People who do freelance writing or sales can calculate how many hours they’ll have to work or how many widgets they’ll need to sell to net a certain income, but what about farmers?

University of Illinois Agricultural Economist Gary Schnitkey wanted to calculate some of the variables farmers have to juggle to determine how commodity prices and other costs combine to equal a net income of $50,000.

“If the goal is a net farm income of $50,000 from a 1,200-acre farm, given costs we’re going to see in 2012 and a typical tenure relationship, what commodity prices would we have to have?” Schnitkey asked. “The scenario used a farm with 15 percent of acres owned, 45 percent share rented and 40 percent cash rented. In order to make $50,000, the corn price needs to be $3.70 and an $8.51 soybean price.”

The $50,000 benchmark net farm income roughly represents the average farm income during the late 1990s and early 2000s. During this period, many farms were “holding their own” financially, with some farms having deteriorating financial positions. Given today’s cash flows, a $50,000 net farm income would result in financial deterioration on many farms.