Agricultural bankers from across the country have gathered this week in Indianapolis for a conference that is focused on the future profitability of agriculture and the financial stability of farmers. The ag banking industry says there is plenty of credit available for farmers, but the lenders are keeping a close eye on those balance sheets and working capital. Gene Miles, President and CEO of First Farmers Bank of Converse, IN, says this economic downturn is different, “One of the biggest differences is the level of interest rates.” He told HAT that, compared to the double digit rates of the 1980s, the single digit rates of today will help producers survive better. “This gives us some time to get through this and make some balance sheets work and that will help us get through this time,” he stated.
Miles says another difference is that today both farmers and their bankers are more financially sophisticated, “Our banks are bigger and our farms are bigger, and the financial decisions that need to be made are bigger.” He added that First Farmers tries to be a financial asset and resource to their farmer customers.
As for the future, Miles sees farmland values continuing to decline and farmers continuing to cut production costs and renegotiate cash rent agreements. But he says agriculture will remain strong, “I think agriculture is well positioned for when the economy improves. We are still the best producers of quality and volume in the world, and I do not think that is going to change.”
Miles was honored at the Ag Bankers meeting with the Bruning Award, a lifetime achievement award for his 38 years of service to the farmers and the communities served by First Farmers. His career has touched on nearly every capacity within the institution, including commercial loan officer, compliance officer, investment officer, marketing officer, and accounting officer. He also is deeply engaged in the community, with outreach including volunteer leadership positions with St. Vincent Hospital, the Miami County Community Foundation, the Northern Indiana Community Foundation, and the Miami County Economic Development Committee.
Miles has nurtured and grown First Farmers Bank & Trust through vision, foresight, and old-fashioned values. Several years ago, recognizing that agricultural banking opportunities extended beyond state borders, he led a strategic decision to grow the bank through acquisitions into neighboring Illinois. First Farmers Bank and Trust is a $1.55 billion, 36 branch organization, that employs nearly 400 people in Indiana and Illinois, and serves more than 50,000 clients, all while remaining headquartered in Converse, Indiana, a town of less than 1,250 residents.