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ERS Charts of Note

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See also: Editor’s Pick 2015: Best of Charts of Note gallery.


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Retail egg prices rose 21 percent in third quarter 2015   
Monday, February 08, 2016
Egg prices are among the most volatile in the grocery store. Unlike many other retail foods, shell eggs have a limited shelf life—they cannot be frozen or canned. If demand increases or supplies fall, there is limited inventory to draw upon and retail prices may rise. While some price fluctuations are expected due to seasonal demand for eggs throughout the year, there have been some above-average price increases over the past 16 years, mainly due to disease outbreaks affecting poultry or surges in feed prices. The most recent upswing in retail egg prices was largely due to an outbreak of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI), which affected table-egg-laying flocks, primarily in the Midwest. To contain the outbreak, which ran from late 2014 to June 2015, producers destroyed about 33 million hens (roughly 11 percent of U.S. egg-laying hens). Retail egg prices rose 20.9 percent in the third quarter of 2015, and egg prices in September 2015, were 36.2 percent higher than in September 2014. As the industry recovers from the outbreak, retail egg prices have begun to adjust, falling 3.3 percent in the fourth quarter of 2015. This chart appears in “Retail Egg Price Volatility in 2015 Reflects Farm Conditions” in the February 2016 issue of ERS’s Amber Waves magazine.
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U.S. spending on food away from home higher than on food at home in 2014  
Friday, February 05, 2016
U.S. consumers spent more for food in away-from-home establishments than for meals prepared and consumed at home for the first time in 2014. Spending at food-away-from-home establishments—restaurants, school cafeterias, sports venues, etc.—accounted for 50.1 percent of the $1.46 trillion spent on food and beverages by U.S. consumers, businesses, and government entities. The remaining 49.9 percent took place at grocery stores and other retailers. A 50.1-percent share of food expenditures does not equate to 50.1 percent of food quantities, as food purchased away from home is generally higher priced than food prepared at home. Food-away-from-home outlets incur costs for the variety of workers required to prepare and serve food, as well as for buildings, equipment, and utilities. The away-from-home market, which had a 26.3-percent share of total food expenditures in 1960, saw its share grow through the decades, except in some recession years. During the 2007-09 recession, food away from home’s share of total food spending dipped from 49.0 percent in 2007 to 48.5 percent in 2008 and did not rebound to its pre-recession share until 2012. The data for this chart are from ERS’s Food Expenditures data product, updated on January 26, 2016.
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The United States and Australia compete to supply Japan’s beef imports  
Thursday, February 04, 2016
Japan is one of the largest beef importing countries in the world and an important market for the United States. In 2014, it imported nearly $3.5 billion of beef and beef products, making it the third-largest beef importer in the world. The United States and Australia are the primary suppliers, and together repre­sent roughly 90 percent of Japan’s 2014 beef imports. From 2004 to 2006, Japan banned imports of U.S. beef due to the discovery of bovine spongiform encephalopathy, boosting imports from Australia and making it the top supplier of beef to Japan. The U.S. share of this market has since recovered but imports remain below pre-ban totals. The 2015 Japan-Australia Economic Partnership Agreement (JAEPA) significantly reduces tariffs on Australian beef, potentially at the expense of U.S. beef. ERS research shows that providing similar market access to the U.S. and Australia would result in a significant net gain in Japanese imports of U.S. beef. This chart is from Tariff Reforms and the Competiveness of U.S. Beef in Japan.
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Restrictions on antibiotic use for production purposes in U.S. hogs and broilers likely to have modest effects on prices, quantities  
Wednesday, February 03, 2016
Livestock farmers use antibiotics to treat, control, and prevent disease, and also for production purposes, such as increasing growth and feed efficiency. A new U.S. Food and Drug Administration initiative seeks to eliminate the use of medically important antibiotics for production purposes. ERS research shows that only a portion of hog and broiler producers use antibiotics for production purposes, and the productivity increases from such uses are 1-3 percent. Modelling the effect of production-specific antibiotic restrictions suggests that such a policy would have a modest effect on wholesale prices and quantities produced of chicken and pork—less than a 1-percent increase in wholesale prices and a net decline in production of less than 0.5 percent. Because prices increase more than quantities decrease, gross revenues (price times quantity) would increase slightly. This chart is based on the table found in the Amber Waves feature, “Restrictions on Antibiotic Use for Production Purposes in U.S. Livestock Industries Likely To Have Small Effects on Prices and Quantities,” November 2015.
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U.S. production and use of high-fructose corn syrup is declining  
Tuesday, February 02, 2016
Domestic use of high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) declined 0.8 percent in the 2014/15 fiscal year (October 1-September 30) to 7.2 million short tons, continuing a decade-long decline. Since 2004/05, domestic use has fallen by 19.1 percent, and it is down 21.8 percent since its peak in 2001/01.  Production is trending lower as well, but by a smaller magnitude: 2014/15 production was 7.1 percent below 2004/05 levels and down 10.6 percent from its peak in 1999/2000. Several factors have contributed to this decline, including high corn prices, price competition with refined sugar and other caloric sweeteners, and changing preferences of consumers and food manufacturers.  As domestic deliveries have fallen, HFCS exports have become an increasingly important segment of the market. In particular, exports to Mexico increased substantially beginning in 2009/10, shortly after the integration of U.S. and Mexican sweetener markets under NAFTA.  This chart is based on the January 2016 Sugar and Sweeteners Outlook.
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Tillage practices vary across the United States  
Monday, February 01, 2016
No-till and strip-till are two of many tillage methods farmers use to plant crops. In a no-till system, farmers plant directly into the undisturbed residue of the previous crop without tillage, except for nutrient injection; in a strip-till system, only a narrow strip is tilled where row crops are planted. These tillage practices contribute to improving soil health, and reduce net greenhouse gas emissions. During 2010-11, about 23 percent of land in corn, cotton, soybeans, and wheat was on a farm where no-till/strip-till was used on every acre (full adopters). Another 33 percent of acreage in these crops was located on farms where a mix of no-till, strip-till, and other tillage practices were used on only some acres (partial adopters). In the Prairie Gateway, Northern Great Plains, and Heartland regions—which account for 72 percent of corn, soybean, wheat, and cotton acreage—more than half of these crop acres were on farms that used no-till/strip-till to some extent. Partial adopters have the equipment and expertise, at least for some crops, to use no-till/strip-till; these farmers may be well positioned to expand these practices to a larger share of cropland acreage. This chart is from the ERS report, Conservation-Practice Adoption Rates Vary Widely by Crop and Region, December 2015.
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Per-capita participation in USDA’s School Breakfast Program grew from 2009 to 2014 in almost all States  
Friday, January 29, 2016
Per-capita participation in USDA’s School Breakfast Program (SBP) has increased from 3.6 participants per 100 U.S. residents in 2009 to 4.2 participants per 100 residents in 2014, and most States’ per-capita SBP participation levels rose. For most States, changes in population and in enrollment in schools that serve USDA school meals were less important than changes in the share of students who take school breakfast. For example, West Virginia’s increase from 5.1 to 7.1 SBP participants per 100 residents reflected small increases in the State’s population and school enrollments, and a large jump in the number of students taking school breakfast—increasing from 31 to 44 percent of students. In only four States did per-capita SBP participation levels decline, and these declines were 0.2 percentage point or less. School Breakfast Program participation across the whole United States has increased steadily from 11.1 million students in 2009 to 13.6 million in 2014 due to a variety of factors, including more schools offering the program, more schools offering free breakfast for all students, and increasing use of formats such as breakfast in the classroom, which reduces arrival-time barriers for many children. This map is from ERS’s Food Environment Atlas.
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More pork produced with fewer breeding animals, as sow productivity increases  
Thursday, January 28, 2016
U.S. annual pork production has grown by more than 63 percent since 1990, and in 2015 it reached an all-time record of more than 24.3 billion pounds. Over the same period, the size of the U.S. hog breeding herd declined by more than 13 percent, reflecting strong productivity increases in hog production. Technical innovation in breeding and genetic research has yielded larger numbers of piglets per sow: U.S. average litter rates grew from fewer than 8 pigs per litter in 1990 to more than 10 today.  At the same time, improvements in nutrition and barn management practices, together with heavier slaughter weights, have allowed the hog industry to reduce the size of its breeding herd while expanding production of pork. This chart is based on the ERS Livestock & Meat Domestic Data and the January 2016 Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry Outlook report.
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Productivity in U.S. agriculture, not increased input use, has fueled agricultural output growth  
Wednesday, January 27, 2016
Agricultural total factor productivity (TFP) is the difference between the aggregate total output of crop/livestock commodities and the combined use of land, labor, capital and material inputs employed in farm production. Growth in TFP implies that the adoption of new technology or improved management of farm resources is increasing average productivity or efficiency of input use. From 1948 to 2013, U.S. farm sector output grew by 170 percent with about the same level of farm input use over the period, and thus the positive growth in farm sector production was substantially due to productivity growth. While aggregate input use in agriculture has been relatively stable over time, the composition of agricultural inputs (not shown in this chart) has shifted. Between 1948 and 2013, labor use declined sharply by 78 percent, land use in agriculture dropped by 26 percent, while the use of intermediate goods (such as energy, agricultural chemicals, purchased services, and seed/feed) and capital (farm machinery and buildings) expanded. Long-term agricultural productivity is fueled by innovations in animal/crop genetics, chemicals, equipment, and farm organization that result from public and private research and development. This chart is found in the ERS data product Agricultural Productivity in the U.S., updated December 2015.
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Agricultural exports and trade balance are declining  
Tuesday, January 26, 2016
The value of U.S. agricultural exports and imports increased each year from fiscal year (FY) 2009 (October 1-September 30), through FY 2014, when the agricultural trade balance reached an all-time high of $43.1 billion. In FY 2015 the value of agricultural exports fell by 8.3 percent while imports grew by 4.5 percent, cutting the trade balance to $25.7 billion. The forecast for FY 2016 is for this pattern to continue: lower exports and higher imports are expected to push the agricultural trade surplus below $10 billion for the first time since 2006. Lower commodity prices account for some of the decline in the value of exports, but a stronger U.S. dollar also plays a role. Unlike in 2009 when both exports and imports fell due to the global recession, in 2015 and 2016 imports are growing at the same time that exports are falling, reflecting the greater purchasing power of the U.S. dollar in international markets and the reduced purchasing power of foreign currencies to buy U.S. goods. This chart is from the USDA/ERS Foreign Agricultural Trade of the United States(FATUS) dataset and the December Outlook for U.S. Agricultural Trade report.
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Chicken’s popularity makes it the most consumed U.S. meat  
Monday, January 25, 2016
In 2013, 57.7 pounds of chicken per person on a boneless, edible basis were available for Americans to eat, compared to 53.6 pounds of beef and 43.4 pounds of pork, according to ERS’s food availability data. From 1909 to the early 1940s, chicken availability had been around 10 pounds per person a year, while yearly per-person beef and pork availability had ranged from between 30 and 50 pounds. Chicken began its upward climb in the 1940s, as innovations in breeding, mass production, and processing made chicken more plentiful, affordable, and convenient for the dining-out market and for cooking at home. By 1996, chicken had overtaken pork as the second-most-consumed meat, and in 2010, chicken overtook beef for the No. 1 spot. Beef availability rose during the second half of the last century, peaking at 88.8 pounds per capita in 1976. Pork availability, which had fallen in 2010 and 2011, was up in 2012 and again in 2013. This chart appears in ERS’s Ag and Food Statistics: Charting the Essentials data product.
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Among age groups, children faced highest poverty rates in rural America in 2014  
Friday, January 22, 2016
Poverty rates for rural children underwent the largest increase during the 2007-09 recession, rising from 21.9 percent in 2007 to 24.2 percent in 2009. (The poverty status of children depends on the income, size, and composition of their families.) Child poverty continued to increase at the start of the economic recovery and was 25.2 percent in 2014. Poverty for the rural working-age population also increased during the recession and climbed modestly in recovery. Conversely, the poverty rate for rural seniors declined during the recession and has changed little during the recovery. Rural children were also more likely to be deeply poor—in families with an income below half of the poverty level—than were other age groups. In 2014, 11.3 percent of rural children lived in deep poverty, compared with 7.8 percent of the rural working-age population. This chart is found in Rural America At A Glance 2015 Edition, November 2015.
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Falling prices for corn and gasoline drive ethanol prices lower  
Thursday, January 21, 2016
Errata: On January 26, 2016, this chart was reposted to correct the data labels for ethanol and gasoline, which were switched in the original chart.

Each gallon of automobile gasoline typically contains about 10-percent ethanol, reflecting a mandate under the Renewable Fuels Standard that specifies the volume of ethanol that must be blended into the Nation’s gasoline supply. The steep decline in crude oil prices over the past 18 months has pushed the price of many conventional fuels down by more than 50 percent, including gasoline, which has fallen to price levels not seen since 2007. The price of ethanol has also fallen, driven primarily by the more than 50-percent decline in the price of corn—the primary ethanol feedstock—since summer 2013. Although ethanol is not derived from crude oil, its price is still influenced by the price of gasoline (as well as the price of corn) since ethanol and gasoline can substitute as an energy source, and as an oxygenate or octane booster, ethanol competes against petroleum-based alternatives. The price of ethanol is usually below the price of gasoline because of ethanol’s lower energy content, but the most recent data show wholesale gasoline prices falling slightly below the price of ethanol. This pattern, if it continues, suggests further downward pressure on ethanol prices. This chart is from the USDA/ERS U.S. Bioenergy Statistics data set.
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Southern and southwestern States have higher per capita participation in School Breakfast Program  
Wednesday, January 20, 2016
In fiscal year 2014, 13.6 million students participated in USDA’s School Breakfast Program (SBP) on an average school day, with 85 percent of participants receiving the meals for free or at a reduced price. On a per-capita basis, this translates into 4.2 SBP participants per 100 U.S. residents. Per-capita participation in the SBP ranged from 1.6 participants per 100 residents in New Hampshire to 7.1 per 100 residents in New Mexico and West Virginia. Per-capita participation reflects both the percentage of the population that are enrolled in schools offering USDA meals, as well as the proportion of those students who take school breakfast. For example, in Texas, where per-capita participation is 6.9 participants per 100 residents, school-aged children in schools offering USDA meals make up 19 percent of the population, and 35 percent of those students participate in the SBP. New Hampshire’s lower rate reflects a low percentage of residents that are of school age (14 percent) and a lower rate of children participating in the program (11 percent of students). This map is from ERS’s Food Environment Atlas.
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No-till and strip-till were widely used—although not predominantly—on U.S. crop acres in 2010-11  
Tuesday, January 19, 2016
No-till and strip-till are two of several tillage methods farmers use to plant crops. These practices disturb the soil less than other methods, reducing soil erosion, helping maintain soil carbon, and can contribute to improved soil health. In a no-till system, farmers plant directly into the undisturbed residue of the previous crop without tillage, except for nutrient injection; in a strip-till system, only a narrow strip is tilled where row-crops are planted. Overall, 39 percent of the combined corn, soybean, wheat, and cotton acres (the four most widely grown crops in the U.S.) were in no-till/strip-till in 2010-11 (89 million acres per year), with adoption rates higher for some crops. Farmers may be more likely to use no-till/strip-till on crops that are thought to be well suited for the practices (e.g., soybeans) and more likely to use conventional tillage or other conservation tillage methods for crops where no-till/strip-till management is perceived as more risky (e.g., corn). Some farmers may also vary tillage based on field characteristics or weather. Tillage practices are often part of conservation plans that must be in use on highly erodible land to meet eligibility requirements (conservation compliance) for most Federal agricultural programs, including commodity programs and (after 2014) crop-insurance premium subsidies. This chart is from the ERS report, Conservation-Practice Adoption Rates Vary Widely by Crop and Region, December 2015.
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Educational attainment rates were lower for rural minorities in 2014  
Friday, January 15, 2016
Higher educational attainment is closely tied to economic well-being—through higher earnings, lower unemployment, and lower poverty. While educational attainment in rural (nonmetro) America has improved over time, rural areas still lag urban (metro) areas in educational attainment. Moreover, within rural areas, educational attainment varies across racial and ethnic categories. In general, minority populations within rural areas have lower average levels of educational attainment. About a quarter of adults age 25 and over in the rural Black and Native American/Alaskan Native populations, and 40 percent of rural Hispanics, had not completed high school or the equivalent in 2014. These shares are considerably higher than for rural Whites, with 13 percent lacking a high school diploma. Lower attainment levels for minorities may both reflect and contribute to high rates of poverty; poverty in child­hood is highly correlated with lower academic success and graduation rates, while lower educational attainment is strongly associated with lower earnings in adulthood. This chart is found in the ERS publication, Rural America At A Glance, 2015 Edition, November 2015.
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One in five households with children were food insecure at some time in 2014  
Thursday, January 14, 2016
In 2014, 19.2 percent of households with children were food insecure at some time during the year. Parents often are able to maintain normal or near-normal diets and meal patterns for their children, even when the parents themselves are food insecure. In about half of food-insecure households with children in 2014, only adults were food insecure (9.8 percent of households with children); in the rest, children were also food insecure. Thus, both children and adults were food insecure in 9.4 percent of households with children (3.7 million households). In 1.1 percent of households with children (422,000 households), food insecurity among children was so severe that caregivers reported that children were hungry, skipped a meal, or did not eat for a whole day because there was not enough money for food. In some households with very low food security among children, only older children may have experienced the more severe effects of food insecurity while younger children were protected from those effects. This chart appears in the ERS report, Household Food Security in the United States in 2014.
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The dollar gained considerable strength in 2015  
Wednesday, January 13, 2016
The value of the U.S. dollar against other major currencies strengthened considerably in 2015, accelerating a trend that began in 2011. The agricultural trade-weighted exchange rate is a broad measure of the value of the dollar against 79 foreign currencies, weighted by their share of U.S. agricultural exports. The dollar exchange rate affects the price of U.S. commodities in foreign markets, with a stronger dollar making U.S. products more expensive in terms of the local currency of importing countries. On the other hand, a stronger dollar makes U.S. imports less expensive in dollar terms. Since the dollar exchange rate affects the relative price of U.S. and foreign commodities in global markets, it can have important implications for agricultural trade. With the strengthening of the dollar in 2015, agricultural exports are expected to fall below 2014 levels, while imports are forecast to increase. ERS exchange rate projections used for the USDA Agricultural Projections to 2025 report (the current Agricultural Baseline) suggest the dollar will continue to gain strength—but at a slower pace—in 2016 and 2017, before trending lower from 2018 through 2025. This chart is based on the International Macroeconomic Data Set.
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U.S. diets are still out of balance with Federal recommendations  
Tuesday, January 12, 2016
While Americans are consuming more vegetables, dairy products, and fruit than in 1970, the average U.S. diet still falls short of Federal recommendations for these major food groups, as provided in the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, released January 7, 2016. In contrast to the recommended daily 2.5 cups of vegetables on a 2,000-calorie-per-day diet, Americans consumed an average of 1.7 cups in 2013, according to ERS food availability data. That is 68 percent of the recommended amount, up from 60 percent in 1970. In 2013, U.S. consumers ate or drank an average of 1.8 cups of dairy products per day—60 percent of the recommended 3 cups and an increase from 1.6 cups in 1970. Fruit consumption for Americans was the farthest below guidance at 43 percent of the recommended 2 cups. Americans, on average, consumed more than the recommended amount of meat/eggs/nuts and grains in 2013. The data for this chart come from the Loss-Adjusted Food Availability data series in ERS's Food Availability (Per Capita) Data System.
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Farming is important to the economies of many counties in the Plains States  
Monday, January 11, 2016
ERS determined that farming was an important part of the local economy in 391 nonmetro counties and 53 metro counties, based on data on farming employment and earnings from the period 2010-12. These farming-dependent counties had at least 25 percent of average annual employee and self-proprietor personal earnings attributable to farming during 2010-12, or 16 percent or more of county jobs in farming in the same period, according to data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis. The proportion of earnings derived from farming ranged up to 83 percent of total employee and self-proprietor personal earnings and farming employment ranged up to 49 percent of total jobs among farming-dependent counties. Farming-dependent counties were primarily located in sparsely populated areas remote from major urban centers and are geographically concentrated in the Midwest and Great Plains. ERS analysis reveals the total number of farming-dependent counties fell from 511 in 2001 to 444 in 2010-12, continuing its long-term decline. A version of this map is found in the Amber Waves article, “ERS County Economic Types Show a Changing Rural Landscape,” and the underlying codes may be found in the ERS data product, County Typology Codes, updated December 7, 2015.
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Midsize and large-scale family farms dominate the production of dairy, cotton, and cash grains/soybeans  
Friday, January 08, 2016
In 2014, 99 percent of U.S. farms were family farms, where the principal operator and his or her relatives owned the majority of the business. Most of U.S. farm production—68 percent—occurred on the 9 percent of farms classified as midsize or large-scale family farms having at least $350,000 in annual gross cash farm income (GCFI). Those farms together accounted for most production of dairy (87 percent of production), cotton (81 percent), and cash grains/soybeans (76 percent). Large-scale family farms alone (those with annual GCFI of $1 million or more) produced 73 percent of dairy output in 2014. Although small family farms (with less than $350,000 annual GCFI) accounted for 90 percent of U.S. farms, they contributed just 22 percent to U.S. farm production. Among some commodity specializations, though, small family farms account for a much higher share of production, accounting for over half of poultry output (mostly under production contracts) and hay. Non-family farms accounted for 10.4 percent of all production, but were most prominent in high-value crops and beef (through operating feedlots). This chart is found in America’s Diverse Family Farms: 2015 Edition, released in December 2015. 
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The United States is the leading exporter of poultry to Sub-Saharan Africa  
Thursday, January 07, 2016
Over the past decade, Africa has emerged to become an important market for U.S. poultry exports. Rising incomes, population growth and urbanization support strong demand for poultry across much of Africa, while limitations in domestic production have led to a heavy reliance on imports from the United States, the European Union, and Brazil. For the United States, the overwhelming share (93 percent) of poultry exports to Africa are sent to Sub-Saharan Africa. Since 2012, the United States has been the leading supplier of poultry to this region, followed by the European Union and Brazil.    Africa’s share of U.S. poultry exports grew to 12.6 percent in 2014, making it the second largest destination after Mexico (23.8 percent) and ahead of Hong Kong (8.6 percent), China (5.8 percent) and Canada (3.7 percent). U.S. exports to Sub-Saharan Africa reached 455 million kilograms in 2014 (compared to 487 million kilograms to all of Africa), valued at $523.6 million. This chart is from the December 2015 Livestock Dairy and Poultry Outlook report.
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More efficient irrigation methods are being adopted on farmland in the Western United States  
Wednesday, January 06, 2016
About 75 percent of irrigated cropland in the United States is located in the 17 western-most contiguous States, based on USDA’s 2013 Farm and Ranch Irrigation Survey (the most recent available). Between 1984 and 2013, while the amount of irrigated land in the West has remained fairly stable (at about 40 million acres) and the amount of water applied has been mostly flat (between 70 and 76 million acre-feet per year), the use of more efficient irrigation systems to deliver the water has increased. In 1984, 71 percent of Western crop irrigation water was applied using gravity irrigation systems that tend to use water inefficiently. By 2013, operators used gravity systems to apply just 41 percent of water for crop production, while pressure-sprinkler irrigation systems (including drip, low-pressure sprinkler, or low-energy precision application systems), which can apply water more efficiently, accounted for 59 percent of irrigation water use and about 60 percent of irrigated acres. This chart is found in the ERS topic page on Irrigation & Water Use, updated October 2015.
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China’s growing feed industry depends heavily on imported ingredients  
Tuesday, January 05, 2016
After nearly four decades of transitioning from a largely plant-based diet toward greater meat consumption, China is now the world’s largest producer of livestock products and has also emerged as the largest manufacturer of animal feed. This industry’s need for a reliable supply of feed ingredients has led to a reduction of China’s import barriers for many agricultural commodities and to China’s emergence as the world’s largest importer of soybeans and a growing market for imported distillers dried grains, sorghum and barley. The need for corn is still met largely through domestic production, but China became a net corn importer in 2009. The continued growth of the feed industry and demand for feed ingredients could further curb the use of trade barriers that protect Chinese grain and oilseed producers. As advocates for lower import barriers, Chinese feed companies help to forge closer integration between China’s agricultural markets and global markets. This chart is from Development of China’s Feed Industry and Demand for Imported Commodities.
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Costs per school breakfast drop more sharply than per-lunch costs as number served increases  
Monday, January 04, 2016
Across America, on a typical school day more than 30 million children sit down to meals prepared and served through USDA’s National School Lunch Program and 13.5 million through the School Breakfast Program. Some school districts serve as many breakfasts as lunches, but other districts serve mainly lunches. Since production costs often depend on volume, this smaller number of breakfasts served raises questions about how per-breakfast costs compare with per-lunch costs. To examine how size affects costs, ERS researchers used data from a 2004 national survey (latest regionally representative cost data available) of local school food authorities (SFAs). The researchers constructed cost indices to examine how breakfast and lunch costs would vary if more meals were served. They found that for all three urbanicity types—urban, suburban, and rural—per-breakfast costs dropped by about 50 percent as the number of breakfasts grew from below average to above average. Because SFAs were already serving more lunches, lunch costs also dropped, but by just 20 percent. This chart appears in “Schools Vary—And That Means Meal Costs Vary Too” in the December 2015 issue of ERS’s Amber Waves magazine.
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Editor’s Pick 2015, #1: One in five rural counties had child poverty rates over 33 percent  
Thursday, December 31, 2015
Child poverty rates varied considerably across nonmetropolitan (rural) counties according to 2009-13 county averages (data on poverty for all U.S. counties are available from the American Community Survey only for 5-year averages). According to the official poverty measure, one in five rural counties had child poverty rates over 33 percent. Child poverty has increased since the 2000 Census (which measured poverty in 1999) and the number of rural counties with child poverty rates of over 33 percent has more than doubled. Improving young adult education levels tended to lower child poverty rates over the period, but increases in single-parent households and economic recession were associated with rising child poverty. Metropolitan counties had average child poverty rates of 21 percent in 2009-13. This map appears in the July 2015 Amber Waves feature, Understanding the Geography of Growth in Rural Child Poverty.
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Editor’s Pick 2015, #2: China’s meat imports surge, driven by rising domestic demand and prices  
Wednesday, December 30, 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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Editor’s Pick 2015, #3: Single-mother households consistently have higher rates of food insecurity than other households with children  
Tuesday, December 29, 2015
In 2014, 14.0 percent of U.S. households were food insecure. These food-insecure households had difficulty at some time during the year providing enough food for all their members due to a lack of resources. During the Great Recession and its aftermath, the prevalence of food insecurity rose from 11.1 percent in 2007 to 14.9 percent in 2011, before falling as the economy improved and unemployment declined. Food insecurity rates for single-parent households are substantially higher than the national average, especially for single-mother households. In 2014, 35.3 percent of single-mother households and 21.7 percent of single-father households in the United States were food insecure. While food insecurity rates for single-father households and married couples with children have fallen over the last few years, the rate for single-mother households remains high. This chart appears in ERS’s Interactive Chart: Food Security Characteristics, released September 9, 2015.
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Editor’s Pick 2015, #4: Non-operating landlords own 31 percent of U.S. farmland  
Monday, December 28, 2015
Of the 911 million acres of land in farms, 61 percent is operated by the land owner, according to the 2014 Tenure Ownership and Transition of Agricultural Land (TOTAL) survey. Another 8 percent (70 million acres) of land in farms is rented from other farm operators. The remaining land in farms (31 percent or 283 million acres) is rented from “non-operating landlords,” or landlord entities that are not currently farmer operators. The majority of acres owned by these non-operating landlords is held by individuals or in partnerships (191 million acres or 21 percent of land in farms). Corporations, trusts, or other ownership arrangements also rent out 92 million acres (about 10 percent of land in farms) to operators. Even though some agricultural land is owned by non-operating landlords, many of these landlords have prior farming experience. Of the 191 million acres owned in individual or partnership arrangements, nearly half were held by a retired farmer or rancher in 2014. Six percent of the acres owned in individual and partnership arrangements by non-operating landlord entities had a principal landlord that reported spending greater than 50 percent of their work time in farm or ranch work, but not as a farm operator. More information can be found on the ERS Land Use, Land Value & Tenure topic page.
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Editor’s Pick 2015, #5: Rural employment yet to recover to prerecession levels  
Thursday, December 24, 2015
Employment fell by roughly 5 percent in urban areas and 6 percent in rural areas between the first quarter of 2008 and the fourth quarter of 2009—a period that includes the Great Recession. In 2010, the first full year of the economic recovery, urban and rural employment levels grew at comparable rates, and rural areas experienced modest growth the following year. This was followed by 2 years of near-zero employment change before growth resumed in early 2014. An annual growth of more than 1 percent between mid-2014 and mid-2015 has brought the number of employed rural residents (total rural employment) back above 20 million people for the first time since 2008. As of mid-2015, that number remained more than 3 percentage points below its prerecession peak in 2007. This chart is found in the 2015 edition of Rural America At A Glance, released November 30, 2015.
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Share of eating-out expenditures at limited-service places more than tripled during the past half century  
Wednesday, December 23, 2015
Expenditures in the food-away-from-home sector (FAFH) totaled $ 705.9 billion in 2013, 49.6 percent of total U.S. food spending for that year. Full-service restaurants and limited-service eating places accounted for 77.9 percent of FAFH expenditures in 2013; 50 years ago, their combined share stood at 59.8 percent. In 1963, FAFH spending made up 28.6 percent of total food expenditures. Americans’ FAFH sources were more diverse that year than in 2013, with relatively more away-from-home eating taking place in hotels and motels, in schools and colleges, and in stores, bars, and from vending machines. During the last half century, full-service restaurants’ share of FAFH expenditures fell from 50.1 to 40.9 percent, while limited-service eating places’ share more than tripled—from 9.7 percent of FAFH expenditures in 1963 to 37.0 percent in 2013. The only other sector whose share of the total FAFH market has risen during the last 50 years was food sales at recreational places, such as theaters and sports venues, which rose from 2.5 percent of the FAFH total in 1963 to 4.1 percent in 2013. The statistics in this chart are from ERS’s Food Expenditures data product.
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Decline in 2015 forecast for U.S. net cash farm income reflects lower receipts for livestock, crops  
Tuesday, December 22, 2015
U.S. net cash farm income (NCFI)—the funds available to farm operators to meet family living expenses and pay down debt—is forecast to decline in 2015. This would be the second consecutive year of decline for NCFI, after reaching recent highs in 2012 and 2013. NCFI is expected to drop by $35.6 billion (28 percent) to $93 billion in 2015. If realized, the 2015 forecast would be the lowest since 2009, and $14.7 billion (in real terms) below the previous 10-year average. The drop in NCFI reflects a broad decline in commodity receipts. Crop receipts are expected to decrease by $18.2 billion from 2014, led by projected declines in receipts for corn ($8.6 billion) and soybeans ($5.7 billion).  Livestock receipts are expected to decline by $25.4 billion, with the largest decreases in receipts expected for dairy ($13.9 billion), hogs ($6.6 billion), and broilers ($4.4 billion). Partially offsetting reduced cash receipts, total cash expenses are forecast to decrease by $7.9 billion in 2015, the first decline since 2009. Government payments are also projected to rise 10 percent ($1.0 billion) to $10.8 billion in 2015. This chart is based on information found in the 2015 Farm Sector Income Forecast, released November 24, 2015.
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Georgia is the leading U.S. producer of pecans  
Monday, December 21, 2015
Pecan trees, a species of hickory, are the source of the only commercially produced tree nut native to the United States. The United States is the world’s leading producer of pecans, and Georgia is historically the leading pecan-producing State, typically accounting for about 33 percent of U.S. production. In 2015, Georgia’s pecan crop is forecast at 100 million pounds (in-shell), an increase of 32 percent over the 2014/15 harvest. New Mexico has the second highest production, with the 2015 harvest expected to reach 72 million pounds (in-shell), accounting for 26 percent of the U.S. harvest. Texas rounds out the top three pecan-producing States, with 2015 production forecast at 37 million pounds. Texas producers have more acreage planted in native and seedling pecans as opposed to improved varieties and production in that State tends to be more variable year to year than in New Mexico or Georgia, as illustrated by the nearly 40-percent drop in 2015 production compared to the 2014 harvest of 61 million pounds. This chart is based on the September 2015 Fruit and Tree Nut Outlook.
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The price of sorghum has returned to below the price of corn  
Friday, December 18, 2015
Sorghum is a common feed grain that can substitute for corn in livestock feed rations and in the production of ethanol. Corn tends to be preferred over sorghum as a feed ingredient, so sorghum typically sells at a discount compared to corn in global markets.  Throughout much of the 2014 marketing year (September-August) this situation reversed, and due in large part to strong demand from China, sorghum began selling at a premium over corn, at times exceeding 20 percent. As a result, sorghum use for ethanol production declined while acreage for the 2015 harvest increased to result in a record-large U.S. crop. This, combined with recent changes in China’s import policy that could reduce U.S. sorghum’s export prospects for the 2015 crop, has greatly increased the availability of sorghum in domestic markets for feeding and ethanol production. Because of the greater availability of sorghum, the price fell back below the price of corn and is now more in line with historic relationships. Given these lower prices, sorghum use for ethanol production is expected to expand more than fivefold this year, and U.S. shipments to Mexico, which were hampered by the high prices for the 2014 crop, are expected to at least partially resume during the current marketing year, which began in September 2015. This chart is based on the October 2015 Feed Outlook and the ERS Feed Grains database.  
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Prevalence of food insecurity varies across the country  
Thursday, December 17, 2015
USDA monitors the extent and severity of food insecurity in U.S. households at the national and State levels. Food-insecure households are defined as those that had difficulty at some time during the year providing enough food for all their members due to a lack of resources. Food insecurity rates differ across States due to characteristics of the population, State-level policies, and economic conditions. Estimated prevalence rates of food insecurity during 2012-14 ranged from 8.4 percent in North Dakota to 22.0 percent in Mississippi. Data for 2012-14 were combined to provide more reliable State statistics. The prevalence of food insecurity was higher than the national average of 14.0 percent in 14 States and lower than the national average in 20 States. In the remaining 16 States and the District of Columbia, differences from the national average were not statistically significant. This map appears in ERS’s Ag and Food Statistics: Charting the Essentials
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Agricultural production in India shifting to high-value outputs  
Wednesday, December 16, 2015
India’s economic growth and rising incomes have expanded consumer food demand to include higher valued foods, such as fruit, vegetables, and some meat products. Indian farmers appear to be meeting these new growth opportunities. A look at average production shares in the 1980-84 and the 2004-08 periods shows that growth in production of animal and horticulture products reduced the share of production growth attributable to grains. Accordingly, India’s real value of farm production increased an average 3 percent each year, rising from 2.6 trillion rupees in 1980 to 7.3 trillion rupees in 2008, or from $42 billion to $116 billion. This chart is based on Propellers of Agricultural Productivity in India, December 2015.
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Almost half of U.S. apples available for domestic consumption are used in juices  
Tuesday, December 15, 2015
Apples are a fall and winter staple, showing up in lunch boxes, pies, cobblers, crisps, and cider. Second to oranges as the most popular fruit in the United States, 45.8 pounds of apples per person were available for domestic consumption in 2013, according to ERS’s Food Availability data. Forty-seven percent of the available apples for U.S. domestic use (21.4 pounds per person) was in the form of juice and cider, and 38 percent (17.4 pounds per person) was fresh apples. Canned, frozen, dried, and other forms made up the remaining 15 percent of apple availability in 2013. Per-person apple availability peaked at 51.2 pounds in 2006. Much of the decrease since 2006 is due to declining availability of apple juice and cider. In 2006, 26.6 pounds of apples per person were used in juices and cider, while fresh-apple availability in 2006 was 17.9 pounds per person. The data for this chart come from the Food Availability data series in ERS's Food Availability (Per Capita) Data System
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Not all California’s crops have seen declines in acreage during drought  
Monday, December 14, 2015
Long-term trends in California agriculture reflect shifting production, which may have implications for water use during droughts. Annually harvested crops such as cotton, corn, and wheat are on a downward trend and have seen a 31-percent reduction in planted acreage in California since 2012. Similarly, rice acreage has dropped 27 percent during the past 2 years (2013-15) of the drought. California’s hay and vegetable acreage has been more stable. In contrast, almonds, grapes, and walnuts acreage is on a strong upward trend that does not appear to have slowed during the drought. Orchards and vineyards require larger capital investments than annual crops, and because of the potential loss of that investment, orchard/vineyard owners are generally less willing to reduce water usage during droughts. However, orchards and vineyards are also more dependent upon ground-water than volatile surface-water supplies. California orchard/vineyard farmers are also more likely to have invested in more-efficient irrigation systems, such as low-pressure sprinkler and micro-irrigation systems that reduce water lost to evaporation, runoff, and deep percolation, thereby increasing the share of applied water that is beneficially used by the crop. This chart is found in the November 2015 Amber Waves statistic, “Long-Term Response to Water Scarcity in California.” 
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Alternative food assistance program operates in Native American tribal areas  
Friday, December 11, 2015
USDA provides healthful foods to low-income households in Native American tribal areas through its Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR). Due to access reasons, some households participate in FDPIR as an alternative to USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Warehouses, tribal stores, and local sites are used to distribute the USDA foods. Households living on tribal lands that qualify for food assistance can switch between SNAP and FDPIR on a month-to-month basis. ERS researchers calculated distances to SNAP-authorized supermarkets and FDPIR outlets in American Indian Tribal Areas, Oklahoma Tribal Statistical Areas, and Alaska Native Village Statistical Areas. They found that 30 percent of children, 29 percent of working-age adults, and 28 percent of older adults in these tribal areas lived 1 mile or less from a SNAP-authorized supermarket or a FDPIR outlet in 2010. Nationally, 58 percent of children and 57 to 60 percent of adults lived 1 mile or less from a supermarket or large grocery store in 2010. This chart appears in “Measuring the Food Access Gap in Native American Tribal Areas” in ERS’s December 2015 Amber Waves magazine.
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Small family farms operate nearly half of U.S. farmland; account for 22 percent of the value of production  
Thursday, December 10, 2015
In 2014, 99 percent of U.S. farms were family farms, where the principal operator and his or her relatives owned the majority of the business. Most were small family farms, having less than $350,000 in annual gross cash farm income (GCFI)—which includes commodity cash receipts, other farm-related income (such as receipts from custom work or production contract fees), and government payments. In 2014, these small family farms accounted for 90 percent of all U.S. farms, 46 percent of the land operated by farms, and 22 percent of agricultural production. Large-scale family farms—with $1 million or more in annual GCFI—accounted for about 3 percent of all farms, but had a disproportionately large share of the value of production (47 percent). This chart is found in America’s Diverse Family Farms: 2015 Edition, released December 2015.
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U.S. animal protein exports are declining  
Wednesday, December 09, 2015
Recent trade data for red meat, poultry and dairy products show a continuing decline in exports and higher year-over-year imports, pushing the value of net exports down by more than 50 percent compared to a year ago. The strengthening value of the U.S. dollar—which is up more than 15 percent from a year ago against major currencies—is one factor behind these results. A stronger dollar makes U.S. products more expensive in international markets, while making imported products purchased with U.S. dollars less expensive. In addition to currency exchange-rate effects, several other factors are reducing the export prospects for the U.S. beef, poultry, and egg sectors. For beef, continued high U.S. domestic prices due to tight supplies are discouraging foreign buyers and supporting U.S. imports. U.S. export shipments of broilers, turkeys, and eggs are each down sharply from the same time last year (down 22 percent, 44 percent and 29 percent, respectively) reflecting the production declines caused by the U.S. outbreak of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) last spring and the resulting import bans by several countries that remain in effect. Pork exports were relatively strong in the third quarter of 2015, up 7.5 percent from a year ago, but imports were also up 5 from percent from a year ago, reflecting the strength of the U.S. dollar especially against the Canadian dollar and the euro. This chart is from the November 2015 Livestock, Dairy and Poultry Outlook report.  
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Rural education levels improve, still lag urban areas  
Tuesday, December 08, 2015
In 1960, 60 percent of the rural population ages 25 and older had not completed high school. By 2014—more than 50 years later—that proportion had dropped to 15 percent. Over the same period, the proportion of rural adults ages 25 and older with a bachelor’s degree or higher increased from 5 percent to 19 percent but remained well below the proportion in urban areas (32 percent) in 2014. The proportion of rural adults with a college degree or more increased by 4 percentage points between 2000 and 2014 and the proportion without a high school degree or equivalent, such as a GED, declined by 9 percentage points. The gap between urban-rural college completion rates has increased, even for young adults, who are more likely to have completed high school than older cohorts. Between 2000 and 2014, the share of young adults age 25-34 (not shown in this chart) with bachelor’s degrees grew in urban areas from 29 to 35 percent. In rural areas, the college-educated proportion of young adults rose from 15 to 19 percent. This chart is found in the ERS publication, Rural America At A Glance, released November 30, 2015.
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Volatile energy costs fall to 5.7 cents of the U.S. food-at-home dollar in 2013  
Monday, December 07, 2015
In 2013, 5.7 cents of a typical dollar spent by U.S. consumers at retail food stores on domestically produced food represented value added from energy services such as electricity, natural gas, and petroleum products. Energy costs’ share of the food-at-home dollar in 2013 was down over 25 percent from 7.5 cents in 2008. In the 5 years prior to 2008, energy costs per food-at-home dollar rose over 50 percent from 4.9 cents in 2003. By comparison, prices received by energy producers for their electricity, motor fuels, and other products—as measured by the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Producer Price Index for fuels and power—rose by 90 percent from 2003 to 2008. Energy’s share of the food-at-home dollar rose less than energy prices, reflecting adjustments made by the food industry to reduce energy use during times of rising energy prices. In addition, some consumers likely adjusted the mix of foods they purchased as prices for more energy-intensive foods increased relative to less energy-intensive alternatives. For example, energy costs are a higher share of the retail price of processed fruit than of fresh fruit. This chart is from ERS’s Food Dollar Series data product. 
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Global rice stocks are declining  
Friday, December 04, 2015
Rice consumption worldwide is expected to exceed production for the third consecutive year in 2015/16, resulting in the smallest global ending stocks since the 2007/08 marketing year. Ending stocks among the world’s five leading rice exporters—India, Thailand, Vietnam, Pakistan and the United States—are projected down a combined 33 percent from last year and 47 percent below the peak levels of 2012/13. These countries account for the bulk of the decline in global stocks. The last time stocks were near these levels in 2007/08, prices rose to their highest nominal level on record, prompted by export bans by Egypt, India, and Vietnam and fears of rice shortages in countries where rice is a staple food. Today the market situation is far different, with global rice prices relatively flat since late August 2015 after trending lower for the previous several years. However, the low stocks held by major exporters suggest that in the event of a major weather problem in any large rice consuming country, prices could rise rapidly since little surplus rice would be available to meet consumer needs. This chart is from the November 2015 Rice Outlook report.
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Kidney damage responsible for 65 percent of illness costs from STEC O157  
Thursday, December 03, 2015
While most E. coli bacteria are relatively harmless, a small group of E. coli produce a Shiga toxin that can severely damage a person’s kidneys. The most well-known Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC), STEC O157, causes less than 1 percent of U.S. foodborne illnesses with an identifiable pathogen cause and only 2 percent of the cost of these pathogens. Yet, because it is a major cause of outbreaks and because it can cause kidney damage, STEC O157 is often in the news. ERS estimates that the 63,000 illnesses caused by STEC O157 (formerly called E. coli O157) each year in the United States impose $271.4 million in economic burden. Most people (97 percent) sickened with STEC O157 recover without being hospitalized. In roughly 2,100 cases of STEC O157 illnesses, however, people are hospitalized; in 15 percent of these cases the kidneys are affected—sometimes resulting in death, ongoing dialysis, or a kidney transplant. Cases in which the kidneys are affected account for 64.5 percent of the economic burden from foodborne STEC O157. This chart is based on a chart in the ERS report, Economic Burden of Major Foodborne Illnesses Acquired in the United States, May 2015. 
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Rural employment yet to recover to prerecession levels  
Wednesday, December 02, 2015
Employment fell by roughly 5 percent in urban areas and 6 percent in rural areas between the first quarter of 2008 and the fourth quarter of 2009—a period that includes the Great Recession. In 2010, the first full year of the economic recovery, urban and rural employment levels grew at comparable rates, and rural areas experienced modest growth the following year. This was followed by 2 years of near-zero employment change before growth resumed in early 2014. An annual growth of more than 1 percent between mid-2014 and mid-2015 has brought the number of employed rural residents (total rural employment) back above 20 million people for the first time since 2008. As of mid-2015, that number remained more than 3 percentage points below its prerecession peak in 2007. This chart is found in the 2015 edition of Rural America At A Glance, released November 30, 2015.
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Corn became China’s leading crop in 2012  
Tuesday, December 01, 2015
Dietary changes in China have led to profound changes in its markets for agricultural products. China is now the world’s largest producer of livestock products as well as the largest manufacturer of animal feed. Commercial feed includes a variety of raw materials that can be altered depending on market conditions, but the predominant ingredients in China are corn and soybean meal. China is the world’s largest importer of soybeans, but the Chinese Government’s long-standing goal of self-sufficiency in grains has led to several policies aimed at supporting and expanding domestic corn production, resulting in China’s corn output doubling from 2000 to 2013. Corn output has surpassed that of wheat and rice, and became the country’s leading crop in 2012. In contrast, China’s domestic soybean output was relatively flat throughout this period and declined to under 12 million metric tons in 2013. While import restrictions and price supports succeeded in expanding corn production, those policies also led to large corn surpluses held in government stocks at prices well above world prices. This chart is from Development of China’s Feed Industry and Demand for Imported Commodities, November 19, 2015.
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Antibiotic use in U.S. hog production varies by age and purpose  
Monday, November 30, 2015
Hog producers use antibiotic drugs to treat/control animal diseases, but they also feed them to their hogs to prevent disease and to promote faster growth through improved absorption of feed. There is growing concern that widespread use of antibiotics in humans and animals may encourage microbial resistance and make the drugs less effective for maintaining their health, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is moving to end the growth-promotion uses of medically important antibiotics in animal agriculture. Antibiotic use varies across the hog sector, according to a USDA survey of hog producers, and the FDA’s action will affect some but not all producers. Over half of pigs in the nursery stage do not receive antibiotics for growth promotion, and that figure could be as high as 75 percent, because 26 percent of hogs were raised by growers that stated they did not know if antibiotics are in the feed. Some contract growers don’t know if antibiotics are in the feed provided by the company for whom they raise hogs. Antibiotics are more likely to be used for growth promotion in finishing hogs (those being fed to market weight), but even here at least 40 percent of hogs did not receive the drugs for growth promotion. This chart is found in the ERS report, Economics of Antibiotic Use in U.S. Livestock Production, ERR-200, November 24, 2015.
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U.S. irrigated fieldcrop acreage projected to decline under climate change  
Friday, November 27, 2015
Climate models predict U.S. agriculture will face significant changes in local patterns of precipitation and temperature over the next century. These climate changes will affect crop yields, crop-water demand, water-supply availability, farmer livelihoods, and consumer welfare. Irrigation is an important strategy for adapting to shifting production conditions under climate change. Using projections of temperature and precipitation under nine climate change scenarios for 2020, 2040, 2060, and 2080, ERS analysis finds that on average, irrigated fieldcrop acreage would decline relative to a reference scenario that assumes continuation of climate conditions (precipitation and temperature patterns averaged over 2001-08). Before midcentury, the decline in irrigated acreage is largely driven by regional constraints on surface-water availability for irrigation. Beyond midcentury, the decline reflects a combination of increasing surface-water shortages and declining relative profitability of irrigated production. This chart is from the ERS report, Climate Change, Water Scarcity, and Adaptation in the U.S. Fieldcrop Sector, ERR-201, November 2015.
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Ingredient costs for an apple pie up 3.1 percent from October 2014  
Wednesday, November 25, 2015
As Americans prepare for this year’s Thanksgiving feast, some shoppers may be wondering how the cost of their favorite dishes has changed this year. Apple pie could be one of those dishes, as baking is a major part of the holiday tradition. In October 2015 (latest available prices), the ingredients for a double-crust apple pie totaled $6.28, with apples making up 67 percent of that cost, margarine accounting for 17 percent, and flour, sugar, and eggs making up the remaining 16 percent. This same pie would have cost $6.09 to bake in October 2014. Margarine prices were higher in October 2014 compared to October 2015, but apples, flour, sugar, and eggs were all less expensive. Additional savings could be found this November, as retail stores often offer specials on holiday baking staples. In November 2014, ingredients for a double-crust apple pie would have totaled $5.94—a decrease of 2.5 percent from October 2014. And, if you want to enjoy your slice à la mode, add 29 cents for a scoop of ice cream. More information on ERS’s food price forecasts can be found in ERS’s Food Price Outlook data product, updated November 25, 2015. 
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U.S. farm sector profitability expected to weaken in 2015  
Tuesday, November 24, 2015
U.S. net farm income—a measure of the sector’s profitability—is forecast to be $55.9 billion in 2015, down 38 percent from 2014’s estimate of $90.4 billion. If realized, the 2015 forecast for net farm income would be the lowest since 2002 (in both real and nominal terms) and a drop of 55 percent from the recent high of $123.3 billion in 2013. Lower crop receipts (declining by $18.2 billion) and livestock receipts (declining by $25.4 billion) are the main drivers of the change, as total production expenses are projected down by 2 percent ($7.7 billion) and government payments are forecast to increase about 10 percent ($1.0 billion) in 2015. Net cash income is forecast at $93.0 billion, down about 28 percent from the 2014 estimate. 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 November 24, 2015.
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U.S. soybean exports have decreased  
Friday, November 20, 2015
Despite abundant supplies, U.S. soybean exports for the current marketing year (September/August) are forecast down from last year, due largely to greater competition from Brazil. Soybean production in Brazil is forecast to reach a record 100 million metric tons this year. Historically, U.S. soybean exports peak between September and December, while Brazil’s export season peaks between March and June. Brazil’s record production in 2015 is extending exports later into the calendar year, putting them into direct competition with U.S. exports. The result has been a decline in U.S. soybean export sales commitments for the current marketing year, which were down nearly 20 percent through October 2015, compared to the previous year. U.S. export sales commitments to China, the world’s largest soybean importer, were down 33 percent over the same period, while sales commitments to the rest of the world are nearly unchanged from last year. Export sales commitments are sales transactions reported by U.S. exporters, including transactions for future shipments, whereas export data only reports shipments that have already occurred. Hence, sales commitments are useful for forecasting U.S. export volumes. With a large domestic crop and decreased export sales, U.S. ending stocks are expected to grow. This chart is based on the November 2015 Oil Crops Outlook.
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Cost of popular Thanksgiving vegetables varies from $0.18 to $1.16 per cup equivalent  
Thursday, November 19, 2015
ERS data provide estimates of the costs per edible cup equivalent for a variety of fruits and vegetables, including vegetables often featured on Americans’ Thanksgiving tables. ERS calculated vegetable costs using 2013 retail prices. An edible cup equivalent is the edible portion of a food—after snapping the ends off of green beans and steaming them, or baking a winter squash and discarding the leftover peel—that would fill a 1-cup measuring cup. The average cost of 15 selected cooked vegetables was $.60 per edible cup. Fresh acorn squash was the most expensive on a per edible cup basis, while fresh white potatoes were the least expensive. Processed vegetables are not necessarily more expensive than their fresh counterparts. For example, fresh green beans cost $.70 per edible cup, while frozen green beans came to $.55 per cup and canned green beans cost $.38 per cup. This chart is based on ERS’s data product, Interactive Chart: Costs per Edible Cup Equivalent, June 2015.
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The value of U.S. fruit and tree nut production continues to grow  
Wednesday, November 18, 2015
The increase in value of fruit and tree nut production in the United States has accelerated since 2009 to reach an average of $26.6 billion in 2010-2014, up from an average of $7.1 billion in the 1980s and $10.7 billion in the 1990s. The production values of citrus, noncitrus, and tree nut crops have all increased, but the largest gains have been in the value of tree nut production. Increased production and higher grower prices in response to strong domestic and international demand drove the grower value of U.S. tree nut production past $10 billion in 2013 and 2014, up from $1.5 billion in 2000. The value of almond production, which typically accounts for close to 70 percent of U.S. tree nut production, reached $6.4 billion in 2013, an all-time high. The tree nut share of the value of U.S. fruit and tree nut production rose to 31 percent on average from 2010-2014, up from 20 percent during 2000-2009 and 15 percent during the 1990s. This chart is based on the October 2015 Fruit and Tree Nut Yearbook.
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One in four food-insecure households visited food pantries in 2014  
Tuesday, November 17, 2015
Fourteen percent of U.S. households (17.4 million households) were food insecure in 2014, meaning that at some time during the year, these households were unable to acquire adequate food for one or more household members due to a lack of resources. For a subset of food-insecure households—households with very low food security—food intake of one or more members was reduced and normal eating patterns were disrupted. Households having trouble putting food on the table may rely on emergency food providers, such as food pantries and emergency kitchens. Food pantries distribute unprepared foods for offsite use. Emergency kitchens (sometimes referred to as soup kitchens) provide individuals with prepared food to eat at the site. In 2014, 5.5 percent of all U.S. households acquired emergency food from a food pantry, and less than 1.0 percent obtained meals from emergency kitchens. Food-insecure households were more likely to use these assistance options; more than one in four food-insecure households (27.1 percent) used food pantries in 2014, while 3.0 percent used emergency kitchens. An estimated 36.7 percent of households with very low food security visited food pantries, and 5.7 percent visited an emergency kitchen. The statistics for this chart are from Statistical Supplement to Household Food Security in the United States in 2014, September 2015.
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Incentives drive public vs. private agricultural research and development expenditure mix  
Monday, November 16, 2015
Across a broad range of topics for agriculture, food, and related issues, research and development (R&D) conducted by U.S. public research institutions (State and Federal institutions) tends to emphasize different themes than R&D conducted by private firms. The two sectors have overlapping research interests in areas related to farm production—crop, animal, and farm machinery innovation. However, in areas where reaping benefits from research results is more difficult for private firms—such as in the environmental impacts of agriculture, and human nutrition/food safety—public sector research dominates. The private sector tends to focus on areas such as food manufacturing, where research benefits are more readily captured by the specific innovator. Much of the private expenditures on food R&D, which does not directly affect farm-level productivity, is on new product development rather than on improved food manufacturing processes. New technologies such as gene transfer, along with intellectual property protection, have increased private incentives for crops research, and private crop research investment has grown. This chart appears in the ERS research report, Agricultural Productivity Growth in the United States: Measurement, Trends, and Drivers, ERR-189, released July 2015.
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Many U.S. agricultural goods shipped to the European Union face high tariffs  
Friday, November 13, 2015
The United States and the European Union (EU) are major producers of most agricultural goods and account for a significant share of global agricultural trade. While overall trade between the United States and the EU has grown over time, agricultural trade has decreased, due in part to the relatively high trade barriers facing U.S. agricultural exports to the EU. While the simple average applied tariff for all goods is estimated at 3.5 percent for EU exports to the United States and 5.5 percent for U.S. exports to the EU, agricultural commodities tend to face larger tariffs; the simple average tariffs for agricultural goods are 4.7 percent for EU exports to the United States and 13.7 percent for U.S. exports to the EU. In addition, many agricultural goods face tariff-rate quotas (TRQs) that allow the tariff to change depending on the quantity imported. This chart is from the ERS report, Agriculture in the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership: Tariffs, Tariff-Rate Quotas and Non-Tariff Measures.
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School breakfast costs drop as number of breakfasts served increases  
Thursday, November 12, 2015
Through the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs, USDA reimburses school food authorities (SFAs) for providing meals that meet USDA nutritional standards. School districts generally expect SFA revenues—a combination of USDA reimbursements, payments by participating students, revenue from non-reimbursable food sales, and other non-Federal resources—to cover meal costs. Using data from a 2004 national study, ERS researchers constructed cost indices to allow comparisons across SFAs of how per meal costs would vary if more meals were served. Researchers found that the number of meals served had a large impact on per meal costs, especially for breakfasts. In all seven U.S. regions, breakfast costs dropped as the number of breakfasts increased. Per breakfast costs for the smallest SFAs were about twice that of the largest SFAs. Serving more breakfasts would allow SFAs to gain economies of scale—reduced per unit costs due to volume discounts in purchases, more efficient use of labor, or other efficiencies. This chart appears in the ERS report, Economies of Scale, the Lunch-Breakfast Ratio, and the Cost of USDA School Breakfasts and Lunches, released on November 5, 2015.
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Disability and poverty rates among rural veterans have increased from 2008 to 2014  
Tuesday, November 10, 2015
In 2008, more than 2.4 million—8.2 percent—of the rural working-age population (18 to 64 years old) were veterans. That number declined to 1.5 million (5.9 percent) in 2014. During that period, however, the share of working-age rural veterans with a disability increased (from 20.3 percent to 22.6 percent), as did their poverty rate (from 8.9 percent to 11.0 percent). The disabled are more likely to live in poverty, particularly when the disability is work limiting, and veterans are more likely to report a work-limiting disability than comparable nonveterans. Limited labor force participation and economic constraints often persist for persons with disabilities; however, vocational services and policy initiatives aim to support work among them. Disabled working-age veterans were less likely to be in poverty (18.8 percent) than their nonveteran counterparts (32.8 percent) in 2014. This chart is based on data found in the Atlas of Rural and Small Town America.
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For berries, the price and quantity purchased is highly seasonal  
Monday, November 09, 2015
The U.S. retail supply of fresh produce differs from that of manufactured foods, which are available year-round with stable prices. For many produce items, the seasonality of domestic production limits the quantity available in winter to a small fraction of that available during spring or summer, leading to higher retail prices in the off-season. For example, retail strawberry prices in late December can often be more than twice as high as prices in May. Until the early 2000s, berries were not available to most consumers outside the short domestic production seasons. Advances in trade and technology have changed that, and imports—particularly during the fall and winter months, when the supply of domestic berries is at its lowest—are leading to more consistent year-round availability and lower off-season prices. Consumers benefit through the potential for lower food expenditures and greater variety in their diets. This chart is from the ERS report, Measuring the Impacts of Off-Season Berry Imports.
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Rural school districts and those in the Southwest reported largest lunch price increases  
Friday, November 06, 2015
In 2014, over 30 million U.S. schoolchildren participated in USDA’s National School Lunch Program on an average school day. Seventy-two percent of them received their meals for free, or paid a reduced price; the remaining 28 percent purchased the full-price, or paid, lunch. Until a few years ago, prices charged for paid lunches generally increased slowly to cover rising costs of producing school lunches. Starting in school year 2011-12, many districts raised prices more sharply to comply with the Paid Lunch Equity provision, which went into effect that year. This provision requires school districts to gradually ensure that average revenue per paid lunch plus the USDA paid lunch reimbursement is at least as high as the USDA reimbursement for free lunches. Paid-lunch prices rose by an average of 6.8 percent for school districts in the Southwest and 4.8 percent in the Mid-Atlantic between school years 2010-11 and 2011-12, according to ERS calculations using data from a USDA-sponsored study. Rural school districts reported an average increase of 4.7 percent in paid-lunch prices compared to an increase of 3.4 percent for city districts. Areas with higher price increases may experience greater reductions in paid-lunch participation since research shows that some families cut back on school lunch purchases when lunch prices rise. This chart appears in “A Look at What’s Driving Lower Purchases of School Lunches” in the October 2015 issue of ERS’s Amber Waves magazine.    
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A growing share of U.S. corn is exported as ethanol byproducts  
Thursday, November 05, 2015
U.S. exports of distillers dried grains with solubles (DDGS)—a common byproduct of corn ethanol production—have grown from nearly zero in 2005 to as high as 12 million metric tons in the 2013/14 marketing year (September/August), with 10 million metric tons forecast for export in the 2015 marketing year. This increase in exports reflects the expansion in ethanol production that occurred over this same period, rising from just under 4 billion gallons in 2005 to more than 14 billion gallons in 2014. While U.S. corn exports still exceed the volume of DDGS exported, these markets are linked because each ton of corn processed into ethanol produces just under a third of a ton of DDGS. Ethanol production accounted for 38 percent of U.S. corn use in 2014/15, while exports were less than 14 percent, but DDGS exports represent another way that U.S. corn production enters global markets. This chart is from the ERS data products, U.S. Bioenergy Statistics and the Feed Grains Database.
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The typical operator landlord rented out more acres than a non-operator landlord  
Wednesday, November 04, 2015
According to the Tenure, Ownership and Transition of Agriculture Land (TOTAL) survey, 354 million acres of farmland in the lower 48 States were rented to farmers by 2.13 million landlords in 2014. The average amount of land rented out per landlord yields insights into whether rented farmland is concentrated amongst particular types of landlords. Operator landlords—farm operators who rent land to other farmers—typically rented out more acreage than non-operator landlords. Among non-operator landlords, the acres held in corporate, trust, and other types of non-operator ownership arrangements are more concentrated (proportionately more land in fewer hands) than individual and partnership non-operator landlords. The median rented acreage for farmers who rent land from others was 111 acres in 2014—larger than the median acreage rented to farmers by each landlord type. This means that most farm operators looking to rent farmland must instead piece together holdings from multiple landlords. This chart is found in the November 2015 Amber Waves data feature, “Tenure, Ownership and Transition of Agricultural Land (TOTAL) Survey 2014: A New ERS/National Agricultural Statistics Service Data Product.”
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Two-percent milk accounts for the largest share of fluid milk availability  
Tuesday, November 03, 2015
According to ERS’s Food Availability data, 19.1 gallons of fluid milk were available for each U.S. consumer to drink in 2013, down from a peak of 42.3 gallons in 1945. Declining per capita milk consumption reflects a variety of factors—competition from soft drinks, fruit juices, bottled water, and other beverages; generational differences in the frequency of milk drinking; and a more ethnically diverse population, some of whose diets do not normally include fluid milk. Plain (unflavored) 2-percent milk surpassed plain whole milk in 2005 and became America’s most popular milk. In 2013, plain 2-percent milk accounted for 35 percent of fluid milk availability (6.7 gallons per person), while plain whole-milk availability was 5.2 gallons per person, down from its high of 38 gallons in 1945. Plain 1-percent milk and skim milk each accounted for 14 percent of fluid milk availability. Flavored milks, such as chocolate and strawberry, made up 9 percent of fluid milk availability in 2013. This chart appears in ERS’s Ag and Food Statistics: Charting the Essentials, updated September 18, 2015.
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Output and employment in the U.S. textile industry has stabilized  
Monday, November 02, 2015
Employment at U.S. textile plants has fallen by nearly two-thirds over the past 20 years as fabric production and apparel manufacturing shifted overseas in search of lower labor and production costs. Today, more than 60 percent of clothing and other textile products purchased by U.S. consumers is produced outside of the United States. However, both the sharp decline in U.S. textile employment and the rise in import share of U.S. fiber consumption began to level off around 2009. In recent years, the U.S. textile industry—particularly the capital-intensive yarn and fabric production industry—has shown signs of a modest rebound. Cotton consumption by U.S. textile mills in marketing year 2015 (August/July) is forecast at 3.7 million bales, up 3.5 percent from a year ago and 12.1 percent from its 2011 low. In 2014, U.S. textile mill employment showed its first gain since 1994—up 0.2 percent. Investment in U.S. cotton spinning by firms from China and India is underway as well, reflecting the changes in global textile markets since the Multi-Fibre Arrangement (which governed world trade in textiles and garments) expired on January 1, 2005. This chart is from the October Cotton and Wool Outlook report.
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Nonmetro unemployment rates have declined, but remain highest for adults with the lowest levels of education  
Friday, October 30, 2015
The nonmetro unemployment rate fell between 2010 and 2014 as the economy continued to recover from the national recession that began in late 2007. The likelihood of being unemployed was much higher for adults (ages 25 and older) at the lowest levels of educational attainment during the 2007-2014 period. Data from the Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey show that differences in unemployment rates between the least and most highly educated nonmetro adults nearly doubled over the 2007-2010 period. Since 2010, unemployment rates have fallen, especially for those without a high school diploma. In 2010, nearly 15 percent of adults without a high school diploma were unemployed, while in 2014, 9.6 percent of adults in this group were unemployed. Overall, unemployment rates declined across all levels of educational attainment for nonmetro adults, showing a gradual trend towards pre-recession levels. This chart is found on the ERS topic page on Rural Employment and Education, updated September 2015.
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Fatality rates are an important determinant of foodborne illness costs  
Thursday, October 29, 2015
Quantifying the impacts of foodborne illness can help public health officials and food industry personnel better target food safety resources. ERS has analyzed the economic burden of the 15 pathogens responsible for close to 95 percent of the 9.4 million annual episodes of foodborne illness for which a pathogen cause can be identified. ERS estimates reveal that 83 percent of the economic burden from these 15 foodborne pathogens is due to the number of deaths they cause per year. For example, of the 1 million annual cases of foodborne illness caused by the pathogen Salmonella, an average of 91 percent of people recovered without visiting a doctor, 7 percent visited a doctor and recovered, and 2 percent of cases were severe enough to require hospitalization. Most people hospitalized with a Salmonella infection recover. However, the 378 people who do not survive account for $3.3 billion, or 89 percent, of the economic burden from this pathogen. This chart appears in “Quantifying the Impacts of Foodborne Illnesses” in the September 2015 issue of ERS’s Amber Waves magazine.
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U.S. pumpkin production and use are growing  
Wednesday, October 28, 2015
Over the past 15 years, U.S. production of pumpkins for all uses (jack-o-lanterns, fresh and processed food, seed, and other) rose 31 percent, from 1.46 billion pounds in 2000 to 1.91 billion pounds in 2014. The popularity of urban pumpkin patches, fall festivals, ornamental use of pumpkins, and seasonal cuisine have contributed to growing demand for pumpkins in the last two decades. On a per-capita basis, pumpkin use—for both food and ornamental uses—increased 17 percent during this period (adjusted for feed use, shrinkage, and marketing loss) from 4.6 pounds in 2000 to 5.39 pounds in 2014. The ornamental jack-o-lantern has long been the most popular use of pumpkins, but pumpkins are also found in a wide array of food items and beverages, including pumpkin pie, bread, muffins, soup, spice-flavored treats, and seasonal beers. This chart is based on information provided in 2015 Vegetables and Pulses Yearbook.
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Wholesale beef prices turn sharply lower  
Tuesday, October 27, 2015
Beef prices typically experience a seasonal decline at the end of summer, but the decline in prices since August this year has been particularly steep, and the combination of abundant supplies and lower demand suggests cattle and beef prices could continue to decline. Cattle are remaining on feed longer and are currently being marketed at record-high weights, resulting in increased beef production this year despite the historically small cattle supplies. At the same time, beef demand is in the midst of its seasonal decline as attention shifts from grilling to roasting items. As a result, wholesale beef prices have declined steadily since late August, while the price premium that Choice beef typically receives over the Select grade is diminishing, reflecting current strong supplies of these higher graded cuts relative to previous periods.  Adding to the market pressures, beef exports are down from this time last year due to a strengthening U.S. dollar and softening demand for U.S. beef, resulting in larger-than-anticipated volumes to be consumed in the domestic market and the expectation for continued downward pressure on prices in the near term. This chart is from the October Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry report.
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Nearly half of all organic farms sell through local food markets  
Monday, October 26, 2015
In 2012, fewer than 5 percent of farms with local food sales were organic farms (either certified organic, or certification-exempt farms because annual organic sales were under $5,000). However, nearly half (46 percent) of all organic farms sold food commodities through direct-to-consumer outlets (such as farmers’ markets and community supported agriculture arrangements), and/or through intermediated marketing channels (such as restaurants and retail outlets). Over the 2007-12 period, direct-to-consumer outlets continued to be the most frequently used local food marketing channel for selling organic—41 percent of organic farms used this marketing channel in 2007 versus 39 percent in 2012. Certification-exempt farms, which often tend to be very small and/or beginning farmers, are also more likely to rely on local markets. In 2012, they were twice as likely as certified organic farms to use direct-to-consumer outlets (63 percent versus 32 percent). This chart is found in Trends in U.S. Local and Regional Food Systems: A Report to Congress, January 2015.
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U.S. poultry and eggs output has grown more rapidly than dairy and meat animals  
Friday, October 23, 2015
Total U.S. livestock output grew 130 percent from 1948 to 2011, with the poultry and eggs subcategory growing much faster than meat animals (including cattle, hogs, and lamb) and dairy products. In 2011, the real value of total poultry and egg production was more than seven times its level in 1948, with an average annual growth rate exceeding 3 percent. The rapid growth of poultry production is due largely to changes in technology—advances in genetics, feed formulations, housing, and practices—and increased consumer demand. Retail prices of poultry fell in the late 1970’s and 1980’s, relative to beef and pork prices, leading to expanded poultry consumption in that period. Increased domestic consumption and exports were also driven by consumer response to an expanding range of new poultry products, as the industry moved away from a reliance on whole birds and produc­tion shifted to cut-up parts and processed products such as boneless chicken, breaded nuggets/tenders, and chicken sausages. This chart is found in the ERS report, Agricultural Productivity Growth in the United States: Measurement, Trends, and Drivers, July 2015.
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Brazil is now both an exporter and importer of ethanol  
Thursday, October 22, 2015
Brazil had historically been the world’s largest net exporter of ethanol, but rising sugar prices (sugar is Brazil’s primary ethanol feedstock) and growing demand for domestic ethanol consumption led to lower ethanol exports, particularly in 2009 and 2010. In 2010 the Brazilian Government lifted a tariff on ethanol imports through the end of 2015, leading to the country’s first imports of ethanol. Imports grew rapidly in 2011 and resulted in Brazil being a net ethanol importer—by a small margin—for the only time in its history. Ethanol exports recovered in 2012 but have declined each year since, while imports remain an important source of supply. Since 2010, the United States—now the world’s largest ethanol exporter—has been the largest supplier of ethanol to Brazil, followed distantly by the EU. This chart is based on the ERS report, Biofuel Use in International Markets: the Importance of Trade.
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Prevalence of food insecurity varied by household characteristics in 2014  
Wednesday, October 21, 2015
While the majority of U.S. households are food secure, a minority experience food insecurity at times during the year, meaning their access to adequate food for active, healthy living is limited by a lack of money or other resources. Some households experience very low food security, a more severe range of food insecurity, where food intake of one or more household members is reduced and normal eating patterns are disrupted. Food insecurity includes both very low food security and low food security. In 2014, 14.0 percent of all U.S households were food insecure. The prevalence of food insecurity was substantially higher for low-income households; 39.6 percent of households with incomes below the Federal poverty line were food insecure. Among all U.S. households, food insecurity rates were the highest for single-mother households (35.3 percent), and lowest for households with elderly members (8.9 percent). This chart appears in “Commemorating 20 years of U.S. Food Security Measurement” in the October 2015 issue of ERS’s Amber Waves magazine.
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ERS’s Food Access Research Atlas reveals areas in the United States where people live far from supermarkets  
Tuesday, October 20, 2015
Limited access to sources of healthy and affordable food may make it harder for some Americans to eat a healthy diet. Distance from one’s home to a retailer offering a wide variety of fresh, canned, and frozen foods is an often-used measure of food access. USDA’s Food Access Research Atlas maps several measures of food access, including low-income census tracts where a large number or share of the residents live 10 miles or more from a supermarket or large grocery store. In the example map of north central Nebraska and south central South Dakota, low-income tracts shaded light orange contained at least 500 people or at least one-third of the population who lived more than 10 miles from the nearest supermarket in 2010. Low-income tracts shaded dark orange contained a significant number or share of residents who lived more than 20 miles from a supermarket. Nationally, about 2.1 million people lived in low-income census tracts and were at least 10 miles from the nearest supermarket in 2010 and over 300,000 lived more than 20 miles from the nearest supermarket. This map is from the Food Access Research Atlas on the ERS website.
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Number of students paying full price for school lunches declined since the 2007-09 recession  
Monday, October 19, 2015
In fiscal 2014, 30 million children participated in USDA’s National School Lunch Program on an average school day, down from a peak of 32 million in 2011. The decline since 2011 reflects a drop in students taking full-price, or “paid,” lunch that began in 2008. A sharp increase in students taking free lunch during 2008-11 as a result of the 2007-09 recession made up for the drop in students taking paid lunch. During 2011-14, students taking free lunch grew more slowly, while students taking paid lunch continued to fall at roughly the same pace. Participation also fell in the early 1980s in response to tightened access to free lunches, reduction in USDA reimbursements to schools, increases in prices for paid lunch, and the 1980-82 recession. This chart appears in “A Look at What’s Driving Lower Purchases of School Lunches” in the October 2015 issue of ERS’s Amber Waves magazine.
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Increased productivity now the primary source of growth in world agricultural output  
Friday, October 16, 2015
The average annual rate of global agricultural output growth slowed in the 1970s and 1980s, then accelerated in the 1990s and 2000s. In the latest period estimated (2001-12), global output of total crop and livestock commodities was expanding at an average rate of 2.5 percent per year. In the decades prior to 1990, most output growth came about from intensification of input use (i.e., using more labor, capital, and material inputs per acre of agricultural land). Bringing new land into agriculture production and extending irrigation to existing agricultural land were also important sources of growth. This changed over the last two decades, as input growth slowed. In 2001-12, improvements in productivity—getting more output from existing resources—accounted for about two-thirds of the total growth in agricultural output worldwide, reflecting the use of new technology and changes in management practices by agricultural producers around the world. This chart is based on the ERS data product, International Agricultural Productivity, updated October 2015.
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Global food insecure population projected to increase  
Thursday, October 15, 2015
Friday October 16 is World Food Day, which offers an opportunity to highlight global poverty and hunger concerns. USDA’s annual International Food Needs Assessment, covering 76 low- and middle-income food-insecure countries, has indicated a long-term decline in the population that is food insecure, based on the nutritional target of 2,100 calories per person per day. While the food-insecure population has declined substantially in Asia and Latin America and the Caribbean, in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) it has remained high and is projected to rise. Factors that have contributed to declines in the food-insecure population share include gains in domestic production of food staples, slowing population growth rates, and increased food imports due to higher export earnings and lower prices for imported food. Although food security is projected to be stable or improve in most SSA countries through 2025, it is projected to deteriorate in a number of countries, particularly those coping with prolonged civil strife. For additional information, see International Food Security Assessment, 2015-2025.
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A majority of U.S. land in farms is operator owned  
Wednesday, October 14, 2015
Because land is a critical input to farming and farm real estate represents such a large portion of the value of farm sector assets (around 80 percent), the ownership of agricultural land is a topic of interest to farmers, lenders, policymakers and others concerned with the farm sector. Issues surrounding production practices and conservation, farm credit, land values, farm succession, land use, and farm structure, all require an understanding of land ownership and tenure. A majority of U.S. land in farms (62 percent) is operator-owned, according to the 2012 Census of Agriculture. The balance of farmland is rented, and the portion of rented land in farms has ranged from 35 percent to 43 percent over the 1950-2012 time period. Some farmland is rented from other farm operations—nationally about 8 percent of all land in farms in 2012. The majority of rented land in farms is rented from nonoperating landlords. In 2012, 30 percent of all land in farms was rented from someone other than a farm operator. This chart is found on the ERS topic page, Land Use, Land Value & Tenure.
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New county patterns of U.S. Hispanic population change emerge  
Tuesday, October 13, 2015
Hispanic population growth has slowed in both rural (nonmetro) and urban (metro) areas of the United States since the Great Recession, due to lower fertility rates and a decline in immigration, especially from Mexico. These demographic trends, along with shifts in the location of job opportunities, shifted geographic patterns of Hispanic population growth and decline across rural counties. According to the latest U.S. Census estimates, rural population growth remains above 2 percent per year for Hispanics, higher than for the non-Hispanic population (which is declining), but less than half the rate of growth seen during the 1990s and early 2000s. This downturn is most visible in farming and ranching counties in the American Southwest and in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas, areas that have for centuries had large Hispanic concentrations. Lower immigration contributed to this decrease, as did migration to new energy-sector jobs, most noticeable in the northern Great Plains in response to the shale oil and gas boom. Growth rates over 75 percent occurred in 79 rural counties, generally areas with few Hispanics in 2010 that added fewer than 10,000 new Hispanic residents as a whole. This map is based on the Atlas of Rural and Small Town America.
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India projected to remain the leading global beef exporter  
Friday, October 09, 2015
Since 2009, India’s exports of beef—specifically water buffalo meat, also known as carabeef—have expanded, with India moving ahead of Brazil to become the world’s largest beef exporter in 2014. India’s beef exports grew about 14 percent annually between 2000 and 2015, and are expected to lead major exporters with about 6 percent annual growth during 2015-2025. India’s exports of relatively low-cost beef (primarily to low- and middle-income markets in Southeast Asia and the Middle East) reached a 24 percent global market share in 2015, and that share is projected to increase to 32 percent by 2025. The U.S. share of the global beef market has fluctuated, but averaged 12 percent during 2013-2015, and is projected to rise to 15 percent in 2025. This chart is based on data and analysis from USDA Agricultural Projections to 2024.
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Linking administrative and survey data shows SNAP reaching more of the poorest households  
Thursday, October 08, 2015
In general, households are eligible to participate in USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) if their gross monthly incomes do not exceed 130 percent of the poverty line, and if they meet other net income and asset criteria. Households with disabled or elderly members can qualify with higher incomes, and some States have adopted higher income thresholds. ERS researchers recently linked American Community Survey (ACS) data to SNAP administrative records from the State of New York to get a more complete look at whether SNAP benefits are reaching the poorest households. When researchers adjusted the households, as defined by the ACS, to reflect the SNAP definition of a household, they found that 71.6 percent of New York households receiving SNAP had annual incomes at or below 130 percent of poverty, compared with 63.1 percent using just the ACS data. Fifty-three percent of the New York SNAP households with incomes above 130 percent of poverty had an elderly or disabled member or a child. New York allows households with dependent care expenses to qualify for SNAP with gross monthly incomes up to 200 percent of poverty. This chart appears in “Linking Administrative and Survey Data Provides a More Complete Picture of Whether SNAP Benefits Reach the Poorest Households” in the September 2015 issue of Amber Waves magazine.
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Nonoperator women spouses contribute substantial time to farming  
Wednesday, October 07, 2015
About 222,000 women are principal farm operators, or the person most responsible for making day-to-day decisions about the farm; 1.5 million women are spouses of principal operators. About one-third of these women spouses are secondary operators who work on the farm and participate in day-to-day decisions with their husband. The remaining women spouses do not make management decisions and are not farm operators. There are nearly one million of these nonoperator spouses, 46 percent of whom provide farm labor and collectively work 371 million hours on farms. Their labor amounts to 10 percent of the total hours worked on farms by principal operators and their spouses, and 34 percent of the total hours worked by female principal operators and spouses. The average hours of farm work—for persons reporting work hours—is substantial for women principal operators (1,097 hours per person per year), secondary operator spouses (895 hours/person/year), and nonoperator spouses (818 hours/person/year). Nonoperator women spouses contribute significant time to farm operations. This chart is an extension and update of information presented in the ERS report, Characteristics of Women Farm Operators and Their Farms, EIB-111, April 2013.
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Salty snacks remain common in U.S. consumers’ pantries  
Tuesday, October 06, 2015
A series of questions in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) asks respondents aged 16 years and older how often different types of food are kept in their homes, in order to get an idea of the at-home food environment in the United States. In 2007-08 and 2009-10, respondents were asked how often they had salty snacks such as chips and crackers at home, and in both surveys, the most common response was “always,” followed by “sometimes,” “most of the time,” “rarely,” and “never.” Between the two surveys, there was no statistically significant change in the proportion of Americans falling into each category, meaning that the habit of keeping or not keeping salty snacks in the home was unchanged for the population as a whole during this time period. This chart appears in “National Surveys Reveal Modest Improvement in the Types of Foods Available in Americans’ Homes” in the April 2015 issue of ERS’s Amber Waves magazine.
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Contract labor services a growing part of U.S. farm production  
Monday, October 05, 2015
Agricultural technologies adopted over the last half-century, embodied in equipment, structures, seeds, and chemicals, allow farmers to use less labor. As a result, even though total agricultural production more than doubled between 1960 and 2011 (the latest estimates available), the amount of self-employed labor in agriculture fell by 70 percent, and the amount of hired labor fell by 60 percent. While most labor used on farms comes from the self-employed labor of farm families and hired labor (full and part-time employees), farmers also hire labor contractors to provide labor to farms, usually for specific tasks. Contract labor accounted for 1.2 percent of total costs in agriculture in 2011, compared to 13 percent for self-employed and hired labor. While the use of contract labor declined by half between 1960 and the mid-1980’s, tracking the decline in self-employed and hired labor, it has since grown as some farmers have shifted to contract labor in place of hired labor. A version of this chart is found in the ERS report, Agricultural Productivity Growth in the United States: Measurement, Trends, and Drivers, July 2015.
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Brazil and Ukraine emerge as major corn exporters  
Friday, October 02, 2015
Over the last 5 years, the role of Brazil and Ukraine as suppliers of global corn markets has expanded rapidly, and in 2013/14 Brazil and Ukraine became the largest corn exporters after the United States. For both countries, technical developments over the last decade, coupled with a period of relatively strong world corn prices, supported a rapid increase in area dedicated to corn. In Brazil, shorter-maturing varieties allowed corn to increasingly be grown as a second crop after soybeans, instead of as a main crop in competition with soybeans. In Ukraine, corn production expanded and shifted northward, again aided by shorter-season high-yielding varieties. While global corn prices have fallen over the past few years, the exchange rate for Brazil and Ukraine has also devalued, offsetting much of the price decline. This chart is from the September 2015 Feed Outlook report.
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Net farm income and net cash income forecast below their 10-year moving averages for first time since 2009  
Thursday, October 01, 2015
Net farm income and net cash income are two key measures of farm sector profitability. Following several years of high income, both have trended downward since peaking in 2013. ERS forecasts that both net cash and net farm income for 2015 will be below their 10-year moving averages in inflation-adjusted terms for the first time since 2009. Before falling in 2014 and 2015, both income measures had largely trended upward since 2009. Over the 2010 to 2013 period, surging crop, animal, and animal product cash receipts outpaced the growth in production expenses, leading net cash and net farm incomes (and their 10-year moving averages) higher. However, commodity receipts are forecast to fall sharply in 2015. Production expenses are also forecast to contract in 2015 after several years of growth, but not enough to offset the decline in commodity receipts. This chart is based on data found in Farm Income and Wealth Statistics, updated August 25, 2015.
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Single-mother households consistently have higher rates of food insecurity than other households with children  
Wednesday, September 30, 2015
In 2014, 14.0 percent of U.S. households were food insecure. These food-insecure households had difficulty at some time during the year providing enough food for all their members due to a lack of resources. During the Great Recession and its aftermath, the prevalence of food insecurity rose from 11.1 percent in 2007 to 14.9 percent in 2011, before falling as the economy improved and unemployment declined. Food insecurity rates for single-parent households are substantially higher than the national average, especially for single-mother households. In 2014, 35.3 percent of single-mother households and 21.7 percent of single-father households in the United States were food insecure. While food insecurity rates for single-father households and married couples with children have fallen over the last few years, the rate for single-mother households remains high. This chart appears in ERS’s Interactive Chart: Food Security Characteristics, released September 9, 2015.
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Fed steer prices fall from historic highs  
Tuesday, September 29, 2015
Although 2015 fed steer supplies remain historically small, prices have recently fallen from the record high levels reached during the first and second quarters of 2015. Prices have been trending lower since April 2015, and in July and August fell below the levels of the same time a year ago. The recent decline in fed steer prices is driven by negative margins faced by packers during the summer months. As a result, slaughter data suggests packers may have slowed the pace of slaughter to improve their margins, subsequently driving fed steer prices lower. A continued reluctance of packers to expand their slaughter could put further downward pressure on the price of these cattle in the months ahead, especially if it creates a backlog of fed steer supplies into the fourth quarter, when demand typically shifts away from grilling items to traditional holiday items such as turkeys and hams, easing wholesale beef prices. This chart is from the September 2015 Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry report.
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Nonmetro Hispanics tend to be younger than non-Hispanics  
Monday, September 28, 2015
Nonmetro America is likely to become more ethnically diverse in the coming years; the proportion of Hispanics will increase due to their younger age structure and higher birth rates compared with non-Hispanic Whites. In nonmetro counties as a whole, 48 percent of the Hispanic population is under the age of 25, compared with 29 percent of non-Hispanic Whites. According to data from the American Community Survey, in 2014, the median age for nonmetro Hispanics was 26.0 years, much lower than the median of 44.3 years for non-Hispanic Whites. For the country as a whole, 2013 data from the National Center for Health Statistics show that there were 72.9 births per every 1,000 Hispanic women ages 15-44, compared with 58.7 births per 1,000 non-Hispanic White women of the same age. During 2010-14, the nonmetro Hispanic population increased by 8.6 percent, while the nonmetro non-Hispanic White population declined by 1.6 percent. The overall nonmetro population loss of -0.25 percent between 2010 and 2014 would have been much larger had it not been for the growth in the Hispanic population. This chart updates one found in Rural Hispanics At A Glance, EIB-8.
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The United States has been a net exporter of ethanol since 2010  
Friday, September 25, 2015
Between 2001 and 2014, global biofuel production and use grew rapidly, driven by a combination of rising gasoline prices, falling prices of biofuel inputs, and policies mandating use of renewable fuels. These same factors also led to an expansion of global trade in biofuels. The United States is the world’s largest producer and consumer of ethanol, and prior to 2010 relied partly on imports to meet domestic demand. But beginning in 2010, the United States emerged as a net exporter of ethanol, reflecting the “blend wall” that limits the ethanol content of gasoline used in most conventional vehicles to 10-percent ethanol, while demand for biofuels from other countries, particularly the EU and Brazil, continued to grow. The United States has remained a net exporter of ethanol each year since 2010, and since 2011 has been the world’s largest exporter of ethanol. In 2014, oil prices declined by more than half, pressuring U.S. ethanol consumption; however, the market remained strong due to U.S. government policies mandating ethanol use, the use of ethanol as an octane enhancer, and a large export market. This chart is from Biofuel Use in International Markets: The Importance of Trade, EIB-144, September 2015.
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Allocation of food-at-home expenditures across food categories does not vary much by income  
Thursday, September 24, 2015
Most Americans have plenty of room to improve the nutritional quality of their diets and how they spend their food dollars. ERS researchers analyzed dietary recall data from the 2011-12 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey and found that average dietary scores of consumers across different household incomes ranged from 48.1 to 54.5 on a scale from 0 to 100. (A score of 100 indicated full compliance with Federal dietary guidance.) How consumers allocate their grocery store food dollars among food categories reflect these scores. U.S. households across income levels had similar spending patterns for most food categories—allocating a much smaller share to fruits and vegetables (17 to 19 percent) than miscellaneous foods, such as soft drinks, frozen meals, salad dressings, and snacks (34 to 37 percent). This chart appears in “Following Dietary Guidance Need Not Cost More—But Many Americans Would Need to Re-Allocate Their Food Budgets” in ERS’s September 2015 Amber Waves magazine.
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In Bangladesh, food security status is not the same for all household members  
Wednesday, September 23, 2015
Estimates of food-insecure populations are usually based on data aggregated at the household level, with the assumption that calories are distributed equitably within each household. However, recent ERS research on Bangladesh found that the food security status of a large share of the population is misclassified because calories are not distributed equitably across household members. Two patterns stand out. First, in households classified as well nourished, about 45 percent of the children in those households were actually undernourished. Second, in households classified as undernourished, about 68 percent of household heads—primarily men—are actually well nourished. In those undernourished households, it is primarily the spouses and children that are undernourished. This research shows that food is not always distributed equitably within families, and that the depth of undernourishment for some individuals may be greater than traditional household surveys would suggest. This chart is based on the report Using Household and Intrahousehold Data To Assess Food Insecurity: Evidence from Bangladesh, ERR-190.
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The WIC brand of infant formula varies by State  
Tuesday, September 22, 2015
USDA’s Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) provides participating infants with free infant formula. WIC is the major purchaser of infant formula in the United States; over half of all formula is purchased with WIC benefits. To reduce costs, WIC State agencies (except Mississippi and Vermont, which use a competitive solicitation process) are required to have competitively bid rebate contracts with formula manufacturers. Contracts are awarded to the manufacturer offering the lowest net price for formula (wholesale price minus the rebate). The winning manufacturer gets an exclusive contract—typically lasting about 4 years—to provide its infant formula to WIC participants in the State. In some instances, WIC State agencies have formed multi-State alliances and jointly request rebate bids. Since the mid-1990s, only three formula manufacturers—Abbott, Gerber, and Mead Johnson—have bid on WIC contracts. For contracts in effect in March 2015, Abbott was the WIC brand in 23 States and the District of Columbia, Gerber in 9 States, and Mead Johnson in 18 States. This chart updates information in the ERS report, Manufacturers’ Bids for WIC Infant Formula Rebate Contracts, 2003-2013, EIB-142, July 2015.
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Some conservation practices are more widely adopted than others  
Monday, September 21, 2015
The environmental effects of agricultural production, e.g., soil erosion and the loss of sediment, nutrients, and pesticides to water, can be mitigated using conservation practices. Some practices are more widely adopted than other practices; no conservation practice has been universally adopted by U.S. farmers. Variation in conservation practice adoption is due, at least in part, to variation in soil, climate, topography, crop/livestock mix, producer management skills, and financial risk aversion. These factors affect the onfarm cost and benefit of practice adoption. Presumably, farmers will adopt conservation practices only when the benefits exceed cost. Government programs can increase adoption rates by helping defray costs. The potential environmental gain also varies—ecosystem service benefits (such as improved water quality and enhanced wildlife habitat) depend both on the practice and on the location and physical characteristics of the land. This chart is based on data from ARMS Farm Financial and Crop Production Practices.
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The number of farms involved in nontraditional activities increased over 2007-12  
Friday, September 18, 2015
Nontraditional farm activities involve innovative uses of farm resources, such as growing/selling value-added products (such as fruit jams, preserves, cider, wine, floral arrangements, and beef jerky), selling directly to consumers, providing agritourism/recreational services, and using renewable energy producing systems (such as solar panels, wind turbines, and biodiesel). The number of farms engaged in these activities increased from 2007 to 2012, with the largest growth in farms with renewable energy producing systems. In 2012, about 57,000 U.S. farms produced renewable energy, more than double the number in 2007. By 2012, 63 percent of renewable energy producing farms had installed solar panels, which drives this increase. The number of farms that had income from agritourism/recreation increased over the 5-year period by 42 percent, with the largest increase in smaller agritourism farms with annual receipts under $5,000. In 2012, the top States in the share of farms producing and selling value-added products were Vermont (14 percent), New Hampshire (13 percent), and Maine and Rhode Island (with 11 percent each). This chart updates one from the ERS report, Farm Activities Associated With Rural Development Initiatives, ERR-134, May 2012.
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Agricultural goods are the most common target of export taxes  
Thursday, September 17, 2015
During the surges in world agricultural and food prices over 2006-12, many countries restricted agricultural exports by implementing taxes, quotas, or complete export bans. Taxing exports is a longstanding practice among many countries. An ERS analysis of reports by the World Trade Organization found that from 1995 to 2014, 74 countries and trading blocs (out of 121 that were reviewed) applied export taxes for products such as agricultural goods, fishery/forestry products, and minerals/metals, with 58 of these countries taxing at least one agricultural product. Reasons to tax exports include obtaining revenue, supporting the domestic processing sector by reducing the price of raw materials, and—if the exported good is a food product—benefiting domestic consumers and improving the country’s food security. For countries that are important suppliers to world markets, export taxes can lead to higher prices worldwide due to the reduced volume of exports resulting from the tax, thus benefitting competing suppliers while hurting foreign consumers. The chart is based on the report Alternative Policies to Agricultural Export Taxes That Are Less Market Distorting, ERR-187.
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Potatoes, tomatoes, and lettuce make up close to 60 percent of U.S. vegetable and legume availability  
Wednesday, September 16, 2015
When consumers are advised in the produce aisle that “More Matters,” they are not just being encouraged to eat a greater quantity of fruits and vegetables, but more variety as well. Restricting one’s diet to a limited set of vegetables precludes the desired variety that would supply more diverse, healthful nutrients. According to ERS’s Food Availability data, just three vegetables—white potatoes, tomatoes, and lettuce—accounted for 59 percent of the vegetables and legumes that were available for consumption in 2013. White potatoes accounted for 30 percent of the 384.4 pounds per person of vegetables and legumes available in 2013. Tomatoes had a 22-percent share, with 20.2 pounds per person of fresh tomatoes and 65.9 pounds per person of processed tomatoes. Fresh lettuce (head lettuce, romaine, and leaf lettuce) rounded out the top 3 vegetables at 25.5 pounds per person—7 percent of 2013’s total vegetable and legume availability. This chart appears in “Potatoes and Tomatoes Account for Over Half of U.S. Vegetable Availability” in the September 2015 issue of ERS’s Amber Waves magazine.
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Sustained public investment in research supports longrun agricultural productivity growth  
Tuesday, September 15, 2015
Innovation funded by research and development (R&D) investment is the major driver of long-term agricultural productivity growth. ERS projected growth in agricultural productivity (measured as total factor productivity, or TFP) under alternative public R&D assumptions starting in 2010: a 1-percent increase in annual public research funding in real terms (Scenario 1); constant nominal public research funding (Scenario 2); and constant nominal public research funding with an assumed one-time 25-percent cut in 2014, followed by constant nominal funding at the lower level (Scenario 3). Because R&D takes a long time to bear fruit, TFP growth differs little among the scenarios in the first decade, but then growth rates diverge. From 2010 to 2050, the annual rate of TFP growth is expected to increase/fall from the historical average of 1.42 percent per year to 1.46, 0.86, and 0.63 percent for Scenario 1, 2, and 3, respectively. This chart is found in the September 2015 Amber Waves feature, "U.S. Agricultural Productivity Growth: The Past, Challenges, and the Future."
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Food insecurity to remain most severe in Sub-Saharan Africa in 2015  
Monday, September 14, 2015
Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) will remain the most food-insecure region in the world in 2015, according to the USDA International Food Security Assessment: 2015-2025. The 39 SSA countries included in the study account for about 25 percent of the population of the 76 countries covered, but more than half of the global population estimated to be food insecure in 2015. The intensity of food insecurity in the region is highlighted by the fact that it accounts for roughly 90 percent of the distribution gap—the estimated amount of food needed to raise food consumption in all income groups to the nutritional target of 2,100 calories per day—in 2015. There is, however, wide variation in levels of food security within SSA. In 20 of the 39 countries, 80 percent or more of the population is estimated to be food secure in 2015.  On the other hand, there are 9 countries where 90 percent or more of the population is estimated to be food insecure: the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi, Eritrea, Somalia, Lesotho, Swaziland, Zimbabwe, and Chad.  Find this chart and additional information in International Food Security Assessment: 2015-2025.
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Cattle sales shifting from cash sales to formula pricing and other arrangements  
Friday, September 11, 2015
Historically, nearly all livestock were bought and sold in large, public markets where hundreds of buyers and sellers would compete for the best price based on the information that each brings to the market. These cash transactions resulted in prices and pricing information that were freely available and shared widely through public and private sources. Beginning in the mid twentieth century, the industry evolved and became more concentrated and coordinated at all levels. The use of cash markets declined sharply in favor of various forms of price contracts, such as forward contracts, marketing agreements, packer ownership, and formula pricing—where a cash price might be used for reference but premiums or discounts are applied based on a pre-determined formula. In the beef cattle market, the last decade has seen a shift away from cash market sales in favor of formula pricing, which has led to concerns that the cash prices used in those formulas could be unreliable, and that the limited volume of public sales undermines price transparency and market efficiency. The Livestock Mandatory Price Reporting Act was passed in 1999 in response to these and other concerns, and requires all major meatpackers to report the prices they pay for sheep, cattle and hogs, as well as their selling prices for lamb, beef and pork. This chart is from the ERS report, Mandatory Price Reporting, Market Efficiency and Price Discovery in Livestock Markets.
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Last updated: Thursday, February 04, 2016

For more information contact: Fred Kuchler