Bankers wanting to crack the ag market not only have to know what's happening down on the farm, but when it's happening, experts say.

"We're thoroughly convinced that the people down the road who can provide the most information will get the business," said Ted Priebe, president of Meyocks & Priebe Advertising Inc., a West Des Moines, Iowa, ad shop that specializes in marketing to farmers.

Bankers should impart information specific to different segments of their farm market, he said. For instance, they can use targeted newsletters and seminars in addition to traditional advertising methods, he said.

Generally, farmers favor personal, knowledgeable messages. "Our whole approach is the hightouch environment," said John M. Floyd, president of John M. Floyd & Associates Inc., a Bellake, Tex., consulting firm.

Ag bankers understand the importance of the personal approach. A 1992 study by Doane Agricultural Services Co. of ag bankers found that, overwhelmingly, the most-used methods of attracting new customers were participating in agribusiness groups and meetings and making personal calls.

Bankers at First Bank and Trust Co. in Nebraska keep up with current and potential customers by being active in organizations such as the Nebraska Cattlemen Organization and sponsoring informal seminars on topics such as selling commodities, said David Higbea, vice president at the $50 million-asset Cozad-based bank's $6 millionasset branch in Saronville.

With a good meeting, "They think of us a little differently from our competition," Mr. Higbea said.

And Beth Hodges, executive vice president of $93 million asset First National Bank of Panhandle, Tex., understands that to attract farm customers, banks must know where and when to reach them.

"You identify what they are interested in and what they will turn on," she said. "To hit your farmer ... the market reports [on the radio] are the best you have," she said.

First National, where ag loans increased $11 million from September 1993 to September 1994, also advertises in an ag supplement of several nearby community newspapers and sponsors seminars by the Chicago Board of Trade and the Chicago Mercanfile Exchange.

To generate good attendance, the bank schedules around farmers' busy seasons, Ms. Hodges said. "If you don't pick your time, you won't have anyone," she said. "You have to pick the time the farmer has the least amount of work to do."

In addition to what they're already doing, ag bankers must make better use of the data they've already collected on farm customers and information they can get through alliances with companies like feed or equipment dealers to target market, Mr. Priebe said.

"I think ag bankers are not utilizing the information they have," he said.

"They have so much information; it can be very useful figuring out who to go after."

Margeting to Ag Customers

* Target farmers during times of day and year they're the least busy.

* Offer specific information they need to run their business, preferably through targeted newsletters and seminars.

* Use available data on farm customers from the bank and through alliances with companies like feed or equipment dealers.

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