Farmers' Holiday Association (FHA)

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FARMERS' HOLIDAY ASSOCIATION (FHA)

The national Farmers' Holiday Association, or FHA, was an organization born of the downturn in farm and crop prices brought about by the Great Depression. FHA members took part in some of the most intense agrarian protests of the early years of the Depression. In February 1932, Glen Miller, a writer for the publication Iowa Union Farmer, argued that Iowa farmers should declare a "holiday" in which farm products would be kept at the farms where they were produced until politicians and the general public began to appreciate the importance of farmers. This idea resonated with the three thousand farmers who gathered in Des Moines, Iowa, in May 1932 to found the national Farmers' Holiday Association. The group consisted primarily of farmers from Iowa, but also included farmers from Minnesota, Nebraska, Illinois, and Wisconsin, as well as many other states. Milo Reno, a popular agricultural activist and leader of the Iowa Farmers' Union, was elected president of the organization.

Reno's constant campaign theme as leader of the Iowa Farmers' Union was that farmers deserved the right to be compensated for the costs of farm production and to make a reasonable profit on the sale of their goods. Reno continued this theme as he assumed control of the FHA, and one of the first resolutions adopted by the organization called for withholding agricultural products from the marketplace until farmers received fair compensation for the cost of production.

In August 1932, members of the FHA launched the first withholding protests in Sioux City, Iowa, picketing along highways and threatening farmers who refused to cooperate and were attempting to bring their goods to market. The farm strikes quickly spread to other midwestern states as members of the local Farmers' Holiday Associations in those states began to stage their own protests. Violent encounters continued between protesters and noncooperative farmers in other midwestern states until Reno called for an end to the strikes on September 1, 1932.

Following Franklin D. Roosevelt's election as president in November 1932, Reno and leaders of local holiday organizations in several midwestern states met in Omaha, Nebraska, to discuss the potential effect of Roosevelt's presidency on the plight of the farmer. The convention crafted a resolution that called for the suspension of strikes and blockades of farm commodities to give the new president sufficient time to act on the concerns of farmers.

In the meantime, the FHA focused its attention on preventing farm foreclosures through so-called penny auctions. During January and February of 1933, fifteen penny auctions took place in which a farm undergoing foreclosure would be auctioned off at an extremely low price, sometimes through physical intimidation of potential bidders, to a bidder who would sell the property back to its original owner. While never condoning the illegal methods used by some participants during penny auctions, the FHA did actively support the practice in order to prevent farm foreclosures.

In May 1933, Reno and the FHA once again called for farm strikes following the U.S. Senate's rejection of the Norris-Simpson amendment, which would have provided cost of production prices for farmers. Reno, however, called off the strike after receiving a letter from Minnesota governor Floyd Olson expressing his belief that the Roosevelt administration would address FHA concerns and after hearing an encouraging statement on the matter from the president.

During the summer months of 1933 Reno began to lose confidence in Roosevelt's New Deal farm program, the Agricultural Adjustment Administration. The FHA saw the program as an extension of the American Farm Bureau Federation, which the FHA viewed as a tool of large commercial farmers. In September 1933 Reno again called for farm strikes until the administration and the Congress passed measures to address cost of production and currency inflation. This time, however, the strike movement received a tepid response from many midwestern farmers and collapsed within a few days.

Following the collapse of the farm strikes in the fall of 1933, the power of the FHA began to decrease rapidly and Reno went from popular national figure to relative obscurity. Over the next several years, the FHA turned its attention away from cost of production issues to other causes of interest to farmers. The organization also backed the potential third-party candidacies of such political figures as Father Charles Coughlin and Senator Huey Long. Milo Reno's death on May 5, 1936, effectively spelled the end of the FHA, which was absorbed back into the Iowa Farmers' Union in 1937.

See Also: AGRICULTURE; FARM FORECLOSURES.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Olson, James S., ed. Historical Dictionary of the 1920s: From World War I to the New Deal, 1919–1933. 1988.

Payne, John. "Reno, Milo." In Historical Dictionary of the New Deal: From Inauguration to Preparation for War, edited by James S. Olson. 1985.

Shover, John L. Cornbelt Rebellion: The Farmers' Holiday Association. 1965.

Mark Love