For I Was Hungry & You Gave Me Food: Data Boxes

U.S. Agriculture: What Is Happening to Farms and Farmers?

In 2001 there were an estimated 2.16 million U.S. farms,1 down from approximately 5.5 million in 1950;2 10% of these farms account for nearly 70% of all agriculture production.3

Farm Support Programs. Recent studies show that approximately two-thirds of subsidies go to just 10% of farms. In fact, most fresh produce in supermarkets is grown without subsidies and livestock producers are ineligible for most government payments, though they do benefit indirectly from grain subsidies.4 From 1999 to 2001, agricultural support in the developed countries totaled $329.6 billion. The U.S. share totaled $95.5 billion, while the European Union’s share was $112.7 billion.5 Over the same time period, U.S. agricultural support was more than three times the amount of U.S. foreign economic and humanitarian assistance. U.S. farm supports will significantly increase in the future due to the passage of the 2002 farm bill.

Health and Safety. Of more than 41 million uninsured people in the United States, one in five lives in rural areas. They are older, poorer, and less healthy than people living in urban areas.7 The 2002 occupational fatality rate in agriculture was 22.7 per 100,000 people employed, compared to 12.2 in construction, 11.3 in transportation, and 23.5 in mining.8

1 National Agriculture Statistics Service (NASS) (2002), 23.
2 Bread for the World, Agriculture in the Global Economy, Hunger 2003, p. 36.
3 U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food and Agricultural Policy: Taking Stock of the New Century (September 2001), Appendix 1, Table A-1.
4  Congressional Quarterly, Farm Subsidies: Do They Favor Large Farming Operations? 12:19 (May 17, 2002): 436-437.
5 World Bank, Global Economic Prospects (2004), 120.
6 The Kaiser Family Foundation, Kaiser Commission on Key Facts (April 2003).
7 U.S. Department of Labor Statistics, Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (2002).

Concentration and Vertical Integration: What Is Happening to Our Food from Field to Shelf?

Food Retail. In 1997, the top five food retailers held 24% of the U.S. market; by 2000 that share increased to 42% of retail food sales.1 Livestock.Today the four largest beef firms process 81% of all the cattle; the four largest pork firms process 59% of pork; and four chicken firms process 50% of all broilers.2 Grains. The four largest wheat processors have 61% of the market; the four largest soybean processors have 80% of the market.3

1 Mary Hendrickson, William Heffernan, Philip Howard, and Judith Heffernan, Executive Summary, Report to National Farmers Union, Consolidation in Food Retailing and Dairy: Implications for Farmers and Consumers in a Global Food System (January 8, 2001).
2 William Heffernan, Multi-National Concentrated Food Processing and Marketing Systems and the Farm Crisis, 7. A paper presented to the American Association for the Advancement of Science, February 14-19, 2002.
3 Multi-National Concentrated Food Processing, 7.

Rural America: What Is Happening to Rural Communities and Culture?

Sources of Income. In 1999, net farm cash income was $55.7 billion, while other sources of income contributed $124 billion to the total income of farm families.1 Most rural counties do not depend on agriculture for their economies; on average, seven of eight rural counties derive income from a mix of farming, manufacturing, services, and other activities.2

Rural Poverty. Poverty in rural areas has been consistent for the last 40 years, with rates of 20% or more in the rural South, Appalachia, the Ozarks, the Mississippi Delta, and the Rio Grande Valley.3 Poverty rates in most agriculturally-based counties in six of the major agriculture-producing states (Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota, and South Dakota) are greater than in the metropolitan counties in those states; the rates in the smallest agriculturally-based counties are 60% higher.4

Culture. Studies for the past 50 years show a correlation between a growing concentration in agriculture and a loss of businesses and civic society in rural towns. Fewer farms and ranches mean fewer agricultural support services and farm-related businesses, since larger and more intensive farms can deal directly with national or global agribusiness. Fewer farm families mean fewer children in rural schools, fewer community services, and fewer churches; the average age of a farmer is estimated to be about 55 years.5

1 Department of Agriculture, Food and Agricultural Policy: Taking Stock of the New Century (September 2001), 4.
2 Food and Agricultural Policy, 12.
3 Food and Agricultural Policy, 90.
4 Jon M. Bailey and Kim Preston, for the Center for Rural Affairs, Swept Away: Chronic Hardship and Fresh Promise on the Rural Great Plains (June 2003), 1.
5 U.S. Department of Agriculture, 1997 Census of Agriculture, Table 1.

Global Agriculture: What Is Happening to Hungry People and Farmers Around the World?

Scale. In 2001, 55% percent of all workers in developing countries were employed in agriculture;1 70% of the poor in developing countries live in rural areas and derive livelihoods from agriculture directly or indirectly.2 Among the developing regions, Africa has the greatest concentration of low-income, food deficit countries that cannot produce enough food to feed their populations and cannot afford to make up the deficit through imports.3 Also, in sub-Saharan Africa, women produce up to 80% of basic food products.4

Hunger. An estimated 840 million people worldwide are malnourished,5 despite the fact that farmers globally produce 2,800 calories of food per person per day:6 enough to adequately nourish everyone on the planet. Further, 30,000 children die of hunger and related causes daily; 1.2 billion people live on less than $1 per day, 70% of whom are found in rural areas.7

Trade/Aid. The United States is the largest exporter of agricultural goods in the world.8 Three companies account for 81% of corn exports and 65% of soybeans; four companies account for 60% of the grain terminals.9 In 2001, the developed countries gave six times as much in subsidies to their own farmers as they gave in total foreign aid to poor countries. These agricultural subsidies cause “direct harm to poor countries,” because they lower the prices poor farmers would otherwise receive for their products.10 U.S. global food aid in 2001 accounted for about 60% of all food donated worldwide.11

1 Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), Mobilizing the Political Will and Resources to Banish World Hunger, prepared for World Summit Plus Five (2002), 63.
2 FAO, State of Food Insecurity in the World 2002, 12.
3 International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), Drylands: A Call to Action (1998), 6.
4 FAO, Gender and Food Security.
5 FAO, State of Food Insecurity in the World 2001.
6 FAO, World Agriculture: Towards 2015-2030 (2003).
7 Mobilizing the Political Will, no. 3.3.
8 U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food and Agricultural Policy: Taking Stock of the New Century (September 2001), 40.
9 William Heffernan, Multi-National Concentrated Food Processing and Marketing Systems and the Farm Crisis, 11. A paper presented to the American Association for the Advancement of Science, February 14-19, 2002.
10 United Nations Development Report, Human Development Report (2003), 155-156.
11 World Food Program, “Global Food Aid Flows,” Food Aid Monitor (2001).

New Technologies, New Questions: What Are the Opportunities and Problems in New Agricultural Technologies?

Scale. The United States accounts for approximately 66% of all the world’s genetically engineered crops. In 2001, 66% of both cotton and soybean acreage planted in the United States and 25% of corn acreage were genetically modified.1

Market. The ten largest agrochemical companies accounted for 82% of sales in 1996; six agrochemical companies are the major producers of agricultural chemicals today.2

1 P. G. Pardey and N. M. Beintema, for International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), Food Policy Report, Slow Magic: Agricultural R&D: A Century After Mendel (October 2001), 19.
2      Andrew Burchette, "Family Tree," Farm Journal, (February 2002).

Agricultural Workers: What Is Happening to Those Who Harvest and Process Our Food?

Scale. Approximately 1.8 million farmworkers live in the United States, 80% of whom are foreign born and more than 50% of whom are undocumented. The percentage of foreign-born agricultural workers has grown from about 60% to 80% of the workforce in the past 20 years; the majority are Mexican.1

Conditions. On average, the real wage rates of agricultural workers have declined nearly 20% over the past ten years, resulting in a poverty rate of approximately 60%.

1 Department of Labor, Findings from the National Agricultural Workers Survey, A Demographic and Employment Profile of the United States Farmworkers (March 2000), 5.

Agriculture and Environment: What Is Happening to Land and Water?

Scale of Soil Erosion. From 1982 to 1995, erosion on cropland and land enrolled in the USDA’s Conservation Reserve Program declined 38%. Since 1995, erosion in the United States has leveled off, but 29% of cropland is still determined to be excessively eroding. This severe erosion affects general water and air quality.1

An estimated 23% of all usable land globally is affected by degradation, and soil erosion is a major factor. Causes include overgrazing, deforestation, and excessive use of chemicals.2 In Africa, 25% of the land is prone to water erosion and 22% to wind.3

Scale of Water Needs. The usable portion of all freshwater in the globe is less than 1%. More than 50% of all runoff occurs in Asia and South America. About one-third of the world’s population lives in countries suffering moderate to high water stress. Some 80 countries, constituting 40% of the world’s population, suffered from serious water shortages in the 1990s. While the number of those served with improved water quality grew, 1.1 billion people still lack access to safe water. By 2020, water use is expected to increase by 40%, and 17% more water will be needed for agriculture, particularly irrigated agriculture.4 In the United States, agriculture relies on groundwater for 62% of its irrigated farmland.5

1 U.S. Department of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service, 1997 National Resources Inventory: Highlights, rev. ed. (December 2000), 2.
2 United Nations Environment Program, Global Environmental Outlook 3, (2002), 64.
3 Global Environmental Outlook, 71.
4 Global Environmental Outlook, 150-152.
5 Global Environmental Outlook, 170.