This column ran in the April 6 edition of the Prairie Post
The word from the National Agricultural Statistics Service is that the farmers of the area will get in the field in a couple of weeks. This is 13 days earlier than last year and about the same time as the statistical average for North Dakota.
Of course that is when the farmer of today, with modern tractors and tillage equipment, will start his toil in the field.
Back in the days of old, when the muscle of man, ox and horse powered the farm field work, the conditions necessary to start spring field work were different.
According to the book The Challenge of the Prairie by Hiram Drache some of the earliest farmers of the region hand broadcast seed on the ground. One of the advantages of this was seeding could begin as soon as the ground could be walked upon by a man.
Evidently some of the farmers would push the season a bit. The book Challenge of the Prairie quotes Mrs. Woodward, a farm wife as writing, “Everything is mud, and such mud, black and heavy and sticky like glue. I pity the men trudging through it all day on foot.”
Woodward said the boys managed 18 miles that day.
I’m guessing those boys slept well that night.
Still the drawback of broadcast seeding was the pace of planting the crop. On average a farmer planting a crop by hand broadcasting covered about two acres of land per day.
Some farmers would have had access to horse drawn seeders by the time settlers were working the land in this area. The first seeders were manufactured in 1857 and the better equipped farmers would have been using them by the time of the large influx of settlers to the Dakotas in the 1880s.
But these seeders had a drawback. They did not close the furrow after the seed was dropped into the ground. It was common for the farmer to drive a three- or four-horse hitch pulling the seeder while an older child, boy or girl, drove a two- or three-horse hitch pulling a harrow or drag followed along.
The seeder and drag was more efficient. Up to 16 acres a day could be planted with an eight foot seeder and drag. Of course this operation took two people and somewhere between five and seven horses.
But things were getting better for the farmer. About 1890 the drill, which closed the furrow after the seed was placed, was becoming common on the farms of the Dakotas.
An eight foot drill still planted about 16 acres a day but it was now a one man operation.
Even with the best equipment of about 1890 it took about 10 days to plant a quarter of land; which is an awful long time to be looking at the backside of a team of horses.
And besides, the operator position on the horse drawn drill didn’t even come equipped with satellite radio.