The American Bankers Association Center for Agricultural and Rural Banking has announced that full-time employment at farm banks increased about 2.5 percent in 2004, according to the Center's annual report "Farm Bank Performance."

The nation's more than 2,500 farm banks (defined by the ABA as banks that have assets of less than $1 billion with more than 13.5 percent of their loan portfolio in farm real estate and production loans) increased employment to more than 77,000 in 2004. Benefits and salaries to those employees increased almost 7 percent (nearly double the national average of 3.7 percent).

"Farm banks are the backbone of rural communities," said John Blanchfield, director of the ABA Center for Agricultural and Rural Banking. "We want to highlight the great job banks in rural America do in providing credit and other financial services to America's farmers and ranchers, and to salute the hard work that the 77,000 dedicated men and women do to make sure farmers and ranchers get the credit and financial services they need."

Total agricultural debt in 2004 surpassed $200 billion. Of that, banks provided approximately 40 percent -- or $82 billion annually.

In addition to providing agricultural credit, farm banks continue to diversify their portfolios. In 2004 farm loans made up 31.6 percent of their total loan portfolio. Farm banks reported increases in non-farm real estate loans -- up 13 percent in 2004, and commercial and industrial loans -- up slightly more than 8 percent. Additionally, residential real estate loans grew 7.3 percent reflecting farm bank commitment to the housing needs of their communities.

Source: Association Release