By STEVE BINDER
WASHINGTON, D.C. — From their pocketbook perspective, it’ll remain a good year to be a farmer, according to the USDA. Forecasters with the agency predict net farm income in the United States will reach its highest level in 40 years, when adjusted for inflation.
Despite wicked drought conditions in the Southeast in 2011 and in most of the country last year, the USDA predicts growers and ranchers will rebound nicely beginning this year. Overall, the USDA said it expects net farm income to total about $128.2 billion in 2013, up from last year’s drought-affected total of $112.8 billion. In 2011, net farm income was pegged at $117.9 billion.
Driving net income totals will be increased production for corn and soybeans, which the USDA predicts will more than offset expected declines in prices farmers will get for the crops. And at the end of 2013, corn stockpiles are expected to rise by more than 2 billion bushels, more than tripling the supply left at the end of last growing season.
Even with the drought, growers produced an impressive 10.76 billion bushels of corn thanks in large part to drought-resistant seeds, more planted acreage and better production measures, said Tom Vilsack, USDA secretary.
“American agriculture continues to endure an historic drought, with tremendous resolve,” he said. “The commitment of American producers to embrace innovation and adapt to new challenges has helped fuel growth for American agriculture over the past five years.
“I am also heartened that our farmers’ keen business sense is continuing the recent trend of strong farm finances, with farm equity set to reach another record high in 2013.”
The 2013 forecast estimates are based on a return to normal weather patterns, meaning drought conditions would subside for much of the Midwest and South. So far this year, that’s the case, said Jim Rasor, a meteorologist in southern Illinois who has tracked precipitation and temperature patterns for the past 30 years.
“My prediction is that the cycle will start to swing back toward cooler temperatures and more normal levels of precipitation this year,” he said.
The Great Plains, however, has not received yet received normal levels of rainfall this winter. Most of Nebraska and Kansas remain in drought.
“If we don’t get some above-normal rainfall through the next few months, we are going to enter the (growing) season very, very dry,” said Steve Nelson, president of the Nebraska Farm Bureau.
Hurt the worst last year by drought, and high feed prices, were livestock producers, but the USDA report projects a healthy rebound in livestock, dairy and poultry production. That’s thanks in part to a slowdown in rising feed prices. Last year, feed expenses totaled $63.7 billion for all American livestock producers, an increase of nearly 17 percent over feed costs of about $54.6 billion in 2011.
Also helping the bottom line for growers this year is an expected leveling of input prices. The USDA predicts fertilizers and pesticides will cost an estimated $60.6 billion this year, roughly commensurate with last year’s $60.3 billion.
Total production expenses are projected at $352.9 billion this year. Total gross income is pegged at $481.1 billion.
“As in the last several years, increases in farm-asset value are expected to exceed increases in farm debt, with farm real estate the main driving force,” according to the report.
Both the debt-to-asset ratio and debt-to-equity ratio are expected to reach historic lows, it adds. To view the report in full, go to www.ers.usda.gov/data-products