The Farmers Educational Cooperative Union, later to become National Farmers Union, was founded in 1902 in Rains County, Texas.
By Sherry Vogel
The first Montana local was formed at Ronan in 1912 with a Polson local established shortly thereafter. Prior to 1916, the Farmers Union in Montana was weakened by the lack of a state organization. The national charter required a combined local membership of 5,000 before the state could be chartered. Montana’s farm population was too small, too widely scattered, and too unstable to qualify. In April 1916, thereafter, national president Charles S. Barrett granted Montana a state charter under a special dispensation. The organization barely survived the drought years of 1917-1919 then had a brief boom during the prosperity of 1920-1921, only to be hit by the Great Depression, which started in the mid 1920s for Montana farmers. However, spurred by the widespread unrest of farming during the Depression, the Union grew rapidly throughout the late 1920s and 1930s.
The area farming communities of Ollie and Willard were the first to organize cooperatives in Fallon County during this era. Later agreeing to consolidate to form the current Farmers Union Oil Company of Baker, Montana, in August 1949. These constituent associations organized not for profit as such but for the purpose of associating a large number of farmer patrons so as to reduce costs through joint action. This enabled them to purchase their supplies and equipment and to control the sale and distribution of their products so that ultimately they could secure a reasonable return from their farming operations.
Dedicated to the interests of the family farm, the Farmers Union pursues a three-fold program of education, cooperation, and legislation. The education department sponsors a lending library, summer camps, workshops and correspondence classes for farm families. Farmers Union legislative division lobbies on the federal and state levels to push for legislation benefiting family farms.
Farm cooperatives like Cenex Farmers Union Co-op, while not a formal part of the Farmers Union, have always been closely allied with the Union, often using the name “Farmers Union” as part of their title. Like the cooperative movement met the desperate need of the drought and depression-hit farmers to cut costs and to get better prices for their products; so the Cenex Harvest States (CHS) franchise which is a leading global agri-business owned by farmers, ranchers and cooperatives across the U.S. CHS is committed to helping its customers, farm-owners and other stockholders grow their businesses through its domestic and global operations.
The majority of our country’s two million farmers are members of the nearly 3,000 farmer-owned cooperatives. They provide more than 250,000 jobs and annual wages of more than $8 billion.
Our local Cenex Farmers Union Oil company has returned over 5.4 million dollars of savings to the local community over the past 66 years since its establishment in Baker.
The cooperative business model is a community based mutual trust alliance in which the profits are shared with the customer. Just how does this work? Travis Mashak, General Manager, explained, “As the customer does business with Farmers Union Oil, we keep track of the business that each customer does with us, from gas to tires to candy bars, then the end of the year we divide out the profit back to each customer who contributed to our success. The customer actually gets a check!”
Baker’s Cenex Farmers Union Oil is a drug-alcohol free workplace which is governed by a five person board. The 2015-16 board members are: president – Billy Singer, vice president – Dale Buerkle, secretary – Steve Schweigert, and two directors – Dan Flor and Greg Gunderson.