by Jim Erickson
Women’s share of farm operations varies widely by type of enterprise
Women are the principal operators of nearly 14 percent of U.S. farms, but their share varies widely by farm specialization.
Census of agriculture figures show women operate a disproportionately large portion of sheep/goat farms and other livestock farms, three-quarters of which are horse farms. Farms in these two categories tend to be small, with 46 percent of sheep/goat farms and 57 percent of other livestock farms having sales less than $1,000, compared with only 20 percent of all U.S. farms.
Establishments of this size qualify as farms under USDA’s definition because they have sufficient acres of crops or head of livestock to indicate they could normally have $1,000 or more in sales.
On the other hand, 1 percent of farms with a woman principal operator (2,486 farms) have sales of $1 million or more.
USDA expands microloan eligibility, increases lending limits
The USDA has acted to improve farm loans by expanding eligibility and increasing lending limits to help more beginning and family farmers.
As part of the effort, USDA has raised the borrowing limit for the microloan program from $35,000 to $50,000; simplified the lending processes; updated "farming experience" requirements to include other valuable experiences; and expanded eligible business entities to reflect changes in the way family farms are owned and operated. The changes became effective in November.
In addition to farm-related experience, other types of skills that may be considered to meet the direct farming experience required for farm loan eligibility include operation or management of a non-farm business, leadership positions while serving in the military or advanced education in an agricultural field.
U.S. ag co-ops set sales record, post job growth
The nation’s farmer, rancher and fishery cooperatives set a new sales record in 2013 with total business volume of more than $246 billion. That surpasses the previous record set in 2012 by $8 billion, a 4 percent gain. U.S. co-ops also enjoyed robust job growth over the previous year.
This third consecutive year of record sales by farmer cooperatives reflects increased sales in the overall farm economy in 2013. U.S. crop production and livestock sales both increased 6 percent in 2013, while production input (farm supply) sales increased 2 percent.
Ag co-ops also enjoyed record net income (before taxes) of $6.2 billion, besting the previous high of $6.1 billion set in 2012. Co-op income is either reinvested in the co-op for needed improvements or returned to the member-owners. It then circulates in local communities.
The number of full-time employees working for ag co-ops climbed by almost 7,000 in 2013 to 136,000, up 5 percent from 2012. Counting seasonal employees, ag co-ops employ 191,000 people.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said the sales and net income records, combined with strong gains in employee numbers, underscore the strength and productivity of the nation’s farmer- and rancher-owned cooperatives.
"These co-ops play a vital and growing role in the nation’s economy," Vilsack said.
Decline in crop returns, big gains in livestock receipts expected
Crop receipts are expected to decline 7 percent in 2014, the second annual decrease following a record high in 2012. Conversely, record livestock prices are projected to drive a 15.3 percent increase in livestock cash receipts.
Even with record corn production projected, cash receipts for corn are expected to decline by more than 20 percent due to a 32 percent decrease in the annual average corn price. Declines in receipts are also expected for most other major crops including fruits and nuts, wheat, soybeans and vegetables/melons.
A notable exception is cotton that is projected to recover from a significant decline in 2013.
Despite expected declines in beef production, cattle/calves receipts are expected to set a record in 2014 due to higher prices.
Hog production also is expected to decline, but higher expected annual average prices will drive the forecast increase in hog cash receipts.
Wholesale milk and broiler receipts are expected to benefit from higher production and record annual average prices.
Global stocks of major crops rising
Global stocks of major crop commodities are forecast to expand in the 2014/15 marketing year, with total supplies of wheat, rice, corn and soybeans completing a recovery from the relatively low levels that preceded the 2008 spike in world crop prices.
Record U.S. crops of corn and soybeans, along with good harvests by some other major producing countries, are forecast to push both U.S. and global stocks of these commodities to record levels.
World wheat stocks also are forecast to rise based on the outlook for record or near-record harvests by major foreign producers including China, the EU, India and the former Soviet Union.
While world rice stocks are forecast below peak levels of the early 2000s, good harvests and ample stocks are expected across the major producing regions in Asia.
As noted, the supply outlook is expected to lead to generally lower commodity prices.
Farms engaged in agritourism often have other nontraditional activities
Farms providing agritourism services typically produce other agricultural commodities and may provide a variety of other goods and services, according to USDA’s Economic Research Service.
Agritourism involves attracting paying visitors to farms by offering tours, harvest festivals, hospitality services (such as bed and breakfast), petting zoos and other attractions. Some agritourism farms also engage in direct marketing of fresh foods to individual consumers and/or retailers, value-added agriculture (such as the production of beef jerky, fruit jams, jelly, preserves, cider, wine and floral arrangements), generating renewable energy and custom work (such as machine hire and hauling for other farms).
All of these are considered nontraditional or niche activities involving innovative uses of farm resources.
While these nontraditional activities complement conventional farm operations, research suggests they also reflect higher levels of education and connections to the broader economy that are more typical of agritourism farm operators.
Ag exports hit another record high
The USDA has released its final total for U.S. agricultural exports in Fiscal Year 2014 and the figures show another record.
Export sales soared to $152.5 billion, up from last year’s record of $141 billion.
U.S. agricultural exports have risen 41 percent in value over the past 5 years and have increased in volume as well. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said the gains demonstrate "an increasing global appetite for high-quality, American-grown products."