ABA board chair, CEO update ag bankers on critical advocacy issues

“I can help to tell your story.” That was part of the advocacy message from Dan Robb, a little more than a month into his chairmanship of ABA’s board of directors, to the nearly 700 attendees at this year’s ABA Agricultural Bankers Conference in Omaha, Nebraska. Robb, who is president and CEO of Jonesburg State Bank in Jonesburg, Missouri, joined ABA President and CEO Rob Nichols in kicking off the 70th annual event, discussing some of ABA’s primary advocacy efforts affecting ag lenders and the farmers and ranchers they serve.

Robb, who has been in banking for nearly 40 years with the same institution, grew up in north-central Missouri on land farmed by multiple generations of his family. “I consider myself a farm boy,” he said, before addressing a number of issues, including the Enhancing Credit Opportunities in Rural America Act, or ECORA, which would increase the flow of credit to farmers and ranchers by removing a tax on income derived from farm real estate loans that are made by community banks. “We need boots on the ground” to advocate for ECORA’s passage, Robb said. “It takes each one of you … to share your stories with elected officials.” Nichols urged the audience to see if their elected representatives have cosponsored ECORA and, if they haven’t, “explain to them why it’s so important.”

Nichols added that ABA “continues to track” the Farm Bill, which is up for reauthorization in 2023, and continues to push the SAFE Banking Act, which would enable financial institutions to serve legitimate cannabis businesses in states where it is legal. “We have to get this done,” Nichols said. He also touched on digital-asset issues related to products such as bitcoin and nonfungible tokens, telling ag bankers that ABA is focused on ensuring that any regulation isn’t a disadvantage for banks. “If these new market entrants are doing bank-like things—engaging in deposits, payments, lending—they are subject to bank-like supervision,” Nichols said. “We already have an unlevel playing field with farm credit and the credit unions, and we don’t need another with these new digital assets and cryptocurrencies.”

Environmental, social and governance issues are also front and center in ABA’s ag advocacy work, Nichols said, particularly in the area of “fair or forced access,” where politicians from both parties “try to bully the banking sector to lend or not lend to industries … based on their political ideology or world view.” ABA’s response, Nichols said, is that “banks should be able to lend to any legal industry based on due diligence, credit quality and the kind of reputational risk that a bank is willing to take in the local marketplace. We are not social police, and state-directed banking has never ended well. Let banks do what banks do best. If an industry is legal, it should have access to capital.”