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Looking beyond Big Sky borders

Looking beyond Big Sky borders

They started small; hyper-local. They wanted to build community, create unity, focus on rural Montana

But by the fifth gathering of Montana Farm Bureau leaders, they were ready to address a bigger picture and take the lead in nation debates. 

President A.H. Stafford predicted 1924 would be “one of the most interesting state farm bureau meetings every held in Montana,” largely due to the prominent national issues the local leaders would tackle in Bozeman that January. 

Indeed, it was. 

“Though the Coulter Plan for farm relief was indorsed Wednesday by the Montana Farm Bureau Federation in annual convention here, the action was not taken until after a lively discussion in which several delegates participated, stating frankly that they did not believe it sound policy or a form of aid that farmers themselves want.” – Great Falls Tribune, Jan. 10, 1024

After some heated, open debate, delegates did approve supporting the Coulter Farm Aid Plan, which proposed allowing federal loans to single-crop farmers to encourage diversification. They also threw their weight behind the development of an export corporation. The goal of the corporation was to help handle the surplus of agricultural products and to encourage markets for growing agricultural production.  

Though the export corporation was a nationally organized effort, it had special significance to Montana farmers. The movement in favor of the corporation started in Montana and three of the state’s major crops; wheat, beef cattle and hogs, had prices that were in a desperate need for a raise. 

Stafford took an active role in the creation of the national export corporation league and served on the executive board. He believed it was the best plan that had been created to help relieve the farming situation. 

Production continued to increase – as was urged heartily during wartime – but in post-war economy, it only pressed prices further and further below breakeven. They estimated approximately 170,000,000 bushels of American wheat would have to find new markets in order to bring prices back to balance. Even with the Coulter Plan and their anticipated export corporation, Stafford warned: it was going to get worse before it got better. He predicted that several more years of a downward spiral lay ahead before they would see better days again. 

“The effort that is being made is merely an attempt to bridge across some of the impending hardships that we may reach a corresponding level on the other side of the economic chasm, without the necessity of going to the very bottom and then starting the slow tedious journey up the other side.”

W.L. Stockton, a dairy man from Gallatin County, was elected as the new Montana Farm Bureau president at the same convention. In mid-March, Stockton reported to have spent the majority of his time in 1924 working in DC in the interest of Montana’s farmers and ranchers. While he noted ‘relief seems to be pretty choked with political red tape,’ he was still of the opinion that congress intended to support their Farm Bureau-backed plan. 

Although it was a struggle, they were encouraged when Congress passed a bill authorizing $1,000,000 in agriculture loans to be distributed through the Northwest to help farmers obtain cattle, hogs and sheep to diversify their production.

Relief was on the way, but the dissenting voices from that 1924 convention still rang out: 

“We don’t want more credit. We want a better price for our products so we can pay the debts we already have contracted. Getting out of debt is our present greatest concern.” 

FOLLOW OUR HISTORY SO FAR:

RESOURCES:

  • Great Falls Tribune, Jan. 7, 1924, page 4: “Stafford Approves Export Corporation”
  • Great Falls Tribune, Jan. 9, 1924, page 1: “Stafford Asks Famers Back Exports Plan”
  • The Billings Gazette, Jan. 7, 1924, page 8: “Surplus Export Corporation to Feature Farm Bureau Meet”
  • Great Falls Tribune, Mar. 21, 1924, page 4: “Stockton Believes Montana Agriculture Has Passed Its Crisis”
  • The Billings Gazette, Jan. 8, 1924, page 2: “$200,000,000 Corporation is Proposed as Wheat Legislation”
  • Great Falls Tribune, Jan. 10, 1924, page 1: “Coulter Farm Aid Plan Is Indorsed by Bureau; Many Envoys Voice Disapproval”
  • Great Falls Tribune, Feb. 19, 1924, page 1: “Export Corporation Plan Proves Leading Issue, Wilson Finds”
  • The Missoulian, Apr. 24, 1924, page 1: “Montana Tells of Plans For Assisting Farmers of State”