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The U.S. reports on its local and regional food systems

usda_reportA report mandated by the United States Congress on trends within the country’s local and regional food systems has been completed and is now available for the public to access. The report was conducted by the Economic Research Service (ERS) of the United States Department of Agriculture and was requested by the House Agriculture Committee.

The 78-page report shows the growing trend of producer and consumer participation in local food systems, and it highlights a variety of policies and programmes at national, state, and city levels that have helped to support local and regional food systems.

Available for download are the full report, a 2-page summary of the report, and a previously recorded webinar that gives an overview of the report.

The following key findings are taken from the report:

  • In 2012, 163,675 farms (7.8 percent of U.S. farms) were marketing foods locally, defined as conducting either direct-to-consumer (DTC) or intermediated sales of food for human consumption, according to census of agriculture data. Of these farms, 70 percent used only DTC marketing channels, which include farmers’ markets and community supported agriculture (CSA) arrangements. The other 30 percent used a combination of DTC and intermediated channels or only intermediated channels.
  • The number of farms with DTC sales increased by 17 percent and sales increased by 32 percent between 2002 and 2007; however, between 2007 and 2012 the number of farms with DTC sales increased 5.5 percent, with no change in DTC sales. That DTC sales did not increase may be due to plateauing consumer interest or to growth in non-direct sales of local food (i.e., local food sold through intermediated marketing channels like grocery stores or institutions), the value of which is not measured by the census of agriculture.
  • Agricultural Resource and Management Survey (ARMS) and census of agriculture data indicate that local food sales totaled an estimated $6.1 billion in 2012. This is only an estimate because neither data source collects complete information on the value of intermediated sales.
  • Farms with gross cash farm income below $75,000 accounted for 85 percent of local food farms in 2012, according to census data. These farms are estimated to account for only 13 percent of local food sales. Local food farms with gross cash farm income above $350,000 accounted for 5 percent of local food farms and 67 percent of sales.
  • Farms selling local food through DTC marketing channels were more likely to remain in business over 2007-12 than all farms not using DTC marketing channels, according to census of agriculture data. Farms with DTC sales tended to experience smaller increases in sales than all other farms, however.
  • It is difficult to draw conclusions about the local economic impact of local foods systems because the existing literature has narrow geographic and market scope, making comparing studies complicated. Data necessary to conduct economic impact analyses are costly to obtain, and researchers have yet to agree on a standard way of accounting for the opportunity costs involved when local foods are produced and purchased or on a standard set of economic modeling assumptions. Many questions surrounding the economic impact of local foods remain unanswered and could be addressed by future research (e.g., Are local food systems good for the rural economy? Might the economic benefits of expanding local food systems be unevenly distributed?)

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Citations:

Low, Sarah A., Aaron Adalja, Elizabeth Beaulieu, Nigel Key, Steve Martinez, Alex Melton, Agnes Perez, Katherine Ralston, Hayden Stewart, Shellye Suttles, Stephen Vogel, and Becca B.R. Jablonski. Trends in U.S. Local and Regional Food Systems, AP068, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service, January 2015.