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APR: Spring 2015 Articles

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Agricultural Land Use Change in the Corn Belt

Jimena Gonzalez-Ramirez and Yongjie Ji
The conversion of grass-like land to row crops (in our case, corn or soybeans) and general land use change in the Corn Belt region has important water quality implications. Additional agricultural production can increase nutrient runoff into the Upper Mississippi River Basin, thereby increasing the size of the Gulf of Mexico hypoxic zone. We use two data sources from the National Agricultural Statistical Services (NASS) to obtain detailed land use information in the Corn Belt from 2006 to 2014. We also identify and analyze any similarities and discrepancies between both data sources.

Capturing Dynamic Linkages Between Agriculture and Energy in Biofuel Assessment: The Case of Iowa

Amani Elobeid
The expansion of biofuel production brought about a significant change in the dynamics between agriculture and energy. In the past, energy prices influenced the agricultural sector primarily through agricultural commodity production and transportation costs. Now, because of biofuels, the energy sector impacts the agricultural sector through feedstock demand and prices; and conversely, the agricultural sector now impacts energy prices through its competition in the transportation energy sector. In the past, studies analyzed the impact of biofuel production on agricultural and energy markets separately without accounting for sector feedback. However, in analyzing the impact of biofuels, the interconnectedness between the agricultural and energy sectors should not be ignored.

Searching for Profitable Margins

Chad Hart and Lee Schulz
Agriculture is like any other business in that producers are searching for ways to achieve profitability. Their margins, the difference between revenues and costs, depend on many factors: weather, crop yields, livestock birthing rates, production costs, demand, etc. Within agriculture, crop and livestock margins tend to be countercyclical. When crop margins are high, livestock margins are usually low and vice versa. This relationship makes sense as high crop prices create strong revenues for crop producers, but high production costs for livestock producers; and the current pricing situation shows the opposite holds as well. Low crop prices create weak revenues for crop producers and lower production costs for livestock producers.

Food Programs and the Potato

Helen H. Jensen
The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) is one of USDA’s major food assistance programs. WIC is authorized under the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. Major changes in the supplemental food packages were introduced in 2009 based on recommendations of a committee of the National Academies’ Institute of Medicine (IOM). One of the innovative program changes implemented at that time was the introduction of a cash value voucher (CVV) to supplement the purchase of fruit and vegetables for qualifying participants. All fresh fruit and vegetables qualified for purchase with the CVV except “white potatoes.” More specifically, white-fleshed potatoes. In 2014, Congress requested that USDA review the exclusion of potatoes; and at the request of USDA, a new IOM committee reviewed the regulation excluding white potatoes. Based on its review, the IOM committee issued a report in February 2015 that recommended that fresh white potatoes no longer be excluded from the food packages offered by WIC. Under the Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act, 2015, WIC agencies will begin to allow white potatoes no later than July 1, 2015. So why were white potatoes singled out for exclusion in 2009 and what changed? These questions highlight the role of efforts to align science and dietary guidance with effective program design. The challenge has been to make the guidance on dietary patterns better align with what foods people are eating and in what forms.