Midwest Bankers Survey Suggests Continued Growth

A drought impacted ear of corn is seen in a field on the Tom Albaugh farm, Monday, Aug. 20, 2012, in Ankeny, Iowa. Albaugh expects to be harvesting by the middle of September, ahead of the usual end of September or early October schedule. The harvest is three to four weeks ahead of schedule in most of the corn belt because an unusually warm spring allowed farmers to plant earlier. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

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By Ellen Kurt

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Growth in farmland prices, cash rents and farm equipment sales remain strong despite the continuing threat of drought in some Midwestern and northern Plains states, according to a new survey of rural bankers released Thursday.

The report on the Rural Mainstreet Index said the index hit 55.6 in January, down from 60.6 in December. It is the index's fourth straight month above growth neutral.

Creighton University economist Ernie Goss, who oversees the report, said the region's rural economy was still expanding at a moderate pace.

"Rural, agriculturally dependent communities in the region appear to have shed the negative impacts of the 2012 drought," Goss said.

The index ranges from 0 to 100, with 50 representing growth neutral. It's based on a survey of rural bankers in Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming.

Jeff Bonnett, president of Havana National Bank in Havana, Ill., said in his survey response that the drought had little impact there "since most of our crops are irrigated and farmland that is not irrigated is covered by disaster crop insurance programs."

In Grygla, Minn., American State Bank President Bryan Grove said that although 2012 "was much drier than normal in our region of northwest Minnesota, crops were excellent, resulting in great financial progress for agriculture producers."

But Grove also said subsoil moisture has been depleted, so 2013 crops "will require timely rains."

The bankers were asked about which farm sector they think would suffer the most economic damage from a continuation of the drought, nearly 51 percent said livestock producers. About 38 percent of the bankers answered crop farmers would suffer the worst effects.

The confidence index, which is part of the overall Mainstreet Index and reflects expectations for the economy six months out, came in unchanged in January from December's 55.5.

"Bankers are reporting healthy current economic growth and expect this growth to remain strong for the first half of 2013," Goss said.

On the other hand, Dale Bradley, CEO of The Citizens State Bank in Miltonvale Kan., said a "downturn in the overall economy will also affect our farm economy. I expect both to be negative for 2013."

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