Unknown to thousands of farm families nationwide, history was made with a pen stroke by E. Lee Hawkes Monday afternoon.

Hawkes, Utah director of the Farmers Home Administration, signed documents for the first-ever Farmer Agriculture Corp. (nicknamed Farmer Mac) security in the United States.Established under the 1990 farm bill, Farmer Mac provides a secondary mortgage market for agricultural loans.

What that means to farmers is better interest rates on farm ownership and operating loans. Hawkes said the program would allow operating loans up to $400,000 and real estate loans up to $300,000. Farmers would have up to 40 years to repay real estate loans.

"They have to be bone fide farmers, what we call family farmers. It couldn't be a corporation. As to the enterprise, it can be any kind of farm," Hawkes said.

W. David Hemingway, executive vice president of the investment department of Zions First National Bank, said lending rates should be about 2 points above the prime rate.

Banks want to participate in the program because the government guarantees 90 percent of the amount lent. The bank sells the securities to mutual funds or other investment groups. In case of default, however, the bank services the loan.

Farmer Mac should establish a secondary market for agricultural loans just as the Federal National Mortgage Association (Fannie Mae) has established a secondary market for home mortgages. "Farmer Mac probably won't take as long to catch on," Hemingway said.

Farmer Mac was one of the bright spots of the 1990 farm bill, which asked farmers to play a major role in helping the country reduce its burgeoning debt. The bill included cutbacks in government payments for crop acreage.