Study: Most farmers depend primarily on off-the-farm income to get by

On average, rural farm families garner about 18 percent of their total household incomes from farm work. They rely on other income streams to make up the lion’s share.

According to a new study by CoBank, farmers are relying more and more on off-the-farm work to make ends meet.

This University of Missouri study found that the average farm households garner about 18 percent of its yearly earnings from farm work—and relies on other off-farm income to make up the other 82 percent.

Rob Fox with CoBank acknowledges that number is high, but he says that does not indicate a mass exodus from the farm to urban communities. He says as rural economies become more diverse, many jobs are available for farmers in their own communities.

“With telecommuting options, part-time, you may be willing to commute 75-80 miles once or twice a week -- so that gives you the option to live in more rural communities. And that brings professional people with higher incomes and more able to support local economies, goods, and services,” said Rob Fox, Director of the Knowledge Exchange at CoBank. “So, my conjecture here is that the pandemic is going to prove to be a good thing in the long term for the rural economy of Rural America.”

Right now, about 6 percent of rural workers are employed in the ag sector, which is more than a 50 percent decrease since 1970.

Fox says, on average, farming makes up only 10 percent of the typical economy.