A hundred years ago, grocery shopping looked different than it does today. Shoppers would give their list to a store clerk, who would retrieve their items while the customer waited. The clerk would then add up the cost, bag the groceries and collect payment.
Store owners believed this was the best way to operate their business and serve their customers; that is, until Clarence Saunders founded a store called Piggly Wiggly in 1916. Saunders put prices on his goods and invented a device he called the shopping cart so customers could look for their own items and bring them to the checkout lane for payment.
One hundred years later Saunders’ approach is the business model we recognize today, but imagine how disruptive it was to the mercantile industry at the time.
This story reminds us that things are always in a state of transition and subject to change — sometimes in a very disruptive way — as both businesses and customers seek improvements in efficiency, effectiveness and service.
One thing we don’t want to see disrupted, especially in agriculture, is access to credit. That same year, 1916, farmers and ranchers lacked sufficient access to credit and long-term financing. And it’s for that reason that the Farm Credit System was born — to provide reliable, consistent credit and financial services to the agriculture industry.
In some ways, things remain today as they did then — farming and ranching is still hard work and a risky proposition; prices are uncertain and determined by others; and input costs continue to rise. In other ways, things have changed dramatically — producers now compete on the international level; advances in equipment and science have enabled greater efficiency and productivity; and ready access to information helps producers make more informed decisions.
Similarly, the Farm Credit System has changed over the years to keep pace with an increasingly complex and sophisticated marketplace. Today’s Farm Credit System is not your grandfather’s Farm Credit System.
The Farm Credit System has changed over the years to keep pace with an increasingly complex and sophisticated marketplace.
It has expanded lending authorities, and has reorganized and consolidated to support the broader needs of rural America. It has leveraged technology and collaboration with other lenders to improve products and services. And it has become financially strong and secure to withstand the uncertainties of a volatile economy.
What hasn’t changed is Farm Credit’s cooperative business model and mission to enhance the quality of life in rural America by providing needed capital to member-owners so they can be successful and achieve their dreams.
As Farm Credit celebrates its centennial, it is an opportunity to highlight a tremendous heritage and be grateful for those who paved the way for today’s success. The Farm Credit System is healthy and growing, and our service-oriented cooperative structure helps ensure we are constantly adding value to member-stockholders.
But our centennial represents more than just a time to stroll down memory lane. America continues to grow; and to keep pace, rural America will need to grow too — with better equipment, updated facilities and new technologies. And when the time comes for rural America to extend its reach, rise a little higher and grow a little further — Farm Credit will be there, just as we have for 100 years.
– Stan Ray