Increased hiring and higher farmland prices drove the state’s rural economy further into growth territory in February, according to a monthly survey of Main Street bankers released Thursday.

According to Creighton University’s Rural Main Street Index, the February index for Iowa increased to 54, up from 51.2 in January. It identified growth in the state’s new hiring index, which rose to 53, from 46.6 in January, and in the farmland-price index, which was 60.1, up from 55.9 the prior month, as factors for the continued economic growth.

Overall for the 10-state region included in the survey, the survey increased to 53.8, up from 52 in January. The index ranges from 0 to 100, with 50 representing neutral growth.

The survey gauges responses from bank presidents and CEOs in about 200 rural, agriculture- and energy-dependent communities with an average population of 1,300. Other states included in the survey are Colorado, Illinois, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming. It is considered a snapshot of the rural economy and a projection of what may happen over the next six months.

Ernie Goss, the Jack A. MacAllister Chair in Regional Economics at Creighton, said gains in grain prices, federal farm support and record-low interest rates from the Federal Reserve helped bolster the region’s rural economy in February.

“Only 8% of bank CEOs indicated economic conditions worsened from the previous month,” Goss said. “Even so, current rural economic activity remains below pre-pandemic levels.”

In Iowa, the rural economy lost 4.1% of its nonfarm employment over the past year, compared with a loss of 4.2% in urban areas of the state, the report showed.

The region also had a stronger farm equipment sales index in February, increasing to 62.7 for its highest reading since 2013 and marking its third consecutive month of growth.

Goss cited a rapidly improving farm economy as bankers expect farm equipment sales to increase 3.8% over the next year.

“This is up significantly from October when bank CEOs estimated that farm equipment sales would fall by an additional 3.1% over the same period,” Goss said.

A continued weak spot in the report was the volume of rural loans. Although the loan volume index increased to 46.1, a marked improvement from 33.9 in January, it still lagged below growth levels, the report showed.