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Farm sector real estate debt trends vary by lender  
Friday, July 29, 2016
Since the late 1970s, the Farm Credit System (FCS) has been the largest U.S. lender to the farm sector for loans secured by real estate. The trend in outstanding real estate debt held by FCS closely tracks the overall sector real estate debt trend. Debt held by FCS peaked in the early 1980s and then declined for the next decade before increasing to an inflation-adjusted high of $81.7 billion in 2014. Prior to the 1990s, commercial banks held substantially less debt than the FCS. However, farm sector real estate debt held by commercial banks has increased sharply since the 1990s, leading commercial banks to become the second most prominent farm real estate lender. Farmer Mac, though small relative to FCS and commercial banks, has also shown growth in real estate debt outstanding during the period. While the real estate debt outstanding at FCS, commercial banks, and Farmer Mac has grown sharply since the 1990s, the trend has held relatively flat or declined modestly for the other lenders in that period. This chart is found in the July 2016 Amber Waves article, “Trends in Farm Sector Debt Vary by Type of Debt and Lender.”
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U.S. corn production and use expected to reach a new record in 2016  
Thursday, July 28, 2016
U.S. corn area in 2016/17 is estimated at 94.1 million acres, of which 86.6 million is expected to be harvested for grain, up 5.9 million from last year. With a national average yield forecast of 168 bushels, corn production this year would reach 14.5 billion bushels, 939 million bushels above last year’s harvest and 324 million more than was harvested from the record-large 2014/15 crop. The larger supply is expected to have a dampening effect on prices, making U.S. corn more competitive in the global market and boosting exports to 2.1 billion bushels in 2016/17, up from 1.9 million from the 2015/16 crop and the highest since 2007/08 when they reached 2.4 billion. Use for ethanol as well as other food, seed and industrial uses is expected to increase only modestly (less than 1 percent) to 6.7 million bushels, reflecting the maturity of those markets. Feed and residual use (a category that mainly includes livestock feed as well as other uses unaccounted for) is expected to consume 5.5 billion bushels, up 300 million from the 2015/16 crop. With projected supply expected to exceed total use of the 2016/17 crop, ending stocks are forecast to grow to 2.1 billion bushels, up from the 1.7 billion bushels expected to be on hand at the end of the 2015/16 crop year. This chart is from the ERS report Feed Outlook, July 2016.
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Declining potato consumption driving Americans’ falling vegetable consumption  
Wednesday, July 27, 2016
Americans’ consumption of vegetables has not increased, despite advice to the contrary from the health and nutrition community. A recent linking of ERS’s loss-adjusted food availability data with intake surveys reveals that total vegetable consumption fell across four U.S. age and gender groups between 1994-98 and 2007-08, though the decline for women was small. Much of the vegetable decline was driven by reduced consumption of potatoes. Boys had the largest drop; their potato consumption fell from 63.7 pounds (fresh-weight equivalent) per person per year in 1994-98 to 45.2 pounds in 2007-08. Intake of tomatoes—the second most consumed vegetable—held fairly steady for all age groups. When consumption of potatoes and tomatoes is subtracted from the mix, consumption of other vegetables by girls, boys, and men fell, too, but not as sharply as that of potatoes. For women, annual consumption of nonpotato and nontomato vegetables increased by 2.2 pounds per person. This chart appears in “A Closer Look at Declining Fruit and Vegetable Consumption Using Linked Data Sources” in the July 2016 issue of ERS’s Amber Waves magazine.
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U.S. cotton production and share of global supply are expected to be up in 2016  
Tuesday, July 26, 2016
The 2016 U.S. cotton crop is expected to reach 15.8 million bales (1 bale = 480 pounds), 23 percent larger than the 2015 crop, reflecting a 17-percent increase in acreage, lower abandonment and higher yields compared to last year. Globally, cotton production is projected to reach 102.5 million bales in 2016, up 5 percent from last year. Global cotton production is concentrated among a small number of countries, with India and China accounting for nearly half of world production and the top five producers expected to supply 77 percent of the world’s cotton this year. Production in most countries is expected to increase at least modestly this year, with the exception of China, where production is expected to fall 4.5 percent to 21.4 million bales as acreage there falls to historically low levels. Given the large increase in U.S. production, the U.S. share of global supply is expected to increase from 13.2 percent in 2015 to 15.4 percent in 2016, compared to a 27-percent share supplied by India and 21 percent by China. This chart is from the ERS report Cotton and Wool Outlook report, July 2016.
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Genetically engineered varieties of corn, cotton, and soybeans have plateaued at more than 90 percent of U.S. acreage planted with those crops  
Monday, July 25, 2016
U.S. soybeans, cotton and corn farmers have nearly universally adopted genetically engineered (GE) seeds in recent years, despite their typically higher prices. Herbicide-tolerant (HT) crops, developed to survive the application of specific herbicides that previously would have destroyed the crop along with the targeted weeds, provide farmers with a broader variety of options for weed control. Insect-resistant crops (Bt) contain a gene from the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis that produces a protein toxic to specific insects, protecting the plant over its entire life. “Stacked” seed varieties carry both HT and Bt traits, and now account for a large majority of GE corn and cotton seeds. In 2016, adoption of GE varieties, including those with herbicide tolerance, insect resistance, or stacked traits, accounted for 94 percent of soybean acreage (soybeans have only HT varieties), 93 percent of cotton acreage, and 92 percent of corn acreage planted in the United States. This chart is found in the ERS data product, Adoption of Genetically Engineered Crops in the U.S., updated July 2016.
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U.S. production of fresh-market sweet cherries expected to be down this year  
Friday, July 22, 2016
Warm weather prompted an early start to the harvest season for sweet cherries in the northwestern United States. Despite the early harvest, U.S. production is expected to be down 6 percent from last year and 11 percent below the 5-average, mostly reflecting smaller crops in the two largest producing states, Washington and California. In California, heavy rains in May reduced the quality and size of the crop, while in Washington a shortened bloom period limited pollination and untimely rains prior to harvest undermined the size of the crop. About 90 percent of sweet cherry production is sold in the fresh market, and most of the crop is consumed domestically. Between one-quarter and one-third of U.S. production is exported, and major markets include Canada, South Korea and Japan. The United States imports sweet cherries during the off-season (when domestic supplies are unavailable), but imports tend to account for less than 10 percent of domestic availability. Chile is the primary source for sweet cherry imports, with smaller volumes also supplied by Argentina, Australia and New Zealand.  This chart is from the Fruit and Tree Nuts Outlook report, released June 30, 2016.
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Organic eggs displayed largest swings in retail price premiums of 17 organic foods  
Thursday, July 21, 2016
A recent ERS study estimated price premiums in grocery stores for 17 commonly purchased organic foods relative to their nonorganic counterparts from 2004 to 2010. Price premiums for most of the organic products studied did not steadily increase or decrease during the 7-year period, but fluctuated. Premiums for organic bread ranged from 25 to 45 percent above the nonorganic price, and premiums for organic milk ranged from 50 to 80 percent. The wide fluctuations in the price premium for organic eggs—66 to 173 percent—may be a result of the large retail price swings common for nonorganic eggs. Organic carrots, on the other hand, had a narrower range of premiums. Organic carrots were priced between 20 and 27 percent higher than nonorganic carrots during 2004 to 2010. This chart appears in “Investigating Retail Price Premiums for Organic Foods” in the May 2016 issue of ERS’s Amber Waves magazine.
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Recent changes in farm real estate values exhibit wide variation across States  
Wednesday, July 20, 2016
Between 2010 and 2015, change in inflation-adjusted average farm real estate values (the value of farmland and buildings) varied widely across the 48 contiguous States. The value of farm real estate is expected to change over time to reflect changes in expectations for income streams from future use—including both agriculture and nonagricultural uses. Over 2010-15, the largest State percentage increases in farm real estate values occurred in the Northern Plains and Midwest regions, presumably based on expectations of high farm-based earnings. In contrast, while farmland values in the Northeast region are typically among the highest in the country, this is largely due to urban proximity rather than agricultural returns, and declines in farm real estate values generally reflect regional impacts from the downturn in the residential housing market. This map is based on the data visualization, Charts and Maps of U.S. Farm Balance Sheet Data, in the Farm Income and Wealth Statistics data product, February 2016.
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August to January is becoming the most active period for Brazil’s corn exports  
Tuesday, July 19, 2016
Corn is Brazil’s second largest crop (after soybeans), accounting for 20 percent of planted area, and Brazil is the world’s second largest corn exporter, behind the United States. Due to a favorable climate and long growing season, double-cropping is possible in much of the country, and the majority of corn in Brazil is harvested as a second crop planted after soybeans. Brazil tends to use most of its first-crop corn (harvested primarily during February-April) domestically because it is grown near the poultry and pork enterprises in the South, and the transportation system is focused on moving soybeans into global markets. But second-crop corn is harvested during June-August just as Brazil’s peak soybean export period ends, freeing up port capacity and transportation resources to move corn into export markets. Second-crop corn production in Brazil has expanded rapidly over the past 5 years, and over the same period the seasonal pattern of Brazil’s corn exports has shifted such that a much larger portion now enters export markets from August to January, months when harvesting begins and supplies peak in the United States. This chart is from the ERS report, Brazil’s Corn Industry and the Effect on the Seasonal Pattern of U.S. Corn Exports, released June 15, 2016.
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After surpassing butter in the 1950s, Americans’ per capita consumption of margarine now below that of butter  
Monday, July 18, 2016
For the first half of the 20th century, supplies of butter available for U.S. consumers to eat (a proxy for consumption) averaged 16 pounds per person per year, compared with 2.8 pounds of margarine. Shortages and rationing of butter during World War II led consumers and food processors to substitute margarine for butter. After the war, many earlier public policies and restrictions on margarine (including restrictions on coloring margarine yellow) were relaxed, and some consumers had become more accustomed to the taste of margarine. Expanding soybean oil supplies contributed to margarine’s lower price relative to butter. Between 1942 and 1972, butter availability fell from 16.4 to 5.0 pounds per person per year, while annual per person availability of margarine increased from 2.9 to 11.1 pounds. In the second half of the 1970s, margarine availability began trending downward, more steeply starting in 1994. By 2005, margarine availability had fallen below butter availability, despite butter’s higher price. In 2013, per capita availability of butter was 5.5 pounds. Butter may owe part of its recent increase in popularity to concerns about trans fats in margarine and suggestions that saturated fat is not as unhealthy as once thought. This chart appears in “Butter and Margarine Availability Over the Last Century” in the July 2016 issue of ERS’s Amber Waves magazine.
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Consumer demand drives growth in the organic food sector  
Friday, July 15, 2016
U.S. organic food sales were an estimated $37 billion in 2015, according to the latest data from Nutrition Business Journal. Organic food products are still gaining ground in conventional supermarkets as well as natural foods markets, and organic sales accounted for about 5 percent of total U.S. food sales in 2015, according to industry estimates. Although the annual growth rate for organic food sales fell from the double-digit range in 2009-10 as the U.S. economy slowed, growth rates since 2011 have rebounded to 10-12 percent, and are more than double the annual growth rate forecast for all food sales. Fresh fruits and vegetables are the top selling organic category, followed by dairy products. Organic farmers often earn substantial price premiums for their products. This chart appears in the ERS report Economic Issues in the Coexistence of Organic, Genetically Engineered (GE), and Non-GE Crops, February 2016. 
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Emerging markets account for most of the growth in U.S. agricultural exports  
Thursday, July 14, 2016
Growth in demand for food, and by extension for agricultural imports, is particularly sensitive to growth in per capita incomes in developing countries, where relatively large shares of rising incomes are typically spent on increasing both the amount and diversity of foods consumed. In contrast, consumers in more developed countries, where per capita incomes and food intake are already relatively high, are less likely to spend as much of new income on increasing the amount of food they eat. Emerging markets averaged higher rates of real per capita gross domestic product growth and accounted for all of the volume growth in U.S. exports of bulk and intermediate agricultural prod­ucts and most of the growth in U.S. exports of consumer-oriented products during 2000-15. The volume of U.S. exports of bulk and intermediate agricultural goods to developed countries actually declined during the period, and U.S. exports of consumer-oriented goods to developed markets grew only about a third as fast as to emerging markets.  This chart is from the ERS report, Global Macroeconomic Developments Drive Downturn in U.S. Agricultural Exports, released July 12.
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Food insecurity in U.S. Hispanic households tracks closely with the U.S. unemployment rate  
Wednesday, July 13, 2016
Between 2000 and 2014, food insecurity for U.S. Hispanic households followed U.S. labor market conditions—as measured by the unemployment rate—and was more responsive to employment changes than the Nation as a whole. Food-insecure households have difficulty consistently obtaining adequate food for all household members because of limited economic resources for food. The prevalence of food insecurity among U.S. Hispanic households dropped more sharply than the national prevalence rate in 2005, when unemployment declined after the 2001 recession, and increased more sharply than the national prevalence rate with the onset of the 2007-09 recession. In 2008, food insecurity rose from 20.1 percent to 26.9 percent for Hispanic households and from 11.1 to 14.6 percent for all U.S. households. Similarly, as the economy improved, food insecurity in Hispanic households dropped more quickly than in all U.S. households. Food insecurity declined among all U.S. households from 14.9 percent in 2011 to 14.0 percent in 2014, but Hispanic households had a larger decline—from 26.2 percent to 22.4 percent over the three years. This chart appears in “Food Insecurity and Hispanic Diversity” in the July 2016 issue of ERS’s Amber Waves magazine.
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Distribution of farm program payments varies by farm type  
Tuesday, July 12, 2016
Farmers can receive government farm program payments from three broad categories of agricultural programs: commodity-related programs, working-land conservation programs, and land-retirement conservation programs. The distribution of payments in each category varies by farm type. In 2014, nearly 70 percent of commodity-related program payments went to moderate-sales, midsize, and large family farms, roughly proportional to their 80-percent share of acres in program-eligible crops. Midsize and large family farms together received about 60 percent of working-land payments that help farmers adopt conservation practices on agricultural land in production. Land-retirement programs pay farmers to remove environmentally sensitive land from production. Retirement, off-farm occupation, and low-sales farms received about three-fourths of these payments. Retired farmers and older farmers on low-sales farms may be more likely to take land out of production as they scale back their operations. Although government farm program payments can be important to the farms receiving them, 75 percent of farms in 2014 received no government payments. (These data summarize payments made in 2014. The Farm Act that was passed in 2014 introduced changes to commodity programs as part of a shift to greater reliance on crop insurance; most of those changes will be reflected in the source data beginning in 2015. Nevertheless, who receives particular government payments will continue to reflect farm and operator characteristics.) This chart is found in the ERS report America’s Diverse Family Farms: 2015 Edition.  
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The share of world population that is food insecure is projected to decline  
Monday, July 11, 2016
The latest International Food Security Assessment suggests food security will improve over the next 10 years for the 76 low- and middle-income countries examined by ERS.  The improvement is driven by expectations of falling food prices and rising incomes across most of these countries. The share of the total population within these 76 countries that is food insecure is projected to fall from 17 percent in 2016 to 6 percent in 2026. The report estimates per capita food consumption and evaluates that against a nutritional target of 2,100 calories per person per day to determine whether population groups should be considered food secure. At the regional level, the greatest improvement in food security between 2016 and 2026 is projected for Asia, where the share of population that is food insecure falls from 13.2 to 2.4 percent. The share of population that is food insecure in the Latin America and the Caribbean region is projected to fall from 14.6 percent in 2016 to 6.4 percent in 2026. Sub-Saharan Africa is the most food-insecure region in the world, and like the other regions, its food-security situation is projected to improve over the decade—but at a slower rate. The share of the region’s population that is food insecure is projected to fall from 29 to 15 percent. This chart is from the ERS report, International Food Security Assessment: 2016-2026, released June 30.
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Adulteration violations in imported foods increased the most for spices, flavors, salts, and seafood  
Friday, July 08, 2016
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) oversees the safety of most food sold in the United States. Part of this oversight includes inspecting imported foods at the border or port of entry for evidence of adulteration or misbranding. FDA uses risk-based criteria to determine which shipments are inspected, rather than a random sample. A recent ERS study examined patterns in FDA import refusals over 2005-2013 and compared results with an earlier study of data from 1998-2004. Compared with the earlier period, spices, flavors, and salts, as well as fishery and seafood products, had the largest increases in the number of violations per year for adulteration—problems relating to safety issues, packaging integrity, or sanitation. In fishery and seafood products, the most common adulteration violations were for filth (visually apparent non-food material), the presence of Salmonella bacteria, and veterinary drug residues. In spices, flavors, and salts, the most common violation was for Salmonella. This chart is from “Patterns in FDA Imported Food Refusals Highlight Most Frequently Detected Problems” in ERS’s Amber Waves magazine, March 2016.
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Sugarcane production in Brazil has expanded, and about half is used for ethanol  
Thursday, July 07, 2016
The Government of Brazil has supported the production of ethanol as an automotive fuel for many years, beginning in 1975 with the Proálcool program, to encourage production of ethanol from sugarcane and including many programs that remain in effect today—including mandatory ethanol-blending requirements in gasoline and tax exemptions for ethanol-powered cars. Sugarcane is nearly the exclusive ethanol feedstock in Brazil, and Brazil is the world’s largest sugarcane producer, accounting for 39 percent of world production. Until the mid-1990s, the share of sugar production turned into ethanol was set by government policy, but since then market forces have determined the share that is converted to ethanol. In particular, the relationship among the prices of sugar, gasoline, and ethanol, as well as storage capacity at sugar mills, all play a role. Production of both sugar and ethanol in Brazil has expanded rapidly since the mid-1990s. Sugarcane production reached 640 million tons in 2014, up 188 percent since 1991, while over the same time, the share used for ethanol production declined from 72 percent in 1991 to a low of just over 49 percent in 2003 and a 2014 level of 55 percent. This chart is from the ERS report, Brazil’s Agricultural Land Use and Trade: Effects of Changes in Oil Prices and Ethanol Demand, released June 29, 2016.
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Dairy farmers shifted to catastrophic coverage under the MPP-Dairy Program in 2016  
Wednesday, July 06, 2016
The Margin Protection Program-Dairy (MPP-Dairy) is a risk management program introduced in the 2014 Farm Act. MPP-Dairy is designed to protect agricultural producers against adverse movements in the difference between milk and feed prices (the margin). Enrollees receive catastrophic coverage, for an annual $100 enrollment fee, that provides payments when a national-average margin falls below $4 (the average monthly margin was $8.30 in 2004-13). Farmers can purchase additional “buy-up” coverage, for margin thresholds ranging from $4 to $8 in 50-cent increments. Almost 25,000 farms—55 percent of licensed U.S. dairy operations, accounting for 80 percent of 2014 U.S. milk production—enrolled in the program for 2015 coverage. Forty-four percent of enrollees—with more than three-quarters of production covered by MPP—chose catastrophic coverage. Farms may change coverage annually, and many did so in 2016, as the shares of farms and production under catastrophic coverage rose, moving away from all levels of buy-up coverage. This chart is based on data found in the ERS report, Changing Structure, Financial Risks, and Government Policy for the U.S. Dairy Industry, March 2016.
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The 30-year upward trend in eating out briefly reversed in 2007-10  
Tuesday, July 05, 2016
Over the past three decades, food prepared away from home—whether eaten at restaurants, picked up or delivered to eat at home, or served in school cafeterias—has become a regular part of more and more Americans’ diets. Between 1977-78 and 2005-06, the share of calories obtained away from home for the average American age 2 and older rose from 18 to 34 percent. Increased consumption of fast-food fare drove this trend. The share of calories obtained from fast food increased from 6 percent in 1977-78 to 16 percent in 2005-06. In 2007-08, the share of calories obtained away from home dropped to 32 percent and then fell again in 2009-10 to 29 percent. This period roughly corresponds to the 2007-09 recession in America—the most severe recession since the 1930s. The drop in calories eaten away from home shows that Americans economized during this time by eating out less, not just shifting to lower cost options. By 2011-12, food away from home’s share of total calories grew to 34 percent, and the fast-food share rebounded to 16 percent. This chart appears in “Linking Federal Food Intake Surveys Provides a More Accurate Look at Eating Out Trends” in the June 2016 issue of ERS’s Amber Waves magazine.
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U.S. rice ending stocks could rise to the highest level in three decades  
Friday, July 01, 2016
U.S. ending stocks of rice for the 2016/17 (August-July) marketing year are projected at 50.9 million hundredweight (cwt), up 19 percent from a year earlier and the highest since 1986/87. The substantial buildup in stocks is the result of a large increase in 2016/17 production that exceeds the gains expected in domestic use and exports. U.S. rice production for the 2016/17 marketing year is expected to reach 231.0 million cwt, the highest since 2010/11 and third largest on record. The bumper crop—up 20 percent from a year earlier—is primarily due to a large increase in harvested area as well as a slightly higher expected yield. At 3.06 million acres, 2016/17 plantings are up 17 percent from a year earlier and the highest since 2010/11. The substantial area increase is largely due to a return of several hundred thousand acres in the South that were not planted last year due to adverse weather, a lack of economically viable alternatives at planting time in the southern States, and an end to water restrictions in the Texas Rice Belt. The rising level of rice stocks in the United States is in contrast to the tightening stock levels currently faced by several  of the world’s  largest exporters—primarily India, Thailand, and Pakistan. Global ending stocks, excluding China, are expected to be down 13 percent from a year earlier, the fourth consecutive year of decline and the lowest since 2004/05. This chart is from the Rice Outlook June 2016 report.
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Lower ground beef prices reduce cost of home-grilled cheeseburgers by just over 6 percent from a year ago   
Thursday, June 30, 2016
If cheeseburgers are on the menu for your July 4 barbecue, they will cost you less this year than last year. Thanks to lower prices for ground beef, bread, and tomatoes, the cost of a home-prepared cheeseburger was 6.3 percent lower in May 2016 compared with May 2015. In May 2016 (latest available prices), the ingredients for a quarter-pound cheeseburger totaled $1.72 per burger, with ground beef making up the largest cost at $0.93 and cheddar cheese accounting for $0.34. This same cheeseburger would have cost $1.83 to prepare in May 2015. Ground beef prices decreased 10.1 percent between May 2015 and May 2016, translating to a $0.10 per quarter-pound savings. Bread and tomato prices also decreased, bread prices fell 5.5 percent and tomato prices 2.6 percent. Cheddar cheese prices increased 1 percent from last May. Lettuce prices, on the other hand, were up 3.2 percent, but due the small piece of lettuce topping the cheeseburger, this translated into an increase of less than a cent per burger. More information on ERS’s food price forecasts can be found in ERS’s Food Price Outlook data product, updated June 24, 2016.
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Nonmetro population change varies across the United States  
Wednesday, June 29, 2016
Population loss in nonmetro counties reached nearly 150,000 between July 2010 and July 2015, but this overall net loss of just -0.3 percent masks significant regional and local demographic diversity. First, the number of individual nonmetro counties losing population in a 5-year period reached a 50-year high of 1,320, with a net population loss of nearly 650,000. Since the Great Recession (which ended in mid-2009), new areas of population loss have emerged throughout the eastern United States, especially in manufacturing-dependent regions. Second, the 501 nonmetro counties with moderate population growth (less than 4 percent during 2010-15) together added just over 200,000 people. Many of these moderate-growth counties are located in rural parts of the Mountain West, southern Appalachia, and other scenic areas where population growth slowed considerably for the first time in decades. Third, most nonmetro population growth was concentrated in just 154 counties that grew by 4 percent or more, adding close to 300,000 people. Workers attracted to the oil and gas boom caused rapid growth in the northern Great Plains, western and southern Texas, and southeastern New Mexico. However, recent production cutbacks in these regions slowed population growth in mining-dependent counties in the past year (2014-15). At the same time, modest population recovery can be seen in nonmetro counties adjacent to metropolitan areas (in the path of renewed suburbanization) and in scenic counties with recreation-based economies. This map is based on the ERS topic page on rural Population and Migration and the June 2016 Amber Waves finding, "Five Years of Population Loss in Rural and Small-Town America May Be Ending.
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Percent of residents receiving SNAP benefits in 2015 varied across States, reflecting differences in need and program policies  
Tuesday, June 28, 2016
USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) served an average of 45.8 million people per month in fiscal 2015. The percent of Americans participating in the program declined from 15.0 percent in 2013 to 14.2 percent in 2015, marking the second consecutive year of a decline in the percent of the population receiving SNAP. Between 2014 and 2015, 39 States and the District of Columbia saw a decrease in the percent of residents receiving SNAP benefits, while 11 States experienced no change or small increases. The percent of State populations receiving SNAP benefits ranged from a low of 5.6 in Wyoming to a high of 21.7 in New Mexico, reflecting differences in need and in program policies. Southeastern States have a particularly high share of residents receiving SNAP benefits, with participation rates of 16.4 to 21.3 percent. Maine had the largest decline from 2014 to 2015, with the percent of residents receiving SNAP decreasing from 17.3 to 15.2 percent. This chart appears in the ERS data product, Ag and Food Statistics: Charting the Essentials, updated June 3, 2016.
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India emerges as major beef exporter  
Monday, June 27, 2016
Since the late 2000s, India’s exports of beef—specifically water buffalo meat, also known as carabeef—have expanded rapidly, with India moving just ahead of Brazil to become the world’s largest exporter in 2014. India’s beef exports during the period have grown at an annual rate of about 12 percent, rising from an average volume of 0.31 million metric tons during 1999-2001 to an estimated 1.95 million during 2013-15. India’s robust export growth contributed to the expansion of world beef trade during this period and also increased the country’s share of the volume of shipments by major world beef exporters from just 5 percent during 1999-2001 to about 20 percent during 2013-15. The U.S. market share fluctuated during this period but declined from an average of 18 percent during 1999-2001 to 12 percent during 2013-15. This chart is from the ERS report, From Where the Buffalo Roam: India’s Beef Exports, released June 22, 2016.
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The cost of producing corn and soybeans varies across the three leading exporters  
Friday, June 24, 2016
The cost of producing agricultural commodities varies across countries and regions due to many factors, including the quality of resources, climatic conditions, and the cost and availability of necessary inputs. Differences in cost of production help to determine a country’s export competitiveness in global markets, with low-cost producers usually capturing a larger share of global exports. Corn and soybeans are among the most important agricultural commodities traded in global markets, and the United States, Brazil and Argentina are the leading exporters, accounting for a combined 88 percent of world soybean exports and 73 percent of world corn exports between 2008 and 2012. Based on data for 2010 and 5-year average yields, the cost of producing soybeans in Argentina average $8.81 per bushel, compared to $7.47 in Brazil and just over $8.00 in the United States. For corn, Brazil had the highest cost of production at $4.74 per bushel, compared to $3.93 for Argentina and $3.80 in the United States. This chart is from the ERS report, Corn and Soybean Production Costs and Export Competitiveness in Argentina, Brazil and the United States, released on June 22, 2016.
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Supermarket shrink varies by type of fresh fruit and vegetable  
Thursday, June 23, 2016
Food loss, or shrink as retailers call it, occurs when grocery retailers remove dented cans, misshaped produce items, overstocked holiday foods, and spoiled foods from their shelves. Estimates of supermarket shrink for fresh produce were developed by comparing data on pounds of shipments received with pounds purchased by consumers for 2,900 U.S. supermarkets in 2011-12. Average supermarket shrink was 12.6 percent for 24 fresh fruits and 11.6 percent for 31 fresh vegetables. For the fresh fruits, loss ranged from 4.1 percent for bananas to 43.1 percent for papayas. Pineapples and apricots had the second- and third-highest shrink rates for fresh fruits. The highest shrink in 2011-12 among the fresh vegetables was for turnip greens, followed by mustard greens, and escarole/endive. Leafy greens are more prone to moisture loss, and hence weight loss, than other types of produce. Uncertain or uneven demand for highly perishable produce items may also contribute to higher loss rates. The statistics in this chart are from the ERS report, Updated Supermarket Shrink Estimates for Fresh Foods and Their Implications for ERS Loss-Adjusted Food Availability Data, released on June 21, 2016.
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Organic producers reported economic losses from unintended presence of genetically engineered crops   
Wednesday, June 22, 2016
U.S. organic farmers, and conventional farmers who produce crops for non-GE (genetically engineered) markets, must meet the tolerance levels for accidental GE presence set by domestic and foreign buyers. If their crops test over the expected tolerance level, farmers may lose their organic price premiums and incur additional transportation and marketing costs to sell the crop in alternative markets. Although data limitations preclude estimates of the impact just on organic farmers who grow the 9 crops with a GE counterpart, the data do reveal that 1 percent of all U.S. certified organic farmers in 20 States reported that they experienced economic losses (amounting to $6.1 million, excluding expenses for preventative measures and testing) due to GE commingling during 2011-14. The share of all organic farmers who suffered economic losses was highest in Illinois, Nebraska, and Oklahoma, where 6-7 percent of organic farmers reported losses. These States have a high percentage of farmers that produce organic corn, soybeans, and other crops with GE counterparts. While California has more organic farms and acreage than any other State, most of California’s organic production is for fruits, vegetables and other specialty crops that lack a GE counterpart. This map is based on data found in the ERS report, Economic Issues in the Coexistence of Organic, Genetically Engineered (GE), and Non-GE Crops, February 2016.
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Corn production in Brazil is expanding  
Tuesday, June 21, 2016
Since 2000/01, corn production in Brazil has doubled, reaching a record 85 million metric tons in 2014/15, equivalent to 8.4 percent of global corn production. Corn is now Brazil’s second largest crop (after soybeans), accounting for 20 percent of planted area, and Brazil is the world’s second largest corn exporter, behind the United States. Due to a favorable climate and long growing season, double-cropping is possible in much of the country, and the majority of corn in Brazil is harvested as a second crop planted after soybeans. Technological advances in soil management and improvements in hybrid corn varieties have supported this expansion. The second-crop corn harvest largely serves the export market, putting it in direct competition with the timing of the U.S. corn harvest. This chart is from the ERS report, Brazil’s Corn Industry and the Effect on the Seasonal Pattern of U.S. Corn Exports, released on June 15, 2016.
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Most U.S. farm estates exempt from Federal estate tax in 2015  
Monday, June 20, 2016
The Federal estate tax applies to the transfer of property at death. Under present law, the estate of a decedent who, at death, owns assets in excess of the estate-tax exemption amount ($5.43 million in 2015) must file a Federal estate-tax return. However, only those returns that have a taxable estate above the exempt amount (after deductions for expenses, debts, and bequests to a surviving spouse or charity) are subject to tax at a graduated rate, up to a current maximum of 40 percent. Based on simulations using farm-level survey data from USDA’s 2014 Agricultural Resource Management Survey (ARMS), about 3 percent of farm estates would have been required to file an estate tax return in 2015, while 0.8 percent of all farm estates would have owed any Federal estate tax. This chart is based on the ERS topic page on Federal Estate Taxes.
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Incomes remained lower for the poorest rural families with children in 2014  
Friday, June 17, 2016
By 2014, average income (adjusted for inflation) for all U.S. families with children exceeded prerecession levels, and average income had almost completely recovered for all rural families with children as well. For the bottom 25 percent of rural families (when ranked by income), however, average income remained considerably below its prior peak. In 2003, the average income for families in this lowest income quartile was $17,200 (in 2014 dollars) and it fell by 6.0 percent between 2003 and 2007, despite the fact that the U.S. economy was growing. Not surprisingly, incomes for the bottom quartile fell by another 4.6 percent between 2007 and 2010, due to the Great Recession (December 2007-June 2009). When economic growth resumed, however, it did not immediately translate into growth for these low-income rural families: by 2012, their average income had fallen by another 10.1 percent. Average income for the bottom quartile rebounded somewhat between 2012 and 2014, but remained 13.4 percent below the 2003 level. This chart is based on the Amber Waves feature, “Understanding Trends in Rural Child Poverty, 2003-14.”
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U.S. milk production continues to grow  
Thursday, June 16, 2016
Milk production in the United States continues to grow, with year-over-year output increasing each month over the past few years. U.S. average daily milk production in April was 1.2 percent higher than the same period last year, following year-over-year gains of 1.8 percent in March, 1.0 percent in February and 0.2 percent in January. The increases reflect a combination of herd expansion and increasing production per cow.  Despite relatively low farm milk prices in recent months, low feed prices and favorable weather conditions have contributed to growth in milk production. At the same time, as dairy farms have grown larger, many have developed economies of scale that enable them to maintain profitability and in some cases even expand production in the face of lower margins. This chart is from the Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry Outlook: May 2016.
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U.S. direct government payments to farmers expected to rise in 2016  
Wednesday, June 15, 2016
“Direct” farm program payments are those paid directly from the U.S. Government to farmers and include fixed payments, crop price- and revenue-based payments, and other payments such as conservation payments and disaster relief. Direct farm program payments are forecast to rise by about 31 percent in 2016 to $13.9 billion. The forecast reflects changes made in the 2014 Farm Act that eliminated several programs and added new price- and revenue-based support programs in an environment of declining crop prices. The largest of these (in terms of payouts in 2015) were the Price Loss Coverage (PLC) and Agricultural Risk Coverage (ARC). Although these programs commenced in 2014, payments corresponding to 2014 crop production (based on average prices received over the 2014-2015 crop marketing year) were made in the latter part of 2015. PLC and ARC together are expected to account for over $9 billion in 2016—about 96 percent of all crop price- and revenue-based payments. The majority of ARC payments were paid to farms with a history of corn production, followed by wheat and soybeans. PLC payments were primarily made to farms with a history of long-grain rice, peanuts, and canola production. This chart is found in the ERS topic page on the 2016 Farm Sector Income Forecast.
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U.S. agricultural exports down, imports up, in 2016  
Tuesday, June 14, 2016
The value of U.S. agricultural exports is forecast at $124.5 billion for fiscal year (FY) 2016 (ending September 30), down $15.2 billion from FY 2015 and the second consecutive decline since a record $152.3 billion in agricultural exports was achieved in FY 2014. The declining export values over the past few years reflect a combination of lower commodity prices, a relatively weak global economy, and a strong U.S. dollar—which makes U.S. products more expensive in foreign currency terms. The value of imports, on the other hand, continues to grow and is forecast to reach a record $114.8 billion this year, up $800 million from FY 2015. With lower exports and higher imports, the FY 2016 agricultural trade balance is forecast to fall to $9.7 billion, down $16.0 billion from last year and the lowest since FY 2006. This chart is from the ERS report Outlook for U.S. Agricultural Trade: May 2016.
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Six foodborne pathogens rank high on per case costs and/or total economic burden  
Monday, June 13, 2016
Both the total economic burden of a disease and the severity of individual cases are important indicators of how serious the disease is. ERS estimates the aggregate economic burden of 15 major foodborne illnesses at over $15 billion per year. But these 15 illnesses—and the pathogens that cause them—have very different total and per case impacts. For example, Salmonella’s total annual economic burden ($3.7 billion) is over 10 times Vibrio vulnificus’s ($320 million). But the per case burden of Vibrio vulnificus ($3.3 million) is almost 1,000 times that of a Salmonella case ($3,568). High per case burdens are the result of severe health outcomes, such as birth defects, renal failure, and death. Total annual economic burden reflects per case costs and how many people are sickened by the pathogens each year. Toxoplasma gondii ranks second behind Salmonella in terms of total economic burden and has a per case cost of $38,114. Listeria ranks high on both a per case basis ($1.8 million) and a total annual burden basis ($2.8 billion). Like Salmonella, Norovirus and Campylobacter also stand out as having high total impacts, though relatively lower per case costs. The statistics for this table are from ERS’s Cost Estimates of Foodborne Illnesses data product, March 2016.
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Labor productivity is higher on larger U.S. dairy farms than on smaller farms  
Friday, June 10, 2016
Most labor on small U.S. dairy farms is provided by the operator and the opera­tor’s family, whereas large dairy farms, while usually still family-owned and operated, rely extensively on hired labor. Labor productivity—output of milk per hour of labor—is much higher on larger dairy farms, with the largest (farms with milking herds of at least 2,000 cows) realizing 10 hundredweight (cwt) per hour of labor, compared to 2-4 cwt per hour on farms with herds of 50-500 head. Large farms operate differently than small dairy farms, as their size allows them to apply practices and technologies that result in higher milk yields and labor productivity. For example, farms with at least 500 cows are much more likely to milk three times a day, while smaller farms typically milk twice a day. Thrice-daily milking raises per-cow milk yields, allows farms to offer more work and higher pay to their hired labor, and creates more intensive use of milking equipment. Greater labor productivity is one source of the cost advantages accruing to larger dairy operations. This chart is based on data found in the ERS report, Changing Structure, Financial Risks, and Government Policy for the U.S. Dairy Industry, March 2016.
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India is the world’s leading importer of soybean oil  
Thursday, June 09, 2016
India is the world’s largest importer of soybean oil, surpassing China in 2013/14 as China’s expanding crushing industry began to focus on importing raw soybeans for processing into meal and oil. China’s soybean oil imports are projected to grow modestly over the next 10 years to reach 1.4 million tons by 2025/26, while India’s imports could reach 3.9 million tons over the same period. India’s large population and rising incomes, combined with poor soybean yields and limited area for expanding production, increase its reliance on imports to meet domestic vegetable oil demand. Despite its history of high import tariffs on vegetable oils—40 percent for soybean oil and as high as 85 percent for other oils—India has long been a major importer of vegetable oil. In 2008, in response to high food prices, India slashed its soybean oil tariffs, further contributing to the projected rise in imports. Argentina is the world’s largest exporter of soybean oil and the primary supplier to both India and China. The United States is the world’s second largest exporter of soybean oil, accounting for about 10 percent of global soybean oil trade, with most of that oil destined to markets in the Western Hemisphere. This chart is from the May 2016 Amber Waves article, “Major Factors Affecting Global Soybean and Products Trade Projections.”
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U.S. honey consumption per person has risen in recent years  
Wednesday, June 08, 2016
While Americans’ per capita consumption of all caloric sweeteners has been falling for the last decade and a half, per capita honey consumption has been on an upward trend. In 2014, Americans consumed an average of 0.9 pound of honey per person, according to ERS’s Loss-Adjusted Food Availability data, up from 0.5 pound in 1990. Much of the increased honey consumption is imported honey. Honey imports in 2014 totaled 365.3 million pounds, up from an average of 104.4 million pounds per year in the early 1990s. Domestic net production of honey (domestic production minus exports and stocks), once at an average of 167.9 million pounds in the early 1990s, has fallen to an average of 106.7 million pounds in the last 7 years, despite short-term increases in 2010 and 2014. Weakening colony strength from multiple honey bee health challenges and changes in land use patterns are among the factors contributing to declining domestic honey production. The data for this chart come from the Loss-Adjusted Food Availability data series in ERS's Food Availability (Per Capita) Data System and the Sugar and Sweeteners Yearbook Tables.
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Racial/ethnic diversity in rural America is increasing  
Tuesday, June 07, 2016
Racial and ethnic minorities made up 21 percent of rural residents in 2014. Hispanics (who may be of any race) and Asians are the fastest growing minority groups in the United States as a whole and in rural areas. Over 2010-14, the rural Hispanic population increased 9.2 percent, and their share of the total rural population rose from 7.5 to 8.2 percent. Asians and Pacific Islanders represent a small share of the rural population—about 1 percent—but their population grew by 18 percent between 2010 and 2014, while rural Native American and Black populations grew at more modest rates. This is in contrast to the rural non-Hispanic White population, which declined by 1.7 percent between 2010 and 2014. Overall rural population loss (which was -0.2 percent for the period) would have been much higher if not for the growth in the rural racial and ethnic minority groups. Rural minorities tend to be younger on average and have larger families than non-Hispanic Whites, and this, along with net migration, is reflected in the varying growth rates. This chart updates one found in the ERS publication, An Illustrated Guide to Research Findings from USDA's Economic Research Service.
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More sites offered USDA’s Summer Food Service Program in 2015  
Monday, June 06, 2016
The Summer Food Service Program provides nutritious meals and snacks at no charge to children in low-income areas when their schools are not in session. Summer Food Service Program sites include schools, camps, parks, playgrounds, housing projects, community centers, churches, and other public sites where children gather in the summer. Sites are eligible to offer free USDA-funded meals and snacks if the sites operate in areas where at least half of the children come from families with incomes at or below 185 percent of the Federal poverty level or if more than half of the children the site serves meet this income criterion. The number of sites offering summer meals rose from 45,170 sites in 2014 to 47,585 in 2015. Participation on an average operating day in July dropped slightly from 2.7 million children in 2014 to 2.6 million in 2015. Many low-income children also obtain free meals while school is out through the Seamless Summer Option of the National School Lunch and Breakfast Programs. This chart is from the Child Nutrition Programs: Summer Food Service Program topic page on the ERS website, updated May 25, 2016.
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U.S. stocks of natural cheese are at the highest levels since 1984  
Friday, June 03, 2016
The volume of natural cheese held in cold storage in the United States has grown to 1.214 billion pounds as of the end of April 2016, the highest level since March 1984. However, unlike 1984, inventories today are almost exclusively privately held and reflect the needs of a growing market instead of the consequence of government policy. In the 1980s, the Milk Price Support Program was very active in purchasing large quantities of cheese to support dairy prices. The U.S. Government owned about 60 percent of cheese stocks, which it often distributed through food donation programs in the United States and abroad. In recent years, government purchases of dairy products fell to zero as market prices exceeded support prices, and the Milk Price Support Program was repealed by the 2014 Farm Act. At the same time, commercial cheese stocks have grown to help meet the growing demand for cheese. Total commercial use of cheese (which does not include government donations) grew from 4.6 billion pounds in 1984 to 11.9 billion pounds in 2015, due to population growth as well as increasing consumption per capita and higher exports. Commercial cheese stocks have been growing particularly fast in recent months, reflecting an increasing milk supply, relatively low export demand, and anticipation of further growth in the domestic market. This chart is based on the May 2016 Livestock, Dairy and Poultry Outlook report and the ERS Dairy Data product.
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Organic retail price premiums vary by food product  
Thursday, June 02, 2016
Organic foods are generally higher priced than their nonorganic counterparts. Price premiums for organic foods reflect both costs to produce and bring organic foods to consumers as well as consumers’ willingness to pay more for organic products. A recent ERS study estimated price premiums in grocery stores for 17 commonly purchased organic foods relative to their nonorganic counterparts from 2004 to 2010.  Eggs and milk had the highest premiums in 2010, at 82 and 72 percent, respectively. Organic eggs and dairy products have high production costs since the chickens and cows must be fed organic feed, have access to the outside, and be free of hormones and antibiotics. Organic fresh fruits and vegetables, generally recognized as the largest part of the organic market, had the widest spread of premiums in 2010—ranging from 7 percent for spinach to 60 percent for salad mix. Price premiums for organic processed foods ranged from 22 percent for granola to 54 percent for canned beans. This chart appears in the ERS report, Changes in Retail Organic Price Premiums from 2004 to 2010, released on May 24, 2016.
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World cotton consumption expected to exceed production for second consecutive year  
Wednesday, June 01, 2016
World cotton consumption is expected to grow modestly during the 2016/17 marketing year (August-July), reaching 110.8 million bales. That is similar to 2014/15 levels after dipping slightly in 2015/16. Modest growth in the global economy and relatively low cotton prices are expected to support mill use in most countries. China, India, and Pakistan are expected to lead world cotton mill use and account for a combined 62 percent of the total, similar to 2015/16. Global cotton production is forecast at 104.4 million bales in 2016/17, a modest increase following the 16-percent reduction in production in 2015/16—the result of inclement weather and pest damage in a number of producing countries. While cotton area is expected to decline, a rebound in yields would support the increase in production. With global cotton consumption forecast to exceed production for a second consecutive season, 2016/17 world ending stocks are projected to decline 6 percent from 2015/16, but at more than 96 million bales, ending stocks remain historically high and will continue to weigh on prices and production. This chart is from the May 2016 Cotton and Wool Outlook report.
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USDA conservation funding shifts from land retirement toward working land  
Tuesday, May 31, 2016
USDA relies mainly on voluntary programs providing financial and technical support to encourage farmers to conserve natural resources and protect the environment. In inflation adjusted terms, USDA conservation program expenditures increased by roughly 70 percent between 1996 and 2012. Much of the increases in real spending over this period occurred in working land programs and agricultural easements. Working land programs provide assistance to farmers who install or maintain conservation practices (such as nutrient management, conservation tillage, and the use of field-edge filter strips) on land in crop production and grazing. Agricultural easements provide long-term protection for agricultural land and wetlands. The Conservation Reserve Program—which pays farmers to remove environmentally sensitive land from production and encourages partial-field practices such as using grass waterways and riparian buffers—is still USDA’s largest conservation program, but has slowly ebbed in prominence. While real spending on USDA conservation programs rose under the 2002 Farm Act (2002-07) and the 2008 Farm Act (2008-13), the 2014 Farm Act reduced mandatory spending, and expenditures over 2014 and 2015 appear to be leveling off. This chart is found in the Ag and Food Statistics: Charting the Essentials data product on the ERS website.
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The number and share of veterans living in rural America is declining  
Friday, May 27, 2016
The number of veterans living in rural areas has been falling at an increasing rate, dropping from about 4.5 million in 2007 to 3.4 million in 2014, despite an influx of more than 100,000 post-9/11 veterans over the same period. This overall decline was largely due to natural decrease in the pre-Vietnam era population. The World War II rural veteran cohort alone declined by more than 400,000, with additional losses among all other service cohorts. Despite these declines, veterans continue to be overrepresented in rural America. In 2014, rural areas accounted for 17.5 percent of the total veteran population but only 14.7 percent of the U.S. civilian adult population. However, the rural share of the veteran population has been declining and is likely to decline further in the near future, as the newest veteran cohorts have overwhelmingly returned to urban areas and the current rural veteran population ages. Find county-level maps and data on the U.S. veteran population in ERS’s Atlas of Rural and Small-Town America.
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Food price inflation varies across U.S. metropolitan areas  
Thursday, May 26, 2016
U.S. metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs) experience different rates of inflation for food sold in supermarkets, supercenters, convenience stores, and other retailers. For example, from 2006 to 2015, retail food prices rose 34.4 percent in Pittsburgh but only 17.4 percent in Detroit. Several factors account for variations in food price inflation across MSAs. Changes to the costs associated with transporting food products to the grocery store can also vary geographically, and volatile fuel prices can contribute to variation in retail food price inflation across MSAs. Fluctuations in retail overhead costs, such as labor and rent, may also differ from one area to another. Increases in retail overhead costs are often passed onto consumers as higher prices. However, in MSAs with falling consumer incomes, grocers may not be able to pass on price increases to budget-constrained consumers, dampening food price inflation. This chart appears in “Retail Food Price Inflation Varies Geographically” in the May 2016 issue of ERS’s Amber Waves magazine.
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Beef prices declining as 2016 grilling season approaches  
Wednesday, May 25, 2016
Memorial Day is the traditional start to the summer grilling season, and beef is one of the most popular grilling items. Conditions in the livestock markets have changed considerably over the past year and suggest lower beef prices through the summer months. Historically heavy slaughter weights coupled with larger-than-anticipated cattle slaughter volumes in late April and early May have driven beef supplies higher and pushed wholesale beef prices lower. At the same time, soft demand for ground beef products and the popular beef “middle meat” grilling items—such as ribeye and sirloin steaks—ahead of the grilling season has kept prices under pressure. The Choice cutout value—a common indicator of wholesale prices for beef graded as Choice—for the week ending May 6 was $205.72 per hundredweight/cwt, down nearly $17 from the first week of April and almost $51 lower than the same time last year when supplies were much tighter. These lower wholesale prices should translate to lower foodstore prices, but the degree to which retailers feature beef in June and July will depend on demand as well as the market conditions for pork and chicken. This chart is based on the Livestock, Dairy and Poultry Outlook report, released May 16, 2016.
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Working-age Americans spend more time eating while doing something else than other age groups do  
Tuesday, May 24, 2016
Analyzing the time Americans spend in various activities, and, in particular, food-related activities, may provide some insight into why nutrition and health outcomes vary over time and across different segments of the population. According to the ERS-developed Eating and Health Module of the nationally representative American Time Use Survey, on an average day in 2014, Americans age 15 and older spent 64 minutes eating and drinking as a “primary” or main activity. They spent an additional 16 minutes in eating as a secondary activity, that is, while doing something else such as watching television, driving, preparing meals, or working. People age 65 and older spent considerably more time on average in primary eating and drinking—76 minutes—than those in the younger age groups. Those age 65 and older who were employed spent about the same amount of time in primary eating/drinking and in secondary eating as their peers who were not employed, indicating that there may be generational differences in eating patterns not driven by the amount of time available in retirement. Working-age individuals, ages 25-64, spent the most time in secondary eating in 2014. This chart is from ERS’ Eating and Health Module (ATUS) data product, updated May 16, 2016.
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Industry specialization varies across rural counties  
Monday, May 23, 2016
The ERS county economic typology codes are a classification system that provide a tool to analyze and characterize the economic dependence of U.S. counties. This typology reveals that rural (nonmetropolitan) counties have diverse industrial specializations. Where farming was once almost synonymous with rural, the predominance of farming as an industry in rural areas of the United States is now largely confined to the Plains States, and only 6 percent of the rural population in 2015 lived in the 391 rural farming-dependent counties. In contrast, although also declining in number, manufacturing predominated in the economies of a similar number of rural counties (351)—concentrated mainly east of the Mississippi but also including a scattering of counties further west—and these account for about 22 percent of the rural population. The 183 rural mining dependent counties accounted for 7 percent of rural population in 2015, and were the only economic type among rural counties to see strong population growth (1.6 percent) in 2010-15. 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.
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Rice accounts for a growing share of the Haitian diet  
Friday, May 20, 2016
Haiti is one of the poorest nations in the world, and rice is a critical component of the Haitian diet. In 1985, the supply of rice per capita in Haiti was estimated at only 13.1 kilograms per year, well below the 31 kilograms for corn and 94 kilograms for starchy roots, historically the largest component of Haiti’s food supply. In 1986, Haiti began to open its market to imported rice, and by 2011 per-capita rice availability grew to 48 kilograms. Rice imports also changed the character of the Haitian diet, with rice now accounting for almost one-quarter of total calorie consumption. Since 1985, per-capita food availability of all foods, in calories, increased by about 11 percent, mirroring the increase in rice and resulting in improved food security. Efforts are underway in Haiti to increase its domestic agricultural output, but even with significant productivity gains, Haiti is likely to continue to rely on imported rice for a large part of its food needs. This chart is from the February 2016 report, Haiti’s U.S. Rice Imports.
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A growing number of school meals are served at no charge to students  
Thursday, May 19, 2016
On a typical school day in fiscal 2015, 30 million children participated in USDA’s National School Lunch Program and 14 million in the School Breakfast Program. Children from families with incomes at or below 130 percent of Federal poverty guidelines are eligible for free meals, and those from families with incomes between 130 and 185 percent of poverty guidelines are eligible for reduced-price meals. Children from families with incomes over 185 percent of poverty guidelines pay full price, although their meals are subsidized to a small extent. Over twice as many meals were served in the National School Lunch Program (5 billion) as in the School Breakfast Program (2.3 billion) in FY 2015. About 80 percent of breakfasts were served free compared with 65 percent of lunches. Another 6 percent of breakfasts and 7 percent of lunches were served at a reduced price. The share of free meals served in both programs has increased since 2005. Increases in the poverty rate for children and the recent Community Eligibility Provision, which allows schools in areas with high poverty rates to offer breakfast and lunch at no charge to all students, may be among the factors that contributed to the increase in children receiving free school meals. The 2015 data for this chart are from the ERS report, The Food Assistance Landscape: FY 2015 Annual Report, March 2016.
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Rising income inequality drove most of the increase in child poverty between 2003 and 2014  
Wednesday, May 18, 2016
Between 2003 and 2014, the percent of children living in poverty as measured by ERS researchers increased by 3.4 percentage points in rural areas and 3.0 percentage points in urban areas. Changes in rural and urban average household income between these two dates were small, and had little effect on child poverty rates. Instead, most of the rise in child poverty was the result of an increase in income inequality, meaning that lower income families fared worse than average. In rural areas, 1.2 percentage points of increased child poverty could be attributed to changes in family characteristics and other demographic factors, including a decline in the share of children living in married-couple families, a slight decline in the number of working-age adults per family, and a slight rise in the number of children per family. The remaining increase—accounting for 1.9 percentage points in increased child poverty—reflects rising inequality within demographic categories. For urban children, family characteristics and other demographic factors had little net effect on child poverty. This chart is based on the ERS report, Understanding the Rise in Rural Child Poverty, 2003-2014, released May 16, 2016.
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Among U.S. Hispanic adults, those with Puerto Rican origins have highest food insecurity rates  
Tuesday, May 17, 2016
In 2014, 20.6 percent of U.S. Hispanic adults lived in food-insecure households compared to 11.8 percent of non-Hispanic adults. Food-insecure households have difficulty consistently obtaining adequate food for all household members because of limited economic resources for food. The percent of adults living in households with very low food security—a more severe level of food insecurity—was also higher for Hispanics: 7.0 percent compared to 5.2 percent for all U.S. non-Hispanic adults. Food insecurity rates varied among Hispanics of different origin (the individual’s place of birth or that of their parents or ancestors). Food insecurity in 2011-14 was least prevalent among Hispanic adults identifying as having Cuban origin (12.1 percent) and most prevalent among Hispanic adults identifying as Puerto Rican, followed by those with Mexican origins and other Central and South American origins. In 2011-14, 14.3 percent of Hispanic adults identifying as having Mexican origin reported very low food security, compared to 4.2 percent of Hispanic adults of Cuban descent. This chart appears in the ERS report, Food Security Among Hispanic Adults in the United States 2011-2014, released on May 11, 2016.
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China’s demand for imported soybeans expected to remain strong  
Monday, May 16, 2016
China is the world’s largest importer of soybeans. The country’s dominance as an importer reflects government policies that favor imports of soybeans over feed grains, coupled with dietary shifts toward more animal proteins, which creates a strong demand for soybean meal used for livestock feed rations. In 1995, China adopted a policy of 95 percent self-sufficiency for grains, and from 2008 to 2012 the country increased price supports for wheat, rice, and corn at higher rates than those for soybeans, making soybean production less attractive to farmers and resulting in an 18-percent decline in domestic production while soybean imports jumped 50 percent. China’s border policies also favor soybean imports. Import tariffs for soybeans are lower than those for soybean meal or oil, resulting in China’s oilseed-crushing industry becoming the largest in the world, and supplied mainly with imported soybeans. With China’s policies continuing to favor grain production over soybeans and its feed and livestock industries expected to continue growing, the country’s demand for imported soybeans is projected to remain strong over the next decade, increasing from 83 million tons in 2016/17 to 109.5 million tons in 2025/26. This chart is from the May 2016 Amber Waves article, “Major Factors Affecting Global Soybean and Products Trade Projections.”
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Soybeans dominate expansion of cropland in Argentina  
Friday, May 13, 2016
Land planted to soybeans in Argentina grew from fewer than 5 million hectares in 1992/93 (April-March) to 20 million hectares in 2015/16, while wheat and corn area has seen little or no growth over this period (1 hectare = 2.47 acres). Soybean meal is a major component of livestock feed, and growing demand for meat and livestock products worldwide has supported increased soybean production and trade. In Argentina, tax policies have played a role in soybean production as well. In 2002, the country imposed taxes on its agricultural exports as a way to generate government revenue. Argentina applies lower export taxes on soybean meal and oil than it does on raw soybeans, which stimulated the construction of large oilseed crushing facilities and, consequently, led to more soybean meal and oil exports. In 2008, the Government of Argentina increased export taxes and imposed a permitting system that further restricted exports of products such as corn, wheat, and beef. Soybean products face fewer obstacles in export markets and abundant opportunities to expand planted area through double cropping and adjusting crop-pasture rotations on marginal lands in the northwest part of Argentina. As a result, Argentina’s soybean area has expanded rapidly and is projected to reach over 22 million hectares by 2025/26. This chart is from the May 2016 Amber Waves article, “Major Factors Affecting Global Soybean and Products Trade Projections.
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Americans are consuming less caloric sweeteners, with children leading the way  
Thursday, May 12, 2016

A recent linking of ERS’s loss-adjusted food availability data with intake surveys from 1994-2008 reveals that American children are doing a better job of cutting down on sugary beverages and other sweetened foods than adults are. In 1994-98, children ages 2 to 19 consumed 94.0 pounds per person per year of caloric sweeteners compared with 81.4 pounds consumed by adults. Over the next decade, per-capita consumption of caloric sweeteners by children fell to 77.4 pounds per year, while adults’ consumption rose before returning to 1994-98 levels. Caloric sweeteners include cane and beet sugar, high fructose corn sweeteners, glucose, dextrose, honey, and edible syrups—common ingredients in sweetened beverages, baked goods, spaghetti sauces, ketchups, and a host of other processed foods. Over 1994-2008, consumption of sweeteners declined across all income and race/ethnicity groups, with Hispanics and other races/ethnicities consuming less caloric sweeteners than non-Hispanic Whites and non-Hispanic Blacks. The data for this chart and similar information on 62 other food commodities can be found in the ERS report, U.S. Food Commodity Consumption Broken Down by Demographics, 1994-2008, March 2016.
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Agriculture accounted for 10 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions in 2014  
Wednesday, May 11, 2016
Agriculture accounted for an estimated 10 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in 2014. In agriculture, crop and livestock activities are important sources of nitrous oxide and methane emissions, notably from fertilizer application, enteric fermentation (a normal digestive process in animals that produces methane), and manure storage and management. GHG emissions from agriculture have increased by approximately 10 percent since 1990. During this time period, total U.S. GHG emissions increased approximately 7 percent. This chart is from the Land and Natural Resources section of ERS’s Ag and Food Statistics: Charting the Essentials data product.
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The United States is the second largest supplier of beef to Japan  
Tuesday, May 10, 2016
With its large population and limited space for agricultural land, Japan has long been one of the world’s largest importers of food products, including beef. In 2014, Japan imported nearly $3.5 billion of beef and beef products, making it the third largest beef importer in the world. The primary suppliers of these imports are the United States and Australia, which together represented roughly 90 percent of Japan’s 2014 beef imports in terms of both quantity and value. Australia has the larger share, with 51.8 percent of the total quantity of beef and beef-offal prod­ucts imports and 46.8 percent of the value. The U.S. share of this market, at 38.2 percent of quantity and 43.6 percent of value in 2014, has steadily recovered since 2004-06, when Japan banned imports of most U.S. beef in response to the discovery of bovine spongiform encephalop­athy (BSE) in the United States. The Japan-Australia Economic Partnership Agreement (JAEPA), signed in 2014, significantly reduces tariffs on imports of Australian beef, potentially giving Australia a strong advantage in supplying this market. However, both Australia and the United States are a part of the recently concluded Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreements, which if ratified, could improve U.S. access to this valuable market and lead to higher exports of U.S. beef to Japan. This chart is from the January 2016 report, Tariff Reforms and the Competiveness of U.S. Beef in Japan.
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Swings in field crop prices have relatively small impacts on food prices  
Monday, May 09, 2016
U.S. commodity prices are much more volatile than restaurant and grocery-store prices, suggesting that fluctuations in prices of major field crops—corn, wheat, and soybeans—have a relatively small impact on food prices. From 1992 to 2015, the average farm price of these crops, weighted by total production, has fluctuated widely year to year—falling as much as 26.2 percent in 2013 and rising as much as 38 percent in 1995 and 2007. All-food price inflation, on the other hand, averaged 2.5 percent per year over the same time period. One reason for the relative stability in food prices, as compared to field crop prices, is that food prices reflect the costs of processing, marketing, and retailing the food products in addition to the cost of the commodity inputs. ERS's 2014 Food Dollar Series reports that the farmgate price of all food commodities (crops and livestock) was 14.5 cents of every consumer dollar spent on food and beverages. This chart appears in Ag and Food Statistics: Charting the Essentials on the ERS website, updated April 12, 2016.
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Number of farms with direct-to-consumer sales increases, sales plateau  
Friday, May 06, 2016
Data on direct-to-consumer (DTC) food sales were first collected in the 1978 Census of Agriculture, and DTC sales data have been collected in every agricultural census thereafter (except in 1987). In 1992, the number of DTC farms fell to the lowest level since information collection on DTC farms began; since that time, the number has slowly and steadily increased, peaking in 2012. The constant-dollar value of DTC sales increased as well, before declining slightly in 2012. Two factors may have contributed to the lack of growth in DTC sales over 2007-12. First, consumer demand for local food purchased through DTC outlets may have plateaued. Second, where local food systems have been thriving, farmers may have been able to direct more of their sales to “intermediated” outlets, such as local restaurants and retailers, institutions, and local aggregators. ERS research finds that the number of farms marketing through intermediated channels increased by 34 percent from 36,000 in 2008 to 48,300 in 2012 (not shown in graph). This chart updates one found in the ERS report, Direct and Intermediated Marketing of Local Foods in the United States, November 2011, and draws on information from Trends in U.S. Local and Regional Food Systems: A Report to Congress, January 2015.
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Nearly all U.S. ethanol is produced and sold in domestic markets  
Thursday, May 05, 2016
U.S. production of ethanol hit a record 14.8 billion gallons in 2015, and when combined with the carry-over stocks from the previous year and 2015 imports, the total ethanol supply reached an all-time high of 15.7 billion gallons. Nearly all ethanol blended into the U.S. gasoline supply is produced domestically, and, over the past five years, about 94 percent of domestic production was used in the United States. Ethanol imports peaked in 2006 at 731 million gallons (equal to 12 percent of the U.S. supply), but each year since 2010 exports have exceeded imports, making the United States a net exporter of ethanol. The domestic market for ethanol is at full capacity due to the technical and regulatory constraints that limit most of the U.S. gasoline supply to a 10 percent maximum ethanol blend, so the export market is now the primary opportunity for growth. Ethanol exports peaked in 2011 at nearly 1.2 billion gallons, but have remained below 850 million gallons for the past four years. This chart is based on the ERS U.S. Bioenergy Statistics data product.
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Avocado imports grow to meet increasing U.S. demand  
Wednesday, May 04, 2016
U.S. consumption of avocados has doubled in the past 10 years and is now nearly four times higher than in the mid-1990s. All of the growth in per-capita availability is from imports: U.S. net production (production minus imports) accounted for more than 80 percent of domestic sales during the 1990s, but has averaged less than 20 percent over the past 4 years. California accounts for more than 85 percent of U.S. avocado production. U.S. avocado imports come primarily from Mexico, and the United States is its largest market, accounting for more than 75 percent of Mexico’s annual export volume. Increased planted acreage in and outside Michoacan, Mexico’s major avocado-producing State, suggests production will continue to expand in the coming years as the country attempts to meet the growing demand for avocados in the U.S. market and globally. This chart is from the March 2016 Fruit and Tree Nuts Outlook report.
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Three-quarters of WIC benefits are redeemed in large stores  
Tuesday, May 03, 2016
In fiscal 2015, expenditures for USDA’s Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) totaled $6.2 billion, making it USDA’s third largest food and nutrition assistance program. WIC benefits are distributed as paper vouchers or electronic benefits cards for specified quantities of specific foods designed to meet the nutrition needs of low-income pregnant, breastfeeding, and postpartum women, infants, and children up to age 5. The program reimburses stores for the retail price of the foods purchased with the WIC benefits. If WIC participants chose to redeem their benefits at stores with higher prices, program costs would increase. A recent ERS report finds that, despite the fact that WIC benefits are not structured to encourage participants to consider price when they acquire their WIC foods, 76 percent of WIC retail redemptions in fiscal 2012 were at large lower price stores, such as supermarkets, supercenters, and large grocery stores. Another 9 percent of benefits were redeemed at WIC-only and A-50 stores (those that derive more than 50 percent of annual food-sales revenue from WIC redemptions). This chart appears in the ERS report, Where Do WIC Participants Redeem Their Food Benefits? An Analysis of WIC Food Dollar Redemption Patterns by Store Type, released on April 28, 2016.
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U.S. corn and soybean farmers use a wide variety of glyphosate resistance management practices  
Monday, May 02, 2016
For weed control, U.S. corn and soybean farmers rely on chemical herbicides which were applied to more than 95 percent of U.S. corn acres in 2010 and soybean acres in 2012. Over the course of the last two decades, U.S. corn and soybean farmers have increased their use of glyphosate (the active ingredient in herbicide products such as Roundup) and decreased their use of herbicide products containing other active ingredients. This shift contributed to the development of over 14 glyphosate-resistant weed species in U.S. crop production areas. Glyphosate resistance management practices (RMPs) include herbicide rotation, tillage, scouting for weeds, and other forms of weed control. In some cases, ERS found that usage rates for RMPs increased from 1996 to 2012. In other cases, RMP use dropped from 1996 to 2005/06 but increased as information about glyphosate-resistant weeds spread. For example, herbicides other than glyphosate were applied on 93 percent of planted soybean acres in 1996, 29 percent in 2006, and then 56 percent in 2012. This chart is found in the April 2016 Amber Waves finding, “U.S. Corn and Soybean Farmers Apply a Wide Variety of Glyphosate Resistance Management Practices.”
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Global cotton stockpiles beginning to decline  
Friday, April 29, 2016
Global ending stocks of cotton are forecast to decline in the 2015/16 marketing year (August-July), down about 9 percent from last year’s record of nearly 112 million bales. Cotton stocks rose dramatically between 2010/11 and 2014/15 as relatively high prices encouraged world production and discouraged consumption. Despite this season’s anticipated decrease, ending stocks remain double the 2010/11 level. The recent global stocks buildup resulted from policies in China that insulated Chinese cotton producers from declining world prices and, at the same time, also encouraged imports. More recent policy shifts in China have discouraged production and imports in that country, beginning the process of reducing the surplus of Government-held stocks. In 2015/16, China’s stocks are expected to decrease for the first time since 2010/11. However, with stock reductions also expected in the rest of the world, China’s share of global stocks remains above 60 percent. This chart is from the April 2016 Cotton and Wool Outlook report.
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First period of decline in U.S. rural population may be ending  
Thursday, April 28, 2016
The total number of people living in rural (nonmetropolitan) counties remained essentially unchanged between July 2014 and July 2015, after 4 years of modest population losses. The 2014-15 improvement in rural population change coincides with an improvement in rural employment growth and suggests that this first-ever period of overall population decline (from 2010 to 2015) may be ending. Rural population change is the result of two components: net migration (the difference between the number of people moving into and out of rural counties) and natural increase (the difference between the number of births and deaths). Both components have contributed to the loss in rural population since 2010. A sharp, cyclical downturn in net migration, beginning with the housing market collapse in 2007, appears to have bottomed out in 2012. The Great Recession (December 2007-June 2009) also contributed to a downturn in natural increase, as fewer births occur during times of economic uncertainty. Falling birth rates and an aging population have steadily reduced population growth from natural increase in rural counties over time, increasing the chances of overall rural population decline in the future. This chart appears in ERS’s Ag and Food Statistics: Charting the Essentials data product, updated March 24, 2016.
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After falling in the late 1990s and early 2000s, supermarkets’ share of at-home food spending has stabilized  
Wednesday, April 27, 2016
Americans spent $1.46 trillion on food in 2014. Of this total, 49.9 percent was spent in supermarkets, supercenters, farmers’ markets, convenience stores, and other retailers. The relative importance of the various outlets comprising the U.S. at-home-food market has shifted somewhat during the last 25 years. Supermarkets had a 64.9-percent share of at-home spending in 2014, down from a peak of 76.3 percent in 1993. In 1990, food expenditures in convenience stores were higher than those for warehouse club stores and supercenters. By 1993, the reverse was true; and by 2014, warehouse club stores and supercenters accounted for 16.8 percent of at-home spending. The combined share of direct purchases from food processors and farmers grew from 7.4 percent in 1990 to 9.4 percent in 2000, and their share has averaged 8.4 percent over the last decade. Other stores—for example, discount dollar stores and drug stores—accounted for 4.9 percent of the at-home-food market in 2014. This chart appears in “After a Sharp Rise Between 1990 and 2005, Supercenters’ Share of At-Home-Food Spending Has Leveled Off” in the April 2016 issue of ERS’s Amber Waves magazine.
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Share of highly leveraged farm businesses on an upward trend since 2012  
Tuesday, April 26, 2016
Farm businesses—those farms with at least $350,000 in annual sales or farms with lower revenues where the operator’s primary occupation is farming—account for more than 90 percent of U.S. farm sector production, and hold 71 percent of all farm assets and 80 percent of farm debt, according to USDA’s 2014 Agricultural Resource Management Survey (ARMS). Debt-to-asset (D/A) ratios measure the amount of assets that are financed by debt, and are an indicator of the level of a farm’s solvency. The share of farm businesses that are highly leveraged (defined as having debt-to-asset ratios greater than .40) has trended upward since 2012 and is forecast to increase slightly in both 2015 and 2016. Farm businesses specializing in crops are forecast to have higher shares of both highly and very highly leveraged operations (with over .70 D/A ratios) than those specializing in animals/animal products. In 2016, the share of very highly leveraged crop farms is expected to reach the highest level since 2002. Because lending institutions consider D/A (along with other measures reflecting the chance of default) to assess credit worthiness of farms, some of these highly and very highly leveraged farm businesses may have difficulty securing a loan. This chart updates one found in the ERS report, Debt Use by U.S. Farm Businesses, 1992-2011, April 2014.
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Food use of grain in Sub-Saharan Africa is down this year  
Monday, April 25, 2016
Across Sub-Saharan Africa, coarse grains, including corn, sorghum and millet, are a prominent part of the diet and are supplied mostly from domestic production. Wheat and rice play a smaller role and a significant portion of those grains are imported. In 2015/16, weather was influenced by a strong El Nino in the Pacific, and rainfall patterns shifted, leaving several major Sub-Saharan production areas in drought. Coarse grain production in the region in 2015/16 is estimated to be down about 14 percent from the previous year’s record output. Production was sharply reduced, especially in the populous countries of South Africa, Ethiopia, and Sudan. Wealthier countries such as South Africa can offset much of the production drop through reduced exports, increased imports, and drawing on stocks held over from the previous harvest. Ethiopia is expected to boost imports, especially wheat. The sharp drop in production in Sudan could be mostly reflected in reduced food consumption. This chart is from the April 2016 Feed Outlook report.
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Major crop producers apply most nitrogen fertilizer in the spring and after planting  
Friday, April 22, 2016
Efficient nitrogen fertilizer applications closely coincide with plant needs to reduce the likelihood that nutrients are lost to the environment before they can be taken up by the crop. Fall nitrogen application occurs during the fall months before the crop is planted, spring application occurs in the spring months (before planting for spring-planted crops), and after-planting application occurs while the crop is growing. The most appropriate timing of nitrogen applications depends on the nutrient needs of the crop being grown. In general, applying nitrogen in the fall for a spring-planted crop leaves nitrogen vulnerable to runoff over a long period of time. Applying nitrogen after the crop is already growing, when nitrogen needs are highest, generally minimizes vulnerability to runoff and leaching. Cotton farmers applied a majority of nitrogen—59 percent—after planting. Winter wheat producers applied 45 percent of nitrogen after planting. Corn farmers applied 22 percent of nitrogen after planting, while spring wheat farmers applied 5 percent after planting. Farmers applied a significant share of nitrogen in the fall for corn (20 percent) and spring wheat (21 percent). Fall nitrogen application is high for winter wheat because it is planted in the fall. This chart is found in the ERS report, Conservation-Practice Adoption Rates Vary Widely by Crop and Region, December 2015.
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Three post-farm industry groups account for about 61 cents of the U.S. food dollar  
Thursday, April 21, 2016
In 2014, total food-away-from-home expenditures of U.S. consumers, businesses, and government entities surpassed at-home food sales for the first time. This outcome is reflected in the 32.7-cent foodservices share of the U.S. food dollar claimed by restaurants and other eating-out places—its highest level during 1993 to 2014. It is also reflected in the 12.9-cent retail-trade share claimed by grocery stores and other food retailers, which is at its lowest level since 2002. ERS uses input-output analysis to calculate the value added, or cost contributions, from 12 industry groups in the food supply chain. Annual shifts in food dollar shares between industry groups occur for a variety of reasons, ranging from the mix of foods that consumers purchase to relative input costs. A growing share of the food dollar has gone to farm producers, up 1.7 cents since 2009 to 10.4 cents in 2014, while food processing’s share is down 2.1 cents since 2009. This chart is available for years 1993 to 2014 and can be found in ERS’s Food Dollar Series data product, updated on March 30, 2016.
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U.S. per-capita availability of romaine and leaf lettuce has almost doubled over the last 16 years  
Wednesday, April 20, 2016
In 2013, 29.6 pounds per person of lettuce and fresh greens were available for domestic consumption, according to ERS’s Food Availability Data. Per-capita availability of lettuce and fresh greens declined by 22 percent from its high of 37.9 pounds per person in 2004. Much of the decrease is due to declining consumption of head lettuce. Head lettuce (iceberg) availability, at 14.1 pounds per person in 2013, has fallen by 41 percent from 24 pounds in 1997. At the same time, romaine and leaf lettuce availability has almost doubled, rising from 6.6 pounds per person in 1997 to 11.4 pounds in 2013. The growing popularity of prepackaged, ready-to-eat salad greens contributed to the rise in availability of romaine and leaf lettuce. Availability of other fresh greens (collard greens, escarole and endive, kale, mustard greens, and turnip greens) came in at 2.5 pounds per person in 2013, while fresh spinach availability was 1.6 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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Herd size plays significant role in U.S. dairy farm profitability  
Tuesday, April 19, 2016
While some small U.S. dairy farms earn profits and some large farms incur losses, financial performance in the dairy sector, on average, is linked to herd size. Data from 2010 (the latest available for dairy farms by herd size) show that a majority of dairy farms with milking herds of at least 1,000 cows generate gross returns that exceed total costs, while most small and mid-size dairy farms do not earn enough to cover total costs. Total costs include annualized capital recovery as well as the cost of unpaid family labor (measured as what the farm family could earn off the farm), in addition to cash operating expenses. Many more small and mid-sized farms are able to cover total costs, except for costs associated with capital recovery. Farms can operate in this way for years, covering operating expenses and providing a reasonable income for a farm family, until the expense of maintaining aging equipment and structures begins to erode the incomes that a family can earn from the farm. At that point, many families may decide to close the farm. Some—particularly those where a younger generation intends to continue the business—may seek financing to expand the dairy herd and realize lower costs through scale economies. This chart is found in the ERS report, Changing Structure, Financial Risks, and Government Policy for the U.S. Dairy Industry, March 2016.
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U.S. consumption of fresh blueberries is growing  
Monday, April 18, 2016
Demand for fresh blueberries in the United States has shown strong growth over the past decade, with consumption per capita more than tripling since 2005, to exceed 1.5 pounds per person. This demand has been met with supplies from both domestic and imported sources, with net U.S. production (production minus export) up by 223 percent and imports up by nearly 370 percent since the average from 2003 to 2005. Most blueberry imports are off-season supplies from the Southern Hemisphere that do not compete directly with U.S. production. Imports from Chile typically start in the fall and peak during January and February. Imports from Argentina, Uruguay and Peru follow a similar pattern but with much smaller volumes. Domestic supplies from Florida typically begin to come onto the market in March, with production moving northward and peaking during the summer months. Imports from Canada coincide with the summer U.S. harvest. This year, cold weather is delaying the harvest in both Florida and Georgia, causing tight early-season supplies. This chart is from the March 2016 Fruit and Tree Nuts Outlook report.
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Milk-cow numbers turn higher and output per cow continues to grow  
Friday, April 15, 2016
The number of milk cows in the United States was up slightly in 2015, reaching 9.3 million, about equal to the number in 2008. The size of the U.S. dairy herd reached an historic low of just over 9 million cows in 2004, following a long-term decline of more than 2 million head since 1983. Over the past decade, the herd size has grown slightly, by an average of 0.3 percent per year. Improving technology and genetics have allowed milk output per cow to rise steadily, increasing by 88 percent since 1980 and reaching a record-high annual average of 22,393 pounds of milk per cow in 2015. The result has been strong growth in U.S. milk production over the period, which corresponds to growing domestic and international markets for dairy products—particularly for cheese and various dairy-based food ingredients. This chart is based on the ERS Dairy Data product.
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Taxable U.S. net income from farming remained negative in 2013  
Thursday, April 14, 2016
U.S. farm households generally receive income from both farm and off-farm activities, and for many, off-farm income largely determines the household’s income-tax liability. Since 1980, farm sole proprietors, in aggregate, have reported negative net farm income for tax purposes. From 1998 to 2008, both the share of farm sole proprietors reporting losses and the total amount of losses reported generally increased, due in part to deduction allowances for capital expenses. Since 2007, strong commodity prices bolstered farm-sector profits and the net losses from farming declined, leading to a peak in taxable profits (though still a negative taxable amount on net) in 2012. In 2013, the latest year for which complete tax data are available, U.S. Internal Revenue Service data showed that nearly 68 percent of farm sole proprietors reported a farm loss, totaling $25 billion. The remaining farms reported profits totaling $17 billion. This chart is found on the ERS Federal Tax Issues topic page, updated April 2016.
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Peanut and tree nut consumption rises with income  
Wednesday, April 13, 2016

A recent linking of ERS’s loss-adjusted food availability data with intake surveys from 1994-2008 reveals that consumers with incomes above 185 percent of the Federal poverty ($21,200 for a family of four in 2008) consistently consumed greater quantities of nuts than consumers with lower incomes, and the gap was higher in more recent years. Nut allergies and consumers’ perceptions about the cost of peanuts and tree nuts may play a role in consumption patterns. In 2007-08, higher income Americans ate 6.7 pounds of peanuts per person per year and 3.7 pounds of tree nuts, compared with the 4.5 pounds of peanuts and 1.4 pounds of tree nuts consumed by lower income consumers. Children consumed more peanuts per person than adults during 1994-98, but since then, adults have consumed more peanuts than children. Adults ate more tree nuts than children did in all survey years, and non-Hispanic Whites consumed more peanuts and tree nuts than non-Hispanic Blacks and Hispanics. This chart and similar information on 60 other food commodities can be found in the ERS report, U.S. Food Commodity Consumption Broken Down by Demographics, 1994-2008, released on March 30, 2016.
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Land in active crop production dips in 2015  
Tuesday, April 12, 2016
The ERS Major Land Uses (MLU) data series provides a snapshot of land use across the United States. While much of the MLU series is updated roughly every 5 years, cropland used for crops, the category representing the acres of land in active crop production, is updated on an annual basis. Cropland used for crops has three main components: cropland harvested (including acreage double-cropped), crop failure, and cultivated summer fallow. In 2015 (the most recent estimate), the total area of cropland used for crops in the United States was 335 million acres, down 6 million acres from the 2014 estimate and about 5 percent below the 30-year average. In 2015, cropland harvested declined by 1 percent (3 million acres) over the previous year. The area that was double-cropped—land from which two or more crops were harvested—declined by 1 million acres, a 13-percent decline from the 2014 double-cropped area of 8 million acres. Acres on which crops failed declined by 30 percent over the past year to 7 million acres, the lowest level since 2010. This chart is based on ERS’s Major Land Uses, summary table 3: Cropland used for crops, updated March 25, 2016.
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Retail price forecasts for 2016 vary by food category  
Monday, April 11, 2016
Grocery store food prices are forecast to rise between 1.5 and 2.5 percent in 2016, exceeding the 2015 increase of 1.2 percent, with some variation across food categories. Egg prices are expected to fall between 0.5 and 1.5 percent as the egg industry recovers from the highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) outbreak, which reduced the supply of eggs in the U.S. market and drove retail egg prices up by 17.8 percent in 2015. Retail beef and veal prices will also likely decline in 2016, dropping up to 1 percent below 2015 levels. Like eggs, beef, and veal prices experienced higher than average inflation in 2015, but as producers expand their herds, more cattle will be ready for market in 2016. On the other hand, prices for pork and dairy products, which experienced deflation in 2015, are expected to increase up to 1 percent, and 2 to 3 percent, respectively. As the drought continues throughout much of California, ERS forecasts prices for fresh fruits and vegetables to rise between 2.5 and 3.5 percent. More information on ERS’s food price forecasts can be found in ERS’s Food Price Outlook data product, updated March 25, 2016.
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U.S. meat and poultry exports are projected to rise  
Friday, April 08, 2016
A strengthening U.S. dollar coupled with poultry trade restrictions related to highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) led to a reduction in U.S. meat and poultry exports in 2015. However, U.S. red meat and poultry exports are expected to rise over the next decade as steady global economic growth supports demand for high-quality animal proteins. Poultry is the largest U.S. meat export category, and broiler export growth is expected to resume over the next decade with strong near-term gains reflecting a rebound from HPAI-related import restrictions. China and Mexico are major US broiler export markets. U.S. pork exports are projected to continue rising, with Pacific Rim nations and Mexico among the key growth markets. U.S. beef exports are projected to grow as well, consisting mostly of high-quality, grain-fed beef shipped to Mexico, Canada, and Pacific Rim nations. This chart is from the interagency USDA report, USDA Agricultural Projections to 2025.
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Farms selling directly to consumers saw smaller increases in sales than other farms between 2007 and 2012  
Thursday, April 07, 2016
Between 2007 and 2012, farms using direct-to-consumer (DTC) marketing had smaller growth in nominal gross sales (13.5 percent), on average, than farms using traditional marketing channels (19.3 percent). In addition, gross sales on farms using DTC marketing grew more slowly in each size class (as measured by 2007 sales). The slower growth for farms with DTC sales may stem from several factors. The 2012 Census of Agriculture shows farms using DTC marketing employ substantially more labor across all sales categories than farms without direct sales. Therefore, farms with DTC sales may need to hire additional workers at a lower scale of production, and the associated transaction costs may provide an obstacle to growth. Off-farm income opportunity may also play a role, as farms with DTC sales are more likely to have total household incomes both less than $50,000, and less than $20,000. The lower total household income for farms with DTC sales may reflect fewer off-farm income opportunities, leading these farms to continue farming even if they have less ability to expand production. This chart is found in the March 2016 Amber Waves feature, “Local Foods and Farm Business Survival and Growth.”
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Just over two-thirds of WIC participants in 2014 had incomes below poverty  
Wednesday, April 06, 2016
USDA’s Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) provides supplemental food, nutrition education, and health referrals to low-income, nutritionally at-risk pregnant, breastfeeding and postpartum women, infants, and children younger than 5. In fiscal 2015, an average of about 8 million people per month participated in the program. Income eligibility for USDA’s WIC program is capped at 185 percent of the Federal poverty level. Among those participating in WIC in April 2014, 67.4 percent had incomes at or below poverty continuing the trend of increasing share of WIC participants with incomes at or below poverty which began in 2000. Slightly more than 1 percent of those participating in WIC in April 2014 had incomes greater than 185 percent of the Federal poverty level—similar to the shares since 2004. These individuals likely represent applicants who, because of their participation in Medicaid, automatically met income eligibility for WIC. In some States, the Medicaid income cutoff is higher than 185 percent of the Federal poverty level. This chart appears in the WIC Program topic page on the ERS website, updated March 16, 2016.
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China dominates world apple production  
Tuesday, April 05, 2016

Apples are produced commercially in more than 90 countries worldwide, with annual combined global production of about 80 million metric tons. China is the world’s largest producer, accounting for nearly half of the global output and producing nearly 10 times the volume of the United States, which produces the world’s second largest apple crop. China’s large production volume is supported by the country’s vast production area. However, U.S. yields are nearly double the average achieved in China. Area expansion in China has slowed over the past decade but per-hectare yields have improved, aiding the country’s production to continue to climb. This chart is from the Fruit and Tree Nut Outlook, March 2016.
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Verified non-genetically engineered products see steady increase since 2010  
Monday, April 04, 2016
Genetically engineered (GE) crops are now widely used to produce breakfast cereals, corn chips, soy protein bars, and other processed foods and food ingredients, and a market for foods produced without crops grown from GE seed has emerged. The Non-GMO Project is a private group that provides verification services for products made according to best practices for genetically modified organism (GMO) avoidance. In 2014, the Non-GMO Project Verified label appeared on nearly 12,500 products with unique universal product codes (UPC), up from fewer than 1,000 in 2010. Many of the food products verified under this protocol, and bearing the Non-GMO Project Verified butterfly logo, are not at risk of GE contamination: that is, they do not contain corn, soybeans, or other crops for which GE varieties are available. Also, over half of the products verified under this protocol are certified organic under USDA’s organic regulations, which already prohibit the use of genetic engineering in organic production and processing. Non-GMO Project Verified labeling currently accounts for most of the conventionally grown U.S. products that are non-GE verified. This chart appears in the ERS report, Economic Issues in the Coexistence of Organic, Genetically Engineered (GE), and Non-GE Crops, February 2016.
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U.S. rice production declined 13 percent in 2015  
Friday, April 01, 2016
U.S. rice production declined 13 percent in 2015/16 (August-July) to 192.3 million hundredweight (cwt), down 29.9 cwt from a year earlier. The decline in production was the result of both smaller plantings and a lower average yield. At 2.614 million acres, 2015/16 rice plantings were 11.5 percent below a year earlier, primarily reflecting weather-related problems that included excessive rain in the Mississippi Delta early in the growing season and long-term drought in California and Texas. The U.S. average yield of 7,470 pounds per acre was 1.4 percent below a year earlier, largely due to the adverse weather in much of the South that delayed plantings and interfered with field operations during the growing season. Despite the sharp decline in the 2015 crop, U.S. supplies are projected to contract by only 5 percent due to the substantial quantity of rice that was carried over from the previous year, when production reached the fourth highest level on record due to strong prices and normal weather in the South that boosted acreage. This chart is from the Rice Outlook, March 2016.
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Adulteration violations continue to cause the most refusals of FDA-inspected food imports  
Thursday, March 31, 2016
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is responsible for overseeing the safety of most food sold in the United States, including food imported from other countries. A recent ERS study examined patterns in FDA import refusals over 2005-13 and compared results with an earlier study of data from 1998-2004. In both time periods, the majority of violations were for adulteration—problems relating to poisonous ingredients, disease-causing bacteria and viruses (pathogens), unsafe color additives, pesticide residues, or filth (visually apparent non-food material). Two product groups—fishery/seafood products and spices/flavors/salts—were responsible for the majority of violations for Salmonella bacteria. Chemical adulteration, including pesticide residues, accounted for a slightly larger share of import refusals in 2005-13. Chemical adulteration is a common type of adulteration violation in fresh produce and fruit and vegetable products. Misbranding violations for false, misleading, or missing labels accounted for 41 percent of violations in 2005-13, up from 33 percent in 1998-2004. The data for this chart come from the ERS report, FDA Refusals of Imported Food Products by Country and Category, 2005–2013, released on March 28, 2016.
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Rural women, especially young women, are more likely than rural men to have college degrees  
Wednesday, March 30, 2016
The education of workers is closely linked with economic success. Workers with educations beyond high school degrees are more likely to be employed and earning higher wages than workers with high school degrees or less education. Educational attainment of both men and women in rural areas has grown over time, and rural women are more likely to have some college experience or hold associate or bachelor’s degrees than rural men. For example, the most recent (2014) American Community Survey shows that 63 percent of rural young women (age 25-34) had schooling beyond a high school diploma, compared with less than half (47 percent) of rural young  men; nearly a quarter of rural young women held a bachelor’s degree or higher. The gender-education gap beyond a high school diploma for rural young adults has widened, from 11 percentage points in 2000 to 16 percentage points in 2014. This gap is more pronounced in rural areas than in the nation as a whole. This chart is based on the ERS Rural Employment & Education topic page.
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Manmade fibers account for a growing share of textile imports  
Tuesday, March 29, 2016
U.S. net imports of textile and apparel fiber products increased for a third consecutive calendar year in 2015 to the highest on record, reaching 15.7 billion pounds (raw fiber equivalent), compared with 14.5 billion pounds in 2014. U.S. net imports consist mostly of cotton and manmade fiber products, as demand for linen, wool, and silk products remains relatively small. With manmade fiber imports expanding steadily in recent years, cotton’s share has declined consistently. In 2015, cotton textile and apparel products accounted for 44 percent of the total imports, while manmade fibers contributed nearly 49 percent. By comparison, in 2007, cotton accounted for 56 percent of all textile and apparel imports, while the share of manmade fibers was 37 percent.  This chart is from the Cotton and Wool Outlook, March 2016.
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When it comes to fruits and vegetables, fresh is not always cheaper than canned or frozen  
Monday, March 28, 2016
Fruits and vegetables can be purchased in fresh, canned, dried, and juiced forms. Oftentimes, different forms of the same fruit or vegetable are interchangeable. For example, when cooking some types of stew, fresh or frozen carrots may be used. However, which is less expensive, fresh or processed? ERS researchers estimated average prices paid in 2013 for 24 fresh fruits, 40 fresh vegetables, and 92 processed fruits and vegetables, measured in cup equivalents. A cup equivalent is the edible portion that will generally fit in a standard 1-cup measuring cup; for lettuce and other raw leafy vegetables, a cup equivalent is 2 cups, and for raisins and other dried fruits, one-half cup. Neither fresh nor processed products turned out to be consistently less expensive. Fresh carrots eaten raw are less expensive to consume than canned carrots and frozen carrots. Fresh apples are similarly cheaper than applesauce. However, canned corn and frozen raspberries are less costly than fresh corn and fresh raspberries, respectively. Relative retail prices may reflect the different prices received by growers, as well as differences in processing, handling, and spoilage costs, which vary by form and product. This chart appears in “Fruit and Vegetable Recommendations Can Be Met for $2.10 to $2.60 per Day” in ERS’s Amber Waves magazine, March 2016.
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Service industries account for the largest share of rural and urban employment  
Friday, March 25, 2016
Overall employment in rural (nonmetropolitan) areas accounts for between 13 and 14 percent of all U.S. employment. However, the distribution of employment across industries differs between rural and urban areas. Service industries account for the largest share of employment in both rural and urban areas but are more heavily represented in urban areas, where they account for close to three-fifths of all employment. Within the service sector, jobs in finance, real estate, administration, and professional/scientific/technical services were particularly concentrated in urban areas.  Rural areas account for 72 percent of the Nation’s land area, and employment in primary extractive industries that depend largely on the distribution of land and natural resources is greater in rural than in urban areas. Nonetheless, these industries—farming and forestry/fishing/mining—accounted for just 10 percent of total rural employment in 2014. Manufacturing employment is also a bigger part of the employment mix in rural areas, largely reflecting past migration of manufacturing activities to lower wage and lower cost locations. Government employment was marginally more common in rural than in urban areas (16 versus 13 percent). This chart is found in the ERS topic page on Rural Employment and Unemployment.
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Buyer concentration grows in U.S. cattle markets  
Thursday, March 24, 2016
Concentration levels in many U.S. agricultural markets have risen in recent decades, resulting in fewer buyers accounting for a growing share of purchases of agricultural commodities. This is particularly true for livestock markets. The four largest packers now account for nearly 70 percent of the value of all livestock purchased for slaughter, compared to 26 percent in 1980. For fed cattle, the concentration level is even higher, as the share of the top four firms increased from 36 percent to 85 percent between 1980 and 2012. This chart is from the ERS report, Thinning Markets in U.S. Agriculture: What are the Implications for Producers and Processors?
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Participation in SNAP falls for the second consecutive year  
Wednesday, March 23, 2016
An average 45.8 million people per month—about 14 percent of the Nation’s population—participated in USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) in fiscal 2015. This was about 2 percent fewer people than the previous year, and 4 percent fewer than the historical high of 47.6 million participants set in fiscal 2013. SNAP participants in fiscal 2015 received an average of $126.83 per month in benefits to purchase food at authorized food stores. SNAP is one of the Nation’s primary countercyclical assistance programs, expanding during economic downturns and contracting during periods of economic growth. The decrease in SNAP caseloads in fiscal 2014 and 2015 reflects, at least in part, the recovery from the 2007-09 recession reaching lower educated, lower wage workers. This chart appears in ERS’s Food Assistance Landscape: FY 2015 Annual Report, released on March 17, 2016.
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California’s surface water deliveries dip well below longrun averages  
Tuesday, March 22, 2016
California is now entering the fifth year of a major drought, and by many measures, 2014 and 2015 have been the worst years of the drought for California agriculture. In California, measures of exposure to local water shortages are only part of how the drought is affecting farms. California agriculture relies heavily on irrigation, and much of the irrigation water is supplied by large-scale State and Federal water projects that store, transport, and deliver water across hundreds of miles. The two largest overarching mechanisms for delivering surface water in California are the State Water Project (SWP) and the Federal Central Valley Project (CVP). On average, 70 percent of annual State Water Project supplies go to urban users and 30 percent to agricultural users. In contrast, the Central Valley Project, managed by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, allocates, on average, about 70 percent of its delivered water to agriculture. Relative to longrun averages, deliveries from both projects were down modestly in 2012 and 2013, and then dropped dramatically in 2014, with similar delivery shortfalls for 2015. In an historical context, the current drought is at least as bad, from a deliveries perspective, as the 1977 and 1991-1992 droughts. While surface water from these projects is delivered through much of the State, the impacts of these reductions are most pronounced in the Central Valley of California. Farms in Southern California receive much of their surface water from the Colorado River, which has not been as heavily impacted by the current drought. This chart is found in California Drought: Farm and Food Impacts on the ERS website, February 2016.
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Exports as a share of red meat and poultry production expected to increase in 2016, while dairy’s export share declines  
Monday, March 21, 2016
In 2015, approximately 15 percent of total U.S. red meat and poultry production and 18 percent of dairy production (on a skim solids milk equivalent basis) were sold in export markets. Red meat and poultry exports as a share of production are down from the average over the previous 5 years, reflecting the combination of a strengthening dollar, slowing global economy, and restrictions on poultry exports put in place as a result of the U.S. outbreak of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI). However, for dairy products, exports as a share of production grew modestly in 2015 relative to the previous 5 years, reaching 18 percent. In 2016, production of red meat and poultry is expected to increase, while exports are expected to grow even more, resulting in higher export shares for beef, pork, broilers and turkey. For dairy, production is expected to increase and exports are expected to decline from 2015, causing dairy’s export share of production to be lower than last year. This chart is from Livestock, Dairy and Poultry Outlook, March 2016.
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Peanut butter accounts for 60 percent of U.S. peanut availability  
Friday, March 18, 2016
According to ERS’s Food Availability data, the amount of peanuts available for consumption in the United States has averaged 6.6 pounds per person per year over the last decade compared with 5.9 pounds in the prior 10 years. The 2002 Farm Act removed longstanding regulatory quotas that limited supplies, and beginning in 2003, higher production and lower farm-level peanut prices may have helped spur demand for peanuts and peanut products. Availability of peanut butter grew from 2.9 pounds per person in 2002 to 3.9 pounds per person in 2012, and accounted for 58 percent of peanut availability that year. Availability of snack peanuts and other peanuts (20 percent of peanut availability in 2012) and peanut candy (18 percent of availability) has been basically flat over the decade. Availability of shell peanuts fell in 2012. Total peanut availability declined to 5.9 pounds per person in 2013. The data for this chart come from Food Availability data series in ERS's Food Availability (Per Capita) Data System.
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At least 48 percent of U.S. broilers were fed antibiotics only for disease-treatment purposes  
Thursday, March 17, 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. In the 2011 Agricultural Resource Management Survey (ARMS) on broilers (the most recent year available), producers were asked whether they raised their broilers without antibiotics in their feed or water unless the birds were sick, which implies not using antibiotics for growth promotion or disease prevention. In 2011, growers reported that about half of birds (48 percent) were only given antibiotics for disease treatment. This response also accounts for 48 percent of operations and 48 percent of production (by live weight). Approximately a third (32 percent) of operators stated that they did not know if they provided antibiotics via feed or water for purposes other than disease treatment; this means the proportion of reporting operations that only supplied antibiotics for disease-treatment purposes could be as high as 80 percent. Contracted growers (accounting for 96 percent of broiler production) may not know if antibiotics are in the feed provided by the company for whom they raise broilers. These statistics suggest that in 2011, between 20 and 52 percent of birds were given antibiotics for reasons other than disease treatment. This chart is 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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After a decade of rapid growth, corn use for ethanol is projected to decline  
Wednesday, March 16, 2016
Ethanol production in the United States is based almost entirely on corn as a feedstock.  Corn‑based ethanol production is projected to fall over the next 10 years. This reflects declining overall gasoline consumption in the United States (which is mostly a 10‑percent ethanol blend, E10), infrastructural and other constraints on growth for E15 (15‑percent ethanol blend), and the small size of the market for E85 (85‑percent ethanol blend), with less-than-offsetting increases in U.S. ethanol exports. Even with the U.S. ethanol production decline, demand for corn to produce ethanol continues to be strong. While the share of U.S. corn expected to go to U.S. ethanol production falls, it accounts for over a third of total U.S. corn use throughout the projection period. This chart is based on information in USDA Agricultural Projections to 2025.
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National School Lunch Program per-capita participation varies by State  
Tuesday, March 15, 2016
In fiscal year 2014 (October to September), 30.5 million students participated in USDA’s National School Lunch Program (NSLP) on an average school day, with 72 percent of participants receiving the meals for free or at a reduced price. On a per-capita basis, this translates into 9.4 NSLP participants per 100 U.S. residents. Per-capita participation in the NSLP ranged from 6.8 participants per 100 residents in Alaska to 13 per 100 residents in Mississippi. 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 lunch. For example, in Utah, where per-capita participation is 11.2 participants per 100 residents, school-aged children in schools offering USDA meals make up 21.5 percent of the population, and 52 percent of those students participate in the NSLP. Alaska’s lower rate reflects a low percentage of residents that are of school age (16 percent) and a lower rate of children participating in the program (42 percent of students). This map is from ERS’s Food Environment Atlas.
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Lower U.S. farm sector income and higher debt-to-asset ratios are forecast for 2016  
Monday, March 14, 2016
National net farm income, along with the farm-sector debt-to-asset ratio (which is a measure of solvency), provide indicators of the economic well-being of the U.S. farm sector. As of February 9, 2016, U.S. net farm income is forecast to fall to $54.8 billion in 2016 after recently peaking in 2013, due largely to declines in commodity prices. In inflation-adjusted terms, since 1970 only 5 years have registered lower net farm income. With the exception of 2002, all of those years were in the early 1980s, a time of great farm financial stress. The sector’s debt-to-asset ratio has edged up the past several years but at 13.2 percent remains well below the ratio’s 1985 peak. Recent inflation-adjusted debt levels are near, but have not exceeded, early 1980s levels. Thus, the improvement in farm-sector solvency has hinged on farm-sector asset values, which have roughly doubled since 1985 in inflation-adjusted terms. About 80 percent of the value of farm-sector assets are attributable to farm real estate, and both farm real-estate and nonreal-estate assets are expected to experience modest declines in 2015 and 2016. This chart is based on data found in Farm Income and Wealth Statistics, released February 2016.
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Milk production and inventories continue shifting to larger herds  
Friday, March 11, 2016
Two decades ago, most milk came from farms with fewer than 150 cows, on which a farm family handled milking, herd management, and crop production for feed. Today, while the United States still has many herds of 50 to 100 cows, most cows and milk production have moved to much larger farms, which are usually still owned and operated by families, but rely on hired labor for most farm tasks. Farms with milking herds of at least 1,000 cows accounted for nearly half of all cows in 2012, up from 10 percent of all cows in 1992. Producers continued to increase herd size in that period; there were 17 farms with herds of 4,000 or more cows in 1992, compared to 95 farms in 2002 and 234 in 2012. Costs are an important reason behind the shift, as production costs appear to be substantially lower, on average, on larger farms. The data underlying this chart are available in the ERS report, Changing Structure, Financial Risks, and Government Policy for the U.S. Dairy Industry, March 2016.
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Farmer share of retail value of red meat is declining  
Thursday, March 10, 2016
The spreads between farm prices for hogs and cattle and retail prices for pork and beef have widened over the past 18 months, leading to a decline in the farmer share of retail red meat prices. Growing cattle inventories and increased pork production are pushing cattle and hog prices lower. For the fourth quarter of 2015, hog prices (51-52% lean) averaged about $45 per hundredweight, down about 33 percent from a year earlier and nearly 50 percent below the prices received in the second quarter of 2014. Similarly, cattle prices (5-market steer price) averaged $128 per hundredweight in the last quarter of 2015, down nearly 23 percent from the fourth quarter 2014. Retail prices for both beef and pork are down as well, but by a smaller magnitude as they tend to adjust more slowly to changes in the farm price due to the wide variety of other costs—including labor, packaging, storage, and transportation—that also contribute to retail prices. This chart is based on the ERS Meat Price Spreads data product.
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Last updated: Thursday, July 28, 2016

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