Academic journal article ABA Banking Journal

100 Years of Service to the Nation's Farmers: ABA's Banker Agricultural Committee Marks Anniversary

Academic journal article ABA Banking Journal

100 Years of Service to the Nation's Farmers: ABA's Banker Agricultural Committee Marks Anniversary

Article excerpt

As 2013 approaches, most Americans don't have to worry about decent roads. Education for the youngest and even the oldest remains plentiful, and as close as the web. We take all this for granted.

In 1913, especially in farm country, none of this could be assumed, or even expected. Roads often were awful. Modern methods of tilling and soil and water conservation represented new and sometimes controversial techniques. Even a basic such as decent seed was novel. Schooling could be woefully inadequate. And the image of the banker in farm country could be more "Mr. Potter" than "George Bailey."

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Galvanized by rumblings out of Washington seen as a threat to the business (some things don't change) bankers began banding together to fight creation of a European-style cooperative ag-lending entity. ABA member bankers created in 1913 what was first called the ABA Agricultural Commission, and today is the Agricultural and Rural Bankers Committee. B.F. Harris, vice-president and later president of First National Bank, Champaign, Ill., became the group's first chairman.

"B.F. had smelled a rat," says John Blanchfield, longtime staff head for the committee. "That rat was revealed in 1916, when Woodrow Wilson signed the Farm Credit Act into law."

Under Harris, the commission became the forefront of a movement for the improvement of agricultural life and of relations among farmer, government, and banker. The ABA group launched its own monthly magazine, The Banker-Farmer. It came to be the herald of a renewed effort to push for measures to be taken nationally, at the state level, and in every farm and bank, to improve things. Harris served not only as chairman but as the magazine's first volunteer editor. An early issue's editorial speaks of:

"... the necessity and the splendid opportunity for 'getting next' to and 'showing' the man on the soil that we want to work with and believe in him."

Harris and the committee pushed for local experts to help farmers improve their methods--what now is the county agent, a fixture of rural America, but then a new concept. …

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