A newly revised economic forecast from the United States Department of Agriculture indicates that 2004 could be better financially for farmers than originally projected.

USDA Secretary Ann M. Veneman lauded new figures that put the net cash farm income for 2004 at $77.5 billion, about $9 billion more than 2003 and more than the previous record of $60.9 billion in 1997.

“These could be historical times for American agriculture,” Veneman said. “We saw several records established in 2003, including net cash farm income, and as we saw this year unfold I have repeatedly said that we expect the income picture to remain strong.

“However, it now appears that it will turn out to be far stronger than anticipated.”

Veneman cited a growing economy, new job creation, strong demand both domestically and abroad — especially for livestock products — record exports and the tax cut initiated by President Bush.

According to USDA's estimates, farmer's equity for 2004 is forecast to reach a record level of $1.22 trillion, up from a revised $1.18 trillion in 2003.

Also, farmers' cash receipts are forecast to reach a record $233.4 billion this year, fully $22 billion over 2003.

“Significantly, this is a prosperity that is broadly shared across all of American agriculture, including virtually every crop and livestock sub-sector of American agriculture,” Veneman said.

The secretary noted that the agricultural sector of the nation persevered through destructive weather conditions, including drought, floods, early freezes and hurricanes. She praised the crop insurance component of the farm safety net as an effective assistance in such instances.

USDA Undersecretary J.B. Penn also reported favorable, turnaround conditions in the U.S. beef trade industry.

Noting the detection of BSE in a Canadian cow nearly 11 months ago that subsequently forced a shutdown of 64 percent of the U.S. beef trade markets, Penn said many of those markets are steadily re-opening.

“Thus far we have recovered $1.7 billion of the trade in still-closed markets,” Penn said. “So to date we have whittled the 64 percent that was closed down to 41 percent.”

Penn said the USDA is continuing to discuss beef health concerns with foreign countries, particularly Japan.

“Now of those markets that remain closed, the Asian countries account for the vast bulk of the sales; and of those, Japan is our largest and our number one market overall,” he said. “And its actions are closely watched by others across the region.

“Thus, it's very clear why we've been focusing so much effort and attention on markets in the Asian region.”


e-mail: abell@primediabusiness.com