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The Boston Globe

Business

USDA forecasts drop in farm profits

WASHINGTON — A waning boom in US crop prices will cut annual farm profits 27 percent this year from a record, potentially denting demand for Deere & Co. tractors and Monsanto chemicals, the government said.

Agricultural net income will be $95.8 billion, down from a revised $130.5 billion last year, the Department of Agriculture said Tuesday in its first 2014 forecast. Income for major crops including corn, soybeans and wheat will be $189.4 billion, down 12 percent, while all expenses for feed, chemicals and other items will be $348.2 billion, down 11 percent.

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Flat demand for corn to make ethanol and fewer exports to China may halt gains in farmland values after a 37 percent jump since 2009, leaving farmers with less to invest. The farm law President Obama signed last week also will cut government spending on agriculture, further eroding profit.

‘‘We’re looking at an era of about three, four, five, years of reduced profitability in agriculture,’’ Matthew Roberts, an economist at Ohio State University, said before the report was released. Without significant disruptions to crop production, ‘‘by 2015, 2016, farms that expanded very rapidly over the last few years could be vulnerable, and we would see the first significant farm failures.’’

The slump in the value of US crops will erode prosperity in Corn Belt states, harming rural business and, if sustained, may lead to a wave of farm failures for the first time in a generation, Roberts said.

In November, the department had estimated 2013 profit at a record $131 billion, and the most since 1973 when adjusted for inflation. About 2.6 million people worked on farms in 2012, according to the USDA, with another 13.9 million in food-related industries.

Futures for corn, the most valuable US crop, sold on the Chicago Board of Trade slumped 40 percent in 2013, the most since at least 1960, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Soybeans, the number two, fell 8.3 percent, and wheat plunged 22 percent.

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