The ’80s were good for Madonna, but not Farmers!

By Dan Wilson - Contributing columnist

Almost as we take for granted our food I think we also take for granted the financial conditions of our agricultural community.

The 1980s may have been a boom for Madonna, small businesses and for the economy as a whole, but farmers know better.

Farm Aid started in the ’80s for a reason and it wasn’t just to get Willie, Waylon, Mellencamp and the boys on the same stage to sell records.

According to many reports over the last 12 to 24 months, agricultural credit conditions have deteriorated somewhat as repayment rates declined and delinquency rates picked up slightly alongside reduced farm income.

In short, lower commodity prices, higher input prices and (in Ohio) higher taxes are having effects on farm credit – and therefore farm income.

“Farmers and ranchers are facing serious hardships as they deal with the financial challenges associated with the lean times we are in.

The Federal Reserve’s assessment of farm credit conditions, with signs of deterioration and more challenging loan renewals has National Farmers Union (NFU) very concerned about the hard times ahead,” said Roger Johnson, president of the NFU.

There are 12 Federal Reserve Banks in the U.S. Each one is responsible for a portion of the country.

Ohio’s Federal Reserve Bank is in Cleveland. Along with their regular duties, each of the banks also contributes to the nation’s economic data and research.

The Kansas City bank covers regional issues like agricultural economics.

The K.C. Fed said non-real estate loans declined slightly so far in 2016, but the overall loan rate is higher.

Producers, cash-strapped by persistently high input costs and low commodity prices, may experience trouble accessing credit, negative farm budgets and depressed markets if the trends continue as forecasted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Johnson pointed to the Farm Service Agency (FSA) loan portfolio as an indicator to measure the health of the farm sector. FSA loan demand is up 21 percent over the same time last year with $3.4 billion of the $6.47 billion in lending authority for fiscal year 2016 being utilized. The findings of the report expand on the narrative of the multitude of challenges faced by farmers and ranchers.

For a regional perspective I spoke with Anita Green, county executive director of the FSA office in Wapakoneta.

According to Green, commercial lenders are tightening up of their overall lending requirements and more so toward farmers.

“We are seeing more demand for sure. But it’s a combination of those turned down by commercial lenders and an increase in targeting funding to select groups like beginning farmers, small farmers, minority farmers, like women, as well as veterans and socially disadvantage groups. The FSA has done a significant job in making loans to those in farming and the agricultural community that most commercial lenders will not or can’t make. Part of that demand nationwide could be the fact we are a lender of last resorts and that certainly will increase our involvement,” she said.

Green added, “We are also seeing an increase because of the variety of types of loans we can make, so that has certainly added to the increase demand probably more so than farmers effected by high input costs and low commodity prices. Our rates and our relationship with farmers makes us a better alternative to some commercial lenders.”

Nationally large operating loans accounted for a significant share of the total loan volume growth, which could be due to the persistently high input costs and farm expansion, the report says. In addition, loan delinquency rates increased slightly and repayment rates declined; though, rates are still below the 15-year average.

Reduced cash flow and short-term liquidity problems have lenders seeking to restructure existing loans, leading to an increased demand for loan renewals and extensions, the report found.

We all remember the 1980s and that constantly looms over us, and while conditions are different, today we must remain vigilant.

Here’s seeing you, in Ohio Country!

By Dan Wilson

Contributing columnist

The writer is an award-winning veteran broadcaster for more than 30 years.

The writer is an award-winning veteran broadcaster for more than 30 years.