Better times have helped ease loan pressures on the Farmers Home Administration, but a backlog of hard-luck cases has sharply boosted foreclosure actions by the agency.

In the 1990 fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, the FmHA tallied 50,803 loan applications, down 13 percent from 58,539 in 1989, according to a year-end report.Overall, the FmHA - traditionally called the government's farm lender of last resort - had a farm loan portfolio of about $24 billion among 210,458 active borrowers. Of those, 31,925 were behind in their payments as of Sept. 30.

A year earlier, when there were 230,013 loans outstanding, 41,213 were in arrears, an 18 percent delinquency rate.

The FmHA, an agency of the Agriculture Department, makes loans to farmers and others who can't qualify at banks and other commercial lenders. The agency's total portfolio, including farm, rural housing and other programs is around $57.5 billion.

Marlyn Aycock, an agency spokesman, said the loan decline is attributable to "what's happened in the farm economy, generally" over the last few years.