ERS Charts of Note
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Thursday, January 12, 2023
From 2015 to 2021, the median total household income for commercial U.S. farms rose an estimated 16 percent, to $278,339 from $238,994. Commercial farms earn more than $350,000 gross cash farm income regardless of the principal operator’s occupation. In 2021, the median total household income for commercial farms remained above the median income of $75,201 for all U.S. households. Farm households rely on a combination of on-farm and off-farm sources of income. On-farm income is determined by farm costs and returns that vary from year to year, and in any given year a majority of farm households report negative farm income. Off-farm sources—including wages, nonfarm business earnings, dividends, and transfers—are the main contributor to household income for most farm households. Because households operating commercial farms rely mostly on on-farm sources of income, they experience the largest shocks in household income when farm sector income rises or falls. This chart uses data from the new USDA, Economic Research Service and USDA, National Agricultural Statistics Service’s Agricultural Resource Management Survey (ARMS) webtool, released in December 2022, as shown through the ARMS Farm Financial and Crop Production Practices data product.
Monday, January 9, 2023
For most U.S. farm households, off-farm sources are the main sources of income. In 2021, earnings from farming accounted for an estimated 23 percent of the average income of farm operator households. Of the off-farm income, 57 percent came from wages earned by farm operators and their spouses. The rest is income from other nonfarm businesses, interest and dividends, transfers, and other miscellaneous nonfarm sources (43 percent). Transfer income, such as retirement benefits, makes up 25 percent of off-farm income, with most coming from public sources. For farm households, off-farm income can help manage risks associated with farm income variability. This chart appears in the USDA, Economic Research Service’s topic page Farm Household Well-being, reflecting data released December 1, 2022.
Thursday, August 18, 2022
In 2020, the median value of farm operator household income was $80,060, almost a fifth greater than that of all U.S. households ($67,521) but lower than the median among U.S. households reporting self-employment income ($89,492). Median total household income increased with farm size according to classifications by the USDA, Economic Research Service. Two types of small family farms had median household income below both the median for U.S. households and U.S. households with self-employment income: low-sales farms, those with gross cash farm income (GCFI) less than $150,000 and a principal operator who farms as a primary occupation, and retirement farms, GCFI less than $350,000 and a principal operator reporting having retired from farming. Low-sales and retirement farms account for about 45 percent of the 2 million farms in the United States. On the other hand, large family farms, GCFI of $1 million but less than $5 million, had a median income of almost $375,000, far exceeding the median for both all U.S. households and U.S. households with self-employment income. Very large family farms, GCFI of $5 million or more, had the highest median income at more than $1 million. Large and very large family farms account for about 3 percent of farms. Most farm households earn the majority of their income from off-farm sources such as wages, which are used to offset farming costs. This chart appears in the ERS report America’s Diverse Family Farms, 2021 published December 2021.
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.
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.
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.
Friday, September 10, 2021
H-2A is a Federal program that allows employers in the United States to bring in foreign workers on short-term labor contracts when farm operators cannot find enough domestic workers. Over the last decade, H-2A positions certified by the U.S. Department of Labor increased 225 percent—from 79,175 in 2010 to 257,674 in 2019. Each position certified was placed within one of the five product categories: animal products, field crops, fruit and tree nuts, greenhouse and nursery, and vegetables and melons. All categories experienced some growth in program use over the period, but growth was highest in the vegetables and melons and fruit and tree nuts categories. The number of H-2A positions certified in the vegetables and melons category increased from 20,584 in 2010 to 88,863 in 2019—an increase of 332 percent. This chart appears in the Economic Research Service report, Examining Growth in Seasonal H-2A Agricultural Labor, released August 2021.
Friday, August 6, 2021
Family farms are any farm organized as a sole proprietorship, partnership, or family corporation—and accounted for 98 percent of all U.S. farms in 2019. Family farm households received Coronavirus (COVID-19) related financial assistance from multiple Federal sources, including Economic Impact Payments (EIP) and Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC). These payments provided farm households with an immediate injection of cash to spur demand and mitigate the economic downturn. The full EIP amounted to $1,200 for individuals or $2,400 for couples filing jointly, with an additional $500 per dependent. To qualify for a full stimulus payment, joint filers, heads of household, and all other tax-filing individuals must have had an adjusted gross income (AGI) of less than $150,000, $112,500, and $75,000, respectively, based on their 2018 or 2019 taxes. According to data from USDA’s 2019 Agricultural Resource Management Survey (ARMS), the median married and unmarried household may have received an increase in one month’s total household income of 30 percent and 24 percent, respectively, as a result of EIP. Researchers from USDA, Economic Research Service (ERS) also estimated that family farm households received a total of $4.3 billion from EIP, with 84 percent going to married households. FPUC provided $600 per week (March 29, 2020 to July 25, 2020) to those who were unemployed during the COVID-19 pandemic (in addition to existing State unemployment benefits). Many farm households rely on off-farm employment, with 71 percent having one or more household members who earned an off-farm salary or wages in 2019. ERS researchers used county-level unemployment data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics to estimate the average FPUC payment at $996 per household and the total for all farm households at $1.3 billion. In total, EIP and FPUC provided $5.6 billion in assistance to farm households in 2020. Family farm households also received COVID-19 related assistance from other Federal sources—including the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP, $23.7 billion) and the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP, $5.9 billion). This chart is based on data from the ERS data product ARMS Farm Financial and Crop Production Practices, updated May 2021.
Wednesday, July 21, 2021
Errata: On July 28, 2021, the chart was revised to correct an error in presentation. No other data or text were affected.
Government payments to farm operator households totaled $14.8 billion in 2019, based on data from USDA’s Agricultural Resource Management Survey. More than 30 percent of about 1.97 million U.S. farms received some Government payments that year, with an average payment of $24,623. The distribution of payments varied by farm type, which USDA’s Economic Research Service defines based on gross cash farm income (GCFI) and operator type. About 74 percent of commercial farms (those with $350,000 or more in annual GCFI) received Government payments in 2019, with an average payment of $84,775. By comparison, about 31 percent of intermediate farms (less than $350,000 in annual GCFI and a principal operator whose primary occupation is farming) received Government payments, with an average payment of $11,731. About 24 percent of all residence farms (less than $350,000 in annual GCFI and a principal operator who is retired from farming or has a primary occupation other than farming) received Government payments, with an average payment of $8,147. The distribution of payments also varied by the type of Government program. Across programs, average payments were always highest for commercial farms and typically lowest for residence farms, with intermediate farms in the middle. For example, average countercyclical payments in 2019 were $28,093 for commercial farms, compared with $5,800 and $2,660 for intermediate and residence farms, respectively. The only exception was in conservation payments, where intermediate farms had the lowest average payments. This chart appears in the July 2021 Amber Waves finding, Commercial Farms Received the Most Government Payments in 2019. For more information on the Federal programs discussed above, visit the topic page for Farm & Commodity Policy.
Wednesday, June 23, 2021
Farm households earn income from both farm operations and off-farm sources, such as off-farm employment, pensions, and capital gains. In 2019, more than half (51 percent) of all U.S. farm households had positive net returns, where total revenue from farming exceeded total costs. Farms with higher sales had a larger share of households with positive farm income. For example, 39 percent of farm households with annual gross sales less than $10,000 had positive farm income, compared with 85 percent of farms with sales of $1 million or more. At the same time, 56 percent of households operated the smallest farms with sales of less than $10,000, compared with 4 percent operating the largest ones with annual sales of $1 million or more. Households operating larger farms relied more on income from farming than households operating smaller farms. For instance, households that operated farms with sales of $1 million or more—and that had net positive returns—earned a median share of 87 percent of their income from farming. For those with sales less than $10,000, that median share was 5 percent. This chart is based on data from the ERS data product ARMS Farm Financial and Crop Production Practices, updated December 2020.
Wednesday, June 9, 2021
Women play an integral part in farming, either as a principal operator or as a secondary operator. In 2019, more than half (51 percent) of all farming operations in the United States had a woman principal or at least one woman secondary operator. Women were primarily responsible for the day-to-day operation decisions—the “principal operator”—on 14 percent of farms. In 37 percent of operations, women were “secondary operators,” meaning they were involved in decisions for the operation but were not the principal operators. The share of principal farm operators who were women varied by commodity specializations. In 2019, the two largest shares of women principal operators were found on farms specializing in poultry (31 percent) and other livestock (about 30 percent). Operations specializing in dairy production had the largest share of operations with at least one woman secondary operator, about 54 percent. The smallest share (about 33 percent) of women operators, either principal or at least one secondary, was found on cotton farms. Among operations with at least one woman operator, 78 percent of the women were the principal operator’s spouse and worked on the farm. This chart is found in the Economic Research Service report, America’s Diverse Family Farms: 2020 Edition, released December 2020. It also appears in the June 2021 Amber Waves article, “Women Identified as Operators on 51 Percent of U.S. Farms in 2019.”
Friday, May 7, 2021
In 2020, the Federal Government provided assistance to farm operations that experienced losses because of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. The aid came in the form of loans from the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and payments from the two iterations of the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP), programs 1 (CFAP 1) and 2 (CFAP 2). PPP, administered by the U.S. Small Business Administration, provided loans to small businesses to help them keep their workers employed during the pandemic. CFAP, administered by USDA’s Farm Service Agency, provides assistance to agricultural producers whose operations were directly affected by the pandemic. The PPP loan amount each farm business could receive depended on their income and employment costs, while CFAP payments were based on commodity prices, previous sales, acres, and/or inventory. USDA, Economic Research Service (ERS) researchers compared the total amount of PPP loans plus CFAP payments received in each State in 2020 to its 2019 value of production (estimates of the 2020 value of production are not yet available). Massachusetts received the largest share of total loans and payments relative to the State’s 2019 value of production (12.2 percent), and South Dakota came in second at 11.1 percent of its 2019 production. California, which had the highest value of agricultural production in 2019, received the largest total amount of PPP and CFAP aid at $3.1 billion. Iowa, which had the second highest level of agricultural production in 2019, was No. 2 with $2.4 billion in assistance. This chart used data found in the ERS data product Farm Income and Wealth Statistics, Farm sector financial indicators, State rankings, updated February 2021.
Monday, April 26, 2021
Farm households obtain income from farming and off-farm income, such as salaries, pensions, and investment interest. Among farm businesses, off-farm wage and salary income varied by commodity specialization. For general crops, beef cattle, and poultry operations, average off-farm wage and salary income contributed more than half of total household income. Dairy operations, by comparison, averaged $37,339 in off-farm wage and salary income, the lowest of any commodity. Dairy operations require extensive and ongoing time commitments, so managing a dairy farm rarely permits an operator to work many hours off-farm. As a result, dairy farm households relied primarily on income from the operation, an average of $148,831 in 2019. This chart is based on data from the ERS data product ARMS Farm Financial and Crop Production Practices, updated December 2020.
Wednesday, April 14, 2021
Created in 1916, the Federal estate tax is a tax on the transfer of property from a deceased person to their heirs at death. Legislation enacted over the last several years has greatly reduced the Federal estate tax by increasing the exemption amount from $675,000 in 2000 to $11.58 million in 2020. Under the present law, the estate of a person who owns assets above the exemption amount at death must file a Federal estate tax return. However, only returns that have an estate above the exemption after deductions for expenses, debts, and bequests to a surviving spouse or charity are subject to tax at a rate of 40 percent. Researchers from USDA, Economic Research Service (ERS) estimated that about 31,000 principal farm operators died in 2020. Of those estates, an estimated 189 (0.6 percent) will be required to file an estate tax return—and only 50 (0.16 percent) will owe Federal estate tax. Total Federal estate tax liabilities from farm estates owing taxes were forecasted to be $130.2 million in 2020 from a total estimated estate value of $56.3 billion. This chart appears in the April 2021 Amber Waves finding, “Less Than 1 Percent of Farm Estates Owed Federal Estate Taxes in 2020.”
Friday, March 5, 2021
Farm households often rely on off-farm employment to provide other benefits, including health insurance, and to supplement their income. Loss of off-farm employment because of the COVID-19 pandemic can strain a farm household’s financial well-being. In 2019, 50 percent of all U.S. family farm households had the principal operator, the principal operator’s spouse, or both the principal operator and spouse working in an off-farm, wage-earning job. The shares of households working off-farm varied by the farm’s economic class. For small farms with less than $100,000 in annual gross farm sales, 51 percent had the principal operator, the spouse, or both work off the farm. By comparison, 34 percent of large farms with annual gross farm sales of $1 million or more had the principal operator, the spouse, or both work off the farm. As the farm’s sales size increases, the share of principal operators working off the farm decreased. Smaller family farms generally don’t earn enough from farm sources alone to cover household living expenses, whereas larger farms usually require increasingly more on-farm labor and management resources. While this information predates the COVID-19 pandemic, it can provide insights into the potential impact of decreased employment rates, which can result in the loss of off-farm employment for many farm households. This chart updates data found in the USDA, Economic Research Service report, America’s Diverse Family Farms, 2019 Edition, released December 2019.
Tuesday, January 19, 2021
Off-farm income supplements farm income for most farm households, in addition to offering benefits such as health insurance. In 2019, about 71 percent of farm households had one or more household members earning an off-farm salary or wage. More than 40 percent of principal operators worked off-farm, contributing about 54 percent of the total off-farm labor hours reported for their households. Principal operators who reported off-farm employment worked on average 15 hours off the farm per week in 2019. Compared with the seasonality of on-farm work, off-farm work offered principal operators more consistency—with operators working about 25 percent of total off-farm hours in each quarter of the year. However, principal operators who worked more on-farm tended to work less off-farm across a variety of commodities. On average, principal operators with livestock, beef cattle, and fruit and tree nut farm operations worked fewer on-farm hours and more off-farm hours in 2019. Principal operators on those farms may be more vulnerable to disruptions in the off-farm economy, such as increased unemployment because of the COVID-19 pandemic. This chart updates data found in the December 2018 Amber Waves finding, “Farm Households Divide Their Time Between On-Farm and Off-Farm Labor.”
Friday, January 8, 2021
Errata: On January 13, 2021, the charts on residence and intermediate farms were revised to correct the labels for “Median total income” and “Median off-farm income.”
In 2020, USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS) expects the inflation-adjusted median household income for the principal operators of commercial and intermediate U.S. farms to increase by an estimated 29.6 percent and 4.9 percent, respectively. By comparison, household income for principal operators of residence farms is estimated to remain relatively unchanged. Many farm households rely on a combination of on-farm and off-farm income sources. Generally, residence farms rely most on off-farm income sources. ERS forecasts the median off-farm income for residence, intermediate, and commercial farm households to decline in 2020, with residence farms expected to have the largest percentage decline at 3.4 percent. This decline is due to estimated lost employment and wage income as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, which is partially offset by estimated Economic Impact Payments distributed to most U.S. households as part of the pandemic financial relief efforts. Median farm income for intermediate farm households is forecast to increase by 165 percent, from $662 in 2019 to $1,756 in 2020. By comparison, median farm income for commercial farm households is expected to increase by 39 percent, from $140,729 in 2019 to $194,982 in 2020. Median farm income for residence farms households is estimated to increase too, from –$810 in 2019 to –$160 in 2020. The increase in median farm income is due to pandemic financial relief payments from Federal programs, such as the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and the Coronavirus Food Assistance Programs (CFAP) 1 and 2. The increases in median farm incomes were partially offset by the decline in median off-farm income. Because households operating residence farms rely most on off-farm income sources and are estimated to receive smaller amounts of government programs, their median total household income is forecast to decline slightly overall. This chart uses data from ERS’s Agricultural Resource Management Survey webtool and the Farm Income and Wealth Statistics data product, released December 2020.
Friday, November 27, 2020
Hired farmworkers make up less than 1 percent of all U.S. wage and salary workers, but they play an essential role in labor-intensive industries within U.S. agriculture, such as the production of fruits, vegetables, melons, dairy, and nursery and greenhouse crops. Farm wages have risen over time for nonsupervisory crop and livestock workers (excluding contract labor). According to data from the USDA’s Farm Labor Survey, real (inflation-adjusted) wages rose at an average annual rate of 1.1 percent between 1990 and 2019. In the past 5 years, real farm wages grew even faster at an average annual rate of 2.8 percent. This is consistent with growers’ reports that the longstanding supply of workers from Mexico has decreased, as growers may respond over time by raising wages to attract workers from other sources. The gap between farm and nonfarm wages has slowly shrunk but is still substantial. In 1990, the average wage for nonsupervisory farmworkers—$9.80 an hour in 2019 dollars—was about half the $19.40 wage of private-sector nonsupervisory workers in the nonfarm economy. By 2019, the $13.99 farm wage was 60 percent of the $23.51 nonfarm wage. This chart appears in the October 2020 Amber Waves data feature, “U.S. Farm Employers Respond to Labor Market Changes With Higher Wages, Use of Visa Program, and More Women Workers.”
Monday, June 22, 2020
Nearly half of all family farm operators and their spouses reported having a job off the farm in 2018. The majority of households, regardless of farm size, report that they work off the farm because it is more lucrative than farm work, provides more reliable income, and may offer health and retirement benefits. Households had the option to report more than one reason for working off the farm. Among small family farms—those with annual gross cash farm income (GCFI) under $350,000—about 88 percent of these households reported working off the farm because it was more reliable and 75 percent because it was more lucrative. By comparison, among large-scale farm households—those with GCFI of $1 million or more—about 72 percent reported working off the farm because it was more reliable and 51 percent because it was more lucrative. In addition, about 40 percent of all principal operators or their spouses who work off the farm listed farm-related financial stress, such as low commodity prices or low farm revenue, as a reason for having a job off the farm. This chart appears in the March 2020 Amber Waves article, “Family Farm Households Reap Benefits in Working Off the Farm.”
Monday, March 16, 2020
USDA’s Economic Research Service classifies farm households based on the annual gross cash farm income (GCFI) of the farm that they operate, and further separates small farms by the primary occupation of the principal operator. Data from USDA’s Agricultural Resource Management Survey consistently show that income earned off the farm is an important source of income for most farm households. Nearly half of all family farm operators and their spouses reported having a job off the farm in 2018. In general, spouses of principal operators are more likely to work off the farm, except among those classified as off-farm occupation farms. However, off-farm employment varies across farm types. For example, only 11 percent of operators of large farms and 3 percent of very large farms have a job off the farm, while between 17 and 19 percent of those operating low-sales, moderate-sales, and mid-size farms have an off-farm job. About 20 percent of operators on retirement farms hold off-farm jobs. This chart appears in the December 2019 report, America’s Diverse Family Farms: 2019 Edition.