Dakota Datebook

The Ten Commandments

Monday, November 23, 2009


William C. Palmer’s life was steeped in agriculture. He came from a farming family in Wisconsin, where he was born and raised. For a few years in the midst of his college career, he was in charge of the sub-station of the Minnesota Agricultural College and Experiment Station at Lynd, Minnesota. When he graduated in 1903, he had earned four college degrees—one, of course, in science and agriculture. Before and after that time, he engaged in soil management investigation for the US Bureau of Soil under O. C. Gregg, a man known as “The father of Farmers Institute work.”

In 1910, Palmer joined the staff of the North Dakota Agriculture College in Fargo, now NDSU. That year, the college launched extension work, and Palmer helped organize it. He got the college press service going, which was made up of farm information stories distributed to the dailies and weeklies of the state. In addition, he was in charge of the college’s film and slide service on agricultural topics, and in charge of publicity.

For 35 years, he worked at the NDAC. Finally, he retired in 1945, after spending almost fifty years in agricultural extension and research work. So, William Palmer knew something about his agriculture.
Therefore, when he sent out some rules of farming in pamphlet form to newspapers across the state, people paid attention. So, here are William Palmer’s Ten Commandments of Farming, as printed in the Munich Herald on this date in 1910:

Commandment I: Thou shalt plow deep.
Commandment II: Thou shalt keep the surface loose and level, and the lower soil compact.
Commandment III: Thou shalt add organic matter to the soil.
Commandment IV: Thou shalt summer fallow when rainfall is less than 15 inches.
Commandment V: Thou shalt grow corn or a cultivated crop every two to five years.
Commandment VI: Thou shalt grow clover, alfalfa or some leguminous crop every few years.
Commandment VII: Thou shalt grow early maturing crops.
Commandment VIII: Thou shalt keep down the weeds.
Commandment IX: Thou shalt keep stock.
Commandment X: Thou shalt plant trees.

You may be wondering-what does this mean? Diversified farming, crop rotation and soil conservation. Hallelujah! Palmer’s commandments helped farmers reap what they had sown.

Dakota Datebook by Sarah Walker

The Munich Herald, Nov. 24, 1910
The Fargo Forum, Wednesday, Feb. 15, 1956

This text and audio may not be copied without securing prior permission from Prairie Public.

Dakota Datebook is a project of Prairie Public, in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, with funding from the North Dakota Humanities Council.

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