Saskatchewan River: Dream of Wheat
Prosperous farmers feed the world
Wheat is Canada's most important crop. Flour from Canadian wheat is prized by
French bakers as the best for baguettes. Italian gourmets demand it to knead,
roll, and cut into strips of spaghetti, lasagna, and linguini. The main
ingredient of the pasta purchased from food stores in North Battleford may well
have made a return trip to Italy.
More than half of Canada's wheat grows in the grain belt of Saskatchewan which includes
both the north and south branches of the Saskatchewan River. The region often is called, “breadbasket
to the world.”
The success of wheat farming in the pioneering years was only intermittent and unreliable
in the golden Prairies. Many European species of wheat were tried but none fared very well
in the too-short Canadian growing season that usually ended abruptly, with a killing, autumn
New strains of wheat suited to the prairie soils and unpredictable climate had to be bred
before the industry could prosper on the Prairies.
Uneven rainfall from year to year is another challenge to prairie agriculture. After the
devastating droughts of the 1930s, farmers were urged to excavate pools, called dugouts,
to collect the spring runoff. The water is used later in the season to irrigate crops.
Since the 1940s, government research stations have been developing and testing new strains
of wheat. Strong stems, the ability to withstand drought, disease, and insects such as the
wheat-stem saw-fly, and a high yield of grain are the desired qualities.
Marquis wheat, first developed as a mixed variety, was superior because of its early maturing
characteristic and its ability to withstand gale-force winds. Marquis wheat expanded the
region where quality wheat could be grown.
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