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Science Agriculture

Further settlement of the Dakotas limited the promise of wheat as a total cash crop for Minnesota farmers as wheat farming return was not enough per acre, and focus moved toward dairying, stock raising, and greater diversified farming--all aided by scientific advancements in agriculture(1). Exhausted soil from farming one crop represented another force which influenced this acceptance and change among farmers to crop diversification and science agriculture. Agricultural societies and corporations showed interest in farm diversification, albeit for various motivations, but the goal became sustainability and avoiding an economic wipe-out of the region(2). Agricultural science grew alongside the new philosophy of "materialism" spreading throughout the regions, influenced by the "more and better" attitude of industrialization(3). Changes throughout Clay County leading to their "Golden Age of Agriculture" in 1893 were diverse agriculture, diverse livestock, dairying, and experiment stations.


Cornfield - Clay County, Moorhead, Minnesota, ca. 1900-1910

Cornfield - Clay County, Moorhead, Minnesota, ca. 1900-1910.

Cornfields appeared in some areas of Clay County as farmers diversified crops due to exhausted soil and to improve economic advantage in the agricultural market.

Hawley Potato Warehouse, ca. 1900-1910

Hawley Potato Warehouse, ca. 1900-1930.

Large cellars for storing harvested and sorted potatoes reveal the industrial ideology of mass production and distribution, and the adoption of crop diversification in the Clay County, Minnesota area.

Crop diversification aided counties from depending on one crop's success on the market, and Clay County made way for crops such as corn, potatoes, and sugar beets. Counties around Minnesota distributed and adopted diversified agriculture depending on what worked best in their climate--such as potatoes in Clay County. Potatoes represented another cash crop, besides wheat, and the industry focused on growth of potato seeds for shipment further south(4). The Red River Valley contained perfect soil for growing potatoes as they flourished in an environment with sufficient moisture and a sandy topsoil. Potatoes also improved soil texture and fertility when used on a rotation process, as cultivated crops provided protection from weeds and other irritants through the next season's crop(5).

The potato seed industry in Clay County, Minnesota owes its birth to Mr. Henry Schroeder, a gentleman who immigrated to Moorhead from Germany at sixteen(6). Schroeder reached Clay County from Alexandria, MN by the Northern Pacific railroad, walked to Glyndon, and purchased a claim of one hundred and sixty acres in Elmwood Township, Clay County. After he laboriously cleared the land, Mr. Shroeder found his potato growing prosperous near the Red River Valley and maintained warehouses near Watts and Sabin to store seed through the winter. This produced a stronger seed than storing it in the southern part of the state(7).


Hawley Creamery, ca. 1900-1910

Hawley Creamery, ca. 1900-1910.

Farmers brought dairy yield to creameries and items were processed through machinery such as the separator pictured above which separated the cream from the whole milk. The processed items, such as cream and butter, were stored and then shipped for sale.

Hawley Creamery, ca. 1917

Hawley Creamery, ca. 1917.

Many creameries contained new technology and machinery for multiple stages of processing whole milk delivered by dairy farmers into cream and butter.

New innovative technology influenced the growth of dairying and livestock in the Red River Valley. "Dual-purpose" livestock proved valuable to the farm economy and the environmental aspects of the field. Animals could be let out after harvest, eat the residue, and manure left behind increased the fertility of the soil. Dairying, for Minnesota farmers, seemed a natural adoption as many had immigrated from Scandinavian countries where dairying was consistent. This practice also garnered attention from railroad agents with the promise of increased traffic along the lines, and James J. Hill regularly advocated for "dual-purpose" livestock(8).

Minnesota farmers embraced the movement toward diversified farming, and the dairying industry caused some physical changes to the farm and marketing infrastructure. Silos made of sturdier materials helped store and preserve fodder for dairy-cows, and allowed for the feeding of livestock year-round which increased the production potential for dairying(9). Many of the first creameries were privately owned for storing and processing dairy products, soon countered by the operation of co-operative creameries by rural farmers. Cooperative buying and selling worked to aid the rural farmer in public regulation of prices and railroad charges, and were nothing new as in 1868 Colonel Daniel A. Roberston of St. Paul established the North Star Grange to protect members from being taken advantage of by corporations(10).


Poultry Processing, ca. 1930s

Poultry Processing, ca. 1930s

Processing larger amounts of poultry increased during the 1930s, with many processers becoming separate industries during the 1940s.

Agricultural extension work grew alongside experimentation and innovation, and societies formed through academic institutions and reached out to provide farmers the opportunity to learn new advances in agricultural science. Experiment stations established through the extension programs contained branch stations which tested climate and soil for multiple crops, fruit breeding, potato seed, cattle breeding and dairy, and poultry husbandry(11). These extension services began within universities and placed effort in establishing a working relationship between academics and farmers which took time and consistency to build the trust. As the world became less isolated and the market demand continued its growth, farmers faced economic and environmental demands that were eased by an agreeable, cooperative relationship established between farmers, colleges, and experiment station staff.

The field of agricultural science was relatively new with little to no professionally trained teachers, and this showed as the effort was slow in gaining momentum with states going at their own pace(12). Considerably involved in the dissemination of agricultural science and information, the Farmers' Alliance of Minnesota aided in the effort of establishing agriculture colleges and classes within universities providing a valuable connection between the academic and rural worlds(13). The focus of these stations began as problem-oriented in their work, looking to provide farmers with solutions to current struggles of farming such as different crop breeds and the best living situation for livestock, then slowly morphed into advancing techniques as problems were solved.


The efforts of science-based institutions took on the characteristics of industrialization as the mission became increasing the output at reduced costs, growing from the ideology of building a state that is prosperous and stable for the next generation(14). With the gradually increased connection and working relationship between farmers and agriculture scientists, the methods and knowledge of crop diversification, dairying, and other animal husbandry began its growth in Minnesota through the 1880s and into the 1920s.


1. John Turner and C. K. Semling, History of Clay and Norman Counties Minnesota: Their People, Industries and Institutions, Vol. 1 (Indiana: B. F. Bowen & Company, 1918), 46.

2. Susan Granger and Scott Kelly, Historic Context Study of Minnesota Farms, 1820-1960, Vol 1 (Minnesota: Gemini Research, June 2005), 3.28.

3. Ronald H. Abraham, Helping People Help Themselves: Agricultural Extension in Minnesota, 1879-1979, (St. Paul: Minnesota Extension Service, University of Minnesota, 1986), 2.

4. Edward Van Dyke Robinson, Early Economic Conditions and the Development of Agriculture in Minnesota, Vol. 3, (Minneapolis: The University of Minnesota, 1915), 141.

5. Susan Granger and Scott Kelly, Historic Context Study of Minnesota Farms, 1820-1960, Vol 1 (Minnesota: Gemini Research, June 2005), 9.12.

6. John Turner and C. K. Semling, History of Clay and Norman Counties Minnesota: Their People, Industries and Institutions, Vol. 1 (Indiana: B. F. Bowen & Company, 1918), 159.

7. P. E. Clement, "Improvement in Clay County, Minn., Early Ohios and Seed Business - Tubers Stored in the North - County Agents and Demonstrations Worth While - The Seed Certification Board - 42,000 Bushels Produced - Growers Organized - Market Information Helps," The Potato Magazine 2, no. 7 (Spring 1920), 6.

8. Susan Granger and Scott Kelly, Historic Context Study of Minnesota Farms, 1820-1960, Vol 1 (Minnesota: Gemini Research, June 2005), 3.29-3.30.

9. Granger and Kelly, Historic Context Study of Minnesota Farms, 3.31.

10. Theodore C. Blegen, Minnesota: A History of the State, (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1963), 292.

11. Joseph C. Fitzharris, "Science for the Farmer: The Development of the Minnesota Agricultural Experiment Station, 1868-1910," Agricultural History 48, no. 1, (Spring 1974), 210, <>.

12. Abraham, Helping People Help Themselves, 5.

13. Fitzharris, "Science for the Farmer," 11, 23.

14. Fitzharris, "Science for the Farmer," 210, 214.