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Understanding Farm Loans and Farm Financing Terms

Introduction

There are several types of farm loans, including 1) operating loans to fund day-to-day running of the farm, 2) cash rental loans to fund annual farm rentals, 3) farm mortgages to finance the purchase of farmland, and 4) farm refinancings to refinance a farm mortgage into a better rate / terms. We’ll dive into each of these farm loan types as well as some farm financing terminology below.

The Farming Cycle

Before we get into each of the farm loans, it’s important to explain why they all exist. Some (like farm mortgages) are self-explanatory: farms are expensive and most folks need a farm loan to make the purchase. An operating farm loan is necessary for most farmers in the Midwest because of the agricultural cycle. For row crops, planting occurs in the springtime (usually from March to May). Harvest occurs from September through Thanksgiving. After harvest, farmers sell their grain, earning their revenue anywhere from September through December. So there’s a big mismatch between when most expenses are made and when revenue is earned. Farmers have to buy seed, new equipment, finance labor, and any fertilizers at the start of the season but won’t make revenue for at least six months. Operating farm loans help provide funding during the first half of the year. Farmers pay off the loan with the revenue earned post-harvest.

The same concept is true for cash rent loans. Cash rent is usually due at the start of the season (March 1st) and can be as much as 40% of a farmer’s full-year expenses. Because of this, Tillable launched the first-ever cash rent farm loan to help farmers finance this expense outside of their operating budget.

Operating Farm Loans

Operating Farm loans are typically structured as credit facilities. This means that farmers can draw (or borrow) as much as they need while the loan is outstanding. A typical operating farm loan is signed a month or two ahead of planting season (March 1) and is due back to the bank anywhere from 12 – 15 months later. Usually, a borrower only pays interest on the funds they actually borrow. For example, a farmer could sign a $1m operating loan, but only end up using $800k. The farmer would only pay interest on the $800k borrowed. It’s advisable to create a business plan for the year and apply for a farm loan that would cover unforeseen expenses. That way, it’s easy to access funds as and when needed. It is possible to make an operating loan larger during the season but could just take time to be approved.

Operating farm loans are typically secured by collateral, or property that the borrower owns and the bank could claim if the loan is in default. Collateral can be tractors or even the crops that the farmer grows.

Cash Rent Loans

Cash rent loans are unique to Tillable – they are unsecured loans to finance cash rent. Unsecured loans are not secured by collateral. Tillable’s cash rent loan has a springing lien, meaning that if the loan is in default, collateral will then be required. This is beneficial for borrowers who do not have to assign collateral at the start of the loan.

Farm Mortgages

Farm mortgages are loans used to purchase farmland. They can be both fixed and variable. Fixed rate loans maintain the same interest rate throughout the life of the loan. Variable rate loans can have a fixed rate for the first months or years of the loan – they will then change rate in line with a pre-determined benchmark. Farm mortgages can be up to 30 years in duration. The longer the loan, the more interest a borrower will pay to the lender – however, the longer term could provide more affordability. A $1m loan spread over 30 years results in smaller annual payments than a $1m loan spread over 10 years.

Farm Refinancings

Farm refinancings are done when better terms are available for a farm mortgage. If a borrower has a 30-year farm mortgage outstanding at a 5.0% rate and rates drop down to 4.0%, a borrower would want to refinance, or change their loan, into the lower rate option to save money. If a borrower also makes more income or has paid off other personal debt, lower rates might be available to them that were unavailable at the time of the original farm loan. Before deciding to do a refinance, a borrower should compare the total savings to any fees to be taken out at the time of the loan.

Farm Loan Fees

Farm loans are subject to similar fees as personal and residential loans. An origination fee is a fee for the bank to originate, or create, the loan. It covers general paperwork and processing. A servicing fee is an ongoing fee to cover the maintenance of the loan. Banks may or may not charge these fees, but it is important to ask at the outset.

For farm mortgages, there will be additional fees for appraisals and title services. An appraisal is an authorized check of value by a bank or a verified third party. The bank will need the appraisal done before originating the farm mortgage. This is to verify that the land will produce income and the loan value is defensible. A title check is performed to ensure that the farm is being sold without debt or obligations attached to it.

How are Farm Loan Fees Calculated?

Farm fees are typically calculated by basis points (bps). A basis point is 1/100th of a percent. In other words, 100 basis points = one percent. A standard origination or servicing fee is 50bps (0.5%) of the loan value.

Appraisals and title checks are usually done for a fixed fee. Appraisals can typically be anywhere from $300 – $1,500.

Conclusion

Tillable can help with any of your farm financing needs. Reach out to us at (800) 573-2416 for more on our interest rates and no-fee loans. 

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