Topics Topics

Key Accomplishments, FY 2012

Goal 1
Goal 2
Goal 3
Goal 4

USDA Priority Goal 1:  Assist rural communities to create prosperity so they are self-sustaining, repopulating, and economically thriving.

Key Outcome: 

Enhanced understanding by policy makers, regulators, program managers, and those shaping public debate of economic issues affecting rural development, rural well-being, farm and household income, and rural communities.

Key Accomplishments:

The Potential Impact of Changes in Immigration Policy on U.S. Agriculture and the Market for Hired Farm Labor: A Simulation Analysis: Large shifts in the supply of foreign-born, hired farm labor resulting from substantial changes in U.S. immigration laws or policies could have significant economic implications. A computable general equilibrium (CGE) model of the U.S. economy is used to evaluate how changes in the supply of foreign-born labor might affect all sectors of the economy, including agriculture. Two scenarios are considered: an increase in the number of temporary nonimmigrant, foreign-born farmworkers, such as those admitted under the H-2A Temporary Agricultural Program, and a decrease in the number of unauthorized workers in all sectors of the economy. Longrun economic outcomes for agricultural output and exports, wages and employment levels, and national income accruing to U.S.-born and foreign-born, permanent resident workers in these two scenarios are compared with a base forecast reflecting current immigration laws and policies.

Rural Wealth Creation: Concepts, Strategies, and Measures:  This report presents a conceptual framework for rural wealth creation, drawing upon the U.S. and international development literature. The framework emphasizes the importance of multiple types of assets (physical, financial, human, intellectual, natural, social, political, and cultural capital) and the economic, institutional, and policy context in which rural wealth strategies are devised. The report discusses the role of wealth creation in the rural development process, how wealth can be created in rural communities, and how its accumulation and effects can be measured.

Farm Activities Associated With Rural Development Initiatives:  Since 2002, USDA’s Rural Business and Industry (B&I) Loan Guarantee program has increased its emphasis on farm-related business activities associated with renewable energy, local/regional food, and value-added agriculture. Other new programs and program modifications also have focused on these and other farm activities and related industries, including the use of farm and ranch natural resources. This trend represents a relatively new direction for USDA’s Rural Development programs, which have historically focused on nonfarm-related business. This report improves our understanding of the farm and farmer characteristics that may influence farm operator involvement in development-related activities, specifically by focusing on five farm activities: organic farming, value-added agriculture, direct marketing, agritourism, and energy/electricity production. The findings are based on descriptive data from USDA’s 2007 Agricultural Resource Management Survey (ARMS) and estimates from logit models used to identify statistically significant factors associated with involvement in certain farm activities.

The 2008-09 Recession and Recovery Implications for the Growth and Financial Health of U.S. Agriculture:  U.S. agriculture was better positioned than most United States industries entering the recession, was less affected by the recession than most other industries, and is well positioned to continue to do well as the economy recovers.

The Changing Organization of U.S. Farming: Innovations in farm organization, business arrangements, and production practices have allowed farmers to produce more with less. Fewer labor hours and less land are used today than 30 years ago, and practices such as the use of genetically engineered seeds and no-till have dampened increases in machinery, fuel, and pesticide use. Likely aided by the increased use of risk management tools such as contracts and crop insurance, U.S. agricultural productivity has increased by nearly 50 percent since 1982. Future innovations will be necessary to maintain, or boost, current productivity gains in order to meet the growing global demands that will be placed upon U.S. agriculture.

Changing Farm Structure and the Distribution of Farm Payments and Federal Crop Insurance:  The distribution of commodity-related payments and Federal crop insurance indemnities to U.S. farmers has shifted to larger farms as more and more U.S. agricultural production is done on those farms. Since the operators of larger farms tend to have higher household incomes than other farm operators, commodity-related program payments and Federal crop insurance indemnities also have shifted to higher income households. By 2009, half of commodity-related program payments went to farms operated by households earning over $89,540, a quarter went to farms operated by households with incomes greater than $209,000, and 10 percent went to farms operated by households with incomes of at least $425,000. Current income eligibility caps and payment limits affect few farm households because most of them have incomes below the income caps or receive payments less than the payment limits. Based on 2009 Agricultural Resource Management Survey (ARMS) data, recent proposals to lower those income caps and payment limits would still affect only a small percentage of U.S. farm households, because their incomes would still fall below the proposed income caps and payment limits. Total Government program payments to U.S. farms were $12.3 billion in 2009. Total Federal crop insurance indemnity payments were $5.2 billion in 2009.

An Analysis of the Limited Base Acre Provision of the 2008 Farm Act: The Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008 eliminates direct and countercyclical payments (DCP) and average crop revenue election program payments to farms with 10 or fewer base acres. This report examines the effects of the provision. Findings suggest that Federal budgetary savings from the provision are small. In 2009, nearly 371,000 of the Nation’s 2.2 million farms had 10 or fewer base acres (not including farms owned by limited-resource and socially disadvantaged farmers, which are exempt from the provision). However, not all farms with 10 or fewer base acres participate in the DCP program. Based on the 2008 enrollment rate, 148,400 farms would no longer receive DCP, estimated at $11.7 million in 2009. The effect of the provision varies among U.S. regions, with a larger portion of ineligible farms found on or near the East Coast.

Estimating the Substitution of Distillers’ Grains for Corn and Soybean Meal in the U.S. Feed Complex: Corn-based dry-mill ethanol production and its coproducts – notably distillers’ dried grains with solubles (DDGS) – have surged in recent years. The report estimates the potential substitution of DDGS for corn and soybean meal in livestock feeding and the impact of substitution upon the U.S. feed complex.

Identifying Overlap in the Farm Safety Net: This report provides a classification of types of overlap and a synthesis of ERS research about overlapping payments in the U.S. farm safety net, including how to identify and measure overlap among crop revenue insurance, ACRE, SURE, and ad hoc disaster assistance. Future research avenues are suggested, including exploring how income support and risk management programs interact within the context of a whole farm revenue definition of farm business viability.

Direct and Intermediated Marketing of Local Foods in the United States: This study uses nationally representative data on marketing of local foods to assess the relative scale of local food marketing channels. This research documents that sales through intermediated marketing channels, such as farmers’ sales to local grocers and restaurants, account for a large portion of all local food sales. Small and medium-sized farms dominate local foods sales marketed exclusively through direct-to-consumer channels (foods sold at roadside stands or farmers’ markets, for example) while large farms dominate local food sales marketed exclusively through intermediated channels. Farmers marketing food locally are most prominent in the Northeast and the West Coast regions and areas close to densely populated urban markets. Climate and topography favoring the production of fruits and vegetables, proximity to and neighboring farm participation in farmers’ markets, and good transportation and information access are found to be associated with higher levels of direct-to-consumer sales.

Trends in U.S. Farmland Values and Ownership:  Because farm real estate represents much of the value of U.S. farm sector assets, large swings in farmland values can affect the financial well-being of agricultural producers. This report examines both macroeconomic (interest rates, prices of alternative investments) and parcel-specific (soil quality, government payments, proximity to urban areas) factors that affect farmland values. In the last few years, U.S. farmland values have been supported by strong farm earnings, which have helped the farm sector in many regions to withstand the residential housing downturn. Historically low interest rates are likely a significant contributor to farming’s current ability to support higher land values. About 40 percent of U.S. farmland has been rented over the last 25 years. Non-operators (landowners who do not themselves farm) owned 29 percent of land in farms in 2007, though that proportion has declined since 1992.

Agricultural Income and Finance Outlook, 2011 Edition: Net farm income is forecast at $100.9 billion in 2011, up 28 percent from 2010 and 50 percent higher than the 10-year average of $67.4 billion for 2001-2010. Net cash income at $109.8 billion would be a nominal record, 19 percent above the prior record attained in 2010. Net value added is expected to increase by almost $24 billion in 2011 to $153.7 billion. Production expenses are forecast to jump substantially in 2011 to a record nominal high exceeding $300 billion. Prices paid indexes drive the forecast increase. Inflation-adjusted 2011 production expenses will exceed the previous peak reached in 1979.

The values of farm business sector assets and equity (assets minus debt) are forecast to rise in 2011, while farm debt is forecast to decline from 2010 levels. Farm sector asset values are expected to rise by 6.8 percent in 2011 as the values of land and farm buildings, crop inventories, purchased inputs, machinery and equipment and financial assets are all expected to rise in 2011. Farm sector debt is expected to fall from about $247 billion in 2010 to about $243 billion in 2011. The decline in real estate debt is expected to be about $4 billion (-3.0 percent). The farm business sector’s debt-to-asset ratio is expected to decline to 10.4 percent, and debt-to-equity is expected to decline to 11.6 percent in 2011, indicating that the farm sector’s solvency position remains strong.

Average net cash income for farm businesses is expected to increase throughout most of the country in 2011, although income growth is not as high as experienced in 2010. High commodity prices for both crops and livestock are driving these increases, despite increasing expenses in all categories other than labor. Except for poultry, high prices in 2011 have helped the livestock sector to continue the strong performance of 2010 despite an environment of increasing feed expenses. Driven by the gains in most crop and livestock farms, all regions other than the Southern Seaboard are expected to experience at least a 7-percent improvement in average net cash income over 2010. Median farm household income increased by 3.7 percent in 2010 to $54,162 and is forecast to be higher in 2011. Bolstered by higher farm asset values, the balance sheet of farm households improved in 2010, with median net worth increasing by 6.5 percent to $576,745.

A Quarterly Econometric Model for Short-Term Forecasting of the U.S. Dairy Industry:  This research evaluates the econometric approaches employed by USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS) to contribute to the dairy sector forecasts published in the monthly World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates (WASDE) report. To generate the estimates, a quarterly model of the U.S. dairy industry is specified using data for fourth-quarter 1998 (Q4/1998) to first quarter 2009 (Q1/2009), and it is estimated and validated employing data for Q2/2009 to Q1/2010. Different forecasts are generated using a variety of single equation and system methods, and which are then evaluated in terms of forecast precision or predicting turning points in the data. Different approaches, however, more effectively forecast different variables. Vector autoregression with exogenous variables outperforms structural regression models when forecasting prices, but single and system estimations of structural models are superior to time series models when forecasting some items in farm supply and commodity balance sheets.

USDA Agricultural Projections to 2021:  This report provides longrun (10-year) projections for the agricultural sector through 2021. Projections cover agricultural commodities, agricultural trade, and aggregate indicators of the sector, such as farm income and food prices.

Where’s the (Not) Meat?—Byproducts From Beef and Pork Production: Beef/Cattle: Drought continues to dominate non-fed slaughter, despite recent rains that provided temporary relief and promoted emergence of winter wheat in the Southern Plains.

Slaughter and Processing Options and Issues for Locally Sourced Meat:  This report evaluates the availability of slaughter and processing facilities for local meat production and the extent to which these may constrain or support growth in demand for locally sourced meats.

Implications of an Early Corn Crop Harvest for Feed and Residual Use Estimates:  An early corn harvest—before the August 31 end of the previous marketing year—creates an overlap of supply-and-use data between the old and new marketing years that can alter the patterns of corn use and ending stocks, with implications for official USDA projections and estimates.

USDA Priority Goal 2:  Ensure our national forests and private working lands are conserved, restored, and made more resilient to climate change, while enhancing our water resources.

Key Outcome: 

Enhanced understanding by policymakers, regulators, program managers, and those shaping public debate of economic issues related to developing Federal farm, natural resource, and rural policies and programs that respond to the challenges of climate change and the need to protect and maintain the environment while improving agricultural competitiveness and economic growth.

Key Accomplishments:

Research Investments and Market Structure in the Food Processing, Agricultural Input, and Biofuel Industries Worldwide: Meeting growing global demand for food, fiber, and biofuel requires robust investment in agricultural research and development (R&D) from both public and private sectors. This study examines global R&D spending by private industry in seven agricultural input sectors, food manufacturing, and biofuel and describes the changing structure of these industries. In 2007 (the latest year for which comprehensive estimates are available), the private sector spent $19.7 billion on food and agricultural research (56 percent in food manufacturing and 44 percent in agricultural input sectors) and accounted for about half of total public and private spending on food and agricultural R&D in high-income countries. In R&D related to biofuel, annual private-sector investments are estimated to have reached $1.47 billion worldwide by 2009. Incentives to invest in R&D are influenced by market structure and other factors. Agricultural input industries have undergone significant structural change over the past two decades, with industry concentration on the rise. A relatively small number of large, multinational firms with global R&D and marketing networks account for most R&D in each input industry. Rising market concentration has not generally been associated with increased R&D investment as a percentage of industry sales.

The Complementary Roles of the Public and Private Sectors in U.S. Agricultural Research and Development:  This brief examines the funding and performance of agricultural R&D to assess the evolving roles of the public and private sectors in the U.S. agricultural research system. There is a clear, long-term trend toward greater private sector funding and performance of R&D. In 2007, the private sector performed 53 percent of total food and agricultural research in the United States, and privately funded R&D has grown faster than publicly funded R&D over the long term. Public-sector funders and performers of R&D play a largely complementary role by emphasizing social returns in the selection of research topics and valuing rapid and widespread disclosure of new knowledge.

Agricultural Adaptation to a Changing Climate: Economic and Environmental Implications Vary by U.S. Region:  Global climate models predict increases over time in average temperature worldwide, with significant impacts on local patterns of temperature and precipitation. The extent to which such changes present a risk to food supplies, farmer livelihoods, and rural communities depends in part on the direction, magnitude, and rate of such changes, but equally importantly on the ability of the agricultural sector to adapt to changing patterns of yield and productivity, production cost, and resource availability. Study findings suggest that, while impacts are highly sensitive to uncertain climate projections, farmers have considerable flexibility to adapt to changes in local weather, resource conditions, and price signals by adjusting crops, rotations, and production practices. Such adaptation, using existing crop production technologies, can partially mitigate the impacts of climate change on national agricultural markets. Adaptive redistribution of production, however, may have significant implications for both regional land use and environmental quality.

The Renewable Identification Number System and U.S. Biofuel Mandates: This report provides an overview of how the Renewable Identification Number (RIN) market works to ensure compliance with the Renewable Fuel Standard provision of the Energy Independence and Security Act, as well as how RIN prices are determined and which factors influence their prices.

Major Uses of Land in the United States, 2007: The United States has a total land area of nearly 2.3 billion acres. In 2007, the major land uses were forestland at 671 million acres (30 percent); grassland pasture and rangeland at 614 million (27 percent); cropland at 408 million (18 percent); special uses (primarily parks and wildlife areas) at 313 million acres (14 percent); miscellaneous uses (like tundra or swamps) at 197 million acres (9 percent); and urban land at 61 million acres (3 percent). This report presents findings from the most recent (2007) inventory of U.S. major land uses, drawing on data from the U.S. Census Bureau, public land management and conservation agencies, and other sources. The data are synthesized by State to estimate the use of several broad classes and subclasses of agricultural and nonagricultural land over time. National and regional trends in land use are compared with earlier major land-use estimates.

Baselines in Environmental Markets: Tradeoffs Between Cost and Additionality:  Markets for farm-based environmental services are designed to allow farmers to sell “credits” for environmental improvements in water quality, carbon sequestration, wetlands restoration, and other areas. These markets use an environmental baseline to help determine whether proposed improvements qualify for market credits, and, if so, the number that should be awarded. Selection of a baseline is often a critical and contentious element in the design of environmental service markets. Due to the complexity and costs associated with defining, measuring, and verifying environmental baseline levels across heterogeneous landscapes, program managers may face a tradeoff between the precision with which changes in environmental performance can be estimated and the cost of refining those estimates. This brief focuses on the issues involved in measuring baselines, the strengths and weaknesses of alternative types of baselines, and the tradeoffs involved when selecting a baseline to measure environmental improvement.

The Future of Environmental Compliance Incentives in U.S. Agriculture: In recent years, direct payments—a type of farm commodity program payment—have made up a large share of Federal agriculture assistance that could be withheld from farmers who fail to comply with highly erodible land conservation (conservation compliance and sodbuster) or wetland conservation (swampbuster) provisions, known collectively as environmental compliance requirements. If direct payments are sharply reduced or eliminated to help reduce the Federal budget deficit, compliance incentives would be reduced on many farms, potentially increasing environmental quality problems. Some farmers will still be subject to compliance through existing Federal agricultural programs (e.g., conservation or disaster programs) or programs that may succeed direct payments. Making federally subsidized crop insurance subject to compliance could also make up some of the lost incentive to farmers.

Water Conservation in Irrigated Agriculture: Trends and Challenges in the Face of Emerging Demands:  This report relies on findings from several national surveys and current literature to assess water resource use and conservation measures within the U.S. irrigated crop sector. U.S. agriculture accounts for 80-90 percent of the Nation’s consumptive water use (water lost to the environment by evaporation, crop transpiration, or incorporation into products). Expanding water demands to support population and economic growth, environmental flows (water within wetlands, rivers, and groundwater systems needed to maintain natural ecosystems), and energy-sector growth, combined with Native American water-right claims and supply/demand shifts expected with climate change, will present new challenges for agricultural water use and conservation, particularly for the 17 Western States that account for nearly three-quarters of U.S. irrigated agriculture. Despite technological innovations, at least half of U.S. irrigated cropland acreage is still irrigated with less efficient, traditional irrigation application systems. Sustainability of irrigated agriculture will depend partly on whether producers adopt more efficient irrigation production systems that integrate improved on farm water management practices with efficient irrigation application systems.

USDA Priority Goal 3:  Help America promote agricultural production and biotechnology exports as America works to increase food security.

Key Outcome: 

Enhanced understanding by policymakers, regulators, program managers, and organizations shaping public debate of economic issues related to adoption of economically and environmentally sustainable technologies, factors affecting imports of U.S. agricultural products (including biotech products), and strategies to increase markets for U.S. products, including biotech crop exports.

Key Accomplishments:

International Food Security Assessment, 2012-22:  Food security is estimated to improve slightly in 2012 as the number of food-insecure people in the 76 countries covered in this report declines from 814 million in 2011 to 802 million in 2012. The share of the population that is food insecure remains at 24 percent. Over the next decade, the share of the population that is food insecure is projected to decline from 24 percent in 2012 to 21 percent in 2022, but the number of food insecure people is projected to increase by 37 million. Regionally, food insecurity is projected to remain most severe in Sub-Saharan Africa. Food-insecure people are defined as those consuming less than the nutritional target of roughly 2,100 calories per day per person.

Reciprocal Trade Agreements: Impacts on U.S. and Foreign Suppliers in Commodity and Manufactured Food Markets:  Reciprocal trade agreements (RTAs), which grant special preferences to members, affect the pattern and volume of bilateral trade in global markets. This study uses the gravity framework and panel data depicting annual trade between 69 countries over 31 years to examine how 11 RTAs have shaped U.S. and other suppliers’ exports of commodity and manufactured foods. Empirical results show that joint RTA membership enabled exporters to increase their trade with member country importers in the two food markets. The few agreements that failed to have a positive effect on member trade in either commodity food or manufactured food involve developing countries that typically grant very limited cross-border trade preference to member countries. Interestingly, model results indicate that RTAs can be a vehicle to increase trade externally. Nine of the 11 RTAs also expanded exports externally to nonmember countries, albeit to a lesser degree than with member importers. In some cases, however, nonmember exporters of food bore the cost of the RTA-induced expansion of trade. Five RTAs lowered food imports from nonmember suppliers. The adverse effects on nonmember suppliers were more pronounced for the United States than for other competitors.

Policy, Technology, and Efficiency of Brazilian Agriculture:  The Brazilian agricultural sector has been transformed from a traditional system of production with low use of modern technologies to a world agricultural leader. That transformation occurred as the country moved away from import-substitution policies—which nurtured domestic industrial development at the expense of agriculture—toward market-oriented policy reforms. These reforms included openness to foreign trade and foreign investment and the use of new technologies, which led to a new growth pattern. To evaluate that transformation, the authors use agricultural censuses spanning 1985-2006 to characterize Brazilian total factor productivity growth, decomposing that growth into technical and efficiency changes. This report presents the findings of a study that focuses on the effect of Brazil’s science and technology investments and other public policies on farm production. The findings indicate that agricultural research benefits have been most rapidly adopted by the most efficient farms, widening the productivity gap between these farms and average farms. That gap, however, has been narrowed through other public policies, such as rural credit and infrastructure investments, that favor average producers.

China’s Cotton Supply and Demand: Issues and Impact on the World Market: USDA has developed a new approach for estimating cotton consumption in China based on textile import and export data, supplementing the traditional methodology that uses yarn production data from China’s National Bureau of Statistics. This analysis suggests USDA’s historical estimates of China’s cotton consumption are reasonable and USDA’s August 2007 forecast may be conservative. These insights into the amount of cotton consumed by China’s textile mills, combined with data on China’s cotton exports and imports, suggest there may be problems with the official estimates of China’s cotton production. Uncertainties regarding the level of production and consumption of cotton in China mean that the potential remains for unexpected changes in China’s cotton import demand that could destabilize world commodity markets despite increased global communication. These unexpected changes highlight China’s impact on world cotton markets and the lack of transparency in China’s intervention in its domestic cotton markets and official cotton stock accumulation.

China’s Volatile Pork Industry:  China’s pork prices, hog inventories, and pork imports tend to rise and fall in a cyclical pattern in response to various factors that influence supply and demand.

China’s Market for Distillers Dried Grains and the Key Influences on Its Longer Run Potential:  Exports to China have become a significant source of demand for U.S. distillers dried grains with solubles (DDGS), the primary co-product from corn-based ethanol production.

Estimating the Range of Food-Insecure Households in India:  This study provides a quantitative assessment of food security using a large household-level expenditure survey conducted by the Government of India during 2004/05. The analysis tests the impact of several key assumptions required to estimate actual calories consumed from the expenditure data. The authors found significant differences in the estimates of calories consumed and the number of food-insecure people under alternative plausible assumptions for computing the calorie content of nonprocessed foods, processed foods, and meals eaten outside the household. The measurement errors were largest in accounting for calories consumed by the highest and lowest income households. Overall, the difference between the highest and lowest estimate of the number of people consuming an average of less than 2,100 calories per day was equivalent to about 17 percent of India’s population, or 173 million people in 2004/05. Given the significant measurement error in estimating calories consumed, it is important to consider not only consumption surveys, but also aggregate food availability studies and survey data on anthropometric measures that accompany undernourishment—such as growth stunting— in assessing food insecurity.

Indonesia’s Modern Food Retail Sector: Interaction With Changing Food Consumption and Trade Patterns:  Indonesia’s food market has changed in response to a changing and growing economy. The report examines changes in the food consumption pattern and measures the growth of modern food retail chains, packaged food purchases, and food imports in the world’s fourth-most-populous country. The evidence suggests that Indonesians are moving toward modern global purchasing and consumption patterns, but more slowly than in some comparable countries. Barriers to foreign and domestic commerce, affecting the development of modern food retail supply chains, are important constraints on food market change in Indonesia. Further change in Indonesia’s retail food sector will help determine future growth in imports, including from the United States.

Dynamic PEATSim Model: Documenting Its Use in Analyzing Global Commodity Markets:  This report documents the updated version of the Partial Equilibrium Agricultural Trade Simulation (PEATSim) model developed by USDA’s Economic Research Service. PEATSim is a global model, covering 31 commodities and 27 countries/regions. The model, consistent with economic theory, provides a flexible country and commodity aggregation and accounts for cross-commodity linkages and interactions. The report includes a presentation and discussion of the structure and specific features of the revamped model, along with the theoretical underpinnings. It also documents an application of the model to illustrate its dynamic structure and to demonstrate the differential behavior.

Foreign Cotton Consumption/Production Gap Reduced: The latest U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) cotton projections for 2011/12 indicate that the gap between foreign consumption and production is projected to decrease significantly this season and fall below 5 million bales for the first time since 2004/05

U.S. Net Textile and Apparel Imports Decline in 2011:  U.S. net textile and apparel fiber imports decreased in calendar year 2011 as a result of the sluggish U.S. economy. Total fiber product imports reached 17.2 billion raw-fiber-equivalent pounds in 2011, 7 percent below 2010 and the second lowest since 2004. Meanwhile, fiber product exports rose for the second consecutive year to 3.7 billion pounds after a recent low of 3.1 billion in 2009. As a result, 2011 net fiber product imports only reached 13.5 billion pounds, 9 percent below 2010 and one of the lowest since the mid-2000s.

USDA Priority Goal 4: Ensure that all of America's children have access to safe, nutritious, and balanced meals.

Key Outcome:

Enhanced understanding by policymakers, regulators, program managers, and those shaping public debate of economic issues related to improving the efficiency, efficacy, and equity of public policies and programs relating to food prices and availability at home and abroad, consumer food choices, nutrition and health outcomes, food and nutrition assistance programs, and the protection of consumers from unsafe food.

Key Accomplishments:

Household Food Security in the United States in 2011:  An estimated 85.1 percent of American households were food secure throughout the entire year in 2011, meaning that they had access at all times to enough food for an active, healthy life for all household members.  The remaining households (14.9 percent) were food insecure at least some time during the year, including 5.7 percent with very low food security—meaning that the food intake of one or more household members was reduced and their eating patterns were disrupted at times during the year because the household lacked money and other resources for food. 

Statistical Supplement to Household Food Security in the United States in 2011:  This Supplement contains statistics that complement those provided in the Economic Research Report, Household Food Security in the United States in 2011 (ERR-141). The Research Report provides the primary national statistics on household food security, food spending, and use of Federal food and nutrition assistance programs by food-insecure households. This Supplement provides additional statistics on component items of the household food security measure, the frequency-of-occurrence of food-insecure conditions, and selected statistics on household food security, food spending, and use of Federal and community food and nutrition assistance programs.

Are Healthy Foods Really More Expensive? It Depends on How You Measure the Price:  Most Americans consume diets that do not meet Federal dietary recommendations. A common explanation is that healthier foods are more expensive than less healthy foods. To investigate this assumption, the authors compare prices of healthy and less healthy foods using three different price metrics: the price of food energy ($/calorie), the price of edible weight ($/100 edible grams), and the price of an average portion ($/average portion). They also calculate the cost of meeting the recommendations for each food group. For all metrics except the price of food energy, the authors find that healthy foods cost less than less healthy foods (defined for this study as foods that are high in saturated fat, added sugar, and/or sodium, or that contribute little to meeting dietary recommendations).

Alleviating Poverty in the United States: The Critical Role of SNAP Benefits:  The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is one of the largest safety net programs in the United States, serving 44.7 million individuals in an average month in 2011. We used Current Population Survey data to examine the effect of SNAP on poverty from 2000 to 2009, by adding program benefits to income and calculating how SNAP benefits affected the prevalence, depth, and severity of poverty. We found an average decline of 4.4 percent in the prevalence of poverty due to SNAP benefits, while the average decline in the depth and severity of poverty was 10.3 and 13.2 percent, respectively. SNAP benefits had a particularly strong effect on child poverty, reducing its depth by an average of 15.5 percent and its severity by an average of 21.3 percent from 2000 to 2009. SNAP’s antipoverty effect peaked in 2009, when benefit increases were authorized by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Our analysis shows that SNAP significantly improves the welfare of low-income households.

How Economic Conditions Affect Participation in USDA Nutrition Assistance Programs: This study, based on 1976-2010 data, examines the relationship between U.S. economic conditions and participation in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s five largest nutrition assistance programs. It also describes how changes in program policy and other factors may have influenced this relationship. The five programs are: Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly the Food Stamp Program), Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), National School Lunch Program (NSLP), School Breakfast Program (SBP), and Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP). Although SNAP’s reputation as one of the Nation’s primary countercyclical assistance programs—expanding during economic downturns and contracting during periods of economic growth—is well established, there has been little analysis of the effect of the economy on the other programs. The results of this study strongly suggest that, to varying degrees, economic conditions influence participation in all the major nutrition assistance programs, not just in SNAP.

The Demand for Disaggregated Food-Away-From-Home and Food-at-Home Products in the United States:  Food away from home (FAFH) comprises nearly half of all U.S. consumer food expenditures. Hence, policies designed to influence nutritional outcomes would be incomplete if they did not address the role of FAFH. However, because of data limitations, most studies of the response of food demand to policy changes have ignored the role of FAFH, and those studies that have included FAFH have treated it as a single good. We, therefore, estimate demand for 43 disaggregated FAFH and food-at-home (FAH) products, using a 2-stage budgeting framework. We find that the demands for disaggregated FAFH products differ in price responsiveness and tend to be more sensitive to changes in food spending patterns than FAH products. Many foods are found to have statistically significant substitution and complementary relationships within and among food groups.

The Relationship Between National Brand and Private Label Food Products: Prices, Promotions, Recessions, and Recoveries: Over the past two decades, private label food products have grown steadily in sales and often directly compete for market share with national brands. This competition lowers prices and increases product choices for consumers. This report analyzes the relationship between private label and national brand product prices and in-store promotions for two major U.S. grocery store chains during the 2007-2009 recession and the year following the recession (2010). Retailers promote private label products (offer price discounts) strategically in response to national brand pricing promotions to protect private label market share during national brand promotions. However, the extent of the retailer response varies widely across supermarket departments and is also affected by both the density of food stores and the market share of supercenters within a market area. These findings hold true regardless of the state of the economy, although the magnitude of the interaction between national brands and private labels differs in times of recession and recovery.

Characteristics and Influential Factors of Food Deserts:  USDA’s Economic Research Service previously identified more than 6,500 food desert tracts in the United States based on 2000 Census and 2006 data on locations of supermarkets, supercenters, and large grocery stores. In this report, we examine the socioeconomic and demographic characteristics of these tracts to see how they differ from other census tracts and the extent to which these differences influence food desert status. Relative to all other census tracts, food desert tracts tend to have smaller populations, higher rates of abandoned or vacant homes, and residents who have lower levels of education, lower incomes, and higher unemployment. Census tracts with higher poverty rates are more likely to be food deserts than otherwise similar low-income census tracts in rural and in very dense (highly populated) urban areas. For less dense urban areas, census tracts with higher concentrations of minority populations are more likely to be food deserts, while tracts with substantial decreases in minority populations between 1990 and 2000 were less likely to be identified as food deserts in 2000.

The Food Assistance Landscape: FY 2011 Annual Report:  This report examines trends in USDA’s food and nutrition assistance programs through fiscal 2011. It also summarizes a number of ERS research reports on WIC-related topics that were released in fiscal 2011.

New Food Choices Free of Trans Fats Better Align U.S. Diets With Health Recommendations:  Federal agencies that are charged with giving dietary advice to consumers—the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services—recommend that consumers keep their intake of trans fatty acids as low as possible. To that end, Federal regulations now require food labels to say how many grams of trans fats are in each serving. In this report, we examine recent changes in the trans fats content of new food products and the use of “no trans fats” package claims. We find a marked decline in the trans fats content of new food products from 2005 to 2010, along with an increase in the use of “no trans fats” claims on product packages. We also find that only a small minority of foods that contain no trans fats make such claims even though the use of a “no trans fats” claim is associated with higher rates of successful market penetration in a majority of product categories. In addition, new products without trans fats generally contain less saturated fat, sodium, and calories, which suggests that the reduction of trans fats was not compensated by increases in these other nutrients.

Food Safety Audits, Plant Characteristics, and Food Safety Technology Use in Meat and Poultry Plants: Food safety technology can increase a company’s capacity to prevent a foodborne contamination. A food safety audit—a quality control tool in which an auditor observes whether a plant’s processing practices and technologies are compatible with good food safety practices—can indicate how effectively food safety technology is being used. Fast food restaurants, grocery stores, and other major customers of meat and poultry processing plants conduct their own audits or hire auditors to assess the soundness of a plant’s processing operation. Meat and poultry plants can also audit themselves as a way to help maintain process control. In this report, we document the extent of food safety audits in meat and poultry processing plants. We also examine the associations between the use of audits and plant size, firm structure, and food safety technology use. Results show that larger plants, plants subject to food safety audits, and plants that are part of a multiplant firm use more food safety technology than other plants. Plants subject to both plant-hired and customer-hired audits had greater technology use than single (plant- or customer-hired) audit plants.

How Much Time Do Americans Spend on Food? This report uses data from the 2006-08 ERS Eating & Health Module of the American Time Use Survey to present an overview of Americans’ eating and other food-related time use patterns, including grocery shopping and meal preparation, and teenage time use patterns in relation to school meals. On an average day, Americans age 15 and older spent 67 minutes eating and drinking as a “primary” or main activity, and 23.5 minutes eating and 63 minutes drinking beverages (except plain water) while doing something such as watching television, driving, or working. Eleven percent of the population spent at least 4.5 hours on an average day engaged in eating and drinking activities.

Nonresponse Bias Analysis of Body Mass Index Data in the Eating and Health Module: The ERS Eating and Health Module, a supplement to the American Time Use Survey (ATUS), included questions on height and weight so that respondents’ Body Mass Index (BMI—a measure of body fat based on height and weight) could be calculated and analyzed with ATUS time-use data in obesity research. Some respondents did not report height and/or weight, and BMIs could not be calculated for them. Analyses focusing on correlations between BMIs and time use could be biased if respondents who did not report height and/or weight differ significantly in other observable characteristics from the rest of the survey respondents. However, findings reveal that any nonresponse bias associated with the height and weight data appears to be small and would not affect future analyses of BMIs and time-use pattern correlations.

Last updated: Friday, February 08, 2013

For more information contact: Steve Crutchfield

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