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Developing countries, such as China and Brazil, lead global productivity growth

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Raising the productivity of existing agricultural resources—rather than bringing new resources into production—has become the major source of growth in world agriculture. The total productivity of agricultural inputs, or TFP (total factor productivity), has been rising steadily in most industrialized countries at between 1 and 2 percent a year since at least the 1970s. Among developing countries and transition economies of the former Soviet bloc, agricultural TFP growth rates have been much more uneven. Some developing countries have had agricultural TFP growth rates of over 2 percent per year since the 1970s, while other countries (especially in Sub-Saharan Africa) have seen little productivity growth at all. For the developing countries that were able to accelerate agricultural TFP growth rates, key factors have been market reforms and greater capacity of national agricultural research and extension systems. Long-term investments in agricultural research were especially important to sustaining higher productivity growth rates in large, rapidly developing countries such as Brazil and India. Chinese agriculture benefited enormously from institutional and market reforms as well as from technological changes made possible by investments in research. Following the economic transition from a planned to a market economy in the early 1990s, Russian agriculture rebounded because of substantial productivity growth in the southern region of the country. Under-investment in agricultural research remains an important barrier to stimulating agricultural productivity growth in Sub-Saharan Africa. This chart appears in the ERS data product for International Agricultural Productivity, updated October 2018.

The U.S. agricultural trade balance is projected to decline in fiscal year 2019 to its lowest level since 2007

Friday, December 7, 2018

U.S. agricultural exports are projected to total $141.5 billion in fiscal year (FY) 2019, while agricultural imports are expected to total $127 billion, according to ERS’s latest outlook for U.S. agricultural trade. The $14.5 billion surplus projected for FY 2019 is the lowest since FY 2007, when the United States exported $12.2 billion more in agricultural goods and services than it imported. Unlike overall U.S. trade in goods and services, U.S. trade in the agricultural sector consistently runs at a surplus. While agricultural exports have increased in value since 2016, the value of imports has risen at a slightly faster rate, leading to a declining trade balance. This is further compounded in FY 2019 by significant declines in projected exports to China. At the regional level, exports to East Asian countries are forecast to decline by $6.7 billion in FY 2019—the result of an expected decrease of $7.3 billion in agricultural exports to China from the $16.3 billion total for FY 2018. This chart appears in the December 2018 Amber Waves article, “Reduced Exports to China in Fiscal Year 2019 May Drive U.S. Agricultural Trade Balance to Lowest Level Since 2007.”

The composition of U.S. agricultural exports, by category, remained relatively stable in 2000-17

Monday, November 26, 2018

The United States exports a variety of agricultural products to destinations around the world. Although the total value of agricultural exports rises and falls depending on market and economic conditions, the shares of individual export categories within that total are generally more stable. The highest valued export product categories include horticultural products (like fruits and vegetables), oilseeds and oilseed products, livestock products, and grains and animal feeds. However, these top categories have trended differently in terms of value over time. In recent years, the value of grains and animal feeds has fallen by 5 percent, reducing its share of total agricultural exports from 23 percent to 21 percent since 2015. The other top commodity groups have risen in value since 2015, but their shares have remained stable due to overall growth in agricultural export value. Among the lower valued commodity groups, the cotton, tobacco, and seeds category has grown significantly since 2015, rising by 31 percent in value and increasing its share of total agricultural exports from 5 percent to 6 percent. This chart appears in the ERS report, "Ag and Food Statistics: Charting the Essentials, October 2018.”

The United States imports the majority of its coffee, by value, from Colombia and Brazil

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

As International Coffee Day approaches, Americans continue to demonstrate high demand for this caffeinated staple. However, the United States produces a minimal amount of coffee. The limited domestic production comes from Kona coffee grown in Hawaii and represents less than 1 percent of U.S. consumption. The rest is imported from coffee-growing regions around the world, including South and Central America and Southeast Asia. By a large margin, Colombia and Brazil are the largest sources of imports. In 2017, imports of unroasted coffee from Colombia were valued at over $1.2 billion, with just under $1.1 billion worth of coffee imported from Brazil. Other key markets are Vietnam and Indonesia in Southeast Asia, and Guatemala and Honduras in Central America. By value, these six countries represent 72 percent of all U.S. coffee imports. In all, 50 countries exported coffee valued at $1 million or more to the United States in 2017, with an additional 54 exporting lower valued amounts. This chart is drawn from the ERS U.S. Food Imports data product, updated in May 2018.

U.S. agricultural export and import forecasts both revised upward for fiscal year 2018; trade balance stable

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

U.S. agricultural exports are forecast to reach $142.5 billion in fiscal year 2018, primarily due to expected increases in corn and cotton exports. At the same time, U.S. agricultural imports are expected to reach $121.5 billion, driven by rising imports of animal and horticultural products. In both cases, these May forecasts represent an increase of $3 billion over the previous respective forecasts in February. The resulting U.S. agricultural trade surplus for 2018 is expected to be $21 billion. While the United States has consistently run an agricultural trade surplus, the size of the surplus has declined since 2014. This reflects steadily rising imports amid more variable export patterns. As prices for corn and soybeans, major export commodities, rose sharply in the early 2010s and later fell after 2014, the value of U.S. exports rose and fell as well. Additionally, the U.S. dollar experienced a sustained period of appreciation between late 2014 and early 2017. A stronger dollar can make imports more attractive to U.S. consumers while increasing the relative price of U.S. goods sold to foreign markets. This chart is drawn from data discussed in ERS’s Outlook for U.S. Agricultural Trade Newsletter, released May 31, 2018.

A hypothetical increase in U.S. agricultural exports is estimated to add rural jobs across different agri-food sectors

Friday, May 18, 2018

ERS estimates that U.S. agricultural exports, totaling about $135 billion in 2016, supported about 1.1 million full-time, civilian jobs. Using a model of the U.S. economy with a base year of 2013, ERS researchers found that a hypothetical 10-percent increase in foreign demand for U.S. agricultural exports would add about 41,500 jobs, or about a 0.03-percent increase in total U.S. employment. About 42 percent would be in rural areas—where employment in agriculture and food manufacturing would increase by about 18,200 jobs, while employment in other sectors would decrease by nearly 700 jobs as some labor shifts into agriculture. The net effect on employment was positive for 17 of the 20 agri-food sectors in the analysis, with the largest increases in field crops, livestock, and poultry and egg. This reflects the large initial shares of exports and employment in these sectors, relative to other agri-food sectors. Field crops alone accounted for nearly 57 percent of the increase in agri-food rural employment. This chart is based on data that appears in the April 2017 ERS report The Potential Effects of Increased Demand for U.S. Agricultural Exports on Metro and Nonmetro Employment.

China’s direct overseas agricultural investment has grown over tenfold in less than a decade

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

China's need for agricultural resources and technology and the country's sustained economic growth are driving rapid growth in Chinese investment in agriculture and food sectors abroad. According to Chinese investment statistics, overseas ventures in agriculture, forestry, and fisheries soared from $300 million in 2009 to $3.3 billion in 2016. But these totals understate the magnitude of Chinese agricultural-focused foreign assets because the statistics exclude the acquisition of food processing and trading companies classified in manufacturing and service sectors. An initial wave of investments during 2004-12 was focused mainly on crop production, fishing ventures, and acquiring raw materials for the Chinese market. More recently, some Chinese companies and officials have shifted the thrust of their strategy from farming overseas to acquiring established agribusiness companies based in Europe, North America, and Oceania such as ChemChina's acquisition of Syngenta and Shuanghui International's purchase of U.S.-based Smithfield Foods. This chart appears in the April 2018 Amber Waves feature, "China's Agricultural Investment Abroad Is Rising."

Animal disease trade measures accounted for nearly one-third of concerns brought to World Trade Organization committee

Friday, March 2, 2018

Sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) regulations play an important role in ensuring food safety and protecting animal and plant resources. But such regulations are sometimes imposed improperly with countries favoring domestic producers and discriminating against imports from others. If a member country of the World Trade Organization (WTO) believes that a trade policy of another WTO member violates relevant agreements, it can initiate a dispute settlement case with the WTO’s Dispute Settlement Body. In the case of sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) measures, a member country can inform the WTO’s SPS Committee of its concerns about a particular measure. Many of these concerns—officially called Specific Trade Concerns (STCs)—are resolved before they escalate to the level of a formal dispute. From 1995 to 2015, the most common STCs brought before the WTO SPS Committee were related to trade measures imposed because of animal disease issues. This large share reflects strong growth in meat trade along with occasional animal disease outbreaks such as foot-and-mouth disease and bovine spongiform encephalopathy that gave many countries a rationale to restrict imports. Following animal disease-related concerns, the next most common concern was pesticide tolerances and maximum residue limits. This chart appears in the February 2018 Amber Waves feature, "World Agricultural Trade Experiences Sizable Growth but Still Faces Barriers."

The regional composition of U.S. imports has remained stable over time

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

The share of U.S. agricultural imports from regions consisting primarily of developed economies remained stable from 1995 to 2015, at just over 60 percent. This contrasts with the destinations for U.S. agricultural exports, which shifted further toward developing regions. There was a compositional shift in import shares, however, from one developed region to another. In particular, a decline in the share of U.S. agricultural imports supplied by Europe was offset almost exactly by an increase in the share supplied by Canada and Mexico. Canada (a high-income economy) and Mexico (an upper-middle-income economy) are partners of the United States in the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), whose trade-liberalizing provisions were gradually applied to intraregional agricultural trade during the 1994-2007 period. With respect to other parts of the world, the import shares from fast-growing exporters in South America and the former Soviet Union declined, even as those regions increased their participation in the global agricultural market. There were modest increases in import shares from developing East Asia and South Asia, which is consistent with their growing roles in global trade. This chart appears in the ERS report The Global Landscape of Agricultural Trade, 1995-2014, released in November 2017.

Oilseeds have grown significantly in share of total global agricultural trade while fibers have declined

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Among the product categories that make up the largest share of global trade value, movement in average import shares has varied with some products growing in significance and others declining. Over the four 5-year periods measured between 1995 and 2014, oilseed imports (bulk commodities) and their products (intermediate commodities) had the fastest growth in share of total value. In contrast, the share of trade in two bulk product categories—grains and tropical commodities (coffee, sugar, and cocoa)—declined over 1995-2014. For consumer-oriented products, the share of animal products, fruits and nuts, and vegetables in global agricultural trade declined slightly, while the share of processed food increased. Fibers, particularly cotton and others used for clothing, witnessed the steepest loss in share of total agricultural import value. Cotton consumption peaked in 2007 before falling off. China, the largest consumer of cotton fiber, reduced its imports beginning in 2012 to rely more on domestic production and carried over stocks from previous years. The growth in oilseed trade and their products has been one of the most significant developments in the global trade landscape, driven by growing imports from China and India and export growth from Southeast Asia and the Americas. This chart appears in the ERS report, The Global Landscape of Agricultural Trade, 1995-2014, released in November 2017.

Low-income countries had the highest rate of agricultural growth, but middle-income countries had the highest rate of productivity growth

Monday, October 16, 2017

During 2001-14, low-income countries accounted for only 5 percent of global agricultural production. But these countries achieved a higher rate of agricultural output growth than middle- or high-income countries, at nearly 4 percent per year during that period. Most of that development came from increasing the use of land and other inputs, rather than from raising the total productivity of those inputs. Middle-income countries, on the other hand, accounted for 40 percent of global agricultural production and achieved growth that was nearly as high (more than 3.5 percent per year), largely because of improving productivity. For high-income countries, which accounted for 25 percent of global production, agricultural growth averaged under 2 percent per year, even as land and other inputs employed in the sector fell. Improvements in productivity account for all the output growth in high-income countries. Overall, most gains in global agricultural productivity have come from middle-income countries. Strengthening the capacity of national agricultural research and extension systems in large middle-income countries (such as Brazil and India) has been a key determinant of their agricultural productivity performance. This chart appears in the ERS topic page for International Agricultural Productivity, updated October 2017.

Exchange rate movements influence U.S. export competitiveness

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Agricultural goods can be broken into distinct categories based on value or level of processing. Bulk goods, like grains and oilseeds, are sold in large quantities at relatively low per unit costs. They also tend to be relatively standardized products. U.S. and foreign products in these categories are more readily substituted for each other, as changes in exchange rates alter relative prices among suppliers. Higher value goods, like meats, fruits and vegetables, and processed goods, are differentiated by factors such as brand, quality, or sanitary and phytosanitary standards. As a result, they may be less likely to be substituted across origins on the basis of price or relative price in the case of exchange rates. The U.S. trade weighted exchange rate index from the Federal Reserve Bank of Saint Louis has shown strong dollar appreciation since 2014, resulting in declining exports for both categories (bulk exports declined by 9 percent and high-value products fell by 10 percent). Typically, bulk goods would decline further than high-value goods during appreciation, but the 2012-13 U.S. drought had a significant impact on the supply of several major crops. As a result, export volume decreased, but value remained high because of higher commodity prices. By 2014, production of key bulk commodities like corn and soybeans recovered and have since continued to grow, drawing down prices. As prices have fallen and stocks have been replenished, export volume has increased, dulling the perceived impact of a rising dollar. This chart appears in the Amber Waves article, "U.S. Agricultural Trade in 2016: Major Commodities and Trends," released in May 2017.

South American countries often exported their soy products to Asia and European Union

Thursday, June 29, 2017

To meet the increasing demand for agricultural commodities, forestland is frequently converted into crop fields or pasture, especially in developing countries. For example, deforestation in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, and Paraguay is linked with the production of soybeans (and beef). However, the majority of soybean production in these countries is consumed elsewhere, especially in China, the rest of Asia, and the European Union. Brazil and Argentina, the largest Latin American producers, exported an average of 67 percent of their soy production outside of South America. By contrast, the United States consumed 50 percent of its production and exported 44 percent of its production outside of North America. The soy product exported varied with the country. For example, Argentina exported about 8 million tons of soybeans and 22 million tons of soybean meal; by comparison, Brazil exported about 43 million tons of soybeans and 13 million tons of soybean meal. This chart appears in the ERS report International Trade and Deforestation: Potential Policy Effects via a Global Economic Model, released April 2017.

U.S. agricultural exports have historically exceeded imports, leading to trade surplus

Thursday, May 18, 2017

The United States has had a surplus in agricultural trade every year since 1959. Agricultural exports have accounted for 10 to 11 percent of total U.S. exports in recent years, while agricultural imports accounted for about 5 percent of total imports. The result is that agriculture has become a reliable trade surplus sector, but the size of the surplus has varied greatly recently. U.S. imports generally have tended to rise more smoothly because the United States has a developed, stable economy with a preference for out-of-season goods and high-value items. Meanwhile, the country’s major export commodities include soybeans, corn, and wheat. These crops have trade figures that tend to fluctuate more in response to price changes because there is little to differentiate between the U.S. and its competitors’ raw goods, compared to higher value processed products. This chart appears in the ERS Amber Waves data feature, U.S. Agricultural Trade in 2016: Major Commodities and Trends, released in May 2017.

Deforestation due to agriculture in Brazil has generally declined over time

Monday, May 15, 2017

Increasing global population and demand for food have led to rising agricultural production and demand for land for farming purposes. Expanded agricultural land has often come from tropical deforestation in developing countries that have become major exporters of commodities like beef, soybeans, and palm oil. In Brazil, for example, deforestation is linked most closely with the production of beef in the Amazon basin and the Cerrado region. Historically, cattle account for over 80 percent of deforestation in the Amazon and 88 percent in the Cerrado. At its peak in 1995, beef accounted for 3.75 million hectares of deforestation in Brazil, compared to 0.71 million hectares in 2013. Deforestation due to soybean production has generally remained low, particularly in the Amazon. Soybean production has mostly increased by expanding onto previously cleared cropland or pasture, rather than by contributing directly to deforestation. In more recent years, higher yields and policy changes have contributed to a decline in deforestation rates in Brazil. This chart appears in the ERS report International Trade and Deforestation: Potential Policy Effects via a Global Economic Model, released April 2017.

Exports account for more than 50 percent of U.S. cotton and almond production

Friday, May 12, 2017

Exports play a significant role for U.S. agricultural producers. For many commodities, exports make up a sizeable share of the market for U.S. production. In the case of cotton and almonds, the United States sends more of its product abroad than is consumed domestically. Roughly 75 percent of all U.S. cotton is exported, with the majority going to countries in North and Central America like Canada, Mexico, and Nicaragua. U.S.-produced almonds, grown almost exclusively in California, represent nearly 79 percent of global supply and are naturally shipped worldwide, with 67 percent of production exported. Rice, soybeans, and wheat also depend heavily on export markets as the destination for about half of domestic supply. The wealth of cropland throughout the Midwest and other parts of America gives domestic suppliers the capacity to scale production beyond the needs of the U.S. market, allowing agriculture’s share of the U.S. economy to grow. This chart appears in the ERS publication Selected charts from Ag and Food Statistics: Charting the Essentials, 2017, released April 28, 2017.

The majority of U.S. agricultural exports, by value, go to five key markets

Friday, April 21, 2017

The United States exported $135 billion worth of agricultural goods in 2016. This is down from a record of $150 billion in 2014. While the Nation exports agricultural goods to most countries worldwide, a significant share goes to major trading partners. In 2016, 61 percent of the value of agricultural exports went to Canada, China, Mexico, the European Union (EU-28), and Japan. The dominance of key markets is not a new phenomenon. In fact, these five destinations have accounted for close to 60 percent of agricultural export value since at least 2000. In the case of Canada and Mexico, proximity plays a large role in its trade relationship with the United States. Additionally, regional trade agreements increased trade between the country and its nearest neighbors. The large share of trade going to China, Japan, and the EU-28 is influenced by the sheer size of the economies involved. The EU-28, China, and Japan are the three leading economies after the United States in terms of gross domestic product, and each country accounts for a significant share of global imports of agricultural goods. This chart is drawn from data in the Foreign Agricultural Trade of the United States (FATUS) data product, updated in April 2017.

India remains the world’s largest dairy producer

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Errata:On April 21, 2017, the axis and text of this Chart of Note were revised so that the production units were correctly listed as million tons.

Errata: On March 29, 2017, the title of this Chart of Note was revised so that it correctly references India as the world’s largest dairy producer.

India is the largest milk-producing country in the world. The country is trailed by the United States, which is the second largest producer, in milk production by a large margin. India is unique among the major milk producers because more than half of its production comes from water buffalo, rather than cattle. Its dairy herd, also the largest in the world, has the biggest herds of both dairy cattle and water buffalo. Since 1980, production has grown consistently at an average of 4.5 percent per year. The rate of growth between water buffalo and cow’s milk has also been quite similar at 4.6 and 4.5 percent, respectively. In 2016, total production reached 154 million tons compared with 96 million produced in the United States. India surpassed the United States as the largest dairy producer in 1997, when both countries produced roughly 70 million tons, each. This chart appears in the March 2017 ERS Report “India’s Dairy Sector: Structure, Performance, and Prospects.”

Developing countries, such as China and Brazil, lead global productivity growth

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Raising productivity, rather than expanding resources, has become the major source of growth in global agriculture. Higher productivity has helped make food cheaper and more abundant, and saved resources such as forests from being converted to cropland. However, large differences remain in productivity performance between countries. For example, between 1971 and 2013, U.S. agricultural productivity growth averaged about 1.5 percent a year. Over the past few decades, China and Brazil have emerged among the world leaders in agricultural productivity growth. In Sub-Saharan Africa, on the other hand, agricultural productivity has been relatively stagnant. According to ERS research, strengthening the capacity of national agricultural research and extension systems has been a key factor in improving productivity growth. Long-term investments in agricultural research were especially important to sustaining higher growth rates in large, rapidly developing countries like Brazil and India. Under-investment in agricultural research remains an important barrier to stimulating productivity. The broader environment—such as institutions, infrastructure, and economic and trade policies—has also played an important role in raising agricultural productivity in many parts of the world. This chart appears in the topic page for International Agricultural Productivity, updated January 2017.

Trade liberalization and regulatory cooperation have facilitated growth in United States-Mexico agricultural trade beyond the NAFTA Period

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

As the United States and Mexico liberalized their bilateral trade, they continued to cooperate on sanitary, phytosanitary, and other regulatory issues affecting the agricultural sector. For example, new phytosanitary protocols (measures for the control of plant and animal diseases) enabled the export of Mexican avocados to the United States, while a coordinated campaign by all three NAFTA governments established a harmonized approach to mitigating the risks associated with bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE, often referred to as mad cow disease). Together, this trade liberalization and continuing regulatory cooperation provided the policy setting for an increase in U.S.-Mexico agricultural trade. Between 1993 and 2015, U.S. agricultural exports to Mexico grew from $3.6 billion to $17.7 billion, while Mexican agricultural exports to the United States increased from $2.7 billion to $21.0 billion. This chart appears in the ERS report, Opportunities for Making U.S.-Mexico Agricultural Trade More Agile released in August 2016.