December 4, 2017

Sluggish farm economy continues to concern farmers

CHICAGO Ė Considering continued weakness in the farm economy, 33 percent of Illinois farmers surveyed expect the overall financial health of their farms to decline in 2018. Fifty-nine percent said they expect it to remain the same as in 2017. The answers are in response to an email survey of 275 members registered with Illinois Farm Bureauís (IFBís) Legislative Action Center.

"Itís not surprising that a combined 92 percent of our members expect the overall financial health of their farms to decline or merely remain the same," said Mike Doherty, senior economist, IFB. "Unfortunately, todayís commodity prices, input costs and overall farm economy have become commonplace for our members. Theyíve been dealing with deteriorating farm income for four years now and, unless we see a major weather event or significant market rally, farm income is unlikely to improve."

Fifty-two percent of respondents expect 2018 farm expenses to be higher than they were in 2017; 48 percent expect them to be lower.

Respondents said they plan to reduce farm business expenses and input costs in 2018 in the following ways:

85 percent plan to delay equipment purchases;

36 percent plan to cut farm debt to reduce interest payments;

33 percent plan to delay or cut back on chemical and fertilizer purchases;

26 percent plan to reduce hired labor costs; negotiate lower cash rents; and buy less expensive seed.

Respondents were asked to choose all options that applied.

"In this climate, farmers are looking for ways to cut expenses," Doherty said. "Itís not only a matter of financial awareness; for many, it will be an absolute necessity."

Respondents also ranked several priority issues in terms of importance in the coming year. The top concern was staying in the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and forging new trade agreements, followed by keeping crop insurance affordable; enacting federal tax reform; enacting healthcare policy that slows year-to-year health insurance premium increases; modernizing waterway infrastructure; and securing improvements to farm support programs in the 2018 farm bill.

"While membersí regulatory and legislative concerns represented in this yearís survey arenít new, the overwhelming concern surrounding NAFTA and trade agreements is," said Adam Nielsen, director, National Legislation and Policy, IFB. "Our farmers understand the importance of trade and value its contribution to their bottom lines, so itís always a priority. However, this yearís political focus on NAFTA, and talks of withdrawing from the trade deal, certainly keeps trade top-of-mind."

This is this seventh consecutive year IFB members have been surveyed in advance of the organizationís annual meeting.

The Illinois Farm Bureau is a member of the American Farm Bureau Federation, a national organization of farmers and ranchers. Founded in 1916, IFB is a non-profit, membership organization directed by farmers who join through their county Farm Bureau. IFB has a total membership of 398,283 and a voting membership of more than 79,450. IFB represents three out of four Illinois farmers.