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FCS report sees expanding rural opportunities.

While the number of farmers and communities that rely on agriculture for their economic well-being have declined, the future of U.S. agriculture remains bright. Future possibilities are expanding, not contracting, according to Farm Credit HORIZONS, a comprehensive, nationwide-research study released by the Farm Credit System, the nation's producer-owned farm lending network. Facing a rapidly changing global marketplace and structural change, American farmers, ranchers and rural entrepreneurs need reliable access to a broad range of financial services and expertise in order to capitalize on emerging growth opportunities, the report finds.

"Today's rural entrepreneurs, including farmers and ranchers, are on the leading edge of a global agricultural economy," says Wayne Lambertson, a Maryland farmer who serves as chairman of the Farm Credit Council board of directors. "As this research makes clear, rapid change requires greater flexibility on the part of the institutions that U.S. agriculture and rural America rely on. Yesterday's ways of doing business simply will not work to ensure the continued success of agriculture and America's rural communities."

The report describes the need for policy solutions that will help farmers, rural businesses and rural communities succeed in the emerging marketplace. The HORIZONS project has helped identify how incremental changes to the Farm Credit System can provide agriculture and rural America greater access to additional capital that can be used to expand agriculture's contribution to rural prosperity.

The HORIZONS report contains the following key findings:

*Farmers are diversifying their business interests both within and outside agriculture. The overwhelming majority, but especially small-sized operations, rely on off-farm employment to stay in agriculture.

* Farmers depend on a wide range of businesses that may or may not be owned by farmers, and they may or may not be located in a rural community; but all are essential to the economic viability and quality of life for farmers.

* It is becoming increasingly difficult to define a "rural" community solely by population or traditional qualifies.

* Regional collaboration, public-private partnerships and coalitions of investors are key to the future of many rural communities. To create jobs, attract new business and foster an environment for future economic development, agriculture and rural America will need to find new ways to reinvest farm real estate equity.

* As innovative business owners, today's rural entrepreneurs, including farmers, ranchers and producers, will continue to need access to capital, essential infrastructure and business support services for that entrepreneurial engine to continue to spur rural economic growth.

Copies of the HORIZONS final report may be downloaded from: http://www.fchorizons.com. To request a printed copy, contact the Farm Credit Council by mail: 50 F St., N.W. Washington, D.C. 20001.
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Title Annotation:NEWSLINE
Publication:Rural Cooperatives
Date:Mar 1, 2006
Words:439
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