When 600 agricultural lenders meet in Milwaukee this week, talk is likely to range over everything from increasing Farm Credit System competition to trans-genetic crops.
The American Bankers Association, host of the 45th annual National Agricultural Bankers Conference, said the three-day gathering would focus on change in the farming industry. Among hot topics: the gradual end of government subsidies, an increase in farm consolidation, and new high-tech trends in farming and financing.
Financial policy expert Bert Ely, president of Ely & Co., Alexandria, Va., will update his 1990 report "The Farm Credit System: Reckless Lender to Rural America," prepared for that year's conference.
In the original report Mr. Ely blamed high interest rates and the Farm Credit System's lending policies for much of the farm crisis in the early 1980s.
Mr. Ely, who will speak Tuesday, said last week that this time he will paint a more optimistic picture.
"Agriculture ought to have some reasonably good years ahead," he said.
However, Mr. Ely said he will warn bankers against basing farm loan decisions on projected increases in land value, a technique that contributed to the rash of farm failures in the 1980s. He will also continue his criticism of the government-sponsored Farm Credit System, which he said has been given too long a leash by Congress and should be privatized.
"The government has tilted the playing field toward one of its own," Mr. Ely said.
Most of the bankers attending hail from Iowa, Nebraska, and Kansas, and Darvin E. Boyd, chairman of the ABA's agricultural and rural bankers committee, said access to funds is a crucial issue for agricultural bankers from the Midwest.
"Community banks are losing their deposit sources, and we need to get funding help," said Mr. Boyd, who is director of the agri-finance department at Pennsylvania-based CoreStates Bank.
Mr. Boyd said the ABA chose "Taking Charge of Change" as the convention theme because "business as usual" in farm lending doesn't work anymore.
The schedule of workshops, which were to start Sunday, includes several geared toward technology.
John M. Blanchfield, ABA manager of agricultural banking and rural development, said farmers need to know about the latest in crop genetics. DNA techniques are being used to improve fruits and vegetables. The results are tomatoes that last longer and soybeans that are resistant to pesticides.
"I'm not saying the banker needs to become an agronomist," Mr. Blanchfield said, "but farmers like people who understand their business."