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Image: Farm Practices & Management


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Production decisions concerning how much effort and resources to invest in crop and livestock production, and which farming practices to follow, have consequences and create opportunities for the farm--affecting production levels, input costs, time constraints, and the potentially size of the operation.  They also may have implications for resource use and environmental quality.

  • ERS synthesizes information on field cropping practices used for all major commodities. The annual Agricultural Resource Management Survey (ARMS) provides field-level data for major crops. ARMS Farm Financial and Crop Production Practices data can be used to find information at multiple levels of aggregation about:
    • Previous crops planted
    • Nutrient management
    • Pest management
    • Seed use
    • Land tenure
    • Conservation practices and field characteristics
    • Equipment use and field operations,
    • Irrigation practices.
  • ARMS also collects detailed information on hog, dairy, cow-calf, and broiler production practices. Over time, these data provide measures of changing livestock production practices that can be used to gain insight into some of the causes and consequences of these changes.
  • Additional data on costs of production, also collected by the ARMS are available in the related Commodity Costs and Returns data product.
  • ERS analyzes trends in the adoption of a range of crop and livestock production practices and their effectiveness in reducing costs, increasing farming profitability, minimizing losses to the environment, and conserving natural resources. For example, recent analysis suggests that:
    • Use of commercial fertilizers and pesticides has been steady or declining in recent years, due to improvements in technology and other factors.
    • Approximately 35 percent of U.S. cropland (88 million acres) planted to eight major crops had no tillage ("no till") operations in 2009, and that percentage appears to be increasing over time.
    • Emission of nitrogen to the environment can be reduced by matching nitrogen applications more closely with the needs of growing crops. This can be achieved by adopting three "best management practices" (BMPs):  (1) Rate--applying an amount of nitrogen at a rate that accounts for all other sources of nitrogen, carryover from previous crops, irrigation water, and atmospheric deposits; (2)  Timing--applying nitrogen as close to the time that the crop needs it as is practical (as opposed to the season before the crop is planted), and (3) Method--injecting or incorporating the nutrients into the soil to reduce runoff and losses to the atmosphere.  Among all U.S. field crops planted in 2006 that received nitrogen fertilizers, 35 percent are estimated to have met all three nutrient BMPs.
    • In recent years, the number of livestock operations has fallen and production has shifted to larger and more specialized operations. These structural changes have been accompanied by a movement towards cost-saving production technologies and practices. The changes in livestock production have had important implications for economic efficiency, final product prices, water and air pollution, food safety, and rural development. Additional data on costs of production, also collected by the ARMS are available in the related Commodity Costs and Returns data product.

Last updated: Thursday, June 07, 2012

For more information contact: Nigel Key