The Green Revolution of the 1960s brought about a dramatic rise in global crop yields. But, as most observers acknowledge, this has come at a considerable cost to biodiversity. Plant breeding, synthetic fertilizers, and mechanization steadily narrowed the number of crop varieties commercially available to farmers and promoted fencerow-to-fencerow monocultures. Many historians trace the origins of this style of industrialized agriculture to the last great plow-up of the Great Plains in the 1920s. In the literature, farms in the plains are often described metaphorically as wheat factories, degrading successive landscapes. While in many ways these farms were a departure from earlier forms of husbandry in the American experience, monocultures were quite rare during the early transformation of the plains. Analysis of a large representative sample, based on manuscript agricultural censuses and involving twenty-five townships across the state of Kansas, demonstrates that diverse production reached even the most challenging of plains landscapes.

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