The Farmers Grain Dealers Association of North Dakota was organized at a meeting of farmers and grain elevator operators in Devils Lake, ND, on May 23, 1911. (The name was changed to North Dakota Grain Dealers Association in 1975.) In 1911, there were approximately 2,000 grain elevators in North Dakota. Some towns had half a dozen elevators. All of them were small by today's standards within the 25,000-30,000 bushel capacity range back then. At that time, many of these elevators were owned by grain companies headquartered in the Twin Cities area, but farmers' cooperative elevators were being organized.
The first issue dealt with at the original meeting was developing a uniform system of bookkeeping for farmers elevators. The attention focused on this issue indicates there must have been a real need. Other Association documents indicate the Association was active in establishing a uniform system.
Throughout its history, the Association has had issues with railroads. Rates, service, car supply and lease provisions have been the primary issues. In 1981, the Association conducted a major political and media campaign against Burlington Northern Railroad's branch line abandonment plans. BN responded with an $80 million, 800-mile rail line rehabilitation project. Most of those lines still operate today. The Association has been involved in a number of proceedings at the Interstate Commerce Commission, now the Surface Transportation Board, Congressional hearings, and the like. On some of these, the Association has allied with state groups including the North Dakota Public Service Commission, North Dakota Wheat Commission, North Dakota Farmers Union, North Dakota Farm Bureau, grain elevator associations from other states and the National Grain and Feed Association.
An old list of accomplishments reports that the Association stopped railroads in 1923 from increasing coal shed rentals.â€ In those days, many grain elevators sold coal and it was brought in by rail. In 1928, FGDA got second reduction in bond premiums.â€ Surety bonds are required by the state to be licensed. Getting adequate storage rates in state law was an issue several times. Sometime in the 1960's, the Association, through a four-state meeting, effectively presented the case against sedimentation as substitute for protein tests.â€ Protein tests are still a measure of quality and the technology has improved.
The Association has been active in the North Dakota state legislature on issues like statutory liens, the central notice system on liens and crop mortgages, storage rates, licensing and bonding and more. We work closely with the Public Service Commission, regulating grain elevators. The goal of both is a healthy industry serving our customers with integrity.
At the federal level, the Association has engaged with USDA, OSHA and EPA regarding their programs and regulations that affect grain elevators. Getting the correct information in the hands of government regulators is often the key to having only those regulations that are necessary and those being as practical to implement as possible.
In 1980, the Association established the North Dakota Grain Dealers Educational Foundation, providing scholarships and equipment grants in agricultural curriculums at Bismarck, Bottineau, Dickinson, Fargo, New Town, Wahpeton, Valley City and Williston.
In 1994, the Association started its self-funded health trust. About 900 employees and their dependents at 80 companies are enrolled. The trust has been successful in holding health insurance rates below normal market levels.
In 1995, the Association started a Safety and Health Program which includes inspection of grain elevators for safety deficiencies, training of employees on topics required by OSHA, and more. Two inspectors travel the state and into Minnesota for this function, and a clerical person in the office spends two-thirds of her time on the program. More than 200 grain elevator locations subscribe to this service. It is recognized by OSHA as a very positive step.
The Association has had 39 Presidents during its 100 year history. Most have served two one-year terms. The longest-serving President was Walter Albright from Bonetraill, ND in 1936-1945. Eight individuals have held the title of Executive Secretary or Executive Vice President (EVP). The longest serving has been Steve Strege, who started as EVP in 1979, and retired in 2014. The current EVP is Stu Letcher. The Board of Directors consists of nine members.
Records are sketchy on the number of grain elevators in North Dakota in the early 1900s. The following table describes the decline in numbers and the increase in average size.
|Year||Number Of Elevators||Average capacity (In bushels)|
North Dakota grain elevators are the funnel through which the state's largest single source of new wealth has flowed for decades. Over 700 million bushels of grains and oilseeds are handled by North Dakota grain elevators each year. Roughly 78 percent of that moves out by rail and the other 22 percent by truck. Wheat tops the list with about 300 million bushels and corn second with about 170 million bushels. These bushels go to the Pacific Northwest, Minneapolis, Duluth, and other locations including some destinations within North Dakota. Some of this bounty ends up in the far corners of the world.
In addition, these grain elevators handle an array of crop production inputs such as seed, fertilizer, chemical and application services. They provide storage of grain, cash sales and a variety of contracting methods for sale and/or payment in the future.