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Farming on the Plains: Problems & Solutions


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Describes problems of the homesteaders on the Plains and various solutions to those problems.

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Farming on the Plains: Problems & Solutions

  1. 1. Farming on the Plains Problems and Solutions
  2. 2. Problems: • Ploughing the land • Growing crops • Lack of water • Lack of timber • Farm machinery • Crops getting trampled • Plagues of insects • Extreme weather
  3. 3. Tools In the beginning farmers had to do almost everything by hand. The work was physically hard and never ending. Most homesteaders were to poor to buy equipment to help them farm, but even if they could afford new machinery, there was little technology in the 1860s and 1870s. Most of the land on the Plains was like concrete because it had never beenploughed before. In 1837, an Illinois blacksmith named John Deere created a steel plough. The ‘sodbuster’ plough was soon used by almost all homesteaders because it could plough through the hard soil easily.
  4. 4. Farm MachineryOther farm equipment such as the reaper (to cutand thresh the wheat much faster), the spring spring-tooth harrowtooth harrow (to prepare the soil), the graindrill (to plant the seed), the corn binder madefarm work much easier and quicker for thehomesteaders.In 1830, producing a bushel of grain took about183 minutes. By 1900, with the use of thesemachines, it took only 10 minutes. reaper machine The federal government also supported farmers by financing agricultural education. • The Morill Act of 1862 gave federal land to states to help finance agricultural colleges. • The Hatch Act of 1887 set up experimental stations to inform farmers of new developments in agriculture.
  5. 5. Lack of WaterHomesteaders were lucky if they lived near a watering hole, river, or stream. Thosewho did not had to collect water in buckets by hand several times a day and thejourney to get the water could be many miles. By 1870s, however, wind drivenpumps were available to the homesteaders for $25, which provided a constant supplyof water to the farmers.The Plains were not ideally suited to grow crops.The annual rainfall averaged about 38cms and rainusually fell during the hot summer months but thesun quickly evaporated any standing water.
  6. 6. Lack of WaterHomesteaders needed a way to trap the rainfall in the soil before it waslost. They used a technique called “dry farming”. Every time it rained orsnowed, the homesteaders ploughed their land. This left a thin layer of soil on Dry Farming top of the newly fallen rain which was trapped underneath. The water was then available for use when the new crop was planted in the spring.
  7. 7. Growing Crops Turkey Red Wheat The homesteaders recognized that theycould not grow crops that were unsuitedto the climate of the Plains. They needed crops that could cope with the extreme temperatures and the lack of rainfall. In1874, Mennonites from Russia started tomove onto the Plains. They brought crops such as Turkey Red Wheat with them. This hardy winter variety of wheat flourished on the Plains.
  8. 8. Lack of Water Windmills In 1874, Daniel Halliday perfected wind pump technology suitable for the Plains. A well was dug anywhere from 30-120 feet below the ground, with a high powered drill to reach the water. A windmill was then built above the well that harnessed the power of the wind to pump a constant supply of water for the homesteader. Although this was very expensive at first, the price fell to $25.00 by 1890.
  9. 9. Lack of Timber Sod Homes To compensate for the lack of timber on the plains, the homesteaders used sod (or grass)cut from the Plains as bricks to build their houses and called them “soddies.” Soddies were dirty, drafty, and leakedwhenever it rained. The walls and floor were Mud fell off the ceiling into the homesteaders’ infested with lice (and other varmits), which cooking pots and germs were rampant.crawled over the homesteaders as they slept.
  10. 10. Lack of Timber Fuel ShortageHomesteaders learned the idea of using buffalo chips for fuel from the Native Americans.Buffalo dung was a relatively inefficient fuel and had to be collected on a continual basis. Usually gathering Buffalo Chips the chips from the open Plains was the job of the women and had to be brought back in a cart or wheelbarrow.
  11. 11. Crops Trampled The many herds of stray buffalo and cattleon the Plains often trampled farmers’ crops.The invention of barbed wire by Joseph Glidden in 1874 helped homesteaders fence off their land, turning the open plains into a series offenced in ranches. It was cheap, easy to use, but often led to conflict (sometimes called ‘range wars’) between farmers and ranchers.
  12. 12. Swarms of InsectsThere was no solution to the swarms ofgrasshoppers and locusts (until the 1900swhen chemical companies started to massproduce pesticides). Homesteaders lived infear of a grasshopper or locust invasion, asthey knew the devastation it would causeand they knew they could not protect theircrops. After an insect swarm, many farmerswere left penniless and were forced toappeal to state governments for help.
  13. 13. In July of 1874, homesteaders Settlers raking grasshoppers into piles to burn Kansas experienced asignificant drought, but theywould soon experiencesomething much moredevastating....Without warning, millions ofgrasshoppers descended onthe prairies from the Dakotasto Texas. The insects arrived inswarms so large they blockedout the sun and sounded like a.rainstorm. Crops were eatenout of the ground, as well asthe wool from live sheep andclothing off peoples backs.Paper, tree bark and evenwooden tool handles weredevoured.Hoppers were reported to have been several inches deep on the ground and locomotives could not gettraction because the insects made the rails too slippery.As a whole, Kansans refused to be defeated. The settlers did their best to stop the hoppers by raking theminto piles, like leaves, and burning them but these efforts were in vain because of the sheer numbers of thepests. Inventive citizens built hopper dozers or grasshopper harvesters to combat future visitations. Thehoppers usually stayed from two days to a week and then left as they had come, on the wind. From the Kansas Historical Society
  14. 14. Extreme Weather Tornadoes & Harsh Winters The Plains experienced massive fluctuations in temperature as part of the normal weather cycle. Winters were long with freezing temperatures and summers wereextremely hot, which made it hard to stay warm in the winter and impossible to staycool in the summer. Not only did the extreme temperatures make it hard to grow crops, factors such as dust storms, brush fires, tornadoes, and high winds made the Plains a dangerous and unpleasant place to live.
  15. 15. Extreme Weather Dust Storms
  16. 16. Extreme Weather Fire The dry Plains 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 and unless it could be stopped quickly by beating, it spread rapidly leading to disaster. Without any water to put out the fire, the homesteaders wereforced to hide in their sod houses until the crops were destroyed and the fire died.
  17. 17. Summary Problems Solutions1. Ploughing the land 1. Deere’s ‘Sodbuster Plough’2. Growing crops 2. Turkey Red What3. Lack of water 3. Dry Farming & Windmills/Pumps4. Lack of timber 4. Sod homes, buffalo chips5. Farm machinery 5. Mechanized tools6. Crops getting 6. Barbed wire trampled7. Plagues of insects 7. No Solution8. Extreme weather 8. No Solution