Illinois Grain and Feed Association


2017 Census of Agriculture Data Now Available

Data show increases in small and large farms; older farmers; and new military service and demographic information, women farmers

“We are pleased to deliver Census of Agriculture results to America, and especially to the farmers and ranchers who participated,” said U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue. “We can all use the Census to tell the tremendous story of U.S. agriculture and how it is changing. As a data-driven organization, we are eager to dig in to this wealth of information to advance our goals of supporting farmers and ranchers, facilitating rural prosperity, and strengthening stewardship of private lands efficiently, effectively, and with integrity.”

“The Census shows new data that can be compared to previous censuses for insights into agricultural trends and changes down to the county level,” said NASS Administrator Hubert Hamer. “While the current picture shows a consistent trend in the structure of U.S. agriculture, there are some ups and downs since the last Census as well as first-time data on topics such as military status and on-farm decision making. To make it easier to delve into the data, we are pleased to make the results available in many online formats including a new data query interface, as well as traditional data tables.”

Census data provide valuable insights into demographics, economics, land and activities on U.S. farms and ranches. Some key highlights include:

  • There are 2.04 million farms and ranches (down 3.2 percent from 2012) with an average size of 441 acres (up 1.6 percent) on 900 million acres (down 1.6 percent).
  • The 273,000 smallest (1-9 acres) farms make up 0.1 percent of all farmland while the 85,127 largest (2,000 or more acres) farms make up 58 percent of farmland.
  • Just 105,453 farms produced 75 percent of all sales in 2017, down from 119,908 in 2012.
  • Of the 2.04 million farms and ranches, the 76,865 making $1 million or more in 2017 represent just over 2/3 of the $389 billion in total value of production while the 1.56 million operations making under $50,000 represent just 2.9 percent.
  • Farm expenses are $326 billion with feed, livestock purchased, hired labor, fertilizer and cash rents topping the list of farm expenses in 2017.
  • Average farm income is $43,053. A total of 43.6 percent of farms had positive net cash farm income in 2017.
  • Ninety-six percent of farms and ranches are family owned.
  • Farms with Internet access rose from 69.6 percent in 2012 to 75.4 percent in 2017.
  • A total of 133,176 farms and ranches use renewable energy producing systems, more than double the 57,299 in 2012.
  • In 2017, 130,056 farms sold directly to consumers, with sales of $2.8 billion.
  • Sales to retail outlets, institutions and food hubs by 28,958 operations are valued at $9 billion.

For the 2017 Census of Agriculture, NASS changed the demographic questions to better represent the roles of all persons involved in on-farm decision making. As a result, in 2017 the number of producers is up by nearly seven percent to 3.4 million, because more farms reported multiple producers. Most of these newly identified producers are female. While the number of male producers fell 1.7 percent to 2.17 million from 2012 to 2017, the number of female producers increased by nearly 27 percent to 1.23 million. This change underscores the effectiveness of the questionnaire changes.

Other demographic highlights include:

  • The average age of all producers is 57.5, up 1.2 years from 2012.
  • The number of producers who have served in the military is 370,619, or 11 percent of all. They are older than the average at 67.9.
  • There are 321,261 young producers age 35 or less on 240,141 farms. Farms with young producers making decisions tend to be larger than average in both acres and sales.
  • More than any other age group, young producers make decisions regarding livestock, though the difference is slight.
  • One in four producers is a beginning farmer with 10 or fewer years of experience and an average age of 46.3. Farms with new or beginning producers making decisions tend to be smaller than average in both acres and value of production.
  • Thirty-six percent of all producers are female and 56 percent of all farms have at least one female decision maker. Farms with female producers making decisions tend to be smaller than average in both acres and value of production.
  • Female producers are most heavily engaged in the day-to-day decisions along with record keeping and financial management.

Results are available in many online formats including video presentations, a new data query interface, maps, and traditional data tables. To address questions about the 2017 Census of Agriculture data, NASS will host a live Twitter chat (@usda_nass) Ask the Census Experts #StatChat on Friday, April 12 at 1 p.m. ET. All information is available at

The Census tells the story of American agriculture and is an important part of our history. First conducted in 1840 in conjunction with the decennial Census, the Census of Agriculture accounts for all U.S. farms and ranches and the people who operate them. After 1920, the Census happened every four to five years. By 1982, it was regularly conducted once every five years. Today, NASS sends questionnaires to nearly 3 million potential U.S. farms and ranches. Nearly 25 percent of those who responded did so online. Conducted since 1997 by USDA NASS – the federal statistical agency responsible for producing official data about U.S. agriculture – it remains the only source of comprehensive agricultural data for every state and county in the nation and is invaluable for planning the future.


2017 Census Farm Producers


SPRINGFIELD, IL – Farmers should expect a survey in the mail in early 2019, as the United States Department of Agriculture works to measure nutrient management practices.

The USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) will conduct a survey of Illinois farmers for the Illinois Nutrient Research and Education Council (NREC) in early 2019. The survey will measure a number of management practices, including use of cover crops, timing of fertilizer applications, and methods of determining nitrogen application rates. In addition, the survey will measure edge of field practices including wood chip bioreactors, constructed wetlands, and saturated buffers.

“We will mail more than 1,000 questionnaires to producers right after January 1, and I encourage everyone to respond using the postage-paid envelope that we provide. That is the best way to save taxpayer dollars and still gather information from the best source possible, the farmers themselves,” said Mark Schleusener, the Illinois State Statistician for NASS.

Mr. Schleusener continued, “Every individual report is confidential by law and is also exempt from the Freedom of Information Act. NASS will only publish and share state totals and averages, never individual farm data.”

One month after the first mailing, NASS will mail another correspondence to producers who have not yet responded. Finally, NASS will use its St. Louis calling center to call those who do not respond to either mailing. “Our goal is to get the highest response we can and still stay under budget,” said Schleusener.

Results from the survey will be published in August 2019.

For more information, contact the NASS Heartland Regional Field Office at 800-551-1014.

Farm Policy News

Market Facilitation Program: Impacts and Initial Analysis

  • Carl Zulauf
  • Department of Agricultural, Environmental and Development Economics
  • Ohio State University

USDA released details on aid it will provide to farmers in response to trade disputes, resulting in tariffs instituted by the U.S. and retaliatory tariffs from trading partners, especially China. This article focuses on the Market Facilitation Program (MFP) which will have the largest impact on incomes of Midwest grain farms.   The MFP provides cash payments to farmers for a subset of commodity crops, including corn and soybeans that are commonly grown in the Midwest.  Payments are to be made using a specific rate per bushel on 2018 actual production.  In Illinois, average payments are estimated at $53 per acre for soybeans, $1 per acre for corn, and $5 per acre for wheat.  MFP payments will significantly increase 2018 net farm incomes.  Payment rates for corn are low relative to those for other crops.

A Response to the Trade Dispute

USDA provided more details on the entire package of assistance to farmers in an August 27, 2018 press release.  The package includes three components:

  1. Market Facilitation Program will provide direct payments to farmers.  Federal spending is estimated at $4.6 billion.
  2. Food Purchases and Distribution Program will purchase commodities impacted by tariffs.  Federal spending is estimated at $1.3 billion.
  3. Agricultural Trade Promotion program will provide cost-share assistance to aid organizations in promoting trade.  Estimated spending is $200 million.

The MFP is the largest estimated amount of Federal spending of the three components and likely will have the largest impact on Midwest grain farms.  Therefore, the remainder of this article focuses on the MFP.

Market Facilitation Program Details

The Farm Service Agency (FSA) will administer the MFP using authorities of the Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC).  Payments will be issued to growers of five crops (corn, cotton, soybeans, sorghum, and wheat), as well as to dairy and pork producers.  Payment rates for these commodities as listed in the August 27th press release will be made on 50% of reported production for the 2018 crop and thus the effective payment rates are half the reported rate when applied to total farm production (See Table 1).  Soybeans, for example, have a reported payment rate of $1.65 per bushel but farmers with soybean production can estimate their payments by multiplying $0.825 by their total 2018 yield and acres. For example, a farmer with 60 bushels per acre of soybean production in 2018 would expect to receive an initial MFP payment of $49.50 per acre (60 bushels per acre x $.825 per bushel).  The press release indicated that there is a possibility, but not the guarantee, of receiving a later MFP payment on the remaining bushels.  Few details on the potential second payment were released except that signup would begin in December 2018.  In addition, payments for hogs will be based on the number of live hogs on August 1, 2018.  Payments to dairy producers will be based on historical production reported to the Margin Protection Program for Dairy.

Farmers will have to complete an application, which will be available at, and any related forms required by FSA for the assistance.    USDA suggests that farmers have “verifiable and relative production record by crop, type, practice, intended use, and acres if not already on file” and more information is available on the USDA website .  Farmers can begin to apply for payments on September 4, 2018.  The application period will end on January 15, 2019.  To be eligible for MFP payments, a producer must be a) in conservation compliance and b) have an adjusted gross income that averages less than $900,000 for the tax years from 2014 to 2016.  The following payment limitations apply to MFP payments:

  • $125,000 per person or legal entity for eligible crop commodities
  • $125,000 per person or legal entity for dairy and hog production.

Payment limits are separate from payment limits on other Farm Bill programs (e.g., an ARC, PLC, and loan payments do not count against the MFP limit).  The same rules likely exist for determining person eligibility under MFP as do under other farm bill programs.

Impacts on Illinois Grain Farms

Because payments are production-based, farmers with higher yields will have higher MFP payments.  Estimates of average Illinois payments are based on current estimates of average yields in Illinois: 64 bushels per acre for soybeans, 207 bushels per acre for corn, and 66 bushels per acre for wheat (National Agricultural Statistical Service, Crop Production, August 2018).  These average yields result in initial MFP payments of $53 per acre for soybeans, $1 per acre for corn, and $5 for wheat (see Table 2).

A farm with a 50% corn and 50% soybean rotation would have an average payment of $27 per acre ($53 per acre for soybeans x .50 +$1 per acre for corn x .50).  A 1,200 acre farm, a fairly typical sized commercial farm in Illinois, would receive $32,400 in MFP payments given that all acres are owned or cash rented.  For the $27 average per acre payment, the $125,000 payment limit would be reached at 4,644 acres.

Questions Concerning the Market Facilitation Program

USDA’s decision to issue these payments outside payments authorized by Congress in the farm bill raises questions. Among the first is how payment rates on crops were determined.  In particular the corn payment rate is low relative to payment rates on other crops.

The payment rates do not appear to align with existing estimates for the decline in crop prices since May.  For example, the World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimate (WASDE) Board estimated 2018-19 market year average prices.  Changes from the May report to the August report will provide an estimate of trade impacts using USDA procedures as the May to August coincides the escalating trade conflicts.  From the May to August reports, changes in midpoint prices were (see Figure 2 of farmdoc daily, August 16, 2018):

  • 11% ($1.10/bu) decrease for soybeans
  • 6% ($0.20/bu) decrease for sorghum,
  • 5% ($0.20/bu) decrease for corn,
  • 2% ($0.10/bu) increase for wheat, and
  • 15% ($0.10/lb) increase for cotton.

Wheat and cotton have experienced increased prices but are included with relatively large payment rates. Sorghum will receive a payment rate that is more than four times as large as the estimated price decline from May to August.  By comparison, corn has experienced a price decline similar to sorghum (both in $/bu and % terms) but will receive a payment rate that results in an average payment of less than $1 per acre.

Other metrics could be used to judge price declines.  A simple comparison of price declines for soybeans and corn suggest a high degree of correlation of price declines over the May through July period, with corn and soybeans having roughly similar magnitudes of price declines (see farmdoc daily, July 31, 2018).

In the future, USDA may provide more details on the rationale used to arrive at the payment rates for the alternative crops.  In addition, questions related to the timing and rationale for a second payment will be addressed.  Moreover, issues related to drought areas may arise, as those areas will receive little aid through MFP due to drought-stricken yields.


The first details of USDA’s trade assistance package to farmers have been released.  The MFP will provide payments to grain farmers that will increase 2018 incomes.  A number of questions are raised by the MFP program, however, including the relative payment rates across crops.


U.S. Department of Agriculture, “USDA Announces Details of Assistance for Farmers Impacted by Unjustified Retaliation.” August 27, 2018.

U.S. Department of Agriculture, National Agricultural Statistical Service, “Crop Production.” August 10, 2018.

Zulauf, C., J. Coppess, N. Paulson and G. Schnitkey. “The Tariff Conflict and Change in Value of Production of U.S. Field Crops.” farmdoc daily(8):153, Department of Agricultural and Consumer Economics, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, August 16, 2018.

Swanson, K., J. Coppess and G. Schnitkey. “Trade Timeline and Corn and Soybean Prices.” farmdoc daily (8):141, Department of Agricultural and Consumer Economics, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, July 31, 2018.

Farm Policy News

May 21, 2018

Weekly Outlook: Soybean Prices Focus on Trade and Weather

Todd Hubbs

Department of Agricultural and Consumer Economics
University of Illinois

farmdoc daily (8):92

Listen to MP3 Podcast

Soybean prices moved lower last week despite the positive outlook in the USDA’s May WASDE report. The report, released on May 9, projected that stocks of U.S. soybeans at the end of the current marketing year would total 530 million bushels, slightly less than generally expected. The recent choppy price pattern reflects uncertainty in trade negotiations, the large Brazilian soybean crop, and weakening South American currencies.

November soybean futures prices moved in a band between $10.20 and $10.50 after the release of the surprisingly low March Prospective Planting report placed soybean acreage at 89 million acres. Prices broke lower on May 7 and continued to show weakness through May 18. The July – November price spread moved into negative territory on May 7 and reflects near-term uncertainty regarding trade prospects and planting issues. An additional level of uncertainty is the recent strengthening of the U.S. dollar to the Brazilian real which saw Brazilian export prices move on par with U.S. Gulf export prices. Brazilian production estimates of 4.3 billion bushels are equal to last year’s record crop with some reports indicating the potential for even higher levels. The rapid drop in the Brazilian real last week brought increased sales by Brazilian farmers. Weekly exports of U.S. soybeans face increased competition from Brazil.

Currently, soybean exports are ahead of the pace needed to meet the projection of 2.065 billion bushels for the 2017-18 marketing year. As of May 17, soybean export inspections total 1.677 billion bushels. Cumulative Census Bureau export estimates from September 2017 through March 2018 exceeded weekly export inspections by 42 million bushels. If the same margin exhibited at the end of March continued through this period, exports through May 17 equaled 1.719 billion bushels. With 15 weeks remaining in the marketing year, 23.7 million bushels per week are necessary to meet the USDA projection. Over the last six weeks, soybean export inspections averaged 22.9 million bushels per week but varied with a low of 16.4 million bushels on for the week ending April 12 and a high of 32.8 million bushels for the week ending May 17. As of May 10, 397 million bushels of soybean had been sold for export but not shipped. This number exceeds the 346 million bushels necessary to reach 2.065 billion bushels based off of current sales figures and estimated export levels through May 17. A note of caution is warranted in the sales figures as China currently sits on 75 million bushels of unshipped sales and a 35 million bushel sales cancellation occurred on May 18. Recent developments in trade negotiations place a positive outlook for the remainder of the marketing year, but the uncertainty is not alleviated.

Soybean crush continues to provide support for soybean prices this year. April crush estimates by NOPA came in at 161.06 million bushels. Census Bureau estimates of crush during this marketing year run approximately six percent above NOPA estimates. If this pace continued, the Census Bureau crush estimate for the marketing year equals 1.365 billion bushels through April, 5.8 percent above last year’s total over the same period. The current estimate implies that the crush during the remaining four months of the year must total 625 million bushels, 2.1 percent higher than the crush of a year ago, to reach the USDA projection of 1.99 billion bushels. Soybean meal exports continue to be strong due to issues in Argentina, the world’s leading meal and oil exporter. Argentine production estimates sit at 1.43 billion bushels for the 2018 crop year, down 691 million bushels from last year’s production. Issues associated with soybean crushing in Argentina continue to crop up with a possible worker’s strike, port issues, and a weakening currency all looking to impact their potential for soybean crush over the next few months. Soybean crush shows no signs of weakening this summer in the U.S.

Early concerns about the 2018 soybean crop due to a slow start to the planting season have mostly dissipated. Concerns were mainly alleviated by the USDA’s weekly Crop Progress report that indicated that planting progress in the 18 major soybean producing states came in at above average pace on May 13 with particularly strong performance in the eastern Corn Belt. Still, there should be some concern about crop progress, acreage allocations, and yield prospects in northern growing areas where planting progress sat well behind the average pace as of May 13. The USDA’s Acreage report to be released on June 29 will also reveal any acreage changes from intentions published in the March survey.

Weather and trade issues will dominate price movements in the soybean market over the next few months. A resolution to the trade dispute with China would provide support for both new and old crop soybean prices, but uncertainty remains. Planting progress, crop conditions, and weekly export levels remain important variables to monitor as we move into the summer.

YouTube Video: Discussion and graphs associated with this article


Farm Policy News

May 1, 2018

Have Soybean Yields Increased Relative to Corn Yields in Recent Years?

Gary Schnitkey

Department of Agricultural and Consumer Economics
University of Illinois

farmdoc daily (8):78

Soybean yields across much of the Corn Belt have been exceptionally high in recent years, leading to the question of whether soybean yields are increasing relative to corn yields. This issue is examined here using state-level corn and soybean yield series for Corn Belt states. When compared to 1972 to 2017 averages, recent high soybean yields have not resulted in high soybean-to-corn yield ratios. There have been mostly stable soybean-to-corn yields in the eastern Corn Belt. Many states in the western Corn Belt have declining soybean yields relative to corn yields.

Illinois Analysis

The evaluation of soybean yields relative to corn yields begins with state-level yields for corn and soybeans. These data were obtained from the National Agricultural Statistical Service, an agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, through the Quick Stats database.

Figure 1 shows state-level corn yields for Illinois from 1972 to 2017. Over this period, corn yields increased an average of 1.9 bushels per year. The 2017 trend yield is found by fitting a line through the 1972-2017 data series and calculating trend yields for each year. The 2017 trend yield represents the expected yield for 2017. If 2017 could be repeated many times, the average of the resulting yields would come close to the 2017 trend yield. The 2017 trend yield is 179.8 bushels per acre. The 2017 yield was 201 bushels per acre, higher than the trend yield by 21 bushels per acre, and the highest Illinois state yield ever, besting the previous record yield of 200 bushels per acre set in 2014. Yields in recent years have been exceptional in Illinois, with yields exceeding trend by over 20 bushels in both 2016 (197 bushels per acre) and 2017.


On average, soybean yields increased by .49 bushels per year from 1972 to 2017. The 2017 trend yield was 52.6 bushels per acre, with the actual 2017 yield being 58 bushels per acre. Soybeans were well above trend in each year since 2014. The 2014 yield was 56 bushels per acre (4.8 bushels above trend), the 2015 yield was 56 bushels per acre (4.3 bushels above trend), the 2016 yield was 59 bushels per acre (a recorded yield and 6.8 bushels above trend), and 2017 was 58 bushels per acre (5.3 bushels above trend). Recent high yields have led some to question whether new technologies and early planting has led to significantly higher soybean yields in Illinois.


To evaluate whether relative yields have changed, soybean yields were divided by corn yields, resulting in soybean-to-corn yield ratios. If these ratios trend up over time, then soybean yields are increasing relative to corn. Conversely, if soybean-to-corn ratios are trending down then soybean yields are decreasing relative to corn yields.

Figure 3 shows soybean-to-corn yield ratios for Illinois, along with a regression line fit through the soybean-to-corn ratios. This is the “best” fitting line through the data and is the orange line in Figure 3. Note that this line has a slightly downward trend; however, the downward trend is not statistically significant, meaning that the downward slope does not add any explanatory power. A straight line through the data would fit the data almost as well as a slightly downward sloping line.


The average soybean-to-corn ratio from 1972-2017 was .31, meaning that soybean yields were 31% of corn yields. In recent years, the soybean-to-corn ratios have been near this average. The soybean-to-corn ratio was .30 in 2016 and .29 in 2017. These recent ratios do not suggest that soybean yields are increasing relative to corn yields. Rather, recent high soybean yields have simply brought soybeans back to even relative to corn for the entire 1972 to 2017 period.


An approach similar to that for Illinois was used for other states in the Corn Belt. For Indiana, corn yields increased an average of 1.7 bushels per year and the 2017 trend yield was 168.5 bushels per acre. Soybean yields increased an average of .49 bushels per acre and the 2017 trend yield was 52.5 bushels per acre. From a statistical standpoint, the soybean-to-corn ratio has not exhibited a trend. From 1972 to 2017, the soybean-to-corn ratio averaged .32. The 2017 ratio was above the average age at .33 and the 2017 ratio was below the average at .30. State level data in Indiana do not suggest soybean yields are changed (see Figure 4).



Ohio’s corn yield increased an average of 1.7 bushels per year and the 2017 trend yield was 164.8 bushels per acre. Soybean yields increased by .47 bushels per year and the 2017 trend yield was 49.8 bushels per acre. Soybean-to-corn yield ratios averaged .31 and did not exhibit a trend up or down.



Wisconsin’s corn yields increased by 1.8 bushels per year and the 2017 trend yield was 161.4 bushels per acre. Soybean yields averaged 45 bushel increase per year and the 2017 trend yield was 47.5 bushels per acre. Wisconsin’s soybean-to-corn yield ratios did not have a statistically significant downward trend. Over the 1972 to 2017 period, soybean-to-corn yield ratios averaged .31. Soybean-to-corn ratios were .31 in 2016 and .27 in 2017 (see Figure 6).



Iowa corn yields increased an average of 2.1 bushels per year and the 2017 trend yields was 186.0 bushels per acre. Soybean yields have trended up .48 bushels per year and the 2017 trend yield was 53.6 bushels per acre. Unlike states in the eastern Corn Belt, Iowa’s ratio of soybean-to-corn yield ratios has a statistically significant downward trend down over time (see Figure 7). In 2017, the expected soybean-to-corn yield ratio was .28. Actual soybean-to-corn ratios were .30 in 2016 and .28 in 2017.



Minnesota’s corn yields have increased an average of 2.4 bushels per year and the 2017 trend yield is 182.0 bushels per acre. Soybean yields increased .41 bushels per year and the 2017 soybean yield was 45.9 bushels per acre. Soybean-to-corn yield ratios have trended down (see Figure 8). Over the 1972 to 2017 period, soybean-to-corn ratios averaged .29. The ratio was .27 in 2016 and .24 in 2018.



Nebraska’s state corn yields increased an average 2.0 bushels per year and the 2017 trend yield was 177.3. Soybean yields increased by .65 bushels per year and the 2017 trend yield was 55.1 bushels per acre. Soybean-to-corn yields ratios did not exhibit trends. The soybean-to-corn yield ratio averaged .30 from 1972 to 2017 (see Figure 9). The soybean-to-corn ratio was .34 in 2016 and .32 in 2017.


South Dakota

South Dakota’s corn yields increased an average of 2.4 bushels per year and the 2017 trend yield was 147.4 bushels per acre. Soybean yields increased an average of .40 bushels per year and the 2017 trend yield was 41.3 bushels per acre. In South Dakota, soybean-to-corn yield ratios trended down from 1972 to 2017 (see Figure 10). For the entire 1972-2016 period, the average soybean-to-corn ratio averaged .37. The ratios were .31 in 2016 and .30 in 2017. The downward trend in yield ratios may have stopped in recent years. Since 2000, the soybean-to-corn yield ratio has been relatively stable at a .29 level.


North Dakota

North Dakota’s corn yields have increased an average of 1.9 bushels per year and the 2017 trend yield was 135.5 bushels per acre. Soybean yields increased an average of .34 bushels per year and the 2017 trend yield was 35.5 bushels per acre. Soybean-to-corn yield ratios have trended down over the 1972-2017 period (see Figure 11). Over the entire 1972-2017 time period, soybean-to-corn yield ratios averaged .31. The ratio was .26 in 2016 and .24 in 2018.



None of the state yield series indicated that soybean-to-corn yields have changed in recent years. There is a marked difference in soybean performance relative to corn performance across the Corn Belt (see Table 1). States in the eastern Corn Belt (Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and Wisconsin) had stable soybean-to-corn yield ratios across the 1972 to 2017 period. Recent yield ratios were near the 1972-2017 averages. Except for Nebraska, states in the western Corn Belt (Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, South Dakota, and North Dakota) had decreasing soybean-to-corn yield ratios. Except for South Dakota, recent yield ratios do not appear to be reducing the yield ratio declines.


YouTube Video: Discussion and graphs associated with this article at:

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Satellites, supercomputers, and machine learning provide real-time crop type data

Landsat satellite

URBANA, Ill. – Corn and soybean fields look similar from space – at least they used to. But now, scientists have proven a new technique for distinguishing the two crops using satellite data and the processing power of supercomputers.

“If we want to predict corn or soybean production for Illinois or the entire United States, we have to know where they are being grown,” says Kaiyu Guan, assistant professor in the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences at the University of Illinois, Blue Waters professor at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA), and the principal investigator of the new study.

The advancement, published in Remote Sensing of Environment, is a breakthrough because, previously, national corn and soybean acreages were only made available to the public four to six months after harvest by the USDA. The lag meant policy decisions were based on stale data. But the new technique can distinguish the two major crops with 95 percent accuracy by the end of July for each field – just two or three months after planting and well before harvest.

The researchers argue more timely estimates of crop areas could be used for a variety of monitoring and decision-making applications, including crop insurance, land rental, supply-chain logistics, commodity markets, and more.

For Guan, however, the work’s scientific value is as important as its practical value.

A set of satellites known as Landsat have been continuously circling the Earth for 40 years, collecting images using sensors that represent different parts of the electromagnetic spectrum. Guan says most previous attempts to differentiate corn and soybean from these images were based on the visible and near-infrared part of the spectrum, but he and his team decided to try something different.

“We found a spectral band, the short-wave infrared (SWIR), that was extremely useful in identifying the difference between corn and soybean,” says Yaping Cai, Ph.D. student and first author of the work, following the guidance of Guan and another senior co-author, Shaowen Wang in the Department of Geography at U of I.

It turns out corn and soybean have predictably different leaf water status by July most years. The team used SWIR data and other spectral data from three Landsat satellites over a 15-year period, and consistently picked up this leaf water status signal.

“The SWIR band is more sensitive to water content inside the leaf. That signal can’t be captured by traditional RGB (visible) light or near-infrared bands, so the SWIR is extremely useful to differentiate corn and soybean,” Guan concludes.

The researchers used a type of machine-learning, known as a deep neural network, to analyze the data.

“Deep learning approaches have just started to be applied for agricultural applications, and we foresee a huge potential of such technologies for future innovations in this area,” says Jian Peng, assistant professor in the Department of Computer Science at U of I, and a co-author and co-principal investigator of the new study.

The team focused their analysis within Champaign County, Illinois, as a proof-of-concept. Even though it was a relatively small area, analyzing 15 years of satellite data at a 30-meter resolution still required a supercomputer to process tens of terabytes of data.

“It’s a huge amount of satellite data. We used the Blue Waters and ROGER supercomputers at the NCSA to handle the process and extract useful information,” Guan says. “Technology wise, being able to handle such a huge amount of data and apply an advanced machine-learning algorithm was a big challenge before, but now we have supercomputers and the skills to handle the dataset.”

The team is now working on expanding the study area to the entire Corn Belt, and investigating further applications of the data, including yield and other quality estimates.

The article, “A high-performance and in-season classification system of field-level crop types using time-series Landsat data and a machine learning approach,” is published in Remote Sensing of Environment [DOI: 10.1016/j.rse.2018.02.045]. Additional authors include Christopher Seifert, Brian Wardlow, and Zhan Li. The work was supported by NCSA, NASA, and the National Science Foundation.

Source: Kaiyu Guan, 217-300-2690,

News writer: Lauren Quinn, 217-300-2435,

Date: April 4, 2018

Editor’s note: images to accompany this story are available at

Farm Policy News

Trade Worries Taint Farm Economy Outlook

A recent report from CoBank pointed out that trade worries are clouding the economic outlook for U.S. farmers and ranchers.  And, a recent report from Purdue University demonstrates that potential trade retaliation measures on U.S. soybeans by China could be costly.  Today’s update looks briefly at these two reports, as well as other news articles that highlight ongoing trade issues in the farm sector.

China Trade Issues Cloud Outlook, Soybean Worries Linger

Last month, CoBank released its Quarterly U.S. Rural Economic Review, which noted in part, “Ongoing trade negotiations and potential trade disputes are the major concerns in the near term. U.S. tariffs on steel and aluminum may elicit responses from other countries and will certainly impact the ongoing NAFTA negotiations. Recently announced U.S. tariffs on Chinese imports triggered China to announce its own list of retaliatory tariffs which would largely affect U.S. agricultural goods.

“The completion of the 11 country Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Paci c Partnership (TPP) that does not include the U.S. or China could result in some erosion in U.S. export potential.

The current trade environment will likely result in many countries reexamining their trade policy strategies and attempting to diversify their supply chain arrangements.

The CoBank update added, “There is considerable risk that China’s list of U.S. ag products on which levies will be applied could grow. China has hinted that it will ‘keep its powder dry’ which could put soybeans, corn, beef or other products at risk in the future.”

The CoBank report also noted that, “Lackluster export demand has plagued U.S. soybean markets in 2018’s first quarter.”

“QUARTERLY U.S. RURAL ECONOMIC REVIEW– Trade War Risks Loom over Agriculture.” CoBank Knowledge Exchange Division (March 2018).

And, trade data from USDA’s Economic Research Service in March showed that the value of soybean exports through January for this fiscal year are down compared to last year.

U.S. Agricultural Trade Data, USDA- Economic Research Service (Updated March 8, 2018) – Fiscal Year is from October 1 of previous year through September 30 of current year (

Last week, Financial Times writers Lucy Hornby and Gregory Meyer reported, “Retaliating against soyabean shipments would have a big impact on US farmers, many from states that voted for Mr Trump. But it would also involve significant pain for China which relies heavily on the US. More than one-third — 37 per cent last year — of the total soyabeans consumed in China are shipped from the US.

“‘Soy is the last resort. You don’t start with your biggest bullet,’ said Ma Wenfang, an analyst at Beijing Orient Agribusiness Consultancy. ‘If a true trade war were to erupt, they would roll out soy. That would really hurt the US.’”

With respect to how much soybean import restrictions by China could “hurt,” a Purdue University news release on Wednesday stated, “Chinese soybean imports from the U.S. could drop by as much 71 percent if China were to impose trade restrictions on U.S. soybeans in response to U.S. tariffs on Chinese products, according to a study for the U.S. Soybean Export Council conducted by Purdue University agricultural economists Wally Tyner and Farzad Taheripour.

“Using an advanced version of the Global Trade Analysis Project (GTAP) model developed at Purdue, Taheripour and Tyner projected the outcome of several prospective scenarios in which the Chinese government were to adopt tariffs ranging from 10 to 30 percent on U.S soybeans. China is the world’s largest soybean importer, buying 93 million metric tons of soybeans in 2016, mostly from Brazil, the U.S. and Argentina. Nearly two-thirds of all U.S. soybean exports – 62 percent – go to China.”

Last week’s release explained, “The analysis by Taheripour and Tyner produced a wide range of results under different assumptions of protection rates, model parameters, and product coverage.

Their best estimates of possible impacts of Chinses tariffs on soybean imports form U.S. show that if the Chinese were to adopt a 10 percent tariff on U.S. soybeans, U.S. exports to that country could fall by a third – 33 percent. Total U.S. soybean exports could decline by 18 percent, and total U.S. soybean production could drop by 8 percent, the study showed.

“In a scenario where China imposed a 30 percent tariff, Chinese imports of U.S. soybeans could drop by 71 percent, total U.S. soybean exports could fall by 40 percent, and total U.S. soybean production could decrease by 17 percent.”

However, Bloomberg News reported on Thursday that, “U.S. Ambassador Terry Branstad warned China against retaliatory measures aimed at imports of American soybeans, as the world’s two largest economies edged closer to a trade war.

“The former Iowa governor told Bloomberg Television on Thursday that any effort to curb U.S. soybean imports would harm regular Chinese citizens more than American growers. The crop provides a key source of protein, including as feed for hogs, for the country’s growing middle class, Branstad said in an interview at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing.

“‘It doesn’t make sense and it would hurt the Chinese consumers,’ Branstad said when asked about possible retaliation on soybeans. ‘Ultimately, the Chinese will realize we need to work together on these issues and retaliation is not the answer, but instead collaboration and cooperation to address the issues that have been around for a long time.’”

China Trade- Pork

Associated Press writer Tom Beaumont reported on Saturday that, “In Sioux County, [Iowa] where swine barns interrupt the vast landscape of corn-stubbled fields, exports of meat, grain and machinery fuel the local economy. And there’s a palpable sense of unease that new Chinese tariffs pushed by President Donald Trump — who received more than 80 percent of the vote here in 2016 — could threaten residents’ livelihood.

“The grumbling hardly signals a looming leftward lurch in this dominantly Republican region in northwest Iowa. But after standing with Trump through the many trials of his first year, some Sioux County Trump voters say they would be willing to walk away from the president if the fallout from the tariffs causes a lasting downturn in the farm economy.”

The AP article stated, “Sioux County seed dealer Dave Heying echoed a common refrain that any downturn in the farm economy would curb spending throughout the local economy, with direct impact on farm machinery dealers, mechanics and agricultural construction, among other businesses.

“‘Protecting our U.S. industries is important, but my concern is, at what expense to the farmer?‘ Heying said of Trump’s trade moves. ‘It is too early to say whether or not I would support him. These types of decisions give you hesitation.’”

China Trade- Ethanol

Bloomberg News reported last week that, “China’s purchases of ethanol from the U.S. climbed, with imports in coming months dependent on the Asian country’s plan to impose extra import duties that could wipe out the margin that’s seen buying surge this year.

Imports of ethanol from U.S. totaled 189,035 cubic meters in February, the highest since May 2016, according to Chinese customs data. Purchases had slumped in 2017 after China imposed a 30 percent tariff on imports from the U.S.”

“China Imports of U.S. Ethanol Surge Ahead of Tariff Threat.” Bloomberg News (March 26, 2018).

The Bloomberg article indicated that, “China on [March 23rd] announced plans for reciprocal tariffs on $3 billion of imports from the U.S., including denatured ethanol, in response to President Donald Trump’s levies on Chinese metal exports. Chinese companies have ordered more than 600,000 tons of ethanol from the U.S. for blending into gasoline in the first half of the year, according to the China Alcoholic Drinks Association, which oversees the fuel ethanol industry. China is expanding its ethanol mandate nationwide by 2020.”

Keith Good

Keith Good

Keith Good is the social media manager for the farmdoc project at the University of Illinois. He is well known in agricultural circles for the daily News Summary.

Farm Policy News

March 27, 2018

Cash Rents on Professionally Managed Farmland in 2018 and 2019

Gary Schnitkey and Bruce Sherrick

Department of Agricultural and Consumer Economics
University of Illinois

farmdoc daily (8):53

The Illinois Society of Professional Farm Managers and Rural Appraisers recently released their estimates of 2018 cash rents as well as their expectations for 2019 cash rents. Cash rent levels on professionally managed farmland were roughly the same in 2018 as in 2017. Given corn prices continuing in the mid-$3.00 range, 2019 cash rents would be expected to be the same or have slight declines from 2019 levels.

Background on Illinois Society of Professional Farm Managers and Rural Appraisers

The Illinois Society of Professional Farm Managers and Rural Appraisers (ISPFMRA) is an association of farm managers and rural appraisers. Farm managers care for the farmland of absentee landowners, offering services that include selecting farmer tenants, negotiating rental arrangements with farmer tenants, inspecting farmland, and providing reports to landowners. Rural appraisers provide valuations of farm properties, mostly for legal purposes such as providing documentation for loans and providing prices used for settling estates. More information on the ISPFMRA, including a directory of members, is available on the ISPFMRA website (

The ISPFMRA conducts an annual effort to collect data on farmland values and lease trends for nine regions of Illinois, resulting in a yearly “Illinois Farmland Values and Lease Trend” booklet. Booklets for previous years are available on the ISPFMRA website. The 2018 Booklet can be purchased on the ISPFMRA website.

2018 Cash Rents

Figure 1 presents summary information on average cash rents on Illinois farmland. More detailed information for the nine regions is available in the 2018 Booklet. Figure 1 shows average cash rents on professionally managed farmland for the years from 2007 through 2018 for four land classes:

  1. Excellent farmland has productivity indexes (PIs) that are over 133. These PIs are based on ratings contained in Bulletin 811, Optimum Crop Productivity Ratings for Illinois Soils. These soils have high yielding capabilities and are typically located in the northern and central part of the state. A map of PIs for Illinois is available here.
  2. Good farmland has PIs between 117 and 132. Fair farmland is located throughout Illinois, with larger pocket sin western Illinois and eastern Illinois.
  3. Average farmland has PIs between 100 and 116. Fair farmland is located throughout Illinois, with larger pocket sin western Illinois and eastern Illinois.
  4. Fair farmland has PIs less than 100. Fair farmland typically is located in southern Illinois


Overall, crop yields will be the highest for excellent quality farmland and decrease for good, average, and fair classes. As a result, cash rents averaged highest for excellent class farmland and the lowest for fair class farmland (see Figure 1). Figure 1 presents average cash rents over time. There are considerable ranges around these averages. On professionally managed farmland, for example, some excellent class farmland had rents considerable higher and lower than the averages. More detail is provided in the 2018 Booklet.

The four classes of farmland had the same trends. Average cash rents for all land classes increased from 2007 and reached highs in 2013. Cash rents then declined from 2013 to 2017. For example, excellent farmland had rents that increased from $183 per acre in 2007 to $396 per acre in 2013. From the 2013 high, cash rents decreased to $300 per acre in 2017. These rents follow with lags income levels on farms (see farmdoc daily, March 13, 2018, for a chart of incomes).

Cash rents in 2018 are roughly as in 2017. For example, excellent class farmland had a $300 cash rent in 2017 and $298 per acre in 2018. Good and average classes had the same rent in 2017 as in 2018: $260 per acre for good farmland and $225 per acre for average farmland. Fair productivity farmland has a slight increase: $175 per acre in 2017 to $186 in 2018.

ISPFMRA and Average Cash Rents

The ISPFMRA cash rents are some of the first published cash rents for 2018. Over time, ISPMFRA cash rents on professionally managed farmland follow closely rents based on rents that include more than just professionally managed farmland. To illustrate, Figure 2 shows cash rents for excellent farmland from ISPFMRA, the same series that is shown in Figure 1. Also shown are average cash rents for central Illinois farms having high-productivity farmland that are enrolled in Illinois Farm Business Farm Management (FBFM). FBFM cash rents are available in a Revenues and Costs publication available on farmdoc.


Overall, FBFM farms had lower cash rents than ISPFMRA, in large part because the FBFM high-productivity series contains all cash rents and not only those on professionally managed farmland. Over time, professionally managed farmland tend to have higher cash rents than farmland that is not professionally managed. While the ISPFMRA rents are higher, ISPFMRA and FBFM cash rents track each other, having a correlation coefficient of .95 over the years from 2007 to 2017. While highly correlated, ISPFMRA professional managed farmland has larger changes than the FBFM averages. For example, ISPFMRA average went up more than FBFM average during the 2010 to 2013 period when returns to farmland were high. ISPFMRA average rents have come down more since 2013 than have FBFM averages.

The small declines in ISPFMRA cash rents suggest that average cash rents had small changes between 2017 and 2018.

Expectations for 2019

ISPFMRA members were asked their expectations for 2019 cash rents. Obviously, economic conditions will impact 2019 cash rents. When asking cash rent expectations, we first indicated that the 2019 expected corn price was near $3.50 per bushel. In this case, 58% of the members responding to the survey indicated that farmland prices would stay the same while 36% indicated that cash rents would decline between $5 and $25 per acre (see Figure 3). Six percent of respondents indicated that cash rents would increase. A $3.50 price is roughly the same as prices have been s in 2016 and 2017. These expectations suggest continuing, modest declines in 2019 cash rents if prices remain roughly at their current levels.


ISPFMRA members also were asked what would happen if the expected 2019 corn price was near $4.20 per bushel. In this case, 83% of respondents indicated that cash rents would increase. A $4.20 per bushel corn price is considerably higher than current expectations. However, the price is not outside the realm of possible 2018 rents.

We are still always away from setting 2019 cash rents. Survey responses indicated that corn prices continuing at current levels would result in modest declines in average cash rent levels on professionally managed farmland. Higher prices would result in increases in cash rents. Lower prices likely would result in lower cash rents.

Summary and Concluding Comments

Results suggest roughly stable cash rents on professionally managed farmland between 2017 and 2018. Given high correlations between ISFPRMA and other cash rent series, one should expect modest changes in average levels on other cash rent series. Given mid-$3.00 corn prices, farm managers indicated that cash rents would remain stable to decline slightly. Continuing these levels of cash rents may place some farms in the position of facing low incomes and deterioration of financial positions (see farmdoc daily, March 13, 2018). We are still several months away from setting cash rents. As always, much will depend on the 2018 growing season. Moreover, commodity demand conditions also will play a role in economic outcomes.


Illinois Society of Professional Farm Managers and Rural Appraisers (ISPFMRA). Land Values Archive.

Olson, K.R. and J.M. Lang. “Optimum Crop Productivity Ratings for Illinois Soils.” Bulletin 811, College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences, Office of Research, University of Illinois. August 2000.

Schnitkey, G. “Trends in Farm Balance Sheets over Time.” farmdoc daily (8):44, Department of Agricultural and Consumer Economics, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, March 13, 2018.

Schnitkey, G. “Revenue and Costs for Corn, Soybeans, Wheat, and Double-Crop Soybeans, Actual for 2011 through 2016, Projected 2017 and 2018.” Department of Agricultural and Consumer Economics, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, February, 2018.

USDA, NRCS, Soil Data Mart. “Optimal Productivity Index map.”

Farm Policy News

Ag Economy: Farmland Values; and Off-Farm Income

March 19, 2018

Today’s update looks briefly at recent news items that highlight current information on farmland values.  In addition, key parts of a recent Wall Street Journal article that focused on the importance of off-farm income to U.S. farm households are also included.

Farmland Values

In a front page article last week in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Tom Meersman reported that, “Prices for farmland declined across Minnesota in 2017, another sign of a weak farm economy that’s been plagued by low crop prices and reduced incomes for the past four years.

“In Farm Country, Slump Isn’t Over,” by Tom Meersman. Minneapolis Star Tribune front page (March 12, 2018).

Experts say many farmers are dealing with land values about 20 percent lower than when the market peaked in about 2012, when commodity prices were historically high.

For 2017, numbers based on fiscal year sales data reported to the Minnesota Department of Revenue and analyzed by the University of Minnesota showed that the median price per acre of farmland was $4,625, down 5.4 percent from the previous year.

“‘Land values are an important part of a farmer’s equity, so obviously that land component is an important part of a farmer’s collateral,’ said Bruce Peterson, a former president of the Minnesota Corn Growers Association who farms near Northfield. ‘If that drops 30 percent, then it makes for a much more sticky situation for people in a tighter situation financially.’”

The Star Tribune article noted that, “Last week the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis reported that the agricultural sector in Minnesota and nearby states remains weak but stable. Lenders responding to a January Fed survey of agricultural credit conditions indicated that farm income and capital spending decreased compared to the previous year, with further declines expected for the coming three months.

“‘We’re in the third to fourth year of farm stress,’ said Ward Nefstead, University of Minnesota Extension economist.”

“In Farm Country, Slump Isn’t Over,” by Tom Meersman. Minneapolis Star Tribune front page (March 12, 2018).

Last week’s article pointed out that,

‘Land values haven’t gone down as much as they could have,’ said David Bau, a University of Minnesota Extension educator who has been tracking farm economics in southern Minnesota for the past two decades. ‘Prices are starting to hold their own.’

“That’s also true in neighboring states such as Iowa, where a December report from Iowa State University showed average farmland values increasing slightly by 2 percent last year. A January report by Farm Credit Services of Omaha found that South Dakota farmland values dipped by 3.1 percent in 2017.”

“In 2003-08, cropland appreciated almost uniformly across the regions. However, in 2009-14, cropland appreciation was mostly concentrated in four regions: the Northern Plains, Corn Belt, Lake States, and Delta States. This was largely due to increases in commodity prices for grain and oilseed crops.” Farmland Values, Land Ownership, and Returns to Farmland, 2000-2016, ERR-245. USDA, Economic Research Service (February 21, 2018).

Meanwhile, DTN writer Todd Neeley reported late last week that, “Average Nebraska agriculture land values declined for a fourth-consecutive year, according to preliminary results of a University of Nebraska-Lincoln survey released on Thursday.

“The survey of land professionals that included appraisers, farm and ranch managers and agricultural bankers, points to low commodity prices and state property tax issues as the reasons for the continued fall.

UNL found average agricultural land values declined by 3% in the past year, and by 17% since reaching an average high of $3,315 per acre in 2014.

The latest survey found Nebraska all-land average values as of Feb. 1 averaged $2,745 per acre.

Off-Farm Income

Wall Street Journal writers Jacob Bunge and Jesse Newman reported late last month that, “Most U.S. farm households can’t solely rely on farm income, turning what was once a way of life into a part-time job. On average, 82% of U.S. farm household income is expected to come from off-farm work this year, up from 53% in 1960, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.”

“To Stay on the Land, American Farmers Add Extra Jobs,” by Jacob Bunge and Jesse Newman. The Wall Street Journal Online (February 25, 2018).

Off-farm work has become more important since a slump in prices for corn, wheat and other farm commodities over the past five years has cut total U.S. farm income in half. Last week, the USDA said income from farming is expected to fall further over the next decade. Now, picking up work in construction or truck driving is required for many farmers to fund seed and fertilizer purchases, and keep current on loan payments for tractors and land.

‘Most farmers are still on their land today because of their off-farm jobs,’ said Dan Kowalski, head of research at CoBank, one of the largest U.S. agricultural lenders. ‘Without these jobs, these farms would be consolidating at a faster rate.’

The Journal writers explained that, “U.S. food producers as a result are increasingly exposed to economic forces far beyond the fields. Many farms have become reliant not just on sales of crops and livestock, but on the health of rural businesses such as trucking companies and manufacturing plants. Those jobs have been slow to bounce back from the 2008 financial crisis. As of mid-2016, the number of jobs outside of metro areas remained 3% below their prerecession peak, while those in metro areas had grown 5%, according to federal data.

Rural manufacturers such as Iowa’s Pella Corp. and Hy-Capacity Inc., which rebuilds tractor parts, increasingly support agricultural production by hiring smaller-scale farmers.”

Bunge and Newman pointed out that, “Farmers say their independence and satisfaction from growing a crop keeps them holding down other jobs while working the land. For many farmers who work at Pella, expanding their farms to a size that could provide a complete family income is out of the question. An acre of Iowa’s rich, black soil in the area sells for $4,000 to $8,000, and the state’s average is four times what it was in 2000, according to Iowa State University. Land rental rates in the state have more than doubled in that time.”

“To Stay on the Land, American Farmers Add Extra Jobs,” by Jacob Bunge and Jesse Newman. The Wall Street Journal Online (February 25, 2018).

The Journal article added that, “Larry Stenger, regional president at First Mid-Illinois Bank & Trust in Sullivan, Ill., said farmers in his region often use their trucking fleets for off-farm work in winter months, transporting grain for nearby elevators or hauling goods for other trucking firms. ‘There are opportunities out there for those looking for it,’ Mr. Stenger said.

“Some larger-scale farmers, who dominate U.S. food production, plow some crop profits into trucking or supply companies to diversify income and insulate themselves from agriculture’s price swings.”

Keith Good

Keith Good

Keith Good is the social media manager for the farmdoc project at the University of Illinois. He is well known in agricultural circles for the daily News Summary.