IN recent weeks, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Economic Research Service (ERS) has issued three reports that highlight the value of modern agriculture and food production.
In one report, ERS noted that agriculture accounts for just 8% of carbon emissions, the least of all economic sectors outside of U.S. territories (Figure 1).
ERS also said agriculture has "the unique capacity" to sequester carbon emissions, especially carbon dioxide, from the atmosphere and store it in biomass and soil sinks through activities such as no-till cropping and creating grasslands. Agriculture sequestered 4% of carbon emissions in 2010, ERS said.
Family farms. Contrary to popular thought, almost all farms in the U.S. -- 97.3% -- are family farms owned by the farm operator and individuals related to the operator, with the remaining farms being non-family owned (Figure 2), ERS reported.
ERS also said most family farms are small farms -- measured by sales of less than $250,000 for small farms and more than $250,000 for larger farms -- and account for just 15.1% of agricultural production, while large family farms account for 70.2% of production.
Small family farms house disproportionately more farm assets, reflecting "overinvestment" of assets, especially in buildings and land that are often not used for production, ERS said. This also reflects the ability of large farms to capture economies of scale to produce more crops, food and livestock with fewer assets, ERS said.
Plant workers. U.S. food and beverage plants employ 1.5 million people -- about 15% of all manufacturing workers and just over 1% of all non-farm workers, ERS reported.
ERS said these 1.5 million workers are employed in 30,000 food plants across the U.S. and are engaged in transforming raw agricultural products into foods or beverages for human consumption or into ingredients for other products, such as syrup for soft drinks.
Meat and poultry plants employ 32% of these workers, making meat and poultry processors the largest employers of food and beverage workers (Figure 3), ERS said. Bakeries are number two, and fruit and vegetable processors are number three.
This information supports the role agriculture plays in sustainability, efficient food production and employment, ERS said. More information on modern agriculture and food production is available at www.FeedstuffsFoodLink.com.