Our Position

Reform and Refocus the Farm Credit System

Position

  • Farm Credit System (FCS) lenders enjoy unfair competitive advantages over rural community banks, leveraging their tax and funding advantages as government sponsored enterprises (GSEs) to siphon the best loans from community banks’ loan portfolios. The FCS’s abusive tactic of undercutting market pricing to obtain the best loans jeopardizes the viability of many community banks and the economic strength of the thousands of rural communities they serve.

  • ICBA strenuously opposes the Farm Credit Administration’s (FCA’s) initiative to allow FCS to engage in non-farm financing labeled as investments or investment bonds. This initiative, which the FCA is implementing via regulatory process, is a successor to the “Rural Community Investments” proposal, which was withdrawn in November 2013.

  • ICBA further rejects legislation proposed by the Farm Credit Council to allow blanket approval authority of these FCS “investments” without FCA’s case-by-case review and approval.

  • ICBA opposes allowing the FCS lenders to become the equivalent of rural banks with powers to establish checking and savings accounts, take deposits, or establish a consumer-oriented deposit insurance plan within the FCA. FCS lenders must not have access to the Federal Reserve’s ACH system for clearing electronic credit and debit transfers.

  • ICBA opposes expansion of FCS authorities and supports legislative and regulatory provisions to ensure FCS’s adherence to its historical mission of serving bona fide farmers and ranchers.


Background

Community Banks and the Rural Economy. Thousands of community banks serve rural areas. As of the first quarter 2019, there were 1,315 “farm” banks representing nearly one-quarter of all FDIC-insured institutions. Agriculture loans held by FDIC-insured institutions totaled $184 billion. Community banks hold nearly 70 percent of total agriculture loans from the banking sector. Community banks of less than $10 billion in asset size hold approximately 80 percent of all banking sector agricultural loans. Approximately 3,000 community banks have agriculture-related portfolios of at least $5 million. Community banks are four times more likely to operate offices in rural counties. Community banks remain the only banking presence in more than 600 counties (nearly 20 percent of all U.S. counties) and hold the majority of banking deposits in rural counties.

Farm Credit System. FCS lenders enjoy unfair advantages over rural community banks and leverage their tax and funding advantages as government sponsored enterprises (GSEs) to siphon the best loans away from community banks. The FCS is the only GSE that competes directly against private sector lenders at the retail level. FCS was chartered by Congress to serve bona-fide farmers and ranchers and a narrow group of farm-related businesses that provide on-farm services. However, in recent years FCS has sought numerous non-farm lending powers in an effort to compete directly with commercial banks for non-farm customers.

FCS’s complicit regulator, the FCA, has also sought to expand FCS activities through regulatory initiatives such as “investment bonds” and the “Rural Community Investments” regulation finalized in 2018. These initiatives provide authority for non-farm lending under the guise of “investments,” even though such lending goes beyond the constraints of the Farm Credit Act. Additionally, the Farm Credit Council has proposed replacing the FCA’s prior approval of these “investments” with blanket authority for FCS lenders to approve any investment without FCA’s up-front review. ICBA opposes the Farm Credit Council’s legislative proposal.

Recent proposals to allow the FCS to become the equivalent of rural commercial banks would devastate thousands of rural community banks both in urban and rural and remote areas. Such proposals are another FCS-initiative to utilize GSE tax and funding advantages to expand beyond statutory lending constraints, ignore FCS’s GSE mission of serving actual farmers and ranchers, and dramatically increase FCS institutions’ profits at the expense of tax-paying, private sector community banks.

Congress should reform and refocus the FCS’s authorities in order to limit their non-farm lending activities, including through “investments” authorities and “similar entity” loans to large corporations, to ensure these authorities do not circumvent existing statute or go beyond the intent of Congress; prohibit predatory, below-market pricing of loans; equalize tax treatment between community banks and FCS lenders; and changing the makeup of the FCA board.

Staff Contact: Mark Scanlan

Staff Contact

Mark K. Scanlan

Senior Vice President, Agriculture and Rural Policy

Washington, DC

Email

Ag News

ICBA: Review of Farm Credit System a Welcome First Step

NewsReleaseHeader2015


Series of Congressional Hearings Needed to Examine Farm Credit System Abuses

Washington, D.C. (Dec. 2, 2015)—The Independent Community Bankers of America® (ICBA) today urged the House Agriculture Committee, which is reviewing the Farm Credit System (FCS), to conduct a series of hearings aimed at uncovering details of how the FCS is avoiding legal constraints. In a statement for today’s committee hearing, ICBA noted that the system’s regulator—the Farm Credit Administration (FCA)—has gone out of its way to allow FCS lenders to make otherwise illegal loans if such financing is labeled as “investments.” 

ICBA explained that the FCA, after withdrawing a proposed investments regulation and pilot program, briefly published a guidance memo instructing FCS lenders how to gain approval to finance investments, including credit for non-farm businesses, communities, rural areas and infrastructure projects. “In other words, even though the FCS unsuccessfully lobbied Congress for years to receive expanded powers, FCA has suddenly and quietly decided to just allow FCS lenders to do whatever they want if FCA provides a rubber stamp of approval,” ICBA said.  

ICBA also questioned huge loans by CoBank to Verizon, AT&T, U.S. Cellular and other large multi-national corporations. “CoBank’s newly found lending activities appear to be an effort to leverage their government-sponsored enterprise (GSE) advantages deeply into the realm of multi-national, non-agricultural, non-rural and non-cooperative corporate financial deals,” ICBA said. 

Additionally, ICBA expressed community bankers’ alarm that the FCS leverages its GSE tax and funding advantages to cherry pick the financially strongest customers of community banks, which destabilizes ag loan portfolios of taxpaying rural banks. This increases risks to the community banking industry, leading to fewer lenders and less credit availability for rural America.

Finally, ICBA raised several questions regarding a secretive $10 billion line of credit the FCA gained on behalf of the FCS from the U.S. Treasury. “There should have clearly been hearings on a GSE seeking a $10 billion line of credit,” ICBA said. “If FCA believes the Farm Credit Act is as loose as to allow it to grant any type of financing desired by FCS lenders, then the act needs to be tightened.  Congress never intended for FCS to be a general purpose rural lender.”

About ICBA
The Independent Community Bankers of America®, the nation’s voice for more than 6,000 community banks of all sizes and charter types, is dedicated exclusively to representing the interests of the community banking industry and its membership through effective advocacy, best-in-class education and high-quality products and services.