ERS Charts of Note

On-farm renewable energy production varies regionally

Friday, October 28, 2016

Since the early 2000s, farms have increased renewable energy production with technologies like solar panels, wind turbines, and methane digesters. From 2007 to 2012, the number of farms generating on-farm renewable energy more than doubled to nearly 58,000—or 2.7 percent of U.S. farms. This does not include the roughly 16,600 farms that leased wind rights to others or that produced ethanol and biodiesel on the farm. Adoption of on-farm renewable energy systems varies across the country but it is concentrated in the Western United States, Illinois, and New England. In these regions, about two in five farm businesses produce renewable energy in some counties. The Southeastern States, which have fewer subsidies and programs supporting renewable power, had low adoption rates. This chart appears in the August 2016 ERS report Trends in U.S. Agriculture’s Consumption and Production of Energy: Renewable Power, Shale Energy, and Cellulosic Biomass.

Availability of refined sugars has been higher than corn sweeteners since 2011

Thursday, October 27, 2016

In 2014, 131.0 pounds per person of caloric sweeteners were available for consumption by U.S. consumers, down from a high of 153.1 pounds per person in 1999. Availability of total corn sweeteners (high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS), glucose syrup, and dextrose) contributed to the drop, falling from its peak of 85.2 pounds per person in 1999 to 60.7 pounds per person in 2014. High corn prices, price competition with refined cane and beet sugars and other caloric sweeteners, as well as shifting preferences among consumers and food manufacturers have contributed to this decline. Availability of refined cane and beet sugars fell from 101.8 pounds per person in 1970 to 62.7 pounds per person in 1985, then remained relatively flat for the next two and a half decades. Refined sugar availability began to rise in 2011, surpassing corn sweetener availability and reaching 68.3 pounds per person in 2014. Rising honey imports have contributed to recent increases in per capita honey availability. In 2014, per capita honey availability stood at 1.2 pounds and per capita availability of edible syrups was 0.8 pounds. This chart is from ERS’s Ag and Food Statistics: Charting the Essentials, updated October 11, 2016.

Record yields driving soybean production gains

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

In October, USDA raised its 2016/17 forecast of the U.S. average soybean yield to a record 51.4 bushels. Coupled with a harvested acreage estimate of 83 million acres, the higher yield boosts forecasted soybean production by 68 million bushels to 4.3 billion. The largest production gains are due to higher acreage and yield indications for North Dakota, South Dakota, and Illinois. These increases more than offset reductions in acreage and production for Minnesota, Iowa, and Tennessee. The 4.3 billion bushel forecast would be a record for U.S. production, while 2014/15 and 2015/16 production would become the second and third highest harvests, respectively. Much of the production gains are attributable to significant gains in yields which have increased from 38.1 bushels per acre in 2000/01 to 48 bushels per acre in the 2015/16 marketing year. Growing conditions for soybeans this year were nearly ideal. Spring planting for soybeans proceeded without any major delays. During the summer growing season, the Midwestern soybean-growing region benefited from much-above-average rainfall and there were no prolonged dry or hot spells to stress crops. Gains in production are leading to higher forecasted ending stocks and increases in exports, reducing downward pressure on domestic soybean prices. This chart uses data from the ERS Oil Crops Yearbook dataset and the ERS Oil Crops Outlook report released in October 2016.

To promote soil health, USDA’s funding for cover crops increased ten-fold between 2005 and 2013

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Farmers can receive Federal financial assistance for implementing a wide range of conservation practices from the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). Adopting no-till and planting cover crops are two common agricultural practices that can improve soil health. Farmers receiving payments for no-till agree to plant crops without using any sort of plow to turn residue from the prior crop into the soil. Those receiving payments for cover crops plant certain crops (such as clover, field peas, and annual ryegrass) or a mixture of crops to maintain cover and add organic matter. Cover crops are usually grown over the winter, between plantings of commodity crops. From 2005 to 2013, USDA funding for cover crops in EQIP increased ten-fold—from about $5 million to more than $50 million in nominal terms. Over this same period, funding for no-till adoption declined. This shift in focus can be attributed to a variety of factors, such as increasing adoption of no-till by farmers even without payment and improving availability of cover crop seeds and educational materials. This chart appears in the September 2016 Amber Waves feature, “An Economic Perspective on Soil Health.”

Six States account for about half of all U.S. pumpkin production

Monday, October 24, 2016

All U.S. States produce some pumpkins but about one-half of the total are grown in 6 States. In 2015, U.S. farmers in those States produced 753.8 million pounds of pumpkins. Production dropped over 40 percent from 2014 with a notable drop in acreage planted in Illinois. In June 2015 there were heavy rains in Illinois that significantly reduced pumpkin harvests. Despite this decline, Illinois remained the leading producer of pumpkins by acreage and output, with almost 80 percent of acres typically devoted to production for pie filling or other processing uses. Supplies from the remaining top five States are targeted toward the seasonal fresh market for ornamental uses and for home processing. In addition to traditional jack-o'-lantern types, demand for specialty pumpkins continues to expand as consumers look for new and interesting varieties such as Big Mack, Blue, Cinderella, Fairytale, White Howden, Knuckle Head, and heirloom varieties. This chart uses data from the ERS Vegetable and Pulses Yearbook dataset.

Across income groups, fast food largest source of food-away-from-home calories

Friday, October 21, 2016

Federal food intake surveys conducted between 1977 and 2012 reveal that meals and snacks from fast food places accounted for more of Americans’ away-from-home calories than food from full-service restaurants, school cafeterias, or other away-from-home eating places. In 1977-78, eating places with no wait staff (fast food) provided 5.7 percent of daily calories for those age 2 and older, while food prepared by restaurants with wait staff provided 3.2 percent. By 2011-12, fast food’s share of calories had increased to 15.8 percent, while restaurant foods provided 8.9 percent of daily calories. Fast food’s ranking as the largest contributor to away-from-home calories held true for both higher income individuals (household income above 185 percent of the Federal poverty line) and individuals with incomes below that amount. In all of these surveys, higher income consumers obtained a larger share of their calories from foods prepared by restaurants (11.2 percent in 2011-12) than did lower income consumers (5.8 percent in 2011-12). This chart appears in “Linking Federal Food Intake Surveys Provides a More Accurate Look at Eating Out Trends” in the June 2016 issue of ERS’s Amber Waves magazine.

Chinese imports of fruit continue to rise as U.S. competes for market share

Thursday, October 20, 2016

The rise in Chinese living standards has spurred demand for a more diverse and nutritious diet, leading to a surge in China’s fruit imports. Fruit is a discretionary item consumed as a dessert, given as gifts, and distributed at meetings and banquets. With greater disposable income, demand for fruit (particularly fresh fruit) has grown rapidly. In the most recent 8 years, import volume grew more than three times to 3.8 million metric tons in 2015. The United States was a pioneer in opening China’s fruit market during the 1990s, but China’s recent surge of imports came mainly from tropical and Southern Hemisphere countries. The United States remains the predominant Northern-Hemisphere supplier, reflecting quality, extended seasonal availability, and other competitive attributes—but its share of total Chinese fruit imports declined for most of the new millennium. In 2015, there was a small uptick in the U.S. share moving from 2.6 percent to 3.5 percent, but far below the peak share of 11.5 percent in 2001. This chart appears in the ERS U.S. Fruit Competes for China Market Share special article published in September 2016.

Guidance systems are used on about half of planted acres for several major crops

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Guidance systems use global positioning system (GPS) coordinates to automatically steer farm equipment like combines, tractors, and self-propelled sprayers. Guidance systems help reduce operator fatigue and pinpoint precise field locations, within a few inches. Freed from steering, operators can access timely coordinates from a screen, monitor other equipment systems more closely, and correct problems more quickly. Guidance systems also reduce costs by improving the precision of sprays and the seeding of field crop rows. Between 2010 and 2013, these systems were adopted on 45 to 55 percent of planted acres for several major crops, including rice, peanuts, and corn. Once adopted for a particular crop, the use of guidance systems tends to be rapidly adopted by other crop farmers. The ease-of-use and functionality of these systems has also increased along with adoption rates. This chart appears in the ERS report Farm Profits and Adoption of Precision Agriculture , released October 18, 2016.

Fresh and frozen shellfish lead the growth in seafood availability

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

The supply of seafood available for consumption in the United States is up from 11.7 pounds per person in 1970—but down from a peak of 16.5 pounds in 2006—according to ERS food availability data. In 1970, fresh and frozen shellfish accounted for 21 percent of seafood availability. In 2014, by comparison, fresh and frozen shellfish (mostly shrimp) accounted for 34 percent of the 14.5 pounds per capita of seafood available for consumption. New efficiencies in shrimp aquaculture beginning in the early 1980s, which sharply increased availability and reduced prices, made shrimp a popular menu item at fast casual dining places across the United States. A 35-percent decline in canned tuna availability since 2000 was largely offset by a surge in fresh and frozen fish availability from low-cost imports of farm-raised salmon and tilapia and the increased use of wild-caught Alaska pollock in frozen fish sticks, imitation crab meat, and fast-food sandwiches. This chart appears in “Americans’ Seafood Consumption Below Recommendations” in the October 2016 issue of ERS’s Amber Waves magazine.

California almond production forecast to reach record levels

Monday, October 17, 2016

Almond production in California is projected to reach a record high 2.05 billion pounds in the 2016/17 crop year. This would be an 8 percent increase from a year earlier and slightly higher than the previous record of 2.03 billion pounds in 2011/12. While many areas are still under drought, trees have shown signs of recovery from multiple years of water deprivation. The increase in production may put negative pressure on prices received by growers. After a strong year of production, for example, grower prices fell from $4.00 per pound in 2014/15 to $2.84 per pound in 2015/16. This resulted in a steep decline in production value for the year, falling from a record high of $7.39 billion dollars in 2014/15 to $5.33 billion dollars in 2015/16. Even with the sharp drop in value, this remained the third-highest crop value on record. With prices high relative to long-term averages, almond producers still have an incentive to increase production. This chart appears in the ERS Fruit and Tree Nuts Outlook report in September 2016.

Share of electricity expenses vary by farm size and principal commodity

Friday, October 14, 2016

Farms rely on electricity to power many essential systems, including irrigation, ventilation, and heating and cooling. Sometimes, due to seasonal demand, farms pay high prices for electricity. How much farms spend on electricity as a percentage of total expenses in a given year varies with farm size and principal commodity. In 2014, the highest share of electricity expenses by commodity were on farms concentrating on the production of peanuts (5.5 percent). By farm size, small poultry producers had the highest share of electricity expenses, 12.8 percent—about 8 times more than large poultry producers. With the exception of peanut producers, large farms had the lowest shares of electricity expenditure among all farm sizes. Large peanut producers likely had a higher share of electricity expenses compared to small producers because irrigation and on-farm drying of harvested peanuts were more economical on large farms. This chart appears in the August 2016 ERS report Trends in U.S. Agriculture’s Consumption and Production of Energy: Renewable Power, Shale Energy, and Cellulosic Biomass.

Food insecurity fell in 2015 for minority-headed households and households with children

Thursday, October 13, 2016

The prevalence of food insecurity in the United States declined from 14.0 percent of households in 2014 to 12.7 percent of households in 2015. Some types of households saw greater declines than others. Food insecurity for both Non-Hispanic Blacks and Hispanics dropped from 2014 to 2015: the former declined from 26.1 to 21.5 percent, while the latter from 22.4 to 19.1 percent. Households with children younger than 18 saw a significant decline in food insecurity—from 19.2 percent in 2014 to 16.6 percent in 2015. Among these households, those headed by single mothers saw their food insecurity prevalence drop from 35.3 percent to 30.3 percent. The prevalence of food insecurity for households with children under 6 years old dropped from 19.9 to 16.9 percent as well. This chart appears in the ERS report, Household Food Security in the United States in 2015, published September 2016.

Rising agricultural productivity offsets declining input use in developed countries

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Boosting agricultural productivity—producing more output from fewer inputs—is key to meeting expanding global food needs. Total Factor Productivity (TPF) offers a complete measure of agricultural performance, accounting for all of the land, labor, capital, and material resources used in the production process. Since the 1960s, agricultural TFP in developed countries has compensated for declining input use as output growth slowed. In more years, between 2001 and 2013, input growth in these countries declined across all factors of production for the first time. ERS estimates TFP growth using data from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. This chart uses data from the ERS International Agricultural Productivity dataset.

U.S. per capita consumption of cow’s milk cheeses continues to expand

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Per capita consumption of cow’s milk cheese rose in 2015, adding to strong growth from 2014. On average, Americans consumed roughly 35 pounds of cheese in 2015. The two most common cheeses, cheddar and mozzarella, accounted for 61 percent of consumption. Consumption of cheddar, which totaled about 10 pounds per person in 2015, increased just over 3 percent. By comparison, mozzarella consumption grew at about 1 percent. Other cheeses—such as cream cheeses, Swiss, and Hispanic cheeses—collectively grew the fastest at nearly 4 percent. Taken together, the growth in U.S. per capita consumption was the highest since 1999, at almost 3 percent. Relatively strong economic growth in the United States helped increase its domestic cheese consumption. Amidst the recession, by comparison, per capita consumption shrank in 2008 and grew minimally in 2009. Relatively low prices likely also encouraged cheese consumption. According to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, retail cheese prices fell by 0.2 percent in 2015. The data for this chart comes from the ERS Dairy Data product, updated in September 2016.

Louisiana sugarcane crop conditions downgraded after flooding

Friday, October 7, 2016

Heavy rainfall and severe flooding in Louisiana affected the State’s sugarcane crop, according to USDA crop condition ratings, which were rated positively prior to the severe weather. Lafayette, LA, centered near the state’s main sugarcane region, recorded August precipitation that was 5 times larger than normal. Following the floods, significant portions of the crop were downgraded from Excellent or Good ratings to Fair. Additionally, sugarcane rated Poor or Very Poor increased from 2 percent prior to the severe weather to a peak of 9 percent afterward. Fortunately, crop ratings have improved during September and are currently comparable with crop conditions in 2015/16. With the sugarcane harvest in Louisiana typically beginning in late September and continuing through January, Louisiana sugar production in 2015/16 is still expected to be about 15 percent larger than the previous year due to increased harvested acreage and sugarcane yields in the State. This chart appears in the ERS Sugar and Sweeteners Outlook report in September 2016.

Food prices rose more than other U.S. goods and services in 2015

Thursday, October 6, 2016

The all-items Consumer Price Index (CPI) measures overall price changes across seven major household spending categories: housing, transportation, food, medical care, apparel, recreation, and education and communication. Typically, food price inflation moves in the same direction as economy-wide inflation, but their magnitudes may differ. In 7 of the last 9 years, for example, food price inflation was higher than economy-wide inflation. In 2007 and 2008, food prices rose at above-average rates due to high prices for farm-level rice, grains, and oilseeds. The 2007-09 recession put downward pressure on prices for many goods and services in 2009, but had a larger impact on housing and transportation than food. One of the largest differences in inflation among the two categories occurred in 2015. Food prices increased 1.9 percent, whereas lower oil prices caused transportation prices to fall by 7.8 percent—which contributed to economy-wide inflation of just 0.1 percent that year. This chart appears in “Food Price Inflation Has Outpaced Economy-Wide Inflation in Recent Years” in the October 2016 issue of ERS’s Amber Waves magazine.

Farmers received a smaller share of U.S. households’ dairy expenditures in 2015

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Over the past decade, the farm share for a basket of 14 dairy products—the ratio of grocery store prices (retail value) to prices received by dairy farmers (farm value)—has fluctuated between 24 and 38 percent. In 2015, the annual retail value of the basket fell by 1.2 percent to $435 while the farm value of the same products fell by 26.6 percent to $124. A decrease in the all-milk price received by farmers was responsible for the basket’s lower farm value. In 2014, the all-milk price peaked at $23.98 per 100 pounds on a monthly-average basis. The following year, however, the all-milk price fell to $17.08 per 100 pounds as a result of rising domestic milk production, falling U.S. cheese and dry whey exports, and growing imports of butter and cheese. The basket’s lower 2015 farm value, in turn, caused the farm share to fall from 38 to 29 percent that year. This chart is based on the Price Spreads from Farm to Consumer data product on the ERS website, updated July 2016.

Beginning farms that sell directly to consumers more likely to survive

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Beginning farmers, those who have managed a farm or ranch for 10 years or less, generally have lower rates of business survival than more established farm operators. According to Census of Agriculture data, only 48.1 percent of beginning farmers with positive sales in 2007 also reported positive sales in 2012—compared with 55.7 percent of all farms. Running a larger operation and selling directly to consumers (at roadside stands, farmers’ markets, and so on) may help beginning farmers remain in business. As a whole, beginning farms with direct-to-consumer (DTC) sales had a 54.3 percent survival rate, while 47.4 percent of those without DTC sales survived. This pattern holds across operations of different sizes, as defined by annual sales. The difference in survival rates was substantial—ranging from 9 percentage points for the smallest farms to about 4 percentage points for the largest. Farmers with DTC sales can usually get a higher product price and reach a certain level of sales with less machinery and land. In turn, these farmers may have a more stable income and need to borrow less—further increasing chances of survival. This chart appeared in the September 2016 Amber Waves finding, “For Beginning Farmers, Business Survival Rates Increase With Scale and With Direct Sales to Consumers."

Global cotton production projected to rebound from 13-year low

Monday, October 3, 2016

The latest U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) estimates for 2016/17 project world cotton production at 102.5 million bales, 6 percent above the previous season’s 13-year low. The three largest cotton-producing countries remain India, China, and the United States. In 2016/17, these countries are forecast to account for 62 percent of global production, slightly below the 3-year average (approximately 64 percent) as larger harvests are expected from a number of other cotton-producing countries such as Pakistan and Brazil. India is expected to remain the leading producer, after first surpassing China in 2015/16. Globally, 2016/17 cotton production is rising as a result of a higher yield expectation. World cotton area, on the other hand, is declining for a second consecutive season and projected to dip to its lowest since 1986/87. The reduction in planted cotton area may be due to declining global cotton prices as well as reduced imports from China. The ratio of cotton prices to alternative fibers such as polyester has also remained high even as cotton prices have fallen. This is due in part to the recent declines of global oil prices, which constitutes a key input in polyester production. This chart is based on data reported in the ERS Cotton and Wool Outlook published September 2016.

Some manure nutrients produced in the Chesapeake Bay watershed can be captured for later use

Friday, September 30, 2016

In 2010, to help meet water quality goals, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) adopted a limit on the amount of pollutants that the Chesapeake Bay can receive. Nitrogen and phosphorus, in particular, can lead to adverse effects on public health, recreation, and ecosystems when present in excess amounts. The EPA estimates that applications of manure contribute 15 percent of nitrogen and 37 percent of phosphorus loadings to the Bay. Furthermore, ERS estimates that animal feeding operations (AFOs), which raise animals in confinement, account for 88 percent of manure nitrogen and 84 percent of manure phosphorus generation in that watershed. ERS also estimates that about a third of nitrogen and half of phosphorus produced at AFOs can be recovered for later use. That adds to about 234 million pounds of nitrogen and 106 million pounds of phosphorus recovered. These nutrients can then be redistributed regionally to fertilize agricultural land, thereby lessening nutrient run-off problems in the Bay. The remaining nutrients cannot be recovered. Both nitrogen and phosphorus may be lost during collection, storage, and transportation; nitrogen may also volatize into the atmosphere. This chart is based on the ERS report Comparing Participation in Nutrient Trading by Livestock Operations to Crop Producers in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, released in September 2016.