Ag bankers say farmers are tapping their savings from recent boom years instead of borrowing money at what are the highest interest rates since 2007. The average operating loan issued this past summer was nearly 20 percent smaller than the average a year ago, the lenders said in surveys by regional Federal Reserve banks.
Agricultural credit conditions are likely to remain strong through the end of this year, although bankers expect farm income and loan repayment rates, now the healthiest since 2010, to soften in the months ahead, said the Kansas City Federal Reserve on Thursday.
Interest rates doubled in the past year for agricultural loans, the fastest increase since the early 1980s, with the least-profitable farmers feeling the impact the most, said the Minneapolis Federal Reserve Bank. “All producers should prepare for elevated interest rates by incorporating higher interest expenses into cash flow projections regardless of profitability and debt levels,” it said.
With interest rates sharply higher, farmers are increasingly relying on savings or tightening their belts instead of seeking bank loans to cover their expenses, according to ag lenders nationwide. “The outlook for the U.S. farm economy has moderated in recent months as risks of more limited profit opportunities have grown alongside softening in commodity markets and elevated production expenses,” said the Kansas City Federal Reserve Bank.
The financial outlook for many farmers is favorable, thanks to high commodity prices, but higher interest rates are an ongoing concern, according to ag bankers surveyed by the Federal Reserve. Interest rates on loans to farmers were 3.5 to 4.5 percentage points higher in the opening months of this year than they were at the end of 2021.
Headwinds are intensifying for the farm sector, although high commodity prices support a positive outlook for farm finances through the end of this year, said a survey of ag bankers on Thursday. Alongside increased loan volume during the summer, “interest rates rose sharply and pushed financing expenses to the highest level since 2019.”
Financially distressed farmers have received $800 million of an anticipated $1.3 billion to reduce their debts on USDA farm loans, said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on Tuesday. "Today, I've got to think there are thousands of producers out there who can breathe a little easier," he said during a teleconference.
The strong agricultural economy, fueled by high commodity prices, has reduced farmers' reliance on farm lenders, despite concerns about rising input costs, according to a Federal Reserve survey of ag bankers. "Higher costs are likely to put upward pressure on demand for credit, but strong farm income and working capital could also supplement financing for some borrowers," said the Kansas City Fed on Thursday.
Elevated commodity prices supported farm income and kept the U.S. agricultural economy strong into this autumn, said the Kansas City Federal Reserve Bank on Wednesday. "Prices of most major crops were at multiyear highs moving into fall harvest and supported farm revenue prospects," wrote economists Nathan Kauffman and Ty Kreitman.
The Agriculture Department would offer small farmers one-time loan forgiveness of up to $250,000 under legislation announced by five Democratic senators on Thursday. Lead sponsor Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand said she would try to include debt relief in the upcoming infrastructure bill "to make certain our farmers are not left behind."
Socially disadvantaged farmers will begin receiving letters this week alerting them of a Biden administration program to pay off loans they owe to the USDA — "historic debt relief" in the words of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. Loan forgiveness could total $4 billion by the time, later this year, the government retires bank loans made to minority farmers with USDA loan guarantees.
With federal pandemic aid in their hands, farmers and ranchers borrowed far less money than usual from ag bankers during the opening months of this year for equipment, livestock, and operating expenses, according to a Federal Reserve survey of commercial lenders.
Heartened by sharp increases in commodity prices, farmers and ranchers across the Midwest and Plains are paying off bank loans and opening their wallets for big-ticket purchases, said a report from the Federal Reserve on Wednesday.
Government payments have improved the outlook for farm finances, but like the general economy, that outlook remains highly uncertain amid the pandemic, said a Federal Reserve report on Thursday.
The margin for error is shrinking in the farm sector as financial stress, measured by rising debt loads and the erosion of working capital, is rising, said Todd Van Hoose, chief executive of the Farm Credit Council on Wednesday.
The Department of Agriculture said Thursday it would provide up to $1 billion in loan guarantees to help rural businesses and farmers meet their working capital needs during the pandemic. The new program is patterned on the USDA's existing Business and Industry program but with a higher loan guarantee level and lower requirements for collateral. (No paywall)
Farmland prices are holding steady and agricultural banks are financially strong — potentially two key sources of support for the farm sector during the disruptions of the coronavirus pandemic — said the Federal Reserve in a report on Thursday. (No paywall)
Several environmental and animal advocacy groups are suing the USDA's Farm Service Agency for allegedly delaying and over-redacting its responses to Freedom of Information Act requests. The groups say the agency has systematically withheld information about its loan programs and concealed how much of its funds are directed toward industrial-scale animal agriculture.