Information taken from article of same name
from the research Station, Lethbridge, by B.
Grace and E.H. Hobbs.
Between 1896-1914, millions of acres of homestead lands were given away by the Dominion Government, and millions were sold by the railways and land companies. A system of summer fallowing which was developed at the Experimental Station at Indian Head Saskatchewan, and discovery of early ripening grains, (Fife and Marquis), were decisive factors in the settlement of the west. The system of summer fallowing consisted of rotating land use from one year to the next. By keeping the weeds tilled, soil moisture and nutrient content was preserved. It was soon apparent, however, that in our dry climate, excessive cultivation and burial of crop residues left the soil very susceptible to the high winds common on the prairies.
With the advent of World War 1, the need to increase agricultural output brought about the cultivation of seven million more acres of marginal or sub marginal land, much of which should never have been broken. In 1914, drifting was extensive throughout the Chinook belt in the Lethbridge area and southern Alberta. Strip farming was considered to be the best way to combat this problem, and by 1918 was widely practiced in our area.
The worst drought of the century occurred in 1917-1920. In other parts of the country, farmers were abandoning their farms, but the Spring Coulee area remained fairly stable. Those who stayed were able to pay off their debts due to larger land base, good prices and favorable climate in the late 1920's. Land holdings increased, tractors and combines replaced horses, and soil erosion problems seemed to disappear.
In 1929, erosion problems began to appear in other areas, and by 1937 the entire Palliser Triangle was threatened. Strip farming, irrigation, and other dryland techniques had to be practised in order to prevent seven million acres, one-fourth of all arable land in Canada, from becoming a real desert.
Dr. Asael Palmer of Lethbridge, who promoted trash cover fallowing and C.S. Noble who developed the Noble blade plow to reduce residue burial while cultivating, are two of a handful of people credited with saving the prairies. Others included Lawrence Kirk for developing Fairway crested wheat grass to stabilize drifting areas and Sidney Barnes for his work on the effect of wind on drifting soil. The Hopkins- Barnes-Palmer-Chapil manual on Soil Drifting Control in the Prairie Provinces was published in 1935. The same year the Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Authority (PFRA) was formed to become the instrument to contain the desert in western Canada. In 1946, work began on a large earth filled dam on the St. Mary River just west of Spring Coulee. This P.F.R.A. project has resulted in an extensive irrigation system which supplies much needed water to thousands of acres of cropland.
To this day, continuing research on dryland farming techniques is put to use by innovative and progressive farmers in an on-going effort to improve productivity in an area and climate that was once thought to be
incapable of supporting agriculture.
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