By STEVE BINDER
WASHINGTON, D.C. — When the USDA this week releases its latest report regarding farm income for 2012, it is expected to show despite one of the worst droughts on record, the farm sector overall will post record income totals.
But that’s just the bottom-line picture. If one drills deeper into the numbers, what emerges is an image of “feast” or “famine,” ag economists say. For the most part, grain growers did well because of record prices this year and because a majority of farmers carried crop insurance.
On the flipside, livestock producers and dairy farmers took it on the chin because of high feed prices – although, these have dropped a bit during the past month, said Jason Henderson, who leads the Kansas City Federal Reserve Bank’s branch in Omaha. It is one of three Federal Reserve regional banks that oversee Farm Belt lending, along with those in Chicago and St. Louis.
“Farm income (nationwide) still is expected to be strong, but in our area (six Plains states) it likely will be lower. We have two tales of agriculture,” Henderson said.
Also driving up income for 2012 overall were continued record land prices. On average, farmland values were up 18 percent in Iowa and more than 15 percent in Illinois, said David Oppedahl, an economist with the Federal Reserve Bank in Chicago.
“A lot of farmers think the future of agriculture is promising and want to expand,” he said.
The most recent 2012 farm income estimates from the USDA were released in August, and it projected overall income at $122 billion, up by about 3.7 percent. Gross income was pegged at $451.4 billion, with expenses at $329.1 billion.
Five years ago, total farm income was about $85.1 billion, according to the USDA, meaning income has risen about 43.4 percent during the last half-decade. Darrel Good, an ag economist at the University of Illinois, took note of this year’s “feast” or “famine” picture of agriculture in 2012.
“The USDA numbers always look at total income and not the distribution of that,” he said. “There is a huge amount of (income) variability in the crop sector. And if you include the livestock sector, the picture is very different. It’s not nearly as rosy.”
Rainfall patterns and crop insurance were two keys to income production this year, said Gary Schnitkey, a farm management specialist with U of I extension.
Farms that received timely rainfall and produced adequate crops put farmers in an advantageous position because of record-high grain prices, he explained.
“Low yields aren’t necessarily bad for income,” he said.
About 60 percent of Illinois’ acres used for grain growing had a high level of crop insurance, 20 percent of acres were modestly insured and another 20 percent had no insurance coverage, Schnitkey explained.
“The acres that have a high level of insurance will offset the yield declines,” he noted. “Most took revenue protection guarantees and it worked exactly like it should.”