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Farm sector profits forecast to increase in 2019

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Inflation-adjusted U.S. net cash farm income in 2019 is forecast to increase $2.7 billion (2.9 percent) to $95.7 billion, while U.S. net farm income (a broader measure of farm sector profitability that incorporates non-cash items, including changes in inventories, economic depreciation, and gross imputed rental income) is forecast to increase $5.2 billion (8.1 percent) to $69.4 billion. The 2019 forecast increases are due to a combination of lower production expenses, which are subtracted out in the calculation of net income, and increases in the value of agricultural sector production. These factors contributing to higher income are expected to more than offset the forecast decline in direct Government farm payments. If forecast increases are realized, net farm income and net cash farm income would be 22.9 percent and 11.5 percent below their respective averages calculated over the 2000-17 period. Find additional information and analysis on ERS’s Farm Sector Income and Finances topic page, reflecting data released March 6, 2019.

More time spent working on the farm leads to less off-farm labor across different commodities

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Survey data show that the more time a household allots to its farm operation, the less time is available for off-farm employment. Many farm operations require primarily part-time or seasonal work, which can allow household members to work off-farm with little interruption to the farming operation. Across all farms by commodity type, average onfarm hours worked by the principal operator in 2016 ranged from 16 hours per week for general crop farms (where no one crop accounted for a majority of the value of production) to 64 hours per week for dairy farms. Time spent working on the farm limits the time available not only for off-farm employment but also for housework, family, sleep, and leisure activities. Accordingly, the amounts of time spent working on and off the farm are negatively correlated across all commodity types. For example, dairy farmers, who tend to have the most rigid farm schedules, work only 6 hours per week off-farm on average. By comparison, beef cattle farmers tend to have highly flexible schedules and, consequently, spend an average of 20 hours per week working off-farm. This chart updates data found in the August 2018 ERS report, Economic Returns to Farming for U.S. Farm Households. Survey data is drawn from the 2016 Agricultural Resource Management Survey (ARMS), jointly administered by the National Agricultural Statistics Service and the Economic Research Service.

2018 Farm Act mandates spending of $428 billion over 5 years

Monday, January 28, 2019

The Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 (2018 Farm Act) was signed into law December 20, 2018, and will remain in force through the end of fiscal year 2023, although some provisions extend beyond 2023. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projects that the new Farm Act will mandate spending of $428 billion dollars over the next 5 fiscal years (2019-2023). A large majority of projected spending—76 percent ($326.02 billion)—will fund nutrition programs, with most going to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Crop insurance ($38.01 billion), farm commodity programs ($31.44 billion), and conservation programs ($29.27 billion) account for nearly all of the remaining outlays. Approximately 0.8 percent ($3.54 billion) will fund all other programs, including trade, credit, rural development, research and extension, forestry, energy, horticulture, and miscellaneous programs. Overall, the new Farm Act makes fewer changes to food and farm policy than the 2014 Farm Act. Nutrition policy, particularly SNAP, will continue with minor changes. Crop insurance options and agricultural commodity programs will continue largely as under the 2014 Farm Act. All major conservation programs will continue, although some were modified significantly. This chart appears in “The Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018: Highlights and Implications,” December 20, 2018.

One-third of U.S. farm output is produced under contract, but the share differs by commodity

Monday, December 17, 2018

Farmers use contracts to manage price and production risks and ensure a market for their products. Processors, integrators, and buyers use contracts to procure farm products with specific qualities and reduce supply uncertainty. The share of value of production that was under contract across all commodities in 2017 was 34 percent, close to the share in 1996/1997 (32 percent). More than 50 percent of U.S. peanuts, tobacco, sugar beets, hogs, and poultry/eggs in 2017 were produced under contract. In contrast, less than 20 percent of wheat, soybeans, and corn were grown under contract. The share of tobacco production under contract jumped from less than 1 percent in 1996/1997 to 90 percent in 2017, as cigarette manufacturers switched from cash auctions to contracts to ensure a sufficient supply of specific types of tobacco. The share of hogs produced under contract nearly doubled, from 34 percent in 1996/97 to 63 percent in 2017. Hog processors can use contracts to better control the characteristics of the hogs they acquire, helping them offer more consistent quality of meat to consumers. The decline in dairy reported under contract may reflect changing perceptions of farmers about their transactions with dairy cooperatives; more research is required to clarify that dynamic. This chart appears in the ERS report America’s Diverse Family Farms: 2018 Edition, released December 2018.

Household income for the largest farms fell in 2017, driven by lower returns from farming

Friday, December 14, 2018

The median total household income for commercial U.S. farms is estimated to decline from $239,526 in 2012 to $200,090 in 2017. By comparison, the median farm income for residence and intermediate farms is estimated to remain relatively unchanged. In 2017, the median total household income for residence and commercial farms remained above the median income for all U.S. households ($63,172), despite declines in total income. Farm households rely on a combination of on-farm and off-farm sources of income. On-farm sources include income from the farm business, which is determined by farm costs and returns that often vary from year to year. In any given year, a significant number of farm households report negative farm income. Off-farm sources—including wage income, nonfarm business earnings, dividends, and transfers—are the main contributor to household income for residence and intermediate farms. The heavier reliance on off-farm income of these farms makes them less susceptible to changes in farming costs and returns than commercial farms. Because households operating commercial farms rely most on on-farm sources of income, they experience the largest drop in their total household income when farm sector income falls. This chart uses data from the new ERS and NASS Agricultural Resource Management Survey webtool, released December 2018.

Developing countries, such as China and Brazil, lead global productivity growth

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Raising the productivity of existing agricultural resources—rather than bringing new resources into production—has become the major source of growth in world agriculture. The total productivity of agricultural inputs, or TFP (total factor productivity), has been rising steadily in most industrialized countries at between 1 and 2 percent a year since at least the 1970s. Among developing countries and transition economies of the former Soviet bloc, agricultural TFP growth rates have been much more uneven. Some developing countries have had agricultural TFP growth rates of over 2 percent per year since the 1970s, while other countries (especially in Sub-Saharan Africa) have seen little productivity growth at all. For the developing countries that were able to accelerate agricultural TFP growth rates, key factors have been market reforms and greater capacity of national agricultural research and extension systems. Long-term investments in agricultural research were especially important to sustaining higher productivity growth rates in large, rapidly developing countries such as Brazil and India. Chinese agriculture benefited enormously from institutional and market reforms as well as from technological changes made possible by investments in research. Following the economic transition from a planned to a market economy in the early 1990s, Russian agriculture rebounded because of substantial productivity growth in the southern region of the country. Under-investment in agricultural research remains an important barrier to stimulating agricultural productivity growth in Sub-Saharan Africa. This chart appears in the ERS data product for International Agricultural Productivity, updated October 2018.

Farm sector profits forecast to decline in 2018

Friday, November 30, 2018

Inflation-adjusted U.S. net cash farm income is forecast to decline $10.9 billion (10.5 percent) to $93.4 billion in 2018, while U.S. net farm income (a broader measure of farm sector profitability that incorporates non-cash items, including changes in inventories, economic depreciation, and gross imputed rental income) is forecast to decline $10.8 billion (14.1 percent) to $66.3 billion. If forecast declines are realized, net cash farm income would be the lowest since 2009; net farm income would be 3.3 percent above its level in 2016 (its lowest since 2002). Both profitability measures are forecast below their long-term averages.

The forecast declines are due to a combination of higher production expenses, which are subtracted out in the calculation of net income, as well as a decline in the value of agricultural sector production. However, direct Government farm payments are forecast to increase $1.8 billion (15.2 percent) to $13.6 billion in 2018, reflecting higher anticipated payments for supplemental and ad hoc disaster assistance and miscellaneous programs, including Market Facilitation Program payments to assist farmers in response to trade disruptions. Find additional information and analysis in Highlights From the November 2018 Farm Income Forecast, released November 30, 2018.

Georgia, recently affected by Hurricane Michael, in 2017 ranked 15th among States in U.S. farm sector cash receipts

Monday, November 5, 2018

Each August, ERS estimates the previous year’s farm sector cash receipts—the cash income received from agricultural commodity sales. Historical State-level estimates provide baseline information that can be useful in gauging the financial impact of unexpected events that affect the agricultural sector, such as the recent hurricane that struck Georgia and surrounding States. In 2017, cash receipts for all U.S. farm commodities totaled $374 billion. Georgia contributed about 2 percent ($9 billion) of that total, ranking 15th among all States. Broilers (chickens that are raised for meat) accounted for the largest share of cash receipts in Georgia at $4.4 billion (49 percent of Georgia’s cash receipts)—followed by cotton at $878 million (10 percent of Georgia’s receipts. Georgia led the Nation in cash receipts from broilers and ranked second in cotton cash receipts, behind Texas. Georgia also led the country in cash receipts from peanuts and pecans—accounting for 47 percent and 38 percent, respectively, of the U.S. totals for those commodities—although they amounted to a smaller share of the State’s total cash receipts. This chart uses data from the ERS U.S. and State-Level Farm Income and Wealth Statistics data product, updated August 2018.

Pasture and rangeland have shifted to smaller farms over time

Monday, October 29, 2018

Unlike cropland, which has shifted toward larger farms since the 1980s, the other major component of U.S. farmland—permanent pasture and rangeland—has shifted to smaller farms. In 1987, farms and ranches with at least 10,000 acres of pasture and rangeland operated more than half (51 percent) of all pasture and rangeland, while those with less than 1,000 acres held 15 percent. By 2012, the share operated by the largest acreage class had gradually fallen to 44 percent, while the share of farms and ranches with less than 1,000 acres of pasture and rangeland had risen to 22 percent. Consolidation in cropland is driven by technologies—such as bigger, faster, and smarter pieces of equipment—that allow a single farmer or farm family to manage more cropland. Improvements in those technologies have not led to consolidation in pasture and rangeland, however, because planting, spraying, and harvesting machinery are rarely used on pasture and range. Pasture and rangeland are primarily used for grazing beef cows and their calves, although other livestock such as sheep, horses, and bison are also grazed. In 2012, 45 percent (over 400 million acres) of all U.S. farmland was devoted to pasture and grazing land. This chart appears in the March 2018 ERS report, Three Decades of Consolidation in U.S. Agriculture.

Government payments were highest to commercial farms in 2016

Friday, October 19, 2018

Federal Government programs distribute payments each year to farms, farm operators, and their households. For example, USDA’s Conservation Reserve Program and Environmental Quality Incentive Program provide payments to operators for conservation purposes. And USDA’s commodity programs, such as Price Loss Coverage and Agriculture Risk Coverage, pay producers when prices or revenues fall below a certain level. “Other payments” include disaster assistance programs and other Federal, State and local programs. In 2016, only 23 percent of all residence farms and 33 percent of all intermediate farms received any government payments, compared to 69 percent of all commercial farms. The amount of government payments received varied by farm type. Commercial farms that received payments got an average of $42,459, with commodity payments accounting for the majority (70 percent) of the total. On the other hand, conservation payments were relatively more important for residence and intermediate farms—accounting for about 70 percent and 38 percent of total payments, respectively. This chart updates data found in the August 2018 ERS report, Economic Returns to Farming for U.S. Farm Households.

The value of oil and gas production on farmland amounted to $226 billion in 2014, or about two-thirds of total production

Friday, October 12, 2018

Oil and gas production disproportionally occurs in areas where large shares of land are operated by farmers and ranchers. In 2014, the value of oil and gas production on land operated by farms amounted to $226 billion, or about 67 percent of the total $338 billion in oil and gas production in the contiguous United States. Oil and gas production on farmland was concentrated in California, in a band from North Dakota to Texas, and in the Marcellus Shale, which reaches into Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Ohio. Most nonoperator landlords (who rent out the farmland they own to farmers) and most farm operators do not own the oil and gas rights associated with their land and are thus unable to receive payments. In the 1,080 counties with oil and gas production in 2014, only 13 percent of nonoperator landlords and 10 percent of farm operators reported receiving oil or gas payments. Payments to farmland owners (operators and nonoperator landlords) amounted to $7.4 billion—but ERS estimates this could have been as high as $40 billion if all farmland owners had also owned the oil and gas rights associated with their farmland. This chart appears in the June 2018 ERS report, Ownership of Oil and Gas Rights: Implications for U.S. Farm Income and Wealth.

In 2018, U.S. average farm real estate value remains near 2015 historic high

Monday, October 1, 2018

Farm real estate (including land and the structures on the land) generally accounts for over 80 percent of U.S. farm sector assets, and often serves as collateral for farm loans. The value of U.S. farm real estate is thus a critical barometer of farm financial performance. After a long period of appreciation following the farm crisis of the 1980s, farm real estate values have leveled off in recent years. ERS research indicates that, in general, the substantial growth in farm real estate values since 2000 was attributable to high farm earning potential and historically low interest rates. In 2000, after adjusting for inflation, average U.S. farm real estate values were $1,541 per acre—and reached a historic high of $3,178 per acre in 2015. By 2018, U.S. farm real estate values averaged $3,140 per acre, with the leveling off in recent years coinciding with declines in farm sector income. Regional variation is significant, owing to factors such as differences in regional production potential and the demand for land in alternative uses, such as residential housing. This chart appears in the ERS topic page for Farmland Value, updated September 2018.

North Carolina, recently affected by Hurricane Florence, accounted for an estimated 3 percent ($11 billion) of U.S. farm sector cash receipts in 2017

Monday, September 24, 2018

Each August, as part of the its Farm Income data product, ERS produces estimates of the prior year’s farm sector cash receipts—the cash income the sector receives from agricultural commodity sales. State-level estimates provide background information about States subject to unexpected changes that affect the agricultural sector, such as the recent hurricane that struck North Carolina and surrounding States. In 2017, cash receipts for all U.S. farm commodities totaled $374 billion. North Carolina contributed about 3 percent ($11 billion) of that total, ranking eighth among all States. Broilers (chickens that are raised for meat) accounted for the largest share of cash receipts in North Carolina at 31 percent ($4 billion), compared to 12 percent nationwide—followed by hogs at 21 percent ($2 billion), compared to 11 percent nationwide. The State ranked third in the nation in cash receipts for both broilers and hogs. North Carolina led the country in cash receipts from tobacco, sweet potatoes, and turkeys—accounting for 50, 47, and 15 percent of the U.S. total for those commodities, respectively—although they contributed a smaller share of the State’s total cash receipts. This chart uses data from the ERS U.S. and State-Level Farm Income and Wealth Statistics data product, updated August 2018.

Interest expenses to EBITC ratio has increased in recent years, but remains below its longrun average

Monday, September 17, 2018

The ratio of interest expenses to earnings before interest, taxes, and capital consumption (interest-to-EBITC) measures the farm sector’s ability to pay interest expenses on outstanding debt out of its earnings—a useful metric of the sector’s financial durability. High interest rates and low farm income caused the interest-to-EBITC ratio to peak at 37 percent in 1983—a development that coincided with higher rates of farm bankruptcies and loan defaults. After 1983, the interest-to-EBITC ratio declined year after year until 1995 and reached its 1970-2017 low of 8 percent in 2013. ERS’s 2018 forecast of 16 percent remains below the longrun average of 17 percent. A 16-percent EBITC means that 16 percent of net farm earnings—before interest, taxes, and capital consumption—are spent on interest payments. Although inflation-adjusted farm debt increased 84 percent from 1994 (the lowest value since 1964) to 2017 (the most current estimate), interest expenses have remained relatively stable because of declining interest rates. If farm income remains near current levels and interest rates increase as currently forecast, projected interest expense-to-farm earnings ratios suggest that the farm sector as a whole is unlikely to face extensive debt repayment challenges by 2019. However, if farm income falls substantially, more farmers will find it difficult to meet their debt obligations. This chart updates data found in the July 2018 Amber Waves feature, “Current Indicators of Farm Sector Financial Health.”

The public sector of high-income countries accounts for a shrinking share of global spending on food and agricultural R&D

Monday, September 10, 2018

In high-income countries—such as the United States, Australia, and France—investment in agricultural research and development (R&D) has been a key factor in producing the new technologies that have raised output and reduced input use in agriculture. Recent ERS research found that public sectors in high-income countries accounted for a significant but declining share of total global spending on agricultural R&D. As recently as 1990, public-sector R&D spending by high-income countries accounted for about 36 percent of total public and private spending on food and agricultural research worldwide. That share had fallen to less than 25 percent by 2011. Although public agricultural R&D spending by high-income countries rose in 1990-2011, it rose much faster in developing countries. Total private R&D spending also rose much faster than public agricultural R&D spending in high-income countries during this time period. After adjusting for inflation, aggregate public agricultural R&D spending by high-income countries peaked in 2009, and subsequently declined. This chart appears in the ERS report Agricultural Research Investment and Policy Reform in High-Income Countries, released May 2018.

The number and value of Value-Added Producer Grants have varied substantially

Friday, August 24, 2018

USDA’s Value-Added Producer Grant (VAPG) program provides grants intended to help farmers and ranchers add greater value to agricultural commodities, such as through additional processing or marketing of new products. For example, producers could adopt organic practices, turn berries into jam, or process meat into sausage. The number of grants and the amount of grant money obligated under the VAPG program have fluctuated substantially since the program began in 2001. That year, USDA issued 62 VAPGs worth nearly $19.9 million in total funding. In 2015, by comparison, USDA issued 365 grants worth a total of about $44.2 million. Data fluctuated from year to year, largely due to VAPG funds rolling over to the next fiscal year. In many cases, a fiscal year included obligations for two VAPG cycles. Or in the case of 2002 and 2009, there were no obligations due to combining fiscal years for one VAPG cycle. This chart appears in the May 2018 ERS report, USDA’s Value-Added Producer Grant Program and Its Effect on Business Survival and Growth.

Young farmers who owned more of their land also borrowed more and bought more land

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

For many farmers, farm real estate represents a substantial share of total household wealth and is the most important source of equity used to secure loans. Recent ERS research tested the extent to which owning a larger share of their land allowed farmers in different age groups to borrow more, buy more land, or expand operations. Younger farmers (under age 50 in 1997) may need more credit (because they are in a growth phase of the business) and may be more constrained by their wealth (because they have less of it). For younger farmers, owning an additional 1 percent of one’s land increased the growth rate of interest expenses on real estate-secured debt by 1.44 percentage points between 1997 and 2007. Younger farmers with larger land wealth gains also bought more land: owning an additional 1 percent of one’s land increased the growth rate in land owned by 1.01 percentage points. For the average farm in the sample, that would increase interest expenses by $281, debt by $3,465, and land owned by 4.9 acres. There was no significant effect for older farmers. This chart appears in the February 2018 Amber Waves feature, “Changing Farmland Values Affect Renters and Landowners Differently.

Small farms produce a different mix of commodities than larger farms

Monday, August 13, 2018

Commodity mixes differ by farm size. For example, hogs and poultry accounted for 29 percent of the production of small farms in 2016, a much greater share than in other size classes. Small farms typically raise the animals for processors under contracts, which reduces price risks and allows them access to bank financing. Dairy production and fruit, vegetable, and nursery crops—where economies of scale give an advantage to larger farms—accounted for 59 percent of the output of very large farms, compared to 12 percent of the output of small farms. Midsize farms emphasize corn and soybean production, as well as other field crops. This chart updates data found in the March 2018 ERS report, Three Decades of Consolidation in U.S. Agriculture.

Since the late 1970s, agricultural productivity growth in high-income countries has raised output and reduced farm input use

Monday, August 6, 2018

In high-income countries—such as the United States, Australia, and France—increases in productivity typically account for nearly all growth in agricultural outputs. Productivity growth may also reduce the amounts of land, labor, capital, or other inputs used in farm production. Between 1961 and 2014, aggregate agricultural outputs in high-income countries increased by 98 percent (nearly doubling), while total inputs declined by 14 percent. Total inputs grew slowly until the late 1970s and have declined ever since. The mix of inputs also changed, with capital and material inputs substituting for labor and land. Overall, the growth in agricultural outputs and the decline in inputs implies that total factor productivity—the total productivity of the land, labor, capital, and material inputs employed in production—more than doubled over this 54-year period. Investment in agricultural research was a key factor in producing the new technologies that have raised productivity. This chart appears in the ERS report Agricultural Research Investment and Policy Reform in High-Income Countries, released May 2018.

Including asset appreciation and tax-loss benefits raises average farm household economic returns for all types of farms

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Of the roughly 2 million U.S. farm households, more than half report negative income from their farming operations each year. Most farms are small, and the proportion incurring farm losses is higher for households operating smaller farms—where most or all of their income is typically derived from off-farm activities. However, many households offset their off-farm income with these farm losses, thus reducing their taxable income. Also, in many years, farm real estate values have increased, which bolsters the economic returns for farmland owners. When these tax-loss benefits and changes in farm real estate values are taken into consideration, the returns to farming increased in 2015. For example, for residence farm households, estimated average returns increased from a negative $2,241 to positive $13,619. The increases in average returns for intermediate and commercial farm households were even greater. Finally, the share of total farm households with positive returns from their farm operation rose from 43 percent to 70 percent, primarily due to the broad increases in farmland real estate prices in 2015. This chart appears in the August 2018 ERS report, Economic Returns to Farming for U.S. Farm Households.

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