WASHINGTON — The Farm Credit Administration has released its proposal to grant national charters, and banking officials said the details are the best illustration yet that such a move would cost them some of their best customers.

The agency’s board unanimously approved the controversial national chartering proposal Jan. 11 but did not make it publicly available until late last week. Under the proposal, any of the 133 Farm Credit lenders could apply for a national charter, which would let them lend beyond their current regional boundaries.

Bankers complain that encouraging the expansion of Farm Credit lenders — government-sponsored cooperatives that make loans to farmers — would lead to unfair competition with the private sector.

“They are only interested in financing the older, wealthier sector of our industry,” contended Dennis A. Everson, senior vice president and manager of the agriculture finance division at First Dakota National Bank in Yankton, S.D.

He said that Farm Credit lenders would want just larger, more profitable loans and leave commercial banks to make do with smaller, less lucrative borrowers.

However, Farm Credit Council president Kenneth E. Auer downplayed predictions of cherry picking, saying that most loan seekers are large farmers. “The people who are going to be looking for credit are the large farmers,” he said.

He noted a 1997 report from the Department of Agriculture that 88.6% of larger farmers, those with $250,000 or more in annual agricultural sales, have debt. But slightly less than 39% of smaller farmers, those with annual sales of $250,000 or less, have debt.

The proposal was sent to Congress for a 30-day review that is scheduled to end Feb. 12. The agency will then publish the proposal in the Federal Register, after which there is a 30-day comment period.

To obtain a national charter, a Farm Credit lender would have to submit a business plan detailing how it would continue to serve its local area and the reasons why it is requesting a national charter.

Lenders would also have to disclose the percentage and total amount of loans, leases, and related services inside and outside its local area.

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