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Using Market Data to Feed the World

Posted by Elizabeth Dann, Office of the Chief Scientist in Food and Nutrition Research and Science
Feb 21, 2017
Consumer and Industry Outreach, Policy, Markets and Trade graphic
Science and data may hold the key to how the world will feed 9 billion people by 2050, and USDA Research and Science Action Plan will help guide the way.

In 2050, there will be about 9 billion people in the world. How do you feed 9 billion people? Clearly, we need more food, greater production, and more efficient processes, but how do we achieve that and how does that translate to success?

The answer may be found through science and data.  USDA works hard to provide good data to decision makers on the farm, in the field, at the lab and in the office place. This data includes economic information that characterizes and evaluates global market performance and keeps food and agricultural systems working smoothly.  Information includes data on crop production, farm income, food and agricultural prices, trade, nutrition, and food security.

The USDA’s Research, Education, and Economics (REE) Area Action Plan helps drive this effort with seven goals that all support Agricultural science and research. Goal 1 in particular aligns REE Mission area activity around sustainable intensification of agricultural production. A subcomponent of Goal 1 involves consumer and industry outreach, policy, markets and trade, guiding USDA investments in data development, analysis, and dissemination to improve the understanding of agriculture markets, domestic and foreign trade policies, and other factors that impact food systems.

REE agencies work together to collect, report, and interpret data from nearly every stage of the food production system, and their efforts help farmers decide what to produce and how to market their products. Businesses use the data to manage inventories and make investment decisions.  Policymakers need data to understand the needs and the effectiveness of programs that can support farmers, protect the environment, and improve consumer access to nutritious food.  Often, insights into new and emerging developments across the agriculture sector, such as the growth in markets for local foods, the demand for organic foods, and the environmental outcomes of changing agricultural practices, are gained.  Other times, data point to critical shortcomings in the way we operate, stimulating policies and action, as well as calls for more data.

Interesting products and research efforts include:

  • Understanding the demand for some of the most widely produced and traded agricultural commodities, supporting estimates of market conditions and reliable price forecasts.
  • Using data from a series of surveys called the Current Agricultural Industrial Report (CAIR) Series to improve the commodity market outlook forecasts and help farmers make better production decisions, and firms reduce their costs and risks.
  • Reducing food loss by using data from the Loss-Adjusted Food Availability (LAFA) Data Series. ERS estimates that 31 percent—or 133 billion pounds— of the available domestic food supply (an estimated $161.6 billion) in 2010 went uneaten. USDA is active in the public discussion of food waste, promoting sound policy initiatives.
  • Interviewing farm operators about their cropping practices, farm businesses, and households and producing the Agricultural Resource Management Survey (ARMS) to construct government estimates on farm income, costs of production, and agricultural productivity.  ARMS is used internally to USDA and also externally by economists to study farm management, structure, and farm household well-being.
  • Facilitating data consumption, awareness and transparency, REE’s Charts of Note inform users with the wide variety of topics studied at ERS and the ability to quickly drill down to more detailed data and analysis if needed.

These policies, programs and activities are used to inform those who have the ability to influence the future, encourage new practices to produce a greater abundance of food.