Explaining Increases in Crop Yields Using Probate Inventories and Auctions in North-Eastern France, 1700-1839.

Jeremy Hayhoe, Université de Moncton

This paper presents the results from an analysis of 400 probate auctions of standing grain and 600 probate inventories of farmers in the Burgundian flatlands along the Saône River from 1700 to 1839. This is a region of small farms, practicing mixed agriculture that is therefore quite different from areas of France where substantial increases in agricultural productivity have been shown to have occurred in the eighteenth century (the cereal plains of northern France, and areas of specialization). Analysis of the probate records confirm, however, that there was a very substantial increase in crop yields over the eighteenth century, on an order of about 50 percent on a per hectare basis. While I will briefly present the evidence for this increase, my paper will focus on what probate inventories show in terms of modifications to agricultural techniques and technologies that help explain it. Villages continued to enforce biennial or triennial rotation in the region, with little to no switch to artificial meadows or adoption of multiple-year rotations of the type that many elites recommended. That said, there is a demonstrable trend toward a significant reduction in “rested” fallow, with crops such as maize and various legumes being found on an ever-increasing proportion of the fallow fields, not dissimilar to developments in Alsace. The probate inventories suggest some change to the labor inputs especially in terms of a more careful preparation of the soil before planting, as evidenced by an increasing diversity of plow types and harrows. There was also an increase in the number of farm animals that led to the production of greater quantities of manure, made possible by very substantial increases in the production of hay. Other causes are more speculative, such as increased attention to seed selection and the use of seed preparations.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 210. Work in agrarian times and societies