Mapping Intensive Agriculture in Western Kansas, 1918 to 1981

Ken Sylvester, University of Michigan

The literature on agricultural change in the United States suggests that land use intensified with the arrival of mechanization in the 1920s and 1930s, and aggressive farm practices brought significant environmental degradation. But more recent accounts have questioned the extent of intensification that occurred prior to WWII. Studies of agricultural change in the Midwest and the upper South indicate that general farming –integrated livestock and crop production – remained the norm in many areas until the 1950s and 1960s. But the commercial potential of the western plains and the larger size of western farms has always been seen as a leading edge of the new mechanized agriculture, in an environmentally sensitive region. This paper explores the emergence of the new agriculture in a novel sample of farms in Kansas between 1918 and 1981. Patterns of land use and landscape intensification are reconstructed from a unique combination of farm- and parcel-level data collected from annual surveys of land use, land ownership deed indexes, and aerial photography surveys (between the 1930s and the 1970s). Integrated in a GIS database, the data offer a detailed portrait of the land use history, intergenerational change and the impacts of intensive practice on landscape design. The paper finds that intensification varied significantly over space, between various family farms, and a general reduction in biodiversity was not reached until the 1970s when land prices and borrowing surged higher.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 137. Commodity data is messy: Issues in commodity production and quantification