Rural Mainstreet: Outlook Soars to Highest in Decade

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Data from researchers who assess the economy in rural communities reported signs of strength in farm country.

The overall Rural Mainstreet Index for February rose to 53.8 from January’s 52. A number above 50 represents growth.

The February farm equipment-sales index rose to 62.7, its highest reading since February 2013 and up from 54.5 in January. After 86 straight months of readings below growth neutral, farm equipment bounced into growth territory for the last three months.

“As a result of the rapidly improving farm economy, bankers expect farm equipment sales to expand by 3.8 percent over the next 12 months. This is up significantly from October when bank CEOs estimated that farm equipment sales would fall by an additional 3.1 percent over the same period,” said Ernie Goss, chair in regional economics at Creighton University, which conducts the research.

The farmland price index also posted strong numbers. The February reading climbed to 60, its highest level since May 2013, and up from 56.3 in January. This is the first time since 2013 that Creighton’s survey has recorded five straight months of above growth-neutral farmland prices.

Likewise, the confidence index, which reflects bank CEO expectations for the economy six months out, rose to a healthy 64, its highest level since March 2011, and up from January’s 60.

“Federal farm support payments, improving grain prices, and advancing exports have supported confidence offsetting negatives from pandemic ravaged retail and leisure and hospitality companies in rural areas,” Goss said.

Each month, community bank presidents and CEOs in nonurban agriculturally and energy-dependent portions of a 10-state area are surveyed regarding current economic conditions in their communities, and their projected economic outlooks six months down the road. Bankers from Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming are included.