Farmers and agricultural professionals in the United States make a median annual salary of around $66,000. However, there is ample room for a farmer to earn more or less than this figure in any given year. Farmers’ salaries vary greatly depending upon their years of experience, the types of crops they grow, and the performance of their crops. Current farmers may be able to increase their income levels by varying the types of crops or produce they offer, gaining additional education, and selecting a niche.
What Factors Determine How Much a Farmer Can Earn?
Farming is a vast career field that can encompass many different tasks. A small farm may specialize in just one crop, while bigger farms might yield dozens of varieties. Additionally, some farms might focus on dairy products instead of growing fruits or vegetables. Farmers’ incomes may vary for several reasons, including their experience level, their chosen crops, and their crops’ performance.
As with any career, farmers tend to earn more money for each year they have been involved in the farming industry. Often when a farmer is just beginning, they are unsure of exactly what crops to grow and how to grow them in order to yield the largest possible profit. However, as a farmer becomes more experienced in selecting and cultivating their crops, they are likely to yield more product and sell it at a higher price, leading to a higher profit.
Different crops sell for different amounts, which can drastically impact a farmer’s bottom line. Farmers may select specific crops to grow not only based on potential profit but also on the best types of crop for their location and the ease of cultivation. Additionally, the number of crops a farmer can produce (and the demand for those crops) can benefit their profit margin.
Farmers are often at the mercy of nature when it comes to the performance of their crops. However, it cannot be overstated that poorly performing crops will lead to lower earnings for the farmer in question. Farmers might find they earn differing amounts from one year to the next depending on the weather conditions throughout their growing season.
Which Crops Bring In the Most Income?
For farms that specialize in crop production, there is a virtually endless number of options for crops to produce. Farmers often have to decide on their crops based on their location, soil, weather, and a number of other factors. There are, however, certain crops that have been proven to bring in more money than others. In terms of average net cash farm income (NFCI), the USDA states that specialty crops, cotton, and corn are among the most profitable.
The term “specialty crops” is a wide umbrella that encompasses fruit and tree nuts, nursery/greenhouse, and vegetables. According to the USDA, the forecasted average NFCI for specialty crops in 2020 is $192,500. Compared to 2019, specialty crops also have the lowest change in average NFCI at a loss of 6.0%. This number solidifies the notion that specialty crops will remain profitable for years to come.
Cotton is commonly grown throughout the southern United States, as well as in countries such as Brazil, China, India, and Turkey. The USDA states that, for 2020, the forecasted average NCFI for cotton is $184,200. When this figure is compared to 2019, we see a loss of 16.8%. While the decline in this industry is evident, cotton is likely to remain a staple crop for the world as a whole.
Corn is widely grown throughout the United States, but you will find most corn fields in the Heartland region, which includes states such as Nebraska, Illinois, Iowa, and Indiana. Corn is projected to have an average NCFI of $179,600 for 2020. When this NCFI is compared to that of 2019, the crop has experienced a decline of 12.4%. Since corn is such a universal food with a variety of uses, it will likely continue to be in demand across the globe.
How Can a Farmer Earn More Money?
While some elements of a farmer’s income may be out of his or her control, there are a few things that a farmer can do to boost their profits. Seeking higher education, changing the types of crops they produce, or selecting a niche can all prove beneficial to a farmer’s salary if done correctly.
Seeking Higher Education
It is entirely possible to become successful as a farmer with simply a high school degree and some level of on-the-job training. However, many agricultural professionals have found it beneficial to seek some form of higher education. Many will choose to attend an undergraduate program in farm management, agriculture, or a similar field to extend their knowledge and boost their profits.
If a farmer discovers that a particular crop is not yielding the profits that it has in the past, they might consider changing their strategy. Perhaps a certain crop is not growing well on a farmer’s land anymore, or maybe that selection is not selling for as much money as it did in years past. In any case, a farmer may find that by cultivating a new crop, they experience an unexpected yet significant boost in income.
Selecting a Niche
Instead of growing a wide variety of crops, farmers may choose to stay within a certain niche. For instance, cultivating organic food could be a gateway to another agricultural market that proves successful. When considering selecting a niche such as organic food, determine the additional costs involved, if any, and whether the potential yield and profit would justify these costs.
Farming is an incredibly individual profession that can be customized to meet the needs of the farmer and the community. While income levels can vary because of factors like experience level, crop selection, and crop performance, farmers can expect to earn a respectable wage for themselves and their families. By investing in profitable crops like specialty crops, cotton, and corn, as well as taking steps to further their education, vary their crops, and select a niche, farmers can steadily increase their income levels and expand their businesses.