Agriculture and its related businesses probably won't be affected bythe current recession as much as the rest of the economy, the president of the Farm Credit Bank of Baltimore said.

"In agriculture, we're either ahead of the nation or we're lagging behind," said Gene L.Swackhamer, who spoke Thursday at the agribusiness group breakfast at Baugher's Restaurant.

The agricultural sector suffered from 1985 to 1987 and therefore probably won't be hit as hard by the current recession, he said.

The United States has experienced seven recessions since 1953, Swackhamer said, quoting information published in October in the Wall StreetJournal. The recessions lasted an average of 11 months and unemployment climbed to 7.8 percent nationwide.

The last recession, from 1981 to 1982, lasted 16 months, and unemployment reached 10.8 percent, the newspaper reported.

Swackhamer said he expects farmland valuesto remain strong despite the slow economy, the Persian Gulf war and the 1990 Farm Bill.

Farmland values in Maryland fluctuated by about $500 from 1981 to 1991, but now are back at 1981 levels, he said.

The Farm Credit Bank is doing well because of the diversity of its loan portfolio, Swackhamer said. The Baltimore district, which encompasses Maryland, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Virginia and West Virginia, is especially strong, he said.

Stable livestock operations have helped lenders on the East Coast, Swackhamer said.

"We're less vulnerable and less dependent on how government programs change," he said.

In addition to traditional farms, the bank also finances landscaping businesses, greenhouses, sod farms and poultry operations, he said.

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