Dakota Datebook

State Mill and Elevator

Thursday, October 30, 2003

On this date in 1922, Governor Rangvold Nestos pushed a button that officially started the machinery of the soon-to-be-completed North Dakota Mill and Elevator in downtown Grand Forks. To this day, it is still the only state-owned elevator in the nation.

Prior to the building of the mill, North Dakota farmers had been at the mercy of the grain exchange and flour mills in Minneapolis; the grain had to be shipped by train, and by the time all costs were deducted, farmers barely broke even. Adding insult to injury, the flour that was shipped back to the state from these mills was over-priced, but consumers had few alternatives.

The choice to fight the Eastern monopoly by building a state-owned facility became the answer, but it was easier said than done.

During the early 1900s, North Dakota farmers were largely ignored by politicians and were even told to go home and slop the hogs when they brought their problems to the state legislature. Angered and frustrated, farmers began banding together, eventually forming a ground-breaking political group called the Non-Partisan League.

Dakota Datebook written by Merry Helm

The NPL was formed in 1915 and included progressives, reformers, and radicals behind a platform calling for sweeping progressive reforms. Their vision included improved regulation of public services and corporation, voting rights for women, improved educational services and development of health care agencies. At the heart of the NPL’s agenda, there was also a desire to form state-owned banks, mills and elevators, and insurances.

Because this vision ran contrary to the interests of big business, the NPL faced an uphill battle from the start; the notion of people taking charge of their own financial destinies generated fierce opposition. Money started pouring in from out-of-state corporations and, using everything from lawsuits to extreme propaganda, special interest groups used every means possible to block the NPL program.

The time came, however, when the NPL became powerful enough to place a governor in office and take charge of the legislature. The State Bank of North Dakota, a state-owned hail insurance company, and the North Dakota Mill and Elevator soon became realities.

The North Dakota Mill now include five milling units, a terminal elevator and a warehouse for bagging and shipping seed and flour. As the NPL foresaw, the facility has paid for itself from its own operating profits, and is now capable of adding value to 16 million bushels of wheat each year. Up to 4.2 million bushels of grain can be stored in the terminal elevator, which also provides wheat storage to farmers and rural elevators.

The milling units operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and the flour is used by countless food manufacturers and retailers. The best part is that more than 90% of the customers are from out-of-state. Members of the now defunct NPL would be overjoyed to witness the tide they turned. Because of their radical ideas, money generated from the state’s wheat farms now flows into the state rather than out.

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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