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Observing 100 years of Monroe Co. Farm Bureau - Albia Newspapers: News

Observing 100 years of Monroe Co. Farm Bureau

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Posted: Friday, September 15, 2017 9:35 am

Although the beginning of the Iowa Farm Bureau and the American Farm Bureau range from 1915 to 1920, Monroe County Farm Bureau is celebrating its centennial year, according to Monroe County Farm Bureau annual meeting guest speaker, Tim Niess.

A career Farm Bureau employee, Niess is serving as chairman of the IFBF Centennial Committee and presented a treasure trove of information about Farm Bureau history to the crowd gathered at the First Christian Church on Thursday night.

Niess grew up on an Osage dairy farm in a Farm Bureau family. He now serves as a trainer of Farm Bureau managers and insurance agents.

“There have been a lot of farm organizations in the history of this country,” he said. “But no organization has made it to 100 years with the kind of vitality the Farm Bureau has.”

Niess said the origins of the Iowa Farm Bureau date back to the turn of the last century when American agriculture was not unlike agriculture around the world. Everyone farmed a little to eat, he said. But the industrial revolution in America and technological advances changed agriculture. “For the first time in 4,000 years of recorded history, farming changed from using horses and devoting 20 percent or more of the land to feed and maintain horses, to mechanized agriculture,” he said.

“America was the first country to look at farmers as nothing more than peasants,” he said. “Farming became a noble profession and a profession for professionals.”

As farming dramatically changed around the turn of the 20th century, the need to organize was evident. In 1912 in Clinton County, the “Farm Improvement Association” was formed with 200 farmers paying a $5 per year membership fee, which allowed the county supervisors to fund a county agent through Iowa’s land grant college in Ames. It was partly funded by the United States Department of Agriculture.

In 1916, the same organization in upstate New York used for the first time the name “Farm Bureau.”

“Ironically, Iowans didn’t like the name,” said Niess. “They thought it sounded too much like a government agency. But in Broom County, N.Y., they had a Chamber Bureau, an Industrial Bureau and now a Farm Bureau and it finally spread across the country.”

The next huge change in farming came in 1917 when the U.S. entered WWI. Germans invaded Belgium, destroyed the food producing infrastructure and began to starve the Belgium people. Woodrow Wilson knew the U.S. had the food producing ability to feed the world’s hungry and appointed Herbert Hoover as his national food administrator. The native Iowan Hoover, reached out to Iowa farmers first, despite east coast sophisticates. But farmers and the Iowa Farm Bureau in its first year became patriots with the slogan, “Food Will Win the War.” Hoover and Wilson asked farmers to produce more than ever before, especially pork and farmers responded by producing the most grain and pork in U.S. history, feeding and saving the people of Belgium. One can argue that those early efforts led to overproduction and others ills of the coming Great Depression, but it galvanized support for the Farm Bureau.

Niess said that 100 years later, Monroe County members of Farm Bureau are still doing what was started in 1917. Monroe County Farm Bureau members extended the hand of friendship to Kansas farmers, decimated by winter wild fires, providing fencing and other products destroyed by the flames.

Within a year of its organization, there 100 county Farm Bureaus. Iowa provided in 1919 the first American Farm bureau president. In 1920 Farm Bureau recognized the critical need for risk management, which became the Square Deal Mutual Hail Company, the earliest part of Farm Bureau Insurance. Striking a deal with State Farm Insurance, Farm Bureau began offering automobile insurance in 1927 and in 1939 started the Des Moines Mutual Company. In 1945 life insurance was introduced as well as a cooperative buying company called FS Coop, now the private company Gromark.

Niess said today Farm Bureau greatest contribution to agriculture and American culture is leadership development. “Above all else, I am most proud of creating community assets among our members,” he said. “Local farmers have become invaluable assets to their communities and they carry tremendous credibility through the grassroots organizing of Farm Bureau.

“This is a big old ship that moves sort of slowly at times, but will stay alfloat as long as our farm families stay involved and engaged,” he said.

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