Farm incomes have fallen by 17 per cent in a year, the latest government statistics have revealed.
The figures, for 2012-2013, when bad weather hit agriculture hard, show the average household income of the principal farmer, before tax, stood at £52,500.
A quarter of all farmers are getting by on less than £18,500 while another quarter are earning more than £67,500, according to the Defra figures.
One of the most striking aspects of the figures is the proportion of farming families relying on income from other activities. More than nine out of ten farm households have off-farm income, earned by the farmer, spouse or partner.
One in ten have income earned by another member of the household – making up £14,600 per household, on average.
But while farmers are often struggling on a low income, many are sitting on significant assets as the price of land has rocketed and demand for country property has soared in recent years.
The survey, published yesterday, shows that of the 36,700 farm businesses comprised of a single household, a quarter were existing on less than £17,500 a year – while sitting on average assets of well over half a million pounds.
The statistics showed big differences in farm business incomes, depending on the type of farming.
Farmers on lowland grazing livestock farms relied to the greatest extent on income earned off the farm.
The survey found: "Average farm business income fell across most farm types in 2012/13, the exceptions being specialist pig and poultry farms, as the effect of the poor growing season and harvest was felt across both the cropping and livestock sectors.
"For the cropping sector, lower yields and quality were offset to some extent by higher prices. On dairy and grazing livestock farms, higher feed costs were a key driver behind lower incomes."
While farm incomes have fallen, income earned off the farm during the period under review has remained largely unchanged.
Half of all non-farm income came from pensions and benefits.
Working in another business, working on another farm and off-farm work related to farming were also primary earners.
For more than one third of farming households, the figures revealed that their earnings off the farm were higher than those they derived from agriculture.