According to a survey of more than 20,000 American farmers, 58 percent have experienced income fluctuations of at least 50 percent over the course of two consecutive years. Fewer than 10 percent for all U.S. households experienced the same level of variation.
USDA’s Economic Research Service examined farmers’ income volatility from 1997 to 2013 using the Agricultural Resource Management Survey, the most comprehensive survey of U.S. farm households.
The report suggests that the 1.4 million people who consider farming their primary occupation may struggle to obtain credit, expand and pay debt due to such extreme shifts in income.
“Farming is risky business and this new study helps define just how risky,” said Tom Zacharias, an economist and president of National Crop Insurance Services. “But the study also shows the public-private partnership that is federal crop insurance is helping farm families deal with that risk.”
Farms growing insured crops were reported to have their annual income volatility decline faster than other farms.
“These results suggest that efforts to increase risk management as a center piece of farm programs have had a positive effect in lowering farm income variability,” Zacharias observed. “The study is part of a growing body of scientific evidence that shows crop insurance is a fiscally responsible tool for farmers and the American taxpayer.”
Crop insurance is delivered by the private sector, which helps maximize efficiency. Farmers collectively pay $3.5 to $4 billion a year for protection, so taxpayers aren’t left holding the entire bag after disaster strikes. It also means faster payments after verified losses instead of waiting for Congress to approve disaster relief legislation.
Today, it covers more than 130 different kinds of crops and protects a record 311 million acres of ranch and farmland – an area the size of California, Texas and New York combined.
Crop insurance gives banks confidence to extend loans because it helps farmers manage their business’ unique risks and avoid bankruptcy after floods and droughts.
“The well-documented track record of crop insurance, along with this new study and the many that have come before it, makes a strong case for continuing to provide a safety net for farmers that maintains a strong crop insurance component,” concluded Zacharias.