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So, in my story, the entire world has just gone to absolute crap. The largest war in human history, WW3 in October 1962, has just caused destruction in most of the United States, the Soviet Union, Europe, and populated sections of China.

About half a millennium later, in the year 2468, America is a twisted land, especially the Great Plains of North America. In a 100 miles stretch of land, from North Dakota to Iowa, there is a horrific threat: the Buffalo Men.

The Buffalo Men are a tribe of cow herders who ride on horseback across the Plains. They are pagans, who believe Mother Earth and Father Sky punished mankind for their arrogance and misuse of technology. They often go on raids, burn down cities, kill and enslave people, and other nasty things. They are important to my plot.

But I can’t wrap my head around one fact. The Buffalo Men live in the Great Plains, where farming land is abundant and useful. It would make more sense for them to settle down and farm to get more resources. So, my question is: what is a logical explanation for why the Buffalo Men don’t start farming?

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    $\begingroup$ To my knowledge, the main thing stopping people from starting agriculture usually stems from the lack of a consistent food source. If your Buffalo Men are herding cows, it's likely because they need to keep moving to find more food for the cows to eat. I get the feeling you envision the Great Plains as being vast swathes of farmland, but I'm sure you could invent some reason for that to not be the case. $\endgroup$ – Pleiades Sep 24 '18 at 3:23
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    $\begingroup$ It might be helpful to your worldbuilding to study some real-world history behind an event known as the dust bowl. The short story is that converting vast swaths of land to farmlands can actually be devastating to the local environment under certain conditions. A culture formed around respect for the environment might not take so kindly to outsider notions that would result in radical changes to the land! $\endgroup$ – PowerLuser Sep 24 '18 at 8:02
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    $\begingroup$ WHY SHOULD THEY FARM? If (ant it sounds like it) game is as abundant as farmland (which makes sense) why settle down? Why work your ass off plowing fields when you can just hunt? $\endgroup$ – Hobbamok Sep 24 '18 at 9:41
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    $\begingroup$ They tried to farm but buffalo kept trampling their crops? $\endgroup$ – Darren Bartrup-Cook Sep 24 '18 at 15:24
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    $\begingroup$ This question made me look up why the Sioux and other Native American tribes living in the Great Plains didn't take up farming. Turns out they used to farm quite a bit but stopped when they got horses... $\endgroup$ – Anushka--x Sep 24 '18 at 23:57

12 Answers 12

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Sedentary Lifestyles aren't Necessarily Easier

The problem with being a sedentary farmer is that once you get your seeds in the ground you now have a long standing commitment to care for that plot of land. Folks don't really know nowadays because all our food comes from the grocery store, but pre-industrial farming ain't easy. Its 12 hour work days 7 days a week for months on end, followed by a frenzy of panicked activity. This burst of frenetic labor will hopefully result in a harvest, weather, pests, crop choice, soil chemistry, and water availability permitting. If just one of those variables goes wrong guess what? You better be ready to heavily reduce or quit that whole eating habit until next year. Contrary to popular belief, people did not always experience famines in the dead of winter unless that year was REALLY bad. They starved in the summer because that's the period farthest from the last harvest. Imagine the maddening feeling of starving to death while luxurious green lush plants that aren't bearing fruit yet are growing from the soil. Pre-industrial farming was not fun. It was a ton of work, sometimes for little to no return on investment.

The other problem in a situation where social cohesion has broken down is that you are stuck defending that plot of land. Those lush green crops coming in perfectly (thanks in no small part to your and your entire clan or tribe's slavish back breaking labor) are a huge billboard that says "You could probably pillage the crap out of us." So on top of the grueling labor you also need to figure out how to defend a vary large plot of land. In summary, the reasons why farming sucks are back breaking labor, predatory neighbors, and no guarantee that you will even get fed once it's all done. Last but not least, if things don't go your way you are stuck there suffering through it. You cannot just pack up an entire farm and move it to someplace where conditions are better and attackers are farther away, right?

Or could you....?

Yes You Can

Nomadic Herdsmen are in the simplest terms, mobile farmers. They are simply raising animals instead of crops. If the rain is bad and there isn't enough water for the herd, pack it up and move it. Not enough grasslands to graze? Pack it up and move it. Hostile neighbors you don't think you can fight and win against? Pack it all up and move it. Your options for handling crisis are a lot wider than that of a sedentary farmer. The attributes of this lifestyle have throughout history been attractive enough for entire cultures to form around nomadic herding, many of which have been quite successful and prosperous. When there is enough unoccupied land and there are suitable domesticated species to herd you will always find herdsmen moving from place to place with their animals.

Nomadic Herdsmen Have Historically Been Violent

There is a major downside to being nomadic, and its that you can't really specialize in anything. Those finer things in life that require complex manufacture are not going to be made by nomadic people. See, sedentary farming has its drawbacks, but once it has gotten up and running it tends to produce enough surplus for people to not always have to be farming. These people use this free time to specialize in stuff like making complex goods, selling rare and exotic goods, soldiery and weapons making and then trade their services or wealth with the farmers for food (or declare yourself leader and tax everybody for it). To be sure, tribesmen are usually perfectly willing to trade for things they can't make. But the other problem is that when sedentary agricultural societies begin to do well they tend to explode in population requiring more land, more water, and more space.

After a while the combination of shrinking pastures, lack of complex resources and wealth, and a general tough and mobile unattached lifestyle makes raiding the dirt farmers for things you want more and more attractive. They are rich, you are poor, they are fat, you are scrappy, and just look at em, sitting there with all that cool stuff so much more than they could ever possible carry. Just growing food on all that land they have and not even raising one cow! They're basically begging to be raided!

After a while nomadic herdsmen figure out that following a bunch of dumb animals everywhere isn't as cool as it used to be compared to how profitable jacking a bunch of farmer's stuff is. They still do the nomadic herd thing, they can't be raiding all the time. But come raiding season (usually late summer and early fall) its time to go get some cool new goodies, free coin, and maybe try out some different women who don't smell like horses and cow paddies. Believe it or not entire nations were (pardon the very distateful pun) sacked by nomadic raiders because they had exceptionally pretty women. It is an unfortunate fact of history that rape was a very major motivating force for raids.

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    $\begingroup$ See the whole "people can begin specializing in different fields and trade their services for food" portion of the answer. $\endgroup$ – TCAT117 Sep 24 '18 at 4:18
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    $\begingroup$ By our cultural standards we would consider it theft, because we live in a fairly egalitarian society. In the middle ages Knights, barons, and lords and such were providing valuable services, and paid themselves in the form of tithes and taxation. The nobility's primary concern was organizing military defense, and to do that you need money, food, and men who are learning how to fight instead of how to farm (who need to be paid). $\endgroup$ – TCAT117 Sep 24 '18 at 4:36
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    $\begingroup$ @RobertPaul : please read the second paragraph of the answer again, carefully. The one about being stuck and committed to that plot of land, and how vulnerable to raiding you are. You can't just run and take your farm with you if raiders approach. This is why barons, knights and kings were needed, to provide order and safety. This is why in the early middle ages, when kingdoms were small and weak, nomadic people could often raid them. When kingdoms became stronger and more stable, nomadic people either had to settle down and abandon their old ways (like the Hungarians did) or they died out. $\endgroup$ – vsz Sep 24 '18 at 6:17
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    $\begingroup$ @RobertPaul Barons, knights and kings offer protection against bandits and such for a portion of the harvest. Craftsman and traders trade goods and services that the farmer cannot cultivate/make on their own for a portion of the harvest. $\endgroup$ – ratchet freak Sep 24 '18 at 9:37
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    $\begingroup$ This! Farming is MUCH harder work than hunter-gathering. People only do it when population density rises to the extent that hunter-gathering can't support the population any more. If the population falls enough, people will fall back to hunter-gatherer lifestyle by default. $\endgroup$ – Ben Sep 24 '18 at 11:17
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The greatest problem European settlers had with the Great Plains was the land itself. The endemic grasses were so deep and thick that they would break iron plows. There are other important reasons which prohibited farming; little rainfall, no wood for construction/fences, abundant insects (grasshoppers, Colorado beetle), and lawlessness.

These problems were overcome with technology provided by the coming of the industrial revolution. Steel plows were a major breakthrough, and John Deere's self-scouring steel plow (1846) was a game changer. It was so successful his legacy evolved into a multinational corporation famous for big green tractors.

Other innovations, such as barbed wire (1874), allowed the construction of fences to help keep pesky animals off your farm. The railroads (1866) allowed subsistence farmers to become commercial farmers, as they could export to consumer markets that would have been too far away.

Perhaps the biggest innovation, however, was the windmill (1880). This allowed the pumping and storage of water, which was essential given the lack of rainfall.

It almost goes without saying that modern pesticides were crucial in curbing the damage caused by various crop-munching insect species.

These inventions all occurred from the mid 1800s, requiring industrial technology and infrastructure. Without that farming will be too difficult. Especially given a lawless society.

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    $\begingroup$ All this is true. Actually the Great Plains used to be known as the Great American Desert. My home state in New England has far better soil and more accessible water, but once you have the mechanical plow you have two important requirements: you need the land to be flat and mostly free of rocks so you can use the big machines quickly and easily. That's what the Great Plains has. And farming by machine is so much more efficient, that you can afford to build vast irrigation systems to bring water, and to truck fertilizer in from far away. Take away those systems and it's desert again. $\endgroup$ – workerjoe Sep 24 '18 at 13:05
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    $\begingroup$ @Joe: And if you grew up in the rural northeast (some decades ago), you probably had the experience of hiking through woods and coming upon stone walls and foundations of long-abandoned farmhouses. Once you had all that agricultural tech, most farming simply wasn't profitable there. The farmers that stayed mostly became dairy farmers. $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Sep 24 '18 at 17:20
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    $\begingroup$ The windmill was invented long before 1880. It dates back to antiquity. $\endgroup$ – James Hollis Sep 24 '18 at 23:17
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    $\begingroup$ We need more sources, but after a quick google it seems like the soil in Great Plains, together with the soil in Ukraine/South Russia, Northern China, and Argentina's Pampas, are considered the world's most productive regions with highest soil quality. I'm no domain expert in soils so I can't say for sure. I was aware Ukraine is known for rich soil though. $\endgroup$ – inappropriateCode Sep 25 '18 at 8:20
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    $\begingroup$ I think this answer fits very well with the OP's premise that the buffalo men "believe Mother Earth and Father Sky punished mankind for their arrogance and misuse of technology" If technology is needed in order to become a successful farmer, it makes sense to me that the buffalo men would avoid farming. $\endgroup$ – Michael J. Sep 25 '18 at 21:07
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The American Great Plains may contain abundant and useful farming land now, but that doesn't mean that it always has, or that it'll stay that way. A strong part of why that land is useful is because it has regular rainfall. VERY regular rainfall by comparison to many other regions of the globe. The consistency of weather is its real value, but you have to remember is that weather patterns change.

The Sahara is currently one of the most barren deserts on the planet, but seems to go through a regular 30k year or so cycle of greening, then back to desert.

Several South American civilisations crumbled almost overnight due to drought in previous millennia, and the need for the inhabitants to migrate to find water.

On geological timescales, even Antarctica was a verdant rainforest.

Sure, we're only talking about 500 years but you have to remember that we've just converted these plains to wasteland through nuclear weapons at the beginning of that time. There just isn't enough science (thank goodness) on what would happen to the plains as a result of the nuclear winter, or if other changes to the environment as a result of the war would have cumulative effects on that land over a 500 year period.

Finally, if the farmland is useful for crops, it's also useful for pasturing, meaning that being herders may also be a lifestyle choice. Admittedly, this is less likely from an efficiency perspective; it takes a lot more energy (and water) to herd meat than it does to grow crops, but there could also be a safety factor involved, especially from early on after the war; a static patch of land with your crops on it has to be defended at all costs from raiders and the like, but with a herd you at least have the option to run instead if the odds are not in your favour.

Between ecological change, no access to modern farming technology, and emergent culture, there's probably some plausible reasons for them to do this but ultimately the impact of a nuclear war on farmland is likely to be devastating for at least a generation or two who try to subsist off the land. This would be especially so given the sudden disappearance of modern fertlisers, insecticides, GM seeds, etc.

That might be enough to get people out of the habit.

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  • $\begingroup$ Regular rainfall? Hardly. For example Nebraska with some drought years under 10 inches, while others are over 22 inches. It takes about 15 inches to produce a low yield of corn, with modern intensive farming techniques. Compare with say Florida where there's more rain, more consistently between mid-40s and low 60s of inches. $\endgroup$ – Phil Frost Sep 25 '18 at 13:14
  • $\begingroup$ I question that it takes more energy to herd meat. I think that it takes more land to support a person (you're one level higher on the food chain) but not necessarily that it takes more energy or water. $\endgroup$ – Sherwood Botsford Sep 28 '18 at 14:23
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I understand that you are trying to round out some civilization that you've been thinking about in your head and in this effort I have always found that going to past civilizations for inspiration has fruitful results. I think that you're fairly lucky in that you're working with an alternate history set int America and we can actually take a look at some of the Civilizations that lived in the exact parts of the world that you're interested in and ask the same question - Why were the Great Plains Indians migratory peoples, even after farming was introduced to them?

  1. Farming (successfully) is hard.

Today we have the benefit of seeing these superfarms - of acres and acres of green - and might see this as hard to believe. But before we had motorized farm tools, we had domesticated animals. Before those, we had iron tools. Before those, we had stone tools. Take a look at New America when the Spanish were settling Texas - there were Spanish Friars who knew exactly how to successfully build an irrigation system for their farmlands and it still required them digging a 15 mile Aqueduct (Espada Aqueduct in the 18th century) almost purely by hand to redirect the water necessary to sustain themselves. This also required dams, water locks, and actual Aqueduct officials to go in on a daily basis and say whether or not the aqueduct locks should be lowered or raised based on the day's needs and the water levels. To be short about it, even the simple matter of getting water to crops can be incredibly difficult.

  1. Comanche followed the buffalo.

This is ultimately a reductionist argument on what is an extremely complicated and difficult topic of Plains Indian cultural and societal structure, but even massive reductionist pictures can be sparks of inspiration for worldbuilding. The typical Comanche was born into a society that hunted Buffalo. They did not know any different, and they knew that this was a successful way of life. Males would go out and hunt and women (who definitely had the short end of the stick on this whole deal) would clean, tan, cut, stretch the hide (in addition to raising the children, cooking, and maintaining the household). The buffalo, as we know from history, was an incredible resource to people. The numbers of buffalo at the time were also exorbitant - I have no doubt that the average Plains Indian would look in awe upon the hordes of them that covered the earth and could never guess that any one peoples could hunt them to extinction (spoiler - we did).

  1. At the end of the day, peoples tend to propagate what their mothers and fathers did

Which is just my way of saying, there's a lot of "we don't know why" when it comes to "why did people do this?" We know that they didn't have spreadsheets at the end of the day with a theoretical food yield of farming they could compare to the total food gained through hunting per year. People have a compulsive desire to eat and to have some level of trust in their methodology for fulfilling that desire. They're resistant to change. We may not be able to say "we know why the Plains Indians weren't originally farms" but we can say "we know why generation after generation continued what their fathers did - because it worked".

I would take that into account when making civilizations as part of world building. If you try and map out the why and what of every single instance of peoples, you'll go insane. It's just not a feasible goal. Take a vision you have in mind for a people and go with it. They'll evolve as you think and write more into them, and eventually that evolution will lead to more questions than you began with. You'll never have all the answers - which is my favorite part. It's what makes your creations interesting - give your readers the questions and let them ponder on all the possible solutions.

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  • $\begingroup$ +1 for pointing out that humans often take the easiest path to success. Farming becomes more important when huntable animals (the easy path) begin to deplete. Heck, even fishing is easier than farming. You can (well... usually) catch a fish in an hour. Farming takes months. $\endgroup$ – JBH Sep 24 '18 at 6:25
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    $\begingroup$ @J Stubblefield What do you mean by "The Apache and the Comanche" followed the buffalo"? The Apache usually means the Apache bands of New Mexico and Arizona who did not follow the buffalo, but hunted and farmed and raided in regions that were hardly ever visited by buffalo. There were Plains Apache on the Southern Plains, but they were mostly wiped out by tribes from the east with French supplied guns and by Comanche from the north. The Kiowa Apache were survivors of the Plains Apache who allied with the Kiowa and later with the Comanche. But most Apache never saw buffalo. $\endgroup$ – M. A. Golding Sep 25 '18 at 17:16
  • $\begingroup$ Wrong tribes, but right idea. Some caveats: Buffalo were hard to hunt before horses. Once the natives had horses their population boomed, and they were hunting buffalo at a rate that would have hand them extinct in another 50 years if European settlers hadn't beaten them to it. $\endgroup$ – Sherwood Botsford Sep 28 '18 at 14:21
  • $\begingroup$ You're right @M.A.Golding - I've updated the material to reflect that. To my knowledge the Comanche were a "buffalo" tribe. Also noteworthy is what their diet turned to when they didn't have buffalo - rabbits, seeds, grub (among other things). $\endgroup$ – J Stubblefield Sep 30 '18 at 16:25
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Poor soil quality.

This means its hard to grow crops and the crops have low and inconsistent yields. To account for a larger population, they need to farm much more land than practical due to the lower yields. So you have huge swaths of grasslands and tons of room for potential farms, however there just isn't enough nutrients in the soil to make it effective enough to settle down in one location.

Grass itself is a very tough plant and one of the most abundant. It will try to grow anywhere. Rather than farm grains, you farm animals that live off the grass. This means you don't need to tend to the grass, you just tend the herd. The herd will move along and find fresh batches of grass as it eats its way across the farm lands. You basically get to cover a much larger area and aren't subject to localized events which may cause a crop to potentially fail and waste an entire seasons harvest.

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  • $\begingroup$ There are a lot of problems with agriculture in the great plains, but soil quality isn't one of them. Sure, not dumping tons of synthetic fertilizers will require settling for lower yields, but nevertheless there will be yields. In terms of raw, natural soil quality, that's actually the one thing the great plains has in abundance. $\endgroup$ – Phil Frost Sep 26 '18 at 14:30
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Twentieth century farming relied on industry to achieve its fantastic yields. Hybrid seeds, combine harvesters, tractors, and irrigation pumps are not tools that a society that has reverted to barbarism will be able to re-generate easily. In our world, they took centuries to develop. The profits from vast markets were used to build the factories that made them.

Without the aid of these technologies, crop yields are much lower. (Like 90% to 97% lower.) As shown repeatedly in the Little House on the Prairie series, the Great Plains are prone to natural disasters that make it hard to make a living as a subsistence farmer. The winters are harsh; the summers are hot; sometimes there are droughts; and plagues of locusts cannot be ruled out.

Furthermore, even if a majority of the Buffalo Men decided to settle down and farm, they would likely be wiped out be the remainder. Without the backing of a great power's army, isolated settlers would be at great risk from the violent nomads.

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  • $\begingroup$ All true, and the availability of cheap fossil fuels allowd for cheap transport and farm power to plough, make more machinery, fertilisers, markets, ........... Large scale farming is useless without oil and coal and gas to make it so and make it worth doing. (we have passed peak fossil) $\endgroup$ – KalleMP Sep 25 '18 at 20:04
  • $\begingroup$ @KalleMP -- Nuclear power and electric vehicles can substitute for the fossil fuels. But I don't expect violent nomads to build safe nuclear power plants (nor electric distribution infrastructure). $\endgroup$ – Jasper Sep 25 '18 at 21:08
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the Great Plains, where farming land is abundant and useful

False!

The Great Plains are actually pretty terrible for agriculture. We can use them today by pumping the Ogallala aquifer dry at an unsustainable rate, and through a stable society where a few years of drought mean an insurance claim, not starvation and death.

Great plains Indians largely survived on a nomadic lifestyle, following buffalo herds for sustenance. Agriculture was the exception, largely limited by the availability of water. Security and peace is also a necessary input, if one intends to be around for the harvest.

In modern times, we obtain water from rivers and underground aquifers. Aquifers can be pumped dry, as is happening to the Ogallala aquifer today. Rivers aren't immune to depletion either. Aquifers can take hundreds or thousands of years to replenish.

So a return to a nomadic, buffalo-based way of life in that area is really not difficult to imagine, based on both historical context and modern scientific fact. Coupled with a societal collapse which means a loss of the infrastructure to drill wells and produce/maintain center-pivot irrigation systems, and a mature and stable economy that can sustain farmers through years of drought you should have little difficulty explaining your Buffalo Men, while covertly educating your readers about a real fact of modern life!

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Other answers have considered soil quality. The major missing element for agriculture though is

No good quality human-edible plants which can keep you fed all year.

In order to make farming work, you need plants which you can eat, and they need to keep you going all year. Any gaps, you need to be able to store your produce to tide you over.

European and Asian agriculture is largely based on grains of various types of grass. If no current varieties of grass have big enough seeds with enough energy density to make it worthwhile collecting them for food, or if the grass itself cannot be eaten or stored effectively, then that won't work.

Other agriculture relies on plants with edible roots. This is perhaps more reliable, because there are many suitable plants all round the world. However you need these roots to feed you all year. If they only have limited growing seasons because of the weather, or if they simply don't store well, then you're going to spend a lot of time hungry.

Animals simply don't have this problem. They feed themselves, and you can eat a few over the lean months.

When the good weather comes, of course you can pick fruit and vegetables in the area around you, taking advantage of a glut as it happens. You may even be able to store some of it. But that's luxury food. What really keeps you alive in winter is your animals.

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    $\begingroup$ The Americas do have a native grain though -- corn! $\endgroup$ – Shalvenay Sep 24 '18 at 22:25
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    $\begingroup$ Although agriculture wasn't widespread in the great plains, it did happen. The Pawnee are a good example, living mostly on agriculture, including corn (a grass), beans, and squash. That is until Europeans came along and introduced horses, at which point hunting bison got a lot easier so they did that also. $\endgroup$ – Phil Frost Sep 24 '18 at 23:26
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for the info, guys. Since that assertion was clearly wrong then, I've deleted that sentence to improve the answer. $\endgroup$ – Graham Sep 25 '18 at 9:31
  • $\begingroup$ Although there is no reason those crops would survive, especially if sterile seed technology becomes widespread. The native forms of those plants are mostly extinct. $\endgroup$ – John Sep 26 '18 at 3:15
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In a dystopian future, we might not have the ability to make chemical fertilizers anymore (especially if we've run out of phosphorus by then. Places that are fertile today might not stay that way after centuries of taking from the land with very little returning. It's not just a case of taking valuable nutrients from the soil, either, but destroying the crucial ecosystem of insects, fungi, and bacteria.

Knowledge was lost before the land could be restored

In theory, it could take multiple generations to rejuvenate the land the way our ancestors used to do over 200 years ago: rotate which fields are used as pasture and which ones are for crops. The Buffalo Men could have been descendants of farmers who bet on being able to return to a 2-year rotation after a few years of herding exclusively in an attempt to return some of the lost organic content in the soil. This plan took longer than expected and few people remain that have the agricultural know-how to do it.

Lack of seeds to plant

It might also be a case of not having any viable seeds anymore. Some seeds last longer than others, but if you lose the ability to preserve them (ie. refrigeration), there might not be enough seeds left for everyone who wants to take up the hoe by the time the land is restored.

Reliance on livestock sabotaged the restoration efforts

Documentary on the restoration of the Loess Plateau.

In 1995, experts across the world were called in to help restore the Loess Plateau in China (an area the size of France), which had been severely degraded after centuries of farming. They cited uncontrolled overgrazing as the biggest reason the land could never recover. Without the Chinese government to compel the people to follow the restoration plan, at best it could have taken much longer than the ~20 years this documentary covers to see an improvement. At worst, the land gets worse.

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  • $\begingroup$ the seed issue could be come a real issue if sterile seed technology gains wide usage. $\endgroup$ – John Sep 26 '18 at 3:19
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Wildfires

Fire can burn all your crop. It can also burn the grass that animals feed on, but there should always be grass, and hence animals, somewhere on the great plains.

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Most of the answers here focus on ecology so I'll focus more on culture/politics instead

Hostile Culture

Your 'Neo-Tengriist' tribe are warlike by culture and adopted the appropriate lifestyle to suit them, or maybe it was the other way round. Being nomadic means they are unable to produce the more specialised goods that a sedentary lifestyle and the associated infrastructure would provide, but they do so on purpose. They make it a point to seize what they lack from their neighbours by force of arms. Nomadism also helps in mitigating the resulting military retaliation since they can pack up everything and run. Their ancestry would probably include a line of extremely skillful military leaders like Subutai, which would embolden their descendants to interact with their neighbours primarily through violence.

This sort of raiding lifestyle tends to result in taking a large number of slaves, which is actually a pretty big incentive for transitioning to a sedentary way of life. To mitigate this, you can simply have your tribe use their slaves in ways that produce an extremely high attrition rate, possibly ritual sacrifice. If not, you can simply have them self-regulate. Their leaders are aware of the burden of having many slaves and don't wish for the tribe to become shackled by this. They want their descendants to remain warriors who prey on their inferior neighbours at will, so they opt to execute most of their prisoners and only keep a 'skeleton crew' as slaves.

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Say they tried farming early in their history, but a dust bowl-type event wiped out all their farms so they basically gave up on farming and became hunters instead, like the Native Americans in the centuries of old.

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