June 13, 2007
Nevada's Online State News Journal
[From The History of Nevada, edited by Sam P. Davis, vol. I (1913), pp. 640-646]
640 THE HISTORY OF NEVADA
BY GORDON H. TRUE.
The history of agriculture in Nevada, so far as authentic records are concerned, begins with the decade 1850 to 1860. In the latter year there were 91 farms aggregating 56,118 acres, or about one-tenth of one per cent. of the total area of what was the following year organized as the Territory of Nevada. This acreage has increased more or less steadily during the fifty years that have passed, until at the present time there are 2,689 farms, having a total area of 2,714,756 acres. Of this total farm area, however, but 709,018 acres, or one per cent. of the total area of the State, are irrigated. The latter figure shows an increase of 204,850 acres, or 31.8 per cent. in the irrigated area of the State in the last decade. The average irrigated area per farm is but 295 acres, a little less than 4 per cent. of the farm area being improved. While the area of farm lands has increased but 23.1 per cent. during the last ten years, the total value of farm properties has increased 110.6 per cent., a fact which is much more significant of real agricultural development than the increased acreage alone.
Nevada is a State of wonderful agricultural possibilities. This does not mean that any large part of the total area of the State will be brought under cultivation, for it will not. The State is too large to be entirely devoted to agriculture. Also, we cannot get away from the fact that the irrigated area in any arid State must be limited by the amount of water available. As yet not more than half of the water of the streams is being used for irrigation, the artesian supplies have not yet been prospected, and the possibilities resulting from pumping are unknown. With the practice of due economy in the use of water already in our irrigating ditches, it is safe to say that the present irrigated area may be doubled. Thus -it will be seen that when all of the water available for irrigation is being economically used, the irrigated areas of our State will have to be
multiplied by four. Not less than 50 per cent. of the irrigated lands of Nevada are used for the production of native grass, hay and pasture. The greater part of these native grass lands lie in the valley of the Humboldt River, where the most primitive methods of irrigation are in many instances still practiced. Here large ranches are the rule, the average ranch area in the four counties through which the Humboldt River runs being 2,341 acres. These large valleys are generally owned by men who control still larger bodies of adjoining range land, the hay and pasture from the valley lands being used to supplement the range. The Carson, Truckee, and Mason Valleys still have their native grass lands which will ultimately be drained and put to a better use. The breaking up of these larger ranches into small farms will mean much to the future of agriculture in the State.
Alfalfa.--Alfalfa is the leading farm crop of Nevada, and fortunate is the region if this statement is true. Taking into consideration the certainty of a crop, the large yields per acre, the feeding value per ton, and the condition in which the soil is left after the growing of this crop, alfalfa undoubtedly ranks first among all of the farm crops. No Nevada farmer need be content with a yield of less than five tons to the acre and seven tons is often made. Its great value in stock growing has not yet been realized, east or west, for there is in it a feeding value for growing animals which the chemist cannot measure, nor yet the feeder of market stock, for it makes more than meat. Where corn makes fat, alfalfa gives growth; where corn-feeding gradually impairs the vital functions, the feeding of alfalfa gives strength, vigor and constitution; where corn is best for market stock, alfalfa develops the breeding animal. When the Nevada farmer shall have coupled with a full knowledge the feeding value of this great crop the skill of our best stockmen in the breeding of purebred animals, then we may begin to talk about our agricultural development. The greatest of opportunities for development are ahead of the Nevada farmer.
Grain.—The cereal grains, wheat, oats and barley, are very successfully grown in Nevada, though the quantities produced are not sufficient to supply the demand of the State. While the average yield of wheat per acre in Nevada is double the average yield per acre of the United States, it is not more than one-half of the amount commonly secured by our best ranchers. Yields of from forty to fifty bushels of wheat, fifty to sixty
642 THE HISTORY OF NEVADA
bushels of barley, and seventy to one-hundred bushels of oats per acre are not uncommon, and the Experiment Station records show yields of sixty-seven bushels of wheat, eighty-four bushels of barley, and one hundred and twenty-three bushels of oats per acre. The market prices of grain range high in Nevada. High market values coupled with high average yields per acre give Nevada the distinction of being outranked but by a single State (the District of Columbia) in the value per acre of crops grown. The average acre value of wheat in Nevada for the past ten years has been $27.52 as against $11.37 for the United States; barley and oats for the past ten years have yielded acre values of $25.34 and $26.77, as against $10.53 and $12.69 for the United States for the same period.
Many farmers grow grain because their supply of irrigating water is not sufficient for the growing of alfalfa upon the entire farm. When we know all there is to be known concerning the minimum amount of water required to grow a crop of grain, much more grain will be grown in the State. When our farmers come to understand that certain varieties of grain can be grown with one or two irrigations where six or eight are now considered necessary, much land now uncultivated will be used for grain farming.
Grasses.—Tame grasses are little grown except for pasture. On account of the danger from loss from bloat, alfalfa is not a safe pasture for cattle or sheep, and for this reason is little used. Native June grass is the most common pasture grass except on bottom lands where wild lowland grasses prevail. June grass is seldom sown for pasture, but comes into hay fields and pastures naturally where an abundance of water is used. Where alfalfa fields are pastured continuously the alfalfa is soon run out by the June grass.
Timothy is grown to a very limited extent, there being a good market for it in the towns among the livery stables and the owners of driving horses. It seldom sells in the larger towns for less than $20 a ton, baled. Some farmers make a practice of sowing a little timothy or orchard grass with alfalfa, thus getting a mixed hay which brings a little better price on the market than alfalfa.
Forage crops other than alfalfa occupy a very unimportant place. There seems to be little reason for growing them except in the case of farmers who are putting in new land and need something that will produce a crop before their alfalfa fields are established. The foxtail millets, sown as late
as June, produce an abundance of forage early in September. Sorghum. while the season is not always long enough for it to mature, usually produces a good crop of forage that may be fed green or cured for hay. The field pea grows remarkably well, and oats and peas often yield better than five tons of hay to the acre.
Roots.—All root crops grow well. On certain lands adapted to their growth, potatoes make a good crop of most excellent quality. Potatoes and onions are the two farm products that Nevada produces in excess of her need. Mason Valley and the region about Dayton on the Carson River are especially noted for potato production, while in the Truckee Valley also considerable areas are grown. The average yield in 1900, according to the United States Census for that year, was 161 bushels per acre, an average yield second only to that reported by the State of Maine. The average yield for the past ten years, as reported in the Year Book of the Department of Agriculture, is 144 bushels per acre, the average price per bushel 75 cents, and the average value of the crop per acre, $107. Under the best conditions of care and cultivation yields of 500 bushels are not uncommon, thus giving a value of $360 per acre. Agents of produce dealers on the Coast buy the crop at the ranch. There are also good local and mining camp markets.
A specialty is made of onion-growing on the bottom lands in the vicinity of Reno. While the crop for 1900 is given in the census report as $93 per acre, some of our onion growers secure yields as high as fifteen to twenty tons to the acre and market them at from $30 to $35 per ton, thus making possible a crop value of $700 per acre. The land considered especially adapted to onion growing is limited.
Vegetable Gardening.—Italian gardeners in the vicinity of the larger towns in the irrigated valley produce practically all of the varieties of garden vegetables ordinarily grown in temperate climates, with a degree of success limited only by the occasional late spring or early fall frosts. These vegetables are all of unusually good quality. The varieties grown include radishes, lettuce, onions, peas, beans, cucumbers, summer and winter squashes, all of the roots, tomatoes, green corn, cauliflower, cabbage, etc.
Sugar Beets.—The sugar beet industry is one that is young and thriving. Its center lies at Fallon, where a factory for the extraction of sugar has been established. As yet the acreage planted to sugar beets
644 THE HISTORY OF NEVADA
is not sufficiently extensive to meet the capacity of the factory, but that will be quickly remedied. Sugar beets do well in Nevada. There are several problems in the matter of culture that need definite solution such as quantity and time of irrigation, cultivation, seed per acre, distance in thinning, rotation, and others of minor importance. Where the farmers were short on water supply in 1912, and were thus forced to cultivate, excellent results were obtained in yield, not to speak of the clearing of weeds. It is generally thought that the best crops follow alfalfa sod plowed under. The rotation involves potatoes, alfalfa, and cereal crops. Farmers who grow Canada peas to put a finish on their hogs will have, if the peas are eaten on the field, land that should be in the best condition for sugar beet planting.
The subject of rotation in general is one that is of particular importance to Nevada. In addition to the regular advantages claimed for systematic rotation, all of which apply to Nevada conditions, there is here the need of some cropping that shall add humus to the soil. Some of the roots allow the irrigation water to leach away rapidly, thus raising the water table where underdrainage is lacking, and also resulting in the loss of plant food. Some scheme of rotation that shall increase the water holding capacity of the upper soil is needed. So far the tendency has been to repeat the same crops, often for three or four years, the only antidote being found in the occasional plowing under of alfalfa. Some quickly growing crop, preferably red clover, should be used to add humus to the soil through a process of green manuring. Alfalfa develops too slowly and is too valuable for hay to be used as a green manuring crop. The addition of barnyard manure helps, but something additional is needed.
The Muddy and Las Vegas Valleys.—The Muddy and Las Vegas Valleys in the extreme southern part of the State are characterized by a climate similar to that of southern California. This region was so long without railroad facilities for transportation that its agricultural development is only in the earliest stages. All of the staple farm crops are grown most successfully, hut the highest returns will come from the production of fruit and vegetables. Peaches, pears, apricots, figs, pomegranates, melons and the raisin grape are among the fruits that do especially well, while such garden vegetables as lettuce, radishes, peas, onions, etc., planted in the fall, are marketed at a time when they are
counted as luxuries and so command high prices. The growing of asparagus also promises to become a very profitable industry.
Dry Farming.—There are men who believe that Nevada has a great future as a dry-farming State. This opinion has been based upon what has been accomplished in other States where conditions are assumed to be no less favorable than our own, rather than upon actual results in the State. It seems safe to say, however, that the development of agriculture without irrigation will be confined to the regions of the State especially favored in the matter of rainfall or underground water supply. In such regions good grain crops can be grown without irrigation, providing the proper methods of culture are carefully practiced. From the fact that most of the rainfall comes during the winter months, the early maturing winter grains usually prove most successful since they generally ripen before the period of extreme drought. Winter wheat grown in the Washoe Valley without irrigation yielded fifteen bushels per acre, and winter barley was grown with about as good results. Alfalfa may be grown for seed without irrigation, and one good crop harvested each year. The State established an Experimental Dry Farm in Pleasant Valley, twenty miles south of Elko, in 1910, where experiments and demonstrations are being conducted under the management of a Board of Control, consisting of two Elko County men and a representative of the State University. Here Turkey Red wheat last year yielded over 23 bushels to the acre; Defiance Spring wheat, 21.5 bushels; Blue Stem Spring wheat, 25 bushels; Kubanka wheat 16 bushels; oats, 27 bushels; barley, 23 bushels; rye, 12 bushels; and potatoes, 115 to 154 bushels.
Dairying.—Dairying, which might well rank among the leading agricultural industries in Nevada, is one of the most profitable and thriving. The Upper Carson Valley, Smith Valley, Mason Valley, Lamoille, South Fork, Truckee Valley and the Lower Carson Valley have prosperous creameries. None of these creameries are as yet working to the limit of their capacities, nor are they able to supply the needs of the State, for butter. It is a notable fact that some rich agricultural valleys are not producing the dairy products necessary for their own consumption.
Livestock.—Nevada will always have a large range cattle and sheep industry on account of the large percentage of lands that can never be cultivated. The fattening of this stock upon alfalfa hay is an important industry. In 1899 the value of the livestock products of the State exceeded
646 THE HISTORY OF NEVADA
that of gold and silver, and the fact may well stand as a prophecy of what is to be the permanent relation of agriculture to mining in the State.
A great opportunity seems to exist for the Nevada stockmen in the production of pure bred breeding stock. The Hereford herd of the late Governor John Sparks made not only its owner, but Nevada famous. At present the pure bred herds of the State do not furnish the bulls needed on its ranges. Nowhere on earth are conditions of feed and climate more favorable to the production of fine stock than in Nevada.
The Agricultural College.—It is perhaps fitting that under the head of agriculture the development of the course in agriculture in the State University be mentioned. Four years ago this course had but a single student. Today the enrollment exceeds that of the mining school. When we take into consideration that Nevada is primarily a mining State, and that the majority of people of the State have considered it so from the first, that every effort has been made to strengthen the work of the mining school and to advertise it, while the school of agriculture has received a minimum support and encouragement, the increase in the number of agricultural students over that of the mining school becomes a strikingly significant fact. It means that the State has reached that stage in its history where the people are beginning to realize that its future growth and permanent prosperity must rest upon the development of agriculture. It means that the brightest and best equipped young men from the high schools of the State can see in present day agriculture as it is taught in the agricultural college, opportunities for the development of their best abilities.