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Record U.S. agricultural exports in FY 2021 spurred by East Asian and North American sales of grains and oilseeds

Friday, February 25, 2022

At more than $172 billion, the total value of U.S. agricultural exports reached a high in fiscal year (FY) 2021. Values are projected to remain elevated in FY 2022 (October–September) with the current forecast at $183.5 billion. Exports grew in most trading regions, although East Asia (China, Japan, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and South Korea) recently has accounted for the largest share. Exports to East Asia slipped during the 2010s, from a high of $54 billion in 2014 to a low of $37.7 billion in 2019. Since 2019, exports rebounded to $61.7 billion in 2021, of which China accounts for 54 percent and Japan 22 percent, and are forecast to exceed $66 billion in FY 2022. Much of the growth in East Asian exports was associated with higher consumption of grains and oilseeds as China rebuilds its pork industry after devastation caused by African swine fever. U.S. sales to North American trading partners provided the second largest contribution to U.S. agricultural export growth. Abundant U.S. corn supplies supported the increases in grain and feed exports, especially to Mexico. In 2021, grain and feed exports to Mexico and Canada rose to $11.8 billion. Agricultural exports to the next largest trading regions—Southeast Asia and the European Union (EU)—were comparatively flat, with both grain and oilseed exports to the EU down in 2020 and 2021. This chart is drawn from data in USDA, Economic Research Service’s (ERS) Outlook for U.S. Agricultural Trade and data in ERS's U.S. Agricultural Trade Update.

USDA’s Conservation Reserve Program incentivizes higher quality cover practices using an Environmental Benefits Index

Thursday, February 24, 2022

The Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) allows landowners and producers to enroll eligible, environmentally sensitive agricultural land in return for payments determined through long-term contracts. Most land in the program has come in through the General Signup, a competitive offer process administered by USDA, Farm Service Agency (FSA). Every offer in each General Signup is scored using the Environmental Benefits Index (EBI). “The single most important producer decision involves determining which cover practice to apply to the acres offered,” FSA says in its “EBI Fact Sheet,” which provides guidance to potential program participants. “Planting or establishing the highest scoring cover mixture is the best way to improve the chances of offer acceptance.” In a recent report, ERS analyzed the EBI points for the 11 most common practices selected in the General Signup. Cover practices that are considered higher quality, such as pollinator habitat or those using hardwood trees, earn more EBI points. Some cover practices score additional points if the land being offered for the CRP falls within a wildlife priority zone (WPZ). For practices outside of WPZs, the EBI points awarded ranged from 13 to 100. Within WPZs, the EBI points ranged higher, from 13 to 130. This chart appears in the ERS report Cover Practice Definitions and Incentives in the Conservation Reserve Program, published on February 23, 2022.

Food prices were below overall inflation in 2021

Wednesday, February 23, 2022

Food prices overall increased by an average of 3.9 percent in 2021 compared to 2020, the highest annual increase since 2008. Food prices grew more slowly than the “all items” and transportation CPIs, but more quickly than all other of the “major groups” tracked by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The CPI for all items rose 4.7 percent in 2021. Among the food categories that comprise the food CPI, the food-away-from-home (restaurant purchases) CPI increased 4.5 percent, compared with an increase of 3.5 percent for food-at-home (grocery stores or other purchases from food retailers). The highest price increases in food-at-home categories in 2021 were for beef and veal (9.3 percent), pork (8.6 percent), and fresh fruit (5.5 percent). Using the CPI data, USDA, Economic Research Service (ERS) researchers project overall food prices will increase between 2 and 3 percent in 2022. A five-year comparison of changes in major CPI categories is available in the Food Prices and Spending section of ERS’s Ag and Food Statistics: Charting the Essentials data product, and a time-series visualization of the data appears in the Food Price Environment data tool. More information on ERS’s monthly food price forecasts can be found in ERS’s Food Price Outlook (FPO) data product. The next FPO release is February 25, 2022.

Organic dairy farms see slower productivity growth than conventional operations

Tuesday, February 22, 2022

Organic dairy farms must follow a variety of USDA regulations to obtain certification and maintain their organic status. For example, they have to use organic grains and feed supplements, and they mostly rely on pasture-based feeding, which makes them more vulnerable to weather shocks such as drought or sudden and intense storms. These challenges mean productivity on organic dairy farms grows at a slower rate than on operations using conventional processes. Productivity is measured as total factor productivity (TFP), the ratio of the total amount of goods (in this case, milk) produced relative to all the inputs—such as labor, fertilizer, and other costs—used to produce those goods. USDA, Economic Research Service (ERS) researchers studied the difference in TFP growth between organic and conventional farms using data from organic dairy farms between 2005–16 and from conventional dairy farms between 2000–16. TFP grew at an annual rate of 0.66 percent for organic dairy farms compared with 2.51 percent among conventional dairy operations. Both organic and conventional farms saw productivity growth due to technological progress such as advanced equipment and improved genetics. While weather-related feed factors reduced productivity for organic farms, they contributed to a productivity growth for conventional dairy farms. Technical efficiency increased productivity slightly on organic farms, but reduced productivity on conventional farms, while scale-and-mix efficiency reduced productivity for both types of farms. This chart was included in the ERS report Sources, Trends, and Drivers of U.S. Dairy Productivity and Efficiency, published in February 2022.

Consumer Price Index, a key input for USDA’s 10-year commodity projections, to increase in developed regions while decreasing in developing regions

Friday, February 18, 2022

The Consumer Price Index (CPI), a common measure of inflation, is used by economists to reflect underlying conditions that drive changes in the supply, use, and prices of commodities, both domestically and globally. Each fall, USDA forecasts CPI by country and region in addition to other macroeconomic variables as part of the International Macroeconomic Data Set, released publicly the following January. Those variables help form the foundation for USDA’s Baseline, a set of 10-year projections for major crop and livestock commodities released each February. USDA Baseline projections indicate that for the next 10 years, the CPI for developed countries is expected to increase at a rate of 1.9 percent, compared with the previous decade’s growth of 1.4 percent. For developing countries, CPI will continue to grow at 3.6 percent annually over the next 10 years, but at a slower pace than the 4.6 percent from the previous decade. While these projections were established in late 2021, expectations for inflation over the next decade closely mirror those here. In early months of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, inflation rates increased significantly more in developing countries but have begun to return to pre-pandemic levels. Central banks have established monetary policies with firm inflation targets, influencing borrowing and lending attitudes in local economies and further slowing inflation. In developed countries, however, inflation rates are increasing and are not projected to revert to pre-pandemic levels at this time. In the United States, changes in lending and purchases of U.S. government and mortgage-backed securities that occurred in the early months of the pandemic have caused expectations to remain slightly elevated when compared to the previous decade. The data in this chart appear in the "International Macroeconomic Data Set," published on January 13, 2022. The full report, USDA Agricultural Projections to 2031, was released on February 16, 2022.

Large organizations deliver 80 percent of off-farm irrigation water

Thursday, February 17, 2022

Irrigation delivery organizations, such as irrigation districts, ditch companies, mutuals and acequias, provide water to farms and ranches and can vary in size. The USDA 2019 Survey of Irrigation Organizations collected data about them in the 24 States where these organizations are most common. Analysis of the survey data indicated that most irrigation organizations are small or medium in scale based on the number of agricultural acres they serve. An estimated 44 percent serve fewer than 1,000 irrigable acres, and 40 percent serve between 1,000 and 10,000 acres. However, most land and off-farm irrigation water are supplied by large delivery organizations, which serve more than 10,000 acres. While they represent only 16 percent of organizations, they serve 78 percent of irrigated acres with off-farm water and deliver 80 percent of off-farm water. This chart appears in the ERS report Irrigation Organizations: Drought Planning and Response, release January 2022.

U.S. labor productivity per hours worked grew from 1948 to 2017 in part because of changes in quality of labor, study finds

Wednesday, February 16, 2022

Agricultural output in the United States nearly tripled between 1948 and 2017 even as the amount of labor hours-worked declined by more than 80 percent. These opposing trends resulted in an increase in labor productivity growth in the U.S. farm sector. Labor productivity—calculated as average output per unit of labor input—is a popular measure for understanding economic growth. According to USDA, Economic Research Service (ERS) estimates, agricultural output per worker grew by 16 times from 1948 through 2017. At the same time, agricultural output per hour worked grew even faster, by 17 times, implying that average hours worked per worker declined. Labor productivity estimates can vary based on different ways labor is measured. One factor in the increased labor productivity is the quality of labor, measured by attributes such as age, gender, and the highest level of education a worker has reached. Because these attributes may affect worker performance, ERS researchers accounted for labor quality changes in analyzing farm labor productivity. When labor quality changes since 1948 were accounted for, labor productivity grew at a slower rate than those based simply on hours worked or employment. The reason is because labor quality is treated as a part of labor input instead of productivity. This implies that changes in labor quality, such as improvements in education, account for much of the change in labor productivity over the last seven decades. ERS researchers estimate that changes to farm worker attributes accounted for about 13 percent of growth in hourly based annual labor productivity during the time studied. This chart in included in the ERS report Farm Labor, Human Capital, and Agricultural Productivity in the United States, published Feb. 15, 2022.

SNAP spending contributed to rural economic output and jobs following the Great Recession

Tuesday, February 15, 2022

USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) provides low-income U.S. households assistance to buy food items, which helps to support the economy during periods of high unemployment. Researchers at USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS) studied the effect SNAP benefits had on the rural and urban economies during the period of high unemployment following the Great Recession from 2009–14. They found household spending of SNAP benefits contributed disproportionately more to the rural economy. SNAP benefits can only be used on food items—farm goods (such as fruits, vegetables, and milk) and processed foods (such as breads and pastas)—but using them frees up money to spend on other nonfood items. ERS researchers found SNAP benefit spending caused a ripple effect that helped to support local jobs and contributed to economic output through the production of goods and services. During the 6-year period, average annual SNAP benefit expenditures of $71 billion (in 2014 dollars) generated an annual increase in rural economic output of $49 billion and an urban output of $149 billion. Expenditures supported the employment of 279,000 rural workers and 811,000 urban workers. When measured in total dollars and numbers of jobs, household spending of SNAP benefits generated larger economic impacts in the urban economy. However, when measured as a share of total economic output and employment, SNAP generated larger relative impacts in the rural economy. Household expenditures of SNAP benefits increased rural economic output annually by 1.25 percent and rural employment by 1.18 percent. For the urban economy, SNAP benefits increased economic output by 0.53 percent and employment by 0.50 percent. This chart appears in the Amber Waves finding USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) Contributed to Rural Economic Output, Jobs Following the Great Recession, released December 7, 2021.

U.S. imports of cocoa and chocolate products valued at over $5 billion annually

Monday, February 14, 2022

In the United States, the exchange of chocolate candies and other cocoa-based confections is a popular Valentine’s Day tradition. With cocoa beans only grown abroad, trade is critical to meet the U.S. consumer’s fondness for cocoa-based treats. The United States imported an average of $5.06 billion a year worth of cocoa and products between 2017–21 (not adjusted for inflation), including cocoa beans, paste, butter, powder, as well as foods prepared with cocoa such as chocolate. Imported shipments of chocolate and other food preparations containing cocoa were the largest share of imports and were valued at almost $2.8 billion a year between 2017 and 2021. This category includes large bricks of chocolate that are further processed, in addition to smaller, retail-ready products. Cocoa beans, the raw seeds from the cacao tree that are processed into derivative products, were imported mostly from Cote d'Ivoire, Ecuador, and Ghana. The import value of cocoa beans averaged more than $1.1 billion annually over the 5-year period. Cocoa butter shipments, principally supplied by Indonesia and Malaysia, were valued at $576 million annually, while supplies of cocoa paste, mostly originating from Cote d’Ivoire, averaged about $293 million a year. The United States also exports chocolate and cocoa products to Canada and Mexico. This chart is drawn from the Outlook for U.S. Agricultural Trade published by USDA’s Economic Research Service, November 2021.

Working capital remained below historical averages for all farm sizes from 2015 to 2020

Friday, February 11, 2022

Working capital is calculated by subtracting current farm liabilities from current farm assets. It is a commonly used measure of liquidity, a business’s capacity to meet short-term obligations without disrupting normal operations. Larger farm operations generally require more working capital than smaller operations. In low-income years, farmers may draw down their working capital to pay their total business expenses. In high-income years, farmers are likely to accumulate working capital. Between 2012 and 2020, working capital for farms of all sizes fell as farmers depleted their savings and inventory to cope with lower revenues. During that period, farms with gross cash farm income (GCFI) of less than $100,000, saw the largest depletion of working capital at 72 percent. Working capital declined 50 percent for farms with a GCFI of $100,000 but less than $500,000, and 33 percent for farms with a GCFI of $500,000 or more. In 2020, farms with GCFI of $500,000 or more emerged with improved working capital, showing a 13 percent increase compared with 2019. However, working capital decreased 16 percent for farms with a GCFI of $100,000 but less than $500,000 and 25 percent for farms with less than $100,000 in 2020. Although government payments from Coronavirus (COVID-19) relief in 2020 appeared to have increased working capital for farms with GCFI of $500,000 or above, levels across all farm sizes were lower for 2015–20 compared with the 1996–2019 average level of working capital. This chart appears in the USDA, Economic Research Service report Financial Conditions in the U.S. Agricultural Sector: Historical Comparisons, published October 2019, and updated to reflect the most recent data from USDA’s 1996–2020 Agricultural Resource Management Survey (ARMS).

Fertilizer prices spike in leading U.S. market in late 2021, just ahead of 2022 planting season

Wednesday, February 9, 2022

Nitrogen fertilizers are a key component in the production of field crops. Fertilizer constitutes an average of 36 percent of a farmer’s operating costs for corn, 35 percent for wheat, and 30 percent for sorghum, according to estimates in USDA, Economic Research Service’s (ERS) 2020 Commodity Costs and Returns data product, published in October 2021. Given the importance of applying fertilizer to meet yield goals for most field crops, a rapid escalation in fertilizer prices affects a wide variety of farming activities and decisions. Data for Iowa production costs—used as a proxy for U.S. expenses because of Iowa’s central location and its importance in field crop production—indicate a steady decline in fertilizer prices from 2013 through 2017 before gradually rising through 2019. In late 2021, fertilizer prices began to spike alongside rising prices of natural gas—a primary input in nitrogen fertilizer production. By December 2021, average monthly spot prices of natural gas at the Henry Hub distribution hub in Louisiana, as published by the U.S. Energy Information Administration, were 45 percent higher than in December 2020. U.S. farmers use three primary forms of nitrogen fertilizer: anhydrous ammonia, urea, and liquid nitrogen. ERS estimates an annual price increase of 235 percent for anhydrous ammonia, 149 percent for urea, and 192 percent for liquid nitrogen (32 percent) using data provided by USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) as of December 2021. Researchers expect the spike in fertilizer prices to affect producer decisions going into the 2022/23 marketing year. This chart is drawn from ERS’ January 2022 Feed Grains Outlook.

Imported fishery and seafood products had most pathogen/toxin violations over past two decades

Monday, February 7, 2022

Food imported into the United States from other countries may contain pathogens such as bacteria, viruses, or other disease-causing microorganisms, or toxins, which are mostly produced by microorganisms. These pathogens and toxins could lead to foodborne illnesses. From 2002 to 2019, a total of 22,350 pathogen violations occurred from imported foods. About 70 percent of those violations came from two food sources: the fishery and seafood products industry and the spices, flavors, and salts industry. Fishery and seafood products had 9,857 pathogen violations over this period, accounting for 44.1 percent of the total refused imports. This category was followed by spices, flavors, and salts, which had 5,886 violations, or 26.3 percent of the total. Cheese and cheese products accounted for 7.1 percent of the total, followed by fruits and fruit products with 6.2 percent, nuts and edible seeds with 5.1 percent, and vegetables and vegetable products with 4.1 percent. In total, the top six food industries accounted for 93 percent of the total pathogen violations over the period. This chart was drawn from the USDA, Economic Research Service report Examining Pathogen-Based Import Refusals: Trends and Analysis From 2002 to 2019, published December 2021.

Farm sector profits to remain above long-term averages in 2022

Friday, February 4, 2022

USDA’s Economic Research Service forecasts inflation-adjusted U.S. net cash farm income (NCFI)—gross cash income minus cash expenses—to increase by $12.6 billion (9.9 percent) to $139.0 billion in 2021 and then decrease by $2.9 billion (2.1 percent) to $136.1 billion in 2022. U.S. net farm income (NFI) is forecast to increase by $20.7 billion (20.1 percent) to $123.4 billion in 2021 and then decrease by $9.7 billion (7.9 percent) to $113.7 billion in 2022. Net farm income is a broader measure of farm sector profitability that incorporates noncash items, including changes in inventories, economic depreciation, and gross imputed rental income. If these forecasts are realized, both NCFI and NFI would remain above their respective 2001–20 averages in 2022. Underlying these forecasts, cash receipts for farm commodities are projected to rise by $13.7 billion (3.1 percent) to $461.9 billion in 2022, their highest level since 2014. During the same period, production expenses are expected to increase by $5.9 billion (1.5 percent) to $411.6 billion in 2022, offsetting some of this income growth. Additionally, direct Government payments to farmers are projected to fall by $16.4 billion (58.5 percent) from 2021 levels to $11.7 billion in 2022, largely due to lower anticipated USDA and non-USDA payments for Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic assistance. Find additional information and analysis on the USDA, Economic Research Service’s topic page for Farm Sector Income and Finances, reflecting data released on February 4, 2022.

Mexico remains significant supplier of U.S. sugar despite limits imposed on Mexican sugar imports

Wednesday, February 2, 2022

Before 2008, Mexico provided a negligible share of U.S. sugar imports but has since become the largest supplier. Mexico’s increasing contribution to the U.S. sugar supply comes despite a limit imposed on the country’s exports to the United States under the terms of suspension agreements negotiated with the U.S. Department of Commerce in 2014. Until 1993, U.S. sugar imports from Mexico were limited to small shares allocated under World Trade Organization sugar quotas for the United States. In 1994, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was implemented, and sugar duties were phased out during a 15-year period in which additional Mexican sugar was periodically imported. In July 2006, the United States and Mexico negotiated additional import quotas, and in 2008, sugar trade between the two countries became duty and quota-free. This arrangement remains in place under the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) that replaced NAFTA in 2020. From 2008 to 2013, with no duties or quotas, Mexico’s share of total U.S. imports grew sharply and peaked at 64 percent in 2013. In 2014, after the U.S. International Trade Commission determined that sugar imported from Mexico injured the domestic sugar industry, the United States and Mexico negotiated agreements that suspended U.S. anti-dumping and countervailing duties that would have been applied to Mexican sugar. The agreements provide for minimum prices in addition to quantity limits. Since then, Mexico has limited its exports to the United States to comply with the terms but remains the most significant supplier. This chart is drawn from Economic Research Service’s Sugar and Sweetener Outlook, December 2021.

U.S. per capita fluid cow’s milk consumption slid further during the 2010s

Monday, January 31, 2022

U.S. per capita consumption of fluid cow’s milk has been trending downward since about the mid-1940s, and it fell at a faster rate during the 2010s than in each of the previous six decades. Using dietary intake surveys collected between 2003 and 2018, USDA, Economic Research Service (ERS) researchers examined recent trends in milk consumption by looking at how individuals consumed the milk and consumers’ ages. Results confirmed that drinking milk as a beverage is the primary way that individuals of all ages consume fluid cow’s milk. These beverages include plain and flavored fluid milk as well as malted milk, eggnog, kefir, hot chocolate, and other milk-based beverages. On a given day in 2003–04, U.S. consumers drank about 0.57 cup-equivalents of fluid cow’s milk on average. Per person consumption of milk as a beverage fluctuated over the 2000s between 0.53 and 0.57 cup-equivalents per day. However, it declined over the 2010s, falling to 0.33 cup-equivalents in 2017–18. Over the study period, U.S. per person consumption of milk with cereal also fell by 0.06 cup-equivalents, with the steepest drop in consumption occurring among children. No significant changes were detected in the amount of milk that U.S. consumers pour into other, non-dairy beverages such as tea and coffee. This chart appears in the ERS report Examining the Decline in U.S. Per Capita Consumption of Fluid Cow’s Milk, 2003–18, released October 2021.

2021 retail food price inflation continued at same pace as 2020, but varied among food categories

Friday, January 28, 2022

Retail food prices increased by 3.5 percent in 2021, equal to the rate in 2020 and greater than the historical annual average of 2.0 percent from 2000 to 2019. Of the 12 food categories depicted in the chart, six showed slower price increases in 2021 compared with 2020. Dairy products and fresh vegetables, in particular, had significantly slower price increases in 2021 than 2020 and their historical averages. Dairy product prices increased at 1.4 percent in 2021 versus 4.4 percent in 2020 and fresh vegetable prices increased by 1.1 percent compared to 2.6 percent is 2020. Conversely, prices in six food categories increased in 2021 at a faster rate than in 2020 as well as in years prior. Prices for fresh fruits, for instance, increased 5.5 percent in 2021 compared to a 0.8-percent decrease in 2020 and a 1.6-percent average increase over the prior 20 years. Inflationary pressures differ by food category. For example, meat prices, which rose the most of any included product groups, have been driven up by strong domestic and international demand, high feed costs, and supply chain disruptions. Winter storms and drought impacted meat prices in the spring, and processing facility closures due to cybersecurity attacks affected beef and other meat production in May. USDA, Economic Research Service (ERS) researchers project that prices for food-at-home, or food purchased typically from grocery stores or other food stores, will increase between 1.5 and 2.5 percent in 2022, lower than the 3.5-percent increase that occurred in both 2020 and 2021. Forecasts for all food categories for 2022 are available in ERS’s monthly Food Price Outlook data product, updated January 25, 2022.

In 2020, impact of COVID-19 on processing rates was short-lived in largest pork producing region

Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Collectively, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, and Nebraska compose the largest hog processing region in the United States. More than 40 percent of all U.S. hogs are processed within the borders of this four-State area USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) identifies as Region 7 of 10 Federal regions. The region is also home to more large and medium-size processing plants than the other regions. Large plants employ more than 1,000 people and medium plants employ 100 to 1,000 people. In the first three months of the (Coronavirus) COVID-19 pandemic (March–May 2020), Region 7 experienced a 40 percent decline in hog slaughter compared with rates during the same period in 2019. Labor shortages attributed to COVID-19 infections among workers resulted in slow production and temporary shutdowns at large processing plants for about 10 weeks. However, when looking at hog slaughter and reported COVID-19 cases for the entire year, slaughter increased even as cases of infection also increased. From June 2020 through the end of December 2020, weekly slaughter rates were generally on par with 2019 levels for the corresponding weeks. The recovery was in part due to improvements in labor availability and the adoption of plant-specific strategies aimed at improving worker safety and efficiency. Overall, hog slaughter for the region in 2020 was approximately 2 percent higher than in 2019, according to NASS’ Livestock Slaughter 2020 Summary, even with the sharp declines in production that occurred at the onset of the pandemic. This chart is drawn from Economic Research Service’s COVID-19 Working Paper: Changes in Regional Hog Slaughter During COVID-19.

Retaliatory tariffs reduced U.S. agricultural exports annually by $13.2 billion; impacts were concentrated in Midwestern States

Monday, January 24, 2022

In 2018, six U.S. trading partners—Canada, China, the European Union, India, Mexico, and Turkey—announced retaliatory tariffs affecting agricultural and food products. The agricultural products targeted for retaliation were valued at $30.4 billion in 2017, with individual product lines experiencing tariff increases ranging from 2 to 140 percent. USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS) estimated trade losses from retaliatory tariffs by State and commodity using data in the ERS State Exports, Cash Receipts Estimates. Estimated annualized losses from mid-2018 through the end of 2019 totaled $13.2 billion across 17 commodity groups, led by soybeans, sorghum, and pork. While retaliatory tariffs affected all States, those in the Midwest experienced the largest losses. ERS researchers estimated Iowa lost $1.46 billion; Illinois, $1.41 billion; and Kansas, $955 million, all on an annualized basis. Iowa and Illinois, which together produce 25 to 30 percent of U.S. soybeans, both experienced trade losses in excess of $1 billion for soybeans alone. The retaliatory tariffs followed the issuance of U.S. tariffs on imports of steel and aluminum from major trading partners and on a broad range of imports from China. This chart can be found in the ERS report, The Economic Impacts of Retaliatory Tariffs on U.S. Agriculture, published in January 2022.

Inflation-adjusted monthly U.S. food spending in 2021 surpasses pre-pandemic levels

Friday, January 21, 2022

Total food spending in the United States generally follows seasonal trends. The lowest food spending levels usually occur in January and February, before rising in March and remaining at this higher level through August. Spending then drops from September through November before peaking during the December holidays. However, food economy disruptions following the onset of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic in early 2020 altered historical monthly food spending trends in the United States. The USDA, Economic Research Service’s (ERS) Food Expenditure Series tracks food spending beginning in 1997. The largest monthly decline in food spending (23 percent) occurred in April 2020, and monthly food spending averaged 8.3 percent lower in 2020 than in 2019. Overall, total U.S. food spending has consistently increased over the years, even when accounting for inflation. Average inflation-adjusted monthly expenditures were 23.2 percent higher in 2019 than in 2011. Though total food spending in 2021 has followed the typical pattern, spending began the year below pre-pandemic levels but surpassed previous years beginning in March. The data for this chart come from the ERS’s Food Expenditure Series data product.

Per acre water use in irrigated farmland shows a declining trend

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

The importance of irrigation for the U.S. agricultural sector has evolved significantly over the past century. Irrigated acreage in the country has grown from fewer than 3 million acres in 1890 to more than 58 million acres in 2017. The expansion of irrigated acreage during this period reflects Federal, State, and local investment in irrigation infrastructure to deliver surface water to farms and ranches. Additionally, this expansion is partly due to advancements in well drilling and pumping technologies, which have facilitated growth in groundwater-based irrigated agriculture. Since 1969, the amount of water used per acre irrigated has decreased substantially. The average water use per acre irrigated was more than 2 acre-feet (1 acre-foot = 325,851 gallons) in 1969, which declined to nearly 1.5 acre-feet by 2018. Efficient water application technologies, such as the transition from gravity-based to pressurized irrigation systems, have driven the reduction in water use per acre of irrigated land. This chart was drawn from the USDA, Economic Research Service report “Trends in U.S. Irrigated Agriculture: Increasing Resilience Under Water Supply Scarcity,” published December 2021.

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