July 2015
Ag Insight

Ag Insight

Number of female veterans in rural areas growing

The demographics of rural veterans are shifting as an increasing number of women serve and retire from the military.

Since the change from a conscription-based military to an all-volunteer force in 1973, the presence of women in the military has grown from less than 2 percent of active duty personnel to more than 14 percent and the share of female veterans has steadily increased.

In rural (non-metro) counties, their share more than doubled from the end of Gulf War I (1990-1991) to the present, rising from 3 percent in 1992 to 6.3 percent in 2013, the most recent year for which data is available.

More than 40 percent of rural female veterans served during Gulf Wars I and II (2003-2011), compared with less than 5 percent of rural male veterans, reflecting a more youthful rural female veteran population. In 2013, 55 percent of rural female veterans were under the age of 55 compared to 26 percent of rural male veterans.


U.S. vegetable imports increase as demand grows

As U.S. demand for fresh vegetables has grown, production also has risen; but imports have increased even more.

According to the USDA’s Economic Research Service, U.S. production of fresh vegetables has grown over the past several decades. However, it has not kept pace with domestic consumption that has increased due to an expanding population and higher per capita use.

As a result, the nation has been a net importer of fresh vegetables since 1969 (except for 1981). After 1990, the rate at which imports have grown has been especially notable, and, since 2010, approximately 25 percent of the fresh vegetable supply utilized in the United States has been imported.

The value of fresh vegetable imports exceeded exports by almost $4.3 billion in 2014.

ERS says the share of imports in domestic use continues to grow in response to multiple factors, including supply gaps, increased awareness of vegetables as a part of healthy diets, desire for year-round variety of fresh vegetables and increased demand for new products.

Exports have remained a relatively small share of U.S. fresh vegetable production. Average volume exported as a share of production peaked in the 1990s and the share exported to all countries fell approximately 3 percent in 2014 compared to the previous year. Onions and lettuce continue to dominate fresh vegetable exports.

Food program helps 3.6 million children

More than 3.6 million children in child care centers and family day care homes received nutritious meals and snacks through USDAs Child and Adult Care Food Program in fiscal 2014.

The number of children served is up 33 percent from the 2.7 million the program helped in fiscal 2000. CACFP provides increased access to healthy meals throughout the day to children at child care centers, family day care homes, shelters and afterschool care programs.

In January 2015, USDA proposed new nutrition standards for CACFP meals, the first change to meal standards since the program’s inception in 1968. The proposed standards require meals to include a larger variety of fruits and vegetables, more whole grains, and less sugar and fat.

New approach planned for rural development efforts

A plan for implementing a Farm Bill provision is expected to have a major policy impact on the way the USDA helps rural communities plan and finance regional economic development strategies.

The new Regional Development Priority policy will make it easier for rural communities to access resources to invest in long-term community development efforts by giving priority to applications for programs including regional partnerships and strategies.

"Regional planning maximizes the effectiveness of our investments in rural America," USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack said in announcing the new policy. "When communities come together to share resources, ideas and expertise, they can develop a cohesive economy strategy and invest in their future. With a strategy in place, USDA-funded projects can spur regional economic transformation, increase job opportunities and improve quality of life for rural communities."

Under the RDP, communities with multi-jurisdictional economic development plans will be able to request funding priority when they apply for loans and grants in four key USDA programs, including those for community facilities; business and industry loan guarantees; and water, environmental and rural business development grants.

Applicants seeking priority consideration will be judged by: 1) How well their funding request supports a region’s existing development plan; and 2) how well the plan addresses regional collaboration and considers other funding sources including philanthropic groups and other federal agencies.

Projects that receive funding will be based on locally identified needs and growth strategies capitalizing upon a region’s unique strengths.

More peanut growers using precision ag practices

The number of U.S. peanut growers who have adopted precision agriculture practices has increased considerably in recent years, according to the latest Agricultural Resource Management Survey conducted by USDA.

In interviews with farmers about production practices, resource use and finances, the survey showed that 42 percent of peanut farms were using auto-steer or guidance systems, up from 5 percent in 2006. These systems can reduce stress for operators and limit the over-application of inputs on field edges.

Yield monitors and yield maps, with essentially no usage in 2006, were used on 8 and 6 percent of farms, respectively, the survey revealed. With these technologies, monitors can identify within-field yield variations so farmers can adjust inputs and practices accordingly.

The use of variable-rate application that has increased from 3 to 22 percent of farms allows for the adjustment of fertilizer application over a field so fertilizer can be applied where and when it is needed, thus reducing costs and being more environmentally friendly.

U.S. sweet potato production hits record high

U.S. sweet potato production reached a record high of 29 million hundredweight (cwt) in 2014, extending production gains that have continued for more than 15 years.

Since 1971, North Carolina has been the top sweet potato producer in the United States, and in 2014 it produced 53 percent of all sweet potatoes grown in this country. The 185-percent increase in North Carolina’s production since 2000 has led the growth of the U.S. sweet potato industry, but production has expanded in many other states, including California (where production has doubled since 2000) and Mississippi (where production is up by 155 percent).

Financial help available for organic certification

The USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service has announced that some $11.9 million in organic certification assistance is available through state departments of agriculture to make certification more affordable for organic producers and handlers across the country.

According to USDA figures, the organic industry saw record growth in 2014, accounting for over $39 billion in U.S. retail sales.

The funding is provided on a cost-share basis and certification assistance is distributed by two programs. Through the National Organic Certification Cost Share Program, $11 million is available to organic farms and businesses nationwide. The Agricultural Management Assistance Organic Certification Cost Share Program makes an additional $900,000 available, but only in a few states of which Alabama is one.

The programs provide cost share assistance to USDA certified organic producers and handlers, covering as much as 75 percent of an individual applicant’s certification costs, up to a maximum of $750 annually per certification scope. In 2014, USDA issued nearly 10,000 reimbursements totaling over $6 million.

To receive cost share assistance, certified organic producers and handlers should contact their appropriate state agencies via the contact information on the National Organic Program’s cost share website: www.ams.usda.gov/NOPCostSharing.

Each state has its own guidelines and requirements for reimbursement and NOP assists states in implementing the programs.