Dakota Datebook

ND Farmers Union

Friday, November 17, 2006

Today’s North Dakota Farmers’ Union, organized in the late 1920s, was the result of the farmers’ desires to improve their status. Preceded by the Farmers Educational and Cooperative Union of America, first established in Texas in 1902, came to North Dakota in 1912.

It began forming locals, with 13 of the first 16 in Burleigh County. A statewide organization was formed in 1916, with Robert J.J. Montgomery as president.
The aims of the original Farmers’ Union were improving economic conditions through cooperative marketing and purchases, promoting scientific farming methods, discouraging credit and mortgage systems and encouraging “harmony and good will among all mankind and brotherly love among the members.”

Political infighting and its association with the NPL brought about the downfall of the state’s Farmers’ Union and, by 1920, it had virtually disappeared.
However, the farmers’ movement in North Dakota was not dead. By the mid-1920s, A.C. Townley’s Northwest Producers Alliance was underway. The Alliance and the Equity Cooperative Exchange merged with the Farmers’ Union in January 1926.

The National Farmers’ Union then set up the Northwest Organizing Committee to recruit members in the Upper Midwest. During 1927, the committee concentrated on North Dakota and sent out crews of organizers to visit all of the farms.

Playing on the farmers’ grievances, they offered substantial member advantages. Members could ship their grain to the Terminal Association and their livestock to the Farmers’ Union Livestock Commission. They could also buy coal, lumber and twine from the Farmers’ Union Exchange and life and property insurance from the Farmers’ Union insurance companies.

In November 1927, the North Dakota Farmers’ Union organized with 13,000 members, and Jamestown was selected for the state headquarters. The NDFU quickly grew to 20,000 members by 1928 and, the next year, the North Dakota legislature passed the first law sponsored by the NDFU, on issuance of warehouse receipts on farm-stored grain.

Charles C. Talbott, from Dickey County, became an outstanding farm spokesman and the first president of today’s North Dakota Farmers’ Union. By 1930, NDFU locals were organized in all but eight North Dakota counties.

The successful example set by the NDFU brought about the growth of other cooperatives. By 1929, NDFU owned 20 oil companies in North Dakota. The next year, the Farmers’ Union Terminal Association was one of the largest cooperative grain-marketing associations in the U.S.

The Farmers’ Union Exchange was supplying local Farmers’ Union cooperatives with gasoline, oil, feed, fertilizer, twine, coal, fencing, tires, seed and groceries. By 1939, the Farm Security Administration was lending money to farmers to buy stock in Farmers’ Union cooperatives and assisting in organizing 90 new ones in North Dakota.

A drive in 1942 increased the NDFU membership by 50 percent to 21,318. Just two years later, the number was up to 25,674, about one-third of the farmers in the state.
The NDFU soon became a respectable force in North Dakota and continues as a strong and viable farmers’ organization today.

by Cathy A. Langemo
WritePlus Inc.

This text and audio may not be copied without securing prior permission from Prairie Public.

Dakota Datebook is a project of Prairie Public, in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, with funding from the North Dakota Humanities Council.

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