In the December survey, producers were asked whether their farm’s 2019 financial performance was better, as expected, or worse than their initial budget projections. Just over-half (52 percent), stated that their initial projections matched their farm’s financial performance; 30 percent stated it was worse; and 19 percent stated it was better than expected.

To better assess the level of financial stress among U.S. farms, producers were asked in both the November and December surveys whether they expected their farm’s 2020 operating loan to be larger, about the same, or smaller than in 2019. In a follow-up, those who expected a larger loan were asked the reason why they expected their loan to increase. Approximately, 1 out of 5 farmers on the two surveys indicated that they expect to have a larger operating loan in 2020 compared to 2019 and, of those, 3 out of 10 indicated that the reason for the larger loan is unpaid operating debt from 2019. Carrying over unpaid operating debt from year-to-year is an indicator of financial stress and these results suggest that about 6 percent of farms surveyed for the Ag Economy Barometer in late 2019 were experiencing financial stress.