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Cropland harvested reaches 17-year high amid decline in crop failure

Thursday, September 3, 2015

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. In 2014 (the most recent estimate), the total area of cropland used for crops was 340 million acres, up 4 million acres from the 2013 estimate but in line with the 30-year average. In 2014, cropland harvested increased by 2 percent (6 million acres) over the previous year. The 317 million acres of cropland harvested represents the highest harvested acreage since 1997, when cropland harvested was 321 million acres. The area double cropped—land from which two or more crops were harvested—declined by 1 million acres, a 10 percent decline from the 2013 double-cropped area of 10 million acres. Acres on which crops failed declined by 25 percent over the past year to 9 million acres, the lowest level since 2010. Cultivated summer fallow, which primarily occurs as part of wheat rotations in the semiarid West, has remained relatively stable over the last 10 years, although its use has been declining since the late 1960s. Larger historical fluctuations seen in cropland used for crops are largely attributable to Federal cropland acreage reduction programs. This chart is based on ERS’s Major Land Uses, Summary table 3: Cropland used for crops, updated August 31, 2015 to include 2014 estimates.

Corn and soybean returns are highest when growers and their neighbors manage glyphosate resistance

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Glyphosate, also known by the trade name Roundup, is the most widely used herbicide in the United States. Widespread and exclusive use of glyphosate, without other weed control strategies, can induce resistance to the herbicide by controlling susceptible weeds while allowing more resistant weeds to survive, propagate, and spread. Resistant weed seeds can disperse across fields—carried by animals, equipment, people, wind, and water. Consequently, controlling weed resistance depends on the joint actions of farmers and their neighbors. ERS analyses evaluated the long-term financial returns to growers who adopt weed control practices that aim to slow resistance to glyphosate, and compared those returns when neighboring farmers also manage to slow resistance. Projected net returns (annualized over 20 years) for growers who manage resistance generally exceed returns for growers who ignore resistance; they are even higher when neighbors also manage resistance. Projected net returns for growers with neighbors who also manage resistance range 18-20 percent higher than those of growers/neighbors who ignore resistance. This chart visualizes data found in the Amber Waves feature, “Managing Glyphosate Resistance May Sustain Its Efficacy and Increase Long-Term Returns to Corn and Soybean Production,” May 2015.

Growth in certified organic field crop acreage has been rapid, but uneven

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

U.S. crop acres under USDA certified organic systems have grown since the National Organic Program was implemented in 2002. Organic crop acres increased from about 1.3 million in 2002 to almost 3.1 million in 2011, and part of this growth was in major field crops: corn, soybeans, and wheat. Among these 3 crops, certified organic production of corn increased the most, from about 96,000 acres in 2002 to 234,000 acres in 2011. Certified organic soybean acreage peaked at 175,000 acres in 2001, before falling to 100,000 acres in 2007 and rebounding to 132,000 acres in 2011. Wheat has the largest number of organic acres, starting at 225,000 acres in 2002 and peaking at more than 400,000 acres in 2008, before falling to 345,000 acres in 2011. Much of the increased organic corn production has been to support a rapidly growing organic dairy sector. Higher prices for conventional corn, soybeans, and wheat since 2008 and somewhat slower demand growth for organic products due to the economic recession, along with increasing imports of these crops, may have limited the growth in organic field crop acreage in recent years. This chart is from the ERS report, The Profit Potential of Certified Organic Field Crop Production, July 2015

Dairy production is concentrated in climates that expose animals to less heat stress

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Above a temperature threshold, an animal may experience heat stress resulting in changes in its respiration, blood chemistry, hormones, metabolism, and feed intake. Dairy cattle are particularly sensitive to heat stress; high temperatures lower milk output and reduce the percentages of fat, solids, lactose, and protein in milk. In the United States, dairy production is largely concentrated in climates that expose animals to less heat stress. The Temperature Humidity Index (THI) load provides a measure of the amount of heat stress an animal is under. The annual THI load is similar to “cooling degree days,” a concept often used to convey the amount of energy needed to cool a building in the summer. The map shows concentrations of dairy cows in regions with relatively low levels of heat stress: California’s Central Valley, Idaho, Wisconsin, New York, and Pennsylvania. Relatively few dairies are located in the very warm Gulf Coast region (which includes southern Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida). This map is drawn from Climate Change, Heat Stress, and Dairy Production, ERR-175, September 2014.

Peanut farms are adopting precision agriculture technologies

Monday, May 18, 2015

Precision agriculture is a set of practices used to manage fields by assessing variations in nutrient needs, soil qualities, and pest pressures. In 2013-14, USDA conducted the latest Agricultural Resource Management Survey (ARMS) of U.S. peanut growers, interviewing farmers about production practices, resource use, and finances. Some technologies have been rapidly adopted; in particular, 42 percent of peanut farms used auto-steer or guidance systems in 2013, up from 5 percent in 2006. These systems can reduce stress for operators and limit the over-application of inputs on field edges. Yield monitors and yield maps, with essentially no usage in 2006, were used on 8 and 6 percent of farms, respectively, in 2013. With these technologies, monitors can identify within-field yield variations so farmers can adjust inputs and practices accordingly. The use of variable rate application, which has increased from 3 to 22 percent of farms, allows for the adjustment of fertilizer application over a field so that fertilizer can be applied where and when it is needed, thus reducing costs and being more environmentally friendly. This chart is found in the joint ERS/National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) report, 2013 ARMS—Peanut Industry Highlights, based on ARMS Farm Financial and Crop Production Practices data.

Rice farms are adopting precision agriculture technologies

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Precision agriculture refers to a set of practices used to manage fields by measuring variations in nutrient needs, soil qualities, and pest pressures. In 2013, USDA conducted the latest Agricultural Resource Management Survey (ARMS) of the U.S. rice industry, interviewing farmers about production practices, resource use, and finances in the 10 largest rice-producing States. Some technologies have been rapidly adopted; in particular, yield monitoring increased in use to 60 percent of farms between 2006 and 2013. Monitors can identify variations in yields within a field, allowing farmers to adjust inputs and practices accordingly. Auto-steer or guidance systems are now used on over half of all rice farms; these reduce stress on operators, and reduce errors in input application overlaps and seeding cut-off at the end rows. The cost savings from using these two technologies can also be accompanied by increases in yields. This chart is found in the joint ERS/National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) report, 2013 ARMS—Rice Industry Highlights, based on ARMS Farm Financial and Crop Production Practices data.

Productivity rises in global agriculture

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

By using new technologies, farmers can produce more food using fewer economic resources at lower costs. One measure of technological change is total factor productivity (TFP). Increased TFP means that fewer economic resources (land, labor, capital and materials) are needed to produce a given amount of economic output. However, TFP does not account for the environmental impacts of agricultural production; resources that are free to the farm sector (such as water quality, greenhouse gas emissions, biodiversity) are not typically included in TFP. As a result, TFP indexes may over- or under-estimate the actual resource savings from technological change. Growth in global agricultural TFP began to accelerate in the 1980s, led by large developing countries like China and Brazil. This growth helped keep food prices down even as global demand surged. This chart uses data available in International Agricultural Productivity on the ERS website, updated October 2014.

Farms spend more on indirect energy inputs like fertilizer than direct energy inputs like fuel

Thursday, February 12, 2015

The agricultural sector uses energy both directly (in the form of fuel and electricity) and indirectly (through use of energy-intensive inputs, such as fertilizers and pesticides). Data from the Agricultural Resource Management Survey show that on average, the share of operator expenses for indirect energy (about 17.1 percent) exceeds the share of expenses for direct energy (about 8.5 percent) among U.S. farm businesses, across all farm sizes. Small farm businesses have the highest share of direct energy expenditures (about 12 percent of all small farm production expenses), while medium-sized farm businesses have the highest share of indirect energy expenditures (about 22 percent of expenses). Large farm businesses have the lowest share of energy-based expenses, since large farms typically have higher expenses for labor than smaller farms, reducing energy’s share of total expenses. This chart is found in the September 2014 Amber Waves data feature, “Agricultural Energy Use and the Proposed Clean Power Plan.”

Most U.S. broiler operations use some form of sanitation/biosecurity practice

Monday, January 26, 2015

USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service and Economic Research Service recently conducted the Agricultural Resource Management Survey (ARMS) of the U.S. broiler chicken industry. Results indicate that several sanitation and biosecurity practices were widespread on broiler operations in the United States in 2011. Almost all operations used practices to control rodent and wild bird access to facilities, and almost all rotated flocks on an all-in, all-out basis, aimed at limiting the spread of pathogens and disease among animals. Nearly half of broiler operations reported that they follow the National Poultry Improvement Plan (NPIP) or a Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) Plan, which are designed to improve animal health, food safety, and food quality. One-fifth of operations fully cleaned out and sanitized their houses after each flock removal. USDA may provide support for incineration and composting facilities, as well as litter management practices, through payments made under the Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP). ARMS results find that seven percent of contract growers received EQIP payments related to broiler production in 2011. This chart is found in the ERS/NASS report, 2011 ARMS - Broiler Industry Highlights.

U.S. hog production increasingly occurs on the largest operations

Monday, January 12, 2015

While the number of all farms in the United States remained fairly constant, the number of hog farms fell by about 70 percent between 1992 and 2009, from over 240,000 to about 71,000. Despite fewer hog farms, the Nation’s hog inventory was stable during the period, averaging about 60 million head, with cyclical fluctuations between 56 and 68 million head. Thus, hog production consolidated as fewer, larger farms accounted for an increased share of total output. From 1992 to 2009, the share of the U.S. hog and pig inventory on farms with 2,000 head or more increased from less than 30 percent to 86 percent. In 2009, farms with 5,000 head or more accounted for 61 percent of all hogs and pigs. This chart is found in the ERS report, U.S. Hog Production From 1992 to 2009: Technology, Restructuring, and Productivity Growth, ERR-158, October 2013.

U.S. hog operations have become increasingly specialized

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The traditional approach of farrow-to-finish hog production in the U.S.—where breeding and gestation, farrowing, nursery, and finishing to market weight are performed on one operation—is being replaced by operations that specialize in a single production phase. In 1992, more than 50 percent of U.S. hog operations used the farrow-to-finish approach. By 2009, less than 25 percent were farrow-to-finish producers. In contrast, hog operations specializing in raising feeder pigs weighing 30-80 pounds to market weights of 225-300 pounds (feeder-to-finish) accounted for less than 20 percent of hog producers in 1992, but nearly 50 percent in 2009. Specialized operations produced more than 70 percent of U.S. finished hog output in 2009, and were more likely to be producing hogs under contract than were farrow-to-finish farms. This chart is found in the ERS report, U.S. Hog Production From 1992 to 2009: Technology, Restructuring, and Productivity Growth, ERR-158, October 2013.

"No-till" practices are used on over half of major cropland acres

Friday, December 5, 2014

Soil health improves when farmers refrain from disturbing the soil. While no-till production systems are increasingly used on land in corn, soybeans, and wheat—the three largest U.S. crops by acreage—they are not necessarily used every year. Field-level data, collected through the Agricultural Resource Management Survey, show that farmers often rotate no-till with other tillage systems. Farmers growing wheat (in 2009), corn (in 2010), and soybeans (in 2012) were asked about no-till use in the survey year and the 3 previous years. No-till was used continuously over the 4-year period on 21 percent of surveyed acres. On almost half of the cropland surveyed, farmers did not use no-till. Some of the benefit of using no-till, including higher organic matter and greater carbon sequestration, is realized only if no-till is applied continuously over a number of years. Nonetheless, because tilling the soil can help control weeds and pests, some farmers rotate tillage practices much like they rotate crops. This chart is drawn from data reported in ARMS Farm Financial and Crop Production Practices, updated in December 2014.

Per-cow milk production is lower in hot climates

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Above a temperature threshold, an animal may experience heat stress, which results in changes in its respiration, blood chemistry, hormones, metabolism, and feed intake. Depending on the species, high temperatures can reduce meat and milk production and lower animal reproduction rates. Dairy cattle are particularly sensitive to heat stress; experiments have shown that high temperatures lower milk output and reduce the percentages of fat, solids, lactose, and protein in milk. A 2010 USDA survey of dairy farmers shows how climate influences milk production in practice. For small, medium and large dairies, milk output per cow was lower in areas with high heat stress compared to areas with low or medium heat stress. In much of the United States, climate change is likely to result in higher average temperatures, hotter daily maximum temperatures, and more frequent heat waves. Such changes could increase heat stress and lower milk production, unless new technologies are developed and adopted that counteract the effects of a warner climate. This chart is based on data found in the ERS report, Climate Change, Heat Stress, and Dairy Production, ERR-175, September 2014.

Environmental vulnerability varies across the Chesapeake Bay watershed

Thursday, August 21, 2014

The Chesapeake Bay is North America’s largest and most biologically diverse estuary, and its watershed covers 64,000 square miles across 6 States (Delaware, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia) and the District of Columbia. In 2010, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency established limits for nutrient and sediment emissions from point (e.g., wastewater treatment plants) and nonpoint (e.g., agricultural runoff) sources to the Chesapeake Bay in the form of a total maximum daily load (TMDL). Agriculture is the largest single source of nutrient emissions in the watershed. About 19 percent of all cropped acres in the Chesapeake Bay watershed are critically undertreated, meaning that the management practices in place are inadequate for preventing significant losses of pollutants from these fields. Critically undertreated acres are not distributed among the four sub-basins in the same way as cropland. For example, the Susquehanna watershed contains 69 percent of critically undertreated acres but only 41 percent of cropland. Targeting conservation resources to highly vulnerable regions could improve the economic performance of environmental policies and programs. This chart displays data found in the ERS report, An Economic Assessment of Policy Options To Reduce Agricultural Pollutants in the Chesapeake Bay, ERR-166, June 2014.

Genetically engineered seeds planted on over 90 percent of U.S. corn, cotton and soybean acres

Thursday, August 7, 2014

U.S. farmers have adopted genetically engineered (GE) seeds in the 19 years since their commercial introduction, despite their typically higher seed prices. Herbicide-tolerant (HT) crops, developed to survive the application of specific herbicides that previously would have destroyed the crop along with the targeted weeds, provide farmers with a broader variety of options for weed control. Insect-resistant crops contain a gene from the soil bacterium Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) that produces a protein toxic to specific insects, protecting the plant over its entire life. “Stacked” seed varieties carry both HT and Bt traits and now account for a large majority of GE corn and cotton seeds. In 2014, adoption of GE varieties, including those with herbicide tolerance, insect resistance, or stacked traits, reached 96 percent of cotton acreage, 94 percent of soybean acreage (soybeans have only HT varieties), and 93 percent of corn acreage planted in the United States. This chart comes from the ERS data product, Adoption of Genetically Engineered Crops in the U.S., updated July 2014.

Processed products dominate U.S. broiler production

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

In the early 1960s, over 80 percent of broiler production was marketed as whole birds, and only 2 percent as further processed products. By 2011, only 12 percent of production was marketed as whole birds, as production shifted to cut-up parts (42 percent of production) and to further processed products such as boneless chicken, breaded nuggets and tenders, and chicken sausages (46 percent of production). The shift to cut-up and processed products spurred growth in demand for chicken, which in turn elicited production increases. Different products come from birds of different sizes, and changes in demand composition have shifted production toward larger birds for processed products. Smaller broilers are usually marketed bone-in (whole or cut into parts) to the fast-food and foodservice sectors, while intermediate sizes are normally marketed to retail groceries in tray-pack or bagged forms. The largest birds can be sold whole as roasters but are also marketed deboned and processed into parts and value-added products. Growing and processing birds of such widely varying sizes requires tight coordination between the hatchery, grow-out, slaughter, and processing stages. This chart is found in the ERS report, Technology, Organization, and Financial Performance in U.S. Broiler Production, EIB-126, June 2014.

U.S. broiler production has leveled off after decades of rapid growth

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Between 1960 and 1995, annual broiler slaughter in the United States grew from 1.5 to 7.4 billion birds—4.6 percent per year, on average. With birds also getting larger—from an average of 3.35 pounds to 4.66—total live-weight production grew at an average rate of 5.6 percent per year. While average weights continued to grow steadily after 1995, growth in annual slaughter slowed sharply and then fell in 2009 and again in 2012. Total live-weight production reached 49.8 billion pounds in 2008, but did not exceed that figure until 2013. In all, live-weight production grew by just 1.3 percent per year between 2003 and 2013, one-fourth of the 1960-1995 growth rate. High production growth in earlier decades—and slowing growth later—reflected movements in demand for chicken meat. The cessation of broiler industry growth, due to slowing growth in population, per capita consumption of chicken, and exports, places new financial pressures on broiler producers and new stresses on industry organization. This chart is found in Technology, Organization, and Financial Performance in U.S. Broiler Production, EIB-126, June 2014.

Changes in U.S. double-cropped acreage roughly mirror commodity prices

Friday, June 27, 2014

Double-cropped acreage has varied from year to year. Because decisions about double cropping are made annually, fluctuations are likely as farmers respond to changing market and weather conditions. For example, higher commodity prices give farmers more incentive to intensify production and could offset revenue shortfalls from lower potential yields when double cropping. From 2004 to 2012, total double-cropped acreage roughly paralleled soybean, winter wheat, and corn prices. When commodity prices at the time of planting decisions were increasing or relatively high, total double-cropped acreage also increased. Total double-cropped acreage peaked at 10.9 million acres in 2008, when prices for soybeans, winter wheat, and corn also peaked. In 2005 and 2010, nearly every region witnessed declines in double-cropped acreage amid commodity price declines. This chart is found in the ERS report, Multi-Cropping Practices: Recent Trends in Double-Cropping, EIB-125, May 2014.

Double-cropped acreage varies by region

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Over the last decade, growing demand for agricultural commodities—for both food and fuel—has increased the incentives for farm operators to raise production. Double cropping, the harvest of two crops from the same field in a given year, has drawn interest as a method to intensify production without expanding acreage. In the U.S., the prevalence of double cropping varies by region. The variation across regions reflects farmers’ response to local conditions such as weather, climate (particularly growing season length), policy differences, and market incentives. The Southeast, Midwest, and Southern Plains regions lead the country in total double-cropped acreage. About one-third of the total double-cropped acreage over 1999-2012 was in the Southeast (2.7 million acres on average), and slightly more than one-fifth was in the Midwest (1.8 million acres on average). However, relative to each region’s total cropland acreage, the Northeast, Southeast, and Southwest all have larger shares of cropland used in double cropping than other regions. The Northeast had the largest share of double-cropped acreage (nearly 10 percent, on average) of the region’s total cropland, and the Northern Plains had the smallest (less than 0.5 percent on average). This chart is found in the ERS report, Multi-Cropping Practices: Recent Trends in Double-Cropping, EIB-125, May 2014.

Pesticide composition and use has changed over past five decades

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Pesticide use in U.S. agriculture grew rapidly between 1960 and 1981 before declining slightly over the last 3 decades. The total quantity of pesticide active ingredients applied to 21 selected crops (that accounted for more than 70 percent of the sector’s total use of pesticides) grew from 196 million pounds in 1960 to 632 million pounds in 1981. Over this period, the share of planted acres treated with herbicides for weed control increased, as did the total planted acreage of corn, wheat, and particularly soybeans, further increasing herbicide use. Since 1980, over 90 percent of corn, cotton, and soybean acres were treated with herbicides, leaving little room for increased use. The application of improved active ingredients, new modes of action having lower per-acre application rates, and recent technological innovations in pest management have also contributed to declining pesticide use. While farmers have used insecticides and fungicides for many decades, the widespread use of herbicides is a more recent phenomenon, as weed control was previously achieved by cultivation and other methods. This chart is found in the ERS report, Pesticide Use in U.S. Agriculture: 21 Selected Crops, 1960-2008, EIB-124, May 2014.