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Cultivating CropsThousands of years ago the American Indians in the plains began gathering seeds from wild plants.  The women of the villages planted these seeds near their homes.  Cultivation of corn, beans, squash, pumpkins, and sunflowers had begun.

When Kansas was opened for settlement in 1854, farmers from eastern parts of America and European countries brought seeds they were familiar with to the new territory.  Farmers tried growing corn, oats, tobacco, and even grapes in vineyards.  Many of these crops did not fare well in Kansas.  Throughout history, Kansas farmers have worked to adapt varieties of crops to the climate of the state.

During the Civil War, Kansas farmers began to raise cotton in an attempt to replace the supply lost after the South's secession.  Joseph Piazzek, a Polish immigrant, brought one of the first cotton gins into Kansas. Today some cotton is still grown in some of the state's southern counties. In 2010 there were five large cotton-ginning services in the state.

Wheat did not become a profitable crop in Kansas until after the arrival of Mennonite settlers from Russia in 1874.  These experienced farmers brought with them seeds of Turkey Red wheat, a hardy variety that turned out to be well-suited to the Kansas climate.  From the humble beginnings of Turkey Red wheat, Kansas developed into the "Breadbasket of the World."

Kansas Wheat HarvestKansas farmers produce hard red and hard white winter wheat.  Hard wheat is used to make a variety of bread products.  According to the Kansas Department of Agriculture (2010), "Nearly one-fifth of all wheat grown in the United States is grown in Kansas.  Kansas ranks first in the nation in flour milling, wheat gluten production and wheat stored.  Roughly one-third of the 63,000 Kansas farmers grow wheat.  Normally, Kansas farmers produce about 400 million bushels of wheat a year, with a production value that hovers around $1 billion." Nearly 2/3 of the wheat raised in Kansas is exported to countries throughout the world.  Much of the remaining wheat is milled into flour in Kansas mills.

Today's wheat has better quality and is more productive than that of the original Turkey Red. Extensive research has led to plants that are shorter and more pest resistant.  Fertilizer helps the yield to increase considerably.  Winter wheat is usually planted in late September or early October. It sprouts and grows through the fall.  Once a freeze is experienced the wheat becomes dormant until spring when it matures.  Harvest normally begins in June and is completed in early July.

Today approximately 90% of the land area of Kansas is devoted to agriculture production. Besides wheat,the most important crops in Kansas are corn, soybeans, grain sorghum (milo) and hay. A 2010 Kansas Farm Bureau report states that Kansas leads the nation in the production of both wheat and grain sorghum.  It ranks 7th in corn production, 10th in soybean production and in the top three in sunflower production.

Entry: Crops

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: December 1969

Date Modified: July 2011

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.