Farming the Plains - Problems

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The problems faced by homesteaders in the 1800s.

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Farming the Plains - Problems

  1. 1. The Homesteaders Farming the Plains
  2. 2. What were the problems of farming the Great Plains?
  3. 3. <ul><li>Ploughing the Land </li></ul><ul><li>Growing Crops </li></ul><ul><li>Lack of Water </li></ul><ul><li>Protecting the Crops </li></ul><ul><li>Fire </li></ul><ul><li>Insects </li></ul><ul><li>Size of Landholding </li></ul><ul><li>Farming Machinery </li></ul><ul><li>Extremes of Weather </li></ul>
  4. 4. Before it can grow crops land has to be ploughed. Until the arrival of the homesteaders in the 1860s however, the soil on the Plains had never been cut by a plough. The Prairie grass that covered the Plains had thick deep roots of up to 10cm. These roots grew in dense tangled clumps that were difficult to cut. The first homesteaders that arrived on the Plains brought their iron ploughs from the Eastern USA. These could cut through the previously ploughed soft soils there, but they broke when used on the Great Plains. Ploughing.
  5. 5. Growing Crops The homesteaders planted the crops of maize and wheat that they brought with them from the Eastern states. These were suited to the mild and damp climate there. However these crops did not grow well on the dry hot Plains. If the homesteaders could not grow their crops, then their life on the Plains would be impossible to sustain. No crops meant no food for the homesteaders. Even if they could grow enough to eke out a living, they could not grow a surplus to sell. Without a surplus the homesteaders had no income, and could not pay for supplies or machinery for their farms.
  6. 6. Lack of Water Although Stephen Long’s 1827 description of the Great Plains as ‘The Great American Desert’ was an exaggeration of their climate, the Plains were not ideally suited to agriculture. The annual rainfall on the Plains averaged 38cms. Rain usually fell during the hot summer and the sun soon evaporated the standing water. Without water to irrigate their crops the homesteaders could not succeed. There were no lakes or rivers to provide water for irrigation. Digging a well was impractical as the work was expensive and would often fail to find water anyway.
  7. 7. The homesteaders needed to mark out their claims to protect them from other homesteaders. A homesteader could not afford to lose any land because of a disputed boundary. Cattle and buffalo were also a problem. The homesteaders often farmed near to the vast cattle ranches, and the cows would stray off the ranches and trample the homesteaders’ crops. Buffalo were simply roaming wild, still in large herds until the 1870s. The lack of trees on the Plains meant that there was no material to build adequate fences. Some homesteaders tried to use the prickly Osage tree to make hedges, but this was only a short term solution. Crops were Trampled
  8. 8. The dry Plains were provided the perfect conditions for fires to start. The long hot summers left the Prairie Grass and the homesteaders’ crops bone dry. Accidental fires started by a spark or a bit of broken glass lying on the ground and reflecting the sun were a disaster for the homesteaders. Unless the fire could be stopped quickly by beating, it soon spread. Without any water to put out the fire, the homesteaders were forced to hide in their sod houses until their crops were destroyed and the fire died . Fire!
  9. 9. Fighting a Fire by Beating.
  10. 10. Plagues of grasshoppers visited the Plains in 1871, 1874 and 1875. The swarms contained millions of insects, and covered hundreds of miles of the Plains at a time. They devoured everything the homesteaders possessed. The grasshoppers could eat a homesteader family’s entire crop in a few hours, leaving them with nothing to eat or sell. The grasshoppers ate boots, tools, clothes, even the wooden door frame of the sod house. After a visit from grasshoppers, the a homesteader could be left penniless and without any means of survival. Plagues of Insects
  11. 11. The Homestead Act of 1862 gave the homesteaders 160 acres of land each (a quarter square mile plot). Although this much land was enough for a family in the fertile lands of California and Oregon, it was insufficient on the Plains. Homesteaders were unable to support their families with only 160 acres. The lower yields of crop caused by the harsh climate and lack of water meant that many thousands of homesteaders simply gave up their plots. Homesteads were too small.....
  12. 12. The Plains experienced massive variations in temperature as part of their normal temperature. Winters were long with freezing temperatures and snow. Summers were extremely hot. This made it difficult to grow most crops in a normal year. The Plains were also regularly struck by dust storms. The vast open spaces of the Plains encouraged high winds and tornadoes. All of these could do great damage to crops. Extremes of Weather
  13. 13. <ul><li>Ploughing the Land </li></ul><ul><li>Growing Crops </li></ul><ul><li>Lack of Water </li></ul><ul><li>Protecting the Crops </li></ul><ul><li>Fire </li></ul><ul><li>Insects </li></ul><ul><li>Size of Landholding </li></ul><ul><li>Farming Machinery </li></ul><ul><li>Extremes of Weather </li></ul>

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