The Farmer's Last Frontier: Agriculture, 1860-1897

By Fred A. Shannon | Go to book overview

CHAPTER VI
The Progress of Farm Mechanization

REASONS FOR NORTHWESTERN ASCENDANCY

WHILE, for the most part, the Southern farmer stuck to his onemule plow of eight-inch bottom, his hoe, dump cart, and other like primitive equipment, the phenomenal expansion of Prairie-state agriculture was dependent on the latest improvements in farm implements. The large-scale methods, necessary for success in the subhumid parts of the Great Plains and farther to the west, would have been impossible without the new machines. The difference between the South and the West was not just a degree of progressiveness, unless the Southern insistence on excessive cotton growing could be so disparaged. The great degree of manual labor required by tobacco culture, and the bafflement of genius in all attempts to invent a cotton-picking machine, forced the individual farmer to grow the two outstanding Southern staples on an exceedingly small acreage. Even if plowing and cultivating with improved implements had been applied on an open-field, collective basis, the family could pick no more than formerly. The spring and early summer days of release from the cotton would have been wasted anyway because the lien system prohibited second crops.

But the Prairies and the eastern fringe of the northern Great Plains were eminently adapted to the growing of cereals, and the main problems of their once-tedious labor of harvesting and threshing had been solved before 1860. Only further refinements had to

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