What is in this article?:
- U.S. agriculture entered the most recent recession better positioned than most U.S. industries.
- The farm sector was bolstered by several years of strong income growth, rising farmland values, and low dependence on debt.
- Strong demand for agricultural products has bolstered both the performance and prospects of U.S. agriculture.
Bolstered by strong demand from developing countries, the falling dollar, and the growing importance of biofuels, U.S. agriculture enjoyed several years of high prices and strong demand prior to the 2008-09 recession. The same factors helped maintain high agricultural prices throughout the recession. Agriculture's relatively strong balance sheets and low overall use of debt entering and exiting the recession provide a financial base for future growth.
Because of strong demand for agricultural commodities and products, real U.S. farm income has been robust since 2004. This period of growth enabled farmers to improve their overall liquidity and strengthen their balance sheets. Gains in farm income also increased farmland values by raising expectations of future income flows. Inexpensive and accessible credit lowered the cost of financing farmland purchases and contributed to the surge in farmland values. As a result, farm financial assets grew by 31 percent and farm equity by 32 percent between 2004 and 2012.
Farm income dipped slightly in 2009 for most farm businesses. However, farmers were cushioned by good liquidity and low debt levels. The combination of rising farm income and land values, along with the likelihood of continued low interest rates over the near term, points toward farm business stability over the next few years.
Due to continued growth in farm earnings, farmland lost far less value during the recession than commercial and residential real estate. Some concerns arose that volatility in urban real estate markets over the last decade would spill over into markets for farmland, since farmland near urban areas derives value from its development potential. Findings from a recent ERS study of farmland values and ownership suggest otherwise. During the housing market downturn (2007-09) that affected all but the Plains and Delta regions, farmland values generally declined by less than rural housing values. And during the "boom" years of the U.S. housing market (2001-06), farmland values grew faster than rural housing values in many States.