U.S. Agriculture Today
Agriculture in the U.S. – its characteristics and relationship to our broader economy and culture – has changed dramatically over the last century. Today, there are fewer but larger farms, farm owners and operators are older, a lesser proportion of the U.S. workforce is employed in agriculture, and farmers are increasingly reliant on off-farm income. Yet, there are over 2 million farms encompassing over 932 million acres, agricultural exports are growing, and U.S. farms produce 41% of the world’s cotton, 38% of the world’s soybeans, and 21% of the world’s cotton. With shifting markets, increasing globalization, new technologies, and changing demographics of both consumers and producers, there is a broad range of issues confronting agriculture today and a diversity of perspectives concerning them.
The Economic Research Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (ERS/USDA) conducts research on economic and policy issues involving food, farming, natural resources, and rural development to inform public and private decision making, and has an online, searchable database of its publications. The following analyses and data sets provide recent overviews of many aspects of U.S. agricultural industry:
REPORTS & BULLETINS
1. Dimitri, C., A. Effland, and N. Conklin. (2005). The 20th Century Transformation of U.S. Agriculture and Farm Policy. Economic Information Bulletin No. 3. ERS/USDA. 14 pp.
ABSTRACT: The structure of farms, farm households, and the rural communities in which they exist has evolved markedly over the last century. Historical data on a range of farm structure variables—including the value of agricultural production, commodity specialization, farming-dependent counties, and off-farm work—offer a perspective on the long-term forces that have helped shape the structure of agriculture and rural life over the past century. These forces include productivity growth, the increasing importance of national and global markets, and the rising influence of consumers on agricultural production. Within this long-term context of structural change, a review of some key developments in farm policy considers the extent to which farm policy design has or has not kept pace with the continuing transformation of American agriculture.
2. Hoppe, R.A., P. Korb, E.J. O’Donoghue, and D.E. Banker. (2007). Structure and Finances of U.S. Farms: Family Farm Report, 2007 Edition. Economic Information Bulletin No. 24. ERS/USDA. 58 pp.
ABSTRACT: U.S. farms are diverse, ranging from small retirement and residential farms to enterprises with annual sales in the millions. Nevertheless, most U.S. farms—98 percent in 2004—are family farms. Even the largest farms tend to be family farms. Large-scale family farms and nonfamily farms account for 10 percent of U.S farms, but 75 percent of the value of production. In contrast, small family farms make up most of the U.S. farm count, produce a modest share of farm output, and receive substantial off-farm income. Many farm households have a large net worth, reflecting the land-intensive nature of farming.
3. Wiebe, K. and N. Gollehon, Editors. (2006). Agricultural Resources and Environmental Indicators, 2006 Edition. Economic Information Bulletin No. 16. ERS/USDA. 234 pp.
ABSTRACT: Agricultural Resources and Environmental Indicators, 2006 Edition describes trends in resources used in and affected by agricultural production (including natural, produced, and management resources), as well as the economic conditions and policies that influence agricultural resource use and its environmental impacts. Each chapter provides a concise overview of a specific topic with links to sources of additional information.
4. Lubowski, R.N., S. Bucholtz, R. Claassen, M.J. Roberts, J.C. Cooper, A. Gueorguieva, and R. Johansson. (2006). Environmental Effects of Agricultural Land-Use Change: The Role of Economics and Policy. Economic Research Report No. 25. ERS/USDA. 82 pp.
ABSTRACT: This report examines evidence on the relationship between agricultural land-use changes, soil productivity, and indicators of environmental sensitivity. If cropland that shifts in and out of production is less productive and more environmentally sensitive than other cropland, policy-induced changes in land use could have production effects that are smaller—and environmental impacts that are greater—than anticipated. To illustrate this possibility, this report examines environmental outcomes stemming from land-use conversion caused by two agricultural programs that others have identified as potentially having important influences on land use and environmental quality: Federal crop insurance subsidies and the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), the Nation’s largest cropland retirement program.
5. Fernandez-Cornejo, J. and M. Caswell, with contributions from L. Mitchell, E. Golan, and F. Kuchler. (2006). The First Decade of Genetically Engineered Crops in the United States. Economic Information Bulletin No. 11. ERS/USDA. 30 pp.
ABSTRACT: Ten years after the first generation of genetically engineered (GE) varieties became commercially available, adoption of these varieties by U.S. farmers is widespread for major crops. Driven by farmers' expectations of higher yields, savings in management time, and lower pesticide costs, the adoption of corn, soybean, and cotton GE varieties has increased rapidly. Despite the benefits, however, environmental and consumer concerns may have limited acceptance of GE crops, particularly in Europe. This report focuses on GE crops and their adoption in the United States over the past 10 years. It examines the three major stakeholders of agricultural biotechnology and finds that (1) the pace of R&D activity by producers of GE seed (the seed firms and technology providers) has been rapid, (2) farmers have adopted some GE varieties widely and at a rapid rate and benefited from such adoption, and (3) the level of consumer concerns about foods that contain GE ingredients varies by country, with European consumers being most concerned.
6. Westcott, P.C. (2007). Ethanol Expansion in the United States: How Will the Agricultural Sector Adjust? Outlook Report No. FDS-07D-01. ERS/USDA 18 pp.
ABSTRACT: A large expansion in ethanol production is underway in the United States. Cellulosic sources of feedstocks for ethanol production hold some promise for the future, but the primary feedstock in the United States currently is corn. Market adjustments to this increased demand extend well beyond the corn sector to supply and demand for other crops, such as soybeans and cotton, as well as to U.S. livestock industries. USDA’s long-term projections, augmented by farmers’ planting intentions for 2007, are used to illustrate anticipated changes in the agricultural sector.
1. ERS/USDA Dataset. (Last updated March 2007). Agricultural Productivity in the United States.
OVERVIEW: Increased productivity is the main contributor to growth in U.S. agriculture. This data set provides estimates of productivity growth in the United States for 1948-2004, and estimates of productivity growth and relative productivity levels across States for 1960-1999.
2. ERS/USDA Dataset. (Last updated July 2007). Adoption of Genetically Engineered Crops in the U.S.
OVERVIEW: U.S. farmers have adopted genetically engineered (GE) crops widely since their introduction in 1996, notwithstanding uncertainty about consumer acceptance and economic and environmental impacts. Soybeans and cotton genetically engineered with herbicide-tolerant traits have been the most widely and rapidly adopted GE crops in the U.S., followed by insect-resistant cotton and corn. This product summarizes the extent of adoption of herbicide-tolerant and insect–resistant crops since their introduction in 1996.
3. ERS/USDA Dataset. (Last updated July 2007). Organic Production.
OVERVIEW: Organic farming has been one of the fastest growing segments of U.S. agriculture for over a decade. The U.S. had under a million acres of certified organic farmland when Congress passed the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990. By the time USDA implemented national organic standards in 2002, certified organic farmland had doubled, and doubled again between 2002 and 2005. Organic livestock sectors have grown even faster. ERS collected data from USDA-accredited State and private certification groups to calculate the extent of certified organic farmland acreage and livestock in the United States. These are presented in 13 tables showing the change in U.S. organic acreage and livestock numbers from 1992 to 2005. Data for 1997 and 2000-2005 are presented by State and commodity. Data for 2000-2005 include the number of certified operations, by State.