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Corn+Soybean Digest

Be Ready To Face Credit Challenges: Bankers offer borrowing tips

Your lender might be a lot more tight-fisted when turning loose money for 1999 farm loans - unless you're showing a profit or your operation is in a strong equity position.

Land appreciation, for example, won't mean as much this time as it did in the past.

"Credit cannot be used as a replacement for earnings or owner equity," caution American Bankers Association (ABA) officials in a report on the situation.

"One of the key lessons learned in the farm crisis of the 1980s," the report continues, "is that agricultural businesses must be profitable in order to successfully manage debt obligations."

Recognizing the "difficult economic situation in agriculture today," the ABA leaders nevertheless believe farmers, ranchers and their bankers "are better positioned to deal with a temporary downturn in the economy" than they were in the 1980s.

Prior to 1998, they note, U.S. agriculture experienced record profits. Net cash income in 1997 was a record $60.7 billion. Many of the asset gains farmers experienced in the 1970s and early 1980s were due to inflation, "not real profitability."

Now the situation is reversed, they add. "Farm and ranch businesses have increased their wealth through profits and retained earnings, not asset inflation."

Debt levels are significantly lower, farmers and ranchers have the strongest "asset cushion they have ever had," interest rates have been relatively stable and low and should continue that trend, the ABA officials say. In addition, farmers and ranchers "have become more astute borrowers and business managers as they have invested in computers, farm management software and marketing software."

Ag banks have built capital, abandoned lending practices that depended on asset inflation as the prime source of repayment and invested billions in technology to make them better lenders.

But with prices for nearly every commodity significantly lower this year, there certainly will be farmers whose credit in the past has been good but now is a bit shaky.

If you're facing financial difficulties, "act quickly," the officials advise. They offer 10 tips to get back on your financial feet:

1) Remember, "cash is king" in tough times. If a new item can't create enough new cash to pay for itself over a reasonable period, don't buy it.

2) Use a budget. It helps maintain a business's direction.

3) Look objectively at your farm's financial performance. Be sure you're getting the maximum return from your investment.

4) Examine your debt structure. Is it possible to increase your long-term debt to pay down short-term debt, for example?

5) Use current inventories, cash flows and balance sheets for a financial review with your banker.

6) Ask about USDA's guaranteed loan program. Your bank may restructure your debt over a longer period at a lower rate if the loan is guaranteed.

7) Increase your insurance deductibles to lower your premiums.

8) Check life insurance policies; you may be allowed to borrow against the cash surrender value.

9) Deal with financial problems immediately; make sure that you talk with your lender early and often.

10) Take some time off and get away from your business problems. Temporarily put the concerns aside, then come back to them with renewed strength and resolve.

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