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APR: Winter 2015 Articles

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Assessing Food Security in Tanzania in the Next Decade

John Beghin (
CARD economist Beghin and USDA ERS have been collaborating to advance USDA ERS’ annual International Food Security Assessment. The Assessment provides a 10-year outlook of the state of food insecurity in 76 low- and middle-income countries with a strong focus on the interface between income distribution within the population and food insecurity.

This collaboration with CARD brings a more systematic approach into the Assessment by introducing price information, price and income responses in consumption, which vary by level of poverty, food quality heterogeneity across income deciles, and consistent aggregation of the demand by deciles into a market demand. The new approach relies on a food demand system consisting of four categories (major grain, other grains, roots and tuber, and an aggregate all other food) in grain equivalent.

Late-1990s Climate Shift Impact on Corn Yield in Iowa

Christopher J. Anderson (, Bruce A. Babcock (, Yixing Peng (, Philip W. Gassman (, and Todd D. Campbell (
The next advance in climate science will come out of experiments in forecasting shifts in climate regimes¢an extended period of time in which weather conditions have consistent range, such as the Dust Bowl years or the Little Ice Age. A climate regime shift results in a new range of weather conditions for an extended period, so being able to predict a regime shift allows planners to anticipate an emerging weather risk profile that would be expected to persist for 20–30 years. One way a regime change occurs is when slowly varying ocean surface temperatures change from warm to cold. In the Corn Belt, summer rainfall is influenced over 20–30 year periods by two recurring ocean surface temperature patterns: the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO) (Hu and Feng 2001) and the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation (AMO) (Hu et al. 2011). Together they have four phases of warm and cold conditions that result in four different spatial patterns for drought risk across the United States (McCabe et al. 2004). While climate scientists will focus on decadal forecast capability for broad temperature and rainfall patterns, the more immediate question for agriculture is, how have climate regime shifts affected yield?

Nitrogen Management under Uncertainty: An Investigation of Farmers’ Decision Processes

Keri L. Jacobs ( and Quinn Weninger (
Des Moines Water Works has recently threatened a lawsuit against three upstream Iowa counties they claim are responsible for excessive nitrate loading in the Raccoon and Des Moines rivers. Excess nitrate loads, which must be reduced before water is safe to drink, is reported to have cost Des Moines taxpayers upwards of $1 million in 2013. The cost of nitrate removal, which could include investment in new treatment capacity, will continue, and may grow, unless steps are taken to reduce nitrate runoff from agriculture. While such water treatment is costly, yield losses may be more costly if rates are capped by regulations. The problem is complicated because of uncertainty over weather and soil conditions producers face when making their nitrogen use decisions. Furthermore, weather largely dictates how much of the applied nitrogen leaves the fields.

Mandatory GMO Labeling?

GianCarlo Moschini (
Genetically engineered (GE) crop varieties have been prominent in US agriculture for many years. First commercialized in the 1990s, they were rapidly adopted by farmers. By 2014, 93 percent of corn and 94 percent of soybean acres were planted with these varieties. Favorable reception of these products was never universal, as objections were voiced by some segments of the public; however, it seems fair to say that the acceptance of this new technology was smoother in the United States than elsewhere. This conclusion has been tested over the last few years by an increased public awareness and activism intended to bring about new legislative action on genetically modified organisms (GMOs), as GE products are often called. Such efforts have specifically aimed to introduce state-level requirements for mandatory food labeling of GMO content. Proposition 37, put to California voters in 2012, squarely aimed at mandating such labeling. Although defeated at the polls, it brought much publicity to this issue. Similar initiatives were also narrowly defeated in the states of Washington (2013) and Colorado and Oregon (2014). However, Vermont enacted mandatory GMO labeling legislation in 2014, and Maine and Connecticut have approved bills that would trigger such labeling under certain conditions (related to neighboring states also mandating GMO labeling), and several other states are considering similar actions. Are we witnessing the dawn of mandatory GMO labeling in the United States, and would that be a desirable outcome?

Characterizing and Comprehending Land Use Change in the Loess Hills Region

Gaurav Arora (, Peter T. Wolter (, Hongli Feng (, and David A. Hennessy (
Regional land use change has important implications for ecosystems and the local human population. Metropolitan areas (MAs) are placing increasing emphasis on amenities and the environment when seeking to attract high income workers and their employers. Our interest is in characterizing land use change in Iowa’s Loess Hills Ecoregion (ILHE) that skirts both Sioux City and Council Bluffs MAs. ILHE is a distinctive landform of silty soils up to 200 feet high that were wind deposited just east of the Missouri River floodplain. Covering about 0.7 million acres, the Loess hills stretch north about 200 miles (usually no wider than 15 miles) from Holt County, Missouri, to Plymouth County, Iowa and are largely under private ownership. Although the soils are rich, cultivation has been difficult so that the region contains more than 50 percent of Iowa’s remnant prairie. However, technologies that allow cropping on steeply sloped and highly erodible terrains, increasing agricultural prices, and pressure for urban development have led to concerns about habitat loss conversion and fragmentation (Farnsworth et al. 2010).

Ag Supplies for 2015

Chad Hart ( and Lee Schulz (
Markets are the mechanism that balance supply and demand for products. Over the course of the past year, we have discussed the demand patterns for agricultural products in the US and the factors that influence that demand. Now it’s time to look at the other half of the marketplace: agricultural product supplies. During the past couple of years, crop and livestock supplies have been moving in opposite directions. Crop supplies have grown as farmers have brought more land into corn and soybean production and weather conditions allowed record yields. Meanwhile, livestock supplies have shrunk as livestock producers reduced herds to control costs. However, changes are expected as we look forward. Stronger livestock prices have created incentives for increased livestock productions, and weaker crop prices normally spur a reduction in plantings.