Evaluating the Effectiveness of Yield-Raising Strategies in Medieval England: An Econometric Approach
This paper employs multiple regression analysis to evaluate the effectiveness of yield-raising techniques available to medieval farm managers (reeves) using a panel dataset of 49 manors held by the Bishop of Winchester from 1349-70. There are three main interesting findings. First, annual weather variation, modelled with climate reconstruction, was highly significant in explaining annual yield variation in wheat, barley, and oat yields, though the weather influenced each grain differently. Second, there is evidence that planting leguminous fodder crops and livestock stocking rates had small or even negative effects on grain yields. Finally, there is indirect evidence that reeves responded to economic incentives in allocating labour inputs such as manuring, weeding, harvesting, and gleaning among their crops, giving them a small ability to adjust their output based on economic incentives. These findings complicate our understanding of the agricultural revolution. The ineffectiveness of short-run yield-raising strategies employed in open field agriculture would support Overton's traditional argument of the importance of enclosure for the gains in agricultural productivity. However, the whispers of price responsiveness on the manors might suggest that open fields were becoming more efficient, supporting Allen's argument that the first agricultural revolution was carried out by small farmers on open fields.
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