Nearly two dozen farmers and ranchers signed up for a loan in La Plata County in March 1917, forming a branch of the Progressive Farm Loan Association. One hundred years later, the association is still in business as American AgCredit on Second Avenue.
“We have always been conservative in our lending, recognizing that agriculture has cycles and that farmers and ranchers have to deal with drought, fire, flood, etc. So we try to lend in good times and bad,” said Terry Jefferies, the vice president of lending in Durango.
The first Progressive Farm Loan Association was started in a town that no longer exists, called Griffith, near Falfa, southeast of Durango, Jefferies said. It later moved to 900 Main Avenue, where the Irish Embassy is now.
In 1917, families were starting farms and ranches in La Plata County and needed to borrow more money to buy land than local banks could lend, she said. The largest loans recorded on the original articles of association was $5,000.
Jefferies is part of a long-time ranching family in La Plata County and tried to find living family members of the 23 people who formed the local association, but has been unsuccessful.
“Nobody recognized any of the names on there, which we thought was unique,” she said. However, she still believes that there are likely some descendants in the area.
In the last century, the borrower-owned institution has been through many name changes and grown substantially.
Jefferies runs the AgCredit office with another staff member and they lend to agriculture producers in Dolores, Montezuma, La Plata, and Archuleta counties, as well as San Juan and Rio Arriba counties in New Mexico.
While local banks in Durango and other towns can compete with the AgCredit office now, it still fills a niche, in part because Jefferies grew up on a sheep farm and is still part of a ranching family.
“I have a lot more understanding of their business than a commercial loan officer at a local bank would have,” she said.
AgCredit has offices in California, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Kansas and Oklahoma and loans money to producers in a variety of industries, including forestry, wine, nuts and cattle, which helps to provide stability. “By taking on and merging with other associations, we have diversified our portfolio quite a bit,” she said.