Ag Economists Update Farm Bill Legislators

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Farm conditions aren't at the worry levels of the 1980s, but in one of the first hearings to discuss the farm bill, ag economists told House legislators that changes may be needed in the future to stop a crisis.

Net farm income was nearly cut in half over the last three years. On top of that, looking at farm business operations, which accounts for 90 percent of production and 40 percent of farms, 10 percent have debt to asset ratios above 40 percent. In the 1980s that number was closer to 60 percent.

Younger farmers and renters also have higher debt to asset ratios compared to older farmers.

Chief Economist for the USDA, Robert Johansson was a panelist talking to House members, "Farm income is expected to remain relatively flat in 2017. Credit availability continues to tighten, but continued resilience in the farm sector is also expected. Reversing the direction of the last two years, we do expect to see net cash income rise slightly from 2016."

Committee Chair Mike Conaway and Ranking Democrat Collin Peterson both call for a different farm bill approach than 2014, one that decides program needs first, before proposing budget cuts.

Conaway also noted real 2014 farm bill savings was $100 billion, not the $23 billion claimed at the time.