By Sean Ellis
Idaho Farm Bureau Federation
POCATELLO – Estimates made by University of Idaho agricultural economists last December of total Idaho farm cash receipts in 2017 were very close to the official USDA numbers, which were released in late August.
UI ag economists Ben Eborn and Garth Taylor in December estimated that Idaho farmers and ranchers brought in $7.44 billion in farm cash receipts in 2017.
Eight months later, USDA’s Economic Research Service put that number at $7.34 billion, which is 1 percent less than the forecast by Eborn and Taylor.
Just before the Idaho Legislature convenes each January, the lawmaking body’s Joint Legislative Economic Outlook and Revenue Assessment Committee partly relies on the annual farm cash receipts estimate by Taylor and Eborn to forecast how much revenue the state will take in that fiscal year.
That state revenue forecast by the committee, in turn, is used by the entire legislative body to help set state budgets.
Because the legislature convenes in January and typically adjourns in March or April, the USDA numbers are released too late in the year to help lawmakers forecast state revenue.
The health of Idaho’s farming economy is important to the state because according to a University of Idaho study, agriculture is the biggest part of the state’s economy, accounting for 16 percent of total Idaho gross state product, $27 billion in sales and one of every seven jobs.
Eborn said he and Taylor make the forecast “mostly for the legislature, to help lawmakers with their budgeting decisions. Since agriculture is a huge piece of the state’s economy, we try to give them a feel for the strength of Idaho’s economy.”
In recent years, the UI farm cash receipts estimate has been extremely close to the official USDA number.
The ag economists’ 2016 forecast for Idaho farm cash receipts also came within 1 percent of the USDA total.
Sen. Steve Bair, a retired farmer and member of the economic outlook committee, said he is amazed that Taylor and Eborn are able to come that close in their estimate so far in advance of the USDA numbers.
“I think it’s remarkable that an economist can come that close on an estimate like that,” he said. “They do a good job on their research and they obviously have a good handle on Idaho’s farm economy.”
When it came to estimates for cash receipts by farm commodity, the UI forecasts were extremely close in some cases.
For example, Eborn and Taylor estimated Idaho milk receipts at $2.52 billion in 2017, while USDA put that total at $2.51 billion. They estimated total Idaho wheat cash receipts at $415 million and USDA had that number at $417 million.
Their biggest miss was on sugar beets, where they estimated cash receipts at $271 million while USDA put that number at $305 million, a 12 percent difference. They estimated beef cattle cash receipts at $1.8 billion while USDA put that total at $1.66 billion, a 9 percent difference.
The economists’ estimate for total Idaho livestock industry cash receipts in 2017 was $4.59 billion and USDA put that total at $4.4 billion, and their estimate for total Idaho crop cash receipts was $2.86 billion while USDA had that number at $2.96 billion.
Their estimate for total Idaho net farm income in 2017 was off significantly from the USDA number. They forecast Idaho net farm income at $1.9 billion in 2017, but USDA put that number at $1.4 billion.
Eborn said they use USDA’s November estimate for U.S. farm input costs to forecast Idaho net farm income and USDA made a major revision in those numbers between November and August.
“We were pretty close on cash receipts, but we were way off on net farm income because USDA changed the foundation that we built our estimates off,” he said.
Taylor said the total cash receipts number is an important indicator in Idaho’s overall farm economy because regardless of how much farmers’ net income is, they still spend money each year on seed, fertilizer, fuel, chemical, equipment, labor and other farm inputs and costs.
So, the farm cash receipts total provides a pretty decent glimpse of how the state’s overall agricultural sector performed, he said.