A massive Farmers’ Week celebration held at the Montana State College kicked off the year 1921 for Farm Bureau members. The well-established agricultural convention was an annual meeting place for many of the state’s agriculture organizations.
Farm Bureau presidents gathered in Bozeman to mingle with other producers and conduct their annual business. More than 125 members and 26 county agents represented 27 of the 30 county farm bureau in the state that year. The six-day convention was packed with forums, meetings and demonstrations. The week proved to be a tremendous success. It also changed the course of Montana Farm Bureau history.
In the three years the state bureau had been together, the county delegates stood firm in a commitment to build the organization from the bottom up through education and community service. But by 1921, delegates decided the bureau needed to extend beyond education. It was time to develop an economic and legislative program.
Thoughts from the Farmers’ Week speakers helped urge the affiliation discussion along. American Farm Bureau Federation Vice President S.L. Strivings urged the members to join the national federation.
“We need you and you need us,” he said.
Together, he noted, producers could have a voice in solving larger economic issues, too.
"Mr. Strivings is urging the cooperation of all thinking people in solving the great national economic and production problems that affect the producers of food. This low price to the producer, however, was not reflected to the consumer, as he clearly showed. He pointed out that in his own state he had seen the Danish cabbage grower pack his cabbage in barrels. And for the crop receive one cent per head while four hours ride distant he watched the retail buyer pay 15 cents per head for the same cabbages. He characterized this condition as criminal and told his hearers they must bear part of the blame for it.
“The challenge of these economic problems of production, distribution and consumption, is up to you,” he told the farm bureau men, “and through the great educational work of the farm bureaus, state and national, you must solve them. No one else will do it for you. Bankers, manufactures, railroad men. All are interested, but not so vitally as you are.” (Glasgow Courier, 1921)
The delegates agreed, and voted to affiliate with the American Farm Bureau Federation. The decision would still have to be ratified by the county farm bureaus, but their grassroots representatives paved the way to a bigger picture.
The newly elected Montana governor, Joseph M. Dixon appeared for his first public speech since assuming office. Every theater seat was filled for his Farmers’ Week address. He assured the crowd the legislature wanted to help Montana farmers.
“Let me urge on you men of the farm bureaus, if you men, speaking really for the farmers, will outline a program, knowing what you want, and come to Helena and present it rightly, I guarantee that the legislature will be delighted to pass the bill you present with any show of unanimity.”
He suggested they appoint a secretary of agriculture to have a common place they could come together to work out agricultural problems in the state.
“The great trouble with agriculture is that the farmers have never been organized as other industries are. If they could be organized as every other element in society is, they could soon revolutionize conditions in Montana.”
He closed by advising they come together within their bureaus to discuss their problems and come up with a plan of solutions to present to the legislature. He assured they would be welcomed with open arms. (The Glasgow Courier, 1921)
Even though most of the week was filled with farmers coming together and making changes for the better, there was still some discussion and disagreement. One of the biggest debates concerned membership fees. Some argued that membership fees should increase to support such a vigorous and successful organization, while others noted the financial situation of most Montana farmers was still in a rough state. Inaugural membership rates were sold for $1; affiliation would add an additional $1 per member, with half going to the state and half to the national organization. This would have to be ratified by the county farm bureaus, but delegates concluded the farmers’ financial condition needed to be kept in mind, and the membership fees would remain low.
The week concluded with the re-election of Bitterroot Valley farmer W.B. Harlan as the state organization’s president. The pioneering orchardist and former state legislator would play a large role in navigating this new political territory for the state’s leading farm organization.
- The Glasgow Courier (Glasgow, Montana), May 13, 1921, page 8: "State Council Agriculture."
- The Montana Farmer (Great Falls, Montana), Feb. 1, 1921, page 12: “The Montana Farm Bureau”
- The Montana Farmer (Great Falls, Montana), Jan. 1, 1921, page 13: “Strong Program Outlined for Farmers’ Week”
- The Montana Farmer (Great Falls, Montana), Feb. 1 1921, page 1: “Montana Farm Bureau Broadens Scope”
- The Glasgow Courier, Jan. 21, 1921, page 2: “State Farm Bureau Meeting Most Successful In History of West”
- Great Falls Tribune, Jan. 13, 1921, page 1: “Harlan Re-elected Farm Bureau Head”