The USDA  recently updated its World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates (WASDE), with the midpoints of 2013-2014 estimates being $4.80/bu. for corn prices  and $10.75 for soybean prices . These prices are significantly below prices in recent years, suggesting that agricultural returns may be lower in 2013 and 2014. These lower returns then may lead to the need to re-evaluate cash rents. Herein, returns at a $4.80 corn price and a $10.75 soybean price are examined by calculating operator and farmland returns for three different farmland productivities. These returns then are compared to current cash rent levels.
Operator and Farmland Returns
Operator and farmland returns – equaling gross revenue minus non-land costs – represent the amount of return that can be split between a landowner and a farmer. Take an operator and land return of $350/acre and a cash rent of $300/acre. In this case, the farmer receives $50/acre ($350 operator and land return - $300 cash rent). When cash rents exceed operator and land returns, the farmer faces losses.
Like what you're reading? Subscribe to CSD Extra  and get the latest news right to your inbox!
As shown in Table 1, operator and land returns are calculated for three different farmland productivities: high, low and lower. High and low productivities are based on yields and costs from central Illinois farms summarized by Illinois Farm Business Farm Management (FBFM). "Lower" productivity has corn and soybean yields below central Illinois averages summarized by FBFM.
For high-productivity farmland, corn yield is expected to be 195 bu./acre, resulting in $936 gross revenue given a $4.80 corn price. Subtracting $563 of non-land costs gives an operator and land return for corn of $373/acre. Soybeans are expected to yield 56 bu./acre, resulting in $602 of gross revenue at a $10.75 soybean price. Subtracting $350 of non-land costs from $602 gross revenue gives $252 of operator and land return for soybeans. Herein, two-thirds of the acres are assumed to be planted to corn and one-third to soybeans. This crop mix gives $333 of operator and land return/acre.
Operator and land returns are less for the remaining two land productivity classes. Low-productivity farmland has a 183-bu./acre corn yield and 53-bu./acre soybean yield. Operator and land return for low productivity farmland is $291/acre (See Table 1). Lower-productivity farmland has a 160-bu./acre corn yield, a 50-bu./acre soybean yield and a $211/acre cash rent.
Comparison to Recent Average Cash Rents
On April 9, a farmdocdaily post released estimates of 2013 cash rents on professionally managed farmland  based on a survey conducted by the Illinois Society of Professional Farm Managers and Rural Appraisers. The midpoint cash rent is $396/acre for excellent qualify farmland with corn yield over 190 bu. The $396/acre cash rent is above the $333 operator and land return calculated above for high productivity farmland with a 195bu./acre expected corn yield.
The Illinois Society reports a 2013 midpoint cash rent of $339/acre for farmland with corn yields between 170 and 190 bu./acre. Low-productivity farmland with a 183-bu./acre yield has an operator and land return of $291 per acre (See Table 1). Similar to high-productivity farmland, the current cash rent of $339/acre is above the $291/acre operator and farmland return.
The Illinois Society reported a 2013 midpoint cash rent of $285/acre for farmland with expected yield between 150 and 170 bu./acre. In the calculations above, lower-productivity farmland with a 160-bu./acre corn yield has $211/acre of operator and land return (see Table 1). Similar to the higher-productivity class, the $285/acre cash rent exceeds the $211 operator and land return.
Professional farm managers tend to have above average cash rents. The USDA reports average cash rents by county (see this farmdocdaily article for a map ). A number of these average cash rents are near the above-calculated operator and land returns, particularly in central Illinois. For example, average cash rent is $324/acre in Sangamon County, $326 in Macon County, $313 in Logan County. These averages are only slightly below the $333/acre operator and land return for high-productivity farmland. Given that there is a wide range of rents summarized in an average county cash rent, there likely are a large number of cash rents above the operator and land returns shown in Table 1.
Operator and Land Returns for Differing Prices
Price realizations greatly influence operator and land returns, as illustrated in Table 2. Take a 40¢ increase in corn price from $4.80 to $5.20 and an 80¢/bu. increase in soybean price from $10.75 to $11.55. This results in a $67/acre increase in operator and land return from $333/acre to $400/acre.
As price expectations change, returns will change as well. This then leads to a need to re-evaluate cash rents.
You might also like: