Farmers bullish on ag economy this year

Two-thirds of farmers expect the ag economy to be either the same or stronger in 2023, according to Bank Iowa’s second annual survey of farmers.

 Seven in 10 respondents said they were better off or in the same shape financially compared to the prior year. “Iowa farmers’ positive outlook makes a lot of sense, especially given the unique nature of our state’s commodity prices, land values and the modern genetics of crops,” said Jim Plagge, president and CEO of the $1.9 billion, West Des Moines-based bank. 

Office positions increased 18 percent last year. More than 30 percent of farmers said their technology investments reduced the need to hire physical laborers. Finding labor was the top issue farmers faced, according to the report. Last year, finding labor was third, behind finding qualified labor and labor expenses. 

“Iowa farmers cannot be complacent regarding qualified labor,” Plagge said. “Like other skilled industries have been forced to do, Iowa farmers may need to become their own universities, training the next generation with hands-on-the-farm apprenticeships.” 

Thirty-six percent of farmers were considering agricultural technology for their capital investments last year, up from 22 percent in 2021. Nearly every farmer last year had already implemented agriculture technology within their operation. Automation technology was the most popular, followed by livestock tech and artificial intelligence.

“Farmers are finding new forms of value in technology with every passing growing season,” Plagge said. “A large portion of those that have already invested in ag-tech to augment their human contributions to the farm are doubling down, looking to earn even greater returns on their investments in an automated farming future.”

The report comes as the U.S. Department of Agriculture is forecasting crop cash receipts to fall 3.1 percent this year to $276.8 billion. Growth in receipts for crops such as rice, hay, wheat and sorghum is expected to be outweighed by lower cash receipts in other field crops.

“There are positive economic signals, but uncertainty is high as inflationary pressures persist and interest rates rise,” the USDA said. “Economies including China are reopening and COVID is no longer the major risk to the outlook that it was at this time last year. In agriculture, crop and livestock prices are still strong despite declining from recent highs and the farm sector, as a whole, enters the new year in good financial health with a strong cash position and solid balance sheet.”