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The Red Queen and the Hard Reds: Productivity Growth in American Wheat, 1800–1940

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  • Olmstead, Alan L.
  • Rhode, Paul W.

Abstract

Standard treatments of U.S. agriculture assert that, before the 1930s, productivity growth was almost exclusively the result of mechanization rather than biological innovations. This article shows that U.S. wheat production witnessed wholesale changes in varieties and cultural practices during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Without these changes, vast expanses of the wheat belt could not have sustained commercial production and yields everywhere would have plummeted due to the increasing severity of insects, diseases, and weeds. Revised estimates of Parker and Klein’s productivity calculations indicate that biological innovations contributed roughly half of labor-productivity growth between 1839 and 1909.

Suggested Citation

  • Olmstead, Alan L. & Rhode, Paul W., 2002. "The Red Queen and the Hard Reds: Productivity Growth in American Wheat, 1800–1940," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 62(4), pages 929-966, December.
  • Handle: RePEc:cup:jechis:v:62:y:2002:i:04:p:929-966_00
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    1. repec:oup:apecpp:v:40:y:2018:i:3:p:421-444. is not listed on IDEAS
    2. Richard Hornbeck, 2010. "Barbed Wire: Property Rights and Agricultural Development," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 125(2), pages 767-810.
    3. Izdebski, Adam & Koloch, Grzegorz & Słoczyński, Tymon & Tycner, Marta, 2016. "On the use of palynological data in economic history: New methods and an application to agricultural output in Central Europe, 0–2000AD," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 59(C), pages 17-39.
    4. Cormac Ó Gráda, 2011. "Forum 2011," Development and Change, International Institute of Social Studies, vol. 42(1), pages 49-69, January.
    5. Mundlak, Yair, 2003. "Economic Growth: Lessons From Two Centuries Of American Agriculture," Discussion Papers 14986, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Department of Agricultural Economics and Management.
    6. Julian M. Alston & William J. Martin & Philip G. Pardey, 2014. "Influences of Agricultural Technology on the Size and Importance of Food Price Variability," NBER Chapters, in: The Economics of Food Price Volatility, pages 13-54, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    7. Kym Anderson, 2016. "Agricultural Trade, Policy Reforms, and Global Food Security," Palgrave Studies in Agricultural Economics and Food Policy, Palgrave Macmillan, number 978-1-137-46925-0, September.
    8. Edward L. Glaeser, 2013. "A Nation of Gamblers: Real Estate Speculation and American History," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 103(3), pages 1-42, May.
    9. Lichtenberg, Erik, 2004. "Some Hard Truths About Agriculture and the Environment," Agricultural and Resource Economics Review, Cambridge University Press, vol. 33(1), pages 24-33, April.
    10. Pardey, Philip G. & Alston, Julian M. & Ruttan, Vernon W., 2010. "The Economics of Innovation and Technical Change in Agriculture," Handbook of the Economics of Innovation, in: Bronwyn H. Hall & Nathan Rosenberg (ed.), Handbook of the Economics of Innovation, edition 1, volume 2, chapter 0, pages 939-984, Elsevier.
    11. Joseph Davis & Vanguard Group; Christopher Hanes, 2004. "Primary Sector Shocks and Early American Industrialization," 2004 Meeting Papers 154, Society for Economic Dynamics.
    12. Brunt, Liam & Cannon, Edmund, 2015. "Variations in the price and quality of English grain, 1750–1914: Quantitative evidence and empirical implications," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 58(C), pages 74-92.
    13. Sharp, Paul & Weisdorf, Jacob, 2013. "Globalization revisited: Market integration and the wheat trade between North America and Britain from the eighteenth century," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 50(1), pages 88-98.
    14. Wright, Brian D. & Pardey, Philip G. & Nottenburg, Carol & Koo, Bonwoo, 2007. "Agricultural Innovation: Investments and Incentives," Handbook of Agricultural Economics, in: Robert Evenson & Prabhu Pingali (ed.), Handbook of Agricultural Economics, edition 1, volume 3, chapter 48, pages 2533-2603, Elsevier.
    15. Parman, John, 2012. "Good schools make good neighbors: Human capital spillovers in early 20th century agriculture," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 49(3), pages 316-334.
    16. Rajabrata Banerjee & Martin Shanahan, 2016. "The Contribution of Wheat to Australian Agriculture from 1861 to 1939," Australian Economic History Review, Economic History Society of Australia and New Zealand, vol. 56(2), pages 125-150, July.
    17. Edward L. Glaeser, 2013. "A Nation Of Gamblers: Real Estate Speculation And American History," NBER Working Papers 18825, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.

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