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Contract broiler growers have higher median but a greater range of household income compared to all U.S. farms and households

Wednesday, September 14, 2022

Farm households that raise broilers under contract have higher median incomes than U.S. farms and households overall. In 2020, the median income among all U.S. households was $67,251, while the median income among farm households was $80,060. The median for contract broiler growers was higher, at $106,694. These figures include on- and off-farm income. However, median income does not tell the whole story. The range of household incomes earned by contract broiler growers is wider than other groups. The bottom 20 percent of contract broiler growers earns $170,871 less than those in the top 20 percent, compared to $123,094 for all farm households, and $114,084 for all U.S. households. The wider range reflects, in part, the financial risks associated with contract broiler production. Grower compensation per bird can vary widely based on the productivity of the farm and the type of compensation system found in most broiler grower contracts. Sometimes called tournament-based systems, fees paid to the grower are based on the grower’s performance compared to other growers who provide birds to processing plants at the same time. This chart updates information found in the August 2014 Amber Waves feature “Financial Risks and Incomes in Contract Broiler Production.

U.S. farm sector profits forecast to reach near-record highs in 2022

Thursday, September 1, 2022

USDA’s Economic Research Service forecasts inflation-adjusted U.S. net cash farm income (NCFI)—gross cash income minus cash expenses—to increase by $13.5 billion (8.7 percent) from 2021 to $168.5 billion in 2022. This is the highest level since 2012. In comparison, U.S. net farm income (NFI) is forecast to fall by $0.9 billion (0.6 percent) from 2021 to $147.7 billion in 2022. This comes after NFI increased by $44.4 billion (42.6 percent) in 2021 to the highest mark since 2013. NFI is a broader measure of farm sector profitability that incorporates noncash items, including changes in inventories, economic depreciation, and gross imputed rental income. Both cash receipts and expenses are forecast to increase. Cash receipts for farm commodities are projected to rise by $66.3 billion (14.4 percent) from the previous year to $525.3 billion in 2022, their highest level on record. At the same time, production expenses are expected to increase by $44.4 billion (11.3 percent) to $437.3 billion in 2022, offsetting some of this income growth. Additionally, direct Government payments to farmers are projected to fall by $14.3 billion (52.5 percent) from 2021 to $13.0 billion in 2022, primarily because of lower anticipated USDA and non-USDA payments for Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic assistance. Find additional information and analysis on the USDA, Economic Research Service’s topic page for Farm Sector Income and Finances, reflecting data released on September 1, 2022.

Interest expense ratio for farm sector stays even with 20-year average despite pandemic

Monday, August 29, 2022

The interest expense ratio is one indicator of the financial well-being of the farm sector. For 2020, the ratio was 0.04, remaining in line with the long-term trend and initial forecasts despite the impact of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic on reduced demand for agricultural commodities. The interest expense ratio is calculated by dividing interest expenses by the sum of the value of production and Government payments for a given year. Interest expenses are the costs incurred by farm operations when debt is used to finance farm activities. A lower interest expense ratio is preferable as it indicates that farmers are spending a smaller share of total revenue on interest expenses. A USDA forecast in February 2020 predicted interest expenses for 2020 at $18.0 billion, with a predicted interest expense ratio of 0.04. By February 2022, interest expenses for 2020 were estimated to be slightly higher than predicted at $19.4 billion. The February 2022 estimates also showed that while the value of production was lower than initially forecast, Government payments were higher. This resulted in an upward revision to the sum of the value of production and Government payments, offsetting the upward revision to interest expenses. That meant the interest expense ratio for 2020 remained consistent with the predicted value as well as the 20-year average of 0.04. The interest expense ratio was highest at 0.06 in 2000 and trended downward to a low of 0.03 multiple times from 2000 to 2020. This chart is drawn from data in the USDA, Economic Research Service COVID-19 Working Paper: Farm Sector Financial Ratios: Pre-COVID Forecasts and Pandemic Performance for 2020, published August 24, 2022.

Growth in the number of U.S. farmers markets slows in recent years

Wednesday, August 10, 2022

A farmers market is a collection of two or more farm vendors selling agricultural products directly to customers at a common, recurrent physical location. According to USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), from 1994 to 2019, the number of farmers markets rose from 1,755 to 8,771 in 2019, averaging growth of nearly 7 percent per year. Expansion began to slow in 2011 before eventually falling below a 1-percent per year increase between 2016 and 2017. Since then, growth in the number of farmers markets has remained modest and stable. A USDA, Economic Research Service (ERS) report found that shares of local food sales have increased at intermediate market outlets, such as grocery stores, restaurants, and distributors. Increased availability of local products at these outlets corresponds with a plateau in purchases at direct-to-consumer outlets such as farmers markets and contributes to the observed slower growth relative to the prior two decades. According to market managers surveyed in the USDA’s AMS and NASS 2019 National Farmers Market Manager Survey, about two-thirds of farmers market vendors reported an increase in overall production and one-third reported increasing the number of workers they employed on their farm to meet demand. Additionally, an estimated 40 percent of vendors reported selling imperfect products that otherwise wouldn’t be sold in mainstream markets. Further, 77 percent noted that their participation led to the increased production of diverse products which in turn led to the expansion of offerings for farmers market clientele. This chart updates one found in the ERS report, Local Food Systems: Concepts, Impacts, and Issues, May 2010.

Number of U.S. farms continues slow decline as farm size slowly rises; overall land used remains constant

Tuesday, June 21, 2022

After peaking at 6.8 million farms in 1935, the number of U.S. farms and ranches fell sharply through the early 1970s. Rapidly falling farm numbers in the mid-20th century reflect the growing productivity of agriculture and increased nonfarm employment opportunities. Since then, the number of U.S. farms has continued to decline, but much more slowly. In 2021, there were 2.01 million U.S. farms, down from 2.20 million in 2007. With 895 million acres of farmland nationwide in 2021, the average farm size was 445 acres, only slightly greater than the 440 acres recorded in the early 1970s. This chart appears in the ERS data product Ag and Food Statistics: Charting the Essentials, updated June 2022.

Labor quality change, especially educational attainment, contributes positively to U.S. agricultural growth

Monday, April 18, 2022

Agricultural output in the United States nearly tripled between 1948 and 2017, with average annual output growth at 1.53 percent. While reduction of labor hours worked has contributed negatively, changes in labor quality have contributed positively to output growth over the years. Labor quality includes shifts in composition of demographic attributes, such as gender, age, educational attainment, employment type and other factors. ERS researchers group the study period into 12 sub-periods in accordance with U.S. economic business cycles (from peak to peak). Most of the contraction in total hours worked occurred between 1948 and 1969, during the expansionary period after World War II. By the 2007–17 economic business cycle, the decline in labor hours had its lowest negative effect on output growth, -0.16 percentage points. ERS researchers found that total labor quality had a positive effect on output growth in all economic business cycles except the 1979-81 period. The effects of labor quality on agricultural output growth were especially prominent before 1969. It accounted for nearly 25 percent of total output growth per year in the 1948–53, 1953–57, and 1960–66 subperiods, and 14 percent of annual output growth in the 1966-69 subperiod. Except for the period immediately after WWII, the major source of labor quality changes was an increase in educational attainment among farmworkers. On average, the increase in educational attainment accounted for more than 90 percent of the changes in labor quality between 1948 and 2017. Nevertheless, since 1969, the rise in educational attainment has slowed, and the overall influence of labor quality on output growth has diminished. This chart is drawn from the USDA, Economic Research Service report “Farm Labor, Human Capital, and Agricultural Productivity in the United States,” published Feb. 15, 2022.

U.S. labor productivity per hours worked grew from 1948 to 2017 in part because of changes in quality of labor, study finds

Wednesday, February 16, 2022

Agricultural output in the United States nearly tripled between 1948 and 2017 even as the amount of labor hours-worked declined by more than 80 percent. These opposing trends resulted in an increase in labor productivity growth in the U.S. farm sector. Labor productivity—calculated as average output per unit of labor input—is a popular measure for understanding economic growth. According to USDA, Economic Research Service (ERS) estimates, agricultural output per worker grew by 16 times from 1948 through 2017. At the same time, agricultural output per hour worked grew even faster, by 17 times, implying that average hours worked per worker declined. Labor productivity estimates can vary based on different ways labor is measured. One factor in the increased labor productivity is the quality of labor, measured by attributes such as age, gender, and the highest level of education a worker has reached. Because these attributes may affect worker performance, ERS researchers accounted for labor quality changes in analyzing farm labor productivity. When labor quality changes since 1948 were accounted for, labor productivity grew at a slower rate than those based simply on hours worked or employment. The reason is because labor quality is treated as a part of labor input instead of productivity. This implies that changes in labor quality, such as improvements in education, account for much of the change in labor productivity over the last seven decades. ERS researchers estimate that changes to farm worker attributes accounted for about 13 percent of growth in hourly based annual labor productivity during the time studied. This chart in included in the ERS report Farm Labor, Human Capital, and Agricultural Productivity in the United States, published Feb. 15, 2022.

Farm sector profits to remain above long-term averages in 2022

Friday, February 4, 2022

USDA’s Economic Research Service forecasts inflation-adjusted U.S. net cash farm income (NCFI)—gross cash income minus cash expenses—to increase by $12.6 billion (9.9 percent) to $139.0 billion in 2021 and then decrease by $2.9 billion (2.1 percent) to $136.1 billion in 2022. U.S. net farm income (NFI) is forecast to increase by $20.7 billion (20.1 percent) to $123.4 billion in 2021 and then decrease by $9.7 billion (7.9 percent) to $113.7 billion in 2022. Net farm income is a broader measure of farm sector profitability that incorporates noncash items, including changes in inventories, economic depreciation, and gross imputed rental income. If these forecasts are realized, both NCFI and NFI would remain above their respective 2001–20 averages in 2022. Underlying these forecasts, cash receipts for farm commodities are projected to rise by $13.7 billion (3.1 percent) to $461.9 billion in 2022, their highest level since 2014. During the same period, production expenses are expected to increase by $5.9 billion (1.5 percent) to $411.6 billion in 2022, offsetting some of this income growth. Additionally, direct Government payments to farmers are projected to fall by $16.4 billion (58.5 percent) from 2021 levels to $11.7 billion in 2022, largely due to lower anticipated USDA and non-USDA payments for Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic assistance. Find additional information and analysis on the USDA, Economic Research Service’s topic page for Farm Sector Income and Finances, reflecting data released on February 4, 2022.

Increased efficiency has replaced input intensification as primary source of growth in global agricultural output

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Since the 1960s, global agricultural output by volume has increased at an average annual rate of 2.3 percent, fluctuating between 2 and 3 percent on a decade-to-decade basis. In the latest decade (2011–19), the global output of total crop, animal, and aquaculture commodities grew an average rate of 2.08 percent per year. Several factors contribute to output growth, including expansion of agricultural land, extension of irrigation to existing cropland, the intensification of input use (more labor, capital, and material inputs per acre), and total factor productivity (TFP), a measure of the contribution of technological and efficiency improvements in the farm sector. Before the 1990s, most output growth came from increases in input use, including expansion of land, irrigation, and intensification of other inputs. Since the 1990s, growth in TFP, rather than growth in inputs, accounted for most of the growth in world agriculture output. From 2011 to 2019, TFP globally grew at an annual rate of 1.31 percent, accounting for nearly two-thirds of output growth. This chart comes from the USDA, Economic Research Service data product International Agricultural Productivity, updated in October 2021.

Long-term productivity growth in agriculture varies across countries

Friday, December 10, 2021

Total factor productivity (TFP) growth reflects the rate of technological and efficiency improvements in the agricultural sector and productivity growth varies across countries. TFP measures the amount of agricultural output produced from the combined set of land, labor, capital, and material resources employed in the production process. Agricultural TFP grew most rapidly (at more than 2 percent on average) in the dark green-colored countries and most slowly (or not at all) in the light green-colored countries. National policies and institutions, especially those that promote innovation and technical change, play a significant role in driving TFP growth in agriculture. Strengthening the capacity of national agricultural research and extension systems to develop and deliver new agricultural technologies to farmers has been a critical factor in raising agricultural productivity. Information from the International Agricultural Productivity data product and related ERS research show that that Brazil and India’s TFP growth can be attributed to long-term investments in agricultural research. China’s TFP growth can be attributed to investments in research and institutional and economic reforms. In contrast, Russia’s low rate of agricultural TFP growth is attributed to inefficiencies under a planned economy (until 1991) followed by economic disruptions that accompanied its transition to a market economy. Under-investment in agricultural research and extension and poor market infrastructure remain important barriers to stimulating agricultural productivity growth in Sub-Saharan Africa. This data can be found in the International Agricultural Productivity data product, last updated in October 2021.

U.S. farm sector profits forecast to increase in 2021

Wednesday, December 1, 2021

USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS) forecasts inflation-adjusted net cash farm income (NCFI)—gross cash income minus cash expenses—to increase by $12.6 billion (10.5 percent) from 2020 to $133.0 billion in 2021. U.S. net farm income (NFI) is forecast to increase by $18.4 billion (18.7 percent) from 2020 to $116.8 billion in 2021. Net farm income is a broader measure of farm sector profitability that incorporates noncash items, including changes in inventories, economic depreciation, and gross imputed rental income. If this forecast is realized, NFI would be 24.2 percent above its 2000–20 average of $94.0 billion and the highest since 2013. NCFI would be 16.9 percent above its 2000–20 average of $113.8 billion and the highest since 2014. Driving these increases are cash receipts from farm commodities, which are projected to rise by $51.0 billion (13.5 percent) from 2020 to 2021, their highest level since 2014. Production expenses are expected to grow by $16.3 billion (4.4 percent) during the same period, somewhat moderating income growth. Additionally, direct Government payments to farmers are projected to fall by $20.2 billion (42.6 percent) in 2021. This decline follows record payments in 2020 and is largely due to lower anticipated payments from supplemental and ad hoc disaster assistance for Coronavirus (COVID-19) relief. Find additional information and analysis on ERS’s topic page for Farm Sector Income and Finances, reflecting data released December 1, 2021.

Unseasonably low October wholesale egg prices reported in advance of 2021 holiday season

Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Demand for table eggs tends to increase when holiday gatherings and cold weather encourage home baking and cooking. In accordance, wholesale table egg prices—the prices retailers pay to producers for eggs—tend to increase ahead of holidays such as Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter. Leading up to the 2021 holiday season, however, wholesale prices of table eggs in the United States have fallen as effects of Coronavirus (COVID-19)-linked flock adjustments linger. In normal years, producers anticipate seasonal demand by adjusting the size of the table-egg laying flocks and the rate at which they produce eggs. In 2020, COVID-19-related disruptions in the demand for eggs led producers to reduce flock sizes. Flock sizes have slowly rebuilt since the summer of 2020 but remain smaller than the same time in 2019. However, the younger flocks produce more eggs per hen. The higher productivity can offset the effects of the small flock size and support increased production. At the beginning of October 2021 the size of the U.S. laying flock was just above the October 2020 levels and the rate of lay was 1.1 percent higher. This productivity bump is predicted to support about a 1 percent increase in October 2021 table egg production compared with a year ago, leading to a 9.6 percent price reduction compared to October 2020. This chart is drawn from the USDA, Economic Research Service Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry Monthly Outlook, published November 2021.

Agriculture and related industries provide 10.3 percent of U.S. employment

Friday, November 26, 2021

In 2020, 19.7 million full- and part-time jobs were related to the agricultural and food sectors,10.3 percent of total U.S. employment. Direct on-farm employment accounted for about 2.6 million of these jobs, or 1.4 percent of U.S. employment. Employment in agriculture- and food-related industries supported another 17.1 million jobs. Of this, food service, eating and drinking places accounted for the largest share at 10.5 million jobs. Food and beverage stores supported 3.3 million jobs. The remaining agriculture-related industries together added another 3.3 million jobs. This chart appears in the collection Ag and Food Statistics: Charting the Essentials on the ERS website.

Over the next decade, crop prices are projected to decline while livestock prices generally rise

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

Recently released USDA projections reveal expectations for U.S. crop prices to decrease over the next 10 years while prices for major animal products, except hogs, are forecast to increase. Expected declines for crops follow a period of generally higher prices that have peaked during the current marketing year. The price-bolstering effects of economic recovery, renewed export demand, and logistical problems in supply chains are forecast to subside after the recent peak during the 2021/22 marketing year, and crop prices are forecast subsequently to return to the earlier pattern of generally lower prices through 2031. Hog prices are projected to follow a similar pattern to crops and to move toward levels that reflect normal weather and an absence of major market shocks including policy changes. Beef cattle and broiler prices are expected to demonstrate a modest increase in the early years of the projection period before leveling off to slower growth, resulting in an average price increase of 8 to 17 percent over the decade. Similar to most animal products prices, prices that farmers are expected to receive for their eggs are forecast to rise steadily throughout the projection period, partly based on increased demand for cage-free eggs and regulatory changes that are projected to increase costs of production. This chart is based upon forecasts and projections using data available as of October 12, 2021, and long-term projections to 2031 released on November 5, 2021. Current projections are shown in the Economic Research Service’s (ERS) Agricultural Baseline Database. For 2020’s farm price projections, see the ERS Chart of Note from November 9, 2020.

Family farm households received an estimated $2,167 on average from Economic Impact Payments in 2020

Wednesday, November 10, 2021

In 2020, U.S. family farm households received $4.3 billion in Federal assistance during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic from Economic Impact Payments (EIP) (also known as stimulus payments). USDA, Economic Research Service (ERS) researchers used data from the most recent available 2019 Agricultural Resource Management Survey on farm households’ adjusted gross income and household composition to estimate the average EIP disbursed. The estimated average was $924, $2,408, and $2,466 for single, head of household, and joint filers, respectively. This disparity partly reflects the lower income thresholds for single households, which resulted in some not receiving the maximum EIP and others not receiving EIP at all. Additionally, since unmarried people with dependents were assumed to file as head of household, these households were estimated to have received an additional $500 per dependent. Among family farm households, ERS researchers estimated that 18 percent of single filers did not receive EIP, compared with 17 percent of head of household filers, and 13 percent of joint filers in 2020. In April and May 2020, U.S. households of all types—farm or otherwise—received more than $266 billion from the EIP program. This chart appears in the Amber Waves feature “U.S. Agriculture Sector Received an Estimated $35 Billion in COVID-19 Related Assistance in 2020,” released September 2021.

In 2020, crops sector received 65 percent of Paycheck Protection Program loans for agriculture

Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Errata: On November 9, 2021, the chart and text were revised to clarify that the Paycheck Protection Program eligibility simulation was carried out on both commercial and intermediate farm operations. No other data or findings are changed.

As part of its response to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the U.S. Federal Government implemented the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). Agricultural producers could use forgivable loans from this program to help keep employees on payroll and offset some of their operating costs. The maximum PPP loan amount was 2.5 times the monthly average profit plus payroll and eligible overhead expenses, such as the employer’s share of insurance payments and unemployment taxes. If used on eligible expenses within the first 24 weeks of disbursement, PPP loans were fully forgiven. According to data from USDA’s 2019 Agricultural Resource Management Survey (ARMS), 72 percent of all farm businesses (operations with gross cash farm income of more than $350,000 or smaller operations where farming is reported as the operator's primary occupation) had either positive net income or positive payroll, which met the two most important eligibility requirements to apply for PPP loans. Individual Small Business Administration (SBA) loan data indicated that almost 121,000 farm operations applied for a total of $6.0 billion in PPP loans in 2020. That accounted for 17 percent of presumed-eligible farm businesses based on the 2019 ARMS. Out of the total PPP loans that was disbursed to farm operations in 2020, $3.9 billion (65 percent) went to crop operations, and the remaining $2.1 billion (35 percent) went to livestock operations. This chart appears in the Amber Waves finding “U.S. Producers Received Almost $6.0 Billion From the Paycheck Protection Program in 2020,” released October 2021.

Gap between H-2A positions certified and H-2A visas issued grew during COVID-19 pandemic

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

The H-2A Temporary Agricultural Workers Program attracts foreign farmworkers on temporary work visas to fulfill short-term labor contracts. All positions to be filled with H-2A workers are first certified by the Department of Labor, then U.S. consulates issue corresponding visas. The number of positions certified each year generally exceeds the annual number of visas issued, in part because an H-2A worker may fill multiple positions on the same visa. At the onset of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, temporary changes to H-2A program rules provided visa extensions to H-2A workers already in the country and allowed them to more easily switch to certified positions with other employers. In the first few months of the pandemic, the gap between positions certified and the number of visas issued grew. Position certifications typically peak in March, while visas issued peak a month later as workers begin work. In March and April 2020 combined, a record 81,000 positions were certified, and 57,000 visas were issued during the corresponding months of April and May. This difference is larger than previous years and suggests that proportionally fewer certified positions were filled with new H-2A entries in 2020. This chart first appeared in the USDA, Economic Research Service (ERS) report, Farm Labor Markets in the United States and Mexico Pose Challenges for U.S. Agriculture, published in November 2018, and has been updated through 2020. For more information on how H-2A visas have fulfilled seasonal labor requirements, see the ERS report Examining the Growth in Seasonal Agricultural H-2A Labor, published in August 2021, and the Amber Waves feature “Use of H-2A Guest Farm Worker Program More Than Triples in Past Decade,” published in September 2021.

Local residents living in oil-dependent counties experienced long-term effects following the oil boom and bust of the 1980s

Monday, October 18, 2021

Errata: On October 22, 2021, the map presented in this Chart of Note was revised to show the correct number of counties in the contiguous United States.

Focusing on the rapid rise and decline of oil production in the 1970s and 1980s, researchers at USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS), the University of Oregon, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison studied the cumulative effects of oil booms (and subsequent busts) on households living in counties with the most dependence on oil extraction. The authors identified individuals living in “boom counties” in 1980, defined as those with greater than 2.5 percent employment in oil and natural gas extraction. On average, the incomes of boom households increased by $5,000 dollars annually during the early years of the 1975-1979 oil boom and $6,900 per year during the later boom of 1980-1984, compared with similar households in counties that were not producing oil. The subsequent bust, however, reduced household incomes on average by more than $8,000 annually from 1985 to 1992. These losses were driven in part by increased unemployment and the dissipation of relative wage gains during the boom. The earlier oil boom and bust appeared to have no effect on household income after 1993. The average household in a boom county saw cumulative income losses of $7,600 compared with households in non-boom counties between 1969 and 2012, the final year of the study. These income losses were experienced entirely by workers in their prime working age of 25-54. Boom household heads above 54 were also about 15 percent less likely to retire from 1989 to 1992, compared with non-boom household heads. To estimate the effects of booms and busts on employment, the researchers used annual household-level survey data from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics. This chart appears in the Amber Waves finding “Oil Booms Can Reduce Lifetime Earnings and Delay Retirement,” published October 2021.

Impact of changing capital gains taxation at death varies by farm size

Wednesday, October 6, 2021

A proposal to change the way capital gains are taxed at death would affect family farm estates differently according to the size of the farm. Under current law, most inherited assets receive a step-up in basis, which means the tax basis—the amount for determining gain or loss—of property transferred to an heir at death is increased to its current fair market value at the date of death, eliminating any capital gains tax liability on those inherited gains. The change, which was included in the American Families Plan (AFP), would end stepped-up basis for gains above $1 million for the estates of individuals or $2 million for married couples. Gains above these exemption amounts would be subject to tax at death. However, the transfer of a family farm to a family member who continues the operation would not result in a tax at death. Farm and business assets exceeding the exemption amounts would receive a carry-over basis deferring capital gains tax until the assets are sold, or until the farm is no longer family owned and operated. USDA, Economic Research Service (ERS) researchers, using modeling to evaluate potential effects of the AFP proposal, found that as family farm size increased, the estimated share of estates owing no tax at death and receiving stepped-up basis on all assets decreased, while the estimated share of estates that would receive carry-over basis increased. For small farm estates, with gross cash farm income (GCFI) less than $350,000, 83.4 percent would owe no capital gains tax at death and would receive a stepped-up basis on all assets, resulting in no change to their capital gains tax liability. Under the ERS model, that share would drop to 34.2 percent for midsize farms (those with GCFI of $350,000 to $1 million), 20.4 percent for large farms (with GCFI of $1 million to $5 million), and 3.6 percent for very large farms (with GCFI of more than $5 million). Some estates would be taxed on nonfarm gains at death and potentially could owe deferred taxes on farm gains if the heirs stop operating the farm. For those estates, the estimated share increased from 1.1 percent for small farms to 2.5 percent for very large farms. Other estates would not have to pay tax at death but could see deferred taxes on farm gains if the heirs stop operating the farm. For that group, the estimated share increased from 15.5 percent for small farms to 93.9 percent for very large farms. This chart can be found in the ERS report The Effect on Family Farms of Changing Capital Gains Taxation at Death, published September 2021.

How proposed capital gains tax changes could affect estates of family farms

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

The American Families Plan (AFP) that President Joe Biden announced in April 2021 included a proposal to make accumulated gains in asset value subject to capital gains taxation when the asset owner dies. Under current law, asset value gains can be passed on to heirs without being subject to capital gains taxation because the value of the assets are reset to the fair market value at the time of inheritance. This adjustment in asset valuation, known as a “stepped-up basis,” eliminates capital gains tax liabilities on any gains incurred before the assets were transferred to the heirs. AFP also included a provision that would exempt from capital gains taxes $1 million in gains for the estates of individuals and $2 million in gains for the estates of married couples, as well as for gains on a personal residence of $250,000 for individuals and $500,000 for married couples. Gains above these exemption amounts would be subject to tax at death. However, the transfer of a family farm to a family member who continues the operation would not result in a tax upon the death of the principal operator. Under the proposal, any remaining farm and business gains above the exemption amount would receive a “carry-over basis” that effectively defers any capital gains tax until the assets are sold or until the farm is no longer family-owned and operated. Using 2019 Agricultural Resource Management Survey data, USDA, Economic Research Service (ERS) researchers estimated that of the 1.97 million family farms in the United States, 32,174 estates would result from principal operator deaths in 2021. From these farm estates, the ERS model used to evaluate potential effects of the AFP proposal estimated that heirs of 80.7 percent of family farm estates would have no change to their capital gains tax liability upon death of the principal operator. Heirs of 18.2 percent of family farm estates would not owe taxes at the time of the principal operator’s death but could be subject to a future potential capital gains tax obligation on inherited farm gains if the heirs stop farming. Heirs of 1.1 percent of estates would owe tax on nonfarm gains upon death of the principal operator and have a future potential capital gains tax obligation resulting from inherited farm gains if the heirs stop farming. This chart can be found in the ERS report The Effect on Family Farms of Changing Capital Gains Taxation at Death, published September 2021.