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North Dakota picture
North Dakota picture

Many farmers, however, believed that railroads charged excessive rates for shipping North Dakota goods out of the state and favored eastern manufacturers shipping goods into it. Railroads also owned many of the grain elevators that graded farmers’ grain and set the price to be paid for it. In addition, large wheat buyers in Minnesota conspired with the railroads to keep the price for wheat low. With the North Dakota legislature largely controlled by railroad interests, in the early 1880s farmers began creating their own cooperative associations, and in 1885 founded the Dakota Farmers’ Alliance to advance the social, educational, financial, and political interests of Dakota Territory farmers. The Alliance collected money from farmers to buy coal, twine, and other products as a cooperative venture. Although it had little money, the Alliance signed a contract with a plow manufacturer and even created an insurance company to save farmers money on insurance.

Efforts to pass laws to regulate the railroad failed consistently until 1906 when Democrat John Burke was elected governor. In 1911 Democrats and Republican progressives, who believed in using state power to meet the needs of individuals, gained control of the legislature. Although they did not seriously threaten railroad companies, they did pass laws providing compensation for injured workers, reforming election practices, and regulating the railroad practice of providing free passes.

The beginning of World War I in 1914 helped North Dakota farmers by increasing demand for wheat, but serious problems in agriculture reemerged in the 1920s.

Low crop prices and high costs of production prevented many farmers from sharing in the general increase in prosperity in the 1920s, and in the 1930s economic depression, drought, dust storms, and grasshopper infestations made it even more difficult for farmers to repay their debts. Thousands of small farmers could not survive and left the state in the early 1920s; many businesses collapsed, and entire towns vanished. The exodus accelerated in the 1930s, despite state and federal programs providing easier credit and stabilizing crop prices. Those who remained on the land began to run larger farms, invested in more mechanization, and adopted more scientific farming methods. "North Dakota" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia

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