NationsBank Corp., banking on Boatmen's Bancshares' knowledge of agricultural lending, is creating an agribusiness division.

The agribusiness corporate finance group of the Charlotte, N.C.-based superregional will be headquartered in Kansas City, Mo., in the heart of Boatmen's territory. The division will be headed by a Boatmen's executive.

After the $9.75 billion merger of the two banks is completed Jan. 7, NationsBank would be the fourth-largest agricultural lender in the nation.

"It's obviously an industry that's very important to both organizations and has great potential," said Martha Carpenter Smith, a Boatmen's senior vice president who will lead the new group.

NationsBank officials were not available for to comment.

Currently, NationsBank is No. 9 on the list of America's biggest bank agricultural lenders, with $321 million in total agricultural loans, according to Sheshunoff Information Services, Austin, Tex. Boatmen's, which has $41 billion in assets, is the sixth largest, with $768 million in total agriculture loans.

Sheshunoff data show that agricultural loans at Boatmen's make up 3.14% of total loans; whereas NationsBank's agricultural loans make up only 0.26% of total loans.

After the merger, NationsBank will lag only Wells Fargo & Co.($1.5 billion), BankAmerica Corp.($1.3 billion), and Norwest Corp. ($1.1 billion).

Ms. Smith said that currently Boatmen's serves customers throughout the agribusiness "food chain," including growers, fertilizers, large food companies, and commodities exporters.

Some Midwestern ag bankers see NationsBank's entry into their markets as an opportunity.

"We've been just trying to do calling on (Boatmen's) customers and letting them know we would sure be willing to help them out, if possible," said Lon Oyster, executive vice president of The State Bank in Richmond, Mo. "We haven't seen any of them ... jumping ship yet. Most of them have a wait-and-see attitude."

Others, however, remain more nonchalant about the change.

Community State Bank of Bowling Green, Mo., makes agricultural loans of $100,000 or less. Earl Niemeyer, assistant vice president, said he doesn't expect NationsBank to try to take his customers.

"I'm not really concerned right now," Mr. Niemeyer said. "But you never know for sure what competition may do."

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