“Rural America” broadly describes the fields, forests, mountains, deserts, plains and prairies that comprise nearly 97 percent of the American land area and one-fifth of its populace, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey.

It’s also home to the American farmers and ranchers who are so essential to our nation’s economy. Food and agricultural enterprises drive more than 20 percent of the nation’s economy, and 28 percent of American jobs are either directly or indirectly tied to these sectors, according to the Food and Marketing Institute. This activity contributes nearly $7 trillion of U.S. economic output and accounts for more than 43 million full- and part-time jobs.

Given the significant contributions of the agricultural community to our economy and standard of living, The Farmers Bank works every day to provide the financing needed to allow farmers and ranchers in Middle Tennessee to sustain viable agricultural operations. In fact, community banks like The Farmers Bank provide more than 80 percent of all agriculture loans.

The nation’s community banks are first responders in serving this market segment. The Minneapolis Federal Reserve noted that when the agricultural economy takes a downturn, as it has in recent years, local community bankers are the first to know and to provide needed credit to businesses and households in their local communities.

Given the sharp reduction in net farm income of over 50 percent since 2013, a new federal farm bill is vital to provide a strong safety net for farmers and ranchers. As a local community banker in Portland, TN who is concerned for the economic prosperity of our community and local agriculture businesses, I’m urging Congress to carefully consider the following principles as they construct the next farm bill:

Adequately fund commodity programs and crop insurance, which are key risk-management tools that enable producers to obtain farm loans.

Enhance the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) farm loan programs—which provided more than $7.7 billion in loans for producers in 2017 and supported 42,000 farmers and ranchers—by increasing loan limits, providing greater flexibility for loan approvals, and eliminating unnecessary regulatory burdens.

Sustain USDA rural development programs by increasing the agency’s focus on guaranteed loan programs and preserving funding for programs such as the Business and Industry Guaranteed Loan Program for small businesses.

Reform the Farm Credit System, which has experienced dramatic growth while sharply reducing service to family farmers, to ensure this government-sponsored enterprise remains focused on serving farmers and does not venture into broad non-farm lending activities.

The Farmers Bank has served the agricultural community for over 100 years and looks forward to a strong and continuing relationship with America’s farmers and ranchers. As we work toward compromises on the next farm bill, I encourage local citizens to think about these reforms, which would benefit farmers and ranchers here in Portland and across the nation.

Farm Food Facts