ERS Charts of Note
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Thursday, March 23, 2023
For most crops, small-scale farmers are more likely than large-scale farmers to apply manure. The smallest 25 percent of farms (by planted area) were more likely to apply manure than any other farm size group for five of seven crops studied: corn, barley, oats, soybeans, and wheat—all except cotton and peanuts. For example, among the smallest 25 percent of corn farmers, roughly half applied manure. On the other hand, only 13 percent of the largest corn farmers applied manure to their corn. This pattern of small-scale farmers using manure as a crop nutrient source more than other size farmers may be partly explained by specialization. Larger crop farms are more likely to specialize and not diversify their operations with animal production, limiting access to manure produced on the farm. Manure was applied to about 8 percent of the 240.9 million acres planted to the seven major U.S. field crops. Manure supplies nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium to growing crops and can improve soil quality. This chart appears in the USDA, Economic Research Service report Increasing the Value of Animal Manure for Farmers, published March 2023.
Wednesday, March 22, 2023
Water scarcity and water quality concerns in the United States have resulted in using nontraditional water sources, including recycled and reclaimed water, for irrigation. In 2018, producers used recycled and reclaimed water to irrigate crops on about 1.5 million acres in the United States, the most recent year for which data are available. Some acreage may use both recycled and reclaimed water for irrigation. California, Arkansas, Wisconsin, Ohio, North Carolina, Connecticut, and Massachusetts had the highest proportion of acreage where producers applied recycled or reclaimed water. In all these States, at least 3 percent of irrigated acreage relies on recycled or reclaimed water to meet crop irrigation needs. Reclaimed water for use on farms comes from sources such as industrial, municipal, and off-farm and on-farm animal operations. Municipal and on-farm animal operations were the most common sources of reclaimed water of the farms using reclaimed water in 2018. This chart was drawn from data collected by the USDA, National Agricultural Statistics Service.
Tuesday, March 21, 2023
The food retail market comprises individual firms, such as grocery stores and supercenters, that sell food products to consumers. The concentration of these retailers’ shares of the market, as measured by the Herfindahl-Hirschman Index (HHI), increased over the last three decades at the national, State, Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA), and county levels in the United States. HHI values range from 0 to 10,000, with higher values reflecting higher levels of market concentration, fewer firms, or increasing disparity between the size of the firms in the market. On average, food retail concentration is higher at the MSA level than at the national level, and concentration is even higher once the market is defined at the county level. As the geographic market area shrinks, the market concentration in 2019 increased from 593 (national) to 1,332 (State) to 1,881 (MSA) to 3,737 (county). Trends in localized markets are likely most relevant for consumers, food-retail competitors, and policymakers. This chart appeared in the USDA, Economic Research Service report A Disaggregated View of Market Concentration in the Food Retail Industry, which uses data from the National Establishment Time Series (NETS) to calculate and examine the market conditions of food retailing from 1990 to 2019.
Educational attainment improved in rural America but educational gap with urban areas grew for bachelor's degrees and higher
Monday, March 20, 2023
Formal educational attainment in rural America has grown over time, but rural (nonmetro) areas still lag urban (metro) areas. From 2000 to 2017–21 (the most recent estimate period from the American Community Survey), the share of adults ages 25 and older with a bachelor’s degree or higher increased in rural areas from 15 to 21 percent. In the same time span, the share of adults in urban areas with a bachelor’s degree or higher increased from 26 to 36 percent, widening the rural-urban gap from 11 to 15 percentage points in these two reference periods. This rural-urban gap in the share of people with at least a bachelor’s degree is even larger for younger age groups. In 2017–21, the share of working-age adults (ages 25–64) with at least a bachelor’s degree was 37 percent in urban areas and 21 percent in rural areas, while the share of younger adults ages 25–44 with at least a bachelor’s degree was 40 percent in urban areas and 22 percent in rural areas. One explanation for the persisting and widening gap may be the higher pay that more highly educated workers can often earn in urban labor markets. This chart appears in the USDA, Economic Research Service data product Charting the Essentials, published in January 2023.
Thursday, March 16, 2023
Retail prices for various red meats, poultry, and egg products fluctuate and are influenced by various economic factors, including inflation. However, the protein content of animal products—a physical characteristic associated with products of animal origin—is fixed, allowing for dollar value per gram of protein comparisons. Between 2019 and 2022, the retail price per gram of protein for a number of animal products trended higher with inflation. Despite increasing in dollar value, the relative rankings of those selected products were mostly unchanged. During 2022, successive Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza outbreaks adversely affected the U.S. egg supply. Decreases in supply combined with strong egg demand pushed retail egg prices to record levels. As egg prices surged in 2022 and early 2023, the cost per gram of protein rankings began to shift. On a per gram of protein basis, eggs were competitively priced with boneless chicken breasts and pork chops by October 2022. By December 2022, eggs were on par with ground beef. In February, eggs were still one of the most expensive sources of protein among the selected animal products at 5.7 cents per gram of protein. This comes despite a 12.8-percent drop from the January peak of 6.4 cents. Historically, eggs and chicken legs have been the two lowest cost sources of protein among red meats, poultry, and egg products. Between 2019 and 2021, eggs were the least expensive source of protein in 20 out of 36 months. This chart is drawn from USDA, Economic Research Service’s Livestock, Dairy and Poultry Outlook: February 2023.
Number of on-farm anaerobic digesters systems used to decompose organic waste has increased over time
Wednesday, March 15, 2023
The number of on-farm anaerobic digester systems has steadily increased since 2000, according to AgSTAR, a collaborative program sponsored by the Environmental Protection Agency and USDA. An anaerobic digester is an airtight vessel in which bacteria digest, or decompose, organic waste such as manure, and the resulting biogas can be used to generate electricity or sold. A total of 322 on-farm systems were in operation at the end of 2021, including 50 that started operating that year. Recent growth in the number of digesters corresponds to increased demand for renewable fuel as a result of carbon credit trading and incentive programs. Further, more covered lagoons have been built as their costs have decreased. Although adoption began in the 1970s, steady growth of on-farm anaerobic digestion systems in the United States did not pick up until the 1990s. Growth then persisted until about 2013, after which it slowed considerably, then began increasing again. Many of the newer digester projects are designed to produce compressed natural gas that can be injected into pipelines to take advantage of carbon credit-trading programs such as California’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard program. Roughly 78 percent of all on-farm anaerobic digestion facilities in the United States are found on dairy farms. Digester adoption is highest in California, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania. This chart appears in the Economic Research Service report, Increasing the Value of Animal Manure for Farmers, published March 2023.
Tuesday, March 14, 2023
March 14 is known to many as Pi Day. The date resembles the mathematical constant π, roughly equal to 3.14, and for that reason, many celebrate the day by enjoying their favorite type of pie. In 2021, the United States grew $6.9 billion worth of seven popular fruits, vegetables, and tree nuts often used as the main ingredient in pie making. The value of production of these seven commodities in 2021, as measured by U.S. cash receipts, was the highest for apples, which are produced abundantly in the United States both in terms of volume and production value. The U.S. apple crop exceeded $3.03 billion in 2021, whereas production of blueberries reached $1.1 billion. Cash receipts for other fruit pie ingredients, cherries and peaches, were valued at $950 million and $624 million, respectively. Pecans, a tree nut, were valued at $551 million in terms of U.S. cash receipts. The pear crop of 2021 was valued at $373 million, while production of pumpkins, the fall icon and mainstay of the holiday table, was valued at $231 million. This chart is drawn from USDA, Economic Research Service’s Fruit and Tree Nuts and Vegetables and Pulses Yearbook Tables.
Meat and poultry plants employed nearly 31 percent of U.S. food and beverage manufacturing workers in 2021
Monday, March 13, 2023
According to the latest available Federal data, in 2021, the U.S. food and beverage manufacturing sector employed 1.7 million people, or more than 1.1 percent of all U.S. nonfarm employment. Within the U.S. manufacturing sector, food and beverage manufacturing employees accounted for the largest share of employees (15.4 percent). In thousands of food and beverage manufacturing plants located throughout the country, these employees helped to transform raw agricultural materials into food products for intermediate use or final consumption. Manufacturing jobs include processing, inspecting, packing, janitorial and guard services, product development, and recordkeeping, as well as nonproduction duties such as sales, delivery, advertising, and clerical and routine office functions. In 2021, meat and poultry plants employed the largest share of food and beverage manufacturing workers (30.6 percent), followed by bakeries (14.7 percent), and beverage plants (12.4 percent). This chart appears in the Ag and Food Sectors and the Economy section of the USDA, Economic Research Service data product Ag and Food Statistics: Charting the Essentials, updated January 2023.
Friday, March 10, 2023
In 2008, California passed Proposition 2, a ballot measure that banned in-State egg-laying operations from housing laying hens in a way that made them unable to fully extend their limbs or turn around freely. Since then, eight more States have passed similar bans on confinement or caged production of laying hens. In addition, Ohio imposed a suspension on new permits for caged-layer operations. Many of these bans are scheduled to take effect between 2023 and 2026. Before 2022, fewer than 5 percent of egg-laying hens were raised in States with implemented restrictions on confined or caged production, but that number is expected to surpass 13 percent by 2026. Based on average 2002–17 Census of Agriculture values for egg-laying operations, about 3 percent of operations in 2021 were covered by confinement or caged production restrictions, but coverage will grow more than sixfold by 2026. Despite the increasing coverage of State bans in the U.S. egg-laying flock, as many as 85 percent of operations in the United States (representing 87 percent of total U.S. egg production) would still legally be allowed to produce using these cage systems after 2026. This chart was drawn from the USDA, Economic Research Service report, State Policies for Farm Animal Welfare in Production Practices of U.S. Livestock and Poultry Industries: An Overview, December 2022.
Unemployment rates have recovered to pre-pandemic levels but remain higher in persistently poor rural and urban counties
Thursday, March 9, 2023
The Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic affected unemployment rates differently in rural and urban counties. In January 2020, just before the pandemic, the unemployment rates in both persistently poor and not persistently poor rural counties were higher than in the respective urban counties. In addition, the unemployment rates in persistently poor rural counties were higher than in rural counties that were not persistently poor (5.9 percent versus 4.6 percent). This pattern changed with the pandemic-driven economic downturn. By April 2020, the unemployment rate among persistently poor rural counties had more than doubled to a peak of 12.3 percent. However, in other rural counties the unemployment rate had nearly tripled, surpassing the unemployment rate in persistently poor rural counties with a peak of 13.4 percent. Similarly, in urban counties the unemployment rate nearly tripled (from 4.9 percent to 14.4 percent) for persistently poor counties and more than tripled for other urban counties (from 3.8 percent to 14.2 percent), surpassing the unemployment rates in rural counties. These unemployment rate changes suggest that the employment shock at the start of the pandemic was not as prominent in persistently poor counties as in counties that were not persistently poor, and that it had a larger effect on urban counties than rural counties. The varying effects of the pandemic might in part be traced to whether local industries stayed open (essential industries, such as meatpacking), or saw reduced demand, such as retail and hospitality. Unemployment rates in rural counties returned to pre-pandemic levels by November 2021, but persistently poor urban counties did not recover until December 2022 and continue to have the highest unemployment rates. This chart updates data in the USDA, Economic Research Service report Rural America at a Glance: 2021 Edition, published in November 2021.
Wednesday, March 8, 2023
In 2017–18, meals, snacks, and other foods obtained at school were the richest source of fruit for children ages 2 to 19. These foods provided an average of 1.36 cups of fruit per 1,000 calories consumed each day. The USDA, Economic Research Service (ERS) calculated average daily consumption of food groups and selected nutrients by food sources using food consumption data collected by the USDA and Department of Health and Human Services in 2017–18, the latest year for which data are available. Food sources include foods obtained from grocery stores and similar retailers, primarily for home preparation, and foods obtained from away-from-home establishments, such as full-service and fast-food restaurants, and schools. The fruit food group includes whole fruits (fresh, canned, frozen, and dried) and 100 percent fruit juice. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020–25 recommend individuals 2 years and older consume between 1 and 2.5 cups of fruit per day, depending on age and calorie level of dietary pattern. Breakfasts and lunches from USDA’s school meal programs are required to regularly include fruit. This chart is drawn from the supplemental tables on U.S. food density published in March 2023 with the USDA, Economic Research Service report Dietary Quality by Food Source and Demographics in the United States, 1977–2018.
Tuesday, March 7, 2023
Between 1948 and 2019, the volume of crops produced in the U.S. grew 186 percent, and livestock production grew 140 percent. USDA, Economic Research Service researchers classify crop output into six subcategories: food grains, feed crops, oil crops, vegetables and melons, fruits and nuts, and other crops. Of those, production of oil crops increased the most, by more than seven times. Growth in fruits and nuts ranked second, with production more than doubling. Food grains grew the least, at 78 percent. Among three categories of livestock and products, poultry and egg production increased the most, by more than seven times. Dairy products grew 132 percent, and meat animal production grew 92 percent. The varying growth rates reflect changes over the past 70 years in consumer demand and preferences, international market demand, and technological advancements among products. Overall, crop production is more volatile than livestock production because of weather changes. This chart appears in the Amber Waves article U.S. Agricultural Output Has Grown Slower in Response to Stagnant Productivity Growth, published in October 2022.
Monday, March 6, 2023
Insurance coverage of vegetable and pulse production varies widely by crop among the two Federal options for protection against losses from natural disasters. USDA, Economic Research Service (ERS) researchers examined USDA, Risk Management Agency (RMA) data on the acres covered under the Federal Crop Insurance Program (FCIP) and the Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program (NAP) to understand how vegetable and pulse producers have used Federal risk management options. For instance, RMA and Census of Agriculture data from 2017 shows that dry peas, dry beans, and tomatoes heavily used FCIP. Around 20 percent of cucumber and cabbage acreage was also covered by FCIP. When USDA does not offer FCIP policies in a county because of insufficient data to create an actuarially sound policy, farmers can still protect a crop through NAP. NAP provides protection against yield losses, though not revenue losses and covers a large portion of the acreage for some crops, such as sweet potatoes, pumpkins, and peppers but is used less frequently by lettuce growers. Cucumber and cabbage crops accounted for 11 percent and 16 percent of total acreage covered under NAP. Because there are no FCIP policies available for watermelon, lettuce, and squash crops, producers of those crops either enrolled in NAP or did not insure their crop. Slightly less than half of watermelon and squash acres were covered under NAP. Farmers who did not protect with either FCIP or NAP likely employ other management practices, such as crop rotations, irrigation, or growing in a protective structure, to maintain production and revenue. This chart appears in the Economic Research Service bulletin Specialty Crop Participation in Federal Risk Management Programs, published in September 2022.
Between fiscal years 2018 and 2022, 14 percent of all U.S. agricultural exports were destined for Mexico
Thursday, March 2, 2023
With a total value of $28 billion, Mexico is projected to be the United States’ second largest destination for U.S. agricultural exports in fiscal year (FY) 2022 (October–September), after China. Between FY 2018 and 2022, Mexico’s share of all U.S. agricultural exports rose from just under 13 percent to about 14 percent and is forecast to reach 15 percent in FY 2023. Mexico’s share of U.S. exports varies by product. On average, Mexico purchased $6.5 billion in U.S. grains and feeds per year from FY 2018 to 2022, accounting for 18 percent of the largest export commodity group. Demand for grains and feed has been spurred by the expansion of Mexico’s cattle industry and growing consumption of animal products. Between FY 2018 and 2022, Mexico’s imports of livestock, poultry, and dairy products represented an average of 18 percent of total U.S. exports and accounted for $6.3 billion in sales. In recent years, Mexico’s imports of U.S. dairy and poultry have been particularly strong, with demand for nonfat dry milk and chicken cuts driving Mexico’s import share as high as 24 percent. Bilateral trade between Mexico and the United States is facilitated by relatively low transportation costs as well as trade advantages afforded by the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement. These factors, as well as sustained demand, are expected to continue fueling growth in U.S. agricultural exports to Mexico through FY 2023. This chart is drawn from the Outlook for U.S. Agricultural Trade published by USDA’s Economic Research Service, February 2023.
Wednesday, March 1, 2023
The supply of chicken available to eat in the United States continues to outpace beef, according to food availability data from the USDA, Economic Research Service (ERS). In 2021, 68.1 pounds of chicken per person were available for human consumption (on a boneless, edible basis), compared with 56.2 pounds of beef. The availability of chicken began to increase in the 1940s, overtaking pork availability in 1996 and surpassing beef in 2010 to become the meat most available for U.S. consumption. Since 1980, U.S. chicken availability per person has more than doubled from 32.7 pounds. There were 47.5 pounds of pork available in 2021, after fluctuating between 42.4 and 49.9 pounds per person over the last four decades. Per person fish and shellfish availability data are available only through 2019, when 19.1 pounds were available per person in the United States, up from the low of 8 pounds in 1943. This chart is drawn from ERS’s Ag and Food Statistics: Charting the Essentials, updated December 2022.
Tuesday, February 28, 2023
In April 2020, as effects of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic on the U.S. economy unfolded, spending at full-service restaurants declined 71 percent compared with April 2019. Spending at limited-service—or fast-food—restaurants fell 32 percent, and spending at all other food-away-from-home establishments, such as drinking places, hotels, and motels, dropped 41 percent over the same period. Full-service restaurants typically offer food and alcohol to seated customers who pay after eating and include amenities such as ceramic dishware and non-disposable utensils. Limited-service restaurants prioritize convenience and have limited menus, sparse dining amenities, and no waitstaff. The limited physical interaction with customers made it easier for fast-food establishments to adapt to COVID-19 restrictions, and by the second half of 2020, they managed to recover to pre-pandemic spending levels. Despite efforts by many full-service restaurants to expand takeout and delivery services, these outlets took slightly longer to bounce back, and returned to pre-pandemic spending in March 2021. By December 2021, both full-service and limited-service restaurant spending had fully recovered and were each about 10 percent higher than in December 2019. The data for this chart were first included in the USDA, Economic Research Service’s Food Expenditure Series data product in February 2023 and will be updated with 2022 data in June 2023.
Eighty-nine percent of all farms are small family farms and they generated 18 percent of total production value in 2021
Monday, February 27, 2023
In 2021, about 89 percent of all farms were small family farms. Small family farms operated 45 percent of U.S. agricultural land and produced 18 percent of the total value of production. Farm size classifications are based on annual gross cash farm income, a measure of a farm's revenue—including sales of crops and livestock, payments made under Federal agricultural programs, and other farm-related cash income—before deducting expenses. Small family farms have gross cash farm income (GCFI) below $350,000. In comparison, large-scale family farms, with GCFI above $1 million, operated 27 percent of agricultural land and were responsible for 46 percent of the total value of production in 2021. Midsize family farms, with GCFI between $350,000 and $1 million, operated 18 percent of agricultural land and similarly generated 18 percent of the total value of production. Overall, family farms of all sizes comprised about 83 percent of the overall production value while making up 98 percent of all farms. The remaining 2 percent of farms were classified as nonfamily. This category includes partnerships (of unrelated partners), nonfamily corporations, and farms with a hired manager unrelated to the owners. Despite accounting for such a small percent of farms, the nonfamily category was responsible for 17 percent of the total value of production. This chart appears in the ERS report America’s Farms and Ranches at a Glance, 2022 edition.
Friday, February 24, 2023
U.S. farms are adopting precision technologies at different rates, with the largest farms adopting auto-steer guidance technology at significantly higher rates. USDA, Economic Research Service researchers used data from four successive Agricultural Resource Management Surveys (ARMS) to assess the adoption of precision agriculture technologies across four major field crops. After sorting farms into five equally sized groups based on farm size, they found that the largest farms across all commodities had adopted guidance at the highest rates. Specifically, of farms growing corn in 2016, 73 percent of farms in the largest size category adopted guidance. The rates were similar for the group of largest farms growing other commodities in later years: 82 percent of the largest winter wheat farms in 2017, 68 percent of the largest soybean farms in 2018, and 67 percent of the largest cotton farms in 2019. Conversely, among the smallest farms, adoption of guidance systems was much lower: 10 percent of the smallest corn farms in 2016, 11 percent of the smallest soybean farms in 2018, and 7 percent of the smallest winter wheat farms in 2017, with the exception of cotton, which starts at a relatively high rate of 50 percent for the smallest cotton farms in 2019. Adoption rates vary based on field terrain, soil characteristics, the scale and scope of production, and farmers’ risk preferences. Other factors affecting adoption rates include the type of crop produced and farmers’ socioeconomic characteristics, such as age, education level, and years of experience. This chart appears in the Economic Information Bulletin Precision Agriculture in the Digital Era: Recent Adoption on U.S. Farms, published in February 2023.
Thursday, February 23, 2023
USDA, Economic Research Service (ERS) publishes price forecasts in the monthly Food Price Outlook (FPO) data product. The FPO forecasts food-at-home (FAH) prices will increase 8.6 percent in 2023, with a prediction interval of 5.6 to 11.8 percent. ERS updated the FPO forecasting methods in January 2023, and forecasts now include a midpoint and a prediction interval to represent the expected price change and range of likely price changes, respectively. The prediction interval conveys uncertainty about the forecast, starting out wider at the beginning of the year and narrowing as forecasts incorporate more months of observed data and the forecast period shortens. The prediction intervals vary in size across food categories based on price volatility and available information. In 2023, egg prices are forecast to grow the fastest (37.8 percent, with a prediction interval of 18.3 to 62.3 percent) while fresh fruit prices are predicted to experience little change (0.1 percent) and have a prediction interval of -5.6 to 6.4 percent. In general, food prices are expected to grow more slowly in 2023 than in 2022 but remain above historical average rates. FAH prices grew 11.4 percent in 2022, the largest annual increase since 1974, compared with a historical annual average of 2.5 percent from 2003–22. This chart is updated from the Amber Waves article, ERS Refines Forecasting Methods in Food Price Outlook, published February 2023.
Wednesday, February 22, 2023
About half of all wheat grown in the United States is exported, and geography largely determines the mode of transportation to ports. U.S. wheat production is heavily concentrated in the Great Plains and Northern Plains regions, which include Oklahoma, Kansas, South and North Dakota, and Montana. Wheat is also grown in the Midwest, parts of the Southeast, and the Pacific Northwest (PNW) regions, as well as California. The inland waterways of the Mississippi River and the Columbia-Snake River system enable exporters of soft red winter wheat and white wheat to use transportation by barge to move wheat to export facilities in the Gulf of Mexico and the PNW, respectively. In contrast, rail transportation dominates in the vast wheat-producing areas west of the Mississippi and east of the PNW. In this region, the long distances to ports and a lack of navigable waterways make freight transportation by truck or barge difficult or impossible. Producers of hard red spring wheat, which is primarily grown in the Northern Plains, are served by rail lines that run to Washington State and Oregon, providing easy access to ocean vessels that can transport wheat to markets in Asia and the rest of the world. Similarly, hard red winter (HRW) wheat production areas in the Central and Southern Plains are directly connected by rail to Mexico, the top import market for HRW. It is also shipped by rail from the Plains to export terminals in the Gulf of Mexico. From 2014 to 2019, about 50 to 60 percent of wheat exports were transported to port by rail. This chart first appeared in the USDA, Economic Research Service’s Wheat Outlook, published in December 2022.