ERS Charts of Note
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Wednesday, September 27, 2023
U.S. irrigated agriculture has seen regional changes in the past two decades, influenced by a variety of factors. From 1997 to 2017, total U.S. irrigated agricultural acreage increased by 1.7 million acres. Irrigated acreage grew primarily in the eastern United States, where agriculture production is historically rain-fed, and declined in the West, where a generally arid climate necessitates irrigation for most crops. In the East, increased frequency and severity of drought have driven farmers to move from rain-fed to irrigated production. In the West, farmers have begun to take irrigated land out of production as surface water supplies dry up, and they face increasing competition for water from growing urban centers. This chart was drawn from the USDA, Economic Research Service report Trends in U.S. Irrigated Agriculture: Increasing Resilience Under Water Supply Scarcity, published in December 2021.
Tuesday, September 26, 2023
Fresh strawberry prices tend to exhibit strong seasonal trends in part because of their relatively short shelf life. Even being refrigerated immediately after harvest, fresh-picked strawberries last about 1 to 2 weeks, reducing the ability to store the crop and maintain a consistent supply. In the United States, grower prices for fresh organic strawberries move in tandem with conventional strawberry prices throughout the year while also typically running 40 to 50 percent higher than conventional prices—this difference is known as a “price premium.” In late fall and throughout winter, supply wanes even though demand remains robust. During this period, grower (or farm-gate) price premiums for organic strawberries rise above typical levels. From 2018–22, the highest average price premium was in January, when organic strawberry prices were 74 to 88 percent higher than conventional strawberries. Price premiums in July averaged 18 to 24 percent. Organic strawberry production has increased faster than conventional production. Since 2008, domestic organic strawberry acreage has tripled in California, which provides about 75 percent of U.S. organic strawberry production. This chart updates one that appeared in the USDA, Economic Research Service report The Changing Landscape of U.S. Strawberry and Blueberry Markets: Production, Trade, and Challenges from 2000 to 2020, published in September 2023.
Tuesday, September 19, 2023
Pennsylvania led the United States in organic mushroom production with about 9.6 million square feet devoted to organic mushrooms in 2021. That amounts to about 61 percent of total U.S. square footage, a significant increase from 39 percent in 2019. California followed Pennsylvania, producing about 3.3 million square feet in 2021. Pennsylvania also leads the United States in conventional mushroom production. Mushrooms generally are produced in a controlled environment, so natural soil and temperature conditions are likely not factors in Pennsylvania’s dominance in this industry. Instead, Pennsylvania farmers have been significant producers of mushrooms since the 1880s and have the specialized knowledge and ventilated housing needed for extensive mushroom production, as well as organic straw and manure for use as composted substrate (the surface material on which mushrooms are grown). Farmers grow Agaricus, which includes the common white button mushroom, portabello, and crimini varieties, as well as specialty mushrooms such as shiitake, oyster, and other exotic mushrooms. The Mushroom Council, an organization of U.S. fresh mushroom producers, reports that at the retail level in 2022, organic crimini mushrooms made up 43 percent of the volume of organic sales, white 42 percent, portabello 9 percent, shiitake 3 percent, and other specialty mushroom varieties 3 percent. This chart appears in the USDA, Economic Research Service special article U.S. Organic Mushroom Industry Overview in the Vegetables and Pulses Outlook: December 2022, published in December 2022.
Tuesday, September 5, 2023
Water is withdrawn from surface and groundwater sources for agricultural, industrial and municipal use. Farmers in the United States source water for irrigation by diverting it from on-farm surface water bodies like rivers or streams, directly pumping groundwater, or receiving water via the canals and ditches of water delivery irrigation organizations. In the four regions of the western United States (consisting of the Northwest (Idaho, Oregon, and Washington), Pacific (California and Nevada), Southwest (Arizona, New Mexico, Utah), and Eastern Rockies (Colorado, Montana, Wyoming) regions) irrigation water delivery organizations accounted for almost 60 percent of the water that is withdrawn for all uses in an average year. In contrast, in the High Plains (Kansas, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, and Texas) and Southeast (Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, and South Carolina), where surface and ground water resources for irrigation are available without large-scale coordination, these organizations conveyed water that amounted to about 3 percent of all water withdrawn in an average year. Irrigation water delivery organizations play a particularly large role in the Southwest, where in 2019 they conveyed 11 million acre-feet of water, which is 73 percent of the 15 million acre-feet withdrawn for all uses in an average year. This chart appears in the ERS report Irrigation Organizations: Water Inflows and Outflows, published in August 2023.
Monday, August 21, 2023
Irrigation water delivery organizations play a key role in delivering water to farms, ranches, and nonagricultural users in the United States. Results from the 2019 Survey of Irrigation Organizations (SIO) show that 2,477 organizations in western regions were directly involved in delivering water to farms. About 70 percent of the water withdrawn from freshwater sources for irrigation in the western regions of the United States is managed by irrigation water delivery organizations. In most regions, organizations that allow transfers internally between their users were more common than organizations engaging in external trades with other entities. Some of these organizations trade water by leasing it to or from other irrigation organizations, municipalities, environmental groups, or other interested parties. In the Pacific region, 17 percent of organizations engage in these external leases, compared to between 3 and 7 percent in other regions in the western United States. Water exchanges may also occur internally between water users within a delivery organization’s own water delivery system, if allowed by the organization. Internal transfers between users in an organization occurred in 5 percent of organizations in the Pacific and between 8 and 11 percent of organizations in other regions of the western United States. This chart appears in the USDA Economic Research Service publication Irrigation Organizations: Water Inflows and Outflows, published in August 2023.
Thursday, August 10, 2023
Irrigation water delivery organizations are entities such as irrigation districts and ditch companies that supply farmers, ranchers, and other users with water. These organizations draw water from several different sources. Water from Federal water projects and direct diversions from surface water bodies make up the majority of inflows to these organizations. Yet there is substantial variation across organizations based on size. Large water delivery organizations, (which supply water to more than 10,000 acres) tend to contract water from Federal water storage facilities rather than draw from natural surface sources such as rivers. However, small water delivery organizations (supporting less than 1,000 acres) draw a much higher proportion of their water inflows from surface sources. These differences reflect the historical development of irrigation organizations, with larger organizations developing in tandem with or as part of top-down approaches to provide water for irrigation, while small organizations developed from the ground up as small private ventures or community-led efforts. This chart appears in the USDA Economic Research Service publication Irrigation Organizations: Water Inflows and Outflows, published in August 2023.
Wednesday, July 19, 2023
As of July 2023, drought conditions have improved across much of the Western United States (consisting of Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming) compared not only with earlier in the year, but also with 2021 and 2022. According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, on July 11, 2023, 3 percent of land in the Western States was classified as experiencing extreme or exceptional drought, with an additional 8 percent classified as severe. This is down from June 2023, when 18 percent of land in Western States was classified as in extreme or exceptional drought. Significant precipitation and snowpack accumulation over the 2022–2023 winter and spring has reduced the prevalence of drought in the area, notably in California. However, conditions remain dry in Kansas and Nebraska where severe or worse drought conditions affect 55 and 48 percent of land, respectively. Data reported by U.S. Drought Monitor show Western drought conditions intensified during summer 2021, then gradually subsided between October and December 2021. They intensified again during the first half of 2022 before starting to subside again. For agriculture, drought means diminished crop and livestock outputs and reduced profitability if adaptive measures such as irrigation are not used. Drought also reduces the quantity of snowpack and streamflow available for diversions to irrigated agricultural land. These impacts can reverberate throughout local, regional, and national economies. Find additional information on the USDA, Economic Research Service’s Newsroom page Drought in the Western United States.
Wednesday, July 12, 2023
Groundwater management organizations are local entities that influence on-farm groundwater use through statutory, regulatory, or other powers. USDA, Economic Research Service (ERS) researchers studying irrigation identified two broad categories of groundwater organizations during a 2019 survey: those that influence only on-farm groundwater use (“groundwater only”) and organizations that both influence on-farm groundwater use and deliver surface water to farms (“groundwater and delivery”). More than 75 percent of “groundwater-only” organizations monitor groundwater conditions and collect pumping data. A smaller proportion of “groundwater and delivery organizations” monitor groundwater conditions or collect pumping data (approximately 38 percent and 34 percent, respectively). Charging pumping or water rights fees is a relatively common function among “groundwater and delivery organizations,” with 55 percent of these organizations charging fees compared with 40 percent of “groundwater only” organizations. Issuing permits for the development of new wells is also a common management function, particularly among “groundwater only” organizations. About 61 percent of “groundwater only” organizations engage in permitting, while 8 percent of “groundwater and delivery organizations” do. According to USDA data, about 65 percent of all irrigated U.S. acreage relied on groundwater as a primary or secondary source of water in 2018. This chart appears in the ERS report Irrigation Organizations: Groundwater Organizations, published in April 2023.
Monday, July 3, 2023
Between 2013 and 2019, the leading manure application method for farmers of major field crops was to apply manure to the surface without incorporating it—the simplest method in which manure is flailed or sprayed out of wagons and left on the ground. This method was used on 8.3 million acres, including about 6 million acres of corn. Surface application with incorporation was the next most common method, used on 5.5 million acres. With incorporation, manure is first spread on the soil surface and then mixed into the first few inches with a tillage implement, thus increasing its contact with the soil. The least common method was applying or injecting the manure directly in one operation, often with a chisel, disk, or knifing implement, used on 3.2 million acres. Injecting liquid manure below the soil surface or incorporating manure after surface application conserves more nutrients and increases the fertilizer value. Surface application without incorporation results in less nutrient retention. Manure is a valuable source of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, which can make it a substitute for, or complement to, commercial fertilizers. In 2020, farmers were estimated to have applied manure to about 7.7 percent of the 240.9 million acres planted to 7 major U.S. field crops (corn, soybeans, wheat, cotton, oats, peanuts, and barley). This chart appears in the ERS report, Increasing the Value of Animal Manure for Farmers, published in March 2023. See also the Amber Waves article Despite Challenges, Research Shows Opportunity to Increase Use of Manure as Fertilizer, published in April 2023.
Wednesday, June 14, 2023
USDA's Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) was established by Congress in 1985. By 1986, the program began to use contracts to retire highly erodible cropland from crop production for 10–15 years. Enrollment grew quickly, reaching 33 million acres in 1990. After the initial contracts were awarded, program goals expanded to include water quality and wildlife habitat improvements in addition to soil erosion reduction. Between 1990 and 2008, CRP enrollment fluctuated around 33 million acres before falling to a 30-year low in 2021. Annual enrollment caps for eligible land are set at each iteration of the Farm Bill. As of the end of fiscal year 2022, the CRP acreage rose to 22 million acres after the low in 2021. This chart updates information in the USDA, Economic Research Service report The Fate of Land in Expiring Conservation Reserve Program Contracts, 2013–16, published in January 2020.
Tuesday, June 6, 2023
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) covered 22 million acres of environmentally sensitive land at the end of fiscal year (FY) 2022, with an annual budget of roughly $1.8 billion. This made CRP the USDA’s largest single conservation program in terms of spending in FY 2022. Enrollees receive annual and other payments (such as partial reimbursement for cover establishment and incentive payments for enrollment and certain practices) for taking eligible land out of production for at least 10 years. Program acreage tends to be concentrated on marginally productive cropland that is susceptible to erosion by wind or rainfall. A large share of CRP land ranges from Texas to Montana across the Great Plains, where rainfall is limited and much of the land is subject to potentially severe wind erosion. Smaller concentrations of CRP land are found in eastern Washington, southern Iowa, northern Missouri, the Mississippi Delta, southeastern Idaho, and northwestern Utah. This chart is drawn from Ag and Food Statistics: Charting the Essentials, published in January 2023.
Monday, May 15, 2023
Thirty percent of groundwater organizations cite nitrate contamination as a groundwater quality concern. Nitrates can come from animal manure and chemical fertilizers that leach into groundwater. When groundwater pumping exceeds the volume of groundwater recharge, the concentration of contaminants like nitrates can increase. Nitrate contamination is a concern on more than half of the groundwater-fed irrigated acreage within groundwater organization service areas. USDA’s Survey of Irrigation Organizations collected information on the estimated 735 local entities that manage on-farm groundwater use through statutory, regulatory, or other powers. While nitrate contamination was the most common groundwater quality concern reported, contamination by salinity, other nutrients, and heavy metals are a concern for 27, 19, and 18 percent of groundwater organizations, respectively. Contaminated groundwater can harm crops or make the water unusable for irrigation entirely. This chart appears in the Economic Research Service report Irrigation Organizations—Groundwater Organizations published in April 2023.
Thursday, April 27, 2023
In September 2017, Hurricanes Irma and Maria caused major destruction across Puerto Rico’s agricultural sector. The destruction of infrastructure, operations, and crops led to an exodus of farmworkers, which further hampered the farm sector’s ability to recover. Data from the USDA, National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), Census of Agriculture, conducted every 5 years, show how the hurricanes impacted Puerto Rico’s farm income and expenses. Between 2012 and 2018, the number of farms declined by nearly 38 percent. Gross cash receipts—the sum of the sale of agricultural commodities, cash from farm-related income, and participation in Government farm programs—fell 19 percent in inflation-adjusted dollars from $718 million to $585 million. Cash expenses for Puerto Rican farms also decreased, falling 16 percent from $594 million to $500 million. Puerto Rico Planning Board’s data for net agricultural farm income, which includes non-cash income and expenses such as inventory changes, show a similar decline over the span of time that includes years not captured by NASS census data. From 2012 to 2020, net agricultural farm income (not adjusted for inflation) fell by $101 million. This chart first appeared in the USDA, Economic Research Service report, Puerto Rico’s Agricultural Economy in the Aftermath of Hurricanes Irma and Maria: A Brief Overview, April 2023.
Wednesday, April 19, 2023
The top two concerns raised by groundwater organizations related to groundwater depletion are degraded water quality and declining well capacity. Groundwater organizations are the local entities that influence on-farm groundwater use through statutory, regulatory, or other powers. In the United States, there are an estimated 735 such organizations that manage roughly 60 percent of all groundwater-fed irrigated acreage in the country. A national survey of these organizations found that 31 percent of them reported degraded water quality and 30 percent reported declining well capacity in 2019 as groundwater depletion concerns. These two issues affect about 53 and 59 percent of the acreage within organization service areas, respectively. When groundwater pumping exceeds the volume of groundwater recharge, the quality and quantity of the remaining water declines. For example, saltwater intrusion caused by groundwater depletion is a concern for many coastal and inland aquifers, since high salinity levels can hinder the growth of most common crops. Well capacity is another important groundwater depletion concern, since it limits the amount of water that can be applied to a crop within a given time, which can reduce irrigated crop yields and farm profits. Groundwater depletion has affected several of the nation’s most economically important aquifers, including the High Plains (Ogallala) and Central Valley aquifers. Additionally, 14 percent of groundwater organizations reported abandoned wells as an issue and 25 percent reported stream interaction issues, in which depleted groundwater can reduce streamflow and harm associated ecosystems. This chart appears in the Economic Research Service economic brief Irrigation Organizations: Groundwater Management, published in April 2023.
Monday, April 17, 2023
The acreage of organic fruits protected by Federal crop insurance has increased notably from 2011 to 2021. For instance, the acreage of insured organic apples more than doubled from about 12,000 acres to more than 27,000 acres in that period, and organic grapes went from 9,500 acres to more than 15,000 acres. The USDA, Risk Management Agency (RMA) offers various types of crop insurance for farmers through the Federal Crop Insurance Program (FCIP) to protect against production or revenue loss. Organic commodities have generally commanded a higher price than their conventional counterparts, and in 2014 RMA began expanding the availability of prices that reflect the actual value of the insured crop. Eligible organic growers were then able to choose separate, higher organic price elections under their policy, and insured acres grew. RMA significantly increased the number of available organic policies, offering 84 distinct organic price elections by 2021. Apples and grapes are the two organic fruit crops with the most acreage covered under the program. In 2021, the United States harvested more than 31,000 acres of organic apples and more than 42,000 acres of organic grapes. In that same year, more than 27,000 planted acres of organic apples were insured, and more than 15,000 planted acres of organic grapes were insured. In 2021, these and other specialty crops accounted for 25 percent of the value of U.S. crop production. In 2022, RMA increased protection and flexibility with the Transitional and Organic Grower Assistance Program, which provides 10 percentage points of premium subsidy for all crops transitioning to organic production, and Whole-Farm Revenue Protection policies covering transitioning or certified organic crops. This chart appears in the Economic Research Service bulletin Specialty Crop Participation in Federal Risk Management Programs, published in September 2022.
Thursday, March 30, 2023
Markets for organic food began emerging in the 1970s as consumers became concerned about the growing use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides and their effect on the environment and health. At that time, standards were developed on a State-by-State basis, and organic foods were largely sold in natural food stores. Natural food stores, both large and small, remained the major outlet for organic food sales until the mid-2000s. In 2000, USDA established the National Organic Program and set organic standards for production, along with consistent national labeling. Organic retail food sales moved into conventional grocery retailers, and made up almost 60 percent of retail sales in 2020. Organic food subscriptions such as seasonal fruit baskets, online meal boxes, and other internet sales have created new supply chains for organic food. In 2019, internet sales jumped to 5 percent from 2 percent of total sales in 2012 and rose again in 2020 as consumers responded to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. This chart appears in the USDA, Economic Research Service report, U.S. Organic Production, Markets, Consumers, and Policy, 2000–21, published March 2023.
Wednesday, March 22, 2023
Water scarcity and water quality concerns in the United States have resulted in using nontraditional water sources, including recycled and reclaimed water, for irrigation. In 2018, producers used recycled and reclaimed water to irrigate crops on about 1.5 million acres in the United States, the most recent year for which data are available. Some acreage may use both recycled and reclaimed water for irrigation. California, Arkansas, Wisconsin, Ohio, North Carolina, Connecticut, and Massachusetts had the highest proportion of acreage where producers applied recycled or reclaimed water. In all these States, at least 3 percent of irrigated acreage relies on recycled or reclaimed water to meet crop irrigation needs. Reclaimed water for use on farms comes from sources such as industrial, municipal, and off-farm and on-farm animal operations. Municipal and on-farm animal operations were the most common sources of reclaimed water of the farms using reclaimed water in 2018. This chart was drawn from data collected by the USDA, National Agricultural Statistics Service.
Thursday, February 16, 2023
The organic market has seen continued growth in retail sales in the past decade. U.S. organic retail sales increased by an average of 8 percent per year and surpassed $53 billion in 2020 (inflation-adjusted to 2021 dollars). In 2021, sales were $52 billion, which was a 6-percent annual decline when adjusted for inflation, but a slight increase when not inflation-adjusted. Additionally, the number of certified organic acres operated increased gradually from 3.6 million in 2011 to 4.9 million acres in 2021. The number of certified farms with operating organic acres in the United States nearly doubled over the past decade to 17,409 from about 8,978. Between 2019 and 2021, the number of certified organic farms in the United States increased 5 percent, while total organic land decreased by 11 percent, driven by a 36-percent decrease in pasture and rangeland. These latest data were released in the 2021 Certified Organic Survey on December 15, 2022, by USDA, National Agricultural Statistics Service with cooperation from USDA's Risk Management Agency, which is the first organic survey released by USDA since 2019. The U.S. organic retail sales data provided by Nutrition Business Journal were adjusted for inflation and are available on USDA, Economic Research Service’s Organic Agriculture topic page, updated February 2023.
Tuesday, December 6, 2022
Rotational grazing is a management practice in which ranchers rotate cattle through a series of paddocks. It is an alternative to continuous grazing in which cattle stay on a single pasture. About 40 percent of all cow-calf operations reported using a rotational grazing system, with cow-calf/retained stocker producers leading adoption. Retained stockers keep one or more of their calves through the initial feeder stage for later sale to feedlots. Based on data collected from the 2018 Agricultural Resource Management Survey (ARMS) Cattle and Calves Cost and Returns Report, 54 percent of retained stocker operations have adopted some form of rotational grazing. This adoption rate is more than the rate for strictly cow-calf producers, who sell all calves at or around weaning (38 percent), or retained finisher producers, who retain calves until market weight (50 percent). Retained stockers are much more likely to employ intensive rotational grazing systems, which use an average grazing period of 14 or fewer days per paddock, than strictly cow-calf operations and finishers. Across all forms of cow-calf operations, 16 percent of producers use intensive rotational grazing and 24 percent use basic rotational grazing (using an average grazing period longer than 14 days per paddock). The type of grazing system an operator selects can be part of managing forage production, forage quality, animal health, and environmental quality. This chart appears in the USDA, Economic Research Service report Rotational Grazing Adoption by Cow-Calf Operations, published in November 2022.
Monday, December 5, 2022
Farmers add cover crops to a rotation to provide living, seasonal soil cover between the planting of two cash (commodity) or forage crops. Including cover crops in a rotation can provide benefits such as improved soil health and water quality, weed suppression, and reduced soil erosion. Data from the field-level USDA Agricultural Resource Management Survey (ARMS) provide information on which cover crops were grown in the fall before planting corn, cotton, and soybeans. Cover crop mixes account for 18 to 25 percent of acres with cover crops. However, the use of single-species cover crops is more common. For corn fields in 2021, almost 75 percent of acres with cover crops used a grass or small grain cover crop, such as cereal rye, winter wheat, or oats. At 44 percent of acreage, cereal rye was almost twice as common as winter wheat (27 percent) as the cover crop on corn for grain fields. Rye and winter wheat were also the most common cover crops on soybean fields in 2018. Winter wheat was the most common cover crop used on cotton fields in 2019. The original version of this chart appears in the USDA, Economic Research Service report Cover Crop Trends, Programs, and Practices in the United States, released in 2021.