Newly released USDA agricultural projections through 2026 suggest that demand for U.S. corn will grow steadily over the next decade. Rising yields will boost production and support the growing demand. With the exception of a drop in 2017, corn production is expected to increase through the forecast period. Lower corn prices and increasing corn production suggest that more corn will be used for feed and residual use, helping to fuel rising meat production. A slight increase in corn-based ethanol production is projected through the 2018/19 marketing year, after which it is expected to decline to levels just below those in 2015. Falling domestic demand reflects a declining trend in U.S. gasoline consumption due to fuel-efficient vehicles, reduced vehicle usage, infrastructure, and other constraints on growth in the ethanol fuel markets. The United States is expected to remain the world’s largest corn exporter over the projection period. Rising incomes, particularly in developing economies, translate to an increasing demand for meat, bolstering the market for U.S. corn as a feed grain. This chart appears in the USDA Agricultural Projections to 2026 report released in February 2017.
ERS is forecasting grocery store (food at home) prices to rise between 0 and 1 percent in 2017, in contrast to the 1.3-percent decline in retail food prices in 2016. Poultry prices are expected to rise 1.5 to 2.5 percent, dairy prices could increase between 2 and 3 percent, and cereal and bakery product prices are expected to rise as much as 1.25 percent in 2017. On the other hand, consumers are expected to face lower prices in 2017 for beef and veal, eggs, and fruits and vegetables. Prices for beef and veal could decrease as much as 2.5 percent, egg prices are expected to fall 3 to 4 percent, and consumers could pay up to 0.5 percent less for fruits and vegetables. These forecasts are based on an assumption of normal weather conditions. Severe weather or other unforeseen events could drive up food prices beyond the current forecasts. Conversely, a strengthening U.S. dollar could continue to make the sale of domestic food products overseas more difficult. This would increase the supply of foods on the domestic market, placing downward pressure on retail food prices. More information on ERS’s food price forecasts can be found in ERS’s Food Price Outlook data product, updated February 23, 2017.
Commercial farm income is highly variable from year to year, fluctuating with output and prices. Income variability can affect key farm decisions, including how much to invest in farm assets (such as land or machinery) and how much to save as a cushion for low-earning years. Aggregate statistics, like the median income for all farms, can provide useful insight into how the farm sector as a whole fares from year to year—but can mask considerable variation for individual farms. For example, farms in one region might be thriving, whereas in another region they might be experiencing low incomes due to a localized drought. Between 2000 and 2014, median farm income for commercial farms ranged from about $70,000 to $180,000, with income fluctuating between consecutive years an average of $20,000. By comparison, a typical (representative) commercial farm with the same average income as the median commercial farm (about $120,000) could see its income fluctuate much more—with an average income swing of $86,000. This chart appears in the ERS report “Farm Household Income Volatility: An Analysis Using Panel Data From a National Survey,” released February 2017.
According to ERS’s food availability data, the total per capita supply of red meat, poultry, and fish available for consumption in the United States—which reached 200 pounds on a boneless, edible basis in 2007—fell to 181 pounds in 2014. Beef availability declined from its peak of 88.8 pounds per person in 1976 to 51.5 pounds per person in 2014, and availability of other red meats—pork, veal, and lamb—dropped as well. Per person fish and shellfish availability, up from 12 pounds in 1970, has fluctuated between 14.5 and 16.5 pounds since 1984 and was 14.5 pounds per person in 2014. Turkey availability grew in most years between 1970 and 1996, reaching 14.3 pounds per person before declining to 12.4 pounds per person in 2014. Availability of chicken has steadily increased since 1970, reaching 58.7 pounds per person in 2014. High crop prices, which led to high feed costs and subsequently higher beef prices over 2006-15, are partly responsible for reduced beef production. Lower bird mortality rates and a higher average live weight per broiler have increased chicken availability. This chart appears in “U.S. Per Capita Availability of Red Meat, Poultry, and Fish Lowest Since 1983” in the February 2017 issue of ERS’s Amber Waves magazine.
Some USDA programs offer financial and technical assistance to farmers who volunteer to implement conservation practices. The Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) is one such program that provides assistance to livestock producers to improve nutrient management and to reduce manure nutrient runoff. Nationally, 60 percent of EQIP funding is designated for livestock producers. Between 2006 and 2013, EQIP issued 7,452 contracts to producers in Chesapeake Bay counties alone—totaling nearly $243 million (adjusted for inflation). On average, that amounted to 932 contracts and $30 million per year over that period (in 2013 dollars). Each EQIP contract may fund multiple conservation practices. The largest share of spending was for waste-storage facilities, followed by protection of heavy-use areas to reduce sedimentation and nutrient runoff. This chart appears in the ERS report, Comparing Participation in Nutrient Trading by Livestock Operations to Crop Producers in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, released in September 2016.
Average retail prices for orange juice were above long-term averages for 2015 and most of 2016, but a surprising drop in October brought prices back in line with years prior. Retail prices increased because of declining domestic production, which has been below long-term averages since 2013. The United States also imports a large amount of orange juice with the majority coming from Brazil. Forecasts for Brazilian orange juice production are 30 percent higher for the 2016/17 marketing year compared to the prior year, and will likely lead to more robust exports from the country. October 2016 imports were more than double the previous year and likely signaled to retailers an increase in supply for the upcoming year. This chart is drawn from data reported in the ERS Fruit and Tree Nut dataset updated in January 2017.
Energy used to produce and prepare the foods and beverages purchased by and for U.S. consumers reached 13.5 quadrillion British thermal units (Btu) in 2002. Electricity accounted for 59 percent of the energy used by the U.S. food system in 2002. In the years leading up to 2002, electricity prices paid by U.S. processing plants, grocery stores, restaurants, and other food system participants—including consumers for their kitchen appliances—were trending downward. As a result, between 1998 and 2002 the U.S. food system substantially increased its use of energy and accounted for over half of the increase in the Nation’s energy budget over this period. Between 2000 and 2010, the average price paid for electricity across the U.S. food system increased about 50 percent. Faced with this steep increase in electricity prices, food-related energy use declined over most of this period, falling to 11.9 quadrillion Btu in 2012. Food-related energy use accounted for 12.5 percent of the national energy budget that year. This chart is based on data reported in the ERS report, The Role of Fossil Fuels in the U.S. Food System and the American Diet, January 19, 2017.
Domestic use of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) has been generally in decline since 2006. With the exception of marketing year 2013/14, when there was a slight uptick, usage numbers generally leveled off since 2012/13. The latest yearly data, however, indicates that domestic HFCS use may still be trending lower. HFCS is marketed in two primary compositions: HFCS-55 and HFCS-42. HFCS-55 contains 55 percent fructose and is used primarily in soft drinks, while HFCS-42, which contains 42 percent fructose, is used in a broader range of goods, including other beverages and baked foods. The long-term decline in HFCS consumption has primarily been the result of a reduction in HFCS-42. The cause of this decline has been driven by consumer demand for healthier alternatives, rising exports, and greater availability of substitutes. This chart appears in the ERS Sugar and Sweeteners Outlook report released in January 2017.
Landowners can lease farmland for energy production, such as for oil exploration or wind turbines. For example, households that own the oil and gas rights for their property or for land in other States may lease these rights to an energy company. In 2014, the majority of income from royalties or leases associated with energy production was earned from selling or leasing these rights. In Oklahoma, Utah, and Kansas, about 20 percent of farms received income from energy production. In States with active development of shale oil or gas, about 12 percent of farms received an average income of $65,781 from energy production—compared with 6 percent and $56,162 for the entire United States. Average payments were highest in North Dakota ($157,000) and Pennsylvania ($154,000), mainly due to oil and gas drilling in the Bakken and Marcellus shales. Total payments from energy companies to farms reached $2.9 billion in 2014, up from $2.3 billion in 2011. This chart appears in the November 2016 Amber Waves article, Share of Farm Businesses Receiving Lease and Royalty Income From Energy Production Varies Across Regions.
Countries vary in how much their citizens spend on food at home as a share of consumption expenditure. Consumption expenditure includes all household spending, but not savings. High-income countries, such as the United States and the United Kingdom, have higher food spending in absolute terms, but their food spending share is low. These two countries spent less than 10 percent of their consumption expenditure on food purchased from supermarkets and other food stores in 2015, while the share approached 50 percent in low-income countries such as Kenya. Per capita calorie availability follows the reverse pattern. According to the most recent available data, U.S. per capita calorie availability was among the highest at 3,639 calories per day, while Kenya’s was estimated at only 2,206 calories. This chart appears in Ag and Food Statistics: Charting the Essentials on the ERS website.
Flavor, healthfulness, convenience, and year-round availability have contributed to increasing consumer demand for strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, and other berries, with per capita loss-adjusted availability growing from an average of 4.5 pounds per person per year during 1994-98 to 6.6 pounds during 2007-08 and to 9.9 pounds in 2014. Linking ERS’s loss-adjusted food availability data with food intake surveys from 1994-2008 reveals that berries, like other fruit, are mainly consumed at home rather than away from home at eating out places. The increase in berry consumption comes exclusively from purchases at grocery stores (the food-at-home market). The at-home share of berry consumption rose from 83 percent during 1994-98 to 89-91 percent during 2003-08. The loss-adjusted availability of berries consumed at home rose from 3.7 pounds per person per year during 1994-98 to 5.9 pounds during 2007-08, while away-from-home consumption stayed just shy of 0.8 pounds per person. This chart appears in the ERS report U.S. Food Commodity Availability by Food Source, 1994-2008, December 2016.
When wheat prices posted at county elevators fall below the annual county and class-specific marketing assistance loan rate, producers become eligible to receive loan deficiency payments (LDP). An LDP is a direct payment to farmers that covers the difference between the current local price and the pre-determined county loan rate. A 2016/17 marketing year drop in the price of all wheat has made producers eligible to receive government support from the LDP program, provided they meet basic requirements. Producers are not required to sign up ahead of time to be eligible. This is the first time that LDPs have been made for wheat since the 2010/11 marketing year. USDA reports that LDPs in the 2016/17 marketing year to date are $117 million. Payments have been made on a total of 560 million bushels of wheat with an average LDP of almost 21 cents per bushel. Per bushel payments (to date) are highest in Oklahoma, at near 26 cents per bushel. The State with the largest number of bushels to receive an LDP is Kansas. To date, about 271.5 million bushels of wheat or about 58 percent of the total volume of wheat produced in the State during the current marketing year has received an LPD. This map appears in the ERS Wheat Outlook report released in January 2017.
Net farm income is a conventional measure of farm sector profitability that is used as part of the U.S. Gross Domestic Product calculation. Following several years of record highs, net farm income trended downward from 2013 to 2016. For 2017, ERS forecasts net farm income will fall to $62.3 billion ($54.8 billion in inflation-adjusted terms). If realized, this would be an 8.7 percent decline from the prior year and a decline of 49.6 percent from the record high in 2013. The expected decline in 2017 net farm income is driven by a forecast reduction in the value of production. Crop value of production is forecast down $9.2 billion (4.9 percent), while the value of production of animal/animal products is forecast to decline by less than $1 billion (0.5 percent). Find additional information and analysis in ERS’ Farm Sector Income and Finances topic page, released February 7, 2017.
Federally inspected cattle dressed weights averaged 843 pounds in November. Average dressed weights increased annually for the last 5 years, and since 2011, have been up more than 9 percent. However, the rate of increase slowed in 2016, with all cattle dressed weights through November averaging about the same as year-earlier weights for the same period. Heifer weights increased during this period, but steer weights and cow weights were lower. In addition to genetic advancements and efficiency gains, cattle weights are influenced by feed prices and the price for fed cattle. Since 2014, low feed prices have helped drive more rapid weight gains in recent years. Additionally, tighter supplies of cattle in 2014 and 2015 put pressure on producers to increase weights. In 2016, cattle numbers rebounded slightly. This recovery potentially reduced the need for added weight per animal. This chart appears in the ERS Livestock Dairy and Poultry Outlook report released in January 2017.
Compared to 2015, preliminary data indicates that 2016 marked an improvement in export and import levels. The year 2015 was characterized by increased imports and reduced exports for the major meat commodities. The primary cause was a rapid appreciation of U.S. currency relative to competitors in late 2014 into 2015. A stronger U.S. currency can make exports appear more expensive and imports cheaper. Additionally, the U.S. poultry market was heavily impacted by a highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) outbreak that led to sweeping trade restrictions. In 2016, U.S. exchange rates stabilized for much of the year, although they increased again in November and December. The majority of HPAI-related trade restrictions were also lifted by the start of 2016. As a result, beef, pork, and poultry exports increased compared to 2015 when beef and pork imports decreased (poultry imports historically are negligible). This chart is drawn from data discussed in the Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry Outlook report released in January 2017.
Raising productivity, rather than expanding resources, has become the major source of growth in global agriculture. Higher productivity has helped make food cheaper and more abundant, and saved resources such as forests from being converted to cropland. However, large differences remain in productivity performance between countries. For example, between 1971 and 2013, U.S. agricultural productivity growth averaged about 1.5 percent a year. Over the past few decades, China and Brazil have emerged among the world leaders in agricultural productivity growth. In Sub-Saharan Africa, on the other hand, agricultural productivity has been relatively stagnant. According to ERS research, strengthening the capacity of national agricultural research and extension systems has been a key factor in improving productivity growth. Long-term investments in agricultural research were especially important to sustaining higher growth rates in large, rapidly developing countries like Brazil and India. Under-investment in agricultural research remains an important barrier to stimulating productivity. The broader environment—such as institutions, infrastructure, and economic and trade policies—has also played an important role in raising agricultural productivity in many parts of the world. This chart appears in the topic page for International Agricultural Productivity, updated January 2017.
The ERS Major Land Uses (MLU) series estimates land in various uses, including the acres devoted to crop production in a given year. These acres, collectively referred to as “cropland used for crops,” include acres of cropland harvested, acres on which crops failed, and cultivated summer fallow. At 318 million acres, cropland harvested in 2016 is estimated to have increased by 2 million acres from the previous year—returning to levels in 2014 and matching the highest cropland harvested area since 1997 (321 million acres). The area that was double cropped (two or more crops harvested) declined by 1 million acres, while land that experienced crop failure held constant at 7 million acres in 2016—remaining well below its 20-year average of 10 million acres. Cultivated summer fallow, which primarily occurs as part of wheat rotations in the semiarid West, continued its long-term decline and reached its lowest level (12 million acres) since the start of the MLU series. The larger historical fluctuations seen in cropland used for crops are largely attributable to Federal cropland acreage reduction programs, such as the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). Initiated in 1985, the CRP pays farmers to keep idle environmentally sensitive land that could otherwise be used in crop production. This chart uses historical data from the ERS MLU series, recently updated to include 2016 estimates.
Vegetables and legumes are widely recognized as a good source of many vitamins, minerals, and dietary fiber. According to ERS’s food availability data, the supply of vegetables and legumes available to eat on a per person basis grew from 328 pounds in 1970 to 424 pounds in 2004. Between 2004 and 2014, per person vegetable and legume (pulses and beans) availability fell by 39 pounds to 385 pounds. Fresh and processed potatoes—frozen, canned, dehydrated, and chips—accounted for 59 percent of the 2004-14 decline. Over the longer period of 1970 to 2014, fresh vegetable availability rose by 20 percent; fresh bell peppers, tomatoes, onions, broccoli, and cucumbers combined grew by 36 pounds during that time. Per person availability of canned, frozen, and other processed vegetables and legumes increased from 174 pounds in 1970 to 225 pounds in 1998, then began a decline to 200 pounds in 2014. A version of this chart appears in the ERS report, U.S. Trends in Food Availability and a Dietary Assessment of Loss-Adjusted Food Availability, 1970-2014, released on January 27, 2017.
Oilseeds like soybeans, canola, and peanuts are strong substitutes for one another, particularly when used to produce cooking oils. As a result of their substitutability, their prices often move in similar directions. The rise in one oilseed’s price typically drives up the price of its alternatives. For example, if the price of soybeans increases, alternative oilseeds, like canola, would be more attractive to buyers. Subsequently, the price for canola would likely increase too. Prices for all major oilseeds have been moving steadily downward since peaking between 2011 and 2013. Data from the 2015/16 marketing year show that oilseed prices haven’t been this low since at least 2009/10. The price reduction for farmers is largely attributed to record domestic and global production of soybeans, peanuts, and other oilseeds in recent years. This chart is drawn from data discussed in the latest Oil Crops Outlook report released in January 2017.
Over the past decade, the farm share for a basket of 16 fresh vegetables—the ratio of prices received by growers (farm value) to grocery store prices (retail value)—has averaged about 25 percent. In 2015, the basket’s annual farm value rose by 11 percent to $62.12, while its annual retail value rose by 1.6 percent to $225.80, causing farm share for the basket of fresh vegetables to increase from 25 to 28 percent. Farm-level prices rose in 2015 as drought reduced shipment volumes from California, the Nation’s leading State for fresh vegetable production. However, lower oil prices and a strong U.S. dollar mitigated retail price increases. According to ERS forecasts, while U.S. production of fresh-market vegetables was expected to recover somewhat in 2016, it was also expected to remain below 2014 values, putting continued upwards pressure on farm prices. This chart is based on the Price Spreads from Farm to Consumer data product on the ERS website, updated December 13, 2016.
Last updated: Thursday, February 16, 2017
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