Iowa’s rural economy experienced marginal growth in January, according to a monthly survey of bank managers, and despite declines in indexes used to measure performance in farmland values and hiring, confidence increased for the second straight month.

Creighton University’s Rural Mainstreet Index for Iowa improved to 71.8 in January, up from 71.4 in December.

The survey covers 10 states and focuses on about 200 rural, agriculturally and energy dependent communities. The index ranges between 0 and 100 with a reading of 50 representing neutral growth.

For the overall region, the index was 61.1 in January, down from 66.7 in December. Despite the decline, it remained above growth neutral for the 14th consecutive month.

“Solid grain prices, the Federal Reserve’s record-low short-term interest rates, and growing agricultural exports have underpinned the Rural Mainstreet Economy,” said Ernie Goss, the Jack A. MacAllister chair in regional economics at Creighton University.

Bankers were asked to identify the greatest 2022 risk for farmers in their area and they overwhelmingly listed farm input prices, such as fertilizer, as the top threat in the coming year.

Jim Brown, CEO of Hardin County Savings Bank in Eldora, said despite those concerns, strong commodity prices are benefiting the region’s farmers.

“Increased input costs have raised our average farmer break-even points, but current commodity prices still produce moderate gains in all areas of financial statements,” Brown said in the report, which was released Thursday.

While many segments of the economy covered by the survey, such as the farmland price index, farm equipment sales index, new hiring and home and retail sales, saw declines, they remained above growth neutral in January. One exception was banking, where the loan volume index fell sharply to 28.8, down from 61.7 the previous month.

While farm loans are normally low in January, the index was below normal January readings, the report showed.

One area that saw growth in January was the confidence index. It rose to 61.1 in January, up from 55.2 in December. It was also the second consecutive monthly increase for the confidence index after five straight months of decline.

Another area that showed improvement was the credit-deposit index, which rose to 76.9, up from 68.3 in December. The index for certificates of deposit, and other savings instruments increased to a 42.3 from 26.7 in December.

“Our loan reviews show an increase in working capital, net worth and lower leverage in almost every case,” Brown said in the report.