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Fixed cash leases make up 70 percent of all farmland rental contracts

Thursday, November 3, 2016

In the contiguous 48 States, about 354 million acres (or 39 percent) of U.S. farmland were rented in 2014. Eighty percent of that rented land was owned by non-operator landlords who are not actively engaged in a farm operation, while the remainder was rented from one farm operator to another. Farmland may be rented out under a fixed rental rate per acre (fixed cash), a rate that depends on post-harvest crop prices or yields (flexible cash), or an agreement where the landlord receives a portion of produced output (share). A landlord may also let a tenant use the land for free. In 2014, approximately 70 percent of leases used a fixed cash rent payment. Share-based agreements were the second most common contract type, used in 17 percent of leases. Both flexible cash and free agreements accounted for less than 10 percent of agreements. Fixed cash made up the majority of agreements across different U.S. regions and landlord subtypes, such as individual and corporate ownership entities. This illustrates the broad shift from share to cash agreements in recent years: in 1999, 57 percent of leases used a fixed cash agreement and 21 percent a share agreement. A version of this chart appeared in the ERS report U.S. Farmland Ownership, Tenure, and Transfer, released on August 25, 2016.

Younger farm operators are less likely to own all of the land they farm

Monday, September 12, 2016

Farms can be classified as full-owner, part-owner, or full-tenant operations based on whether the farmer owns all, some, or none of the land in the operation. In 2014, 60 percent of farmland acres in the United States were found in part-owner operations, 32 percent in full-owner operations, and 8 percent in full-tenant operations. Acreage in full-tenant operations make up a much higher share—27 percent of acres operated—for younger farmers, and much less—7 percent—for farmers 65 or older. It can take time for farmers to build up the financial capacity to purchase land outright; rental agreements can help young farmers and ranchers gain access to land during this time. The majority of farmland, nearly three-fourths of U.S. acreage, is operated by farmers 55 and older, who account for 83 percent of all land in full-owner operations. A version of this chart is found in the ERS report, U.S. Farmland Ownership, Tenure, and Transfer, released on August 25, 2016.

Ten percent of all land in farms is expected to be transferred during 2015-19

Friday, August 26, 2016

The relatively advanced age of the U.S. farming population—about a third of principal farm operators in 2014 were at least age 65 compared with 12 percent of self-employed workers in nonagricultural businesses—has sparked interest in the manner in which land will be transferred to other landowners, including the next generation of farm operators. Farmland owners planned to transfer 93 million acres in the next 5 years (2015-19)—10 percent of all land in farms—through a variety of means. Landowners anticipated selling 3.8 percent of all farmland, with just 2.3 percent planned to be sold to non-relatives. A larger share of land (6.5 percent) is expected to be transferred through trusts, gifts, and wills. The share of farmland available for purchase by non-relatives during 2015-19 will likely rise above 2.3 percent as some individuals (or entities) that inherit land may choose to sell it. And, those who inherit land but don’t sell it may decide to rent it out to farm operators. In 2014, 39 percent of all farmland was rented and 61 percent was owned by farm operators. This chart comes from the ERS report U.S. Farmland Ownership, Tenure, and Transfer, released on August 25, 2016.

Recent changes in farm real estate values exhibit wide variation across States

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Between 2010 and 2015, change in inflation-adjusted average farm real estate values (the value of farmland and buildings) varied widely across the 48 contiguous States. The value of farm real estate is expected to change over time to reflect changes in expectations for income streams from future use—including both agriculture and nonagricultural uses. Over 2010-15, the largest State percentage increases in farm real estate values occurred in the Northern Plains and Midwest regions, presumably based on expectations of high farm-based earnings. In contrast, while farmland values in the Northeast region are typically among the highest in the country, this is largely due to urban proximity rather than agricultural returns, and declines in farm real estate values generally reflect regional impacts from the downturn in the residential housing market. This map is based on the data visualization, Charts and Maps of U.S. Farm Balance Sheet Data, in the Farm Income and Wealth Statistics data product, February 2016.

USDA conservation funding shifts from land retirement toward working land

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

USDA relies mainly on voluntary programs providing financial and technical support to encourage farmers to conserve natural resources and protect the environment. In inflation adjusted terms, USDA conservation program expenditures increased by roughly 70 percent between 1996 and 2012. Much of the increases in real spending over this period occurred in working land programs and agricultural easements. Working land programs provide assistance to farmers who install or maintain conservation practices (such as nutrient management, conservation tillage, and the use of field-edge filter strips) on land in crop production and grazing. Agricultural easements provide long-term protection for agricultural land and wetlands. The Conservation Reserve Program—which pays farmers to remove environmentally sensitive land from production and encourages partial-field practices such as using grass waterways and riparian buffers—is still USDA’s largest conservation program, but has slowly ebbed in prominence. While real spending on USDA conservation programs rose under the 2002 Farm Act (2002-07) and the 2008 Farm Act (2008-13), the 2014 Farm Act reduced mandatory spending, and expenditures over 2014 and 2015 appear to be leveling off. This chart is found in the Ag and Food Statistics: Charting the Essentials data product on the ERS website.

Land in active crop production dips in 2015

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

The ERS Major Land Uses (MLU) data series provides a snapshot of land use across the United States. While much of the MLU series is updated roughly every 5 years, cropland used for crops, the category representing the acres of land in active crop production, is updated on an annual basis. Cropland used for crops has three main components: cropland harvested (including acreage double-cropped), crop failure, and cultivated summer fallow. In 2015 (the most recent estimate), the total area of cropland used for crops in the United States was 335 million acres, down 6 million acres from the 2014 estimate and about 5 percent below the 30-year average. In 2015, cropland harvested declined by 1 percent (3 million acres) over the previous year. The area that was double-cropped—land from which two or more crops were harvested—declined by 1 million acres, a 13-percent decline from the 2014 double-cropped area of 8 million acres. Acres on which crops failed declined by 30 percent over the past year to 7 million acres, the lowest level since 2010. This chart is based on ERS’s Major Land Uses, summary table 3: Cropland used for crops, updated March 25, 2016.

Editor's Pick 2015, #4:<br>Non-operating landlords own 31 percent of U.S. farmland

Monday, December 28, 2015

Of the 911 million acres of land in farms, 61 percent is operated by the land owner, according to the 2014 Tenure Ownership and Transition of Agricultural Land (TOTAL) survey. Another 8 percent (70 million acres) of land in farms is rented from other farm operators. The remaining land in farms (31 percent or 283 million acres) is rented from “non-operating landlords,” or landlord entities that are not currently farmer operators. The majority of acres owned by these non-operating landlords is held by individuals or in partnerships (191 million acres or 21 percent of land in farms). Corporations, trusts, or other ownership arrangements also rent out 92 million acres (about 10 percent of land in farms) to operators. Even though some agricultural land is owned by non-operating landlords, many of these landlords have prior farming experience. Of the 191 million acres owned in individual or partnership arrangements, nearly half were held by a retired farmer or rancher in 2014. Six percent of the acres owned in individual and partnership arrangements by non-operating landlord entities had a principal landlord that reported spending greater than 50 percent of their work time in farm or ranch work, but not as a farm operator. More information can be found on the ERS Land Use, Land Value & Tenure topic page.

The typical operator landlord rented out more acres than a non-operator landlord

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

According to the Tenure, Ownership and Transition of Agriculture Land (TOTAL) survey, 354 million acres of farmland in the lower 48 States were rented to farmers by 2.13 million landlords in 2014. The average amount of land rented out per landlord yields insights into whether rented farmland is concentrated amongst particular types of landlords. Operator landlords—farm operators who rent land to other farmers—typically rented out more acreage than non-operator landlords. Among non-operator landlords, the acres held in corporate, trust, and other types of non-operator ownership arrangements are more concentrated (proportionately more land in fewer hands) than individual and partnership non-operator landlords. The median rented acreage for farmers who rent land from others was 111 acres in 2014—larger than the median acreage rented to farmers by each landlord type. This means that most farm operators looking to rent farmland must instead piece together holdings from multiple landlords. This chart is found in the November 2015 Amber Waves data feature, “Tenure, Ownership and Transition of Agricultural Land (TOTAL) Survey 2014: A New ERS/National Agricultural Statistics Service Data Product.”

A majority of U.S. land in farms is operator owned

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Because land is a critical input to farming and farm real estate represents such a large portion of the value of farm sector assets (around 80 percent), the ownership of agricultural land is a topic of interest to farmers, lenders, policymakers and others concerned with the farm sector. Issues surrounding production practices and conservation, farm credit, land values, farm succession, land use, and farm structure, all require an understanding of land ownership and tenure. A majority of U.S. land in farms (62 percent) is operator-owned, according to the 2012 Census of Agriculture. The balance of farmland is rented, and the portion of rented land in farms has ranged from 35 percent to 43 percent over the 1950-2012 time period. Some farmland is rented from other farm operations—nationally about 8 percent of all land in farms in 2012. The majority of rented land in farms is rented from nonoperating landlords. In 2012, 30 percent of all land in farms was rented from someone other than a farm operator. This chart is found on the ERS topic page, Land Use, Land Value & Tenure.

Cropland harvested reaches 17-year high amid decline in crop failure

Thursday, September 3, 2015

The ERS Major Land Uses (MLU) series estimates land in various uses, including the acres devoted to crop production in a given year. These acres, collectively referred to as “cropland used for crops,” include acres of cropland harvested, acres on which crops failed, and cultivated summer fallow. In 2014 (the most recent estimate), the total area of cropland used for crops was 340 million acres, up 4 million acres from the 2013 estimate but in line with the 30-year average. In 2014, cropland harvested increased by 2 percent (6 million acres) over the previous year. The 317 million acres of cropland harvested represents the highest harvested acreage since 1997, when cropland harvested was 321 million acres. The area double cropped—land from which two or more crops were harvested—declined by 1 million acres, a 10 percent decline from the 2013 double-cropped area of 10 million acres. Acres on which crops failed declined by 25 percent over the past year to 9 million acres, the lowest level since 2010. Cultivated summer fallow, which primarily occurs as part of wheat rotations in the semiarid West, has remained relatively stable over the last 10 years, although its use has been declining since the late 1960s. Larger historical fluctuations seen in cropland used for crops are largely attributable to Federal cropland acreage reduction programs. This chart is based on ERS’s Major Land Uses, Summary table 3: Cropland used for crops, updated August 31, 2015 to include 2014 estimates.

Non-operating landlords own 31 percent of U.S. farmland

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Of the 911 million acres of land in farms in the continental U.S., 61 percent is operated by the land owner, according to the 2014 Tenure Ownership and Transition of Agricultural Land (TOTAL) survey. Another 8 percent (70 million acres) of land in farms is rented from other farm operators. The remaining land in farms (31 percent or 283 million acres) is rented from “non-operating landlords”, or landlord entities that are not currently farmer operators. The majority of acres owned by these non-operating landlords is held by individuals or in partnerships (191 million acres or 21 percent of land in farms). Corporations, trusts, or other ownership arrangements also rent out 92 million acres (about 10 percent of land in farms) to operators. Even though some agricultural land is owned by non-operating landlords, many of these landlords have prior farming experience. Of the 191 million acres owned in non-operator individual or partnership arrangements, nearly half were held by a retired farmer or rancher in 2014. About 6 percent of the acres owned in individual and partnership arrangements by non-operating landlord entities had a principal landlord that reported spending greater than 50 percent of their work time in farm or ranch work, but not as a farm operator. More information can be found on the ERS Farmland Ownership and Tenure topic page.

Growth in average U.S. farm real estate value slows

Friday, August 28, 2015

With a value of $2.38 trillion, farm real estate (land and structures) accounted for 81 percent of the total value of U.S. farm sector assets in 2014. Because it comprises such a significant portion of the U.S. farm sector’s asset base, change in the value of farm real estate is a critical barometer of the farm sector's financial performance. On average, U.S. (excluding Alaska and Hawaii) farm real estate values increased 2.4 percent (in nominal terms) to $3,020 per acre over the 12 months ending June 1, 2015. Growth in average values has slowed substantially relative to the previous three year mid-year to mid-year periods, when nominal farm real estate values increased over 8 percent annually. National averages mask wide regional variation. Based on nominal values, farm real estate in the Southern Plains and Pacific regions experienced the highest rates of appreciation of 6.1 percent and 5.8 percent (to $1,900 and $4,780 per acre), respectively, over the 12 months ending June 1, 2015. In contrast, farm real estate in the Corn Belt declined 0.3 percent (to $6,350 per acre). This chart is found on the ERS topic page on Land Use, Land Value & Tenure, updated August 2015.

Maintaining and restoring wetlands could remove nitrogen cost effectively over much of the Upper Mississippi and Ohio River watersheds

Monday, June 1, 2015

Every year, agriculture contributes an estimated 60-80 percent of delivered nitrogen and 49-60 percent of delivered phosphorous in the Gulf of Mexico. Nitrogen in waters can cause rapid and dense growth of algae and aquatic plants, leading to degradation in water quality as found in the hypoxic zone of the Gulf of Mexico, where excess nutrients have depleted oxygen needed to support marine life. Nitrogen removal is one of the many benefits of wetlands. An ERS analysis found that on an annual basis, the amount of nitrogen removed per dollar spent to restore and preserve a new wetland ranged from 0.15 to 34 pounds within the area of study (the Upper Mississippi/Ohio River watershed), or a range of $0.03 to $7.00 per pound of nitrogen removed. Restoring and protecting wetlands in the very productive corn-producing areas of Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio tends to be more cost effective than elsewhere in the study area. The study suggests that if nitrogen reduction was the only environmental goal, these corn-producing areas would be a good place to restore wetlands. Hydrologic conditions in the Upper Mississippi and Ohio River watersheds are unique, so the cost effectiveness of wetlands elsewhere is uncertain. This map is found in the ERS report, Targeting Investments To Cost Effectively Restore and Protect Wetland Ecosystems: Some Economic Insights, ERR-183, February 2015.

Costs of restoring and preserving wetlands vary across the United States

Friday, April 10, 2015

USDA’s costs of restoring and preserving new wetlands across the contiguous United States range from about $170 to $6,100 per acre, with some of the lowest costs in western North Dakota and eastern Montana and the highest in major corn-producing areas and western Washington and Oregon. To analyze conservation program expenditures, ERS researchers generated county-level estimates of wetland costs for each of the major wetland regions as designated by USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (outlined in black in the map), using primarily NRCS Wetland Reserve Program contract data. Variations in costs are driven by differences in land values and the complexity of restoring hydrology and wetland ecosystems. Information about how the costs of restoring and preserving wetlands vary spatially (together with the relative benefits) can inform wetland targeting policies within States/regions and across the U.S. This map is found in the ERS report, Targeting Investments to Cost Effectively Restore and Protect Wetland Ecosystems: Some Economic Insights, ERR-183, February 2015.

Increasing U.S. organic food sales encourage growth in organic farming

Friday, July 18, 2014

U.S. organic food sales have shown double-digit growth during most years since the 1990s and were estimated to have reached over $34 billion in 2013. According to the Nutrition Business Journal, organic food purchases now account for approximately 4 percent of total at-home U.S. food sales. Certified organic farmland has also expanded, although not as fast as organic sales, as organic production of acreage-extensive feed grains and oilseed crops has lagged growth in other organic sectors. Fresh produce is still the top organic sales category, and California and other States that grow these high-value organic crops have experienced growth in organic acreage since the 1990s. Overall, acreage used for organic agriculture accounted for 0.6 percent of all U.S. farmland in 2011 (0.5 percent of all U.S. pasture and 0.8 percent of all U.S. cropland). Major retailer initiatives to expand the number of organic products they sell could further boost demand. The 2014 Farm Act includes provisions to expand organic research, assist with organic certification costs, and provide other support for U.S. organic producers. This chart is found in “Support for the Organic Sector Expands in the 2014 Farm Act” in the July 2014 Amber Waves online magazine.

Changes in U.S. double-cropped acreage roughly mirror commodity prices

Friday, June 27, 2014

Double-cropped acreage has varied from year to year. Because decisions about double cropping are made annually, fluctuations are likely as farmers respond to changing market and weather conditions. For example, higher commodity prices give farmers more incentive to intensify production and could offset revenue shortfalls from lower potential yields when double cropping. From 2004 to 2012, total double-cropped acreage roughly paralleled soybean, winter wheat, and corn prices. When commodity prices at the time of planting decisions were increasing or relatively high, total double-cropped acreage also increased. Total double-cropped acreage peaked at 10.9 million acres in 2008, when prices for soybeans, winter wheat, and corn also peaked. In 2005 and 2010, nearly every region witnessed declines in double-cropped acreage amid commodity price declines. This chart is found in the ERS report, Multi-Cropping Practices: Recent Trends in Double-Cropping, EIB-125, May 2014.

Double-cropped acreage varies by region

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Over the last decade, growing demand for agricultural commodities—for both food and fuel—has increased the incentives for farm operators to raise production. Double cropping, the harvest of two crops from the same field in a given year, has drawn interest as a method to intensify production without expanding acreage. In the U.S., the prevalence of double cropping varies by region. The variation across regions reflects farmers’ response to local conditions such as weather, climate (particularly growing season length), policy differences, and market incentives. The Southeast, Midwest, and Southern Plains regions lead the country in total double-cropped acreage. About one-third of the total double-cropped acreage over 1999-2012 was in the Southeast (2.7 million acres on average), and slightly more than one-fifth was in the Midwest (1.8 million acres on average). However, relative to each region’s total cropland acreage, the Northeast, Southeast, and Southwest all have larger shares of cropland used in double cropping than other regions. The Northeast had the largest share of double-cropped acreage (nearly 10 percent, on average) of the region’s total cropland, and the Northern Plains had the smallest (less than 0.5 percent on average). This chart is found in the ERS report, Multi-Cropping Practices: Recent Trends in Double-Cropping, EIB-125, May 2014.

Poultry and dairy farm businesses typically have highest debt-to-asset ratios

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Debt use varies with a farm’s commodity specialization, as financing requirements to manage a farm business differ by commodity. Debt-to-asset ratios are a key measure of a farm’s leverage, the degree to which farm assets are financed by debt. Although several measures are necessary to evaluate the financial health of a farm operation, the debt-to-asset ratio is a widely used measure of risk of loan default. Debt-to-asset ratios tend to increase as farm size increases, and they also vary by farm specialization. Large-scale family farms specializing in dairy, and all sizes of poultry farm businesses, are generally more leveraged than farms specializing in the production of other commodities. These specializations generally face higher capital costs, which contribute to increased debt use. Farm businesses specializing in field crops, specialty crops, and beef have the lowest debt-to-asset ratios. This chart is found in “Farm Businesses Well-Positioned Financially, Despite Rising Debt” in the April 2014 Amber Waves magazine.

The 2012 Census of Agriculture finds slightly fewer U.S. farms

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

After peaking at 6.8 million farms in 1935, the number of U.S. farms fell sharply until leveling off in the early 1970s. Falling farm numbers during this period reflected growing productivity in agriculture and increased nonfarm employment opportunities. Because the amount of farmland did not decrease as much as the number of farms, the remaining farms have more acreage—on average, about 430 acres in 2012 versus 155 acres in 1935. Preliminary data from the recently released Census of Agriculture show that in 2012, the United States had 2.1 million farms–down 4.3 percent from the previous Census in 2007. Between 2007 and 2012, the amount of land in farms in the United States continued a slow downward trend, declining from 922 million acres to 915 million. This chart is found in the ERS chart collection, Ag and Food Statistics: Charting the Essentials, updated April 8, 2014.

Crop insurance indemnities and disaster assistance payments reflect the impact of drought on crop farms

Friday, February 28, 2014

Drought is the leading single cause of production losses to crop farms, followed by excess moisture, hail, freezes, and heat. Over the past four decades, a portion of the farm losses from all these weather-related causes have been covered by a combination of crop insurance and disaster assistance payments. Over this period, crop insurance has gradually grown in significance and is now a major component of the Federal safety net for crop farmers. The rise in total insurance indemnity payments is due to a combination of expanded enrollment in crop insurance, increased liabilities due to higher yields and commodity prices, and a series of major droughts in recent decades, capped by the 2012 drought. More than 80 percent of the acres of major field crops planted in the United States are now covered by Federal crop insurance, which can help to mitigate yield or revenue losses for covered farms. Droughts also have a major impact on livestock producers, principally through their effect on feed prices. (The accompanying chart does not include livestock-related assistance or pasture/rangeland indemnity payments.) This chart updates one found in The Role of Conservation Programs in Drought Risk Adaptation, ERR-148, April 2013.

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