal that 4,322 districts were serving at least some local foods in school year 2011-2012 or started to in 2012-2013.  The top local foods categories were fruits and vegetables, milk, and baked goods.  Nearly two-thirds of districts participating in farm to school activities purchased local foods through a distributor. A little over 40 percent of these districts obtained local foods directly from farmers and other producers, while 40 percent sourced local foods from food processors and manufacturers. Some States arrange to have State-produced fruits and vegetables included in the commodities donated by USDA for use in school meals.  This chart appears in Trends in U.S. Local and Regional Food Systems released January 29, 2015.
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One-third of U.S. principal farm operators are at least 65 years old  
Tuesday, February 03, 2015
In 2013, roughly 34 percent of all U.S. principal farm operators were at least 65 years old, nearly 3 times the U.S. average share of older nonagricultural self-employed workers. Retirement farms had the highest percentage of older operators (67 percent)—as might be expected—followed by low-sales farms (41 percent). The advanced age of farm operators is understandable, given that the farm is the home for most farmers, and farmers can gradually phase out of farming over a decade or more. Improved health and advances in farm equipment also allow operators to farm later in life than in past generations. Principal operators of more commercially oriented farms—large farms with gross cash farm income (GCFI) of a million dollars or more—more closely resembled the nonagricultural self-employed workforce, with 14-17 percent age 65 and over. This chart updates one found in the ERS report brochure, America’s Diverse Family Farms, EIB-133, December 2014.
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Export market for U.S. sorghum is gaining strength  
Monday, February 02, 2015
U.S. exports of sorghum have surged in the past two years, growing from less than 65 million bushels during the 2011/12 marketing year to 270 million forecast for 2014/15.  Sorghum is a common substitute for corn in feed rations and is also used for ethanol production in the United States. Since in most countries corn tends to be preferred over sorghum for livestock feed, U.S. sorghum exports have been trending lower for several decades. But in recent years China has emerged as a leading destination for U.S. sorghum since sorghum does not face import quotas and other constraints that often delay or restrict shipments of corn and distillers dried grains (DDGS) from entering the country. For the current marketing year (2014/15), exports are forecast to account for 62 percent of total use, the highest proportion since 1975. The strength of the export market has also helped raise the price of sorghum, which is currently forecast to average 4 percent higher than the price of corn for the current marketing year, compared to the more common tendency for sorghum to sell at a 5 to 10 percent discount to corn. This chart is based on the January 2015 Feed Outlook report.
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Share of WIC participants with incomes at or below poverty has increased since 2000  
Friday, January 30, 2015
Income eligibility for USDA’s WIC program is capped at 185 percent of the Federal poverty level.  Applicants who demonstrate current eligibility for Medicaid automatically meet income eligibility for WIC and do not have to document their incomes when they apply for WIC.  With a large and increasing share of WIC applicants reporting participation in Medicaid at the time of WIC certification (73 percent in 2012, up from 66 percent in 2010), there has been concern that if States continue to raise their Medicaid income cutoffs to greater than 185 percent of the Federal poverty level this might result in WIC serving a larger share of participants with incomes above the intended cap. However, that has not happened. The share of WIC participants with incomes at or below poverty has been steadily increasing since 2000. The share of WIC participants with incomes at or below 50 percent of the poverty line has increased from 26.5 percent to 33.4 percent in 2012, and the share with incomes between 51-100 percent has grown from 29.1 percent to 33.2 percent in 2012.  A version of this chart appears in the ERS report, The WIC Program: Background, Tends, and Economic Issues, 2015 Edition, released January 27, 2015. 
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Food hubs and the farms they serve are located near urban areas  
Thursday, January 29, 2015
Farmers have two main channels through which to sell their food locally: directly to consumers (at farmers' markets, roadside stands, farm stores, etc.) and through intermediated marketing channels (defined to include sales to grocers, restaurants, schools, universities, hospitals, and regional distributors). In 2012, 163,675 farmers sold an estimated $6.1 billion in local foods overall, with an estimated $4.8 billion sold by 48,371 farmers through these intermediated marketing channels. The number of dedicated local food distributors, brokers, and aggregators serving these intermediated marketing channels, known as regional food hubs, increased by 288 percent between 2007 and 2014, to a total of 302. By engaging in market outreach activities and offering technical services to producers, food hubs provide markets for midsized farmers, and opportunities for small and beginning farmers to scale-up local food sales without increasing the time farm operators and their households spend on marketing activities. Most food hubs are located in metropolitan areas, and where farms with intermediated sales are most numerous. This map is found in the ERS report, Trends in U.S. Local and Regional Food Systems: Report to Congress, January 2015.
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New cage size regulations contribute to widening egg price gap  
Wednesday, January 28, 2015
Over the last 2 months of 2014, egg prices in most markets experienced a brief and very sharp price spike. Egg prices traditionally are strong in the fourth quarter, but the spike in 2014 was larger than usual, considering that table egg production increased in November 2014.  The high prices nationwide in the fourth quarter of 2014 are likely the result of both strong exports of table eggs to Mexico in November and uncertainties about the future of the table egg market in California due to new cage size regulations that went into effect on January 1, 2015. In the short term, the new regulations have widened the price difference between the California market and other parts of the United States. At the end of October 2014, the difference between the wholesale prices of Grade A large eggs in the Southern California market and the New York City market was around 12 cents per dozen. Prices in Southern California rose to average $2.68 per dozen by the middle of December.  Like in other markets, prices then began to decline, but by the beginning of 2015 had only fallen to around $2.28 per dozen, resulting in a price differential between the Southern California market and the New York City market of over $1.00 per dozen. This chart is based on information from the report, Livestock, Dairy and Poultry Outlook: January 2015.
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Federal support for nutrition research has more than doubled over the last 25 years  
Tuesday, January 27, 2015
USDA and the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) are the lead Federal agencies in conducting and funding human nutrition research designed to help ensure a healthy citizenry. A recent ERS analysis of data maintained by DHHS’s National Institutes of Health shows that Federal investments in nutrition research more than doubled in real (inflation-adjusted) terms from 1985 to 2009. All of this growth is due to increased DHHS funding, especially between 1999 and 2003. The number of Federally supported nutrition research projects has similarly grown from 2,178 in 1985 to 4,419 in 2009, with a larger share of support in recent years directed toward studies of the relationship between nutrition and obesity. From 1999 to 2009, the number of DHHS supported projects grew 7.4 percent annually, while USDA supported projects fell by 2.8 percent annually. In 2009, DHHS funded 86 percent of Federal nutrition research projects, and USDA funded 14 percent.  This chart appears in the ERS report, Improving Health through Nutrition Research: An Overview of the U.S. Nutrition Research System, released on January 26, 2015.
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Most U.S. broiler operations use some form of sanitation/biosecurity practice  
Monday, January 26, 2015
USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service and Economic Research Service recently conducted the Agricultural Resource Management Survey (ARMS) of the U.S. broiler chicken industry. Results indicate that several sanitation and biosecurity practices were widespread on broiler operations in the United States in 2011. Almost all operations used practices to control rodent and wild bird access to facilities, and almost all rotated flocks on an all-in, all-out basis, aimed at limiting the spread of pathogens and disease among animals. Nearly half of broiler operations reported that they follow the National Poultry Improvement Plan (NPIP) or a Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) Plan, which are designed to improve animal health, food safety, and food quality. One-fifth of operations fully cleaned out and sanitized their houses after each flock removal. USDA may provide support for incineration and composting facilities, as well as litter management practices, through payments made under the Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP). ARMS results find that seven percent of contract growers received EQIP payments related to broiler production in 2011. This chart is found in the ERS/NASS report, 2011 ARMS - Broiler Industry Highlights.
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Federal Crop Insurance costs vary with enrollment, subsidy rates, and crop losses  
Friday, January 23, 2015
The Federal Crop Insurance (FCI) program is the primary USDA program to help farmers manage risks of crop losses. The size and cost of the FCI has grown since the early 2000s; insured acreage expanded by almost 90,000 acres from 2000 to 2013—about a 45 percent increase—in large part due to higher subsidies introduced in the 2000 Agricultural Risk Protection Act (ARPA) and the 2008 Farm Act. Higher insured acreage, increased subsidy rates—especially for the more costly coverage levels—and higher crop prices have combined to boost the price of insurance premiums in recent years. The major costs of the FCI program—premium subsidies and loss claims (which can vary greatly from year to year)—are tied to the value of premiums. In 2012, the widespread U.S. drought led to a large increase in the government share of indemnities due to crop losses. Under the current premium subsidy structure, an average of 62 percent of total premiums is paid by the Federal Government on behalf of insured producers in 2013. Administrative and operating subsidies, which include subsidies paid to insurance companies for selling and servicing insurance policies, are relatively stable over time, but have increased from an average of $0.96 billion in 2003-05 to about $1.52 billion in 2011-13. Find this chart and additional information on the Risk Management topic pages.
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Agriculture’s share of total U.S. exports has grown since 2000  
Thursday, January 22, 2015
With the strong growth in U.S. agricultural exports since 2000, agriculture’s share of total U.S. exports has been rising. Agriculture’s share of U.S. exports fell during the 1980s and 1990s, when the value of agricultural exports grew more slowly than total exports, but that trend has reversed since 2000. Since then, the combination of strong global demand, particularly in developing countries, and higher prices for farm commodities, has boosted agriculture’s share of all U.S. exports from a low of 6.6 percent in 2000 to an average of 9.1 percent during 2011-2013. Although U.S. agricultural imports have also grown since 2000, agricultural exports have grown more rapidly, leading to the expansion of the U.S. agricultural trade surplus, with that surplus reaching a record $40 billion in 2013.  This chart is based on data found in Foreign Agricultural Trade of the United States.
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Greater share of employed adults ate at sit-down restaurants and bought fast food  
Wednesday, January 21, 2015
Time use diaries reveal that on an average day during 2003-11, 19.5 percent of Americans age 18 and older ate at a sit-down restaurant and 13 percent purchased fast food or carryout food. Men were more likely than women to eat at a sit-down restaurant (20.4 versus 18.5 percent) and purchase fast food (13.5 versus 12.5 percent). The largest difference in eating out patterns was between employed and not employed adults in their purchases of fast food—15.2 percent of employed adults purchased fast food versus 8.8 percent of adults that were not employed (those actively looking for work and those who are retired, in school, or not looking for work). Income plays a role, but time constraints may be more of a factor for those working. On an average day, employed persons spent less time eating and drinking beverages, sleeping, and watching television, and they spent more time traveling from place to place due to their work schedules, suggesting that they may be more time pressured than others and use fast foods as a time-saving option. This chart appears in the ERS report, The Role of Time in Fast-Food Purchasing Behavior in the United States.
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Rural and urban unemployment rates follow similar trends  
Tuesday, January 20, 2015
Both urban (metro) and rural (nonmetro) unemployment rates have dropped since the highs reached at the end of the most recent recession. In 2007, the rural unemployment rate averaged 5.1 percent, compared to 4.5 percent in urban areas. As the recession unfolded, metro and nonmetro unemployment rates rose rapidly and converged, peaking at 10 percent in the first quarter of 2010. Since that time, the two unemployment rates have followed similar downward trends. The seasonally adjusted rural unemployment rate stood at 6.4 percent in the second quarter of 2014, while the urban rate fell to 6.2 percent. Until recently, the bulk of the decline in the rural unemployment rate is due to a reduction in the number of people seeking work, not an increase in the number of people working.  This chart is found in the October 2014 Amber Waves feature, "Rural Employment in Recession and Recovery."
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Reduced crop receipts largest contributor to the forecast decline in U.S. farm income  
Friday, January 16, 2015
Net farm income is forecast to be $97.3 billion in 2014, down nearly $32 billion (25 percent) from 2013’s estimate. The 2014 forecast would be the lowest since 2010, but still $12.3 billion above the previous 10-year average. Crop receipts are expected to decrease by $25.1 billion, led by a projected $10.9-billion decline in corn receipts and a $9.5-billion decline in oil crop receipts, largely due to weak prices. Livestock value of production is expected to have strong gains, with increases across almost all livestock categories and the largest gains expected in cattle/calves and milk. Total production expenses are forecast to increase $18 billion in 2014, extending the upward movement in expenses for a fifth straight year. The elimination of direct payments under the Agricultural Act of 2014 resulted in a projected 4-percent decline in government payments due to offsetting supplemental and ad hoc disaster assistance payments related to drought. For additional analysis, see the 2014 Farm Sector Income Forecast, updated December 12, 2014.
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Choice beef retail values reach record highs in 2014  
Thursday, January 15, 2015
U.S. retail choice beef values climbed through 2014, reaching a record high of $6.30 per pound in November. Retail value is defined as the average value at the grocery store of a basket of beef cuts, measured in cents per pound of retail weight. In November 2014, retail values were about $1.00 above the highs reached in 2013 and roughly $1.50 per pound above the previous five-year average. The sharpest jump in month to month prices in the past 5 years occurred between July and August 2014, when prices increased $0.29 per pound. Higher retail beef prices reflect increased cattle prices due to historically low cattle inventories and cattle being held off the market for breeding purposes as growers attempt to rebuild herds. The pace of slaughter has also slowed as feedlots take advantage of lower feed costs to hold cattle back longer and raise them to record high weights. U.S. beef production is forecast to decline further in 2015, indicating that retail prices are likely to remain high. This chart is based on data from Meat Prices Spreads that was last updated December 17, 2014.
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U.S. food sales evenly split between at-home and away-from-home markets  
Wednesday, January 14, 2015
In 2013, spending at grocery stores and other retailers accounted for 50.4 percent of the $1.4 trillion spent on food and beverages by U.S. consumers, businesses, and government entities. The remaining 49.6 percent took place at restaurants, school cafeterias, food concession stands at movie theaters and ball parks, and other away-from-home eating places. In 1960, the away-from-home market had a 26.3-percent share of total food expenditures, and its share has grown through the decades except in some recession years. Most recently, food-away-from-home’s share of total food spending fell from 49.1 percent in 2007 and did not rebound to its pre-recession share until 2012. Two-earner households and busier lifestyles have led consumers to spend less time cooking and seek the convenience of food prepared away from home. This chart appears in the ERS data product, Ag and Food Statistics: Charting the Essentials. More information on U.S. food sales and expenditures can be found in ERS’s Food Expenditures data product.
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Multiple-operator farms are prevalent among larger family farms  
Tuesday, January 13, 2015
Larger farms often require more management and labor than an individual can provide. Additional operators can provide the necessary labor, management, and possibly other resources such as capital or farmland. Having a secondary operator may also provide a successor when an older principal operator phases out of farming. Multiple-operator farms are prevalent among large and very large family farms. In 2013, 38 percent of all U.S. farms were multiple-operator farms, while 73 percent of very large family farms had more than one operator. Since farms are generally family businesses, 68 percent of all secondary operators were spouses. About 16 percent of all multiple-operator farms (and 6 percent of all farms) were multiple-generation farms in 2013, with at least 20 years' difference between the ages of the oldest and youngest operators. The presence or absence of younger related operators may affect farm expansion and contraction decisions, depending on the principal operator's lifecycle position. This chart updates one found in the ERS report brochure, America’s Diverse Family Farms, EIB-133, December 2014.
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U.S. hog production increasingly occurs on the largest operations  
Monday, January 12, 2015
While the number of all farms in the United States remained fairly constant, the number of hog farms fell by about 70 percent between 1992 and 2009, from over 240,000 to about 71,000. Despite fewer hog farms, the Nation’s hog inventory was stable during the period, averaging about 60 million head, with cyclical fluctuations between 56 and 68 million head. Thus, hog production consolidated as fewer, larger farms accounted for an increased share of total output. From 1992 to 2009, the share of the U.S. hog and pig inventory on farms with 2,000 head or more increased from less than 30 percent to 86 percent. In 2009, farms with 5,000 head or more accounted for 61 percent of all hogs and pigs. This chart is found in the ERS report, U.S. Hog Production From 1992 to 2009: Technology, Restructuring, and Productivity Growth, ERR-158, October 2013.
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Cost of corn falls relative to ethanol, boosting refiner margins  
Friday, January 09, 2015
Reflecting growing supplies, corn prices have been trending lower since reaching a record high season average farm price of $6.89 per bushel for the 2012/13 marketing year (September/August). Monthly average corn prices fell sharply between July 2013 and January 2014, and then declined further through 2014, reflecting a record 2014 corn crop, projected at 14.4 billion bushels. Corn prices in 2014/15 are projected at $3.50 per bushel, down 50 percent since the summer of 2013. However, throughout this period ethanol prices have remained relatively steady, averaging $2.41 per gallon. Corn is the leading feedstock for ethanol production in the United States, and ethanol represents about 40 percent of total corn use. With the price of corn declining and ethanol prices steady, ethanol producer margins have strengthened over the past 18 months. Higher margins would typically encourage greater production, but with domestic use limited to the 10 percent ethanol blend already used in most gasoline, the market can only expand through increased gasoline use or higher exports.  This chart is based on data found in the U.S. Bioenergy Statistics database.
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Americans score low on many measures of diet quality  
Thursday, January 08, 2015
Dietary intake data reveal that like most Americans, the dietary patterns of participants in USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) do not meet recommendations. ERS researchers used data from the 2003-10 waves of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) to assess the diets of adult SNAP participants and other adult respondents relative to the 2010 version of the Healthy Eating Index (HEI). The HEI summarizes how closely one’s diet conforms to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Total HEI scores for adult SNAP participants averaged 46 out of a possible 100 HEI points, compared to 50 for income-eligible adults not receiving SNAP benefits, and 53 for higher-income adults (those with household incomes above 185 percent of the Federal poverty threshold). Adult SNAP participants scored lower on many components of the HEI; sodium intake was the only HEI component on which SNAP participants did better than higher-income adults. An expanded version of this chart appears in “SNAP Households Must Balance Multiple Priorities to Achieve a Healthful Diet” in the November 2014 issue of ERS’s Amber Waves magazine.
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Small family farms operate 48 percent of U.S. farmland and account for 22 percent of U.S. agricultural production  
Wednesday, January 07, 2015
In 2013, 98 percent of U.S. farms were family farms, where the principal operator and his or her relatives owned the majority of the business. Two features of family farms stand out. First, there are many small family farms—those reporting less than $350,000 in gross cash farm income (GCFI)— and they account for 89 percent of all U.S. farms and operate 48 percent of U.S. farmland. Second, while most production—65 percent—occurs on the 9 percent of farms classified as midsize/large-scale family farms, small farms’ 22-percent share of production is larger than that of midsize farms alone (20 percent) or nonfamily farms (12 percent). This chart updates one found in Structure and Finances of U.S. Farms: Family Farm Report, 2014 Edition, EIB-132, December 2014.
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On average, larger dairy farms realize lower costs and higher profits  
Tuesday, January 06, 2015
Over the last two decades, a major transformation of the dairy sector reduced the number of dairy farms by nearly 60 percent, even as total milk production increased by one-third. The accompanying shift to larger dairy farms is driven largely by farm profitability. Average costs of production per hundredweight of milk produced fall as herd size increases even among the largest farms (e.g., average costs are lower for farms with 2000+ cows compared to 1000-1999 cows). Production costs include the estimated cost of the farm family’s labor as well as capital costs and cash expenses. While some small farms earn profits and some large farms incur losses, most of the largest dairy farms generate gross returns that exceed full costs, while most small and mid-size dairy farms do not earn enough to cover full costs. The cost differences reflect differences in input use; on average, larger farms use less labor, capital, and feed per hundredweight of milk produced. These financial returns provide an impetus for the shift to larger dairy farms.  This chart is drawn from the December 2014 Amber Waves data feature, "Milk Production Continues Shifting to Large-Scale Farms."
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Foodborne illnesses caused by Salmonella cost the U.S. an estimated $3.7 billion annually  
Monday, January 05, 2015
Each year, roughly a million people in the United States become ill from a foodborne Salmonella infection according to 2011 estimates from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. For most healthy people, the infection causes short-lived symptoms that do not require medical attention. However, 7 percent of those infected are sick enough to visit a physician before recovering. Over 19,000 people a year are admitted to the hospital with a foodborne Salmonella infection, and roughly 380 of them die. Salmonella ranks first among 15 leading U.S. foodborne pathogens in terms of economic burden. Foodborne Salmonella infections impose an estimated $3.7 billion each year in the United States in medical costs, wages lost from time away from work, and societal willingness to pay to prevent deaths. Almost 90 percent of this burden—$3.3 billion—is due to premature deaths; 8 percent is due to hospitalization, and the remaining 3 percent are the costs associated with the non-hospitalized cases. The statistics for this chart and similar costs for 14 other foodborne pathogens can be found in ERS’s Cost Estimates of Foodborne Illnesses data product.
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Editor's Pick 2014, #1: China’s net grain imports surge in 2012 and 2013  
Friday, January 02, 2015
China’s demand for imported grains, much of it from the United States, has surged recently, with imports of cereal grains rising to 16 million tons in 2012 and 18 million in 2013. Imports in 2013 included 3 million tons of corn and 4 million tons of DDGS (distillers dried grains with solubles; a co-product of U.S. corn ethanol production used for feed) from the United States.  In 2013, the United States supplied 70 percent of China’s wheat imports and, for the first time, China became a major market for U.S. sorghum. China’s demand for feed grains appears to have reached a turning point, as a tightening labor supply and rising feed costs force structural change in China’s livestock sector. Labor scarcity, animal disease pressures, and rising living standards are prompting rural households to abandon “backyard” livestock production and shift more production to specialized farm enterprises that rely more heavily on commercial feed. Because of this, China has switched from being a corn exporter to importing 3-5 million tons annually since 2009. Rising feed demand has also pushed up costs and motivated feed mills and livestock producers to explore new feed ingredients like DDGS and sorghum. Find this chart and additional analysis in "China in the Next Decade: Rising Meat Demand and Growing Imports of Feed" in the April Amber Waves. Originally published Thursday May 22, 2014.
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Editor's Pick 2014, #2: At home or away, most potatoes are eaten in forms that add calories  
Wednesday, December 31, 2014
When advised to “eat your vegetables,” Americans may also need to be reminded “and watch how you prepare them.”  ERS researchers recently looked at the types of vegetables and vegetable-containing foods eaten by Americans and found that instead of eating vegetables in their simple, unadorned state, Americans often eat vegetables in ways that add calories and sodium and reduce dietary fiber. For potatoes prepared at home, potato chips were the most commonly eaten form, accounting for 28 percent of potato consumption. In restaurants, fast food places, and other away from home eating places, fried potatoes accounted for 59 percent of potato consumption. Food intake surveys show other potato dishes, such as mashed and scalloped potatoes, are often prepared with added fats and sodium. Baked and boiled potatoes accounted for 19 percent of at-home potato consumption and 12 percent away from home, and the skin was usually not eaten, reducing dietary fiber content. This chart appears in “Healthy Vegetables Undermined by the Company They Keep” in the May 2014 issue of ERS’s Amber Waves magazine. Originally published Monday August 11, 2014.
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Editor's Pick 2014, #3: California droughts are but one factor in higher retail produce prices  
Tuesday, December 30, 2014
The severity and duration of the ongoing drought in California has raised concerns over its role in rising food prices at the grocery store, especially for fresh fruits and vegetables. In 2012, California produced nearly 50 percent (by value) of the nation’s vegetables and non-citrus fruit. Droughts in California are generally associated with higher retail prices for produce, but price increases are lagged due to the time it takes for weather conditions and planting decisions to alter crop production, which then influence retail prices. In 2005, following five years of drought, retail fruit prices rose 3.7 percent and retail vegetable prices increased 4 percent. Prices continued to rise in 2006, one year after drought conditions began to improve. However, other factors such as energy prices and consumer demand also affect retail produce prices. For example, prices for fresh produce fell in 2009 despite drought conditions, as the 2007-09 recession reduced foreign and domestic demand for many retail foods. As of October 2014, ERS analysts are forecasting fresh fruit prices to increase 4.5 to 5.5 percent in 2014 and vegetable prices to be 2 to 3 percent higher. This chart appears in the Food Prices and Consumers section of the 2014 California Drought page on the ERS website. Information on ERS’s food price forecasts can be found in ERS’s Food Price Outlook data product, updated October 24, 2014. Originally published Thursday October 30, 2014.
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Editor's Pick 2014, #4: Americans consume more than double the recommended maximum of added sugars  
Monday, December 29, 2014
If you have a sweet tooth, you are not alone. A recent analysis of intake data from the 2007-10 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) found that U.S. children ate an average of 9.7 teaspoons of added sugars for each 1,000 calories consumed, and adults consumed 8.4 teaspoons of added sugars per 1,000 calories. Added sugars are the sugars, syrups, and other caloric sweeteners added to foods, including table sugar added to coffee and high fructose corn syrup used in soft drinks, ketchup, and other processed foods. The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans advise that added sugars and added fats should account for no more than 258 calories of a 2,000-calorie diet. Half of this maximum coming from added sugars would equal 3.9 teaspoons per 1,000 calories—less than half of what Americans are consuming. The analysis also found that on average, lower-income individuals consumed more added sugars than higher-income individuals. This chart appears in “Food Consumption and Nutrient Intake Data—Tools for Assessing Americans’ Diets” in the October 2014 issue of ERS’s Amber Waves magazine. Originally published Friday October 10, 2014.
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Editor's Pick 2014, #5: Working-age adults ate fewer meals, snacks, and calories away from home following the 2007-09 recession  
Wednesday, December 24, 2014
During the Great Recession of 2007-09, many Americans experienced large changes in employment and income—changes that affected their food spending and intake. Using intake data from National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys, ERS researchers found that working-age Americans cut back on the number of meals and snacks eaten away from home between 2005-06 and 2009-10. Working age adults’ total daily calories from food away from home declined as well. After accounting for age and other demographic characteristics, the number of away-from-home meals and snacks consumed by working age adults declined by about 12 percent and their away-from-home calories fell from 833 to 706 calories per day. Accounting for income did not affect the estimated declines, suggesting that the recession effect was not due to lower incomes, but instead to increased time available for shopping and preparing food at home. The statistics in this chart are from the ERS report, Changes in Eating Patterns and Diet Quality Among Working-Age Adults, 2005-2010, released January 16, 2014. Originally published Thursday January 23, 2014.

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American Indians remain disproportionally rural  
Tuesday, December 23, 2014
Despite rapid increases in their urban population in recent decades, American Indians (including Alaska native populations but excluding those reporting more than one race) remain disproportionately rural compared with other groups. Based on self-identified race, 29 percent of all American Indians lived in rural areas in 2010, compared with about 15 percent of the total U.S. population. Persistent out-migration of rural residents finishing high school was as pronounced among American Indians as it was for the rural population as a whole, reflected in a slight dip in the percentage of working age adults residing in rural America. In addition, 52 percent of rural American Indians and the rural U.S. population in general were age 20-59, indicating an equal level of economic dependency on rural working-age adults, whether American Indian or not. But rural American Indians are much more likely to be young (under 20) than the total rural population (which has a higher share of population age 60 and older), putting very different pressures on family finances and public support programs.  Find county-level data on the American Indian and Alaska Native population in ERS’s Atlas of Rural and Small-Town America.
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U.S. soybean shipments to China increase with record U.S. crop  
Monday, December 22, 2014
The large 2014/15 (September/August) U.S. soybean crop—18 percent above the previous record—has led to a record pace for U.S. soybean export sales commitments, including sales to China, the largest U.S. market for soybeans. The 2014/15 U.S. soybean crop is estimated at 107.7 million tons and total marketing year exports are forecast at a record 47.9 million tons. Cumulative export shipments have accelerated this fall, with record U.S. export inspections of soybeans in October and again in November. China accounts for most of the gains with 72 percent of U.S. export shipments to date, although substantial gains have been seen for other importers, including the EU, Turkey, and Taiwan. Actual U.S. export shipments are now growing faster than export sales and due to this robust pace, future  shipments could moderate without another round of new sales. Even with the outlook for record U.S. exports, the large U.S harvest, coupled with expected record Brazilian and Argentine harvests, is forecast to lead to a 23-percent decline in the U.S. farm price of soybeans to about $10/bushel for 2014/15. Find additional analysis in Soybeans and Oil Crops Outlook: December 2014.
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The distribution of beginning farms reflects local farm economies  
Friday, December 19, 2014
In large part, the regional distribution of beginning farms mirrors that of all farms, but there are some differences. Beginning farms are located all across the country, but overall, the South is home to the largest percentage of beginning farms: 47 percent, which is about 5 percent higher than its share of all farms. The South also has the largest percentage of small beginning farms. Large-scale beginning farms are most likely to be in the Midwest, but with 30 percent of the nation’s beginning farms, the Midwest has fewer than its 37 percent share of all farms. The concentration of cash grain farms in the Midwest, which on average are larger than farms specializing in other types of commodities, not only explains the region’s higher shares of mid-size and large scale beginning farms, but may also explain the fact that fewer of its farms are operated by beginning farmers. This chart is found in the ERS topic page on Beginning & Disadvantaged Farmers, updated October 2014.
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U.S. strawberry consumption continues to grow  
Thursday, December 18, 2014
U.S. per capita strawberry use has generally trended higher since 1980, and the current production forecast supports the outlook for continued growth in 2014. Per capita use of fresh strawberries is expanding the fastest, reaching a record 7.9 pounds in 2013, in response to greater awareness of the importance of healthy diets, increased year-round availability through domestic production and imports, and adoption of improved varieties. The current USDA forecast for strawberry production in the three major strawberry-producing States—California, Oregon, and Florida—indicates combined output of 3.05 billion pounds in 2014, up 3 percent from last year. Production is forecast to increase 2 percent in California and 11 percent in Florida, but decline 3 percent in Oregon. Despite drought conditions, strawberry area in California is forecast to remain steady from a year ago at 41,500 acres, with higher yields per acre boosting production to a record 2.82 billion pounds. Even with a larger domestic crop and increased imports from Mexico and Canada, retail prices of fresh strawberries are averaging about 12 percent higher during the first 10 months of 2014 compared with a year earlier. Find this chart and additional analysis in Fruit and Tree Nut Outlook: September 2014.
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Most nonfarm income of farm households comes from wages & salaries  
Wednesday, December 17, 2014
In 2013, only about one-quarter of total farm household income came from farming. Because of the broad USDA definition of a farm (which includes places with the potential for as little as $1,000 in annual sales), more than half of farm operator households consistently incur a net loss from farming activities in any given year, and far more do not earn the equivalent of a market wage for their on-farm labor. As a result, most farm operator households rely heavily on off-farm income. Of the total off-farm income earned by all farm operator households, the majority comes from wages and salaries earned by household members through nonfarm jobs, followed by income transfers (e.g., Social Security) and profits from nonfarm businesses owned by farm household members. As a group, U.S. farm operator households earn their income from a wide range of activities, reflecting the diverse set of skills, knowledge, and economic goals held by farm operators and their families. This chart is found in the ERS topic page, Farm Household Well-Being, updated November 2014.
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Food accounts for 13 percent of American households’ budgets  
Tuesday, December 16, 2014
With a 12.9-percent share, food ranked third behind housing (33.6 percent) and transportation (17.6 percent) in a typical American household’s 2013 expenditures. Breaking down food spending further, 7.8 percent of expenditures were spent at the grocery store and 5.1 percent at restaurants. Price changes for the items in the different budget categories relative to each other play a role in the categories’ shares of annual household consumer expenditures. Over the last 10 years, retail food price inflation has often outpaced economy-wide inflation. Between 2004 and 2013, prices for all U.S. goods and services rose an average of 2.4 percent per year, while food prices increased an average of 2.8 percent. Despite higher food price inflation, food’s share of consumer expenditures fell slightly (0.4 percentage points) over the decade, as the budget shares for health care and housing rose. This chart appears in the ERS data product, Ag and Food Statistics: Charting the Essentials. More information on ERS’s food price forecasts can be found in ERS’s Food Price Outlook data product.
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Bulk commodity prices pull down U.S. agricultural export forecast  
Monday, December 15, 2014
Fiscal 2015 U.S. agricultural exports are forecast at $143.5 billion, $9.0 billion below fiscal 2014, primarily because of the outlook for lower bulk commodity prices. Grain and feed sales are forecast down 18 percent from fiscal 2014 as lower prices, as well as reduced volumes, reduce the value of corn and wheat exports. Lower prices are expected to reduce oilseed and product exports by 15 percent, despite the outlook for larger export volumes. In contrast, horticultural product exports are forecast to grow 11 percent to $37 billion, making them the largest category of U.S. agricultural exports for the first time. Livestock products are also forecast to grow about 3 percent in fiscal 2015, primarily due to higher meat prices. The trade outlook indicates a decline in U.S. agricultural exports across global regions. Lower prices are expected to reduce the value of exports to China, the largest U.S. agricultural market, by about 7 percent to $24.0 billion. Sales to Canada, the second largest U.S. market, are forecast to hold steady at about $21.8 billion, while sales to Mexico slip about 4 percent to $18.7 billion. Find additional analysis in Outlook for U.S. Agricultural Trade: December 2014
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The earnings advantage from higher education is more pronounced in urban areas  
Friday, December 12, 2014
Despite an upward trend in rural educational attainment levels over time, a larger proportion of working-age adults in urban areas have college degrees. This rural-urban disparity is partly the result of considerably higher earnings levels for college graduates and advanced degree holders in urban areas. Many young adults leave rural areas to attend college, and many remain in urban areas after college due to the higher earnings available to them in those areas. In contrast, differences between rural and urban earnings levels are much smaller for those with less education, who thus have less incentive to move to urban areas. However, despite the lower earnings generally available in rural areas, some individuals and families at all levels of educational attainment migrate from urban to rural areas, as quality-of-life factors, lower housing costs, personal ties, or other specific opportunities motivate them to move or move back to rural America. This chart is found in the 2014 edition of Rural America at a Glance, EB-26, November 2014.
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Healthier eaters are more likely use calorie information at restaurants  
Thursday, December 11, 2014
Menu-labeling regulations recently released by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration will require chain restaurants and other retail food chains that sell restaurant-type foods to post the calorie content of standard menu items. This will allow diners to make more informed decisions, if they notice and use the information. A recent ERS study, Menu Labeling Imparts New Information About the Calorie Content of Restaurant Foods, concluded that while many Americans may already be making crude choices between low- and high-calorie menu items, the new regulations will allow them to refine their choices. In another ERS study, researchers found that adults who already practice healthy dietary habits were more likely to use calorie information when eating out. Strongly correlated with a person’s declared willingness to use nutrition information was his or her Healthy Eating Index (HEI) score, which assesses an individual’s conformance to Federal dietary guidance. People who said that they would use nutrition information “often” in both fast-food and full-service settings have the highest average HEI scores, both above the national average of 53.1, followed by those who said they would use it “sometimes.” The statistics in this chart are from the ERS report, Consumers’ Use of Nutrition Information When Eating Out.
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Milk production continues shifting to large scale farms  
Wednesday, December 10, 2014
In 2012, there were still nearly 50,000 U.S. dairy farms with fewer than 100 cows, but that represented a large decline from 20 years earlier, when there were almost 135,000 small dairy farms. Over the same period, the number of dairy farms with at least 1,000 cows more than tripled to 1,807 farms in 2012. Movements in farm numbers were mirrored by movements in the share of cow inventories. Farms with fewer than 100 cows accounted for 49 percent of the country’s 9.7 million milk cows in 1992, but just 17 percent of the 9.2 million milk cows in 2012. Meanwhile, farms with at least 1,000 cows accounted for 49 percent of all cows in 2012, up from 10 percent in 1992. The shift to larger dairy farms is driven largely by the economics of dairy farming. Average full costs of production (which include the annualized cost of capital, imputed cost of unpaid family labor, and cash operating expenses) are substantially lower on farms with larger herds. This chart is drawn from the December 2014 Amber Waves data feature,Milk Production Continues Shifting to Large Scale Farms.”
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EU sanitary and phytosanitary measures limit imports of U.S. poultry  
Tuesday, December 09, 2014
The European Union (EU) is one of the world’s leading producers, consumers, and traders of broiler (young chicken) meat, but its sanitary and phytosanitary policies limit imports of U.S. broiler meat. All broiler meat imported by the EU is required to be from sources that do not use pathogen reduction treatments (PRTs), such as chlorine wash, in their production. PRTs are approved for use in the United States and are used by virtually all U.S. processors. Because of this restriction, even the 13 most recent EU member states—including Romania, Latvia, Estonia, Poland, and Bulgaria—halted their imports of U.S. broiler meat after they joined the EU in 2004 and 2007. U.S. broiler exports to the EU are also potentially restricted by the EU’s system of tariff rate quotas (TRQs), but the United States does not currently fill its existing quota because of the EU PRT restriction. The United States receives an exclusive TRQ of 16,665 metric tons, which can be applied to fresh and frozen broiler and turkey meat in whole-bird or parts form. The EU imported 670,000 metric tons of broiler meat in 2013, with 93 percent of those imports supplied by Brazil and Thailand. Find this chart and additional analysis in Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures and Tariff-Rate Quotas for U.S. Meat Exports to the European Union. 
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Grocery shopping patterns vary by income and SNAP participation  
Monday, December 08, 2014
Participants in USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) place a high value on how well food keeps when making purchase decisions in the grocery store; a closer look at their shopping behavior may help to explain this. Using data from the Flexible Consumer Behavior Survey module of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), ERS researchers found that SNAP participants and low-income non-SNAP participants had a more difficult time getting to the grocery store than higher income shoppers; 14 percent of both groups reported that it took them more than 30 minutes to get to a grocery store, compared with only 8 percent of higher income shoppers. SNAP shoppers are less likely to shop weekly and more likely to shop once a month or less. This may be related to the monthly distribution of SNAP benefits. Just under 30 percent of SNAP shoppers reported that they shopped once a month or less compared to 15 percent of low-income non-SNAP participants and 8 percent of higher income shoppers. Choosing foods that keep well is likely to be important to consumers that shop less frequently. This chart appears in “SNAP Households Must Balance Multiple Priorities to Achieve a Healthful Diet” in the November 2014 issue of ERS’s Amber Waves magazine.
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“No-till” practices are used on over half of major cropland acres  
Friday, December 05, 2014
Soil health improves when farmers refrain from disturbing the soil. While no-till production systems are increasingly used on land in corn, soybeans, and wheat—the three largest U.S. crops by acreage—they are not necessarily used every year. Field-level data, collected through the Agricultural Resource Management Survey, show that farmers often rotate no-till with other tillage systems. Farmers growing wheat (in 2009), corn (in 2010), and soybeans (in 2012) were asked about no-till use in the survey year and the 3 previous years. No-till was used continuously over the 4-year period on 21 percent of surveyed acres. On almost half of the cropland surveyed, farmers did not use no-till. Some of the benefit of using no-till, including higher organic matter and greater carbon sequestration, is realized only if no-till is applied continuously over a number of years. Nonetheless, because tilling the soil can help control weeds and pests, some farmers rotate tillage practices much like they rotate crops. This chart is drawn from data reported in ARMS Farm Financial and Crop Production Practices, updated in December 2014.
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Indian rice prices typically lower and more stable than world prices  
Thursday, December 04, 2014
Because rice is an important commodity for Indian producers and consumers, Indian Government policies intervene heavily in its domestic rice market. Particularly since the global price spike in 2008, India’s system of providing Minimum Support Prices (MSPs) for growers, distributing rice purchased at the MSP to consumers at subsidized prices, and placing periodic bans or quotas on rice exports, has kept domestic rice prices lower and more stable than world prices (represented by the export price of Thai rice). In 2008, India increased subsidized rice distribution and banned most exports of non-basmati (aromatic, long grain) rice to prevent higher world prices from affecting  the domestic market; however, domestic rice prices still increased more than 30 percent between mid-2007 and early 2010. According to ERS research, Indian rice consumers were able to maintain rice consumption, but did so primarily by reducing expenditures on non-staple foods, health care, and durable goods. India’s higher level of exports since 2011, along with increases in MSPs, has contributed to current concerns with inflation in domestic rice prices.  Find this chart and more in-depth research in Coping Strategies in Response to Rising Food Prices: Evidence from India
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Access to supermarkets is limited for many residents in Native American tribal areas  
Wednesday, December 03, 2014
Native Americans living in tribal areas experience high rates of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease that may be due to poor diets. Prior studies cite limited access to supermarkets and other sources of affordable and nutritious foods as contributing factors to less healthful food choices by U.S. consumers. Low population density and limited incomes create disincentives for supermarkets to locate in many tribal areas. In 2010, 74.4 percent of the people in the 545 U.S. tribal areas examined in a recent ERS study lived more than 1 mile from a supermarket, compared with 41.2 percent of the U.S. population. Similarly, among low-income individuals, shares were higher for tribal populations than the national average. Regular access to a car can make traveling to supermarkets easier. However, the share of tribal households without access to a vehicle who lived more than 1 mile from a supermarket ranged from 57.2 to 74.6 percent, versus the 20.1-percent U.S. average. This chart appears in the ERS report, Measuring Access to Healthful, Affordable Food in American Indian and Alaska Native Tribal Areas, released on December 1, 2014.
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U.S. crop insurance participation grows  
Tuesday, December 02, 2014
Participation in the U.S. Federal Crop Insurance (FCI) program has continued to expand since the early 1990s, in response to changes in laws that have broadened the number of crops covered and altered incentives for program participation. Enrollment in crop insurance grew sharply after the 1994 enactment of the Federal Crop Insurance Reform Act (FCIRA) increased premium subsidies and required producers to enroll in order to receive support from other Government programs. At that time, producers enrolled the majority of these new acres under a fully subsidized new policy called Catastrophic Risk Protection Endorsement (CAT) which provides low-level coverage (i.e., that only pays indemnities when losses are high), with the remaining acres enrolled in buy-up policies—those that are not fully subsidized. ERS research suggests that the increased premium subsidies introduced through the 2000 Agricultural Risk Protection Act did more to induce farmers to select higher levels of coverage than to enroll new acreage.  Find this chart and additional analysis in The Importance of Federal Crop Insurance Premium Subsidies in the October Amber Waves
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