Showing posts from November, 2019

MFP Payments and 2020 Cash Rents

MFP payments have had impacts on land rental rates. Moreover, uncertainty about the continuation of MFP in 2020 presents issues in setting cash rental rates. Given this uncertainty, we present the idea of setting cash rents at appropriate levels given the price and yield environment, likely lower than 2019 cash rent rates, with contingencies for cases in which MFP payments occur. By doing this, base cash rent is set at a level that allows the farmer to generate profits and leaves open the option for both parties to benefit if MFP payments occur in 2020.

by Gary Schniteky, ILLINOIS Extension
link to farmdocDaily article

Market Facilitation Program (MFP) payments have served as a significant source of revenue on grain farms in 2018 and 2019. Without MFP payments, average farmer returns would be negative in 2019, and far below any level since consistent records began in 2000. Without MFP payments, 2020 returns are projected to be negative. It is unknown at this time if MFP payments will occur in 2020, or the potential level of an MFP payment if the program continues. When developing cash rental rates, we suggest lowering cash rent levels if they are at or above averages for a productivity level, and then having the possibility of higher cash rents if MFP payments occur.

Historic Returns to Central Illinois
Figure 1 shows average operator and land return and average cash rent on high-productivity farmland in central Illinois, with historical values representing actual returns from grain farms enrolled in Illinois Farm Business Farm Management (FBFM). Documentation for values shown in Figure 1 is provided in Revenue and Costs for Illinois Grain Crops (click here for download). Historical and projected revenue assumptions also are given in a November 19, 2019 farmdoc daily article. Figure 1 shows returns for farmland given that 50% of the acres are in corn and 50% are in soybeans.

Two lines are shown in Figure 1. The first is operator and land return, representing a return to both the farmer and land owner. Costs for farmland are not included in operator and land return. If farmland is cash rented, the cost to the farmer is cash rent. Figure 1 also shows average cash rent in central Illinois. When operator and land return is above cash rent, a farmer will have a positive cash return on cash rented land. Losses occur when operator and land return is below cash rent.

Between 2006 and 2013, a period in which corn and soybean prices were relatively high, operator and land returns exceeded cash rents by large margins. This period was characterized by higher net incomes (see farmdoc daily, November 19, 2019). Cash rents were rising during this period in response to higher operator and land returns.

Average operator and land returns have been roughly the same as average cash rents since 2013:
  • 2014: Operator and land return was $290 per acre, cash rent was $293 per acre, and farmer return was -$3 per acre.
  • 2015: Operator and land return was $265 per acre, cash rent was $278 per acre, and farmer return was -$13 per acre.
  • 2016: Operator and land return was $291 per acre, cash rent was $273 per acre, and farmer return was $18 per acre.
  • 2017: Operator and land return was $250 per acre, cash rent was $267 per acre, and farmer return was -$17 per acre.
  • 2018: Operator and land return was $355 per acre, cash rent was $274 per acre, and farmer return was $81 per acre.
  • 2019 Projections are for an operator and land return of $273 per acre, cash rent of $274 per acre, and farmer return of -$1 per acre.
Lower returns after 2013 largely occurred because of declines in commodity prices. Returns shown in Figure 1 suggest that cash rents should decline because farmers need to obtain a positive return for the risks, labor, and management of farming. Likely reasons that cash rents farmers are paying have not declined are 1) financial reserves built during the period of high incomes from 2006 to 2012 are allowing farmers to continue paying high rental rates in hopes that higher commodity prices in the future will make those rates profitable (farmdoc daily, October 4, 2016 and October 23, 2018), and 2) positive returns from owned and share rented farmland are used to subsidize cash rent farmland (farmdoc daily, August 22, 2017). Trade disputes, and other factors such as African Swine Fever in China, have considerably diminished chances of higher prices in the near future.

Impacts of MFP payments
In 2018, trade disputes between the U.S. and other countries began impacting agriculture, with the tariff battle between China and the U.S. receiving a great deal of attention. Soybean prices declined throughout the year as the trade dispute continued. On central Illinois farms, prices averaged $8.85 per bushel for soybeans produced in 2018, down from the $9.81 average from 2013–2018.

Although soybean prices were down, returns were positive for central Illinois farmers, at the highest level since 2013 (see Figure 1). In 2018, operator and land return exceed cash rent by $81 per acre. Both exceptionally high yields and MFP payments contributed to this higher return. In 2018, MFP payments accounted for $62 per acre of return, with most of that coming from soybean acres (see farmdoc daily, November 19, 2019). Without the MFP payments, farmer return in 2018 would have been $19 per acre, in the range of returns in other years since 2013.

In 2019, farmer return is projected at -$1 per acre. Returns are down in 2019 because of much lower yields. MFP payments have a large, positive impact on returns. For 2019, MFP payments for central Illinois grain farms are estimated at $82 per acre, up by $20 from average 2018 levels (see farmdoc daily July 30, 2019 for a list of payments by county). This $82 level assumes that all three tranches of MFP payments are paid. Two tranches totaling three quarters of the payment amount have been paid.

The third tranche, if confirmed, would be distributed in early 2020 with the remaining quarter of the payment. Without a MFP payment, 2019 returns are estimated at -$83 per acre, the lowest farmer return since 2000 (see Figure 1).

Figure 1 also includes projections for 2020. Operator and land return is projected at $232 per acre, cash rent at $270 per acre, and farmer return at -$38 per acre. The 2020 projection is based on a return to trend yields. Exceptional yields like those in 2018 would be needed to get positive returns given prices of $3.90 per bushel for corn and $9.00 for soybeans. However, prices may fall to lower levels if exceptional yields occur. As a result, crop revenue increases alone likely will not lead to higher farmer returns. Positive returns in 2020 may be dependent on some level of support, such as the continuation of the MFP.

MFP Payments in Perspective
In the last two years, MFP payments have been a significant source of revenue on Illinois grain farms. In 2018, MFP payments represented 8 percent of total gross revenue received from corn and soybeans production. In 2019, MFP’s share is presented at 11 percent (see Figure 2).

Government payments have not accounted for that large of a share of gross revenue on Illinois grain farms since the early 2000s. In the early 2000s, government support to farmers through the Agricultural Market Transition Act, Market Loss Adjustment, and marketing loan programs represented a higher share of gross revenue. For example, government payments were 25% of gross revenue in 2000, 23 percent in 2001 (see Figure 2)

Cash Rents Corn and soybean prices fell and were at lower levels in both the early 2000s (beginning in 1998) and since 2018. Those lower prices then led to governments payments. In the early 2000s, those payments were legislated through Congress. The MFP payments come through different authority, with levels determined through a process that is not transparent (see farmdoc daily, November 21, 2019 for more discussion of the MFP program). Also, the levels of MFP payments from one year to the next are not known. For 2019, administrative officials indicated that MFP payments would not occur up to May 2019. In actuality, MFP payments on most farms will be higher in 2019 than in 2018.

Counterfactuals are difficult to prove, but it seems likely that farmers in the early 2000s would have had to make larger adjustments in response to lower commodity prices had government support not existed. In the end, land returns likely would have declined, and cash rents fallen.

Similarly, cash rents likely would have fallen in 2019 as a result of lower commodity prices in 2018 had MFP payments not existed. The extent to which they would have fallen depends on how participants view the permanence of lower soybean prices. If soybean prices will continue below $9.00 for several years, cash rents need to adjust downward if MFP payments do not continue.

2020 Cash Rents
The uncertainty of MFP payments presents an issue for setting 2020 cash rents. If MFP payments do not occur, farmers could face large losses if cash rents levels are set as if MFP payments will occur. On the other hand, MFP payments at the 2018 and 2019 levels could result in good farmer returns, particularly if yields are exceptional. This uncertainty obviously adds to the difficulty in making cash rent decisions for 2020.

As farmers and landowners negotiate rental rates for 2020, several factors should be considered. Cash rental rates have remained relatively flat despite a lower price environment since 2013. The average central Illinois cash rental rate has put farmer returns below break-even in three of the last five years, and likely right at break-even in 2019 including the full MFP payment.

Given the uncertainty about MFP payment, an appropriate approach would be to set a cash rent without the MFP considered in budgeting and allowing for an increase in the rent if the MFP occurs.

As an example, consider 2020 projections. Without an MFP payment, 2020 operator and land return is projected at $232 per acre. This $232 per acre is considerably below the 2018 average rent of $273 per acre. Setting a cash rent at $230 per acre would result in a $2 projected return to the farmer, not a desirable return, but better than a loss that would result with a cash rent at the $273 average for 2019. The lease could then have a clause that shares the MFP payments 50–50 between the land owner and farmer. If an $82 per acre MFP payment is received — equivalent to the average projected payment for 2019 — the farmer would make an additional payment of $41 to the land owner, resulting in total rent to the land owner of $271 per acre ($230 base cash rent plus $41 payments from the MFP payment), and a $43 return to the farmer ($2 projected return with MFP pulse $41 from MFP).

Several notes about the above lease:
  1. A share-rent arrangement has risk sharing directly built into the lease. As a result, MFP payments already are considered in share-rent arrangements
  2. The above lease is very close to a variable cash lease (see farmdoc daily, September 9, 2015 for a discussion of one-type of variable cash leases. Click here for a lease). Variable cash leases would consider possible higher returns due to higher prices or yields. Inclusion of MFP like payments in variable cash leases seems warranted if base levels are low enough such that farmers do not take large losses at base rent levels.
  3. Base levels need to be set low enough so that farmer risks are reduced. Putting a clause for MFP sharing without lowering cash rents simply shifts returns from farmers to land owners, and adds risk to the farmer.
  4. The 50–50 sharing percent is dependent on having the base level low enough that farmer risks are reduced. Given the current economic environment, base rent levels should be well below cash rent levels. A method for determining average cash rents for different cash rent levels is presented in a November 7, 2017 farmdoc daily article.


2019 was a truly historic and in many ways unbelievable year for Illinois agriculture. The ongoing trade war with China and the on- and off-again efforts to reach an agreement dominated headlines much of the year. As if this wasn’t enough uncertainty for one year, Illinois was hit by one of the wettest spring planting seasons on record. Looking forward, the story of Illinois agriculture will continue to be one of managing volatility and financial difficulties. The stress of a prolonged period of low corn, soybean, and wheat prices, was amplified for producers experiencing low yields this year due to poor planting and summer growing season weather. Producers and landowners continue to face a series of difficult management challenges as they grapple with adjusting to this highly volatile economic environment. What is the prospect for a recovery in grain prices? Should cash rents be lower? And if so, how much? How much will government programs offset some of the financial stress? The members of the farmdoc team from the Department of Agricultural and Consumer Economics and University of Illinois Extension will be holding a series of five Illinois Farm Economics Summit meetings to help producers navigate these tumultuous times.

The registration fee for each location is $85 per person.  Save $5 by registering online for $80.  This fee includes all meeting materials, break refreshments, and lunch.  Registration at the door will be $90 per person, as space permits.
For registration questions contact Nancy Simpson at 217-244-9687 (8am to 4pm CST) or
The registration deadline is December 9th, 2019

Monday, December 16 – Mt. Vernon Holiday Inn
Tuesday, December 17 – Springfield Crowne Plaza
Wednesday, December 18 – Peoria Par-A-Dice Casino
Thursday, December 19 – Dekalb Faranda’s Banquet Center
Friday, December 20 – Champaign I Hotel

2019: THAT Just Happened
Scott Irwin, Professor
Department of ACE, University of Illinois

What Did We Learn with Delayed Planting? Farm Management Implications
Gary Schnitkey, Professor
Department of ACE, University of Illinois

Illinois Farm Income: 2019 Projections and Outlook for 2020
Dale Lattz, farmdoc Research Associate
Department of ACE, University of Illinois

The ARC/PLC Decision in the New Farm Bill
Jonathan Coppess, Assistant Professor
Department of ACE, University of Illinois

Trade, MFP, and Policy Directions
Nick Paulson, Associate Professor
Department of ACE, University of Illinois

Grain Price Outlook for 2020
Todd Hubbs, Assistant Professor
Department of ACE, University of Illinois

Register for the Illinois Farm Economic Summits

click page to register

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Projected Net Incomes on Illinois Grain Farms in 2019 and 2020

by Gary Schnitkey, ILLINOIS Extension

Due to lower corn and soybean yields, 2019 net farm incomes on Illinois grain farms are projected to decline more than $80,000 per farm from 2018 levels. The low yields are partially offset by higher corn and soybean prices and higher MFP payments in 2019 as compared to 2018. Incomes in 2020 are projected to be negative if yields are at trend levels and Market Facilitation Program (MFP) payments do not occur.

Historic Net Incomes on Illinois Grain Farms
Figure 1 shows average yearly net incomes on grain farms enrolled in Illinois Farm Business Farm Management (FBFM). These net incomes are averages across all grain farms in Illinois. Size, tenure relationships, and financial structures vary across these farms. Many farms are below 1,000 tillable acres, and some farms have over 8,000 acres. Over time, the size of farms has grown. In 2018, the average number of tillable acres was around 1,500 acres.

As can be seen in Figure 1, there are three distinct periods of net income. Between 1996 and 2005, net income averaged $55,000 per farm. This period was characterized by relatively low corn and soybean prices, resulting in low incomes. Income during this period reached a low of $11,000 in 1998, a year in which government programs were instituted to provide price and income support to grain farms.

From 2006 to 2013, incomes were much higher, averaging $189,000 per farm. Corn and soybean prices were higher than the other two periods due to increased use of corn in ethanol production, growing export demand for soybeans, and yield shortfalls occurring in several years. The prime example of a yield shortfall was 2012, a year of intense drought over much of the eastern and lower corn-belt. While yields were low in 2012, corn and soybean prices reach all-time highs. High prices, along with proceeds from crop insurance products, resulted in a record income of $298,000 per farm.

Prices have been lower since 2013, with corn prices generally being below $4.00 per bushel and soybean prices being below $10.00 per bushel. From 2013 to 2018, net incomes have averaged $79,000 per farm, about $110,000 less per farm than the 2006–2012 period. Incomes during the 2013–2018 period have been $24,000 higher than the 1996–2006 period, but have been much more variable. Incomes have varied from $500 per farm in 2015 up to $147,000 in 2018.

Compared to 2013 through 2017, incomes were much higher in 2018. In 2018, soybean prices fell partially due to U.S. trade disputes with China and other countries. In 2018, central Illinois farms on high-productivity farmland averaged $8.85 per bushel of soybeans, down from the $9.81 per bushel average from 2014 to 2018 (see Table 1). Two factors countered this price decline resulting in higher 2018 incomes:
  1. Yields were exceptional. While yields have been high since 2014, 2018 yields were truly outstanding. On central Illinois farms, corn yields averaged 237 bushels per acre in 2018, 16 bushels per acre higher than the 221 bushel average from 2014 to 2017. Soybean yields averaged 74 bushels per acre, 8 bushels higher than the 67 bushel average from 2014 to 2017.
  2. Market Facilitation Program (MFP) payments. In 2019, MFP payments in central Illinois averaged $122 per acre for soybeans and $1 per acre for corn. Without these payments, 2018 incomes would have been below the 2013–2017 average.

Projected 2019 Incomes
The average net income in Illinois will be below $60,000 per farm, much lower than in 2018, with possibilities for incomes approaching 2015 levels on many farms. Most of the decline in net income is associated with lower gross revenue, as opposed to a significant change in expenses. On central Illinois high-productivity farmland, gross revenue averaged $819 per acre in 2018, given that 50% of the acres were in corn and 50% were in soybeans (see Table 1). Average gross revenue is projected at $761 per acre in 2019, $58 lower than in 2018. Factors impacting revenue from 2018 to 2019 are:
  1. Lower yields. In central Illinois, corn yields are projected at 205 bushels per acre in 2019, down by 32 bushels per acre from 2018 levels. Soybeans yields are projected at 58 bushels per acre, down by 16 bushels per acre from the 74 bushel average in 2018. Lower yields are the major reason for lower incomes.
  2. Prices are projected to be higher in 2019 as compared to 2018. Projections are made with a $3.90 corn price in 2019, compared to a $3.60 price in 2018. Soybean prices are projected at $9.00 for 2019, compared to $8.85 in 2018. Higher prices partially offset lower yields, resulting in higher incomes.
  3. MFP payments are projected at $82 per acre for both corn and soybeans in 2019. MFP payments will average about $20 per acre higher in 2019 as compared to 2018 on Illinois grain farms. Without MFP payments, average income on Illinois grain farms would be negative in 2019.
The $58 per acre decline in gross revenue from 2018 results in a net income that is $87,000 lower per farm ($58 per acre times 1,500 acres) in 2019. This leads to an estimate of net income for central Illinois farms of $60,000 ($147,000 income in 2018 minus $87,000 less income). Central Illinois likely will have some of the highest yields in the state, and therefore higher incomes than other areas. In northern Illinois, for example, yields are projected at 185 bushels per acre for corn, resulting in much lower income projections for northern Illinois. As a result, average incomes on Illinois farms likely will be below $50,000 per farm when averaged across Illinois.

Projected 2020 Incomes
Current projections would place revenue lower in 2020 as compared to 2019. In central Illinois, for example, average gross revenue is projected at $695 per acre in 2020, a decrease of $66 per acre from 2019 projected levels of $761 per acre (see Table 1). These projections are based on:
  1. A return to trend yields, which are higher than 2019 yields. Projections use a 211 bushel per acre yield for corn and 63 bushels per acre for soybeans.
  2. Stable prices of $3.90 per bushel for corn and $9.00 per bushel for soybeans.
  3. No MFP payments.
  4. No commodity title payments from Agricultural Risk Coverage or Price Loss Coverage.
These values would result in a negative average net income for 2020. Many factors could result in higher incomes, with two of the more likely factors being:
  1. A return to above-average yields. From 2014 to 2018, yields averaged 225 bushels per acre for corn and 68 bushels per acre for soybeans. These higher yields would result in average gross revenue of $745 per acre, still below the $761 projection for 2019. While higher yields are quite possible, those higher yields could be associated with price declines from projected levels. The impact of potentially lower prices are not considered in the projections, and would partially offset the impacts of higher yields.
  2. A continuation of the Market Facilitation Program. Another payment of $82 per acre will bring gross revenue near 2019 levels if yields return to trend levels.
Lower yields will contribute too much lower incomes on Illinois grain farms in 2019. A continuation of low incomes is projected into 2020. Without a continuation of the MFP program in 2020, incomes on Illinois farms will be negative if prices do not increase given that trend yields occur.
Soybean prices have fallen since the trade dispute began in 2018. Currently, soybean prices are near $9.00. Note that this $9 price results with considerably lower soybean acres in 2019, and much lower yields. In the current supply and demand environment, a return to more normal acres and above-trend yields likely would push prices below $9.00 per bushel. Farmers have not felt the full impact of lower prices because MFP payments have supported income in 2018 and 2019. If prices do not increase or yields are not exceptional, farms may have negative incomes without MFP payments in 2020.

The author would like to acknowledge that data used in this study comes from the local Farm Business Farm Management (FBFM) Associations across the State of Illinois. Without their cooperation, information as comprehensive and accurate as this would not be available for educational purposes. FBFM, which consists of 5,500 plus farmers and 60 professional field staff, is a not-for-profit organization available to all farm operators in Illinois. FBFM field staff provide on-farm counsel along with recordkeeping, farm financial management, business entity planning and income tax management. For more information, please contact the State FBFM Office located at the University of Illinois Department of Agricultural and Consumer Economics at 217–333–5511 or visit the FBFM website at

Adding the Costs of Conservation to a Farm Lease

Farmers and landowners alike are wanting to try more conservation practices. Todd Gleason reports the timing and amount of nitrogen applications along with the use of cover crops can all be written into a farm lease.

farmdoc farm lease page link

(1) Soil Health and Conservation Addendum

The Soil Health and Conservation Addendum is for a landowner who seeks to reach clear understanding with the farm-tenant about practices on the land under lease. The addendum is a fillable pdf and the parties can negotiate the specific provisions to include in the addendum, memorializing the agreement by selecting the specific provisions. The provisions and fillable pdf are designed to be additive: each selected provision will be incorporated in the lease agreement.
Included among the provisions that can be selected are those for tillage practices and cover crop practices. There are also specific provisions pertaining to other conservation efforts that may be present on the farmland, such as ditches, vegetative buffers, terraces or other erosion control measures. The addendum also includes general options that address soil health and conservation efforts for the farmland. Finally, the addendum provides options for the parties to agree to adjustments in the annual rent based on the provisions for soil health and conservation selected above. All of these are only options and the parties are free to adjust or revise the provisions as they consider best and all are again advised to discuss with legal counsel before completing.

(2) Nutrient Management Addendum

Similarly, the Nutrient Management Addendum is a fillable pdf that provides for selecting basic provisions that can be incorporated into any lease. Among the options are those pertaining to adherence to the Maximum Return to Nitrogen (MRTN) for nutrient application on the land subject to the lease, as well as for requiring specific application practices such as split application. Options also include for soil testing, adoption of nutrient management plans and the application of manure, such as an agreement to avoid application on frozen ground.
This addendum also provides options for the parties to agree to adjustments in the annual rent based on the provisions for soil health and conservation selected above. All of these are only options and the parties are free to adjust or revise the provisions as they consider best and all are again advised to discuss with legal counsel before completing.

(3) Conservation Habitat Addendum

This addendum provides specific options pertaining to wildlife habitat on the farmland that is subject to the underlying lease. This addendum provides for general descriptions of the critical area and options for agreeing to basic maintenance or integrated pest management practices. The addendum also provides space for the parties to agree to any adjustments to the rent due to the conservation habitat on the farmland subject to the lease. Again, these options create or alter legal rights and both the landowner and the farm-tenant are advised to consult with their respective legal counsel before completing the addendum.