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Technology Through Time

The Dry Land Challenge

Braking Prairie, n.d., Suffield.When the homesteaders came to Alberta, they came to grow wheat. By 1900, new tillage procedures aimed at conserving water, a recognition of the importance of weed control, and regular pickling of seed grain to prevent smut soon permitted wheat monoculture in many parts of Alberta. Applying genetic principles to seed selection had produced grain varieties better suited to Alberta's climate: they matured in a shorter time while maintaining their high protein content.

The new settlers found their farming techniques did not necessarily transfer easily to the new land. Those from wetter Ontario or American climates needed help to conserve the moisture in their soil in the drier Alberta climate. During the first two decades of the twentieth century, plowing and its related tillage practices were modified to take moisture conservation more fully into account. The development of dryland farming techniques, which many believed would help retain moisture in the soil, was thought to be the answer.

Steam Traction Engine, n.d., Suffield.The plow remained the principal implement for land breaking and soil preparation. It was generally agreed that prairie sod should be plowed in shallow furrows in the spring. Furrows should not be deeper than four inches, and the sods should be turned over and flattened with a packer or heavy roller. These sods should be diced down to a depth of two or three inches, then harrowed with a slanted-tooth type harrow to prepare a seedbed on the packed and pulverized sods. Opinions varied as to the optimal timing and techniques by which this result could be most efficiently realized. However, by about 1910, this was the preferred dryland tillage technique.

Kenneth Tingley. Steel and Steam: Aspects of Breaking Land in Alberta. n.p.: Friends of Reynolds-Alberta Museum Society and Alberta Culture and Multiculturalism, Historic Sites and Archives Service, 1992. With permission from
Friends of Reynolds-Alberta Museum



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