Chapter 11b, Part 1: Rent -- Wheat
15 A moderately fertile wheat field produces more food for man than the best pasture of equal extent.
- Though its wheat cultivation requires much more labour, the surplus which remains after replacing the seed and maintaining the labour is much greater.
- If a pound of meat was never supposed to be worth more than a pound of bread, this greater surplus would bring more profit for the farmer and more rent to the landlord.
- This is universal in the rude beginnings of agriculture.
16 But the relative values of bread and meat are very different in the different periods of agriculture.
- In its rude beginnings, the unimproved wilds are all abandoned to cattle.
- There was more meat than bread
- Bread had the highest price due to high competition.
Antonio de Ulloa
- Ulloa says that 50 years ago at Buenos Aires, an ox was priced at 4 reals or 21 pence halfpenny sterling.
- Oxen cost little more than the labour of catching them.
- But everywhere, wheat requires plenty of labour.
- Labour in Argentina could not be very cheap because it lies on the Rio de Plata river.
- It is the main artery from the Potosi silver mines in Bolivia to Europe.
- In the advanced state of agriculture, there is more bread than meat.
- It raises the price of meat higher than bread.
By extending cultivation, the unimproved wilds become insufficient to supply the demand for meat.
- Much of the cultivated lands must be employed in rearing and fattening cattle.
- The price of cattle therefore must be sufficient to pay:
- the labour for tending them, plus
- the rent of the landlord
- the profit of the farmer for tillage
- The cattle bred on uncultivated land have the same price as those reared on improved land.
- The proprietors of uncultivated land profit by cattle.
- They raise their rent with the price of their cattle.
- Less than a century ago, meat was cheaper than oatmeal-based bread in the highlands of Scotland.
- The union opened the market of England to Scottish cattle.
- Their ordinary price is now three times that at the beginning of the century.
- The rents of many highland estates have tripled or quadrupled.
- In Great Britain, a pound of the best meat is currently worth more than two pounds of the best white bread.
In the progress of improvement, the rent and profit of unimproved pasture come to be regulated by the rent and profit of improved pasture.
- Improved pasture is then regulated by the rent and profit of wheat
- Wheat is an annual crop.
- Meat is a crop which requires four or five years to grow.
- An acre of land will produce much less meat than wheat.
- The inferiority of the quantity of meat must be compensated by a superiority of price
- If it was more than compensated, more wheat land would be turned into pasture.
- If it was not compensated, pasture would be brought back into wheat.
This equality between the rent and profit of land for grass (food for cattle) and for wheat (food for humans) takes place only in the improved lands of a great country.
- However, the rent and profit of grass in some local situations are much superior to the rent and profit from wheat.
In a big town, the demand for milk and forage for horses raises the value of grass over wheat.
- However, this local rise in grass value cannot be communicated to distant lands.
Some countries are so populous that the whole territory has been insufficient for the subsistence of their inhabitants.
- Their lands were principally employed in grass production
- They imported wheat from foreign countries.
Holland is currently in this situation, as was ancient Italy during Roman prosperity.
- According to Cicero, Cato said:
- To feed well was the first and most profitable thing in the management of a private estate
- To feed tolerably well, the second
- To feed ill, the third.
- To plough, the fourth
- Tillage was very much discouraged in Italy because of the very low price of wheat from the conquered provinces.
- Those provinces were obliged to give 10% of their produce at 6-pence a peck to the republic as an alternative to taxes.
- This low price sunk the price of the wheat produced from Latium (the ancient territory of Rome) and discouraged its cultivation.
In an open country which mainly produces wheat, grass land will frequently rent higher than any nearby wheat field.
- Grass land is convenient for the maintenance of the cattle for wheat cultivation.
- Its high rent is paid from the wheat lands cultivated by those cattle.
- This high rent is likely to fall if the neighbouring lands are completely enclosed.
- The present high rent of enclosed land in Scotland is due to the scarcity of enclosures.
- The advantage of enclosure is greater for pasture than for wheat.
- It saves the labour of guarding the cattle.
- Those cattle feed better when undisturbed by their keeper or his dog.
24 The rent and profit of the common vegetable food of the people naturally regulates the rent and profit of pasture where there are no enclosures.25
The use of turnips, carrots, cabbages, etc. as alternative cattle feed for grass, should reduce meat prices over bread.
- In the London market, the current price of meat is lower than its price in the beginning of the last century, relative to bread.
In the appendix to the Life of Prince Henry, Doctor Birch listed meat prices commonly paid by that prince.
- Four quarters of an ox weighing 600 pounds usually cost him 2,280 pence or 380 pence per 100 pounds.
- Prince Henry died on November 6, 1612 at 19 years old.
Historian Thomas Birch27
In March 1763, there was a parliamentary inquiry into the causes of the high prices of provisions.
- A Virginia merchant then had victualled his ships for 288-300 pence the hundred weight of beef, considered as the ordinary price.
- In that dear year, he paid 324 pence.
- However, this high price in 1764 is 56 pence cheaper than the ordinary price paid by prince Henry for the same best beef, fit to be salted for distant voyages. [380-324]
Prince Henry paid 3.8 pence per pound of ox.
- The choice pieces were sold for not less than 4.5 pence or 5 pence per pound by retail.
In the parliamentary enquiry in 1764, the price of the coarse pieces of the best beef was from 1.75-2.75 pence.
- The choice pieces were 4 pence and 4.5 pence per pound.
- This was 0.5 pence dearer than the same pieces sold in March.
- But even this high price is still much cheaper than the ordinary retail price in prince Henry's time.
30From 1600-1612, the average price of the best wheat at the Windsor market was 459.5 pence the quarter of nine Winchester bushels.
31 But from 1752-1764, the average price of the best wheat was 501.5 pence.
32 From 1600-1612, wheat was much cheaper and meat was much dearer than from 1752-1764.
33 In all great countries, most of the lands are employed in producing food for men, such as wheat, or food for cattle, such as pasture.
- The rent and profit of food-producing lands regulate the rent and profit of all other cultivated land.
- If those other lands afforded less rent and profit than food-producing lands, they would be soon turned into wheat or pasture.
- If those other lands afforded more, the food-producing lands would soon be turned to the produce of those other lands.
Those new productions which require more expence for improvement, will afford more rent or profit than its former produce.
- However, this superiority will seldom be more than a reasonable compensation for this superior expence.
In hop, fruit, and kitchen gardens, the landlord's rent and the farmer's profit are greater than those of wheat or grass fields.
- But its preparation is more expensive.
- Hence a greater rent becomes due to the landlord of gardens.
- It requires a more attentive and skilful management, giving more profit to the farmer.
- The hop and fruit crops too are more precarious.
- Its price must afford something like the profit of insurance.
- Gardeners are not commonly over-recompensed.
- Their delightful art is practised by so many rich people for amusement.
- It is not so profitable because their rich customers can supply themselves.
The advantage the landlord derives from such improvements were never greater than what was sufficient to compensate their expence.
- In ancient husbandry, a well-watered kitchen garden yielded the most valuable produce after the vineyard.
- Democritus wrote about husbandry 2,000 years ago.
- He was regarded as one of the fathers of husbandry.
- He thought that kitchen gardens should not be enclosed.
- He said the profit would not compensate the cost of a stone wall, while sun-baked bricks required constant repairs.
- Columella, who wrote about Democritus, does not deny it.
- He proposes a very frugal enclosure with a hedge of brambles and briars acting as a lasting and an impenetrable fence not commonly known in Democritus' time.
- Palladius adopts the opinion of Columella which was recommended before by Varro.
- In the judgment of those ancient improvers, the produce of a kitchen garden was little more than sufficient to pay the extraordinary expence of watering in warm countries.
- In most of Europe, a kitchen garden is not presently supposed to deserve a better enclosure than that recommended by Columella.
- In Great Britain and some northern countries, a wall is needed for the finer fruits.
- Their price must be sufficient to pay the cost of building and maintaining that wall.
- The fruit-wall that frequently surrounds the kitchen garden is a cost which its own produce could seldom afford.
Next: Chapter 11c: Wine Tobacco Sugar Rice Potatoes