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Regional survey of ‘rural main street’ economy, led by Omaha university, paints overall negative picture for sixth straight month

By: - February 15, 2024 3:13 pm

(Getty Images)

OMAHA — For the sixth consecutive month, a regional survey reflecting economic conditions of  “rural main street” farmers and businesses has dipped into negative territory, according to the Omaha Creighton University economist who leads the 10-state analysis.

“Higher interest rates, weaker agriculture commodity prices and a credit squeeze are having a significant and negative impact,” said Ernie Goss.

Ernie Goss, Ph.D., Jack A. MacAllister Chair in Regional Economics at Creighton University’s Heider College of Business. (Courtesy of Creighton University)

The Rural Mainstreet Index survey provides an early economic snapshot of 10 regional states that depend on agriculture and energy. It focuses on about 200 rural communities with an average population of 1,300.

Goss and Bill McQuillan, former chairman of the Independent Community Banks of America, created the monthly economic survey, which was launched in 2006.

According to the February survey of bank CEOs in the rural areas, the index’s overall reading fell to 46.2 from 48.1 in January. The index ranges between zero and 100, with a reading of 50.0 representing neutral growth. 

While the region’s farmland price index fell to 57.7 from January’s 64.0, it remained above neutral growth for 51 consecutive months, Goss said. 

“Creighton’s survey continues to point to solid, but slowing, growth in farmland prices,” he said. 

Among other regional highlights: 

  • Nearly three-fourths of the bankers named falling farm commodity prices as the biggest risk for farms in 2024. And more than four of 10 bankers named farm commodity prices as the biggest risk for community banks this year.
  • About 44% of bankers indicated that the financial positions of farmers in their area had weakened over the past six months.
  • Farm equipment sales index slumped below growth neutral for the eighth time in the past nine months. 

Jim Eckert, CEO of Anchor State Bank in Anchor, Ill., said his area’s farmers are not projecting very profitable operations in 2024.

 “Although some input costs are down from last year, weak grain prices for the 2024 crop are depressed and expected to remain so,” he stated in a media release.

Besides Nebraska, states surveyed were Iowa, Colorado, Illinois, Kansas, Missouri, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming.

For Nebraska specifically, its overall rural index for February slumped to 34.4 from 39.5 the month before. The state’s farmland price index declined to 53.1 from 60.0; its new-hiring index went down to 44.2 from 45.5.

Goss said that according to data from the International Trade Association, Nebraska exports of agriculture goods and livestock fell 35.5% in 2023, from $1.35 billion in 2022.

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Cindy Gonzalez
Cindy Gonzalez

Senior Reporter Cindy Gonzalez, an Omaha native, has more than 35 years of experience, largely at the Omaha World-Herald. Her coverage areas have included business and real estate development; regional reporting; immigration, demographics and diverse communities; and City Hall and local politics.

Nebraska Examiner is part of States Newsroom, the nation’s largest state-focused nonprofit news organization.

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