The Fort Dodge Messenger: Jan. 30, 1907

History of Iowa Farmers’ Co-operative Association

One of the most remarkable growths in Iowa business affairs during the past year has been the increase in the number of Iowa Farmers’ co-operative associations. The present annual meeting scheduled for Mason City nual (sic) meeting of this organization of Iowa farmers calls to mind some facts which the chronicles of the organization show. According to the report of the secretary at the last annual meeting there were exactly 104 societies in active operation in Iowa. Since that time there have been thirty-one new ones organized and more in process of organization. A million of dollars that have been subscribed by the tillers of the soil by mutual agreements is invested in the properties and business capital of these institution (sic).

What, but a few years ago, was the sneer and derision of the so-called orthodox grain men of this state is now a giant to which all dealers in the products of Iowa farmers are willing to bow. The history of this organization movement is unique. “A fair deal, stick together, pay your commissions, and when selling elsewhere look out for the weights.” There is no assessment of stockholders and in no case recorded in Iowa has any society experienced a deficit. This directors may borrow money with which to operate the business, but not above two-thirds of the paid in capital stocks. Over that amount, if money is obtained, it is secured through the individual guarantee of the directors and is in no sense an obligation to the society.

All farmers co-operative associations of the state are founded upon the theory that the farmer is enslaved to the grain buyers and that this method is his only emancipation. The fight for supremacy and for the lives of the societies in the different sections where they are located is kept ever fresh in the minds of the members each year. It is rehearsed as often as the association renews it vows. Each year the question is asked whether there is a desire to go back to the old method of selling the product of the farms but the answer always comes, “Go ahead, stick together and we will win.”

To keep the unfaithful in line a penalty is provided. If a member of the association sells his grain to an old-line elevator he is taxed 1/4 per cent commission. In a few instances over the state examples have been made of those who are catering to the “enemy” that have been salutary, and such offenses, if persisted in, usually mean banishment from the councils of the association and social ostracism. the culprit has often found it convenient to remove to some other locality.

Be it said to the good fortune of the co-operative organizations of Iowa that they are well managed and there has not yet been developed a single breach of business faithfulness on the part of any of its local managers and officers. In all cases, so far as can be learned, the management has been both shrewd and honest and has instantly refused to listen to any and all overtures from other concerns. Offers have been made by line companies to enter into an agreement with the association to fix the prices at local points but the temptation has in every case been spurned, the officers believing they detected some attempt to inveigle them into forfeiting their charter by unlawful combinations.

This danger –  mismanagement – was the rock the enemies and some of the friends, even, of the co-operative was sure the movement would strike before it went far, but happily, these have been avoided. Men have been content, even poor man (sic), to manage the local business, to receive the $800 ($18,476 today), $1,000 ($23,095) or $1,200 ($27,714) per year and a clear conscience rather than feather their nest and retire rich and despised. All of them seem to consider their positions in the nature of a public trust, and have acted accordingly. The individual society has no secrets. The books are open to its members or to any other persons who care to look into them. Even the meetings of the directors are open to any and all visitors. This stills any suspicious whisper that might be born of secret session or unpublished methods.

Wherever a farmers’ elevator has been established it has tended to increase the market price of grains from a half to one and a half cents per bushel. Many line companies seem able to pay this and live.

The state association is under the most careful supervision of an able corps of officers who give largely of their time to its interests. The management is divided into seven departments, the directorate, the executive, the claims, the legislative, the transportation, the arbitration and investigation and the grades. In each of these departments the special function is suggested by its name. They are made up of the leading farmers of the different communities where co-operation thrives. At present the most active men of the association are the secretary, C.G. Messerole, of Gowrie, Thomas McManus, of Doughtery, the father of the movement in Iowa, and a member of the arbitration and investigation committee, and Edward Dunn of Burchinal, the traveling representative. These men are in close touch with the situation in all parts of the state and their time is largely taken up in what they term missionary work.

The state association men, who are actively engaged in the work have laid down certain principles which they are endeavoring to follow:

First – To secure for all the farmers in the state a just and fair return for their labor.

Second – To put a stop to the blacklisting, boycotting, persecuting methods of the grain dealers’ association and all other trusts masquerading under the cloak of a trade organization.

Third – To bring about a closer relationship and better feeling between the legitimate business men and the producers.

Fourth – To make graft and thievery disreputable and bring about conditions in trade that will be possible for the business man and the producer to practice the golden rule in their dealings with one another.

Northern Iowa leads in the co-operative movement. Cerro Gordo county is the banner county, having nine organizations in active operation with one in the course of organization, making a total investment of about $150,000 ($3,464,245). Another stronghold for co-operative business is in the vicinity of Gowrie. Along the Great Western line for a number of miles from that place each way, each town has a society. The capital stock varies from $2,000 ($46,190) to $15,000 ($364,425) at the outset of the organization. Last year Rockwell transacted $365,000 ($8,429,663) worth of busienss (sic) and handled about 440,000 bushels of grain. Stanhope* in Webster county transacted last year a quarter of a million dollars worth of business. Rockford, Floyd county, handled over 300,000 bushels of grain and Dayton nearly twice as much. Britt in Hancock county handled from Sept. 1, 1905 to Nov. 1, 1905, the two months of operation, 110,000 bushels of grain. St. Ansgar, which is also a new society, organized within the last couple of weeks, has a capital stock of $15,000 ($364,425) but this society will handle live stock.

The cost of handling the business is small. Rockford did $624,000 ($14,411,259) of business in 1901 at an expense of 3/4 of 1 per cent or at a cost of about $4,000 ($92,380). It cost Gowrie to do $385,000 ($8,891,562) the same year $2,500 ($57,737). Another society with a $80,000 ($1,847,597) business did it at an expense of $1,800 ($41,471). It will be seen that the larger the volume of business the smaller the cost to operate.

These samples given only indicate what the other societies of the state are doing. All are practically doing the same kind of business and at the same rate of cost per the amount of stock invested. No society is allowed to organize with less than $2,000 ($6,190) worth of paid up stock.

(Editor’s note: Stanhope is in Hamilton County.)

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