With the growing scarcity and increasing cost of available agricultural land in the United States and the abundant, relatively cheaper land in the Canadian prairies, and aided by the increase of wheat price after 1896,2 settlement in the “great lonely” became more attractive, but not before the prairies could be “tamed.”
The natural hazards of draught, frost and disease, principally wheat-stem rust, had to be neutralized. Moisture was retained by the adoption of summer fallowing, and irrigation in some of the moisture-deficient areas of southern Alberta enabled land to be brought into crop production. The planting of tree-breaks to prevent wind erosion, and the planting of seed at variable depths depending on the nature of the soil,3 were other accomodations made by farmers to prairie conditions. Frost and disease were checked over the years by the development of earlier maturing (Marquis, Garnet, Prelude, Ruby, Reward)4 and rust-resistant (Thatcher, Apex, Renown)5 varieties of wheat. The prairie provinces have been called a ’spring wheat region' since, except for a small acreage in Alberta, no winter wheat is grown. Spring wheat is produced in quantities in almost every section of the settled portion of the region and has penetrated farther into the dry belt than has any other cereal.
While oat production is distributed very generally over the west its importance is greatest in the sub-humid section of the region.... Its production falls off rapidly on approaching the dry area in southern Alberta and southwestern Saskatchewan, oats being less drought resistant than wheat. 6
Barley production is largely confined to Manitoba and eastern Saskatchewan, where its rust-resisting quantities and shorter growing season add to the steadiness of income and facilitate the control of weeds by later spring cultivation. Some barley is grown in the dairying and mixed farming portions of western and northern Alberta, but to date the rapid increase in acreage has been confined to the eastern portion of the prairie region. Attempts are being made to capture a larger portion of the European market...and to this end better grade are being sought as well as greater uniformity in quality.7
Most of the winter rye acreage is found in Manitoba and eastern Saskatchewan. Because of its ability to withstand early summer drought and flourish on lighter soil, its culture has encroached farther into the semi-arid regions than has that of other cereals excepting wheat.8
Flax for seed is grown in the southern portion of the Prairies as far west as the edge of the dry belt and in central Saskatchewan to the north and east of the semi-arid area.9