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Crops and their productivity in former times

 
gardener
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So I am currently researching my paternal line which came from Bohemia (today Czech Republic) and in one church record I found an interesting table on crop productivity starting with the year 1732.

The crops listed are from top to bottom:
Wheat
Rye (I guess, they call it "Korn" which is generic for grain)
Barley
Oats
Peas

The first column is always the amount sowed (not sure about the unit); the second column is the amount threshed.

So it seems that in some years you harvested about the same amount of peas as you put into the ground. Oats seem to have been the most productive with harvests about 5 times the amount of the input.
I think this gives an interesting picture. I have no idea how the relation is today, I guess much higher, and I also guess there are not many deviations from the average.
ETA: I have found another table from the 1800s and there they added a sixth crop vetch. I guess it was used as fodder?

I have also read a book on a different town of my ancestors which is fascinating to read regarding laws what to plant in which quantities and where it was allowed to plant in which area. When I have some time I might write about it as well.


_getreideanbau_anischau.jpg
18th century crops in Bohemia
18th century crops in Bohemia
 
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I know this is an older post, but I found it really fascinating! I know modern agricultural harvests are improved, but I wonder how it compares with home harvests.
 
pollinator
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Location: Clackamas County, OR (zone 7)
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Yes, that is an interesting old-school spreadsheet! I have done some small-scale experiments with grains, and modern yields would have blown their minds back in the 1730s!

I found this site about modern crop yield increases, but it only goes back to 1961:

https://ourworldindata.org/crop-yields

Looking at wheat, the yield has basically doubled since 1961. It currently stands at 3.2 tons per acre, which would be about 100 bushels/acre. Seeding rates vary a bit because there is quite a bit of variation year to year in seed size, and you see that they knew that then as the planted quantity varies; but 1 bushel/acre is a good rule-of-thumb number. So yeah, modern farmers can get 100 fold returns, or about 20 times better yield than peasants in 1732. The world record is something like 250 bu/acre for wheat!

Edit: oops, I did not pay attention, that chart is tonnes per hectare: closer to 50 bu/acre! So modern farmers are not doing all that much better than my weed-choked organic field! Wheat is sort of a bit player, though, Lets not even look at how crazy corn yields are :)

Back in 2019 I made a stab at calculating my yields. I was growing winter wheat in terrible, poorly drained, clay soil. I managed to get 30 bushels/acre, which is still 6 times better! I did some very small experimental patches in my garden raised beds, and there the yield jumped to almost 175 bu/acre! Someday I would like to grow all my own grain, but the processing is a lot of work. With the modern varieties available, you can get amazing yields with just basic organic gardening practices. And with winter wheat, you do not need to irrigate, and in fact, you can harvest sometime in June or July, and then get another crop of something else off the same land over the summer. I found I could put buckwheat in, water the hell out of it, and still get a grain crop by the time frosts rolled around.

Anyway, all this makes me want to plant more grains! I might get some chickens next year, and I might just make them thresh their own food so I dont have to deal with that part.
 
Ann Davis
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Very insightful post! I’ve grown corn and amaranth, but this fall will be my first foray into real cereal crops. I’m doing flax, wheat, and oats. So, has the increase in yield been directly related with breeding then? And would the yield of something like emmer, or Sonoran wheat be more in line with historical yields?
 
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Very Interesting insights.
 
pollinator
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Carl Nystrom wrote:

Edit: oops, I did not pay attention, that chart is tonnes per hectare: closer to 50 bu/acre! So modern farmers are not doing all that much better than my weed-choked organic field! Wheat is sort of a bit player, though, Lets not even look at how crazy corn yields are :)



Since the old chart is from Germany it's probably an idea to look at their yields for wheat not those from the US which are for some reason a lot lower. Germany is running 6.67ton per hectare so over double. or back to your original estimate.

the peas are very interesting sometimes you only get the seed back other times it's 5x I wonder what the big difference was caused by.
 
pollinator
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Carl Nystrom wrote:

Edit: oops, I did not pay attention, that chart is tonnes per hectare: closer to 50 bu/acre! So modern farmers are not doing all that much better than my weed-choked organic field! Wheat is sort of a bit player, though, Lets not even look at how crazy corn yields are :)

Back in 2019 I made a stab at calculating my yields. I was growing winter wheat in terrible, poorly drained, clay soil. I managed to get 30 bushels/acre, which is still 6 times better! I did some very small experimental patches in my garden raised beds, and there the yield jumped to almost 175 bu/acre! Someday I would like to grow all my own grain, but the processing is a lot of work. With the modern varieties available, you can get amazing yields with just basic organic gardening practices. And with winter wheat, you do not need to irrigate, and in fact, you can harvest sometime in June or July, and then get another crop of something else off the same land over the summer. I found I could put buckwheat in, water the hell out of it, and still get a grain crop by the time frosts rolled around.

Anyway, all this makes me want to plant more grains! I might get some chickens next year, and I might just make them thresh their own food so I dont have to deal with that part.



We were just talking to a farmer friend of ours and asking him what everyone was doing with their wheat this year. Wyoming is largely organic winter wheat as our soil and climate are awful. However this year we noticed them bailing the wheat before maturity and some even plowed it under entirely and planted millet. Turns out the Rye has gone crazy in the wheat fields and it's choking everything, including itself, out. They are similar enough in appearance we didn't even realize that we were looking at rye fields and not wheat fields. So the plan for a lot of them is to drop out of the organic certification, plant roundup ready wheat and kill off the rye, then get back into organic. I found that fascinating.
 
Skandi Rogers
pollinator
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elle sagenev wrote:

We were just talking to a farmer friend of ours and asking him what everyone was doing with their wheat this year. Wyoming is largely organic winter wheat as our soil and climate are awful. However this year we noticed them bailing the wheat before maturity and some even plowed it under entirely and planted millet. Turns out the Rye has gone crazy in the wheat fields and it's choking everything, including itself, out. They are similar enough in appearance we didn't even realize that we were looking at rye fields and not wheat fields. So the plan for a lot of them is to drop out of the organic certification, plant roundup ready wheat and kill off the rye, then get back into organic. I found that fascinating.



That seems a strange way to do it, lose 3 years of premium income to kill rye? Rye is commonly grown here and often followed by other grains including on organic fields there must be an easy enough way to get rid of it.
 
elle sagenev
pollinator
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It's about yield. They're getting less wheat because of the rye so the increased price of organic isn't paying out enough to keep them organic
 
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