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A Banner Year for Economic and Social Research: 5 Reports on Rural Communities and on Opportunities for Agriculture

USDA scientists work 365 days to provide safe and sustainable food, water, and natural resources in the face of a changing climate and uncertain energy sources. To recognize the contribution that agricultural science and research makes in our daily lives, this week’s “Banner Year” series features stories from 2015 that show the successes that USDA science and statistical agencies made for us all.

Information on economic, demographic, and social developments in rural America, as well as on current and emerging opportunities for farmers is important to policy makers and other stakeholders. USDA’s Economic Research Service this year tracked and analyzed trends in rural areas, particularly employment and population. For farmers, key opportunities include new and evolving trade relations, notably the potential for trade with Cuba and the emergence of China as a major importer.  Both were on ERS’s research agenda this year, as was an evolving opportunity on the domestic front  – the  growth in sales of locally sourced farm products.

Let’s review 5 ERS reports featured in 2015:

1. Local Food Systems: What Do We Know About National Trends?

American consumers are enjoying increasingly more opportunities to buy food directly from farmers and to patronize grocery stores and restaurants that offer local foods. ERS’s Trends in U.S. Local and Regional Food Systems: Report to Congress – details the latest economic information on local food producers and consumers, and reviews policies supporting local food systems.

Farms with intermediated sales of local foods are located largely in urban counties. Source: USDA Economic Research Service, data from Census of Agriculture, 2012; Agricultural Marketing Service, 2014.

Farms with intermediated sales of local foods are located largely in urban counties.

2. China Emerging as a Key Market for Agricultural Products

China is often noted for its dominant export presence in the world market. But in recent years, China’s potential as a significant market has drawn increasing attention. A new Economic Research Service (ERS) report examines China’s emergence as a major importer of agricultural products over the past decade. The United States has become a particularly important supplier of agricultural products to China.

China’s imports of agricultural products have surged in recent years, with the United States a key supplier. A recent ERS report examines China’s emergence as a major agricultural importer.

China’s imports of agricultural products have surged in recent years, with the United States a key supplier. A recent ERS report examines China’s emergence as a major agricultural importer.

3. U.S.-Cuba Trade Relationship: Past, Present, and Possible Future

Since December 2014, when the United States and Cuba announced the intention to restore diplomatic ties, the U.S. has taken steps to ease restrictions on trade, remittances, and travel to Cuba. A recent report by the Economic Research Service (ERS) considers potential impacts of more normal commercial ties between the two countries on bilateral agricultural trade.  A more normal trade relationship would lead to an increase in U.S. agricultural exports to Cuba through several channels.

Field of corn growing on a farm in Cuba

Field of corn growing on a farm in Cuba. A recent report by the Economic Research Service points to future prospects for agricultural trade between the United States and Cuba. U.S. grain and feed exports to Cuba averaged 344,000 MT per year during 2012-14. Photo credit: USDA

4. Moving Back to Rural America: Why Some Return Home and What Difference It Makes

Stemming rural population loss–and spurring economic development–may depend less on retaining young adults after high school and more on attracting former residents some years later. Researchers at the University of Montana and USDA’s Economic Research Service visited 21 rural communities during 2008 and 2009 and conducted 300 interviews at high school reunions. The aim was to better understand what motivates return migration and the barriers to such moves.

People eating together

A recent Economic Research Service report explores reasons for returning to live in remote rural areas and the impacts return migrants make on their home communities. Photo by John Cromartie.

5. Rural America in the Post-Recession Years

USDA’s Economic Research Service has provided a snapshot of the rural economy in a report entitled Rural America at a Glance.  The past year witnessed some encouraging trends, as rural employment grew during the year ending in second-quarter 2015, following several years of stagnation. Rural areas on the whole are still experiencing population loss, although rural counties that are concentrated in scenic areas or in energy boom regions are exceptions, illustrating the diversity of rural America.

Panorama of the Glut, tan brick building with green awning, and the neighborhood they serve in Mount Rainier, Maryland. USDA Photo illustration by Lance Cheung.

Panorama of the Glut, tan brick building with green awning, and the neighborhood they serve in Mount Rainier, Maryland. USDA Photo illustration by Lance Cheung.

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