Dave NatzkeEditorProgressive DairymanEmail Dave [email protected] USDA’s latest annual Farm Production Expenditures report, issued in August, estimated interest rates represented about 2.8 percent of total farm production expenditures in 2017.advertisementadvertisementHere’s a look at Federal Reserve district interest rates and other credit conditions.• Chicago (district covers all or portions of Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan and Wisconsin). Compared to the same quarter a year earlier, farm loan repayment rates deteriorated for a 19th straight quarter. Across the district, about 6 percent of farm loans were classified as having “major” or “severe” repayment problems, the highest second-quarter percentage since 2002. About 21 percent of the survey respondents reported that their banks required larger amounts of collateral than a year ago.Over the first half of 2018, district banks reported issuing more farm operating loans than historically normal, but lower amounts for ag real estate loans. Merchants, dealers and other input suppliers noticeably boosted agricultural lending. According to survey respondents, lenders within the Farm Credit System also issued an above-normal volume of operating loans and mortgages during the January-June period of 2018. Life insurance companies reportedly issued slightly below normal amounts of agricultural loans, although this trend was bucked in Illinois.Third-quarter 2018 farm loan volumes were anticipated to increase from year-earlier levels, especially for operating loans and loans guaranteed by the USDA’s Farm Service Agency, but decrease for real estate lending.advertisementSecond-quarter 2018 farmland values were up 1 percent from the same quarter a year ago and up 2 percent from the first quarter of 2018, the largest quarterly gain in four years. Only Illinois exhibited signs of a year-over-year decrease in farmland value. District farmland values were expected to be stable in the short term.District bankers expressed concerns about the negative impacts of U.S. trade policy.As of July 1, 2018, the average interest rates for farm operating, feeder cattle and agricultural real estate loans (before adjusting for inflation) were at their highest levels since the third quarter of 2011. On average, real interest rates on farm mortgages have returned to the levels seen during the peak of farmland values in 2013.• Dallas (district covers all of Texas and portions of New Mexico and Louisiana). Dry conditions continue to be a concern for ag producers and their lenders in the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas district.A survey of 118 bankers indicated demand for agricultural loans overall decreased for an 11th consecutive quarter. Loan renewals and extensions rose, but at a slower pace, while the rate of loan repayment continued to decline.District real ranchland values surged during the quarter, while dryland and irrigated cropland values declined. Nominal dryland and ranchland values increased year over year in Texas; southern New Mexico cropland values increased while ranchland values decreased; and northern Louisiana cropland and ranchland values all increased. Survey respondents expect farmland values to trend up in the upcoming months.advertisementSecond-quarter 2018 interest rates on all types of loans were higher, in most cases the highest since mid-2011. Bankers indicated continued tightening of credit standards.• Kansas City (district covers Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Wyoming, the northern half of New Mexico and the western third of Missouri). Lower commodity prices led to deterioration of second-quarter farm incomes, especially in corn and soybean areas affected by ongoing tariff wars.Despite some previous signs of stabilization, agricultural credit conditions weakened in the second quarter. Bankers continued to report a modest increase in problems with loan repayment. On average, bankers across the district reported that nearly 30 percent of the dollar volume of their farm loan portfolios was experiencing at least minor repayment problems.Elevated demand for farm loans continued to place pressure on liquidity at some agricultural banks, and survey respondents indicated they expect loan demand to be even larger in the next three months, reflecting anticipated increases to operating loan balances through the end of the growing season. While the agricultural lending cycle typically results in fluctuations in bank liquidity as operating loans grow to meet seasonal demands, the majority of bankers continued to report year-over-year decreases in available funds for the fourth straight year. That’s led to an increase in loan denials, and a majority of bankers reported they had increased collateral requirements compared to a year ago.Interest rates on farm loans continued to rise in the second quarter, with the largest increases on variable-rate loans. While increased interest expenses are unlikely to have a significant impact on farm income in the short term, higher rates are likely to influence decisions in making longer-term capital and real estate purchases.Recent increases in interest rates could continue to put pressure on the market for farm real estate, but farmland values across the district generally remained steady or declined slightly. The value of irrigated cropland decreased most significantly, declining about 4 percent from a year ago. The year-over-year decline in the value of nonirrigated cropland was the smallest since early 2015. Farmland value changes varied by state and their individual dependency on different crops.Cash rents in the second quarter also declined at a relatively modest pace: Rent for ranchland decreased about 3 percent due, in part, to a decline in cattle prices.In a separate report, Kansas City Federal Reserve district staff economists said consolidation in the livestock sector has led to fewer farms with greater financing needs (Read: Large Loans for Livestock Drive Uptick in Farm Lending). As a result, increased lending and larger loan sizes in the livestock sector have coincided with higher interest rates on livestock loans.• Minneapolis (district covers all or portions of Minnesota, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin). Falling farm incomes are impacting capital and household spending, according to results of the second-quarter agricultural credit conditions survey in the Minneapolis district of the Federal Reserve Bank. Equipment purchases were the most depressed in Wisconsin.While a solid majority of lenders stated that the number of loan renewals or extensions had held steady, a growing number reported the rate of repayment on agricultural loans fell, and 29 percent saw increased renewal activity.Falling incomes also drove increases in demand for loans. Collateral requirements were unchanged, according to about 90 percent of lenders responding to the survey.Fixed and variable interest rates for operating, machinery and real estate loans all increased modestly from the previous quarter.Though quarterly surveys in recent years typically indicated steadily but moderately declining land prices in the wake of a long period of soaring growth, the second-quarter results generally pointed to a moderate increase in land values. The average value for nonirrigated cropland in the district increased by more than 3 percent from a year earlier. Irrigated land increased by 2 percent, while ranchland values rose by a little more (between 2 percent and 3 percent).The picture for cash rents was more mixed. The district average cash rent for nonirrigated land decreased by 3.5 percent from a year ago, while rents for irrigated land rose more than 2 percent.The increase in land values was mostly consistent across the district. Cropland prices increased the most in North Dakota, where lenders reported that nonirrigated land values rose nearly 6 percent compared with a year earlier, but all district states saw growth in that category. Rents for the same class of land fell 7 percent in Minnesota and 3 percent in South Dakota, but increased by about 3 percent in North Dakota and Wisconsin.• St. Louis (district covers all or portions of Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri and Tennessee). Proportionately more bankers responding to the second-quarter survey indicated net farm income had declined from year-earlier levels, continuing a trend stretching 18 consecutive quarters dating back to the end of 2013. A majority of bankers expect the trend to continue into the third quarter of 2018.Survey responses showed the value of quality farmland fell 3.5 percent during the second quarter of 2018 compared with a year ago, but cash rents increased 0.4 percent. In contrast, ranchland or pastureland values increased 1.6 percent in the second quarter compared with a year ago, while cash rents for that category of property declined 9 percent. The drop in cash rents for ranchland or pastureland was the largest percentage drop recorded since the fourth quarter of 2016.Compared to a year earlier, quarterly ag loan demand increased and the rate of loan repayment slowed. Both fixed and variable interest rates on all categories of loans rose during the second quarter.Land values: A tale of two marketsWhen it comes to land values, it’s a tale of two markets – one that says it is a good time to sell and one that indicates that it is time to invest in land – according to the Farmers National Company.The underlying strength in values of good quality land is due to the fact the amount of land offered for sale isn’t keeping pace with buying interest.The other side of the land market indicates that although coming down from recent peaks, land values remain historically high. The decision for those contemplating a sale of the farm or ranch is whether to sell now and capture what still is a very good price or hold for a later sale.The expectation in the land market is that there will be some additional sales of land going into the winter in order to shore up financial conditions of some farmers. More land for sale could apply downward pressure on prices.And, with the continuation of lower farm incomes, operators will have less cash available to make capital purchases. As farmers and ranchers typically buy 80 to 95 percent of the land that comes up for sale in an area, any slowdown of their purchasing will lessen the bidding for land that comes up for sale.Several other outside factors may influence the land market going forward. Rising interest rates, although slow, will have an effect on those land buyers financing their purchase and for those comparing alternative investments. In addition, rising yields on government bonds may indicate increased return expectations from ag land as the two have some correlation.At this time, there are good reasons to support the tale of two land markets with one saying it is a good time to sell and one indicating it is time to invest. Besides those factors on both sides, there are the wild cards of weather, crop yields, energy prices, government policies and world events that can override the current status of the land market. Meeting Aug. 1, the Federal Reserve board voted to hold off on raising interest rates again. Recent reports from Federal Reserve district banks in major agricultural regions indicate interest rates on fixed- and variable-rate loans increased (Table 1), reaching levels last seen in 2010-12.