Wheat has been raised by Mennonites in Russia and America in large quantities. In the pioneer days in the Ukraine the Mennonites engaged in small-scale diversified farming, and wheat production played no significant role. (See Agriculture.) Gradually the Mennonites concentrated on wheat raising. Originally they primarily raised summer wheat. Gradually they shifted to hard winter wheat, which was grown in the Black Sea and Mediterranean areas, which was known as Red Turkey, Crimean, Odessa, Bulgarian, Hungarian, Russian, and Mennonite wheat. That this variety was introduced into the Ukraine by the father of Bernhard Warkentin is not likely. It was generally sown by German and Greek settlers and Russian farmers in that area, and it is likely that he promoted it. Around 1850 the London wheat market began to appreciate this hard wheat. The increased production of wheat went hand in hand with the development of improved machinery and the opening of ports along the Black Sea and Sea of Azov, which made the Ukraine the granary of Europe. The ports of Berdyansk and Mariupol near the Mennonite settlement shipped the best quality of wheat. Cornelius Jansen stated that the Mennonites of the Molotschna produced nearly half a million bushels of wheat in 1855. In 1874 Senator Windom, of Minnesota, urged Congress to promote the immigration of Mennonites to the prairie states to enable America to meet the competition of wheat shipments from Russia and Canada on the world market.
When the Mennonites arrived in the prairie states and provinces, they brought with them, along with household goods and furniture, various seeds they had been planting in the steppes of the Ukraine, including smaller quantities of varieties of wheat. The various stories in circulation about how this wheat was selected and who brought it cannot be taken too seriously. It is possible that Kansas raised some hard winter wheat varieties prior to the coming of the Mennonites. However, the fact remains (even Malin, who has questioned many claims, confirms it) that the counties in which the Mennonites lived and those in the immediate surroundings were the first to raise the hard winter wheat varieties on a larger scale (162-78).
Bernhard Warkentin, whose father was a miller in Russia and who was among the first to come to America in 1872, immediately saw the agricultural and milling possibilities in the prairie states and built a mill in Halstead with his father-in-law. He demonstrated on his farm and in his mill the great superiority of winter wheat over the soft varieties still in use. He imported a large shipment of winter wheat from the Crimea in 1885-86 for distribution among the farmers. Soon after this Mark A. Carleton, the noted cerealist, probably became acquainted with Warkentin and the Mennonites when he was teaching at Garfield University at Wichita (1889-91). In 1896 when he experimented with wheat and oats in Salina, he called on Warkentin, and in 1899 he secured through Warkentin a plot of land for further experiments in some 300 varieties. The correspondence between Warkentin and Carleton (copies in Mennonite Library and Archives (North Newton, KS)) reveals clearly the role of the Mennonites in introducing the hard winter wheat to the prairie states. Carleton states in an article in the Yearbook. (1914) that each Mennonite "family brought over a bushel or more of Crimean wheat for seed, and from this seed was grown the first crop of Kansas hard winter wheat" (399), and that the "good qualities of Turkey wheat were not generally appreciated much before the close of the last century, 25 years after its introduction into Kansas by the Mennonites" (401). In 1898 Carleton, with the help of Warkentin, went to the Ukraine to get some hard winter wheat varieties. In 1901, upon the request of the Kansas State Millers Association, Warkentin had about 15,000 bushels imported and distributed. Among the hard winter wheat varieties which have been developed from this original hard wheat, the best known are Kanred, Black Hull, and Tenmarq.
Although the hard winter wheat is limited to the states of Oklahoma, Kansas, and Nebraska, the Mennonites of other areas have made a similar contribution in other kinds of wheat, especially in Manitoba.
Malin's book, Winter Wheat, is a valuable source of information, but needs to be checked and brought up to date. He did not make use of some of the valuable sources such as the Carleton-Warkentin correspondence and the notices which regularly appeared in the Weekly Kansan of Newton. The study of the contribution of the Mennonites in the promotion of winter wheat is still to be made.
Carleton, Mark A. "Successful Wheat Growing in Semiarid Districts" and "Hard Wheats Winning Their Way." Yearbook of the Department of Agriculture (1900): 529-42; (1914): 391-420.
Connelley, William E. "Bernhard Warkentin." A Standard History of Kansas and Kansans V. Chicago-New York, 1918: 2291.
Ehrt, A. Das Mennonitentum in Russland von seiner Einwanderung bis zur Gegenwart. Berlin, 1932.
Krahn, Cornelius, ed., From the Steppes to the Prairies. Newton, Kansas: General Conference Mennonite Church. Historical Committee, 1949.
Malin, James C. Winter Wheat in the Golden Belt of Kansas. Lawrence: University of Kansas Press, 1944.
Rempel, D. G. "The Mennonite Colonies in New Russia. 1789-1914." Ph.D. diss., Stanford University, 1933.
Schellenberg, T. R. "Correspondence Between Mark A. Carleton and Bernhard Warkentin Regarding Turkey Wheat," excerpts from the National Archives and the Department of Agriculture (Mennonite Library and Archives (North Newton, KS) ).
Seymour, H. D. Russia on the Black Sea and Sea of Azof. London, 1855: 315 ff.
Sorokin, S. P. Semenovodstvo v semennykh tovarishestvakh Fserossiyskovo Mennonits-kovo Selsho-Khozyaystvennovo Obshestva. Moscow, 1926.
Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, and Waterloo, Ontario, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 4, p. 939. All rights reserved. For information on ordering the encyclopedia visit the Herald Press website.
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