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June 8: Falling on Hard Times

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As the Homestead Act of 1860 began to draw new settlers to the frontier with the promise of free land, politicians and businessmen portrayed Dakota Territory as a farming utopia. Homesteading attracted people who wanted to settle down to a life of farming or ranching. The American West quickly became associated with the cowboy life and vast herds of beef cattle. There were also the Bonanza farms, with huge expanses of wheat.

But there were other agricultural opportunities as well. On this date in 1906, George P. Grout alerted North Dakotans to one such example as he urged farmers to consider the benefits of starting a dairy herd.

Grout was the head of the dairy department at the North Dakota Agricultural College in Fargo. He said that while dairy was a popular course of study in Minnesota and Wisconsin, North Dakota students expressed little interest in the topic. But Grout was convinced that there was a great prospect for North Dakota farmers who chose to go into dairy. He imagined “The day will soon come when North Dakota will be a great dairy state.” He said the benefits of dairy farming would extend to successfully raising crops by providing manure as fertilizer. He went on to say that in his opinion, “There is no surer road to financial success on the farm than through the medium of the dairy and a systematic rotation of crops.” He said that once future-minded farmers realized the financial benefits of dairy farming, it would not take them long to embrace the new industry.

North Dakota has become a leading agricultural state, with 89 percent of the land, over 39 million acres, dedicated to farming and ranching. In 2020, North Dakota led the country in the production of honey, canola, pinto beans, rye, flaxseed, and durum wheat, and it was the second largest state when it came to producing sunflowers.

But dairy never became the big industry Grout imagined. However, the North Dakota Dairy Coalition remains optimistic. There are hopes that a new processing plant can be attracted to the I-29 corridor to revitalize North Dakota’s dairy industry.

Dakota Datebook by Carole Butcher


Dakota Datebook is made in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, and funded by Humanities North Dakota, a nonprofit, independent state partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the program do not necessarily reflect those of Humanities North Dakota or the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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