Agricultural Finance Databooks, 1984 to 1987

   Publications and papers by Emanuel Melichar   (www. emelichar. com)

Evolution of the Databook of the mid-1980s

In the 1980s, the crucial analytical focus in farm sector financial analysis was on profitability. The return to assets both explained the fall in asset values and would foretell the end of that decline. Then after interest payments, the return to equity measured the dire straits of indebted farmers and would foretell the end of the decline in outstanding debt.

These annual sector data and their derivation were featured in the first 22 pages of the new version of the Agricultural Finance Databook issued in July 1984. The landscape format was adopted to show data back to 1950.

A second change from previous Databooks was rearrangement of the quarterly survey data from five Federal Reserve Districts to facilitate national analyses by putting similar questions in all five Districts on two facing pages, allowing the responses to be simultaneously viewed and thus easily compared or aggregated. Only about three years of data could be shown for most questions, but this was adequate for most short-term analyses based on quarterly data.

The six Contents pages from the July 1984 Databook, which provide a detailed indication of the data presented, can be viewed by going to
July 1984 Contents
As noted below, for the data itself, it is advisable to use the June 1987 issue.

The new Databook continued to be designated as Statistical Release E.15, and quarterly issuance was planned. First, however, a special supplement updating the quarterly data from banks and other lenders was produced in August 1984. The September and December issues then followed in the July format, except that the December issue presented annual farm sector data back to 1940. The main Contents pages for these issues can be viewed at
August, September, and December 1984 Contents

Data problems that delayed the next issue to July 1985 are described on the Contents pages for that issue. See
July 1985 Contents

The July 1985 cover indicates that quarterly issuance was still contemplated; however, the next issue did not appear until June 1986. Data continued to need fixing as well as updating, and a note stated that this issue replaced earlier Databooks.

A major analytical improvement, however, was the extension of the farm sector financial data back to 1910. This was accomplished by constructing Balance Sheet series for 1910-1939 using data from Tostlebe's book and from the Census Bureau's Historical Statistics volume. Presented in constant as well as current dollars, the ongoing farm boom-bust cycle could now be compared with the earlier episode in a more factual manner.

This use of the Databook greatly increased the value of the constant-dollar series, and Databook tables were rearranged to present them upfront as a group--rates of return being followed by tables showing constant-dollar cash flow, then real capital gains, and finally the Balance Sheet. Then came the same tables in current dollars, followed by tables of debt by lender. The Contents pages for the new presentation can be viewed at
June 1986 Contents

Again, the June 1986 issue stated that the quarterly schedule was being resumed. Again, this did not happen. The next, and my last, Databook was issued in June 1987 (I retired on December 3.) Contents page 2 notes that it reflects "several revisions and corrections in concepts and data," and advises discarding earlier issues. (If everyone else did this, my rare copies should be quite valuable--calling all collectors!)

Several changes in the farm debt series were made in the June 1987 Databook.

First, because the Farm Credit System after 1984 discontinued the quarterly releases showing PCA and Federal Land Bank operations and experience. Therefore, Tables 611 and 612 showing these series were dropped.

Second, data on CCC "loans," which had been included in farm debt totals, were in this Databook shown as an Addendum item and excluded from the debt totals.

Finally, the quarterly debt data were made much more useable by analysts in their presentations, tables, and graphs. One problem was that the year-end values of quarterly series, by definitional difference or otherwise, often did not agree with the official annual year-end values in USDA's Balance Sheet. In this Databook, the latter year-end values were used in the quarterly series, and the values in other quarters were adjusted to retain their seasonal pattern. As a result, analysts could present quarterly and annual data in the same paper without having to explain minor differences in their year-end values.

In addition, quarterly series were constructed for noninstitutional debt, for which only USDA annual estimates were available. The new series were created by giving the noninstitutional debt the same seasonal pattern as the quarterly-reported institutional debt, separately for real estate and non-real-estate debt. (I wonder, though, how I estimated the values shown in this Databook for 1987-Q1, beyond the last year-end values.)

Clearly, the evolution of the Agricultural Finance Databook was governed by changing analytical needs. The Contents pages that show the final changes are at
June 1987 Contents

The entire June 1987 Databook is at
June 1987 Databook, 51 pages