MINNEAPOLIS -- The American Bankers Association's agricultural banking conference is the closest thing the industry has to a hoedown.

The participants don't look like the more buttoned-down members of the banking community, and they assert their nonconformity with footwear.

"This group sounds and looks different than our other divisions," said C. Howie Hodges 2d, director of the banking professions group at the ABA, who owns a pair of South American Teju lizard cowboy boots. A similar pair was raffled off during the convention last week at the Twin Cities Hyatt Hotel.

"They've got to wear the right shoes to kick tires and that sort of thing," said Ed Alwood, an ABA spokesman.

Indeed, an informal survey by American Banker found that at least 75 of the 500 bankers in attendance wore cowboy boots with their suits and ties.

The ABA meeting gives ag lenders an opportunity to bone up on issues that affect the farmers who are the bulk of their client base. Speakers' topics included grain futures, what a farmer looks for in a lender, farmland values, and competition from the Federal Farm Credit System.

"Most of us have to speak the language - we've got to know the difference between a heifer and a steer," said Gerald L. Trebesch, a vice president at West One Bank Idaho in Boise. "Putting on boots is like you putting on a tie every day," he told an urban noncowboy reporter.

Farm bankers' neckwear is also atypical.

Herb Sorbel, an ag loan officer at State Bank of Wendell, Minn., greets his customers in the Wild West's version of a Hermes tie - a $100 Black Hills gold bolo.

"I prefer bolos to silk ties, and they cost just about the same," said Mr. Sorbel, who rounded out his western attire with a pair of alligator-skin boots.

A high point of the meeting was a luncheon address by the chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, E. "Kika" de La Garza. In a feel-good speech trumpeting the recovery of American agriculture, the Texas Democrat skirted bankers' repeated complaints about regulatory overload.

"I have to answer to every little old lady in my district," Rep. De La Garza said.

But in a later panel discussion on the future of the rural community bank, outgoing ABA president Alan R. Tubbs accused the congressman - to rousing applause by the bankers - of "passing the buck" on regulatory issues.

Watch out, MTV. One of the most popular exhibits at the conference was put on by Superior Livestock Auction, a Brush, Colo., concern that uses satellite TV to sell steers and heifers.

Between peddlers of automatic irrigation systems and flood insurance, two Superior Livestock television monitors lured passers-by to check out videos of thousands of cattle. By the company's estimate, more than 900,000 head will be sold in televised auctions this year.

But don't start trading in your shares of Time Warner for Cattle TV just yet. "We've got some guys who buy the stuff through them, but I don't have one personally," said a Nebraska banker watching the demonstration.

The ag bankers fortified themselves for the sessions by satisfying robust appetites for rolls and coffee, according to the ABA organizers.

"These guys eat more than at any of the other bankers' conferences," said organizer Howie Hodges of the ABA.

At stand-up breakfasts and during between-lecture snacks at the three-day meeting, the bankers went through about 1,692 pastries and muffins, 145 gallons of coffee, 75 gallons of orange juice, 800 sodas, 40 pounds of chips, and lots of butter, according to the ABA.

And that doesn't include dinners and lunches. "Ag bankers eat a lot more probably because of the way they were brought up," said an ABA coordinator. "They expect some kind of beef."

Other groups get "something lighter, like chicken."

Of course, ag bankers may be more industrious than their urban counterparts, more likely to stay in meetings all day, and need the sustenance.

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