Grain of Millet
What did North Dakota--specifically, Lisbon--and Australia have in common on this date in 1962? Both were listed among the world leaders in the production of the grain of millet.
Although millet can be a feed grain and is sometimes found in bird feed, the grain is also fit for human consumption. The grain is rich in protein, oils, iron, phosphorous, and amino acids, and it’s gluten free.
J. N. Johnson Seed Company of Lisbon, North Dakota was a leading force in millet production. The founder of the business, J.N. Johnson, was in the seed business in Sheldon before he founded his new company in 1932. One of J.N.'s sons, Gene, took over the firm after Johnson retired in 1952. Along with Gene's co-owner George Gilbert, the firm maintained what they called a "dominant position in this unique field."
Most of the millet produced from this Ransom County firm was used in bird feed, as reported by the Ransom County Gazette, which stated: "U.S. citizens of today are more conscious of bird pets and are interested in feeding wild birds wintering in the domestic and friendly atmosphere of backyards." It was noted that millet could be sold as a puffed cereal, like rice and wheat, a product found in some health food stores. Either way, Johnson's millet went all over the continental U.S., from one coast to the other, and even to Europe and Asia where the demand for millet was mostly for human consumption.
Meanwhile, Australia had been producing more millet as demand grew. However, they had become "a little too optimistic," according to reports. While they managed to rival the J.N. Johnson Seed Company's production levels, they developed a surplus and were looking to sell cheap.
In the end, the Ransom County Gazette story credited the J.N. Johnson Seed Company for the strong market for millet produced by the farmers of southeast North Dakota and northeast South Dakota.
Dakota Datebook by Sarah Walker
The Ransom County Gazette, August 23, 1962, p1