National Farmers Organization
The National Farmers Organization is a producerist movement founded in the United States in 1955. Its greatest notoriety came in 1967 when it organized milk farmers to engage in a “holding action” to drive up the price of milk. Don Berkhahn was instrumental in the early years.
The NFO had its roots in earlier populist agrarian movements such as the Grange and the Farmers' Alliance. Their more immediate predecessor was the militant Farm Holiday movement that briefly flared in Iowa and Nebraska during the Great Depression.
The NFO was officially founded on 22 September 1955 in Bedford, Iowa. However, it began with conversations between farmer Wayne Jackson and feed sales man Jay Loghry in 1953. At a feed sales presentation for Moorman’s feed on 05 September, 1955 in the Adair County, Iowa schoolhouse, Loghry suggested to the seven farmers present that they form a new farm organization. Jackson organized the next meeting at Carl Iowa at which 35 farmers attended. However, much of the initial impetus for the NFO’s early growth came from positive comments made by former Iowa Governor Daniel Webster Turner when he was asked about it by the press.
Turner also exerted a moderating influence on the organization. He had been Governor of Iowa during the Farmer's Holiday Association movement and had to call-out the state militia to suppress violence associated with that eruption. Governor Turner’s political career had foundered due to the Great Depression but he was still influential in 1955. He sought to direct the nascent NFO organization away from militancy. The NFO took on the character of a “producers union”.
The NFO headquarters was established in Corning, Iowa. Governor Turner had wanted the organization to be headquartered in a small town instead of a big city like Kansas City, Omaha, or Chicago. He wanted the NFO to remain in touch with its rural roots. In return for Missourian’s supporting Corning as the headquarters’ site, Turner backed Oren Lee Staley from Missouri as the first President of the NFO. In 1989 the national headquarters was relocated to Ames, Iowa.
In its early days as a protest organization, the NFO’s membership reached as high as 149,000. Staley is credited with carrying the NFO thru the subsequent downturn and establishing a post-protest program for the NFO. Under Staley’s leadership the NFO pursued collective bargaining agreements in accordance with the Capper-Volsted Act of 1922.
The NFO’s program involved:
- getting members to sign a membership agreement that named the NFO as their bargaining agent
- negotiating procurement agent contracts with food processors who buy the produce of the members.
The Holding Action of 1967
The NFO engaged in producers strikes called “holding actions” to get food processors who ordinarily held monopsony power over farmers to sign the agency contracts.
On March 16, 1967 the NFO started their most notable holding action. They withheld milk from the market for 15 days until they were enjoined from doing so by a temporary restraining order issued by US Federal Judge Stephenson of the US District Court for Southern Iowa. By the time the restraining order expired the government negotiated terms agreeable to the NFO.
- Holding Action, by Charles Walters Jr., Published by Halcyon House - New York & Kansas City, 1968, Library of Congress catalog card number: 68-26115
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