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Furlough for Farmers


From an economical standpoint for farmers and farm laborers, World War II was either a blessing or a curse. Wartime could mean increased crop production to supply food for troops and other countries, but help was also scarce, with so many men and women away, serving their country. For a farming community where families thrived or starved by the crops, this was a big deal.

Some farmers even got draft deferments so they could serve by farming. This concept had already been set up during WWI . In that war, one North Dakota farmer, Jacob Wieland, received approval to keep farming just in the nick of time … as he checked his mailbox one last time before he left for training.

But such deferments didn’t help everyone, and on this date in 1943, reports from Washington definitively stated that soldiers could not get a furlough to come and help out on the old farm.

North Dakota Senator Nye had explored the idea with the Secretary of War. Nye said he received “scores of letters a week” asking if an extended furlough was possible, so that sons could return to the family farm for a time. But the government had set its policy—no farm furloughs. Furloughs granted to enlisted men were not supposed to exceed 30 days in a year, generally in increments of ten days at a time. This was enough to allow the soldiers to travel, relax, and purse other “diversions.” As the Williston Press reported, “These ‘normal furloughs’ are, of course, insufficient to the purpose of North Dakota farmers who would like to have their sons home for the full planting or harvest season.”

However, the North Dakota Agricultural College Extension Service director, E. J. Haslerud, had the solution: more cooperation. He was already lining up county agents and extension workers under the USDA war board in every community across the state. He believed in the farmers, and in what they could accomplish together “on the exchange of labor and on the use of equipment.” Committees prepared for the harvest rush, and wherever labor shortages were serious, everyone would be asked to help in the fields.

Neighbor would help neighbor as the war raged on.

Dakota Datebook written by Sarah Walker

The Williston Press, May 6, 1943