NFO Holding Actions

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Introduction       Who       How       LULAC       Farmers' Holiday       Cow War       NFO Holding Actions

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Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, dairy farmers across the country, suffering under the strain of falling prices, struggled to cover the costs of feeding cows and hauling the milk. Many sold off their herds and left farming. Statistics taken from Baron and Polk Counties, Wisconsin, in April 1966 revealed that 70% of dairy cattle sold at auction went to slaughter, while only 30% were bought as replacement cattle for dairy herds1 indicating that many farmers were leaving farming.

While economists and politicians pointed to supply and demand as the reason for falling prices, NFO leaders insisted that "Prices are set by those who have the power to set them." 2 NFO leaders, therefore, urged farmers to band together, taking a page from labor unions, and collectively bargain with food processors to achieve fair prices for their products. One tool they used to drive processors to the bargaining table was the withholding action.

The NFO milk holding action began March 15, 1967 and lasted for fifteen days before an anti-trust lawsuit brought by the federal government and a court-issued restraining order effectively brought an end to the action. Though the end of one holding action, it was not the end of NFO and its activism. The organization followed up its milk holding action with an All-Commodities Holding Action beginning in January 1968.3

Link to National Farmers Organization Films Digital Collection held by Iowa State University Library Special Collections and University Archives


Walters, Charles, Jr. Holding Action. New York: Halcyon House, 1968.
DARE Interview, Lansing, IA Interviewee discusses the NFO (14:55) and describes how the NFO used iron in the fields to enforce corn holding (16:01)
DARE Interview, Mason City, IA Interviewee discusses the impact of NFO locally (Full interview 2, 00:05) and the futility of holding actions (full interview 2, 01:45).

  • 1. Charles Walters Jr., Holding Action (New York:Halcyon House, 1968), 5,
  • 2. Charles Walters Jr., Holding Action (New York: Halcyon House, 1968), 7.
  • 3. NFO Reporter, 12, no. 1 (1968.)