Photo courtesy of Purdue University/CME Group.
WEST LAFAYETTE, INDIANA, U.S. — Despite ongoing trade wars and sharply declining commodity prices, U.S. producers’ view of current economic conditions improved in May.

However, investigators in charge of the Purdue University/CME Group Ag Economy Barometer said it is clear from survey responses that uncertainty regarding the agricultural outlook increased considerably.

The June barometer reading of 143 was two points higher than May. The barometer is based on a monthly survey of 400 agricultural producers from across the country.

“In June, we saw a sizeable drop in commodity prices that caught many observers by surprise,” said James Mintert, the barometer’s principal investigator and director of Purdue University's Center for Commercial Agriculture. “But, despite the price decline, producers’ appraisal of current economic conditions improved compared to May.”

The barometer’s rise was underpinned by an increase in the Index of Current Conditions, which climbed to 138 compared with a reading of 132 a month earlier. The Index of Future Expectations remained nearly unchanged with a reading of 146 in June, one point higher than in May.

Each month the survey asks producers whether they expect “good times” or “bad times” in U.S. agriculture, both one-year and five-years ahead.

This month, respondents provided mixed responses with many producers shifting to “neutral” and away from a “good” or “bad” response, that suggests a rise in uncertainty for the future.

Several times a year, the barometer also asks producers if they expect prices for key commodities to move higher, lower or remain unchanged over the next 12 months.

Compared to the beginning of 2018, producers have been slowly signaling that they expect commodity prices to recede and this trend continued in June with an increase in the percentage of producers expecting lower prices.

The June barometer survey also asked producers how much their crop acreage changed in 2018 and whether or not they use flexible cash rental leases to rent farmland. As expected, most farmers’ crop acreage did not change in 2018 compared to a year earlier, but the survey revealed that some farms were expanding crop acreage rapidly.

For example, 8% of farms increased their crop acreage by more than 10%, and 6% of farms increased their crop acreage by up to 10% in 2018, compared to 2017. Usage of flexible cash rental leases has been increasing recently and, among the farms in the survey that rent cropland, 36% reported they plan to use a flexible cash rent lease on some of their acreage.

“Flexible cash rent leases provide a way for farm operators to share some risk with land owners, while also providing landowners some of the stability that comes with a cash rental agreement,” Mintert said. “The increase in volatility in crop agriculture could be stimulating interest in flexible cash rent leases.”