Iowa’s rural economy weakened slightly in April, but remained well into growth territory, according to a monthly survey of rural bankers.

Creighton University’s Rural Mainstreet Index for Iowa dipped to 69.8 in April, down from 71.6 in March. The decline was in part because nonfarm employment remained more than 27,000 jobs, or about 4.2%, below pre-COVID-19 levels, the report showed.

As a result, Iowa’s new hiring index fell more than 9 points to 63.5, from 72.7 in March, the report showed.

Overall, the index for the 10-state region that is included in the survey slipped to 69 from a record high of 71.9 in March. The index ranges from zero to 100, with 50 indicating neutral growth.

It was the fifth straight month above neutral growth for the index, a survey of community bank presidents and CEOs in 200 agricultural and energy-dependent communities with an average population of 1,300 people.

The other states included in the survey are Colorado, Illinois, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming.

A bright spot in Iowa’s index was the farmland value index, which increased to 78.6 in April from 72.4 the previous month.

Despite strengthening grain prices and record low interest rates, only 37.9% of bankers reported that their local economy expanded between March and April.

“Strong growth in grain prices, the Federal Reserve’s record-low interest rates, and growing exports have underpinned the Rural Mainstreet Economy. Even so, current rural economic activity remains below pre-pandemic levels,” said Ernie Goss, the Jack A. MacAllister Chair in Regional Economics at Creighton University.

Highlights from April’s report include:

  • The farmland price index advanced its highest level since November 2012.
  • The farm equipment sales index rose to its highest reading since February 2013.
  • The housing index soared to a record level, with bids above listing prices.
  • Lack of available workers is restraining job growth.
  • Approximately 9.1% of farmland sales over the past six months have gone to nonfarmer investors.