We have just recently released our 2009 Annual Report entitled "Weathering the Storm." The past twenty-four months and more importantly, 2009, has certainly been seen as a "financial storm" for many in the financial services industry, and in many personal households as well. Although we continue to face difficult economic circumstances, Carolina Farm Credit is still standing strong supporting agriculture and rural America with our lending and financial services.
Certainly, we have all been touched in some way, form or fashion by the economic challenges we face as a nation. Although we have encountered our share of difficulties while managing through this financial "storm," our core earnings have remained intact, and we again finished 2009 with net income of more than $20 million. More importantly, during the month of April, we will be distributing $15.5 million of 2009's earnings to our members through our Patronage refund program in the form of cash and allocated surplus. This will be the 22nd consecutive year that we've paid a Patronge refund, which allows us to live up to our motto, "We Put Our Profits In Your Pockets." This also allows us to meet our goal of returning 20% of your accrued interest as Patronage and reduces your effective cost of borrowing. Carolina Farm Credit remains sound financially and adequately capitalized to ensure we are here to serve agriculture and rural America in difficult financial times as we have recently experienced, as well as in the good times.
You can read more about Carolina Farm Credit's financials on the site. However, I'd like to give you a brief update on the Farm Credit System as a whole and its performance over the last few years. While we all have worked to weather the current financial storm, the Farm Credit System as a whole has kept its conservative strategy and a focus on our borrowers' needs, which has allowed our performance to remain consistent through these difficult financial times. Jamie Stewart, Chief Executive Officer of the Federal Farm Credit Bank's Funding Corporation recently put it this way, "Because we had this special responsibility (lending to agriculture), we went into the financial crisis with lots of liquidity and a good portfolio. In the worst days of 2008, we didn't turn down a single borrower because we couldn't get the money. I doubt if any other lender can make that claim, and I'm very proud of that."
The Farm Credit System had record earnings in 2008 of $2.9 billion and ended the year in 2009 only slightly below that record level at $2.8 billion. The system demonstrated to the market that we could build capital in spite of significant reserves set aside for loan losses as a result of the downturn in the general and ag economy, which adversely affected many borrowers. The system as a whole did a good job of tightening expenses during these difficult economic times, and by doing so was able to conserve capital. By doing this, we were able to increase our ratio of equity to assets and prove that the system's business model works well in times of stress, allowing us to retain our financial strength while continuing to serve our customers. These items along with a moderated growth and increased liquidity allowed Farm Credit as a system to maintain its AAA mortgage-backed security rating, which allows the system to hold down its cost of funds, and translates into a lower cost of borrowing for our customers.
Obviously, we will face many issues in the future that threaten agriculture and our ability to provide financing needed for its success. Many of the issues that we see on the horizon will be controlled by Capitol Hill, and bad policy decisions can hurt the Farm Credit System despite its solid track record. Agriculture and the Farm Credit System need to strengthen our efforts on the political scene, so we can ensure agriculture's voice is heard. Stewart recently said, "The Farm Credit System has an opportunity to be a role model for the financial world. With grounded and conservative management, and a sharp focus on its borrowers, agriculture's lender is well positioned for the future."
On behalf of our Board of Directors and staff, I'd like to take this opportunity to thank everyone involved in agriculture and rural America for the part you play in making the Farm Credit System successful, providing the best, most enjoyable lifestyle in America, and feeding and clothing the world.
To read more about Carolina Farm Credit, our members and the ag industry, check out issues of our Leader magazine—you can read them online.
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