Marginal land in North America that could be used for farming

Discussion in 'Alternate History Discussion: Before 1900' started by Jan Olbracht, Oct 9, 2019.

  1. Jan Olbracht Well-Known Member

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    As title says-which areas of North America that are not cultivated today could be turned into farmland? Pre-Columbian agriculture in colder parts of N. America was limited by the fact, that native crops were not particulary good adapted to cooler climates (like maize). European settlers OTOH had enough land available to ignore marginal lands, which in Old World's conditions could be used for agriculture due to greater population pressure. So what areas would be used as farmland if either Natives get cold adapted crops somehow (like barley or buckwheat) or there is enough population pressure among European settlers to move into these unpromising lands?
    @Jürgen once compared Newfoundland to Central Scandinavia in terms of soil and climate (which is land hardly perfect for farming, but still was and is cultivated)-big difference is day lenght during growing season: long days of Scandinavian summers improves conditions for crops to grow. What about coastal British Columbia and Southern Alaska? It is mountainous and rainy area, but western Norway is too, is there something in BC that makes it impossible to be America's Norway analogue? Any other suggestions?
     
    Last edited: Oct 10, 2019 at 4:59 AM
  2. Jürgen Well-Known Member

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    Honestly in the entire Canadian Shield you could have marginal Scandinavian style agriculture. The problem is that the reason you have agriculture in all of Scandinavia is because Scandinavia are more densely populated. If Sweden had the same population density as Canada, beside only having 1,5 million people, there wouldn’t be agriculture in the marginal areas.
     
  3. Dathi THorfinnsson Daði Þorfinnsson

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    Heh. A LOT of former farmland in southern Ontario is now woodland, again. That land could be recultivated if people were desperate enough.

    As for the Canadian Shield. Hah, hah!
    The parts I canoed through were literally jackpines (etc.) growing out of crevices in granite. A layer of moss and we'll under an inch of soil on most of it.

    Oh, sure there are likely some eutrophied lakes and shallow bogs that could be worked with, given sufficient desperation, but that's likely only a couple percent of the land area. Then getting crops to market would be ... fun, shall we say.

    In other words. No. No way.
     
  4. metalinvader665 Well-Known Member

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    Most of Alaska south of the Arctic Circle along the rivers, the Alaska Peninsula, the Aleutians, and most all the Pacific Coast would be suitable land for marginal subsistence farming. Same thing with the parts of the Great Basin near the rivers or the High Plains (see the Dust Bowl). If you want to be a subsistence farmer there's plenty of decent places.
     
  5. Dave Howery laughs at your pain

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    so far as the US is concerned, a lot of the marginal lands are marginal because of thin/absent topsoil, lack of water, high alkali content, or short growing season. You aren't really going to make a breadbasket out of Nevada's deserts or MTs' sagebrush flats. The river valley I grew up in MT has great soil, is well watered, and could grow a lot of stuff... except for the damn short summers there. The growing season is just barely Memorial Day to Labor Day, and sometimes not even that. It'll be interesting to see what climate change does to that area..
     
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  6. Jan Olbracht Well-Known Member

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    What about terraces in mountanious areas? Andean Indians were farming on steep slopes thanks to terraces, abandoned them later, when Old World plagues decimated them and there was no longer population pressure to use these slopes for farming anymore.
     
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  7. DanMcCollum P-WI

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    The Upper Peninsula of Michigan could, conceivably, support dairy farming and corn production. There are still a few farms there to this day, but they are pretty thin on the ground. I also wonder if the soil wouldn't be supportive of potatoes as well.

    Back when I was an undergrad at NMU I took part in an archeological survey where our Professor had found the furthest northern (at that time) indigenous maize farming. That was on the North shore of Lake Michigan outside of Menominee/Marinette.
     
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  8. The Gunslinger NQLA agent

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    Many of the rivers in Alaska and the Yukon could have grain farming if you were more able to connect it to a proper supply chain.
     
  9. My Username is Inigo Montoya Virile Member

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    The Clay Belt of Northern Ontario and Quebec would be a prime candidate. It was in fact briefly settled.
     
  10. chornedsnorkack Well-Known Member

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    Erm. Getting crops to the markets is not the important part. Most of the crops would be eaten in place.

    What the settlers need from market... maybe salt. Stone is available around Canadian Shield. Iron might be imported but that´s a matter of organization not availability.

    In 1550, huge areas of Finland, basically the inland region north of Jyväskylä-Savonlinna line to north of Kajaani, area including present Kuopio and Joensuu, lacked farming settlements. Over area estimated as 60 000 square km, a few hundred Sami hunter-gatherers plus hunting trips of distant settled farmers.

    After 1550, in a matter of maybe 30 years, around 1000 settled farms were founded scattered over the area. Still under 10 000 souls. But much more than the under 500 hunter-gatherers.

    A scattering of subsistence farms might be sustainable if they can handpick the pockets of thicker soil on top of rocks.
     
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  11. metalinvader665 Well-Known Member

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    Worth noting is Canadian military figure Richard Rohmer's "Mid-Canada Development Corridor" of Cold War vintage which called for massive infrastructure investments in the Subarctic to create new urban areas and best exploit available resources. Presumably, farming and ranching in those areas would get a big boost thanks to this infrastructure investment and the availability of nearby markets.

    Map:
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    I'm of the opinion that if Canada had not been an Anglo country bordering another Anglo country, there could be a much greater sense that Canada needed to spread out to avoid perceived threats from the Anglo menace south of the border. French Canada, or going back even further, a Vinland (if not settled until the 15th century or so), may be the way to get a more spread out Canada rather than having the majority of the population living within a hundred miles of the US border.

    In general, earlier colonisation of North America--and from both ends--may accomplish the settlement of these marginal lands. If we have settlement of northern America (by the English and French) around the same time the Spanish are destroying the Mesoamericans, we have many extra years for the population to grow. Maybe we could have even earlier settlement in the late 15th century where Didrik Pining or another North Atlantic explorer reaches "Vinland" while sailing for Denmark and soon Newfoundland and Nova Scotia have Scandinavian colonies. On the other end (with a still earlier PoD), Japan pushes north to Hokkaido and Karafuto and tempted by the gold and other resources they find there end up in Kamchatka and eventually Alaska, where they'll find yet more gold. A lot of Japanese peasants lived off marginal, rocky land, so a cold place like the Kenai Peninsula or Mat-Su valley or even the Alaska Peninsula might not be too harsh for growing buckwheat and millet and supplementing it with imported food and whatever can be hunted or fished. Point is, this gives a large, expanding agricultural population which by the early 1800s or so will have settled a lot of marginal land. Of course, by the mid-late 19th century many, many of them will find their farms failing or will simply abandon their land to move to expanding cities. But many of these cities may well be located near this marginal land, leading to a much heavier settlement of the Subarctic and Great Basin.

    A native agriculture PoD would too, likely along the lines of alternate domesticated plants. The PNW has potential domesticates which could do well in much of the Subarctic (Sagittaria cuneata is recorded as far north as the Yukon and NWT and according to one source grows in the Mackenzie Delta). OTL Eastern Agricultural Complex plants are better suited for the High Plains and Prairie Provinces than the Mesoamerican Three Sisters agriculture which supplanted it.

    Also as a side-note, I'd add Anticosti Island to this. It's about 50% larger than Prince Edward Island yet has a population of 240 people. It could easily have several times that.

    I don't know if supply chains would matter much, since that area almost universally won't be competitive with grain grown in the rest of the country. Although more investment in icebreakers/earlier climate change may do the job since you could open ports in the area (and strengthen Churchill, MT) to ship using the Northwest/Northeast Passage. It won't survive without a lot of government subsidy (even OTL Alaskan agriculture in the best spots runs into this problem), but for an independent Alaska or maybe a very nationalist or communist Canada it could be a viable option.
     
  12. The Gunslinger NQLA agent

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    The area in question would be little different than farming in Peace River country, except a little further north. The only thing that really prevents it from happening is lack of access to the greater North American supply chain as this is what drives up the cost so much. Better road and rail access with more investment in terminals is probably all it would take to make it profitable.

    It should also be noted that the agriculture in the mid-Canadian corridor is generally terrible or non-existent. Bonnyville is at the very edge of the prairie and the land there is incredibly marginal. Going beyond that is flirting with disaster.
     
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  13. yulzari Well-Known Member

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    When visiting New England I recall asking why the Americans spread west when they had not used all the land they already had. Yes I do know that much of the modern woodland there is secondary growth on abandoned farm land but surely one could do a better job now? And yes I am aware of the importance of the forest as a wildlife resource.
     
  14. interpoltomo please don't do coke in the bathroom

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    this also fits delayed industrial revolution ATLs
     
  15. metalinvader665 Well-Known Member

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    IIRC they had to farm on smaller and smaller plots of land (since family sizes were large in part because of the labour needed for farming in the rough land in New England) and besides, why hack out rather impoverished land from the cold forests of Maine when the soil and land in, say, Ohio is far more productive.

    That said, it's striking to look at satellite imagery of most of the Maine - Quebec border and notice how the Maine side has almost nothing but forests while the Quebec side seems to break it up with farms and small towns.