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Wheat in 1918 to Help Win World War I


During World War I, Herbert Hoover, the U.S. Food Administrator, “ordered greater production of all farm products . . . particularly of wheat,” because the nation’s soldiers and allies needed bread to sustain them. President Woodrow Wilson told farmers to “Raise wheat.” North Dakota Governor Lynn Frazier asked farmers to “plant every acre possible to wheat.”

“Wheat, wheat and then more wheat and flour” was the “crying need in order that [the] world war be won,” said Dr. E.F. Ladd, the federal food administrator for North Dakota. “Wheat Will Win the War,” was the motto of the day, and Dakota farmers responded by planting wheat from “fence to fence for defense” in the time of the “Great War.”

On this date in 1918, a substantial “drizzling rain” showered Central North Dakota with the moisture needed to germinate the state’s widespread wheat acreage. The good spring rains raised hopes of “big wheat yields” by late summer, and agricultural experts announced that success in the war depended “largely on America’s . . . wheat crop.”

Wheat prices rose considerably during the war and the government guaranteed a minimum price of $2.20 per bushel, which more than doubled the pre-war price. Expenses also went higher, but farmers were generally willing to sacrifice when our soldiers “over there” were “sacrificing their lives.” Posters from the U.S. government showed American soldiers advancing against the enemy’s deadly guns with a caption reading: “They are Giving All, Will You Send Them Wheat?”

Dakota farmers said: “Yes.” The early rains of April helped farmers in the Red River Valley harvest a “bumper crop” in 1918, said to be among the greatest in the history of the Valley. Farmers west of Minot and west of Jamestown had a fair wheat crop, due to a mid-summer drought, but the statewide totals were enormous. Even though a wartime shortage of railway cars slowed transport of North Dakota’s bounty to Minneapolis, the crop still contributed to a national reserve of 25 million bushels held in the Mill City’s elevators.

When Uncle Sam and the nation needed them most, North Dakota’s farmers planted “fence to fence for defense” and produced what became known as an abundant “Victory Crop” in the fruitful summer of 1918.

Dakota Datebook written by Dr. Steve Hoffbeck, History Department, MSU Moorhead.

Sources: “General Rain Benefits All Dakota Crops,” Bismarck Tribune , April 16, 1918, p. 3.

“More Wheat Is Crying Need of Day, Says Ladd,” Bismarck Tribune , April 8, 1918, p. 5.

“How Uncle Sam Runs the Nation’s Wheat Business,” Bismarck Tribune , June 11, 1918, p. 8.

“Raise More Wheat,” Bismarck Tribune , March 19, 1918, p. 12.

“Plant Every Acre to Wheat, Frazier Tells Northwest Farmers,” Minneapolis Morning Tribune , March 29, 1918, p. 6.

“N.D. Executive Asks Farmers to Plant Wheat to Aid Government,” Grand Forks Herald , March 29, 1918.

“General Hoover of the Food Administration,” Grand Forks Herald , March 3, 1918.

“State Grain Crop Best In 15 Years, Says Sherman; Dakota Farmers Also Reaping Bumper Yields,” Minneapolis Morning Tribune , August 25, 1918, p. 1.

“Threshing Returns Indicate Big Crop; Minnesota, North and South Dakota Report Unusual Prospects For Small Grains,” Minneapolis Morning Tribune , August 11, 1918, p. 8.

“Minneapolis to Be Wheat Stronghold; 25 Million Bushels for National Reserve to Be Stored Here,” Minneapolis Morning Tribune , September 6, 1918, p. 1.

David M. Kennedy, Over Here: The First World War And American Society (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004), p. 242-243.