July 20, 2001
DO SOME FARMS CONSISTENTLY HAVE HIGHER PROFITS THAN OTHER
Each year profits vary tremendously across grain farms. In 2000, for example,
per acre management returns for Illinois grain farms having high-quality farmland
averaged $7 per acre. One-third of the farms had returns below -$10 per acre while
one-third of the farms had returns above $38 per acre.
A common question is: Do some farms consistently have higher profits than others?
In other words, does a farm with above average profits in one year have above
average profits in the next year? Consistency across years means that a farm's
management or a structural position influences its long-term profits. If profits
are not consistent, a farm's profit relative to other farms is strictly a matter
Management returns from 1995 through 2000
To answer the consistency question, data from Illinois Farm Business Farm Management
(FBFM) were obtained for farms that receive the majority of their income from
grain farming and have high quality farmland. A total of 585 farms have data from
1995 through 2000.
Each year the 585 farms were placed into categories based on the level of per
acre management returns. Management returns equal revenues less expenses less
charges for unpaid labor and assets. Management returns are a measure of the profitability
of a farm.
For the 585 farms, management returns averaged $16 in 1995, $48 in 1996, $18
in 1997, -$37 in 1998, -$8 in 1999, and $6 in 2000 (see Table 1). These averages
reflect the general agricultural economy. For the entire period, per acre management
returns were the highest between 1995 and 1997. Then returns declined dramatically
in 1998 due to sharp declines in grain prices. Per acre returns have been at low
levels in 1999 and 2000 due to continued low commodity prices. Returns in 1999
and 2000 were higher than in 1998 due to above average yields and larger government
In each year, 195 of the farms were placed in a "high one-third"
profits category. These 195 farms had higher profits than the other 390 farms.
The management return to be placed in the high one-third category changed each
year. For example, the break-off was $45 per acre in 1995 (see Table 1). This
break-off declined to -$4 per acre in 1998. The break-off was $38 in 2000.
Number of years in the high one-third category
The farms in the high one-third category changed each year. We counted the
number of times a farm was in the high one-third category for the six years between
1995 and 2000.
For the 585 farms, 26 percent never were in the high one-third category (see
Table 2). Only 5 percent of the farms were in the high one-third category all
six years. About 36 percent of the farms were in the high one-third category more
than one-half of the time.
These results suggest that it is very difficult to be in the high one-third category
every year. Over the time period, many farms never were in the high one-third
category. Over 64 percent of the farms were in the high one-third category less
than one-half of the time. Being in the high one-third category at over half the
time is a good indicator of having above average profitability.
Farms more often in the high one-third category are more profitable than farms
less often in the high one-third category. Farms that were never in the high one-third
category had average management returns of -$54 per acre over the six years (see
Table 2), significantly below the average six-year returns of $7 per acre. Farms
always in the high one-third category averaged $94 per acre of management returns.
Characteristics of high profit farms
Characteristics of high profit farms were compared to low profit farms. The
585 farms were divided into four groups based on the number of times the farms
were in the high one-third category. Farms in the "low" group were never
in the high one-third category, farms in the "mid-low" group were in
the high one-third category one or two years, farms in the "mid-high"
group were in the high one-third category three of four years, and farms in the
"high" group were in the high one-third category more than five years.
Table 3 below shows acres, yields, prices, and costs across the different groups.
1. Farms in the low and mid-low group farm less than farms in the mid-high
and high groups. Tillable acres are 672 for the low group and 836 for the mid-low
group. This compared to 1,023 and 1,007 for the mid-high and high groups, respectively.
2. Farms in higher profit groups tend to own less farmland. Percent owned is 25
percent for the low group while it is 7 percent for the high group.
3. Farms in the low group have much lower yields than the other profit groups.
Farms in the high profit group had higher corn yields than the lower profit groups.
4. Prices received for commodities did not systematically vary across returns
5. High profit farms had much lower costs than lower profit farms. More profitable
farms had lower costs in all categories. Magnitude of differences were in the
following order: a) land, b) labor, c) power, d) other, e) crop, and f) building.
While it is difficult to always have higher returns than most other farms,
farms do tend to be consistent in their profitability. Low profit farms in one
year tend to be low profit farms in the next year.
High profit farms tend to be larger, rent more farmland using share rental
arrangements, have slightly higher yields, and have lower costs than less profitable
farms. These results continue to support the observation that farming is a low
cost, volume business. An emphasis on maintaining low costs and increasing farm
size seems warranted.
Issued by:Gary Schnitkey, Department
of Agricultural and Consumer Economics