Tag: Field Crops

Kansas Ag Connection
The Farm

Kansas Ag Connection

Kansas Ag ConnectionLooking for a good way to keep up with daily agriculture-related headlines? Give Kansas Ag Connection a try!

Subscribers to On the Range, our weekly country living update (read more), may already be familiar with this site as a source for some of our headlines. There’s a reason for that. Kansas Ag Connection is a clutter-free aggregator of news stories and press releases of interest to farmers small and large across the state.

Kansas Ag Connection offers a way to keep up with the latest stories on:

  • USDA news.
  • Updates from the governor and state legislature.
  • Health issues currently affecting Kansans.
  • KU and K-State research on health, nature, and agricultural topics.
  • Press releases from Kansas-based companies.
  • State and regional crop and weather reports.
  • Conferences and workshops coming to Kansas.
  • Ron Wilson’s Kansas Profile column, featuring Kansas entrepreneurs with rural roots.

Links are also provided to more headlines from neighboring states, across the nation, and around the world.

Highly recommended!

Cover Crop Decision Tool
The Farm

Cover Crop Decision Tool

Cover Crop Decision ToolLooking for the right cover crop? Give this Cover Crop Decision Tool from the Midwest Cover Crop Council a try.

First select from one of the following states:

  • Iowa.
  • Illinois.
  • Indiana.
  • Kansas.
  • Michigan.
  • Minnesota.
  • Missouri.
  • Ohio.
  • Ontario.
  • Wisconsin.

Then choose options that take into account your growing conditions:

  • County (for frost/freeze date estimate).
  • Planting and harvest dates.
  • Drainage situation.

Finally, fine-tune your choices by noting your goals:

  • Increasing nitrogen levels.
  • Building soil.
  • Fighting erosion.
  • Fighting weeds.
  • Creating a new source of forage for grazing or harvest.
  • And more!

Once you’ve found a cover crop or two that meets your needs, click on the name of the crop to learn more about about its pros and cons, as well as its planting and termination requirements.

An easy-to-use way to choose the right cover crop for your unique growing conditions!

The Agricultural Adjustment Act in the Great Plains: Part 2
The Sunflower State

The Agricultural Adjustment Act in the Great Plains: Part 2

The Agricultural Adjustment Act in the Great Plains: Part 2Adjusting Livestock Production

In an effort to reduce hog numbers, payments were also distributed to farmers who would destroy their piglets and pregnant sows. About 6 million piglets were slaughtered under the Agricultural Adjustment Act (AAA).

A cattle-purchasing program was similarly implemented under the Drought Relief Service in areas where the Dust Bowl had hit the hardest. The federal government purchased approximately 7 million cattle, most which had been in imminent danger of starvation.

At first, surplus livestock was typically shot and buried. However, a tremendous public outcry arose over the waste at a time when many people were starving. In October 1933, the Federal Surplus Relief Corporation was established to placate Americans and put the livestock to better use. From then on, most salvageable meat was purchased by the government and distributed through various relief programs. Because many slaughterhouses were not equipped to process the massive numbers of small pigs sent through their doors, however, they often took the easier route of processing young pigs for grease and fertilizer. Meanwhile, enough cattle hides entered the market that newspapers reported a price crisis among tanners.


The Economic Results

Many Great Plains farmers welcomed the subsidies. In some areas, as many as 90% of the local farmers came to rely on the AAA. By the end of 1935, the AAA had shelled out about $1.1 billion, about half of which went to farmers in the Great Plains. According to the USDA, farm income increased by 50% between 1932 and 1935, 25% of the increase coming from federal payments.

Commodity prices did indeed rise between 1932 and 1935. In fact, the prices for corn, wheat, and cotton doubled. However, prices remained well below 1929 levels and the parity goal set by the New Deal. Of course, higher prices only benefited farmers who had crops to harvest in spite of the drought.

The AAA payments were rarely enough to help small-scale farmers subsist. Families with small acreages generally failed, abandoned their farms, and left agricultural to the major players. An estimated 2.5 million people had evacuated the Great Plains by 1940. A large number of these former farmers moved to California to seek jobs picking seasonal produce for low wages.

The situation was particularly bad for tenant farmers. While tenant farmers were not as conspicuous in the Great Plains as in the South, they did exist, and they, too, suffered. Under the initial provisions of the AAA, the landowner was to share the money with any tenant farmers he had working for him. Unfortunately, this part of the contract was poorly enforced, and some landlords resorted to fraud to keep the money for themselves. More honest landlords often used their rightful share of the subsidy to purchase modern machinery to reduce their labor needs, setting their tenant farmers adrift. In Oklahoma alone, the number of tenant farmers was nearly cut in half between 1935 and 1945.

The end result was a decided trend toward the consolidation of agriculture. Farm numbers declined in droughty areas, while farm sizes increased. In southwestern Kansas, for instance, the average farm had more than doubled in acreage by 1950.


A New Act

The Agricultural Adjustment Act in the Great Plains: Part 2

Former Oklahoma farm family in California to pick lettuce

In the 1936 case United States v. Butler, the Supreme Court declared the Agricultural Adjustment Act to be unconstitutional:

The act invades the reserved rights of the states. It is a statutory plan to regulate and control agricultural production, a matter beyond the powers delegated to the federal government.…

From the accepted doctrine that the United States is a government of delegated powers, it follows that those not expressly granted, or reasonably to be implied from such as are conferred, are reserved to the states, or to the people. To forestall any suggestion to the contrary, the Tenth Amendment was adopted. The same proposition, otherwise stated, is that powers not granted are prohibited. None to regulate agricultural production is given, and therefore legislation by Congress for that purpose is forbidden.…

The Congress cannot invade state jurisdiction to compel individual action; no more can it purchase such action.

However, the AAA was replaced by a new farm relief act. This act did not overtly pay farmers to reduce agricultural production, but instead set up a soil conservation program. Landowners were now paid to implement cover-cropping and similar practices. The money came out of the federal treasury, instead of the tax on food processing. The new program was popular while the drought continued, but most farmers resumed their former cropping practices as soon as the rainfall returned.

But the original AAA had left a lasting legacy. By 1940, 6 million farmers were receiving subsidies. Farm commodities have been subsidized ever since.

The Agricultural Adjustment Act in the Great Plains: Part 1
The Sunflower State

The Agricultural Adjustment Act in the Great Plains: Part 1

The Agricultural Adjustment Act in the Great Plains: Part 1Between 1929 and 1932, the net income of the average farm operator fell 69%.

Prices for agricultural products were at their lowest since the 1890s. Wheat sold for only 25 cents per bushel.

Much of this drop in prices was due to an agricultural surplus. Harvests had been bountiful before the drought hit, and a considerable amount of grassland had been converted to cropland to meet the demands of World War I. No sooner had the war ended than the prices for crops had dropped sharply. To cope with their reduced incomes, farmers scrambled to plant more acres and sell more bushels, driving the prices down still further. By the time the Great Depression and the beginnings of drought hit the Great Plains, the farm economy was already in a state of crisis.

But Franklin D. Roosevelt took office in 1933, promising Americans from all walks of life a New Deal. Regulation and government support could bring stability to the economy, FDR claimed.

Agriculture promised an excellent way to test this fundamental principle of the New Deal.


The Goal

FDR’s stated purpose was to return prosperity to the farm by bringing the farmer better prices for his products. The theory was simple. When the supply of a commodity falls short of the demand, the prices rise as purchasers compete to obtain the scarce commodity. Thus, if consumers had to compete a little harder to obtain commodities, farmers would receive more income for those commodities.

How much of an improvement was sought? Nothing short of parity. In this case, parity meant that any given commodity would have the same purchasing power that it did prior to World War I.

Accordingly, the Agricultural Adjustment Act was passed in May 1933 during FDR’s first 100 days. This act created the Agricultural Adjustment Administration (AAA) with the responsibility of planning the farm economy. The ultimate plan, as stated by FDR’s secretary of agriculture, Henry Wallace, was the “ever-normal granary.”

The AAA established a system of “domestic allotments,” which in practice meant that the AAA set the amounts of commodities that the country would produce annually. Initially, seven commodities were targeted:

  • Corn.
  • Wheat.
  • Cotton.
  • Tobacco.
  • Rice.
  • Dairy products.
  • Hogs.

Additional commodities were added to the list in 1934 and 1935:

  • Grain sorghum.
  • Rye.
  • Barley.
  • Flax.
  • Peanuts.
  • Potatoes.
  • Sugar beets.
  • Sugar cane.
  • Cattle.

Beginning in the fall of 1934, the AAA also started buying up poor cropland. This acreage, ruined by the Dust Bowl, was to be converted into demonstration farms to illustrate how to conserve soil by planting drought-resistant grasses. After the damage to the land had been fully repaired, these areas would be leased as pasture.


The Agricultural Adjustment Act in the Great Plains: Part 1Adjusting Crop Production

To reduce agricultural production to the AAA-desired levels, a new tax was placed on food processing. The money obtained from this tax was used to pay subsidies to landowners who would leave farmland idle. Lawrence Svobida noted in his memoir Farming the Dust Bowl (read our full review) that he had to agree to remove 15% of his total average acreage from production. The total average acreage was determined by averaging the number of acres that he had planted the last three growing seasons. (Thus, farmers who had previously let land lie fallow received considerably less money than their continuous-cropping peers.) Payments were calculated based on the county average yield per acre.

Of course, there were abuses of this system. Some farmers attempted to cheat the AAA and overestimate their total average acreage to receive more subsidies. To prevent this scenario, the averages reported by farmers were published in local newspapers to give others an opportunity to report fraud. In the words of Svobida:

This provided a unique opportunity to the spiteful, the revengeful, the envious, and the righteous, and most of the culprits were exposed in their trickery, and were compelled to correct their figures.

Unfortunately, by the time the AAA came into being in May 1933, the growing season was well under way. Farmers receiving AAA money could not harvest their grain, so perfectly good crops were destroyed or left to rot. This included 10 million acres of cotton, some of it grown in Plains states such as Oklahoma. Over 87,000 farmers in that state alone plowed under their cotton in exchange for over $15 million.

Even in subsequent years there were difficulties. Svobida cited the story of a neighbor who was able to raise a good wheat crop in 1934, only to discover that he had made an error in his arithmetic and had planted 80 acres more than was allowed under the provisions of the AAA:

This farmer had been honest in his intentions, so he was embarrassed as well as amazed; but, now that the mistake had been made, he wanted to go ahead and harvest the excess eighty and turn the wheat crop over to the county commissioners, to be distributed to the needy.

You will be able to guess what happened, if you have had any experience of small men elevated to petty office. The local allotment committee was made up of men who found great satisfaction in administering their office, and they were the ruling power in such matters, from whose decision there was no appeal. They would not consider the farmer’s sane and philanthropic suggestion for the disposal of his surplus wheat. He was ordered to destroy it.

The effect of fallow land on the Dust Bowl is still debated by historians and climate experts. It is certain that a state of drought existed prior to the AAA. The first dust storms hit in 1932. However, the years 1935 to 1938 were among the worst in the history of the Dust Bowl. By this time, millions of acres were lying fallow due to the influence of the AAA.

Ironically, some Dust Bowl farmers did not use their AAA money as anticipated. According to agricultural and Western historian R. Douglas Hurt, some subsidy recipients left their poorer, dust-destroyed lands fallow and used the federal aid to buy or rent new cropland to plant. This way, if the drought ended, they would still be in a position to bring in a crop despite their participation in the AAA program.

Meanwhile, the cropland-purchasing program met with mixed results. AAA employees did manage to restore some poor land, either to native range or to drought-resistant plants such as sudan grass. The program could be rather exasperating to landowners trying to sell out, however, as they received low prices for their land and the checks were inevitably slow in coming. Nevertheless, some grasslands established under the AAA remain to this day, such as Cimarron National Grassland in southwestern Kansas.


Next week: Part 2


Helpful Resource

Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1933
Full text of the original act.

Seeds From the Tombs
The Garden

Seeds From the Tombs

King Tut's SeedsMany gardeners know that cool, dry, dark places are ideal for long-term seed storage. Many gardeners cite the seeds found in ancient Egyptian pyramids as evidence. According to the popular story, these seeds, after lying dormant for thousands of years, sprouted when planted.

While most scientists would agree on the perfect conditions for storing seeds, most deny that seeds found in Egyptian tombs have ever germinated.


Mummy Seeds

The story that seeds from pyramids were sometimes viable was born sometime in mid-1800s England, a time and place definitely in the grips of mummy mania. Archeologists, both amateur and professional, were unwrapping mummies at every opportunity without compunction. In this process, they frequently uncovered small surprises rolled up with the bodies, including seeds. Seeds were important in Ancient Egyptian funeral rites because they symbolized burial and resurrection.

The first known instance of someone claiming to have sprouted ancient Egyptian seeds was published in 1843 in The Gardeners’ Chronicle of London. The Gardeners’ Chronicle reported that some wheat seeds were found in the hand of a mummy unwrapped in London. A crop was raised from one, and the next generation of seeds was available at exorbitant prices. The Lurgan, Portadown and Banbridge Advertiser and Agricultural Gazette shed some additional light on the story in 1849, reporting that the seeds were brought to England by Sir William Symonds and were then being grown by Francis Fforde of Ireland. In 1857, Harper’s New Monthly Magazine ran an article by T.E. Thorpe on wheat, noting its exceptional longevity and mentioning this incident as an example. The article also observed that the wheat tillered prolifically—“fifteen stems…sprung from a single seed.” (For comparison, note that most American farmers hope for two or three tillers per plant; British sources note that under ideal conditions up to 20 tillers are possible.) Thorpe went on to speculate:

From this great increase it is naturally suggested that wheat now grown is a degenerate class of the same species formerly common in Egypt; else, it is argued, how could the Egyptians have supplied the Assyrian, Grecian, and Roman empires from their superabundance above their own wants?

A separate instance came to light in 1844. In this case, the story was that Thomas Pettigrew, a famous unroller of mummies, had found some wheat and pea seeds in a vase in a sarcophagus in the British Museum. The wheat all failed to germinate, as did many of the peas, but W. Grimstone of the Herbary in Highgate reportedly managed to coax some of the peas to life.

In the early 1850s, or possibly even earlier, more reports surfaced of Egyptian plants sprouting. In this case, Lord Lindsay of Britain claimed that he had found a root in the hand of a mummy he had unwrapped in Egypt. After being planted, the root grew into a dahlia.

In 1856, a Dr. Deck supposedly received part of a dried resurrection flower from a group of Arabs. These Arabs claimed to have taken the flower from a mummified priestess about ten years before. Dr. Deck found that the resurrection flower could revive when wet, albeit temporarily.


Science and Seeds

Scientists began experimenting with the germination and viability of seeds as early as the mid-1800s. Most researchers could keep their seeds alive for only 10 to 15 years at the most. A theory was formulated that the maximum lifespan of a seed was 30 years.

In June 1921, the New York Times ran an article on the reaction of British scientists to a claim then current in American that morning glory seeds found in the hand of a mummified girl sprouted. J.L. North, curator of the Royal Botanic Society, listed three reasons for doubting the claim before proposing an alternative theory:

In the first place, though grains were frequently buried with a mummy to provide food in case the corpse came to life, they were always baked to prevent germination. We have in our museum some such grains, burned black. Secondly, the morning glory is a convolvulus. The plant inhabits moist districts and not dry localities like Egypt. Thirdly, no seeds of the convolvulus last a very long time.

What really happened, I think, is that seeds of the morning glory happened to be in the soil in which the ancient grains were planted, and developed in normal fashion.

Many of North’s statements are can now be regarded as either doubtful or simply false:

  • There is relatively little record of pre-baked seeds found in tombs. In fact, some seeds, such as coriander, were actually planted in tombs and allowed to germinate. (It is worthy to note that some Egyptian seeds have carbonized simply from old age.)
  • A plant remarkably like a convolvulus (probably a bindweed, still a problem in Egypt today) is often portrayed in Ancient Egyptian art, sometimes in wreaths but also shown in marsh habitats, climbing up papyrus stems. The fact that a convolvulus can regenerate itself from just a small fragment of root may have been symbolic of rebirth in Ancient Egyptian culture, and its clinging habit may have been associated with femininity.
  • Most farmers and gardeners with the misfortune of being familiar with weeds in the bindweed family know that convolvulus seeds can last for incredible lengths of time, even under suboptimal conditions. Field bindweed seeds have been scientifically proven to live for a minimum of 50 years, outstripping other noxious weeds.

In 1933, a series of experiments were made on some wheat from Egyptian tombs. Every possible method of inducing germination was attempted, including an effort to use colored glass. All were in vain. The seeds merely crumbled to dust.

Scientists say that all viable seeds that come out of the tombs today are probably interlopers transported by rodents. Other instances may be hoaxes that salesmen love to market to tourists.

Unfortunately, scientific trials of seed longevity rarely last for any considerable length of time. Most experiments are abandoned after 20 or 30 years. Furthermore, no one botanist can continue the work alone, assuming the working lifespan of a botanist is 50 years at maximum.

What scientists have determined is useful, however. As a general rule, weed and agricultural seeds last the longest. Barley seeds, for instance, remained viable at 123 years of age in one study. Vegetable seeds are rarely viable for more than a few years under normal storage conditions, although when carefully sealed and stored at cold temperatures they can remain viable for at least 20 years. Some species can last 50 (beets) or even 60 years (tomatoes).


How Long Can a Seed Live?

Theories on the absolute maximum lifespan of seeds were shattered when a Japanese botanist uncovered lotus seeds in a layer of peat at the bottom of a dry lake bed in Manchuria. After the find, the seeds went to a museum, where they lay dormant for at least a decade. When a germination test was finally carried out, nearly all of the lotus seeds sprouted.

Scientists were astonished. The peat in the lake bed was thought to date back to the Ice Age. Evolutionists place the end of the Ice Age at 10,000 years ago at the latest. Creationists frequently suggest that the Ice Age occurred shortly after the Flood, probably about 4,000 years ago—still a very long time for a seed. Based on carbon dating results, however, scientists discounted the possibility of the seeds being thousand years old and suggested that they were more recent interlopers.

But this was not the only Ice Age discovery destined to come back to life. A cache of seeds possibly buried by an arctic ground squirrel was discovered in Siberia, 124 feet below the permafrost and surrounded by the remains of animals such as bison and woolly mammoths. Three out of over 600,000 seeds germinated and reproduced successfully. The three seeds were all narrow-leafed campion flowers (Silene stenophylla). The results came to light in 2012.

Arguably one of the most incredible resurrections of old seeds came in 2005. In 1973, archaeologists recovered seeds from the (then) extinct Judean date palm at the ancient fortress of Masada, the site of the last stand of the Jewish Zealots against invading Romans in A.D. 73. Troubled times resulting from Roman and then Arab occupation reduced the cultivation of the tree, leading to its extinction around A.D. 500.

At the time of discovery, the seeds from Masada were about 1900 years old. They went into a drawer at a university in Tel Aviv until 2004. Painstaking methods were used to revive them the following year, including a hot-water bath, a dose of seaweed-based fertilizer, and a solution of hormones. On March 18, 2005, the date palm “Methuselah” emerged from the soil, bringing the species back from extinction.


The Truth About Ancient Egyptian Seeds

The fact is, we may never know the truth about the viability of Ancient Egyptian seeds unless repeated attempts are made to sprout them. Remember, the seed cache in Siberia had a germination rate of three out of 600,000—a mere 0.0005%! While the vast majority of the old seeds are undoubtedly long dead, there may be a few hardy survivors that gave rise to the tales of mummy seeds.

Web Soil Survey
The Farm

Web Soil Survey

Web Soil SurveyKnowing your soils is a good idea, no matter where you live or what type of country living activity you pursue. The USDA’s National Resources Conservation Service makes that job easy.

The Web Soil Survey site takes a little bit of getting used to, but it provides a wealth of information. Once you have selected an area of interest, you can view a map identifying the types of soils on your property.

But that’s just the beginning—these facts are then translated into information that you can use to determine the best use of your land. View details on:

  • Building site development (potential challenges to dwellings, lawns, shallow excavations, small commercial buildings, etc.).
  • Construction materials (usefulness as a source of gravel, sand, topsoil, etc.).
  • Land classifications (suitability for farming, irrigation, forest, conservation tree plantings, etc.).
  • Land management (erosion hazard, fence post depth, potential for damage by fire, potential for seedling mortality, soil rutting hazard, etc.).
  • Recreational development (suitability for motorcycle trails, paths, playgrounds, etc.).
  • Vegetative productivity (productivity of crops, range, and forests).
  • Plenty more to keep you busy!

If you want to get to know your soil better, this is a very informative start. Enjoy!

Get Ready for January 2017
The Lifestyle

Get Ready for January 2017

Get Ready for January 2017January is a great time to plan for a new year! Take some time to shape your philosophy and develop a farming or gardening approach.

  1. Plan a garden.
  2. Discover community-supported agriculture.
  3. Learn the pros and cons of gardening in Kansas.
  4. Study the farming practices of the Plains Indians.
  5. Define sustainable agriculture.
  6. Preserve Kansas heritage.
  7. Evaluate the interstate highway system.
  8. Find out how compost gardening works.
  9. Examine your horse’s conformation.
  10. Read about the peopling of the plains.
Get Ready for December 2016
The Lifestyle

Get Ready for December 2016

Get Ready for December 2016Christmas will be here before you know it! Prepare tasty treats and heartfelt gifts from your own homegrown offerings, and snuggle up on the couch for a little storytelling.

  1. Retell the story of Sod Corn Jones.
  2. Read Scripture passages about the meaning of Christmas.
  3. Make a sweet potato beetle.
  4. Encourage your child to start an EcoJournal.
  5. Give a weather diary this Christmas.
  6. Create homemade gifts from the heart.
  7. Cook up some stovetop apples.
  8. Put a sweet potato casserole on the table.
  9. Visit the Christmas City of the High Plains.
  10. Check out our favorite posts from 2013, 2014, and 2015.
Top 10 Books for Beginning Farmers
The Farm

Top 10 Books for Beginning Farmers

Top 10 Books for Beginning FarmersJust getting started?

Whether you are still in the early planning stage or are trying to overcome your first obstacle, one of the best things you can do is to read extensively. Many others have walked the path before you. Why not smooth your own learning curve and take advantage of their experience?

While there are many excellent books we could recommend (just check out our bookshelf), we have picked out 10 must-reads to get you going.


10.  Wildflowers & Grasses of Kansas

Need to identify a plant in your pasture? Start here. Although a little technical, it is well organized and supplied with a glossary and illustrations for ease of use. The plant descriptions include useful notes on suitability for livestock where applicable. (Not from Kansas? Search Amazon for a guide tailored to your state or region.) Read our full review.


9.  Insects in Kansas

To solve problems with insect pests, you must first be able to identify the culprit. This guide offers descriptions of 850 species, liberally illustrated with color photos. Bonus: It includes a section on beekeeping! (Not from Kansas? Search Amazon for a guide tailored to your state or region.) Read our full review.


Starting & Running Your Own Small Farm Business8.  Starting & Running Your Own Small Farm Business

How to start a farm business in 10 steps. This is a concise introduction to the questions you will have to answer as you get started. Learn how to write a business plan, find funding, choose venues, price products, meet legal requirements, market effectively, and more. Helpful resources are provided each step of the way. Read our full review.


7.  HomeMade

Need equipment for your farm? See if you can build what you need before you buy something. This book offers ideas for projects useful around the farm, the garden, and the house alike. Whether you need a fence, a compost bin, a simple animal shelter, or just an easy way to bale hay on a small scale, you’ll find plenty of inspiration here. Read our full review.


6.  Veterinary Guide for Animal Owners

Great starting point for animal health research. Covers the basic care of cattle, horses, goats, sheep, swine, poultry, rabbits, dogs, and cats. Each chapter begins with the basics of animal housing and feeding specific to the species in question, and then moves to a discussion of the symptoms and treatment of the most common health problems. Advice on home vet care basics, such as first aid and administering medication, is also provided. Read our full review.


Rodale's Ultimate Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening5.  Rodale’s Ultimate Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening

Is a garden or orchard part of your plan? Make sure you have this encyclopedia on your shelf. If you have a question, whether about the needs of a specific plant or about implementing a sustainable gardening practice, you will find a concise answer here. No wonder this book has stood the test of time! Read our full review.


4.  Stocking Up

Whatever type of food you need to preserve, it is almost certain that you will find directions in one of the editions of this classic. The original edition offers good old down-home cooking, while the third edition was made for the health-conscious crowd. Both include substantial information on making the most of your harvest, whether it be fruit, vegetables, eggs, milk, or meat. Read our full review.


3.  Kansas Crop Planting Guide

If you intend to grow field crops in Kansas, this one is not optional. (Good news—it’s free!) Multiple charts tell you when to plant and at what rate. (Not from Kansas? Check your local extension service to see if they offer a similar resource.)


Building a Sustainable Business2.  Building a Sustainable Business

This one is a must! Even if farming is your hobby, you can still benefit from the valuable planning tools provided in this book. In five straightforward steps, learn how to write a business plan that you will actually use. Identify your values, recognize your current position, develop your vision, examine your options, and choose your path. Worksheets and examples help you through the process. Highly recommended—and it’s free! Read our full review.


1.  You Can Farm

Need inspiration or ideas? Give this one a try. Joel Salatin shares valuable tips for successful and profitable farming, drawing from his experience along the way. Learn how to choose enterprises that will work for you, then develop your farming philosophy and dive into direct marketing. You don’t need a large land base or a well-filled wallet to get started. Salatin demonstrates that it is your mindset that makes the difference. A must for all beginning farmers! Read our full review.

The Heritage of Turkey Red Winter Wheat
The Sunflower State

The Heritage of Turkey Red Winter Wheat

The Heritage of Turkey Red Winter Wheat

Kernels from assorted wheat varieties; 2b is Turkey Red

There are many reasons to love heritage foods, including health and flavor.  But another fascinating aspect of these foods is their history.

And what better heritage food to celebrate than Turkey Red winter wheat, the grain that made Kansas the Wheat State?



The history of Turkey Red begins in the country of Turkey, not surprisingly.  By the early 1800s, it appears to have spread northward into Crimea.

Turkey Red owes its presence in America to the Mennonites.  These were originally Germans that had moved to Crimea, by then annexed by Russia, in the 1700s to avoid being drafted into the German military.  A change in Russian policy, however, led the Mennonites to move once again in the 1870s to a country where they would be allowed to pursue a pacifist course.  Kansas railroad officials actively assisted the Mennonites in purchasing land and moving their belongings, hoping to benefit from the shipping this agriculture-oriented group would need.

When the Mennonites came to America, they brought with them seeds to start their farms.  The variety that some of them brought was Turkey Red, an unusual choice since many Mennonites had raised other types of wheat in Russia.


Shaping the State

Attempts had been made to raise wheat in Kansas before the Mennonites arrived, starting at the Shawnee Methodist Mission in 1839.  However, these attempts involved spring wheat, which was not well suited to the climate.  The wheat was planted in the spring, as its name suggests.  In theory, it was to be harvested in late summer.  In practice, it rarely lived that long, usually withering early due to heat and drought.

Turkey Red, on the other hand, was planted in the fall, lay dormant over the winter, and was harvested in late spring or early summer.  In short order, it proved that it could thrive in the Great Plains climate.  It had a complex root system that could scavenge nutrients from even poor soils.  Furthermore, it resisted many of the diseases that other varieties succumbed to.

Whatever other varieties of wheat the Mennonites might have brought and tried, Turkey Red was the one that survived.  It was also the one that Kansans of all backgrounds quickly adopted.  By the 1900s, the state of Kansas produced more wheat than most foreign countries.


Turkey Red Today

Turkey Red is no longer the top variety of wheat grown in Kansas, modern hybrids having become the norm in the 1940s because of their high yields and their ability to absorb fertilizer without lodging over.  Many of these hybrids trace back to Turkey Red.

However, Turkey Red in its pure form has become a relatively rare variety.  For a long time it was preserved mainly by hobby farmers.

Fortunately, there is an increasing number of heritage wheat growers, particularly in Kansas, who are dedicated to preserving and milling this historic variety.

Proponents of Turkey Red wheat believe that it is superior to hybrid wheat in several ways:

  • Better drought tolerance.
  • Stronger but fresher flavor.
  • Finer, lighter texture.
  • More workable dough.
  • Higher protein content.
  • Better digestibility.
  • Reduced risk of gluten intolerance symptoms.


Helpful Resource

Turkey Red Wheat
Text of and directions to a historical marker near Walton, KS, telling the story of Turkey Red Wheat.