By Robert Sprague, Ohio Treasurer
Forty-year high inflation, an unprecedented supply chain crisis, record-breaking energy prices — combine these nationwide economic challenges with the yearly concerns about weather and commodity futures, and Ohio’s agriculture industry is facing roadblocks at every turn. Now, to create the perfect storm, the rise in interest rates is quickly increasing the cost of borrowing.
Since last year, I’ve been meeting with farmers, co-ops, financial institutions, and other members of Ohio’s ag community to learn more about how inflation and other economic challenges are impacting their operations and bottom lines.
For more than three decades, our Ag-LINK program has helped farmers and agribusinesses drive down the cost of doing business by providing interest rate reductions on new or existing loans. Year-in and year-out, borrowers use the program to finance upfront operating costs for feed, seed, fertilizer, fuel, equipment, and other expenses. But despite Ag-LINK’s popularity and long track-record of success, my travels made it clear to me that there was much more our office could do more to meet farmers’ borrowing needs.
That’s why we’ve re-imagined Ag-LINK through a series of recent reforms aimed at modernizing the program and making it more accessible than ever before.
In previous years, the Ag-LINK application period only lasted a few months at the beginning of each year. But now, for the first time ever, loan applications are being accepted year-round. Transitioning to a year-long application period provides borrowers with greater flexibility and ensures they can access capital whenever they may need it most. This change also makes Ag-LINK more convenient for both crop and livestock farmers with diverse borrowing needs that occur throughout the year.
The current year is divided into four quarters, with new interest rate reduction figures being announced at the start of each quarter to reflect real-time economic conditions. For the current quarter, Ag-LINK is providing a 0.5% interest rate reduction on agriculture business operation loans at eligible banks, credit unions, and farm credit lenders.
As part of our recently passed Ohio Gains legislation, the Treasurer’s office has updated its investment strategies to generate further cost savings opportunities for the agriculture community. We’ve revamped Ag-LINK to make it more convenient to use, while also ensuring the program stays up-to-pace with the ever-evolving borrowing needs of today’s agriculture industry. In short, we’re helping Ohio’s farmers to save more money despite the economic strain being felt nationwide.
Included in the legislation is the addition of agricultural co-ops as eligible borrowers under Ag-LINK. Co-ops face many of the same challenges as other farmers and agribusinesses that are already served through Ag-LINK. Opening the program to co-ops further recognizes their valuable contributions to Ohio’s economy and agriculture industry.
Additionally, we’ve removed outdated caps on loan size, allowing the program to keep pace with modern borrowing needs. Moving forward, loan caps will be assessed and set by our office on an annual basis.
As we’ve heard from farmers across the state, lowered borrowing costs can make the difference between being in the black or being in the red. With interest rates rising, the rate reduction offered through Ag-LINK becomes even more meaningful — and we’ve already seen proof of this in action.
I’m proud to say we’ve seen a strong response to these improvements, resulting in a dramatic increase in Ag-LINK participation so far this year. Just midway through the second quarter of the year-long application cycle, the Treasurer’s office is already set to support 1,163 loans to ag businesses across 59 counties totaling more than $252 million — nearly quadrupling the total amount in loans funded last year. With the current minimum loan discount of 0.50%, Ag-LINK will save borrowers at least $1.26 million.
Through these reforms, we’re cutting bureaucratic red tape and taking Ag-LINK to the next level. We’re proud to support Ohio’s agriculture community, and with these modernization efforts, Ag-LINK is ready to serve the Buckeye State’s next generation of farmers.
If you’re interested in participating in Ag-LINK, we encourage you to reach out to your financial institution to begin the online application process.
For more information, please visit our website at www.ohiotreasurer.gov/Ag-LINK.