The Agriculture Department said yesterday that an agreement has been reached to sell about $1.9 billion in Farmers Home Administration rural development loans, the first major sale of federal assets under the government's credit management improvement program.

Ron Ence, a spokesman for FhMA, said the agreement means the loans will be offered at about 58 cents on the dollar, a discount he said was forced by the condition of the bond market.

The transaction will involve bonds secured by the FmHA loans, which consist mostly of water and sewer loans made to rural communities.

Ence said the $1.9 billion in securities will be sold to raise $1.025 billion, a target set by Congress in legislation last year. The sales were ordered to be completed by the end of this fiscal year on Sept. 30.

"This first public offering {of bonds} carries a AAA rating and is oversubscribed -- both signs of confidence on the part of the investment community," FmHA Administrator Vance L. Clark said in a statement.

The loans were sold to the Community Program Trust Fund 1987A, an Agriculture Department subsidiary, which will in turn sell bonds backed by the loan assets to the investment community, he said.

In addition, he said, sale of a subordinate class of bonds plus prepayments assures that the target set by Congress will be exceeded.

Clark said that the rights of FmHA borrowers who owe the water and sewer loans have been protected and that the sale will have little or no effect on the rural communities.

"About the only change is where they'll send the check," he said.

The sale of the bonds for the trust will be conducted by Shearson Lehman Bros., which is leading a large underwriting syndicate, including regional and minority investment bankers.

Ence said the discount FmHA will have to give is "in the range of 58 percent" because "these are 4 1/2 percent bonds that we're selling in a 10 percent bond market ... that's why there's such a steep discount."

The FmHA, he said, has no control over the bond market, which "has gone to pot in the last couple of days."

Last September, the Congressional Budget Office estimated that if the FmHA bond sale had been held then, the discount would have been 62 percent, Ence said.

The FmHA has done its own computation since then and believes that if the same conditions of last fall still existed "we could have gotten over 70 percent on the dollar."

In Santa Barbara, Calif., White House spokesman acclaimed the FmHA action as a significant development.

"The investor reception has been so positive that underwriters were able to increase the price of the loans and guarantee a very good return to the Treasury," Fitzwater said. The "sale means more than the simple return to the government."

He added: "First, it proves that many federal financial assets can be successfully sold without federal guarantees, providing for more efficient servicing of these loans in the long run.

"Second, and more importantly, the difference between the final price and the face value of the loans will clearly indicate the implied federal subsidy in these credit programs."

Fitzwater said $130 million of Department of Education loans were also expected to be offered for sale in the next few days and an additional $1.7 billion of Farmers Home bonds might be sold by the end of the month.

"It is often too easy, when faced with the choice of raising taxes to directly fund a government program, to establish subsidized credit which competes with the private sector and masks true costs to the taxpayers," Fitzwater said.

"These three loan sales will tell us exactly how much subsidy is being provided while at the same time assisting with reducing our budget deficit," he added.