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Milk Wars


America has a long history of contention over milk production. In 1883, a so-called “milk war” broke out in New York State when farmers demanded a higher price for milk. When distributors refused, the farmers formed “spilling committees.” They waylaid milk on the way to market and dumped it on the side of the road. They dumped their own milk rather than selling it at such low prices. The result was a “milk famine.”

In 1918, the city of Minot passed an ordinance designed to avoid a milk famine. The Milk Price-fixing Ordinance set the price for milk at twelve cents per quart. It was a controversial move designed to support local dairy farmers. The Equity Union Creameries and local resident J.G. Baldwin filed lawsuits seeking to overturn the ordinance on constitutional grounds. They alleged that the city was overstepping its bounds by fixing the price of milk. On this date in 1919, Judge C.W. Buttz of Devils Lake ruled on the case. He ordered the dismissal of the lawsuits. He declared that no constitutional rights were violated. He said the measure represented a “valid exercise of the legislative power” of the city council, and the courts would not interfere.

In the 1960s, large dairies in neighboring states began selling excess milk in North Dakota. As a result, North Dakota dairies began paying farmers less, forcing many out of business. In 1967, the state legislature established The Milk Stabilization Board. The Board had the authority to set milk prices, establish fair trade practices, and perform regular audits to make sure farmers are being properly paid. The board was renamed the Milk Marketing Board in 1995.

North Dakota is not a big dairy state. Amber Boeshans of the Dairy Coalition says South Dakota has about 94,000 dairy cows, and she estimates that North Dakota has only 16,000. She points out that North Dakota offers many advantages for dairy farmers, including affordable land, readily available feed, and support from the dairy program at North Dakota State University – conditions that could bode well for growth in the industry.

Dakota Datebook written by Carole Butcher


Historical Timeline. "" Accessed 16 March, 2016.

Grand Forks Herald. “North Dakota Dairy Industry Needs a Push.” 29 January, 2015.

Grand Forks Herald. “Court Upholds Milk Price Act.” 29 April, 1919.

State of North Dakota Milk Marketing Board. Agriculture Committee Meeting Minutes, January 14, 2014. "" Accessed 17 March, 2016.

The Milk House. "" Accessed 16 March, 2016.

North Dakota Dairy Coalition. "" Accessed 17 March, 2016.