2018 Crop Farm Profits Will Vary

November 26, 2018


Ask a farmer what their profit levels from crop farming were in 2018, and the answers can range from “pretty good” to “acceptable” to “right down terrible”. Any of those answers could be correct, depending where the farmer is located and how the erratic 2018 weather conditions affected crop production in the area. There will also be a wide variation grain marketing decisions and crop insurance coverage for the year that potentially affected farm profitability. Following is a brief overview of how these three major factors will likely affect final farm profitability in 2018:


  • 2018 crop yields — Mother nature” was not kind to many producers in southern Minnesota and northern Iowa in 2018, as well as in some other areas of the Upper Midwest. Several areas received 50-100% above the normal growing season rainfall, in addition to some severe storms late in growing season, which lead to greatly reduced crop yields for the year. Some growers in south central and southwest Minnesota and adjoining areas of northern Iowa are reporting their lowest corn yield since the disaster year of 1993. Overall, corn yields in region were 10-20 percent below long-term averages, and probably 15-30 percent lower than 2015-2017 average yields. In general, soybean yields were 5-20 percent below long-term average yields.

By comparison, growers in Illinois, Indiana, and the eastern Corn Belt are having record crop yields in 2018. Portions of southeast, central, and northwest Minnesota, as well as central and eastern areas of Iowa, also reported above average yields, as did parts of Nebraska, North and South Dakota. At a farm-level price of $3.25 per bushel, a farm operator with a yield of 220 bushels per acre will gross $715 per acre, wile a producer with 180 bushels per acre grosses $585 per acre, and a producer with 140 bushels per acre only grosses $455 per acre.

The “market facilitation program” (MFP) payments, which are being paid to farm operators to offset market price reductions resulting from tariffs and trade issues, are based on final 2018 crop yields. The largest estimated MFP payment level is $1.65 per bushel for soybeans. So, a producer in the eastern Corn Belt that had a soybean yield of 70 bushels per acre will get an estimated MFP payment of $115.50 per acre, while a producer in southern Minnesota that had a weather-reduced yield of 40 bushels per acre will only receive $66 per acre.


  • Grain marketing decisions — As in most years, the grain marketing decisions that were made by farm operators will have a big impact on the profit levels for their crop enterprise in 2018. The biggest difference will likely come in soybeans, where producers in many areas had the opportunity to “lock-in” cash prices above $9.50 per bushel on a portion of their anticipated 2018 production from February to May this year, prior to the Chinese tariffs on U.S. soybeans. Current soybean cash price levels are near $8.25 per bushel in southern Minnesota, and even lower in some areas.

For example, farmer A and B both targeted a yield of 60 bushel per acre for soybeans at the beginning of 2018; however, due to the weather conditions they only had a yield of 50 bushels per acre. Farmer A “locked-in” two-thirds of the anticipated production (40 bu./acre) at $9.75 per bushel and sold the balance at $8.25 per bushel. Farmer B sold the entire production at harvest for $8.25 per bushel. Farmer A would have a gross income of $472.50 per acre, while farmer B would have a gross income of only $412.50 per acre, a difference of $60 per acre.

The difference in marketing decisions for corn from prices the Spring of 2018 until post-harvest prices was not quite as dramatic as with soybeans. There were several opportunities from March to May to “lock-in” a local cash corn price of $3.50-$3.65 per bushel in southern Minnesota, which compares to the current cash price near $3.25 per bushel. However, this can still amount to a difference of $30-$60 in gross income per acre. Grain marketing decisions are often overlooked as a major factor that impacts farm profitability.


  • 2018 crop insurance coverage — The level and type of crop insurance coverage that a producer carried for the 2018 crop year will also impact farm profitability in the areas that had greatly reduced crop yields for the year. Corn and soybean producers had the option of selecting revenue protection (RP) crop insurance policies ranging from 60% to 85% coverage levels. The level of insurance coverage can result in some producers receiving crop insurance indemnity payments, while other producers receive no indemnity payments, even though both producers had the same adjusted APH yield and the same final yield. For example, at an adjusted APH corn yield of 190 bushels per acre and a final 2018 corn yield of 155 bushels per acre, a producer with 85% RP coverage would receive a gross indemnity payment of $69.14 per acre, while a producer with 75% coverage would receive no indemnity payment.

A large majority of Midwest corn and soybean producers chose “enterprise units” for their 2018 crop insurance coverage, in order to reduce premium costs. This combines all acres of a crop in a given county into one crop insurance unit. By comparison, “optional units” allow producers to insure crops separately in each township section, which can be a big advantage in a year such as 2018. For example, assume that producers A and B both have 5 separate farms in the same county with an APH corn yield of 190 bushels per acre, and with an overall average 2018 corn yield of 165 bushels per acre. However, three of the farms average 175 bushels per acre and two of the farms average 145 bushels per acre. Producer A has an 80% RP policy with optional units and producer B has an 80% RP policy with enterprise units. Producer A would receive no insurance indemnity payment on three farms; however, would receive a gross insurance payment of $68.32 per acre on two farms. Producer B would receive almost no insurance payments on any farms.


Bottom Line

Corn and soybean producers in Illinois, Indiana, and other areas with average or above average yields will likely have an average to very good profit year in 2018, depending on their grain marketing decisions. Farm operators that had average to slightly below average yields for the year will probably have acceptable to reduced profit levels in 2018, depending on grain marketing decisions. Finally, producers with below average to very low crop yields in 2018 will likely have reduced to disastrous profit levels for the year, depending on their crop insurance coverage and their grain marketing decisions.

Farm operators that are facing serious cash flow shortages for the 2018 crop year are encouraged to consult their farm management advisors and ag lenders sooner than later to look at ways to address the situation. Farm operators should also consult their tax advisors before the end of the year, as there are changes in the new tax law relative to the tax treatment of farm income losses for a year.



Note — For additional information contact Kent Thiesse, Farm Management Analyst and Senior

Vice President, MinnStar Bank, Lake Crystal, MN. (Phone — (507) 381-7960);

E-mail — kent.thiesse@minnstarbank.com)


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