ERS Charts of Note
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Monday, November 27, 2023
In the last decade, world agricultural output grew at an average annual rate of 1.94 percent per year, far slower than the 2.74-percent output growth rate over the previous decade and below the average annual rate of 2.3 percent over the last six decades (1961–2021). The slowdown in agricultural growth was primarily tied to a slowing rate of growth in agricultural total factor productivity (TFP), which fell to 1.14 percent per year in 2011–2021 (compared with 1.93 percent per year the previous decade). TFP measures the amount of agricultural output produced from the aggregated inputs used in the production process (land, labor, capital, and material resources). The figure shows four major sources of overall growth: bringing more land into production (holding yields fixed); extending irrigation to land; intensifying the use of capital, labor, and material inputs per unit of land; and improving TFP, which reflects the rate of technological and efficiency improvements of inputs. This data can be found in the ERS International Agricultural Productivity data product, updated in September 2023.
Tuesday, March 7, 2023
Between 1948 and 2019, the volume of crops produced in the U.S. grew 186 percent, and livestock production grew 140 percent. USDA, Economic Research Service researchers classify crop output into six subcategories: food grains, feed crops, oil crops, vegetables and melons, fruits and nuts, and other crops. Of those, production of oil crops increased the most, by more than seven times. Growth in fruits and nuts ranked second, with production more than doubling. Food grains grew the least, at 78 percent. Among three categories of livestock and products, poultry and egg production increased the most, by more than seven times. Dairy products grew 132 percent, and meat animal production grew 92 percent. The varying growth rates reflect changes over the past 70 years in consumer demand and preferences, international market demand, and technological advancements among products. Overall, crop production is more volatile than livestock production because of weather changes. This chart appears in the Amber Waves article U.S. Agricultural Output Has Grown Slower in Response to Stagnant Productivity Growth, published in October 2022.
Monday, February 13, 2023
U.S. farm output—the total amount of livestock, crops, and other farm-related outputs produced in a year—tripled in the seven decades from 1948 to 2019. At the same time, the total amount of inputs used in U.S. farm production only increased slightly by 4 percent, at an annual rate of 0.06 percent, partly because of a shift away from labor and land and toward non-land capital and other intermediate inputs. From 1948 to 2019, the amount of farm labor used in the production of U.S. agricultural commodities fell 74 percent, and land use declined 28 percent. On the other hand, the use of intermediate inputs such as fertilizer, pesticides, and purchased services grew 126 percent, and the use of capital inputs such as machinery and farm structures (chicken houses and greenhouses, for example) grew 79 percent. Over the years, technological changes have made inputs such as machinery and agricultural chemicals more affordable for farmers and have partially replaced labor and land inputs in the production process. As a result, increased productivity has been the primary source of growth in U.S. agricultural output. Over the 70 years, farm output grew at an average annual rate of 1.42 percent, and productivity contributed 1.36 percentage points to that growth rate. This chart appears in the Amber Waves article U.S. Agricultural Output Has Grown Slower in Response to Stagnant Productivity Growth, published in October 2022.
Monday, July 18, 2022
While in recent decades public agricultural research and development (R&D) funding in the United States has trended downward, several other major trading partners have increased their funding. The European Union’s expenditures have grown since 2000, as have the expenditures in India and Brazil. However, none experienced as rapid an increase as China, which became the largest funder of agricultural R&D after 2011, surpassing the European Union. By 2015, the last year for which the USDA, Economic Research Service has full data, China was spending more than $10 billion annually on agricultural R&D. That level of spending was roughly twice the U.S. expenditures in 2015 and nearly quintuple that of China’s own R&D spending in 2000. With China as a major importer of U.S. agricultural goods and Brazil a competitor to the U.S. in the global corn and soybean markets, these developments could have an impact on U.S. export competitiveness. For all countries in the figure, R&D expenditures are expressed as purchasing power parity (PPP) dollars at constant 2015 prices. This chart appears in the ERS’s Amber Waves article, “Investment in U.S. Public Agricultural Research and Development Has Fallen by a Third Over Past Two Decades, Lags Behind Major Trade Competitors,” published June 2022.
Monday, June 27, 2022
Roughly 70 percent of public agricultural research and development (R&D) in the United States is performed by universities and other nonfederal cooperating institutions. Land-grant universities alone account for about half of all public agricultural R&D spending. State forestry schools, veterinary schools, and historically black colleges and universities account for most of the remaining agricultural R&D conducted at nonfederal institutions. State land-grant universities and agricultural experiment stations primarily perform research on topics of interest to their State or region, though this research has a national impact in the form of training scientists and generating basic scientific insights. USDA agencies such as the Agricultural Research Service and Forest Service perform the other 30 percent of public agricultural research, focusing on national and regional topics. This chart appears in the ERS’s Amber Waves article, “Investment in U.S. Public Agricultural Research and Development Has Fallen by a Third Over Past Two Decades, Lags Behind Major Trade Competitors,” published June 2022.
Tuesday, June 14, 2022
The Federal Government provides 64 percent of public agricultural research and development (R&D) funding in the United States. State governments and non-governmental sources, including funds generated by the universities themselves, account for the other 36 percent of funds for public agricultural R&D. Federal funds are delivered via external grants to universities and other cooperating institutions, and through appropriations to USDA agencies. Most of the Federal funding for agricultural research performed by non-Federal institutions is managed by USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA). NIFA allocates these funds through capacity grants to land grant and minority-serving institutions as well as through competitive grants that are open to all universities. Of the $1.663 billion in outlays for agricultural research by USDA research agencies (primarily the Agricultural Research Service, Economic Research Service, and the Forest Service), about $165 million was allocated to cooperative research agreements with universities. The National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, and other Federal agencies are also important funders of agricultural R&D, accounting for about 15 percent of the Federal total. Agricultural research funded by these agencies is performed primarily at universities. This chart appears in the ERS’s Amber Waves article, “Investment in U.S. Public Agricultural Research and Development Has Fallen by a Third Over Past Two Decades, Lags Behind Major Trade Competitors,” published June 2022.
Wednesday, June 8, 2022
Spending on agricultural research and development (R&D) comes from private and public sources. Public R&D, however, has traditionally been the primary source directly oriented toward improving farm technology and productivity. Since the early 2000s, expenditures have declined in real terms for agricultural R&D performed by public institutions, including USDA laboratories, land grant universities, and other cooperating institutions. Researchers with USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS) found that R&D expenditures are now only slightly above the 1970 level of about $5 billion and well below the 2002 peak of just under $8 billion (constant 2019 dollars). Research expenditures were adjusted for inflation using the National Institutes of Health’s Biomedical Research and Development Price Index (BRDPI). This chart appears in the ERS’s Amber Waves article, “Investment in U.S. Public Agricultural Research and Development Has Fallen by a Third Over Past Two Decades, Lags Behind Major Trade Competitors,” published June 2022.
Monday, April 18, 2022
Agricultural output in the United States nearly tripled between 1948 and 2017, with average annual output growth at 1.53 percent. While reduction of labor hours worked has contributed negatively, changes in labor quality have contributed positively to output growth over the years. Labor quality includes shifts in composition of demographic attributes, such as gender, age, educational attainment, employment type and other factors. ERS researchers group the study period into 12 sub-periods in accordance with U.S. economic business cycles (from peak to peak). Most of the contraction in total hours worked occurred between 1948 and 1969, during the expansionary period after World War II. By the 2007–17 economic business cycle, the decline in labor hours had its lowest negative effect on output growth, -0.16 percentage points. ERS researchers found that total labor quality had a positive effect on output growth in all economic business cycles except the 1979-81 period. The effects of labor quality on agricultural output growth were especially prominent before 1969. It accounted for nearly 25 percent of total output growth per year in the 1948–53, 1953–57, and 1960–66 subperiods, and 14 percent of annual output growth in the 1966-69 subperiod. Except for the period immediately after WWII, the major source of labor quality changes was an increase in educational attainment among farmworkers. On average, the increase in educational attainment accounted for more than 90 percent of the changes in labor quality between 1948 and 2017. Nevertheless, since 1969, the rise in educational attainment has slowed, and the overall influence of labor quality on output growth has diminished. This chart is drawn from the USDA, Economic Research Service report “Farm Labor, Human Capital, and Agricultural Productivity in the United States,” published Feb. 15, 2022.
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.
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.
Tuesday, January 18, 2022
In 2020, most of the values of cotton (62 percent), dairy (73 percent), and specialty crops (57 percent) were produced on large-scale family farms. USDA defines a family farm as one in which the principal operator and related family own the majority of the assets used in the operation. Large-scale family farms are those with an annual gross cash farm income of $1 million or more. However, small family farms produced the bulk of hay production (59 percent) and poultry and egg output (49 percent) in 2020. Poultry operations are often classified as “small” because most output is under a production contract arrangement, with a contractor paying a fee to a farmer who raises poultry to maturity. Additionally, more than one-quarter of beef production occurred on small family farms that generally have cow/calf operations. Another 42 percent of beef production occurred on large-scale family farms, which are more likely to operate feedlots. Midsize family farms production ranges from 8 to almost 30 percent of value of production. Nonfamily farms produce the smallest share of the value of production for most commodities. Of all the commodities, nonfamily farms contribute the most to specialty crop production at 27 percent. This chart is found in the Economic Research Service report, America’s Diverse Family Farms: 2021 Edition, released December 2021.
Wednesday, January 12, 2022
Since the 1960s, global agricultural output by volume has increased at an average annual rate of 2.3 percent, fluctuating between 2 and 3 percent on a decade-to-decade basis. In the latest decade (2011–19), the global output of total crop, animal, and aquaculture commodities grew an average rate of 2.08 percent per year. Several factors contribute to output growth, including expansion of agricultural land, extension of irrigation to existing cropland, the intensification of input use (more labor, capital, and material inputs per acre), and total factor productivity (TFP), a measure of the contribution of technological and efficiency improvements in the farm sector. Before the 1990s, most output growth came from increases in input use, including expansion of land, irrigation, and intensification of other inputs. Since the 1990s, growth in TFP, rather than growth in inputs, accounted for most of the growth in world agriculture output. From 2011 to 2019, TFP globally grew at an annual rate of 1.31 percent, accounting for nearly two-thirds of output growth. This chart comes from the USDA, Economic Research Service data product International Agricultural Productivity, updated in October 2021.
Friday, December 10, 2021
Total factor productivity (TFP) growth reflects the rate of technological and efficiency improvements in the agricultural sector and productivity growth varies across countries. TFP measures the amount of agricultural output produced from the combined set of land, labor, capital, and material resources employed in the production process. Agricultural TFP grew most rapidly (at more than 2 percent on average) in the dark green-colored countries and most slowly (or not at all) in the light green-colored countries. National policies and institutions, especially those that promote innovation and technical change, play a significant role in driving TFP growth in agriculture. Strengthening the capacity of national agricultural research and extension systems to develop and deliver new agricultural technologies to farmers has been a critical factor in raising agricultural productivity. Information from the International Agricultural Productivity data product and related ERS research show that that Brazil and India’s TFP growth can be attributed to long-term investments in agricultural research. China’s TFP growth can be attributed to investments in research and institutional and economic reforms. In contrast, Russia’s low rate of agricultural TFP growth is attributed to inefficiencies under a planned economy (until 1991) followed by economic disruptions that accompanied its transition to a market economy. Under-investment in agricultural research and extension and poor market infrastructure remain important barriers to stimulating agricultural productivity growth in Sub-Saharan Africa. This data can be found in the International Agricultural Productivity data product, last updated in October 2021.
Monday, July 12, 2021
Raising the productivity of existing agricultural resources—rather than bringing new resources into production—has become the major source of growth in world agriculture. Farm productivity is measured by total factor productivity (TFP), an index that takes into account the land, labor, capital, and material resources employed in farm production and compares them with the total amount of crop and livestock output. If total output is growing faster than total inputs, then the total productivity of the factors of production (i.e., total factor productivity) is increasing. Using the latest available data through 2016, agricultural productivity has risen steadily in most industrialized countries at between 1 and 2 percent a year since at least the 1970s. Since the 1990s, many developing countries as well as transition economies that belonged to the former Soviet bloc also have increased their agricultural productivity. Long-term research investments to develop new technologies have been especially important to sustaining higher agricultural TFP growth rates in large, rapidly developing countries such as Brazil and India. Institutional and economic reforms, combined with technological changes, have led to significant benefits for Chinese agriculture. Additionally, Russian agriculture rebounded after the early 1990s economic transition from a planned to a market-based economy, and the southern region of the country achieved notable productivity improvement. In contrast, under-investment in agricultural research remains an important barrier to stimulating agricultural productivity growth in Sub-Saharan Africa. This chart appears in USDA, Economic Research Service data product for International Agricultural Productivity, updated November 2019.
Monday, November 16, 2020
In 2019, Wisconsin’s production of fluid milk was second only to California’s. According to data from USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service, Wisconsin generated 30.6 billion pounds of milk that year, with milk sales totaling $5 billion. In recent years, Wisconsin dairy farms have been exposed to substantial weather volatility characterized by frequent droughts, storms, and temperature extremes (both hot and cold). This has resulted in considerable fluctuations in dairy productivity. Researchers from the Economic Research Service (ERS) among others, found that total factor productivity (TFP), which measures the rate of growth in total output (aggregate milk produced) relative to the rate of growth in total inputs (such as the number of cows, farm labor, feed, and machinery), increased at an average annual rate of 2.16 percent for Wisconsin dairy farms between 1996 and 2012. This increase was primarily driven, at an annual rate of 1.91 percent, by technological progress—such as improved herd genetics, advanced feed formulations, and improvements in milking and feed handling equipment. However, trends in rainfall and temperature variation were responsible for a 0.32 percent annual decline in the productivity of Wisconsin dairy farms during the same period. For example, an average increase in temperature of 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit reduced milk output for the average Wisconsin dairy farm by 20.1 metric tons per year. This is equivalent to reducing the herd size of the average farm by 1.6 cows every year. This chart appears in ERS’s October 2020 Amber Waves finding, “Climatic Trends Dampened Recent Productivity Growth on Wisconsin Dairy Farms.”
Wednesday, August 26, 2020
The total output—including livestock, crops, and other farm related outputs—produced by U.S. farms nearly tripled between 1948 and 2017, growing at an average annual rate of 1.53 percent. This output growth was primarily attributable to increased productivity, which grew at an average of 1.46 percent per year. Total inputs—including capital, land, labor, and intermediate goods—increased by 0.07 percent annually, by comparison. Though total input use grew slowly during this period, its composition shifted considerably. The use of intermediate goods (such as feed, seeds, and chemicals) increased by more than 130 percent, while agricultural labor declined by 76 percent and the amount of land devoted to agriculture was down by more than 25 percent. The continuing growth in intermediate goods contributed 0.58 percentage points per year to output growth, the highest among all inputs (capital, labor, and intermediate goods). However, the contribution of intermediate goods to output growth has been small (even negative in some years) since 1981. Over the long-term, productivity growth has been the major driver of agricultural growth. Productivity growth—spurred by innovations in animal and crop genetics, chemicals, equipment, and farm organization through research—is the only factor that contributed positively to agricultural growth in all sub-periods (measured from peak to peak between business cycles) since 1948. This chart appears in the July 2020 Amber Waves article, “Productivity Is the Major Driver of U.S. Farm Sector’s Economic Growth.”
Monday, May 11, 2020
U.S. regulations on antibiotic use in food animal production have focused on antibiotics important for human disease treatment, which the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) terms “medically important.” If current human antibiotics lose efficacy and new ones are not developed, the ability to treat human infections may be hindered. In 2017, FDA policies ended the use of medically important antibiotics for growth promotion in food animals. Antibiotics deemed “currently not medically important” are not used to treat human illnesses and can still be used for animal growth promotion. Other uses of medically important antibiotics in food animal production require veterinarian oversight. These policies follow earlier actions in the European Union (EU) banning medically important antibiotics for growth promotion. Most new antibiotic approvals for food animals have been generic drugs that are also used for humans. Between 1992 and 2015, about 70 percent of antibiotics were considered medically important. This suggests that animal pharmaceutical companies are increasingly developing generic antibiotics for food animals, not new varieties of antibiotics. Although new approvals for non-medically important, non-generic antibiotics for food animals declined, they still averaged about 1.3 per year in 2015. This chart appears in the ERS report, The U.S. and EU Animal Pharmaceutical Industries in the Age of Antibiotic Resistance, released May 2019.
Friday, April 3, 2020
The growth rate of the world’s agricultural output has varied over the decades. Output growth slowed in the 1970s and 1980s, but then accelerated in the 1990s and 2000s. In the latest period for which estimates are available (2001-16), global output of total crop and livestock commodities grew by an average rate of 2.45 percent per year. The different bar colors in the chart show the sources of this output growth. In the decades prior to 1990, most output growth came about from intensification of input use (more labor, capital, and material inputs per acre). Bringing new land into agriculture production and extending irrigation to existing agricultural land were also important sources of growth. During the periods of 1991-2000 and 2001-16, however, the rate of growth in input use significantly slowed. Instead, improvements in agricultural productivity—getting more output from existing resources—drove global output growth. Total factor productivity (TFP) grew from the adoption of new technologies, management practices, and other efficiency improvements in farming around the world. Between 2001 and 2016, TFP accounted for 77 percent of the total growth in agricultural output worldwide. This chart appears in the Economic Research Service topic page for International Agricultural Productivity Summary Findings, updated November 2019.
Wednesday, February 19, 2020
Technological developments in agriculture have been influential in driving changes in the farm sector. Innovations in animal and crop genetics, chemicals, equipment, and farm organization have enabled continuing output growth without adding much to inputs (including land, labor, machinery, and intermediate goods). As a result, even as the amount of land and labor used in farming declined, total farm output nearly tripled between 1948 and 2017. During this period, agricultural output grew at an average annual rate of 1.53 percent, compared to 0.07 percent for total farm inputs. Output growth was largely driven by the growth in agricultural productivity, as measured by total factor productivity (TFP)—the difference between the growth of aggregate output and growth of aggregate inputs. Between 1948 and 2017, TFP grew at an average annual rate of 1.46 percent. In the short term, TFP estimates can fluctuate from time to time—reflecting transitive events, such as bad weather or oil shocks—but it usually recovers and returns to its long-term trend growth, as has happened in recent years. This chart appears in the ERS data product, Agricultural Productivity in the U.S., updated January 2020.
Friday, February 14, 2020
At $64.7 billion, specialty crops comprised one-third of U.S. crop receipts and one-sixth of receipts for all agricultural products in 2017. Many specialty crops are labor-intensive in production, harvesting, or processing. For example, harvest often requires workers to accurately distinguish ripe and unripe fruits and vegetables and gently pick, sort, or package the fruit or vegetable by hand without damage. A long-term decline in the supply of farm labor in the U.S. has encouraged producers to select less labor-intensive crops, invest in labor-saving technologies, and develop strategies to increase labor productivity. A number of USDA programs support the development and use of automation or mechanization in the production and processing of U.S. specialty crops. From 2008-2018 these programs in the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), the Agricultural Research Service (ARS), and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) funded $287.7 million toward 213 projects to develop and enhance the use of automation or mechanization in specialty crop production and processing. Projects covered a broad spectrum of technologies, including job aid and machinery automation; machine learning and data analysis; mechanical harvesting and processing; precision agriculture; remote sensing and drones; and sensors. Each of the USDA programs are designed differently to achieve unique objectives, although each program addresses the development and use of automation or mechanization in specialty crops in some form. The data in this chart are available in the February 2020 ERS report, Developing Automation and Mechanization for Specialty Crops: A Review of U.S. Department of Agriculture Programs.