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Off-farm income contributes significantly to households operating farms of all sizes

Friday, January 26, 2018

Most farm households rely on off-farm income, such as wages from a job outside the farm. Typically, only commercial farm households receive a substantial share of their income from the farm. For example, in 2016, the median farm income was negative $2,008 for households operating residence farms (where the operator primarily works off-farm or is retired from farming), while median off-farm income was $83,400. Households operating intermediate farms (smaller farms where the operator’s occupation is farming) also earn the bulk of their income from off-farm sources. In contrast, households operating commercial farms—where gross cash income is $350,000 or more—derive most of their income from the farm (nearly $144,000 in 2016). Changes to their total household income follow profits from farming. Most agricultural production takes place on commercial farms. In 2016, residential and intermediate farms together accounted for over 90 percent of U.S. family farms and one-quarter of the value of production. By comparison, commercial farms accounted for 9 percent of family farms and three-quarters of production. This chart is based on data from the ERS data product Farm Household Income and Characteristics, updated November 2017.

Farm sector profits forecast to stabilize in 2017

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

After several years of decline, net farm income in 2017 for the U.S. farm sector as a whole is forecast to be relatively unchanged at $63.2 billion in inflation-adjusted terms (up about $0.5 billion, or 0.8 percent), while inflation-adjusted U.S. net cash farm income is forecast to rise almost $2.0 billion (2.1 percent) to $96.9 billion. Both profitability measures remain below their 2000-16 averages, which included substantial increases in crop and animal/animal product cash receipts from 2010 to 2013. Net cash farm income and net farm income are two conventional measures of farm sector profitability. Net cash farm income measures cash receipts from farming as well as cash farm-related income, including government payments, minus cash expenses. Net farm income is a more comprehensive measure that incorporates noncash items, including changes in inventories, economic depreciation, and gross imputed rental income. Find additional information and analysis on ERS’s Farm Sector Income and Finances topic page, released November 29, 2017.

2017 net farm income and net cash farm income forecast up over 2016

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

After several years of declines, inflation-adjusted U.S. net farm income is forecast to increase about $0.9 billion (1.5 percent) to $63.4 billion in 2017, while inflation-adjusted U.S. net cash farm income is forecast to rise almost $9.8 billion (10.8 percent) to $100.4 billion. The expected increases are led by rising production and prices in the animal and animal product sector compared to 2016, while crops are expected to be flat. The stronger forecast growth in net cash farm income, relative to net farm income, is largely due to an additional $9.7 billion in cash receipts from the sale of crop inventories. The net cash farm income measure counts those sales as part of current-year income, while the net farm income measure counts the value of those inventories as part of prior-year income (when the crops were produced). Despite the forecast increases over 2016 levels, both profitability measures remain below their 2000-16 averages, which included surging crop and animal/animal product cash receipts from 2010 to 2013. Net cash farm income and net farm income are two conventional measures of farm sector profitability. Net cash farm income measures cash receipts from farming as well as farm-related income including government payments, minus cash expenses. Net farm income is a more comprehensive measure that incorporates non-cash items, including changes in inventories, economic depreciation, and gross imputed rental income. Find additional information and analysis on ERS’s Farm Sector Income and Finances topic page, released August 30, 2017.

Taxable farm income has fluctuated over time

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Nearly 90 percent of family farms are structured as sole proprietorships. These entities are not subject to pay income tax themselves; rather, the owners of the entities (farmers) are taxed individually on their share of income. Numerous Federal income tax law provisions allow farmers to reduce their tax liabilities by reporting losses. From 1998 to 2008, for example, taxable losses from farming (the red area of the chart) rose from $16.7 billion to $24.6 billion. This was due, in part, to changes in the tax code beginning in 2001 that expanded the ability of farms to deduct capital costs—such as tractors and machinery—in the year the equipment was purchased and used. Between 2007 and 2014, strong commodity prices bolstered farm-sector profits (the green area), but taxable net farm income (the blue line) remained negative. Farm sole proprietors, in aggregate, have reported negative net farm income since 1980; in other words, they’ve reported a farm loss due to higher farm expenses than income. In 2014, the latest year for which complete tax data are available, U.S. Internal Revenue Service data showed that nearly 67 percent of farm sole proprietors reported a farm loss. This chart appears in the ERS topic page for Federal Tax Policy Issues, updated January 2017.

Households operating larger farms get more of their income from farming

Friday, March 24, 2017

In 2015, farm households had a median total income of $76,735 per household—a third greater than that of all U.S. households ($56,516). Median total household income increased with farm size, with the median income of households operating small family farms approximating the U.S. median household and those operating larger family farms far exceeding it. The source of household income also varied with farm size: As farm size decreased, off-farm income represented a larger share of total household income. Households operating midsize and large farms (gross cash farm income or GCFI greater than $350,000) earned the majority of their total household income from their farm operations. By comparison, more than half of households operating small farms (GCFI less than $350,000) incurred small losses from farming, so the majority of their total household income came from off-farm sources. Wages from off-farm jobs accounted for more than half of off-farm income across all farm households. Farm households also receive significant income from transfers (such as Social Security or private pensions), interest and dividends, and non-farm business income. This chart appears in the ERS data product Ag and Food Statistics: Charting the Essentials, updated March 2017.

Over half of farmers had health insurance coverage through an employer

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Health insurance can help people and households manage the cost and uncertainty of healthcare expenses. Most Americans with health insurance coverage receive it through their employers, and farm households are no exception. Although many farm operators are self-employed, in the majority of farm households either the operator or spouse is employed off-farm. In 2015, more than half of farm household members had health insurance coverage through an employer—close to the rate for the overall U.S. population. Farmers reported similar rates to the general population in purchasing their health insurance directly from an insurance company—and are less likely to receive health insurance from a government-provided program, such as Medicare or Medicaid. Over 89 percent of farmers had some form of health insurance, similar to the general population (nearly 91 percent). This chart appears in the topic page for Health Insurance Coverage, updated December 2016.

U.S. farm sector’s working capital expected to continue weakening in 2017

Monday, February 27, 2017

Farm financial liquidity describes how easily the U.S. farm sector can convert assets to cash in order to meet its short-term debt obligations. One measure of liquidity is working capital, the difference between current assets (such as cash and inventory) and short-term debt. Higher working capital means better financial health for the farm sector. ERS expects that working capital for the farm sector could contract to $48 billion by the end of 2017. The erosion in working capital was caused both by the reduction in the value of current assets (down $87 billion since 2012) and growing current debt (up $30 billion since 2012). Although working capital has weakened since ERS started tracking this measure in 2012, this decline followed record highs in net cash farm income from 2011 to 2013. The balance sheet forecast also indicates that farm solvency ratios—which measure whether debt can be met in a timely manner—are favorable compared to 25-year historical averages. However, farm solvency has weakened for 5 consecutive years; taken together with the decline in working capital, this pattern reflects a modest increase in farm financial risk exposure for the sector as a whole. This chart is based on the ERS Farm Income and Wealth Statistics data product, updated February 7, 2017.

A typical  farm’s income varies more than for all farms as a whole

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Commercial farm income is highly variable from year to year, fluctuating with output and prices. Income variability can affect key farm decisions, including how much to invest in farm assets (such as land or machinery) and how much to save as a cushion for low-earning years. Aggregate statistics, like the median income for all farms, can provide useful insight into how the farm sector as a whole fares from year to year—but can mask considerable variation for individual farms. For example, farms in one region might be thriving, whereas in another region they might be experiencing low incomes due to a localized drought. Between 2000 and 2014, median farm income for commercial farms ranged from about $70,000 to $180,000, with income fluctuating between consecutive years an average of $20,000. By comparison, a typical (representative) commercial farm with the same average income as the median commercial farm (about $120,000) could see its income fluctuate much more—with an average income swing of $86,000. This chart appears in the ERS report “Farm Household Income Volatility: An Analysis Using Panel Data From a National Survey,” released February 2017.

U.S. farm sector’s net farm income forecast to continue to decline in 2017

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Net farm income is a conventional measure of farm sector profitability that is used as part of the U.S. Gross Domestic Product calculation. Following several years of record highs, net farm income trended downward from 2013 to 2016. For 2017, ERS forecasts net farm income will fall to $62.3 billion ($54.8 billion in inflation-adjusted terms). If realized, this would be an 8.7 percent decline from the prior year and a decline of 49.6 percent from the record high in 2013. The expected decline in 2017 net farm income is driven by a forecast reduction in the value of production. Crop value of production is forecast down $9.2 billion (4.9 percent), while the value of production of animal/animal products is forecast to decline by less than $1 billion (0.5 percent). Find additional information and analysis in ERS’ Farm Sector Income and Finances topic page, released February 7, 2017.

U.S. farm sector income forecasts down for 2016, led by lower animal/animal products receipts

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Net cash farm income and net farm income are two conventionally used and related measures of farm sector profitability. The first measure includes cash receipts, government payments, and other farm-related cash income net of cash expenses, while the second is more comprehensive and incorporates noncash transactions such as implicit rents, changes in inventories, and economic depreciation. Following several years of high income, both measures have trended downward since 2013. ERS forecasts that net cash farm and net farm income for 2016 will be $90.1 billion and $66.9 billion, respectively, or $80.9 billion and $60.1 billion, respectively, when adjusted for inflation (in 2009 dollars). Cash receipts declined across a broad set of agricultural commodities in 2015, and are expected to fall further in 2016—primarily for animal/animal products. Production expenses are forecast to contract in 2016, but not enough to offset the commodity price declines. Net cash farm and net farm income are below their 10-year averages, which include surging crop and animal/animal product cash receipts from 2010 to 2013. Find additional information and analysis in ERS’ Farm Sector Income and Finances topic page, updated November 30, 2016.

Less production and debt concentrated in highly-leveraged farm businesses than 20 years ago

Thursday, September 1, 2016

While the average leverage of farm businesses?as measured by debt-to-asset (D/A) ratios?has decreased over time, some farms remain highly leveraged. The D/A ratio that implies financial vulnerability varies with individual farm business characteristics, but a commonly used threshold to indicate high leverage is a D/A ratio greater than 0.4. Using this definition, highly-leveraged farms consistently accounted for a disproportionate but declining share of the total value of production by all farm businesses between 1992 and 2011. In 2011, 5.3 percent of farm businesses were highly leveraged and contributed 13.4 percent of farm businesses? total value of production; by comparison, in 1992, 9.5 percent of farm businesses, responsible for 19.6 percent of production, were highly leveraged. The declining role of highly-leveraged farms suggests the sector?s financial resiliency has increased over time because financial shocks?such as an unexpected drop in income or a sudden jump in interest rates?would likely affect fewer farm businesses, producing a smaller share of the value of production. This chart appears ?Farm Businesses Well-Positioned Financially, Despite Rising Debt? in the April 2014 Amber Waves online magazine.

Most farmers receive off-farm income, but small-scale operators depend on it

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Median total household income among all farm households ($57,050) exceeded the median for all U.S. households ($50,054) in 2011. More than half of U.S. farms are very small, with annual sales under $10,000; the households operating these farms typically draw all of their income from off-farm sources. Median household income and income from farming increase with farm size, as defined by sales. The typical household operating the largest commercial farms earned about $380,000 in 2011, and most of that came from farming. This chart is found in the chart collection, Ag and Food Statistics: Charting the Essentials, on the ERS website, updated September 2013.

Median farm household income has exceeded median U.S. household income in recent years

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Since the 1980s, ERS has reported an income measure for farm operator households comparable to the U.S. Census Bureau's measure for all U.S. households. From 1991 to 1997, median farm household income (which is driven almost entirely by off-farm income) was consistently less than median U.S. household income. Since 1998, however, the opposite has been true. The reversal may reflect greater returns to farm household skills employed off the farm, in addition to other factors such as changes in the composition of the farm population. As such, the size of the median household income gap reflects differences in the location and type of nonfarm jobs held by the typical farm and U.S. household, as well as variation in farm income. This chart is found in the ERS topic page on Farm Household Well-being, updated February 2014.

Contract broiler growers have higher median and greater range of household incomes

Thursday, September 1, 2016

For farmers, household income combines the income that the household receives from off-farm activities with the income that the household receives from the farm business, net of expenses and payments to other stakeholders in the business. Households that raise broilers have higher median incomes than other farm households, and other U.S. households. In 2011, the median income among all U.S. households was $50,504, while the median income among farm households was $57,050. The median for contract broiler growers was higher, at $68,455. However, median income doesn?t tell the whole story; the range of household incomes earned by broiler growers is also wider than other groups, even though contract growers are a much more demographically homogeneous than both the U.S. population and the overall farm population. The wider range reflects, in part, the financial risks associated with contract broiler production. Grower costs can vary widely, and flat annual broiler production in recent years has increased the risk that growers will get fewer chicks placed, or that their contracts won?t be renewed. This chart is found in the August 2014 Amber Waves feature, ?Financial Risks and Incomes in Contract Broiler Production.?

Most U.S. farm estates exempt from Federal estate tax in 2015

Thursday, September 1, 2016

The Federal estate tax applies to the transfer of property at death.?Under present law, the estate of a decedent who, at death, owns assets in excess of the estate-tax exemption amount?($5.43 million in 2015) must file a Federal estate-tax return. However, only those returns that have a taxable estate above the exempt amount (after deductions for expenses, debts, and bequests to a surviving spouse or charity) are subject to tax at a graduated rate, up to a current maximum of 40 percent. Based on simulations using farm-level survey data from USDA?s 2014 Agricultural Resource Management Survey (ARMS), about 3 percent of farm estates would have been required to file an estate tax return in 2015, while 0.8 percent of all farm estates would have owed any Federal estate tax. This chart is based on the ERS topic page on Federal Estate Taxes.

Reduced livestock receipts are largest contributor to the forecast decline in U.S. farm income for 2015

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Net farm income (NFI) is forecast to decline for the second consecutive year, after reaching recent historic highs in 2013. NFI is expected to fall nearly $33 billion (36 percent) from 2014?s estimate to $58.3 billion in 2015. The 2015 forecast would be the lowest since 2010, and $29.1 billion (in real terms) below the 10-year average. Crop receipts are expected to decrease by $12.9 billion from 2014, led by a projected $7.1 billion decline in corn receipts and a $3.4 billion decline in soybean receipts. Livestock receipts are also expected to decline, with the largest decreases expected for hog and dairy receipts. Total production expenses are forecast to fall by $1.5 billion in 2015, the first decline since 2009. Government payments are projected to rise 16 percent ($1.6 billion) to $11.4 billion in 2015. This chart is based on information found in the 2015 Farm Sector Income Forecast, updated August 25, 2015.

When working off-farm, operators most commonly work in management and professional occupations

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Most farm households earn income from nonfarm sources, and in 2011, roughly 56 percent of their nonfarm income came from off-farm jobs, on average. Based on USDA?s 2010 Agricultural Resource Management Survey, when working off-farm, 36 percent of farm operators and their spouses reported working in management and professional occupations. This share is much higher than that for nonmetropolitan area workers in general (25 percent) and is even higher than that for metropolitan area workers (32 percent). Among farm couples where the operator, spouse, or both reported working off-farm, operators of larger farms reported the highest shares of employment in management and professional occupations, suggesting that many of them are able to apply the knowledge and skills used in managing a sizeable farm operation to other areas of employment. This chart is found in ?When Working Off the Farm, Farm Operators Most Commonly Work in Management and Professional Occupations? in the September 2013 issue of ERS?s Amber Waves magazine.

Median farm household income forecast to decline slightly in 2014

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Median total farm household income is forecast to decline slightly in 2014 to $70,992, down from $71,504 forecast for 2013. Given the broad USDA definition of a farm and the large number of relatively small farms, most farm households earn all of their income from off-farm sources.? In 2014, median off-farm income is projected to increase by 3.7 percent to $64,840.? On the other hand, many farms are not profitable businesses even in the best farm income years; as a result, median income from farming is negative when calculated for all farm households. Sector-wide farm income is expected to dip in 2014, and median farm household income from farming is expected to decline to -$1,626. (Note: Because they are based on unique distributions, median total income will generally not equal the sum of median off-farm and median farm income.)? This chart is found in the ERS topics page, Farm Household Well-being, updated August 26, 2014.

The distribution of beginning farms reflects local farm economies

Thursday, September 1, 2016

In large part, the regional distribution of beginning farms mirrors that of all farms, but there are some differences. Beginning farms are located all across the country, but overall, the South is home to the largest percentage of beginning farms: 47 percent, which is about 5 percent higher than its share of all farms. The South also has the largest percentage of small beginning farms. Large-scale beginning farms are most likely to be in the Midwest, but with 30 percent of the nation?s beginning farms, the Midwest has fewer than its 37 percent share of all farms. The concentration of cash grain farms in the Midwest, which on average are larger than farms specializing in other types of commodities, not only explains the region?s higher shares of mid-size and large scale beginning farms, but may also explain the fact that fewer of its farms are operated by beginning farmers. This chart is found in the ERS topic page on Beginning & Disadvantaged Farmers, updated October 2014.

ERS revises its farm typology

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Nearly 15 years have passed since ERS first released its farm typology to classify farms into relatively homogeneous groups based on their gross farm sales, the primary occupation of their operators, and family farm status. A recent update to the ERS farm typology reflects commodity price inflation and structural changes in production that have occurred over time. In response to these changes, ERS recalibrated the size thresholds used in its farm typology, reduced aggregation among large farms, and changed its sales measure to reflect the growth in production contracts. To better reflect income earned by farm operators, we now measure farm size by gross cash farm income (GCFI)—the total revenue received by a farm business in a given year; after adjusting inflation, the new size thresholds for small, midsize, and large farms are as specified in the graph. Using the updated typology, 91 percent of U.S. farms were classified as small in 2010, and accounted for about 29 percent of the value of U.S. farm production. Large-scale family farms under the new typology—less than 2 percent of all farms—accounted for a disproportionately large 34-percent share of the value of production. This chart is based on table 9 in the ERS report, Updating the ERS Farm Typology, EIB-110, April 2013.

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