USDA forecast a $3.1 billion increase in net farm income for 2020 before COVID-19 emerged in the United States and commodity prices plunged.
USDA hasn't issued another forecast, however, a private forecast from the Food & Agriculture Policy Research Institute estimates farm income to drop roughly 11% from the USDA's original projection.
That kind of sudden, unexpected reversal of fortune typically leads to one thing: demand shock. That is one reason why many economists are now talking more about a U-shaped recovery curve than a V-shaped curve. Still, it is nothing more than a guess since so many unknowns persist.
"Trying to figure out the true extent of COVID-19's impact is like staring into a deep, deep mist," said Association of Equipment Manufacturers Director of Market Intelligence Benjamin Duyck.
In the meatime, Duyck offers analysis of the "U.S. Ag Equipment Forecast" from Oxford Economics, a leader in global forecasting and quantitative analysis. Oxford generates forecasts for a variety of potential scenarios. Its baseline forecast calls for a 15% decrease in gross U.S. ag equipment output in 2020, followed by a strong rebound in 2021. Oxford's most negative outlook pegs this year's decline at 26%. "But even those more negative outlooks have us rebounding 6-10% in the following years," Duyck said.
Speculation aside, existing data shows the stinging impact of COVID-19 in the month of March.
AEM's monthly "U.S. Ag Tractor and Combine Report" shows that farm tractor unit sales were down just under 1% for January-February as compared to the previous year. In March, sales plunged 15.6%. Self-propel combines had a rougher Q1 all around. Sales were down 22.6% in January-February, and another 11.9% in March. "Although the March numbers were likely impacted by COVID-19, it is still too soon to tell the ongoing impact of this crisis on ag equipment sales," Duyck said.
April's data showed signs of promise. Farm tractor unit sales were up 12.3% from April of last year. Self-propel combines climbed 4.1%.
In April, AEM conducted a survey to gauge the attitudes of equipment manufacturer CEOs. Nearly everyone (95%) felt that COVID-19 was having a "very negative" impact on the overall economy. However, far fewer (57%) felt like the equipment industry was being hit in a very negative way. Furthermore, less than half (45%) felt like their individual company was being hit unusually hard, and just 31% felt like their supply chain was being very negatively impacted. Generally speaking, the majority of CEOs felt like COVID-19 was having a "moderately negative" impact on the ag equipment business environment.
Roughly 62% of CEOs anticipate improvements through the remainder of the year, while just 11% see things as getting worse. Roughly 27% expect things to remain the same.