Cuts in government payments to farmers have not increased delinquencies, but are likely to have an impact on credit availability, according to a recent survey of agricultural lenders.

The vast majority of agricultural bankers surveyed by the American Bankers Association said that decreased government payments to farmers have not increased delinquencies in their areas. Only 3% said delinquencies increased.

However, 35% of respondents expected a decrease in credit availability to their customers. About 11% predicted an increase in the availability of credit, while about half of the bankers weren't sure.

The annual survey on agriculture lenders' concerns and trends was conducted at the ABA's North American Lenders Conference in last November Des Moines. The results are based on responses from 93 U.S. bankers.

Although nearly all respondents said enough credit is available in their area, ABA Agricultural Bankers Division chairman Phil Burns, president of Farmers and Merchants Bank, West Point, Neb., stressed that most of that credit is short term. One goal of the ag bankers' division is to come up with longer-term funding sources for rural lenders.

As the credit availability response illustrates, ag lenders were most concerned about future business: more than half reported a decrease in creditworthy borrowers in their area in the past year. About 27% saw an increase.

And more than three-fourths of the bankers said there aren't enough beginning farmers in their area.

Yet despite these concerns, more than half the respondents said they expect more agriculture customers in 1996 than last year. About 32% expected fewer customers, and 16% were uncertain.

Other survey findings:

*Nearly half the respondents called the regulatory environment the top issue facing agricultural bankers last year; 24% cited competition.

*Cyberspace has not permeated farm lenders' lives: 87% of respondents said they did not have access to the Internet at the office, and 85% could not tap into it at home.

*Federal Crop Insurance programs increased credit availability last year, according to 38% of respondents, although 61% were unsure of the effects.

*Half of the lenders expect to book more Agriculture Department guaranteed loans in 1996; 33% expect to do fewer.

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