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Farming Challenges


Farmers had to face many different challenges, that were out of their control, while making a living. Early farmers had to work very hard to keep their crops and animals healthy. There was no insurance to make sure that they still received money if there were crop failures or animals got sick. Many of the first homesteaders failed and moved away.

A train is stopped in a small town next to a train station and two elevators.


There were endless jobs for settlers that required heavy duty labour, such as picking all of the rocks off their land by hand.

Low Grain Prices

When farmers were faced with low grain prices, it would affect them greatly. If the grain prices were too low, it would cost the farmer more time and money to plant the crops than he or she would get in return when the grain was sold.

An illustration of two horses pulling a plow with a man running the plow, with a homestead in the background is shown.

If the grain prices were too low, farmers did not make any money.

If farmers could not make enough money with their grain, they would not have enough money to pay for other items they might need to keep their family fed and their animals healthy.

Low grain prices were out of settlers’ control and would prevent them from being able to earn enough money to provide for their families and animals.

Poor Crops

There are a variety of reasons why crops failed. The soil could be too dry or too moist, the weeds could take over a field, or extreme temperature could prevent the crops from growing. Insects caused major problems and in some years, grasshoppers destroyed entire crops.

A train is stopped in a small town next to a train station and two elevators.


Too much rain or too little rain could cause crop failures.

If the crops were poor, the farmer might not have enough food for their family and animals. They also would struggle to have enough leftover seed to use for planting the next year.

Insects caused some serious damage on crops and in some years, grasshoppers destroyed entire crops.

Weather Disasters

Weather disasters could potentially destroy the farmer’s homestead and crops. Farmers had to face droughts, floods, strong winds, extreme winter conditions, and prairie fires. All of the weather disasters had the possibility to destroy the farmer’s means of survival.

Two horses are hooked up to a homemade sled that is used as a shelter from the cold when traveling in the winter. There is a roof on the sled to protect people from bad weather conditions.

Blizzards could get so bad that farmers couldn’t even get across the homestead to the barn to feed their animals.

It is called a drought when it does not rain for a very long time. If a farmer was faced with a drought, the crops would not grow well enough to keep the family and animals fed. In a drought, there was often not enough water for the family or animals.

Rain water is pooling in a field, causing crop damage.

Floods hurt crops.

The topsoil of a field that hasn’t had enough water is being shown, and there are a few plants that are withering and cracks in the dirt.

Drought hurts crops.

Crops also struggled if there was far too much rain or extremely strong windstorms. The heavy rain could wash away the seeds or make it difficult for the plants to grow. Strong winds could blow seeds away or break plants already growing.

A train is stopped in a small town next to a train station and two elevators.


Dust storms would whip soil around and leave mounds of dirt in some fields and serious soil erosion for other settlers.

Early frosts were very harmful to crops. If a frost came before the crop was mature and ready to harvest, it could destroy the crop. The wheat kernels might be very small or never ripen properly. Frost could damage the wheat seeds’ ability to germinate (sprout). This could mean the farmer would not have any seed to grow the next year.

A wheat sheaf that is still in a field is covered in frost and has frozen.

After all the hard work to grow a crop, it was devastating if a frost came early.

Extreme winter conditions made it difficult to keep the family and animals safe. In a blizzard, it could be impossible for the farmer to find the barn to feed the animals. The family might not be able to leave the farm because they could get lost or freeze in their wagon.

Settlers faced many extreme weather conditions, such as tornadoes that could ruin crops and homesteads.

The prairie fires could destroy the farmer’s crops, as well as their home and their barns. If there was a fire, the farmer would quickly use their plow to work up the soil surrounding their farm to keep the fire from burning the homestead.

Settlers often used straw to insulate their homes and barns, which was very flammable (could start on fire easily).

This video shows footage of a fire in Toronto in 1904 that destroyed 122 buildings in Toronto’s prime commercial district and put 5,000 people out of work. The fire spread quickly and firefighters had to be called in from as far as Buffalo and New York to help put the fire out.

Animal Illness and Predators

The farmers relied on the animals for their survival and tried to protect the animals from becoming sick. If the animals became sick it could affect the farmer’s ability to work in the fields, travel, and supply food to their families. If the animal became sick enough, the farmer could travel to town to purchase veterinary supplies.

Foxes could be predators for smaller farm animals, such as chickens.

Settlers had to do their best to protect their farm animals, who were at risk from predators such as wolves, coyotes, and foxes.

Peasant Policy

First Nations farmer faced all of the challenges the European farmers faced. There were also government rules and policies put into place that made farming almost impossible for them.

A photo of a young First Nations woman wearing traditional clothing is shown.

Photo Credit: Western Development Museum

This is a young First Nations woman.

First Nations leaders wanted their people to be successful farmers so that they could sell their crops and feed their families. In the beginning, many First Nations farmers were successful. But often the government failed to deliver the agricultural supplies promised in the Treaties. It did not want First Nations people to compete with non-Aboriginal farmers.

A train is stopped in a small town next to a train station and two elevators.


A First Nation family’s homestead is shown in this photo.

In 1889, the government officer introduced the Peasant Policy. First Nations people were only supposed to produce only enough for their families. First Nations people were to work the land with just hand tools and only cultivate a single acre of wheat. They were also to plant part of another acre for root crops and vegetables and raise a cow or two. The policy stated they did not need machinery, for they were not growing grain or raising livestock to sell to other people. This policy was in place until 1897 and held back the development of First Nations agriculture.


First Nations farmers were only given hand tools to farm with.

The Pass and Permit System

First Nations farmers were not permitted to sell their farm products without first getting permission from a person called an Indian Agent. This was a government employee on their reserve. Any person from off the reserve who wanted to trade with the First Nations farmers had to have a permit (written permission). First Nations farmers did not have the freedom to make their own decisions on what to buy and sell.

An aged ‘Permit to Sell’ paper with hand-writing on it.

Photo Credit: Western Development Museum

This is an example of a ‘Permit to Sell’ that was used in Canada.

Another policy that held back the development and freedom of First Nations farmers was the pass system, which lasted well into the 20th century. First Nations people had to have written permission from an Indian Agent when they wanted to leave the reserve even if it was to pick berries. Each time a person asked for a pass, there needed to be a description of why, when, and for how long he/she would be gone.

A group of First Nations people are posing together for a photo.


A group of First Nations people are standing together on their land.