From forecast to estimate: How a farm income forecast progresses

Graphic showing the progression from forecast to estimate of 2022 U.S. net farm income.

The USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS) routinely forecasts U.S. farm sector financial health. For each calendar year, there are four forecasts of profitability measures before ERS releases an official estimate. The first forecast for each year occurs in February and is partially based on historical data and trends since planting intentions of crops such as corn and soybeans are unknown. It also incorporates early commodity price and production projections from USDA and projections by other entities, such as energy price forecasts by the Energy Information Administration. In 2022, for instance, the initial forecast of 2022 farm income occurred on February 4, 2022, and the forecast projected net farm income of $113.7 billion. The second forecast occurs in late August/early September and is based on observed data from the production cycle, such as input and output price information and planting areas with related output projections. The second forecast also includes revised projections of direct Government payments and insurance indemnities and projections from USDA’s World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates (WASDE) report. For calendar year 2022, Forecast 2 occurred on September 1, 2022, and the forecast projected net farm income of $147.7 billion. The third data release, in late November/early December, further refines the forecast based on the most recent data and projections, including additional administrative data on direct Government payments. The last forecast is made in February of the following year. It is still a forecast because the data are still being collected and refined. The first official estimate of 2022 farm income (of $183.0 billion) was published on August 31, 2023, and completed a 19-month cycle. That data release incorporated the first information available from the USDA’s most recent annual Agricultural Resource Management Survey (ARMS), which improves analysis of production expenses. State-level farm income data for the calendar year are released for the first time as a part of the estimates. Adjustments to the U.S. and State-level estimates may be made in future data releases, but they are typically small. On February 7, 2024, ERS released the first forecast of 2024 and the last forecast of 2023 U.S. farm sector financial health. The first estimates of calendar year 2023 will be published on September 5, 2024, together with Forecast 2 for calendar year 2024. A version of this chart appears in the ERS report, The Evolution of U.S. Farm Sector Profitability Forecasts in 2020.

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