American farmers and ranchers have faced a 50 percent decline in net farm income since 2013. This year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) projects that net farm income will fall to $62.3 billion, in the fourth consecutive year of decline. Median farm income is projected to be negative $1,400. Farm asset values are beginning to take a hit as a result of continued downward pricing pressures. In 2017, asset values are predicted to drop and farm debt is expected to increase. Debt-to-asset ratios, while only modestly increasing in 2017, are expected to be above the ten year average.
As working capital and liquidity continues to weaken, National Farmers Union (NFU) has been working hard at both the membership and legislative levels to draw attention to the issue and advance solutions. During the 2017 NFU annual convention, members passed a special order of business that highlights the financial stress brought on by the economic decline of the farm economy, as well as supports federal programs that assist farmers and ranchers in navigating challenging situations. NFU staff has redoubled efforts to share members’ stories with Congress and the new administration while advocating for policies advanced at the convention.
The House Committee on Agriculture has been particularly active ahead of the upcoming farm bill in examining federal programs and economic conditions. The Committee held 7 hearings during the 114th Congress exploring the farm economy from various perspectives. The Chairman and Ranking Member have committed to holding more hearings on the matter, including NFU and the newly confirmed Secretary of Agriculture, Sonny Perdue.
Throughout these hearings NFU has weighed in with committee leadership, committee members, and their staff. President Johnson, on behalf of NFU’s members, submitted letters for five of those hearings. His comments touched on access to credit, dairy, row crops, Farm Service Agency’s loan portfolio, and other issues. NFU staff ensured that all committee members’ staff were provided with copies to help inform their perspective. To view the statements for the record please visit here. (Hyperlink)
NFU staff holds near daily meetings with congressional offices. No matter the topic or reason for the visit, we never miss an opportunity to share the current plight of the family farmer and rancher. While congressional responses have been slow over the last two years, we are beginning to witness signs of awareness and a move to more concrete actions. The recently passed fiscal year 2017 spending package included increases for the Certified Agricultural Mediation Program and Farm Service Agency (FSA) loans. NFU has lobbied very aggressively for these increases. While additional support for dairy and cotton were not included as originally hoped, NFU has and will continue to engage Congress to find solutions.
Looking forward, there will likely be one more appropriations package passed before consideration of the next farm bill. Though tough budget cuts have been proposed, NFU is committed to pursuing direct and indirect support for farmers in this legislation. NFU will also be actively engaged in the farm bill drafting which is expected to commence as early as this summer. It is imperative, as this process moves forward, that you reach out to your members of congress to share your story and that of your community. Such outreach will complement and validate the sentiment that NFU staff is already sharing on Capitol Hill. Lastly, we urge you to share stories about the farm economy and its impacts on your communities with us, through this link, so that we may incorporate them into future testimony for the Committees on Agriculture to fully grasp the challenges you face.