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Financing the Farming Operation



Resources and Updates

Documents & Links


This page was updated on September 25, 2021.

USDA Reports to Update Chapter


The latest USDA data on farm sector income, wealth, debt, and profitability is available on the USDA ERS website, Farm Sector Income and Finances.


Helpful charts and graphs that are illustrative tools for teaching are found under the Highlights From the September 2021 Farm Income Forecast tab.

The USDA ERS has a new research topic area that "focuses on the economic, social, spatial, temporal, and demographic factors that affect the poverty status of rural residents." It is available at Rural Poverty and Well-Being

Recent CRS Reports to Update Chapter

Agricultural Credit: Institutions and Issues, Cong. Res. Serv. Rep. R46768 (Apr. 21, 2021)

Other Teaching Notes:

Students benefit from additional information about the Farm Financial Crisis of the 1980s and why it continues to be the benchmark for economic analysis of financial distress. For an instructive and powerful look back at the Farm Financial Crisis of the 1980s' see The Farm Crisis, Iowa PBS Documentaries (June 30, 2013).

Sarah Vogel is the attorney who brought the Coleman v. Block case in North Dakota, resulting in the nationwide foreclosure moratorium for USDA direct farm loans. Sarah is publishing a memoir on her experiences during the farm crisis and in bringing the litigation. It will be released Fall 2021, The Farmer's Lawyer.

For history on the causes of the Farm Crisis, see Neil E. Harl, The Farm Debt Crisis of the 1980's (1990).

FarmAid has a wonderful reflection on the important work of the farm advocates that assisted farmers and their lawyers throughout the country. It is only available on DVD at this time. It is Homeplace Under Fire.


Highlights from USDA ERS Publications Re: Financing

Not including Production Outlook on Individual Crops/Livestock

For full list of publications, see Publications: Farm Economy


Off-Farm Income a Major Component of Total Income for Most Farm Households in 2019, USDA, ERS, Amber Waves (Sept. 7, 2021) "Ninety-six percent of farm households derived some income from off-farm sources in 2019, according to USDA, Economic Research Service data. Smaller farms tend to rely more on off-farm income than larger farms."

U.S. Agriculture Sector Received an Estimated $35 Billion in COVID-19-Related Assistance in 2020, USDA, ERS, Amber Waves (Sept. 7, 2021) "Data from the USDA, Economic Research Service and other Federal agencies estimated total COVID-19 related relief to the U.S. agriculture sector was $35.2 billion in 2020. Farm operations received 84 percent of that total, while farm households received 16 percent."

Marketing Practices and Financial Performance of Local Food Producers: A Comparison of Beginning and Experienced Farmers, USDA, ERS, EIB-225 (August 10, 2021) "Local food sold directly to consumers, retailers, and institutions may provide financial benefits to beginning and other farmers compared to farmers who market through traditional channels. This report evaluates the characteristics, production, and marketing practices, and financial performance of local food producers with varying levels of farming and direct marketing experience."

Farm Sector Liquidity Forecast to Decline in 2021, USDA, ERS, Amber Waves (Mar. 01, 2021)


America's Diverse Family Farms: 2020 Edition, USDA, ERS, EIB-220 (Dec. 10, 2020)

This report provides the latest statistics on U.S. farms, including production, financial performance, and farm household characteristics by farm size. Among the findings, 98 percent of U.S. farms are family farms and they accounted for 86 percent of farm production in 2019. Most (90 percent) farms are small (gross cash farm income less than $350,000) and account for 22 percent of production.



Productivity Increases With Farm Size in the Heartland Region, USDA, ERS, Amber Waves (Dec. 2, 2018).

An Overview of Beginning Farms and Farmers, USDA, ERS, EB-29 (Sept. 25, 2019). 

Financial Conditions in the U.S. Agricultural Sector: Historical Comparisons, USDA, ERS, EIB-211 (Oct. 21, 2019).

An Overview of Beginning Farms and Farmers, USDA, ERS, EIB-29 (Sept. 25, 2019).


America’s Diverse Family Farms: 2018 Edition, USDA, ERS, EIB-203 (Dec. 12, 2018).

U.S. Rice Production in the New Millennium: Changes in Structure, Practices, and Costs, USDA, ERS, EIB-202 (Dec. 3, 2018). 

Farm Households Divide Their Time Between On-Farm and Off-Farm Labor, USDA, ERS, Amber Waves (Dec. 2, 2018).

Economic Returns to Farming for U.S. Farm Households, USDA, ERS (August 2018).

Current Indicators of Farm Sector Financial Health, USDA, ERS, AmberWaves (July 2018).

Agricultural Productivity Growth in the United States: 1948-2015, USDA, Amber Waves (June 2018); supporting data and analysis at Agricultural Productivity in the US (USDA, ERS).

More Microloans Issued in Regions With Higher Concentrations of Small Farms and Beginning Farmers, Women, and Minorities, USDA, ERS, Amber Waves (Apr. 02, 2018)

Older Operators Often Run Small Family Farms, Particularly Retirement and Low-Sales Farms, USDA, ERS, Amber Waves (Mar. 2018).

Changing Farmland Values Affect Renters and Landowners Differently, USDA, ERS, Amber Waves (Feb. 2018).

Farmland Values, Land Ownership, and Returns to Farmland, 2000-2016, USDA ERS, Econ. Res. Rep. No. 245 (Feb. 2018). See related Amber Waves article: Changing Farmland Values Affect Renters and Landowners Differently.



U.S. Cropland is Consolidating in Larger Farms, USDA, ERS, Amber Waves (Dec. 2017) (including compelling graphs and statistics).

America’s Diverse Family Farms: 2017 Edition, USDA, ERS, Econ. Inform. Bull. 185 (Dec. 2017).


Farmland Ownership and Tenure,  USDA, ERS (Apr. 10, 2017) (Graphics and analysis on farmland tenure and use). 


Mergers and Competition in Seed and Agricultural Chemical Markets, USDA, ERS, Amber Waves (Apr. 2017).

Nearly 14,000 USDA Microloans Issued Between 2013 and 2015, USDA, ERS, Amber Waves (Mar. 2017).

2014 Tenure, Ownership, and Transition of Agricultural Land (TOTAL) Survey, USDA, ERS  (Mar. 2, 2017) (Details about agricultural land for 25 States, 6 regions, and the contiguous United States).


USDA Agricultural Projections to 2026, Interagency Agricultural Projections Committee, Office of the Chief Economist, World Agricultural Outlook Board, USDA, Long-term Projections Rep. OCE-2017-1 (Feb. 2017).


Farm Household Income Volatility: An Analysis Using Panel Data From a National Survey, USDA, ERS, Econ. Res. Serv. Rep. No. ERR-226 (Feb. 2017);  See related Amber Waves article, Farm Households Experience High Levels of Income Volatility, USDA, ERS, Amber Waves (Feb. 2017).


USDA Microloans for Farmers: Participation Patterns and Effects of Outreach, USDA,ERS, Econ. Res. Rep. No. ERR-222 (Dec. 2016).

Rural America at a Glance, 2016 Edition, Econ. Inform Bull. No. EIB162 (Nov. 14, 2016). See USDA, ERS, webpage on Rural Poverty & Well-being.


The Changing Organization and Well-Being of Midsize U.S. Farms, 1992-2014, USDA ERS, Econ. Res. Rep. No. ERR-219 (Oct. 31, 2016).


Farm Profits and Adoption of Precision Agriculture, USDA, ERS, Econ. Res. Rep. No. ERR-217 (Oct. 18 2016).

Selected Charts 2016, Ag and Food Statistics: Charting the Essentials, USDA,ERS, Admin. Pub. AP-073 (Oct. 18, 2016).

Corn and Soybean Production Costs and Export Competitiveness in Argentina, Brazil, and the United States, USDA, ERS, Econ. Inform. Bull. No. EIB-154 (June 2016).

Understanding the Rise in Rural Child Poverty, 2003-2014, USDA, ERS, Econ. Res.  Rep. No. ERR-208 (May 2016).

CRS Reports

These excellent reports are now directly available from the Congressional Research Service, on its website at with excellent searching capabilities.

General Legal Resources


Agricultural Law Resources










Susan Schneider began her legal career advising family farmers in financial distress. She integrates this practical experience into all of her teaching and writing. She now serves as the William H. Enfield Professor of Law and Director of the LL.M. Program in Agricultural & Food Law at the University of Arkansas School of Law.

2010 - present

2010 - present



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