ERS Charts of Note
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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.
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.
Tuesday, April 22, 2014
The greenhouse gas (GHG) profile of the agricultural and forestry sector differs substantially from the profile of other sectors. Agriculture is an emission-intensive sector; it accounted for less than 1 percent of U.S. production (in real gross value-added terms), but emitted 10.4 percent of U.S. GHGs in 2012. Energy-related CO2 emission sources—which dominate GHG emissions in most other production sectors—are dwarfed in agriculture by unique crop and livestock emissions of nitrous oxide and methane. Crop and pasture soil management are the activities that generate the most emissions, due largely to the use of nitrogen-based fertilizers and other nutrients. The next largest sources are enteric fermentation (digestion in ruminant livestock) and manure management. Agriculture and forestry are unique in providing opportunities for withdrawing carbon from the atmosphere through biological sequestration in soil and biomass carbon sinks. The carbon sinks, which are largely due to land use change from agricultural to forest land (afforestation) and forest management on continuing forest, offset 13.5 percent of total U.S. GHG emissions in 2012. ERS is currently involved in research on the economic incentives farm operators have, or could be provided with, to take steps to both mitigate GHG emissions and adapt to climate change. This chart is from the topic on Climate Change on the ERS website.
Crop insurance indemnities and disaster assistance payments reflect the impact of drought on crop farms
Friday, February 28, 2014
Drought is the leading single cause of production losses to crop farms, followed by excess moisture, hail, freezes, and heat. Over the past four decades, a portion of the farm losses from all these weather-related causes have been covered by a combination of crop insurance and disaster assistance payments. Over this period, crop insurance has gradually grown in significance and is now a major component of the Federal safety net for crop farmers. The rise in total insurance indemnity payments is due to a combination of expanded enrollment in crop insurance, increased liabilities due to higher yields and commodity prices, and a series of major droughts in recent decades, capped by the 2012 drought. More than 80 percent of the acres of major field crops planted in the United States are now covered by Federal crop insurance, which can help to mitigate yield or revenue losses for covered farms. Droughts also have a major impact on livestock producers, principally through their effect on feed prices. (The accompanying chart does not include livestock-related assistance or pasture/rangeland indemnity payments.) This chart updates one found in The Role of Conservation Programs in Drought Risk Adaptation, ERR-148, April 2013.
Wednesday, December 4, 2013
The average annual rate of global agricultural growth slowed in the 1970s and 1980s but then accelerated in the 1990s and 2000s. In the decades prior to 1990, most output growth came about from intensification of input use (i.e., using more labor, capital, and material inputs per acre of agricultural land). Bringing new land into agriculture production and extending irrigation to existing agricultural land were also important sources of growth. Over the last two decades, however, the rate of growth in agricultural resources (land, labor, capital, etc.) slowed. In 2001-10, improvements in productivity—getting more output from existing resources—accounted for more than three-quarters of the total growth in global agricultural output, reflecting the use of new technology and changes in management by agricultural producers around the world. This chart is found in the ERS data product, International Agricultural Productivity, on the ERS website, updated November 2013.
Thursday, September 26, 2013
There is wide variation in wheat production costs on U.S. farms based on differences in cropping practices, yields, and costs of land, labor, and capital assets across wheat-producing regions. USDA’s 2009 Agricultural Resource Management Survey found that 97 percent of the country’s farms could have covered all their operating costs (shortrun costs of planting, growing, and harvesting) with the 2009/10 season average price of $4.87 per bushel if they had been able to attain the yields they expected at planting (as reported in the survey). Under the same price and yield assumptions, about 77 percent would have covered both operating and ownership costs (repair costs, annualized depreciation and interest costs, property taxes, and insurance) and 34 percent would have covered total costs (operating and ownership costs, as well as the opportunity costs of unpaid labor and land rental, and general farm overhead). However, during 2009/10, only 79 percent of wheat farms were able to cover their operating costs with the yields they actually harvested. The relatively high share of farmers not covering these shortrun costs is attributed, in part, to yield losses in the Southern Plains, where crops were adversely affected by severe weather during 2009/10. This chart can be found in U.S. Wheat Production Practices, Costs, and Yields: Variations Across Regions, EIB-116.
Friday, August 23, 2013
USDA’s Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) engages farmers in long-term (10- to 15-year) contracts to establish conservation covers on environmentally sensitive land. As of June 2013, about 27 million acres of farmland were enrolled in the program. An important provision within CRP is that under certain circumstances, farmers can utilize their CRP lands for managed or emergency haying and grazing. The haying and grazing of CRP land can provide important benefits to farmers, particularly during major droughts when other sources of livestock feed are scarce, and, if done correctly, can also improve the environmental value of the conservation covers. During the 2012 drought, farmers conducted emergency haying and grazing on almost 2.8 million acres and managed haying and grazing on another 700,000 acres. This chart is found in the Amber Waves article, “The Role of Conservation Program Design in Drought-Risk Adaptation,” July 2013.
Monday, August 12, 2013
Fertilizer prices have increased overall since 2006, reaching historical highs in 2008. Fertilizers are an important input into farming and higher prices have forced farmers to alter their use. Beginning in 2006, USDA’s Agricultural Resource Management Survey (ARMS) asked farm operators how they adjusted their operations in response to higher fertilizer and fuel prices. For most crops (soy, cotton, and wheat) farmers responded to higher prices by reducing their application rate. However, the largest users of fertilizer—corn farmers—responded most often that they managed fertilizer use more closely, for example by using practices such as soil testing, split applications, variable-rate applications, or soil incorporation. This chart is found in the ERS report, Agriculture's Supply and Demand for Energy and Energy Products, EIB-112, May 2012.
Tuesday, June 11, 2013
Farmers have choices for how they prepare the soil; reduce weed growth; incorporate fertilizer, manure and organic matter into the soil; and seed their crops, including the number of tillage operations and tillage depth. Tillage practices affect soil carbon, water pollution, and farmers’ energy and pesticide use. No-till is generally the least intensive form of tillage. Approximately 35 percent of U.S. cropland (88 million acres) planted to eight major crops had no-till operations in 2009, according to ERS researchers who estimated tillage trends based on 2000-07 data from USDA’s Agricultural Resource Management Survey (ARMS). Furthermore, the use of no-till increased over time for corn, cotton, soybeans, rice and wheat, the crops for which the ARMS data were sufficient to calculate a trend. While a more recent estimate of nationwide use of no-till by all major crop producers is not available, based on the results of recent surveys of wheat producers in 2009 and corn producers in 2010, it seems likely that no-till’s use continues to spread, albeit at a much reduced pace among corn producers. This chart is found on the ERS topic page, Soil Tillage and Crop Rotation, and in the ERS report, Agriculture’s Supply and Demand for Energy and Energy Products, EIB-112, May 2013.
Monday, May 20, 2013
Farmers can adapt to their local climate in many ways, including through participation in USDA programs. In regions of the country that face higher levels of drought risk, farmers are more likely to offer eligible land for enrollment in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). As a consequence, CRP is both more competitive in these regions and drought-prone counties are more likely to face a binding CRP acreage enrollment cap. When counties are near their enrollment cap, farms are less likely to offer eligible land for CRP because those offers are less likely to be accepted for enrollment. In simulations of offer rates based on observed historical data, a national increase in the county CRP acreage enrollment cap to 35 percent of cropland in each county (from the current level of 25 percent), results in more offers from eligible farmers in drought prone regions of the Great Plains and the Intermountain West. This map is found in the ERS report, The Role of Conservation Programs in Drought Risk Adaptation, ERR-148, April 2013.
Friday, April 12, 2013
Crop rotations are planned sequences of different crops on the same field over time. Rotating crops provides productivity benefits by improving soil nutrient levels and breaking crop pest cycles. Farmers may also choose to rotate crops to reduce their production risk through diversification or to manage scarce resources, such as labor, during planting and harvesting time. One indication of how prevalent crop rotations are in U.S. production is how relatively rare it is for farms to continuously produce the same crop from year to year on the same field. For corn, soybean, and wheat, between 84 and 92 percent of acreage involves some sort of rotation. This chart is found in the March 2013 Amber Waves finding, While Crop Rotations Are Common, Cover Crops Remain Rare.
Thursday, March 21, 2013
USDA recently conducted a survey of the U.S. broiler chicken industry. Results indicate that U.S. broiler production is shifting toward larger birds. Forty-two percent of birds produced in 2011 weighed more than 6.25 pounds, compared with 26 percent in 2006. The size shift reflects continuing changes in markets for broilers (toward more processed products and increased exports of poultry and poultry products). Producers tend to market birds in the smallest class (4.25 pounds or less) to fast food and food service sectors, while birds in the 4.26-6.25 pound class go to retail groceries in tray packs or bagged form. Birds in the two largest classes (6.26 pounds or more) may be marketed to retail groceries, but also are deboned and further processed into poultry products for several different sectors. This chart is found in the NASS report, 2011 ARMS - Broiler Industry Highlights.
Thursday, February 28, 2013
Agriculture (including on-farm energy emissions) accounted for about 8 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in 2010. Since farm production represents about 1 percent of total U.S. gross domestic product (in real gross value-added terms), the sector is relatively GHG-intensive. In all U.S. sectors except agriculture, the largest contributor to GHG emissions is fossil fuel combustion for energy. In agriculture, crop and livestock activities are unique sources of nitrous oxide and methane emissions, notably from soil nutrient management, enteric fermentation (a normal digestive process in animals that produces methane), and manure management. These emissions dominate the contribution of energy related emissions in the sector. The land-based activities of agriculture—as well as forestry—also have the unique capacity to withdraw (“sequester”) carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere and store it in soil and biomass sinks through activities such as no-till on cropland or land use change from croplands to grasslands. EPA estimates that U.S. carbon land-sinks offset close to 15.8 percent of total U.S. emissions in 2010. Agriculture provided 4 percent of U.S. sinks in 2010. This chart updates one found in the ERS report, Economics of Sequestering Carbon in the U.S. Agricultural Sector, TB-1909, March 2004.
Thursday, December 27, 2012
Nitrogen and other nutrients are essential in the production of crops used for food, feed, fiber, and biofuel. Applied annually, most of these nutrients are absorbed by the crops, but when applied in excess, they can be lost to the environment through volatilization, leaching, or runoff, contributing to air and water quality impairment. For corn, the share of planted acres with excess nitrogen applied (over 125 percent of the crop’s needs) declined from 59 percent in 1996 to 47 percent in 2010. Cotton also exhibited declining shares of planted acres with excess use of nitrogen, while winter wheat exhibited a slight decrease in share since 2004 after increasing earlier in the decade. Yield growth is a major factor improving nutrient use efficiency in corn in recent years. Higher yields result in more nutrients being absorbed by the crop, thus reducing nutrient losses. Yields (and efficiency) have benefited from increased crop rotation (corn planted after soybeans), soil testing for nitrogen, use of genetically engineered seeds to reduce pest damage, seeding rates, and adoption of precision technology (such as yield monitors and soil maps). This chart comes from the Crop & Livestock Practices topic page on the ERS website, updated December 2012.
Monday, November 5, 2012
All of the leading firms in food manufacturing and agricultural input industries are multinational, offering product sales spread across several continents. One indicator of the degree of globalization of agricultural input markets is the global distribution of agricultural input sales. In 2006, member countries of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA--United States, Canada, and Mexico) accounted for about 23 percent of the global seed market and 30-36 percent of global sales of agricultural chemicals, farm machinery, animal feed, and animal health pharmaceuticals (including those for nonfood animals). The Europe-Middle East-Africa market (which is mostly Europe) had the largest aggregate seed sales in 2006, whereas Asia-Pacific countries used the most fertilizers and bought the most farm machinery. Together, Asia-Pacific and Latin America are indicative of the developing-country share of global agricultural input markets. They account for 37-51 percent of global sales of crop seed and chemicals, farm machinery, fertilizers, and animal feed. This chart is found in the ERS report, Research Investments and Market Structure in the Food Processing, Agricultural Input, and Biofuel Industries Worldwide, ERR-130, December 2011.
Friday, November 2, 2012
The organic label is the most prominent food eco-label in the United States. In 2000, USDA published national organic standards that reflected decades of private-sector development. USDA regulations define organic farming as an ecological production system that fosters resource cycling, promotes ecological balance, and conserves biodiversity. In 2005, USDA began to include targeted oversamples of organic producers in its Agricultural Resource Management Survey (ARMS), which collects detailed information about farmers' production practices, as well as costs and returns in major farm sectors. Some of the differences in practices and characteristics of organic and conventional production systems are apparent from survey responses by soybean, wheat, apple, and corn producers. In general, organic acres are more likely to be owned by the operator, enrolled in a conservation program, have planting and harvest dates adjusted to control for pests, and use compost and manure. This chart can be found in the ERS report, Agricultural Resources and Environmental Indicators, 2012 Edition, EIB-98, August 2012.
Wednesday, October 24, 2012
Geographical shifts in hog production have accompanied structural and organizational changes in the industry. Historically, hog production was concentrated in the Heartland, particularly in Iowa and Illinois, where an abundant corn supply provided a cheap source of hog feed and sufficient acreage on which to spread hog manure. During the 1980s and 1990s, hog production grew dramatically in the Southeast, especially in North Carolina, driven mainly by the growth of large contract operations. Growth in the Southeast has posed the challenge of managing an increasing volume of hog manure in areas with a denser population and much less crop acreage for manure application than in the Heartland. In 2009, hog operations had about a quarter-acre of cropland per animal unit in the Southern regions compared with about 1 acre per animal unit in other regions. Most hog producers in the Southeast treat and store manure in lagoon systems and apply manure to farm acreage with an irrigation system, which allows producers to apply hog manure on less acreage than other manure management systems. This chart is found in Trends and Developments in Hog Manure Management: 1998-2009, EIB-81, September 2011.
Tuesday, October 16, 2012
China imports distillers dried grain with solubles, a co-product from corn-based ethanol production, for use by commercial feed compounders who combine various ingredients to meet the nutritional needs of livestock at minimum cost. Traditionally, Chinese animals and poultry were fed household and processing wastes, crop byproducts, vines, tubers and forages, but the use of feed grains, oilseed meals, and feed additives has increased rapidly since the 1980s. China's commercial feed production rose from under 36 million metric tons in 1991 to 169 million metric tons in 2011. China's 5-year plan anticipates that commercial feed production will grow to 200 million metric tons in 2015. The projected annual increase of 4.7 percent is much faster than the projected growth in livestock and poultry output. This rapid growth reflects a shift from traditional feed sources to commercial feed in China's livestock industry. This chart is found in China's Market for Distillers Dried Grains and the Key Influences on Its Longer Run Potential, FDS-12g-01, August 2012.
Friday, October 12, 2012
Nitrogen, phosphate, and potash are essential in the production of crops used for food, feed, fiber, and biofuel. Applied annually, most of these nutrients are absorbed by the crops, but when applied in excess, they can be lost to the environment through volatilization into the air, leaching into ground water, emission from soil to air, or runoff into surface water. These losses can be reduced by the adoption of best management practices that match nutrient supply for crop needs, minimize nutrient losses, and enhance plants' capability to uptake nutrients. For corn, the share of planted acres with excess nitrogen applied (above 25 percent of the crop's needs) declined from 59 percent in 1996 to 47 percent in 2010, while the share of acres with excess phosphate declined from 43 percent in 1996 to 31 percent in 2010. Other crops also exhibit either declining or unchanged shares of planted acres with excess use of nitrogen or phosphate. This chart can be found in the ERS report, Agricultural Resources and Environmental Indicators, 2012 Edition, EIB-98, August 2012.
Thursday, September 13, 2012
From 1982 to 1997, irrigated acres increased for most farm regions. Since 1997, however, most regions have seen either slow growth or a decline in irrigated acres. The largest growth in irrigated acres since 1997 is concentrated in the Northern Plains, Delta, and Corn Belt regions. Growth rates in the Northern Plains (primarily Nebraska) pushed irrigated acreage (at 11.9 million acres in 2007) above acreage irrigated in the Pacific region (at 11.6 million acres). Similarly, since 1997, irrigated acres in the Delta region surpassed acres irrigated in the Southern Plains. Over the same period, irrigated acres contracted in the relatively arid Mountain, Pacific, and Southern Plains regions. This chart comes from Water Conservation in Irrigated Agriculture: Trends and Challenges in the Face of Emerging Demand, EIB-99, September 2012.