[Excerpt] The U.S. farm sector is vast and varied. It encompasses production activities related to traditional field crops (such as corn, soybeans, wheat, and cotton) and livestock and poultry products (including meat, dairy, and eggs), as well as fruits, tree nuts, and vegetables. In addition, U.S. agricultural output includes greenhouse and nursery products, forest products, custom work, machine hire, and other farm-related activities. The intensity and economic importance of each of these activities, as well as their underlying market structure and production processes, vary regionally based on the agro-climatic setting, market conditions, and other factors. As a result, farm income and rural economic conditions may vary substantially across the United States. However, this report focuses singularly on aggregate national net farm income and the status of the farm debt-to-asset ratio as reported by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
Annual U.S. net farm income is the single most watched indicator of farm sector well-being, as it captures and reflects the entirety of economic activity across the range of production processes, input expenses, and marketing conditions that have persisted during a specific time period. When national net farm income is reported together with a measure of the national farm debt-to-asset ratio, the two summary statistics provide a quick indicator of the economic well-being of the national farm economy.