A question for the farming folks

Been reading a bit of history and in Anglo Saxon times they got a \”render\” of 7 to 1 on rye, 5 to 1 on wheat.

I assume this means you got 7 or 5 usable grains back from using one grain as seed.

So what\’s the render today? Double, triple that?

11 thoughts on “A question for the farming folks”

  1. I took a class in medieval history at uni (Glasgow) and the lecturer mentioned that in ye olden days the yield was 4 x every seed planted. He once asked a farmer what the yield is today and the farmer guesstimated 120 x every seed planted.

  2. The Pedant-General

    I’d be astonished to see 120x unless each seed produces multiple stalks.

    I can’t see a head of corn having 120 ears on it – 20 quite possibly, but not 120.

    A good chunk of the difference will also be in the harvesting methods and avoidance of losses – you’d lose a lot of corn when harvesting and threshing by hand and that will reduce your overall yield.

  3. Have heard of 3 to one return a thousand years ago in some areas, does depend on soil, climate etc. Good years, bad years, and of course not having people riding through your crop helped a lot. Giving a chunk to the church and the local noble, and not a lot left when factoring keeping some seed to plant next year.

    These days I have heard of return of 50 to one, though whether thats a bad year or good year I don’t know.

  4. Worth pointing out that the Anglo-Saxon estimates are very much guess work. My feeling (as someone who researches the period, but not the agricultural history) is that 3-5 is a bit low, as population was probably higher than was thought when those figures came out, and as trade certainly existed which implies something more of a surplus than was thought in the 1960s which is when these figures were last seriously calculated (to the best of my knowledge – I’d be delighted if there is a more modern estimate). I’d also point out that there is almost no chronicle evidence for famines in the Anglo-Saxon period, which does not imply a particularly low average yield (or implies they were sowing a lot of land with a low yield…).

    Indeed, the low yield is partially ideological I suspect – the authors of agricultural history were generally in the Marxist historical school (not necessarily Marxist by persuasion though) and therefore assumed that the ancient system produced lower yields than feudalism (which would be lower than capitalism, which would be lower than, believe it or not, communism…).

    All that said, a yield of 1:10 would still be good I suspect.

  5. Jesus was a carpenter, but since nearly all his metaphors are agricultural for zero century Palestine we can assume he knew roughly what he was talking about.
    Assuming an even distribution of seed and land we get zero yield from stony ground, X10 from average and a hundredfold at best. This implies an average of (er) X36.

    That intuitively seems a bit high, so taking my socks off to try to do the math, what if the seed and land fertility is a normal distribution?

  6. Seed rates for northern europe are in the ball-park of 80-150Kg/ha (depends on your target population, time of sowing, etc.) and yields up to 10,000kgs/ha.

    So a ballpark of 100 to 1 is in the right order of magnitude for temperate, humid climates.

    Non-irrigated wheat in a hot, arid area (say the Alentejo in Portugal), you would get a yield on average of about 2,000kgs/Ha on a lower sowing rate ie about 20 to 1, maybe a bit more.

  7. Rough ball park figures for wheat – 75kg/acre of seed should get (with the correct fertiliser, chemicals and rain) at least 3 tonnes/acre of crop, potentially up to 4 tonnes if the conditions are good. So a ratio of 40-50 to one.

  8. So … what’s the title Tim?

    I just finished that period (and am on to Henry II now).

    I’m reading my mother’s English history text from when she went to Wheaton (the one in Massachusetts) in the late 1940’s. It must’ve been a good one, because her copy was published in 1916. That, or else, it’s what her professor in the 40’s used when he went to school a generation before. Anyway, it’s A History of England and Greater Britain by Arthur Lyon Cross, Macmillian, NY, 1916. He even has a Wikipedia page that mentions the book (I didn’t write it, but I’m thinking of adding to it).

    For those interested, the book is very well-written and thorough, without being dull. I took it off the shelves to see what it said about Richard III after they found his body a few months back. FWIW, the scholarly version of him written a century ago sounds consistent with the scoliosis they found evidence of, rather than the hunch brought to us by the artistic license of Shakespeare.

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