In an indirect sign of stress in the farm sector, small agricultural banks are making adjustments, such as syndicating loans and charging higher interest rates, to offset risk in the face of high demand for farm loans, said the Federal Reserve in its quarterly Ag Finance Databook. The Fed's Beige Book, meanwhile, said spring floods in the northern Plains and western Corn Belt could put an additional burden on a farm sector coping with low commodity prices.
Aside from planning a 4-percent expansion of corn area, U.S. farmers aren't enthusiastic about spring planting. With little improvement expected in commodity prices, growers say they will plant fewer acres of soybeans, wheat, cotton, rice, sorghum and oats than in 2018, and they'll stand pat on barley.
The USDA forecast net farm income of $69.4 billion this year. If accurate, the total would be the third year of net income below $70 billion since 2015. “We’re starting to see ... a new average coming out here,” said USDA economist Carrie Litkowski on Wednesday.
Cotton growers plan to expand their plantings by a sharp 3 percent this spring, taking away land from soybeans, the most prominent casualty of the Sino-U.S. trade war, said the National Cotton Council over the weekend. Meanwhile, the USDA said the soybean stockpile will double in size by the time this year's crop is ready to harvest, creating the largest "carryover" ever.
U.S. farm income will be slightly higher than expected this year due chiefly to $4.7 billion in Trump tariff payments that will buffer the impact of trade war on commodity prices, says the USDA. With the bailout, farmers are forecast to collect $13.6 billion in direct farm payments, the largest amount in 12 years.
Across the Farm Belt, ag bankers forecast a continued decline in farm income as winter arrives, reported four regional Federal Reserve banks on Thursday. Low commodity prices worry farm lenders, and a Minnesota banker said that the “trade war needs to be resolved to provide stability for customers.”
Farmers typically try to stretch their dollars during the summer in the expectation that payday will arrive with the fall harvest. Not this year. Ag bankers report the largest summertime increase in non-real-estate loan volume in 16 years and it was driven primarily by demand for operating loans to pay day-to-day expenses, said a quarterly Federal Reserve report.
Already-bulging U.S. corn and soybean stockpiles are much larger than expected, said a USDA report, compounding the effects of a trade war and bumper crops on the farm economy. Farm income this year is forecast to be the lowest since 2006.
Corn may be more profitable than soybeans in 2019, but that isn’t saying much about the outlook for midwestern farmers, say a pair of agricultural economists from the University of Illinois.