ERS Charts of Note
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Monday, October 24, 2022
About 100,000 U.S. public and private nonprofit schools participate in the National School Lunch Program (NSLP), which served about 4.9 billion lunches in fiscal year 2019. The majority of foods served through the NSLP are bought through typical market channels, such as foodservice distributors, with USDA cash reimbursements to schools supporting their purchase. However, schools also make use of the USDA Foods in Schools Program (USDA Foods). Schools have two options for acquiring fruits and vegetables through USDA Foods: USDA Foods purchased by USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), which supplies mainly canned and frozen fruits and vegetables, and fresh fruits and vegetables distributed through the USDA Department of Defense Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program (DoD Fresh). After school meal nutrition standards were updated in 2012, schools were required to serve more fruits and a wider mix of vegetables, including dark green and red/orange vegetables. Following the change in standards, schools obtained more fruits and vegetables through USDA Foods and especially through DoD Fresh. While there was no clear change in the types of foods chosen from 2006 to 2012, the percent of USDA Foods entitlement funds used for purchasing fruits and vegetables from DoD Fresh rose sharply from 6.7 percent of total USDA Foods in 2012 to 15 percent in 2017. Fruit obtained through AMS—mainly canned and frozen—rose from 9.4 percent of total USDA Foods spending in 2012 to 15.4 percent in 2017. Vegetables obtained from USDA’s AMS slightly rose from 2012 to 2017. As the percentage of spending on fruits and vegetables increased, the percentage spent on meat, poultry, and cheese dropped from nearly 74 percent in 2012 to 61 percent in 2017. This chart appears in the ERS report, Trends in USDA Foods Ordered for Child Nutrition Programs Before and After Updated Nutrition Standards, released September 1, 2022.
Tuesday, October 4, 2022
USDA encourages schools to serve locally grown and raised foods, including fresh produce and meat. During the 2018–19 school year, approximately two-thirds of U.S. school districts participated in farm to school activities, according to USDA Food and Nutrition Service’s 2019 Farm to School Census. Of the participating school districts, 78 percent reported purchasing some quantity of local food during the school year. About 43 percent of school districts reported purchasing local foods from produce distributors. USDA’s Department of Defense (DoD) Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program (USDA DoD Fresh) was an equally common procurement source for school districts. USDA DoD Fresh allows districts to use USDA funds to obtain fresh fruits and vegetables through the DoD and provides information to districts on the food sources. USDA Foods, which refers to the commodities donated by USDA to school districts for use in school meals, was the third-most common source with 36 percent of respondents indicating they used the program to source local foods, followed by 26 percent of respondents that sourced from individual food producers. Broadline distributors (distributors offering several types of products), grocery stores, and school or community gardens and farms were each used by about 17 percent of respondents as local food sources. This chart is updated from one that appeared in Trends in U.S. Local and Regional Food Systems released January 29, 2015.
Tuesday, August 23, 2022
Many U.S. school food authorities—the entities that operate school food services in public, private, and charter schools—purchase local foods such as fruits, vegetables, dairy, and proteins for their district’s cafeterias. In addition to buying locally produced foods, many school districts participate in other farm to school activities, such as product-specific promotions, taste tests of local foods, onsite edible gardens, and field trips to farms. Approximately two-thirds of U.S. school districts participated in farm to school activities during the 2018-19 school year, according to USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service 2019 Farm to School Census. Of the school districts that participated, 78 percent reported purchasing any local foods during the school year. Fruits and vegetables topped the list of local foods purchased in 2018-19, at 85 percent and 82 percent of school districts, respectively. Further, 68 percent of school districts reported buying locally produced milk and 29 percent reported buying local grains, including baked goods. Approximately a third of school districts reported purchasing other local dairy products, such as cheese, yogurt, and sour cream (31 percent), and about a quarter purchased locally produced proteins like meat, eggs, seafood, nuts, and seeds (27 percent). This chart is updated from one that appeared in the March 2015 Amber Waves article, “Many U.S. School Districts Serve Local Foods”.
Wednesday, August 10, 2022
A farmers market is a collection of two or more farm vendors selling agricultural products directly to customers at a common, recurrent physical location. According to USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), from 1994 to 2019, the number of farmers markets rose from 1,755 to 8,771 in 2019, averaging growth of nearly 7 percent per year. Expansion began to slow in 2011 before eventually falling below a 1-percent per year increase between 2016 and 2017. Since then, growth in the number of farmers markets has remained modest and stable. A USDA, Economic Research Service (ERS) report found that shares of local food sales have increased at intermediate market outlets, such as grocery stores, restaurants, and distributors. Increased availability of local products at these outlets corresponds with a plateau in purchases at direct-to-consumer outlets such as farmers markets and contributes to the observed slower growth relative to the prior two decades. According to market managers surveyed in the USDA’s AMS and NASS 2019 National Farmers Market Manager Survey, about two-thirds of farmers market vendors reported an increase in overall production and one-third reported increasing the number of workers they employed on their farm to meet demand. Additionally, an estimated 40 percent of vendors reported selling imperfect products that otherwise wouldn’t be sold in mainstream markets. Further, 77 percent noted that their participation led to the increased production of diverse products which in turn led to the expansion of offerings for farmers market clientele. This chart updates one found in the ERS report, Local Food Systems: Concepts, Impacts, and Issues, May 2010.
Tuesday, August 9, 2022
U.S. consumers are increasingly able to use a credit card to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables at a farmers market— a retail outlet in which two or more vendors sell agricultural products directly to customers through a common marketing channel. In 2018, 72 percent of U.S. counties reported having at least one farmers market, and 70 percent of those counties reported having one or more farmers markets with the option to purchase using credit cards. The number of farmers markets that report accepting credit cards in a county is provided in the USDA, Economic Research Service’s (ERS) Food Environment Atlas and the underlying data can be accessed and downloaded. The Atlas is an interactive mapping tool with statistics on more than 280 food environment indicators at the county or State level that can influence food choices and diet quality. According to the current Atlas, 1,595 counties—51 percent of all U.S. counties—had one or more farmers markets that accepted credit cards in 2018. However, the market density varied among those counties, with 86 counties having more than 10 farmers markets that accepted credit cards as a form of payment for goods. This map appears in ERS’s Food Environment Atlas, updated September 2020.
Monday, August 8, 2022
In 2020, U.S. farms sold almost $10.7 billion of edible food commodities directly to consumer outlets and intermediary supply chains such as restaurant/grocery stores, regional distributors and local institutions—a nearly $2.8 billion (35 percent) increase from 2019. The overall increase in direct sales in 2020 occurred across most direct sales marketing channels, such as farmers markets, farm store/community supported agriculture (CSAs), restaurants/grocery stores, and regional distributors. From 2019 to 2020, sales at farmers markets and restaurants/grocery stores increased by 11 and 13 percent, respectively, whereas sales at farm stores, CSAs and other direct-to-consumer channels increased by 79 percent and sales to regional distributors increased by 73 percent. However, sales to local institutions declined by 86 percent in 2020 relative to 2019, likely because of closures or restricted operations related to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Overall, in 2020, 73 percent of total direct sales occurred through intermediary supply chains, while the remaining 27 percent were direct-to-consumer outlets. High-income direct sales farms, defined here as those with gross cash farm income (GCFI) of $350,0000 or more, increased their direct sales by $2.4 billion (38 percent) from 2019 to 2020, which accounted for 81 percent of all direct sales. Among low-income direct sales farms, defined as those with GCFI less than $75,000, 85 percent of their direct sales were though direct-to-consumer outlets in 2020. About 7 percent of America’s 2 million farms sold commodities though direct-to-consumer outlets, and almost 1 percent sold through intermediary supply chains. The other 93 percent of U.S. farms sell their commodities via other marketing channels, such as slaughterhouses, ethanol processors, grain mills, etc. This chart appears in the ERS report America’s Diverse Family Farms, 2021, published December 2021.
Monday, August 16, 2021
Local food producers had high levels of internet access in 2015 according to a recently released report by USDA, Economic Research Service researchers. They found that 72 percent of local food producers had internet access, either at the farm or at the principal farm operator’s residence. A local food producer is defined as a farming operation that produces and sells edible agricultural products directly to consumers, retailers, institutions, or intermediate markets. Geographic proximity of local food producers to urban areas may account for high levels of internet access. Less-experienced local food producers had greater internet access than those with more farming experience. Eighty-nine percent of first-year farmers had internet access, compared with 82 percent of inexperienced farmers (2 to 10 years of farming experience) and 70 percent of experienced farmers (more than 10 years of farming experience). In 2015, the most popular use of the internet by all local food producers was to buy items for the farm (44 percent of producers), including input supplies, commodities, and equipment. A larger share of first-year farmers used the internet to buy farm inputs (76 percent) and access price and market information from non-USDA sources (60 percent), followed by inexperienced farmers (62 percent and 46 percent, respectively) and experienced farmers (41 percent and 32 percent, respectively). This information is drawn from the ERS report, “Marketing Practices and Financial Performance of Local Food Producers: A Comparison of Beginning and Experienced Farmers,” released August 10, 2021.
Wednesday, November 18, 2020
Farmers markets are great sources of fresh fruits, vegetables, and other healthy foods. USDA has expressed a commitment to increasing access to these foods for low-income households participating in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). As with retail food stores, farmers markets must be authorized by USDA to accept SNAP benefits. Data from USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service show that 72 percent of U.S. counties reported having at least one farmers market in 2018. Of those counties, 45 percent—32 percent of all 3,143 U.S. counties—reported having one or more farmers markets that accepted SNAP benefits. The number of farmers markets in a county that report accepting SNAP benefits is one of the updated statistics in the Economic Research Service’s (ERS) Food Environment Atlas. The Atlas assembles statistics on more than 280 food environment indicators at the county or State level that can influence food choices and diet quality. According to the Atlas, 1,015 counties had one or more farmers markets that accepted SNAP benefits as a form of payment, and 49 counties had 10 or more farmers markets that accepted SNAP benefits. The data for this map can be found in ERS’s Food Environment Atlas, updated September 2020.
Monday, March 5, 2018
A recent ERS study analyzed spending on fruits and vegetables by the 4,826 households that participated in USDA’s National Household Food Acquisition and Purchase Survey (FoodAPS). Among these households, 170 bought some of their fruits and vegetables directly from farmers at roadside stands, farmers’ markets, or other direct-to-consumer (DTC) outlets during their week of participation in the survey. Another 3,388 households bought fruits and vegetables exclusively at nondirect food stores. The researchers found that purchasing fruits and vegetables at a DTC outlet was positively associated with several healthy practices. For example, people buying fruits and vegetables directly from farmers were more likely to have a vegetable garden (45 versus 25 percent of non-DTC shoppers), to be aware of USDA’s MyPlate campaign to promote Federal dietary guidance, and to search the internet for information on healthy eating. Households that bought fruits and vegetables directly from farmers were also more likely to rate the healthfulness of their diets as excellent or very good. This chart appears in the ERS report, The Relationship Between Patronizing Direct-to-Consumer Outlets and a Household’s Demand for Fruits and Vegetables, January 2018.
Thursday, January 25, 2018
ERS researchers recently used USDA’s National Household Food Acquisition and Purchase Survey (FoodAPS) data to investigate the relationship between spending for fruits and vegetables and shopping at farmers’ markets, roadside stands, and other direct-to-consumer (DTC) outlets. The researchers looked at two groups of households—those that bought fresh and processed fruits and vegetables exclusively at nondirect food stores and those that purchased these foods at both DTC outlets and stores. Households that bought fruits and vegetables directly from farmers spent an average of $12.15 per week at DTC outlets on these foods. They spent another $16.21 on fruits and vegetables at food stores, about as much as households that bought fruits and vegetables exclusively at stores. The study measured the impact that buying directly from farmers has on a household’s overall fruit and vegetable expenditures and found evidence of a positive impact, even after controlling for other demand determinants like income, education, and a household’s attitudes toward food and nutrition. The data for this chart are from the ERS report, The Relationship Between Patronizing Direct-to-Consumer Outlets and a Household’s Demand for Fruits and Vegetables, released on January 24, 2018.
Wednesday, November 15, 2017
Distance from a supermarket or large grocery store offering a variety of affordable and nutritious foods can influence food choices and diet quality. Data from ERS’s Food Environment Atlas show that in 2015, 2.5 million households receiving benefits from USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) lived more than 1 mile from the nearest supermarket or large grocery store in urban areas or more than 10 miles from such stores in rural areas. In 98 counties—3 percent of the 3,143 U.S. counties—more than 10 percent of SNAP households lived more than 1 mile or 10 miles away from the nearest supermarket or large grocery store. The 10 counties with the highest shares of SNAP households living far from supermarkets and large grocery stores were in South Dakota, Alaska, Georgia, and Texas. For example, in Presidio County, Texas, 25 percent of SNAP households either lived more than 1 mile in urban neighborhoods—or 10 miles in rural areas—from the nearest supermarket or large grocery store. This map appears in USDA’s Food Environment Atlas, updated September 2017.
Friday, November 3, 2017
If you want to use a credit card when you buy your fall apples at a farmers’ market this year, you may be in luck. With the increase of technology in our everyday lives, there has been a gradual transition from cash to credit cards. Farmers’ markets are no exception. Accepting credit cards widens the customer base to include the growing number of Americans who prefer to use credit cards for their purchases. Data from USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service show that 72 percent of U.S. counties reported having at least one farmers’ market in 2016 and 68 percent of those counties—48 percent of all 3,143 U.S. counties—reported having one or more farmers’ markets that accepted credit cards. The number of farmers' markets in a county that report accepting credit cards is one of the new statistics in ERS’s updated Food Environment Atlas. The Atlas assembles statistics on over 275 food environment indicators at the county or State level that can influence food choices and diet quality. According to the Atlas, 1,521 counties had 1 or more farmers’ markets that accepted credit cards and 77 counties had more than 10 farmers’ markets that accepted credit cards as a form of payment for goods. This map appears in USDA’s Food Environment Atlas, updated September 2017.
Monday, May 22, 2017
In 2013, ERS and USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service collaborated on the first Farm to School Census to collect data from public school districts on the use of local foods in school meals. The information collected included how frequently local foods were served and which ones were served more often. Milk, fruit, and vegetables were the most frequently served locally-produced foods. ERS researchers found that, after controlling for other characteristics that vary across school districts, districts in the Northeast and the Mid-Atlantic were 28 and 17 percentage points, respectively, more likely to serve local foods daily than those in the Southwest. School districts in cities were 11 percentage points more likely to serve local foods daily than districts in rural areas, and districts with 5,000 or more students were 9 percentage points more likely to do so than districts with less than 5,000 students. This chart appears in "School Districts in the Northeast Are Most Likely to Serve Local Foods on a Daily Basis" in the May 2017 issue of ERS’s Amber Waves magazine.
Wednesday, April 26, 2017
According to USDA’s 2013 Farm to School Census, 35 percent of all U.S. school districts reported serving local food in school meals during the 2011-12 school year. Twenty-two percent of all school districts served at least one locally-sourced food item daily or more than weekly, and 19 percent of school districts—containing 30 percent of U.S. school children—served local food daily. ERS researchers analyzed data from the Farm to School Census to identify which types of school districts were more likely versus less likely to serve local foods frequently in school meals. Rural school districts were 11.2 percentage points less likely to serve local food daily than school districts in cities, after accounting for other school district characteristics, such as region, enrollment level, per capita income of the surrounding county’s residents, and county-level density of farmers’ markets. School districts in suburbs and towns were also significantly less likely to serve local food daily compared to districts in cities. The data for this chart are from the ERS report, Daily Access to Local Foods for School Meals: Key Drivers, March 2017.
Friday, March 31, 2017
Frequent use of local foods in school meals can bolster the market for local agricultural producers and increase student awareness and interest in healthier foods. In school year 2011-12, more than one in five U.S. school districts (22 percent) served at least one locally-sourced food item daily or weekly. The most popular local food categories were milk (offered daily or more than weekly by 15.4 percent of school districts), fruit (offered by 14.5 percent of districts), and vegetables (offered by 12.2 percent of districts). Locally-produced baked goods, meat, and eggs were also served frequently by some districts. A recent ERS report examined characteristics of school districts that frequently serve local foods. Districts more likely to serve local foods daily tended to be larger, in the Northeast, in urban areas, and in States where residents had higher rates of college completion. This chart appears in the ERS report, Daily Access to Local Foods for School Meals: Key Drivers, released on March 23, 2017.
Tuesday, October 4, 2016
Beginning farmers, those who have managed a farm or ranch for 10 years or less, generally have lower rates of business survival than more established farm operators. According to Census of Agriculture data, only 48.1 percent of beginning farmers with positive sales in 2007 also reported positive sales in 2012—compared with 55.7 percent of all farms. Running a larger operation and selling directly to consumers (at roadside stands, farmers’ markets, and so on) may help beginning farmers remain in business. As a whole, beginning farms with direct-to-consumer (DTC) sales had a 54.3 percent survival rate, while 47.4 percent of those without DTC sales survived. This pattern holds across operations of different sizes, as defined by annual sales. The difference in survival rates was substantial—ranging from 9 percentage points for the smallest farms to about 4 percentage points for the largest. Farmers with DTC sales can usually get a higher product price and reach a certain level of sales with less machinery and land. In turn, these farmers may have a more stable income and need to borrow less—further increasing chances of survival. This chart appeared in the September 2016 Amber Waves finding, “For Beginning Farmers, Business Survival Rates Increase With Scale and With Direct Sales to Consumers."
Wednesday, June 22, 2016
U.S. organic farmers, and conventional farmers who produce crops for non-GE (genetically engineered) markets, must meet the tolerance levels for accidental GE presence set by domestic and foreign buyers. If their crops test over the expected tolerance level, farmers may lose their organic price premiums and incur additional transportation and marketing costs to sell the crop in alternative markets. Although data limitations preclude estimates of the impact just on organic farmers who grow the 9 crops with a GE counterpart, the data do reveal that 1 percent of all U.S. certified organic farmers in 20 States reported that they experienced economic losses (amounting to $6.1 million, excluding expenses for preventative measures and testing) due to GE commingling during 2011-14. The share of all organic farmers who suffered economic losses was highest in Illinois, Nebraska, and Oklahoma, where 6-7 percent of organic farmers reported losses. These States have a high percentage of farmers that produce organic corn, soybeans, and other crops with GE counterparts. While California has more organic farms and acreage than any other State, most of California’s organic production is for fruits, vegetables and other specialty crops that lack a GE counterpart. This map is based on data found in the ERS report, Economic Issues in the Coexistence of Organic, Genetically Engineered (GE), and Non-GE Crops, February 2016.
Friday, May 6, 2016
Data on direct-to-consumer (DTC) food sales were first collected in the 1978 Census of Agriculture, and DTC sales data have been collected in every agricultural census thereafter (except in 1987). In 1992, the number of DTC farms fell to the lowest level since information collection on DTC farms began; since that time, the number has slowly and steadily increased, peaking in 2012. The constant-dollar value of DTC sales increased as well, before declining slightly in 2012. Two factors may have contributed to the lack of growth in DTC sales over 2007-12. First, consumer demand for local food purchased through DTC outlets may have plateaued. Second, where local food systems have been thriving, farmers may have been able to direct more of their sales to “intermediated” outlets, such as local restaurants and retailers, institutions, and local aggregators. ERS research finds that the number of farms marketing through intermediated channels increased by 34 percent from 36,000 in 2008 to 48,300 in 2012 (not shown in graph). This chart updates one found in the ERS report, Direct and Intermediated Marketing of Local Foods in the United States, November 2011, and draws on information from Trends in U.S. Local and Regional Food Systems: A Report to Congress, January 2015.
Thursday, April 7, 2016
Between 2007 and 2012, farms using direct-to-consumer (DTC) marketing had smaller growth in nominal gross sales (13.5 percent), on average, than farms using traditional marketing channels (19.3 percent). In addition, gross sales on farms using DTC marketing grew more slowly in each size class (as measured by 2007 sales). The slower growth for farms with DTC sales may stem from several factors. The 2012 Census of Agriculture shows farms using DTC marketing employ substantially more labor across all sales categories than farms without direct sales. Therefore, farms with DTC sales may need to hire additional workers at a lower scale of production, and the associated transaction costs may provide an obstacle to growth. Off-farm income opportunity may also play a role, as farms with DTC sales are more likely to have total household incomes both less than $50,000, and less than $20,000. The lower total household income for farms with DTC sales may reflect fewer off-farm income opportunities, leading these farms to continue farming even if they have less ability to expand production. This chart is found in the March 2016 Amber Waves feature, “Local Foods and Farm Business Survival and Growth.”
Tuesday, March 8, 2016
Direct-to-consumer (DTC) marketing—where producers engage with consumers face-to-face at roadside stands, farmers’ markets, pick-your-own farms, onfarm stores, and community-supported agricultural arrangements (CSAs)—brings benefits for consumers as well as the farm businesses. According to Census of Agriculture data, farmers who market food directly to consumers had a greater chance of remaining in business than those who market through traditional channels. Sixty-one percent of farms with DTC sales in 2007 were in business under the same operator in 2012, compared with 55.7 percent of all U.S. farms. Based on a comparison of farms across four size categories (defined by annual sales), farmers with DTC sales had a higher survival rate (measured as the share of farmers who reported positive sales in 2007 and 2012) in each category. The differences in survival rates were substantial—ranging from 10 percentage points for the smallest farms to about 6 percentage points for the largest. This chart is found in the March 2016 Amber Waves feature, “Local Foods and Farm Business Survival and Growth.”