The pros and cons of farmer’s specialisation

The book with a long title Rolnictvo na pozdně středověkém Chebsku: sociální mobilita, migrace a procesy pustnutí (in translation Peasantry in late medieval Cheb region: social mobility, migration and processes of desertification) brought many interesting information on the topic. However, one passage containing general conclusions about the advantages and disadvantages of agriculture focused on crop or livestock production was an eye-opener for me. Although the individual conclusions may seem obvious, I admit that I have never raised such questions. Yet these conclusions have general validity not only for the medieval period but for other areas of the country as well.

On agricultural production, Klír summarises (p. 222) the following: 

  • grain yields were relatively certain and predictable in the long term; 
  • good yields alternated with bad ones, but on average they were more or less equal; 
  • yield fluctuations did not usually affect all areas equally, so a complete failure was unlikely; 
  • fields as a means of production could also not be lost through natural or social disasters; only the yield in a particular year could be lost; 
  • any yield fluctuations could be overcome by using stocks from previous years and also by credit.

From a peasant point of view, cattle breeding had serious limitations (p. 223–4):

  • cattle could be lost due to natural or social disasters, and the farmer lost not only the annual yield but also the means of production; 
  • the disaster usually affected the whole farm, and the loss could be complete; 
  • the cost of rearing cattle and processing milk rose due to the need to have sufficient meadows, the need to integrate additional labour all year round and to contribute to the in-kind remuneration of the village shepherd.

Thus, the costs of rearing and reproducing cattle could rise dramatically and suddenly in certain years.“ Despite these constraints, however, if the subsistence threshold has been crossed, then cattle breeding could bring in money relatively quickly and, unlike grain farming, could open the way to wealth accumulation, albeit at high risk.

KLÍR, Tomáš. Rolnictvo na pozdně středověkém Chebsku: sociální mobilita, migrace a procesy pustnutí. Vydání první. Praha: Univerzita Karlova, nakladatelství Karolinum, 2020. 598 pp. ISBN 978-80-246-4559-9.

Napsat komentář

Vaše e-mailová adresa nebude zveřejněna. Vyžadované informace jsou označeny *