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About the Atlas


Objectives of the Atlas

This Atlas provides access to an array of public data on Federal farm programs that will allow users to visually explore a core component of U.S. agricultural policy. These programs assist farmers in sustaining and promoting the viability of their farm businesses or in protecting and enhancing the environment. Agricultural producers have a number of programs available to them, and because program designs and purposes vary, producers may participate in multiple programs on the same farm. For example, programs may be tied to specific commodities or to whole farm revenues, they may provide support for current losses or be based on historical production, or they may be in the form of multiyear contracts for conservation practices. As a result, program expenditures can vary depending on factors such as individual producers' commodity choices, market conditions, weather patterns, pest infestations, and environmental conditions.

Examining agricultural policies and programs is a core area of ERS research, with the goal of providing decisionmakers with essential information about the impacts and effectiveness of farm programs. The objectives of the Atlas are:

  • To provide a visual display of the geographic distribution of participation and benefits from key Federal farm programs.
  • To inform discussion about Federal farm programs.
  • To highlight the value of public data on Federal farm programs.

The Atlas currently displays data for program year 2009, the latest year for which data are complete for all programs included in the Atlas. It will be updated as full program data become available for subsequent years.

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What information is included in the Atlas?

The Atlas assembles data for seven key Federal farm programs:

  • Direct and Countercyclical Program (DCP)-Data from the USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA) on historical base acres and payments under the DCP program
  • Average Crop Revenue Election (ACRE) Program-Data from FSA on historical base acres and payments under the ACRE program
  • Marketing Assistance Loan Program-Data from FSA on marketing loan benefits (MLBs) and the value of marketing assistance loans made
  • Supplemental Revenue Assistance (SURE) Program-Data from FSA on SURE payments
  • Milk Income Loss Contract (MILC) Program-Data from FSA on MILC payments
  • Conservation Reserve Program (CRP)-Data from FSA on enrolled and expiring acres and payments
  • Crop Insurance Program-Data from the USDA Risk Management Agency (RMA) on net acres, premiums, premium subsidies, and net indemnities associated with crop revenue and crop yield and other insurance plans

The Atlas allows users to explore these programs through multiple maps displaying data:

  • By county
  • By total program or by selected program commodity for certain programs
  • As a share of all programs

The Atlas displays county-level data for selected commodities only for DCP and ACRE base acres, value of marketing assistance loans made, and all crop insurance variables. Commodity-specific data are not available for other variables.

In some cases, a county may display in a map as having "no data." This indication is used when there are no data for that program in the county, data are available for fewer than four farms in the county (disclosure concerns), or there are discrepancies in the data for that county that cannot be resolved.

The Atlas does not display program data for Alaska and Hawaii. Producers in these States do not participate widely in most of the programs mapped in this Atlas, making data for these States difficult to display effectively in this format. The downloadable spreadsheet accompanying the Atlas includes county-level data for both States where the data are available.

There are several ways to analyze and display data on Federal farm programs. Three key definitions used in this Atlas may differ from those used elsewhere in other maps and data on farm programs.

  • Year:The data in this Atlas are expressed in terms of "program year," which can differ from farm program data expressed in terms of calendar or fiscal year. Program year data reflect payments made during the 12-month period covered by a program. That year corresponds in most cases to the year in which the commodity eligible for coverage is produced. For a few programs, like CRP and MILC, the program year corresponds to the fiscal year during which payments are made.
  • Payment/participation location:The geographical location used for displaying payment and participation data in the Atlas is the location of the participating farm unit, not the address of the individual who receives the payment. Some individuals may operate more than one farm unit, operating a farm they own as well as several farms rented from others, for example. Using the farm unit as the basis for displaying program participation and payments focuses the visual information on the place where production occurs, rather than on the place where operators and/or landowners reside.
  • Farms included:The data in this Atlas focus specifically on farms that participate in Federal farm programs. Some of the indicators that express payment and participation data in terms of cropland acres or production volumes are comparing acreage or payments for participating farms with all cropland acres or production. This comparison helps to show whether payment levels are high or low relative to the area available for farming or the level of production in a particular county. Users should bear in mind that these indicators are not measures of payments or participation per farmland acre or per unit of production. Not all acres designated as cropland by the Census of Agriculture produce commodities eligible for farm programs and not all producers reporting production to the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service participate in farm programs.

Descriptions and detailed source information for all the programs mapped are provided in the Documentation section of the Atlas. Further details on the Federal farm programs included in the Atlas are available on the ERS Farm and Commodity Policy and Conservation Programs Topics.

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Acknowledgments

ERS would like to thank FSA and RMA for their assistance in preparing this Atlas, particularly Terry Hickenbotham, Cathie Feather, Phil Sronce, Brad Karmen, and Joy Harwood of FSA, who very generously shared their data and expertise with the Atlas team.

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What can users do with the Atlas?

Users can choose from an array of maps displaying county-level data for nearly 100 variables. Each map may be viewed for the entire country or users can use a zoom tool to focus on a single region, State, or county. When viewing a program map, users may also click on a single county to view a table of data on all the variables associated with the program for that particular county.

With these tools, users can:

  • View maps showing levels of participation and benefits from key farm programs
  • View maps comparing participation and benefits from selected programs
  • View all data for any county on a selected farm program
  • Print a version of the map or save the image in a graphics-file format for use in other documents or presentations
  • Download a spreadsheet containing all the data for a selected county or for all U.S. counties included in the Atlas

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Last updated: Thursday, July 05, 2012

For more information contact: Anne Effland, Vince Breneman, David Nulph, and Erik O'Donoghue

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