National Report

Environmental and socioeconomic outcomes of agricultural production in the United States

The Field to Market® 2012 Environmental and Socioeconomic Indicators Report analyzes sustainability trends over time at the national scale for U.S. corn, cotton, potato, rice, soybean and wheat production. Using publicly available data, the report evaluates performance over three decades.

What we learned
The 2012 Indicators Report demonstrated that farmers have a good sustainability story to tell with increases in production accompanied by increasing resource efficiency and improvements on a number of environmental, social and economic indicators. There are also opportunities for future improvement, especially given the challenge of meeting increasing demand with limited resources.

Environmental improvements apparent
Over the study period (1980-2011), crops demonstrated progress in their respective national average trends for resource use/impact per unit of production on five environmental indicators – land use, soil erosion, irrigation water applied, energy use and greenhouse gas emissions. Improvements in efficiency were driven, at least in part, by improvements in yield for all crops.

Due in part to overall increases in production for five of the six crops, excluding wheat, and increases in total land use for four of the six crops, excluding potatoes and wheat, total resource use/impact increased for many crops on many indicators. Per acre resource use/impact varied across crops and indicators.

Socioeconomic trends promising
The indicators for debt to asset ratio, fatalities and non-fatality injury decreased (improved) over their respective time periods and farm classification.

Returns over variable costs have been inconsistent over the indicator’s respective time period, but have been increasing for all crops, excluding cotton, since approximately 2002, and for cotton since 2009.

Labor hours have decreased for all crops per unit of production. Labor hours per planted acre decreased for corn, cotton, rice, and soybeans and remained nearly constant for wheat.

Overall, the agricultural sector’s contribution to national GDP has increased over the explored time period in absolute terms but decreased as a share of total.