September 2015
Ag Insight

Ag Insight

Child-poverty rates climb in rural counties

According to the official poverty measure, one in five rural counties had child-poverty rates over 33 percent.

Child-poverty rates varied considerably across nonmetropolitan (rural) counties, according to 2009-13 county averages. However, child poverty has increased since the 2000 Census and the number of rural counties with child-poverty rates of over 33 percent has more than doubled.

Improving young adult education levels tended to lower child-poverty rates over the period, but increases in single-parent households and economic recession were associated with rising child poverty. During the same measurement period, metropolitan counties had average child-poverty rates of 21 percent.

Food, beverage operations employ 1.5 million nationally


The U.S. food and beverage manufacturing sector employed about 1.5 million people, or just over 1 percent of all U.S. nonfarm employment.

Figures from 2013, the latest period for which data is available, show that within the U.S. manufacturing sector, food and beverage manufacturing employees accounted for the largest percentage of employees (14 percent). In over 31,000 food and beverage manufacturing plants located throughout the country, these 1.5 million workers were engaged in transforming raw agricultural materials into products for intermediate or final consumption.

Manufacturing jobs include processing, inspecting, packing, janitorial and guard services, product development, recordkeeping and nonproduction duties such as sales, delivery, advertising, clerical and routine office functions.

Meat and poultry plants employed the largest percentage of food and beverage manufacturing workers, followed by bakeries and fruit and vegetable processing plants. 

U.S. share of Middle East, North Africa corn imports has dropped

The Middle East and North Africa region accounts for a significant and growing portion of worldwide food and feed imports, but the U.S. share of that expanding market has declined.

Growth of the region’s livestock sector, particularly poultry, has boosted demand for feed, driving steady growth in corn consumption over the past 20 years. Given the disparity between MENA’s limited corn production capacity and its growing demand for livestock feed, corn imports have steadily risen, except for a temporary drop in 2009 associated with the spike in global food prices.

The U.S. share of the region’s corn imports has declined from about 70 percent during the mid-1990s to around 10 percent in recent years. Analysts say the drop is due to reduced U.S. exportable surpluses, higher U.S. prices following the 2012 U.S. drought and increased competition from other suppliers.

Major U.S. competitors in the MENA corn market include the Ukraine and Russia that enjoy transport cost advantages to the MENA region, but can experience frequent weather-induced fluctuations in production.

The leading destinations of MENA-bound U.S. corn are Saudi Arabia and Egypt. 

Farm inputs show major shifts as output grows

U.S. farm output more than doubled between 1948 and 2011, while aggregate agricultural inputs increased by just 4 percent. However, the composition of agricultural inputs shifted considerably, according to USDA’s Economic Research Service.

Between 1948 and 2011, labor use declined 78 percent while total land input dropped 26 percent. The agricultural sector’s consumption of intermediate goods (such as energy, agricultural chemicals, purchased services and seed/feed) grew by 140 percent, while capital inputs (equipment, buildings and inventories) increased by 65 percent.

The shift in the input mix away from labor and toward machinery and intermediate inputs reflects trends in relative prices that dropped significantly relative to labor between 1948 and 2011. After 1980, the use of capital inputs fell, while the growth in intermediate inputs slowed considerably.

Total agricultural input use fell by 15 percent from 1980-2011, even as output continued to grow. 

Genetically engineered seeds popular despite higher cost

U.S. farmers overwhelmingly have adopted genetically engineered seeds in the 20 years since their commercial introduction, despite their typically higher prices.

Herbicide-tolerant crops, developed to survive the application of specific herbicides that previously would have destroyed the crop along with the targeted weeds, provide farmers with a broader variety of options for weed control.

Insect-resistant crops contain a gene from the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis  producing a protein toxic to specific insects, protecting the plant over its entire life. Stacked seed varieties carry both HT and Bt traits, and now account for a large majority of GE corn and cotton seeds.

In 2015, adoption of GE varieties, including those with herbicide tolerance, insect resistance or stacked traits, accounted for 94 percent of cotton acreage, 94 percent of soybean acreage (soybeans have only HT varieties) and 92 percent of corn acreage planted in the United States. 

Wheat flour consumption stable in recent years

Despite a long-term downward trend, U.S. per capita wheat flour consumption has been relatively stable in recent years and is estimated in 2014 at 135 pounds per person. The consumption figure is unchanged from 2013 and is down just three pounds from the recent peak in 2007.

The 2014 estimate is down 11 pounds from the 2000 level when flour use started dropping sharply, partially due to increased consumer interest in low-carbohydrate diets. From the turn of the 20th century until about 1970, U.S. per capita wheat use generally declined, as strenuous physical labor became less common and diets became more diversified.

However, from the early 1970s until the late 1990s, wheat consumption trended upward, reflecting growth in the foodservice industry and away-from-home eating, greater use and availability of prepared foods for home consumption, and promotion by industry organizations of the benefits of wheat flour and pasta product consumption. During this time, the domestic wheat market expanded on both rising per capita food use and a growing U.S. population.

Relatively stable per capita flour use in more recent years means that expansion of the domestic market for U.S. wheat is largely limited to the growth of the U.S. population.

CRP applications now being accepted

Farmers and ranchers now can apply for financial assistance to help conserve working grasslands, rangeland and pastureland while maintaining the areas as livestock grazing lands.

The new application period began Sept. 1 and the Farm Service Agency will accept applications on an ongoing basis with those documents scored against published ranking criteria and approved based on the competiveness of the offer. The end of the first ranking period will be Nov. 20, 2015.

Part of the voluntary Conservation Reserve Program, the federally funded program has assisted agricultural producers with the cost of restoring, enhancing and protecting certain grasses, shrubs and trees to improve water quality, prevent soil erosion and reduce loss of wildlife habitat. In return, the U.S. Department of Agriculture provides participants with rental payments and cost-share assistance.

USDA estimates CRP has helped farmers and ranchers prevent more than 8 billion tons of soil from eroding, reduce nitrogen and phosphorous runoff relative to cropland by 95 and 85 percent respectively, and even sequester 43 million tons of greenhouse gases annually, equal to taking 8 million cars off the road.

A record 400 million acres and 600,000 producers and landowners are currently enrolled in USDA’s conservation programs. Now celebrating its 30th year, the Conservation Reserve Program is viewed as one of the most successful conservation programs in the nation’s history.