Yosemite Farm Credit, which is in the business of helping farmers grow, is growing itself.
The lender is expanding its Turlock headquarters, adding an Oakdale branch and increasing its staff to an expected 120 people by years end.
Loan volume likely will reach $1.95 billion as the year closes, compared with $1.79 billion at the end of 2012 and $1.36 billion four years earlier, said Leonard Van Elderen, president and chief executive officer.
And these are rock-solid loans, he noted during an interview at his office Wednesday.
At the end of September, we had only four loans that were over 30 days due, out of 3,650, he said.
That success rate is a testament to the continued strength of agriculture in a region where a housing market collapse pulled tens of thousands of homes into foreclosure since 2006.
Yosemite is part of the federal Farm Credit System, a network of 82 associations owned by the farmers, ranchers and other rural residents they serve. The members get attractive interest rates on money borrowed from the Federal Farm Credit Banks Funding Corp. They also receive dividends when performance is strong, totaling $8.2 million for Yosemite last year.
This lender dates to 1916 and today serves Stanislaus, Merced, Tuolumne and Mariposa counties. American AgCredit, another part of the Farm Credit System, also plays a major role in the region. So do several commercial banks with large ag loan portfolios.
Van Elderen said high prices for almonds, walnuts and grapes have helped keep the performance strong. Almonds are about $3 per pound, about double the price in 2008.
But loan officers account for the possibility of lower prices in the future as they consider whether to lend to a grower, Van Elderen said. They also want to see that the borrower is financially strong, has a secure water supply and has the character and management ability that farming demands.
We try to grow, but its in loans that make sense, Van Elderen said.
Yosemite has prospered despite the continuing troubles in dairy farming, which is 42 percent of its business. Milk prices have often fallen below production costs over the past five years. Rising costs for feed corn have been a challenge, but they are easing thanks to a bumper U.S. crop this year.
The association mainly makes real estate loans for farming and food processing but also provides short-term loans for operating costs.
Van Elderen said the future is clouded by the uncertain water supplies in parts of its service area.
The association also faces a shortage of people with the skills needed for ag lending. It is working with a few universities to drum up interest in this career, which does not require a farm background but does require a knack for numbers and an understanding of what farmers do.
The 120-strong staff expected by years end would be a gain of about 50 percent from 2008.
The association has a 10-member board, headed by John Fiscalini, a dairy farmer and cheesemaker west of Modesto. He said the loans have helped dairy people weather hard times while boosting agriculture in general to new heights.
Ag is all we do at Yosemite, Fiscalini said. Thats what our charter is. We have people who specialize in just about every crop we grow.
The expansion of the West Monte Vista Avenue headquarters is expected to be done in May. The association will continue to have a Turlock branch office next door, along with branches in Modesto, Oakdale, Patterson, Los Banos and Merced.
The new Oakdale branch, at 178 S. Magg Ave., will have a ribbon-cutting at 4:30 p.m. Oct. 24. This also will be a mixer for the Oakdale Chamber of Commerce.
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