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The Power of Association
by Bob Dyer– May 2004

Introduction / Chinch Bugs / Farm Bureau Serum Association / Rural Roads / Agriculture in the Classroom / Taxes / Federal Budget / Other Examples / Conclusion / Notes

In 1831, French aristocrat Alexis de Tocqueville traveled in the United States on a mission of observation for the government of France. He compiled his findings into a two-volume work titled Democracy in America. In those books he wrote,

“These Americans are the most peculiar people in the world. You’ll not believe it when I tell you how they behave. In a local community in their country a citizen may conceive of some need which is not being met. What does he do? He goes across the street and discusses it with his neighbor. Then what happens? A committee comes into being and then the committee begins to function on behalf of the need. You won’t believe this, but it’s true; all of this is done without reference to any bureaucrat. All of this is done by private citizens on their own initiative!”

He further wrote,

“Americans of all ages, all conditions, and all dispositions constantly form associations.” “Wherever at the head of some new undertaking you see the government in France, or a man of rank in England, in the United States you will be sure to find an association.”

de Tocqueville foreshadowed what was to come in the agricultural community some 80 years later with the advent of county Farm Bureaus. He continues,

“It (an association) numbers its partisans and engages them in its cause; they, on the other hand, become acquainted with one another, and their zeal is increased by their number. An association unites into one channel the efforts of divergent minds and urges them vigorously towards the one end which it clearly points out.”

I would contend the Illinois Farm Bureau does that and does it very well. Its efforts are made ever stronger because of the power of association. That power is redoubled when the partnership of county and state organizations is directed toward an issue. Further, the organization remains strong because it has listened to the needs of its members. I believe this is best illustrated by taking a look at some of the programs throughout the years that had their origins in the counties. Let’s take a look at programs that had their genesis in the counties, but brought together the combined strength and numbers of the county and state organizations.
As early as 1912 we find records in Illinois of “farmer institutes” being held, where soil experts from the state’s land-grant college would meet with groups of local farmers to share the latest research information for crop and livestock production.
Some will point to the excitement of the formative years as the most productive, and others will argue that the “go-go” years of the ‘60s and ‘70s presented the organization in its real strength and glory. I submit to you that it was the 1930s where the organization of Farm Bureau showed its true mettle.
Those were the years, coming out of the Great Depression, which saw the creation of the Illinois Grain Corporation and Illinois Producers Creameries. Soy oil-based paint went on the market. County Farm Bureau Organization Directors were given responsibility for acquisition and maintenance of membership. The Farm Credit Administration came into being, and the Agricultural Adjustment Act was signed into law by President Roosevelt.
The Illinois Farm Bureau was working to bring about tax equity in Springfield, and the national organization was working to convince a “New Deal” government of the more common-sense approach to federal farm programs. Meanwhile, the county Farm Bureaus and the network of local county agents “on the ground” were taking vital information to the country when it was so desperately needed. It was these efforts that embodied the now-familiar words of the mission statement, (and I paraphrase) “to improve net farm income and the quality of farm family life.”

One of the earliest examples of “the power of association” is found in the war on chinch bugs. From the earliest days of ‘scientific’ farming through the 1940s, chinch bugs proved an elusive enemy. Dorothy Noel shares her remembrances of those years as a 12-year-old girl:

“. . .about the month of July the rains stopped and daily temperatures rose to about 110 degrees. . . .Some of the chickens fell off the roost dead at night because they had suffocated.”
“Many farmers were without water for livestock as ponds were drying up and still no rain. . . .One day the neighbors down east came by driving their milk cows to market to be shipped to the St. Louis stockyards to be slaughtered. They had no water or feed for them. My Dad saw an excellent dairy cow in their herd as they drove them by our house. He bought her from her owner for $17. The next morning she had twin calves.”

Diagram put out by Kansas State Agricultural College to show types of Creosote barriers to control chinch bugs.

 “We had milk and eggs and butchered our own hogs. Mom cooked soybeans with a chunk of pork for our dinners and it was good! Our salad was dandelion greens, boiled eggs, and vinegar. Those were the two years of drought and eventually it rained, but in 1933 and 1934 in my own mind I thought it would never rain again. . .”
“An old farmer’s saying was ‘corn knee high by the fourth of July.’ Well, it was knee high but leaves were rolling up and turning brown. On top of that, chinch bugs arrived in hordes to attack the young corn stalks as they sucked out all the moisture from pasture plants. My father poured a line of black crude oil around the outside of the cornfield, thinking the bugs would not cross it, but they did and the field was soon dead and desolate.”

An early control for the pest was the application of a creosote barrier along the edge of a field to turn back the migrating insects. They would then be directed into post holes filled with calcium cyanide. This control method was developed in Illinois and carried throughout the state, indeed the entire Midwest, by the network of county agents, which were on staff of the various county Farm Bureaus.
An illustration of just how all-consuming the chinch bug war became on the life of farm families can be found in the life of Howard Shuman. Shuman became legislative and administrative assistant to Senators Paul Douglas and William Proxmire, but in the early 1930s was the son of the county agent in Whiteside County, Illinois. He shares, in an interview,

“It was a very lively and active time. He (my father) often took us. . .with him, before we were in school and then during the summers, out to vaccinate pigs and to do post mortems on chickens with coccidiosis and to kill chinch bugs.”
“I was an Eagle scout, and I memorized the Gettysburg Address and said it on Memorial Day at the celebration at the local cemetery – one or two Civil War veterans still took part.” “. . .my father didn’t happen to be there that day, because there was some crisis among some farmers, chinch bugs or something like that.”

There is also anecdotal evidence that anyone bringing a quart of chinch bugs could gain free admission to the 1933 World’s Fair & Exposition in Chicago.
Later, chemical and biological control methods were developed, and communicated to the farming community through this same network of county agents and county Farm Bureaus.

Another example of this power of association is found in the realm of animal health products. In 1915, Hancock County Farm Bureau entered into a cooperative buying program for serum vaccine for hogs. As other counties joined in, the Illinois Farm Bureau Serum Association was formed in 1924.
The value of the Serum Association proved its effectiveness when, in 1926, an outbreak of hog cholera occurred in Illinois. Suppliers to the Serum Association stood by their commitments and Farm Bureau members were able to be ahead of the curve by purchasing serum and virus at prices unaffected by the tremendous demand placed on supplies.
Participation in this venture was so good, that in 1942 the Association returned patronage dividends to Farm Bureau members in excess of $100,000. This was not without some controversy, however, as veterinarians in the state felt they were being deprived of business by farmers vaccinating their own animals. The state veterinarian association drafted legislation, based upon health concerns, to provide that animals could be vaccinated only by licensed animal health practitioners. The law was never passed, and livestock producers were able to continue with these disease-prevention measures.
By 1957, all counties in the state were being served. Today three County Farm Bureaus still provide animal health products – Johnson, Pope-Hardin, and Massac.
The real value of this association of cooperation, which included County Farm Bureaus, the IAA, the county farm advisors, the serum association, and the College of Veterinary Medicine, was seen in 1972 when Illinois was declared to be free of hog cholera. It is estimated that more than 35,000,000 hogs were saved through this work, thus improving the net farm income of members.

The issue of good rural roads has been one of the most important issues that Farm Bureau has worked on throughout its history. In the 1920s the problem of poor farm-to-market roads was prominent in Farm Bureau policy. That policy focused both on road quality and road funding. Twenty years later Farm Bureau saw its efforts in local road funding bear fruit when then-Governor Adlai Stevenson signed into law a bill that would channel a portion of the state’s gasoline tax to local road improvement.
Many county Farm Bureaus established road committees to work on local transportation issues. These took the form of regular meetings with township and county road commissioners, “hard road” rallies, and letters and petitions to county boards. Some county Farm Bureaus even went so far as to organize members into “buying groups” to purchase gravel for building roads.
While these efforts were being carried out at the county level, the IAA was working on the same issue in the General Assembly. As recently as this Spring the IAA has carried the ball on the issue of commodity transport and public safety that surfaced in Kankakee County. Today, at least one county Farm Bureau, Marshall-Putnam, continues its annual road commissioners meeting to address the county’s local transportation needs.

We usually look to 1987 as the beginning of Farm Bureau’s ag literacy efforts to the non-farm public when two county Farm Bureaus, Grundy and Cook, established Agriculture in the Classroom programs. As early as 1921, however, we find evidence of a cooperative plan by the IAA, the county Farm Bureaus, and individual farmers to bring an understanding of agriculture to the city.

The front page headline of the July 7th, 1921, I.A.A. News Letter reads “Farm Outing for Slums ‘Kids’ Planned by I.A.A.” The story reads,

“The Illinois Agricultural Association, county Farm Bureaus in the northern part of the state, the United Charities of Chicago, and the Chicago Daily News have joined hands in one of the greatest works of mercy Illinois has ever known, the providing of country outings for destitute children of Chicago tenements during the next two months.”

Photos of inner-city "slum" kids working on a farm.

Newspaper headline from 1925 in the IAA Record.

The purpose for the outings, as stated in the article, is,

“Outings in the country are not alone recreation for them – they are life itself. In addition to saving lives the outings will make real Americans out of coming citizens by giving them an insight into wholesome American homes.”

The focus of these programs was, and remains today, to take the message of agriculture into non-farm homes. Today that message is carried loud and clear through the organized efforts of 95 county Farm Bureaus and backed up with the support of staff at the Illinois Farm Bureau.

The decade of the ‘70s both began and ended with work on taxation. Farm Bureau worked diligently to bring equity to the tax system for all taxpayers. The IAA, county Farm Bureaus, and individual members worked together effectively through both the legislative arena and court proceedings to make this happen. Two county Farm Bureaus that figured prominently in this issue were Henry and Lake.
Both of these counties organized members for paying taxes under protest in order to hold the money in escrow while the state organization was fighting the battle of taxation and assessments in the courts. In the case of Henry county, it took two years to return the money that was judged to have been overpaid back to the taxpayers. In the end we had a more equitable system of property taxation based upon a new Farmland Assessment Law.

One more example of the power of association is the work that was done in the 1980s on the federal budget deficit and how it impacts net farm income. While this issue may not seem to be one that would fall within the purview of the counties, there was definitely work going on.
The IAA and county Farm Bureaus worked together on a project called the Budget Brigade. The idea behind this was to get as many Farm Bureau members as possible to send a postcard to their Congressman and to the President urging action to reduce the federal deficit, thereby reducing pressure on interest rates. The counties would collect these and send them to the IAA.
Best estimates calculate more than 175,000 postcards were collected and taken to Washington. Many of these were collected at the Farm Progress Show but approximately 75,000 of them can be attributed to the work in the counties.

The postcard that was mailed to Washington, D.C. politicians during IFB’s Budget Brigade.

The Illinois Farm Bureau Board of Directors spread 175,000 Budget Brigade postcards over three floors of the IAA Building prior to them being delivered to Washington, D.C.

FarmWeek coverage of the Budget Brigade’s trip to Washington, D.C. to deliver the 175,000 postcards signed by Illinois farmers who wanted Congress and the President to lower interest rates and cut the federal budget deficit.

Time or space will not permit a more detailed look at all of this cooperative work of the associations, but let me briefly mention a few.
In 1921 the Illinois Fruit Growers Exchange was created. It was made up of local growers associations already in existence in several counties in Southwestern Illinois. At its peak, the Exchange included growers from Calhoun to Alexander counties, with a few individuals from Central and Northeastern Illinois. Crops marketed through the Exchange included apples, peaches, pears, and strawberries, plus small quantities of other,, minor crops. Services provided to growers ranged from horticultural information and advice from the Universities, to help with marketing their products to commercial customers.
By the mid-1920s several County Farm Bureaus had formed companies to distribute petroleum products to farmers. This was at a time when the conversion to traction power was occurring at a more rapid pace along with more and more farmers buying their own trucks. Among the counties seeking a steady supply of product were Marshall-Putnam, Knox, and DeKalb. When the Illinois Farm Supply Company was chartered in 1927, these three were among the first nine counties requesting oil supply service. Today, this continues as the local and regional member-cooperative – GROWMARK.
In 1971, the brainchild of three county Farm Bureau managers and a Stark county Hereford breeder and economist by the name of Jim Gill came into being. Shepherded by the likes of Ron Slane in Stark County, Bernie Flock in Rock Island County and Bill Saxer in Henry County, MarketLine began offering grain and livestock market information over a network of telephone tape machines. The combined efforts of the counties and the IAA grew this service into one of the premier market information and advisory services in the nation - AgriVisor.
In 1972, the Illinois Corn Growers Association was launched from a collaboration of efforts by Knox County Farm Bureau and the IAA. That organization now serves to maximize the profitability of Illinois corn producers through governmental affairs activities and market development projects.
The late ‘70s saw the inception of the first of what would become six regional advertising groups when 19 County Farm Bureaus joined forces with the IAA to form “Food for Thought.” From that effort in 1978 we now have Gateway, Quad Cities, Central, Southern, and Tri-State information groups. The power of association now brings promotion and information coverage to the entire state via radio and television.
In the 1980s, two separate years of dry summer weather focused attention upon water use. Potential conflict between residential water users and irrigators was mitigated when the combined efforts of the Kankakee County Farm Bureau, the IAA, local Soil & Water Conservation Districts, the Illinois Department of Transportation’s Division of Water Resources, the Illinois State Water Survey, and members of the General Assembly all came together to address the issue. After defining exactly what the problems were, action was taken at the township, county, and state levels to address them. This is also one example of a concern that began at the local level and made its way through the policy development process to become established policy for both the Illinois and American Farm Bureaus; where it remains today.
During the last 30 years, members in Stephenson, Lee, Livingston, Douglas, Moultrie, Will, Kankakee, Grundy, and McLean Counties have benefited from county and state expertise to deal with railroad right-of-way abandonments and pipelines being buried across their property. Using the organizational skills of the county managers, the legal knowledge of the IAA General Counsel’s office, and the regulatory authority of the Illinois Department of Agriculture’s Office of Industry Regulation, members have gained concessions, had land disruptions mitigated, and saved thousands of dollars in bringing land back into productive use.
And then in 1986 the power of association was used to assist fellow members of the farming fraternity when Illinois farmers organized a haylift for the drought-stricken southeastern United States. According to one report from Rock Hill, South Carolina, more than 18,000 tons of hay was delivered to that state in this farmer-to-farmer program. Railcars, trucks, and at least one C-141 transport plane were used to deliver nearly three-quarters of a million bales of hay to Georgia and South Carolina.

So what are we to learn from this power of association? Stephen Lamb asked recently, in an article for Association Management magazine, “If our Association did not exist, would someone invent it?” I believe the answer to that is a resounding, “Yes!” Are our members better off through their association with one another? Again, “Yes.” The answers are unashamedly, “Yes,” because Farm Bureau has remained relevant to the needs of its members.
The network of soil experts who began their work in the early 1900s through local associations of county organizations is continued today as we empower individuals for action based upon grassroots movement.
Several years ago there were two farm boys who had a game they liked to play. There was a railroad track that ran alongside the farm; and they would challenge one another to see who could walk the farthest on one of the rails.
They would climb up the roadbed to the track where one boy would get on one rail and the other would get on the other rail. They would begin to walk the rails, balancing themselves with their arms outstretched. The challenge would end when one of them lost his balance and stepped off.
Then, one day, they discovered that if they held hands across the ties they could support each other and walk for miles. So too, in the work of Farm Bureau, as we join together in the spirit of cooperation – with a common objective in mind – we can achieve goals not thought possible by standing alone.


Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, Book I, Charles Gosselin, Paris, 1835, Chap. XII, “Political Associations in the United States.”


Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, Book II, Charles Gosselin, Paris, 1840, Chap. V, “Of the Use Which the Americans Make of Public Associations in Civil Life.”


John J. Lacey, Farm Bureau in Illinois, Illinois Agricultural Association, Bloomington, Illinois, 1965.


Dan Leifel and Norma Maney, The Diamond Harvest: A History of the Illinois Farm Bureau, Illinois Agricultural Association, Bloomington, Illinois, 1990.


Stephen L. Lamb, CAE, “Purposefully Providing Value,” Association Management, December 2003, pp. 36-38.


Donald A. Ritchie, “Interview #1: From Illinois to Oxford”, United States Senate Historical Office – Oral History Project, www.senate.gov.


“Farm Outing for Slums “Kids” Planned by I.A.A.”, I.A.A. News Letter, Illinois Agricultural Association, Chicago, No. 60, July 7, 1921.


Dorothy Noel, “When I Was Twelve”, Scrapbook Memories, Kansas City Public Library Special Collections, www.kclibrary.org/sc/history/1000stories/scrapbook/noel.htm.


“Cards, message delivered in Washington”, FarmWeek, February 4, 1985, pp. 1-2.


“1986 State News”, NWHS Class of ’86, Northwestern High School, Rock Hill, SC, www.poag.net/nwhs86/state86.html.