WASHINGTON — Farmers can be fairly optimistic about 1988 although cash income is expected to decline a bit from this year's record level, Agriculture Secretary Richard E. Lyng said Tuesday.
"I think farmers are playing it pretty close to their vests, and I wouldn't want to encourage them to go out and incur huge debts again," Lyng told reporters. "It's not an easy game, and it varies a lot depending upon the commodity."
Lyng was asked about expressing optimism a year ago that farmers might see their fortunes rebound after being crunched since the early 1980s by sagging land values and heavy debts.
"I guess I was probably wise enough to be pretty vague about quantifying that (a year ago)," Lyng replied. "I feel pretty good about what's happened. There are still some problems out there. There's some individual farmers that are fighting the problem of excessive debt."
Farm Exports Improving
Lyng added, "But things are improving. Land values are stabilizing. I think we have reason to be pleased with what's happened."
Farm exports are slowly improving as a result of subsidized sales of commodities to meet foreign competition in selected overseas markets. Lyng said he would like to see those sales increase more vigorously without export subsidies.
Net cash income for farmers in 1988 is expected to be in the range of $50 billion to $55 billion, compared with the 1987 estimate of a record $56 billion to $58 billion, the USDA forecast at the start of its three-day Agricultural Outlook Conference.
The sessions bring together farmers, business executives, department officials and Capitol Hill officials to assess how the farm economy will do in the year ahead.
James R. Donald, chairman of the department's world agricultural outlook board, offered the 1988 farm income projections, along with a forecast of "a modest increase" of 2% to 4% in food prices over the next 12 months.
Prices this year are up about 4%, reflecting an upturn for beef, pork and fish, he said. Donald said farmers' receipts for marketing their products should exceed by a slight margin the $132 billion estimated for 1987. Donald forecast a drop of 4% in global crop production, reflecting a sharp decline in U.S. feed grain acreage and reduced wheat acreage and yields overseas.