CELEBRATING OUR CENTENNIAL: WHAT'S YOUR FARM'S HISTORY
Originally published on August 18, 2005
My grandfather left Norway at the age of 17 to make a better life for himself in the Americas. In Norway, the younger sons of farm families were prevented from ever acquiring a part of the family farm by the Odel system of law. Norwegian law required the family farm to be passed on to the eldest male heir. This left many of the younger sons with the prospects of simply being a hired man on one of the farms, going to sea as merchant seamen, compulsory military service or finding their dreams in America.
Thanks in part to The Lonesome Tree-The Story of Gustav Tastad written by Peder and Garth Tastad, I know a lot about my grandfather.
Gustav Tastad bought a $60 ticket to America ($1,300 in 2005 dollars) and made his way to Pierpont, South Dakota. The land there had long since been homesteaded so my grandpa, a blacksmith by trade, found work with a local manufacturer. He spent his summers on the road demonstrating and selling a newly patented foot-operated trip hammer, earning a respectable $120 per year ($2,600 today).
In 1907, following his marriage to my grandmother, grandpa paid his $10 homestead entry fee ($200) and they began their trip north to Canada. This $10 entry fee was charged for each quarter section and immigrants were unable to settle on adjacent quarters of land. This homestead policy scattered immigrants farther than they wished. Because railway lands were exempt from tax, this policy also caused the early homesteader to pay heavy taxes when roads and schools were introduced to their area.
In Canada, you only needed to be 18 years of age to receive 160 acres of any land open for homestead. Free and clear title was granted if you lived on the land for three years and made successive improvements each year. You could also apply to own an adjacent 160 acres, which could be bought at low government prices at any time within three years of making homestead application.
In Canada, the townships (36 sections equivalent to six miles square) were divided as follows:
■ Eighteen odd numbered sections were given tax free to the Canadian Pacific Railway. These lands were exempt from municipal tax.
■ Section 8 and three-quarters of Section 26 were reserved for the Hudson Bay Co.
■ Two even-numbered sections were set aside for school lands, which could be sold to help pay for the construction of a school.
■ Fourteen and one-quarter of the remaining even numbered sections were set aside for homesteading.
In 1908 my grandfather bought an additional quarter section for $2,200 ($44,000) by entering into an agreement for sale with a neighbour. This land and the homestead quarter were eventually placed in my grandmother's name. My grandfather bought the Loreburn, Sask., farm for $42.50 per acre ($77,000 per quarter section) in the spring of 1919.
The 1920s were good times in agriculture. In 1923, the average yield in the Loreburn area reached 27 bushels per acre. The wheat price was 85 cents per bu. ($9.66 per bu). Times were good and in December 1929 my grandfather was able to pay off the mortgage from his land purchase in 1919.
It was said that my grandfather contemplated building a new home for the farm in the spring of 1929 but apparently decided against it. With the market crash and the depression looming, had he built his home, there is a good chance that he might have lost all of his wealth in the 1930s and been forced to move.
Prosperity returned to prairie agriculture in the 1940s and with it, change. In 1921 there were 47,500 tractors on 43,600 Canadian farms. In the 10 years between 1941 and 1951, 240,000 tractors were added to Canadian farms. Today there are close to 850,000 tractors on about 245,000 Canadian farms.
In 1942, my grandpa's wheat crop averaged 29 bu. per acre and sold for a price of 76 cents per bu. ($9.04 per bu). By 1946, he encouraged four of his boys buy land and begin farming. By 1953, grandfather moved to town and his sons took over active management of the farm. He would still visit and inspect the crops, new tractors or tillage machines. He would comment on how farming had changed and how exciting the next 50 years in agriculture would be.
He would not have been disappointed. Today's technology has enabled fewer farmers to produce more food than ever before. In 1935, the average Canadian farm produced enough food for 11 people; by 2001, 121 Canadians lived off the same farm's output.
A recent Statistics Canada bulletin says it best: "Today, it takes a mere three percent of Canada's population to feed the remaining 97 percent, with food left over for export to other parts of the world.
"Many farm operators have graduated from agriscience programs at college or university and spend a significant part of their time balancing their books and learning about pesticides, fertilizers and financing. New technologies also play a role in the management of today's farms, as farmers turn to satellites to maximize their production yields and to the internet to research international markets and trade their commodities."
I am sure grandpa was satisfied in knowing that his four sons had the opportunity to choose farming as their career. This would not have been possible had he not left the familiarity of Norway and settled on the unknown Prairies. The dream of farming was not only fulfilled, but it was also passed to his sons, grandsons and great-grandsons.
In celebrating our centennial year, let's not forget the pioneers. The choice to farm remains our own, but for many of us, we owe to our ancestors the freedom to make that choice.
Allyn Tastad, certified general accountant, is a partner in the accounting firm of Hounjet Tastad Harpham in Saskatoon at 306-653-5100, e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or website www.hth-accountants.ca. He is also involved in the family farm near Loreburn, Saskatchewan. The opinions expressed in this column are for information only.