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Published January 23, 2012, 01:40 PM

100 years of history

FARGO, N.D. — My congratulations to the North Dakota Grain Dealers Association, which celebrated its 100th annual convention in January.

By: Mikkel Pates, Agweek

FARGO, N.D. — My congratulations to the North Dakota Grain Dealers Association, which celebrated its 100th annual convention in January. I enjoyed checking in on the event, which was orchestrated by Steve Strege, the association’s 5-foot-2-inch executive vice president, who is among the region’s “tallest” ag advocates, by my reckoning.

A Forum Communications Co. colleague, Don Lilleboe (editor of Sunflower and Sugarbeet Grower magazines), wrote a commemorative history book for the organization.

Here are some highlights from the book:

• Elevators in the 1870s and 1880s often were six to nine miles apart, as that was an “approximate distance a farmer with a horse-drawn wagon could journey (round trip) within the course of a long day.

• Initially, most elevators were “line” facilities, owned by millers or commission firms. Early elevators could hold 20,000 to 30,000 bushels, about the size of a single, modest-sized farm bin today.

• From 1919 to 1925, elevators handled 67.6 percent wheat, 12 percent rye, 7.2 percent barley, 5.8 percent flax, 5.2 percent oats, and 2.2 percent miscellaneous.

• S.W. Unkenholz of Mandan, N.D., called a meeting in Valley City, N.D., to form the Associated Grain Dealers of North Dakota. Formally, the group organized May 23, 1911, as the Farmers Grain Dealers Association until the mid-1970s when it became the North Dakota Grain Dealers Association.

• The association’s first state convention was in Valley City in March 1912.

• In 1919, the organization backed a lawsuit that tested the constitutionality of the State Grain Inspection Law, which was different than the Federal Inspection Law. One difference was that the state law called for a license fee to be paid by elevators on the basis of their capacity.

• In 1921, the organization secured corporate surety warehouse bonds based on the financial statement of the applicant, and secured rate reductions.

• Elevator numbers peaked in 1915 with 2,031, but declined to 1,832 in 1922, and to 974 in 1953.

• In 1932, wheat sold for 36 cents a bushel, oats for 9 cents a bushel and barley 14 cents a bushel.

• From 1941 to 1943, with average precipitation, higher prices and larger crops, the 140-million- to 150-million-bushel crops were hard for elevators to handle because the government had commandeered boxcars for defense purposes.

• In 1925, an advertisement for a short course in elevator management enticed managers to “Spend two weeks of your vacation at your Agricultural College.”

• In the 1950s and 1960s, elevators dealt with familiar problems — storage rates, rail rates, boxcar shortages and disputes with the Commodity Credit Corp.

• Starting in the 1970s and early 1980s, the organization worked to help members deal with “an expanding array of governmental programs, policies and rules.”

• In 1981, the group fought a Burlington Northern (Now BNSF) rail abandonment plan.

• In 1984, the organization succeeded in establishing a “central notice system” for crop liens, first available on microfiche and now on CD. Elevators can file an “agricultural supplier lien” when they sell seed, fertilizer, chemical or services on credit.

• In the early 1990s, the association was among opponents of BN’s Certificate of Transportation Program, where rail services were auctioned off, among other disagreements with the railroads, including fuel surcharges, car supplies, loading hours and demurrage.

n• In 1997, the first “shuttle loaders,” with 100 cars came into being. In 2000 and 2001, shipments totaled 543 million bushels. In 2010 and 2011, fueled by a shift to corn and the shuttle trains, the total was 763 million bushels.