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.
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.
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.
Monday, May 11, 2020
U.S. regulations on antibiotic use in food animal production have focused on antibiotics important for human disease treatment, which the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) terms “medically important.” If current human antibiotics lose efficacy and new ones are not developed, the ability to treat human infections may be hindered. In 2017, FDA policies ended the use of medically important antibiotics for growth promotion in food animals. Antibiotics deemed “currently not medically important” are not used to treat human illnesses and can still be used for animal growth promotion. Other uses of medically important antibiotics in food animal production require veterinarian oversight. These policies follow earlier actions in the European Union (EU) banning medically important antibiotics for growth promotion. Most new antibiotic approvals for food animals have been generic drugs that are also used for humans. Between 1992 and 2015, about 70 percent of antibiotics were considered medically important. This suggests that animal pharmaceutical companies are increasingly developing generic antibiotics for food animals, not new varieties of antibiotics. Although new approvals for non-medically important, non-generic antibiotics for food animals declined, they still averaged about 1.3 per year in 2015. This chart appears in the ERS report, The U.S. and EU Animal Pharmaceutical Industries in the Age of Antibiotic Resistance, released May 2019.
Monday, February 24, 2020
The USDA Quarterly Hogs and Pigs report issued on December 23, 2019 indicated that the U.S. hog industry achieved a third consecutive quarterly litter rate of 11 or more pigs per litter. National litter rates of 11 pigs per litter or more have been a long-standing goal of the U.S. hog industry, although such litter rates have been commonplace in Canada (particularly in Manitoba) and in Europe for quite some time. Factors contributing to the 11+ litter rates in the United States last year—the September-November litter rate of 11.09, the June-August litter rate of 11.11, and the March-May rate of 11 pigs per litter—are varied; they include innovations in pre- and postnatal sow and weanling management and care, sow nutrition, weather adaptations, and management of disease occurrences. Chief among litter-rate enhancement factors, however, are improvements in genetics. Superior litter rates in 2019 likely indicate that distribution and optimal utilization of high-quality genetics is gaining traction in the industry. The suggestion of “more to come” is supported by considerable anecdotal evidence of trickle down effects of genetics transfers from nucleus farms to multiplier farms and then on to commercial farms. It is likely that higher litter rates will characterize the near future of U.S. pork production as highly productive genetics spread further in the U.S. commercial hog sector. This chart was previously published in the USDA, Economic Research Service report, Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry Outlook: January 2020.
New antibiotics for food animals decreased as a share of overall veterinary drug approvals between 1992 and 2015
Monday, December 16, 2019
Many antibiotics developed for use in animal production are “cast-offs” from products originally intended to be marketed to humans. Therefore, the decline in the development of new human antibiotics suggests there may a similar decline in the development of new antibiotics for food animal production. The share of food-animal antibiotics as a portion of all veterinary drug approvals has declined from 62 percent in 1992-94 to 40 percent in 2013-15. The decline reflects increasing development of new animal drugs approved for companion animals, from 30 percent of all approvals in 1992-94 to 47 percent in 2013-15. Given the overall decline in the number of all animal drug approvals between 1992 and 2015, the decline in the share of food-animal antibiotics approvals also reflects a decline in the number of approvals for such drugs. This chart appears in the ERS report, The U.S. and EU Animal Pharmaceutical Industries in the Age of Antibiotic Resistance, released May 2019. See also the Amber Waves article, “Developing Alternatives to Antibiotics Used in Food Animal Production,” published in May 2019.
Monday, June 3, 2019
The human and animal pharmaceutical industries are closely linked, with similar research processes and business structures. However, although animal pharma is a large global presence ($23.9 billion in sales in 2014), human pharma is 42 times larger (nearly $1 trillion in sales in 2014). Because the human pharma market is more lucrative, many drugs are originally explored for use in humans. Human drug innovations historically also have been a source of new products in animal pharma. Conversely, trends in the numbers of new drug approvals in the United States for humans versus animals have diverged over time. Between 1971 and 2015, the number of new nongeneric drug approvals for animal use dropped from 154 to 30 annually, while those for human use climbed from 136 to 392 annually. The higher number of approvals for human drugs reflects the larger size of the human pharma market. This divergence in the numbers of drug approvals may also be driven by changes in the focus of human medicine, which increasingly demands palliative care drugs that have fewer applications in the animal pharmaceutical market. This chart appears in the ERS report, The U.S. and EU Animal Pharmaceutical Industries in the Age of Antibiotic Resistance, released May 30, 2019. See also the Amber Waves article “Developing Alternatives to Antibiotics Used in Food Animal Production,” published in May 2019.
Friday, May 17, 2019
Guidance systems use global positioning system (GPS) coordinates to automatically steer farm equipment like combines, tractors, and self-propelled sprayers. This helps reduce operator fatigue and pinpoint precise field locations within a few inches. Freed from steering, operators can access timely coordinates from a screen, monitor other equipment systems more closely, and correct problems more quickly. In addition, guidance systems reduce costs by improving the precision of sprays and the seeding of field crop rows. The ends of rows, in particular, benefit from more accurate application of inputs. Manually reversing farm machinery to return in the opposite direction in adjacent rows on a field can cause overlaps and missed spots for applied inputs. Guidance systems can also help extend working hours for field operations during time-sensitive production periods because guided machinery works well in the floodlit dark. Out of all precision agriculture technologies, guidance systems had the highest adoption rates—used on 67 percent of corn planted acres (in 2016), 57 percent of spring wheat (2009), 53 percent of rice (2013), 49 percent of peanuts (2013), and 45 percent of soybeans (2012). This chart appears in the May 2019 ERS report, Agricultural Resources and Environmental Indicators, 2019.
Prevalence of USDA Environmental Quality Incentives Program contracts for conservation tillage varies by region
Wednesday, September 12, 2018
USDA offers financial assistance to farmers for implementing a wide range of conservation practices through its Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). Conservation tillage practices—including no-till, strip-till row crop planting, and mulch till—can improve soil health, reduce erosion, and reduce nutrient pollution to lakes, streams, and rivers. Farmers practicing no-till plant crops without using any sort of plow to turn residue from the prior crop into the soil. Strip tillage disturbs only the soil within the planting row, while mulch tillage minimizes soil disturbance and distributes crop residue. Between 2011 and 2016, the prevalence of EQIP contracts that included conservation tillage practices (as defined in the note) varied regionally. For example, the share was relatively high in North Dakota and northern Iowa, but much lower in neighboring counties in South Dakota. These variations may be due to underlying differences in regional adoption patterns, as well as differences in State and local funding priorities through EQIP. This chart updates data found in the April 2013 ERS report, “The Role of Conservation Programs in Drought Risk Adaptation.”
Friday, May 4, 2018
USDA agricultural conservation programs provide technical and financial assistance to farmers who adopt and maintain practices that conserve resources or enhance environmental quality. Although USDA implements more than a dozen individual conservation programs, nearly all assistance is channeled through six: the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), Conservation Technical Assistance (CTA), Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP), and the Resource Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP). EQIP, CSP, and CTA are often referred to as “Working Land Programs” because they focus primarily on supporting conservation on land in agricultural production (crops or grazing). The 2014 Farm Act continued to emphasize working land conservation. Between 2012 and 2017, combined funding for Working Land Programs accounted for more than 50 percent of spending in USDA conservation programs. This emphasis reflects a long-term trend—begun under the 2002 Farm Act—that increased annual spending in Working Land Programs. In 2017 dollars (to adjust for inflation), this spending increased from roughly $1 billion under the 1996 Farm Act to more than $3 billion under the 2014 Act. This chart updates data found in the May 2014 Amber Waves feature, "2014 Farm Act Continues Most Previous Trends In Conservation."
USDA’s Environmental Quality Incentives Program continues expansion of financial assistance for cover crops
Monday, April 23, 2018
USDA offers financial assistance to farmers for implementing a wide range of conservation practices through the Environmental Quality Incentives Programs (EQIP). Two of the most popular EQIP practices for addressing soil-related resource concerns are no-till (or strip-till row crop planting) and cover crops. Farmers practicing no-till plant crops without using any sort of plow to turn residue from the prior crop into the soil. Cover crops (such as clover, field peas, and annual ryegrass) are typically grown over the winter, between plantings of commodity crops. Planting a cover crop can improve soil health, reduce erosion, and reduce nutrient pollution to lakes, streams, and rivers. Between 2005 and 2016, USDA funding for cover crops in EQIP increased from about $5 million to more than $90 million in nominal terms. Over this same period, funding for no-till declined, in part due to increasing adoption of no-till by farmers even without payment. The larger total annual obligations for cover crops in more recent years partly reflects the higher per-acre costs of implementing cover crops. This may include seed costs and the cost of removing the cover crop. This chart updates data found in the September 2016 Amber Waves feature, “An Economic Perspective on Soil Health.”
Wetland Compliance incentives are strong in Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, and Iowa
Tuesday, February 27, 2018
Wetlands provide a wide range of ecosystem services in all parts of the United States. For most U.S. agricultural programs, farmers who receive benefits must refrain from draining wetlands on their farm. The 2014 Farm Act re-linked crop insurance premium subsidies to this provision, known as Wetland Compliance (WC), for the first time since 1996. ERS researchers examined the effect of premium subsidies on farmer’s compliance incentives under the 2014 Farm Act. (Because of data limitations, ERS researchers focused on States that include the Prairie Pothole region: Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, and Iowa, where wetland habitat is critical to ducks and other migratory birds.) In Prairie Pothole States, WC incentives are strong. When the compliance incentive includes premium subsidies, an estimated 75 percent (2.6 million acres) of potentially convertible wetland is on farms where Compliance incentives (farm program benefits) are clearly large enough to offset revenue lost by not draining these lands for crop production. Severing the link between WC and crop insurance premium subsidies (while continuing the link between Compliance and other 2014 Farm Act programs) would reduce the number of potentially convertible wetlands with strong protection by 15 percent (from 2.6 to 2.2 million acres). This chart appears in the July 2017 report, Conservation Compliance: How Farmer Incentives Are Changing in the Crop Insurance Era.
Compliance incentives under the 2014 Farm Act would be lower without link to crop insurance premium subsidy
Wednesday, November 1, 2017
To be eligible for most U.S. farm program benefits, participating farmers must apply soil conservation systems on cropland that is particularly vulnerable to soil erosion. The 2014 Farm Act re-linked crop insurance premium subsidies to this provision, known as Highly Erodible Land Compliance (HELC), for the first time since 1996. These premium subsidies account for a significant share of Compliance incentives—typically between 30 and 40 percent, depending on crop prices. The 2014 Act also included major changes in other Compliance-linked programs, including the elimination of Direct Payments, a large program under the 2008 Farm Act. On individual farms, Compliance-linked benefits could be higher or lower than they would have been under a continuation of the 2008 Act. Under the 2014 Act (blue bars), ERS researchers estimated that less than 10 million acres are on farms that would have experienced a 50-percent or larger decline in Compliance incentives between the two Farm Acts given crop prices similar to 2010 levels. If premium subsidies were not subject to Compliance (green bars), more than 40 million acres of cropland in HEL fields would be on farms where Compliance incentives would decline by 50 percent or more. This chart appears in the July 2017 Amber Waves feature, "Conservation Compliance in the Crop Insurance Era."
Friday, September 15, 2017
Most U.S. agricultural programs that provide payments to farmers require participating farmers to apply soil conservation systems on cropland that is particularly vulnerable to soil erosion. ERS research shows that this provision, Highly Erodible Land Compliance (HELC), is effective in reducing soil erosion when the farm program benefits that could be lost due to noncompliance exceed the cost of meeting conservation requirements. Under the 2014 Farm Act, some programs previously linked to HELC were eliminated, while new ones were created. In addition, crop insurance premium subsidies were re-linked to HELC for first time since 1996. Twenty-five million acres of highly erodible cropland are estimated to be in farms with relatively strong Compliance incentives (rightmost bars) under the Act. Without premium subsidies, farms with this level of HELC incentive would include only 14 million acres of highly erodible cropland. By comparison, farms with relatively weak Compliance incentives (the second and third sets of bars) include an estimated 27 million acres of highly erodible cropland. Without premium subsidies, farms with this level of HELC incentive would include an estimated 45 million acres of highly erodible cropland. A version of this chart appears in the ERS report, Conservation Compliance: How Farmer Incentives Are Changing in the Crop Insurance Era, released July 2017.
Tuesday, August 29, 2017
The ERS Major Land Uses (MLU) series is the longest running, most comprehensive accounting of all major uses of public and private land in the United States. The series was started in 1945, and has since been published about every 5 years using the latest data from the National Agricultural Statistics Service’s Census of Agriculture. In the 2012 MLU data (the latest available), grassland pasture and range was the most common land use in the United States, representing 29 percent of U.S. land. The second most common was forest-use—land capable of producing timber or covered by forest and used for grazing—at 28 percent. The distribution of land use varies substantially across the country, based on factors such as soil, climate, and Federal and local policies and programs. Cropland is concentrated in the Corn Belt and Northern Plains regions, where several States (including Iowa, Kansas, and Illinois) have more than half of their land base devoted to cropland. Grassland pasture and range accounted for a large share of land in the Mountain (60 percent) and Southern Plains (59 percent) regions. The share of forest-use land was highest along the eastern seaboard in the Southeast (62 percent), Northeast (59 percent), Delta States (58 percent), and Appalachia (57 percent) regions. This chart appears in the ERS report Major Uses of Land in the United States, 2012, released August 2017.
Monday, August 7, 2017
Farmers growing crops that depend on pollination can rely on wild pollinators in the area or pay beekeepers to provide honeybees or other managed bees, such as the blue orchard bee. In 2016, U.S. farmers paid $354 million for pollination services. Producers of almonds alone accounted for 80 percent of that amount—over $280 million. By comparison, producers of apples and blueberries paid about $10 million each. Pollination services helped support the production of these crops—which, in 2016, had a total production value of about $5.2 billion for almonds, $3.5 billion for apples, and $720 million for blueberries. Between 2007 and 2016, the production value of almonds grew by 85 percent in real terms, while the production value of both apples and blueberries grew by about 15 percent. Over the same period, the number of honey-producing colonies grew by 14 percent. This chart uses data found in the ERS report Land Use, Land Cover, and Pollinator Health: A Review and Trend Analysis, released June 2017.
Conservation Compliance has significantly reduced water erosion on fields designated as highly erodible
Friday, July 28, 2017
Conservation Compliance ties eligibility for most Federal farm program benefits to soil and wetland conservation requirements. Under Highly Erodible Land Conservation (HELC), for example, farmers who grow crops in fields designated as highly erodible land (HEL) must apply an approved conservation system—one or more practices that work together to reduce soil erosion. ERS researchers used a statistical model to compare water (rainfall) erosion on cropland in HEL fields to similar cropland not in HEL fields. Between 1982 and 1997, soil erosion reductions were significantly larger in HEL fields (39 percent, or 6.6 tons per acre) than in those not designated as HEL fields (24 percent, or 3.9 tons per acre). The difference—about 2.7 tons per acre—is statistically different from zero, suggesting that HELC did make a significant difference in soil erosion reduction. During 1997-2012, after the initial implementation of HELC was complete, ERS analysis finds that these soil conservation gains were maintained. This chart appears in the July 2017 Amber Waves feature, "Conservation Compliance in the Crop Insurance Era."
Thursday, March 30, 2017
Precision agriculture (PA) delivers localized crop production management through a number of different technologies, including guidance systems, and variable rate technology (VRT). These technologies require a significant investment of capital and time, but may offer cost savings and higher yields through more precise management of agricultural inputs like pesticides and fertilizers. For example, VRT adapts machinery and field operation equipment—such as sprayers and seeders—to automatically control input flow rates for precise field locations. Guidance systems, on the other hand, use GPS to automatically steer farm equipment—such as combines and tractors—helping reduce operator fatigue. In 2012 (the most recent data available), yield monitors and guidance systems had the highest rate of adoption on soybean farms: 51 and 34 percent, respectively. For all PA technologies, the percent of soybean cropland acres was higher than the percent of farms—showing that larger farms have higher adoption rates for these technologies. Soybeans are the second most planted crop in the United States, after corn. Farms often rotate soybeans annually with corn, so PA adoption rates for these two major crops were relatively similar. This chart appears in the ERS report Farm Profits and Adoption of Precision Agriculture, released October 2016.
Wednesday, February 1, 2017
The ERS Major Land Uses (MLU) series estimates land in various uses, including the acres devoted to crop production in a given year. These acres, collectively referred to as “cropland used for crops,” include acres of cropland harvested, acres on which crops failed, and cultivated summer fallow. At 318 million acres, cropland harvested in 2016 is estimated to have increased by 2 million acres from the previous year—returning to levels in 2014 and matching the highest cropland harvested area since 1997 (321 million acres). The area that was double cropped (two or more crops harvested) declined by 1 million acres, while land that experienced crop failure held constant at 7 million acres in 2016—remaining well below its 20-year average of 10 million acres. Cultivated summer fallow, which primarily occurs as part of wheat rotations in the semiarid West, continued its long-term decline and reached its lowest level (12 million acres) since the start of the MLU series. The larger historical fluctuations seen in cropland used for crops are largely attributable to Federal cropland acreage reduction programs, such as the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). Initiated in 1985, the CRP pays farmers to keep idle environmentally sensitive land that could otherwise be used in crop production. This chart uses historical data from the ERS MLU series, recently updated to include 2016 estimates.
Wednesday, December 14, 2016
Farmers and ranchers use a number of practices to build or restore soil health. One such practice is cover cropping. Farmers plant cover crops or cover crop mixes between plantings of commodity crops (usually in the winter). Reasons for planting cover crops include reducing erosion, preserving soil moisture, and increasing organic matter. Common cover crops include clover, field peas, and annual ryegrass. Cover crops are not harvested and so do not provide revenue for a farmer, although sometimes farms get direct value out of a cover crop through grazing their livestock on the crop. The use of cover cropping is concentrated in the southern and eastern United States. Regional differences in the adoption of cover cropping may be related to differences in climate, regional agricultural markets, and State incentive programs. For example, Maryland has relatively high rates of adoption because of a program that pays farmers to grow cover crops in order to improve water quality in the Chesapeake Bay. This chart appears in the September 2016 Amber Waves feature, “An Economic Perspective on Soil Health.”