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Dairy Farmers Take on Filipino Monkeys

1/22/2009:

The annual North Dakota Dairymen's convention opened in Bismarck on this date in 1930. The day was cold and blustery, so attendance wasn't as high as anticipated. Too bad, because the group was facing a crisis: too much butter.

Dairy farmers were badly demoralized in 1930, and various speakers laid the blame on two sources: the farmers themselves and Filipino monkeys. As reported by The Bismarck Daily Tribune: "The monkey shakes down the cocoanuts from which the Filipino extracts the oil which is the basis of the oleo industry."

For those listeners who might not remember, oleo was the original term for margarine, and the rising popularity of margarine was seriously impacting the dairy industry. In fact, the national use of margarine had risen by more than one million pounds that year.

At the heart of the problem was a two-part conundrum. Farmers needed solid profits for their cream, from which butter was made. To increase their sales, they, themselves, were using margarine so they wouldn't cut into their cream sales. Thus, they were contributing to higher margarine consumption - with a corresponding drop in butter sales.

The surplus amount of butter held in storage was sobering: more than 81 million pounds. One speaker reported the collapse of the butter market was actually a contributing factor in 3 million new cases of unemployment!

The organization's president, Samuel Crabbe of Fargo, reported on attempts to put a state tax on margarine during the previous legislative session. Unfortunately, the bill was found to be unconstitutional.

The Dairymen decided to focus on overseas markets. And they agreed to lobby for higher tariffs on imported oils used for margarine production.

As for those cocoanut-throwing monkeys, the farmers called for the Philippines to be given their independence. If the Philippines became free, the men argued, their oil could be taxed and a more balanced competition would be restored.

In the end, the dairy farmers agreed on one more thing; they had the means to make an immediate difference, starting in their own kitchens. They would consume more of their own butter and stop using margarine.

By Merry Helm

Source: The Bismarck Daily Tribune. 22 January 1930: 1.