WEST LAFAYETTTE, INDIANA, U.S. — Concerns about future economic conditions had U.S. agriculture producers feeling less confident in March, according to the Purdue University/CME Group Ag Economy Barometer reading. However, optimism surrounding exports reached its highest level since May 2017.

The monthly reading was down three points in March to 133. The barometer is a nationwide measure of the health of the U.S. agricultural economy. It is based on a survey of 400 agricultural producers on economic sentiment each month.

“This month’s drop is largely due to producers’ weaker outlook regarding future economic conditions in agriculture and, in some cases, stress regarding their farm’s future financial performance,” said James Mintert, the barometer’s principal investigator and director of Purdue University’s Center for Commercial Agriculture.

Financial stress is a concern with 20% of farmers expecting their farm’s performance to be worse than 2018. About 59% expect it to be the same and 21% expect it to be better.

Responding to a separate question, just over half (52%) of respondents indicated they are less optimistic about their farm’s financial future compared to a year earlier.

Survey results from January and March 2019 suggest that 5% to as much as 7% of U.S. farms are suffering from some financial stress, using the need to carryover unpaid operating debt as an indicator of financial stress, investigators said.

Sentiment on exports is more positive, with 68% of respondents expecting exports to increase, the most optimistic perspective on agricultural exports provided by farmers since the Purdue researchers began posing questions on exports in May 2017

Only 8% of producers in the March survey said they expect agriculture exports to decrease in the next five years.

With respect to the trade dispute with China, 77% of producers were confident that it will be resolved in a way that benefits U.S. agriculture; however, less than half expect the trade situation with China to be resolved before July 1.