Introduction of Kansas Winter Wheat
On August 16, 1874, Hard Winter Wheat, also known as Turkey Red, was first introduced in America.
In the 1760s, Catherine the Great of Russia invited German Mennonites to settle along the Volga and Karaman Rivers. She hoped to establish a great agricultural area there and believed they were the ones to do it. To encourage their settlement, Catherine offered them exemption from taxes and military service as well as help with their move.
Between 1763 and 1768, more than 25,000 Germans accepted her offer and established 104 communities in Russia. And for the next 100 years they lived in peace and comfort. However, after Russia was defeated in the Crimean War, Alexander II rescinded their exemption from the military. As their religion opposed military service, the Mennonites searched for a new home.
In 1872, Bernhard Warkentin traveled to the United States in search of a new home for his people. He soon found that Kansas’ prairies closely resembled their home in Russia and the land was available for $2 to $3 per acre. Warkentin arranged for the purchase of land and told his people back home he’d found a new place for them.
On August 16, 1874, Mennonite immigrants settled in Marion, Kansas. They planted a wheat they called “Turkey Red” – a drought-resistant, heavy-yielding wheat developed in Turkey. This wheat, now known as Hard Winter Wheat, flourished in Kansas. These Mennonite families were responsible for what has been called “the most significant event in Kansas history.” Turkey Red made Kansas one of the world’s greatest granaries.
Although manufacturing and services now bring the state more income, agriculture is still very important to the economy. Kansas ranks third in the nation, behind Texas and Montana, in the total number of acres devoted to agriculture. It’s the nation’s top wheat grower, which has earned Kansas the nickname – the “nation’s breadbasket.” Other key crops include grain, sorghum, corn, hay, soybeans, and sunflowers. However, cattle and calves are the most lucrative agricultural products.
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