Farming in the WestHOmestea_actr.jpg
Settlement of the West was encouraged by land policies of the federal government. These policies included:
  • The Homestead Act: Settlers could buy 160 acresfor a small fee if they occupied the land for five years to improve it.
  • The Timbur Culture Act: Settlers could recieve an additional 160 acres if forty acres of that land was used to pland trees.
  • The Desert Land Act: Settlers could by 640 acres at $1.25 an acre if they irrigated it within three years.
  • Timbur and Stone Act: Settlers could buy nonarable land for $2.50 an acre.

In the early 1800's farmers in the West were scarce, but by the 1870's farmers began swarming into the land. The agricultural market grew, however when there was more produce than the market could handle, the agricultural economy went into a steady decline.

Farming in the Plains:external image 1880_farm_economy.jpg
The Transcontinental Railroad helped settlers gain access to the western lands, and since farmers in the plains would promote business for the railroad, the rates for settlers were set low, and they sold their land at low prices. Also, as the surge of settlers expanded, the rainfall in the plains was above average, therefore eliminating the old idea of the West being a barren desert. Although there were many encouragements for settlers to become farmers, there were also a few problems they had to face. Since there were so many ranchers with their cattle herds, farmers had to fence in their land to keep the cattle out of their crops. Barbed wire became a popular fancing material due to the effectiveness and cheapness. Another problem farmers faced was the droughts. Since rainfall was uncommon, farmers had to rely on the irrigation system to bring water to their crops. However, when the dry seasons occured, farmers had to switch to dryland farming and planting drought-resistant crops. In the early 1880's crop prices began to fall and farmers who could not pay off their debts were forced to leave their farm and move back east.

Commercial Agriculture:
Images of the ideal independant farmer began to fade away as the idea of commercial farming sprouted. Unlike individual farmers, commercial farmers sold all of their crops in national and world markets and bought their food and home supplies in local stores and had no influence in what proce their crops were sold at. Modern forms of communication improved and created new markets so commercial farmers began to rely on the international market because internal markets could not contain their surplus. Although commercial farming made some people very wealthy, the decline in prices of crops internationally effected the farming economy siginificantly.

external image ellsworthrailroad.ca1880s.JPG
The Farmers' Grievances:
The biggest grievance that farmers had were against the railroads. Since the railway was the only way farmers could ship their goods to the East, the freight rates and storage rates for farmers goods were much higher than any other goods shipped. Also, intrest rates on loans for farmers increased dramatically, which was hard on farmers in need of any loan they can get, especially when currency was so scarce. In addition, the middlemen of the world market would fix the prices to benefit themselves, and manufacturers conspired to keep farming goods prices low and industrial prices high.

External Links:
Western Frontier Life
Frontier Women