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

50 Pages Posted: 28 Mar 2002 Last revised: 3 Feb 2015

See all articles by Alan L. Olmstead

Alan L. Olmstead

University of California, Davis - Department of Economics

Paul W. Rhode

University of Michigan at Ann Arbor; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Date Written: March 2002

Abstract

The standard treatment of U.S. agriculture asserts that, before the 1930s, productivity growth was almost exclusively the result of mechanization rather than biological innovations. This paper shows that, to the contrary, U.S. wheat production witnessed a biological revolution during the 19th and early 20th centuries with wholesale changes in the varieties grown and cultural practices employed. 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. Our revised estimates of Parker and Klein's productivity calculations indicate that biological innovations account for roughly one-half of labor productivity growth between 1839 and 1909.

Suggested Citation

Olmstead, Alan L. and Rhode, Paul W., The Red Queen and the Hard Reds: Productivity Growth in American Wheat, 1800-1940 (March 2002). NBER Working Paper No. w8863. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=305607

Alan L. Olmstead

University of California, Davis - Department of Economics ( email )

One Shields Drive
Davis, CA 95616-8578
United States

Paul W. Rhode (Contact Author)

University of Michigan at Ann Arbor ( email )

500 S. State Street
Ann Arbor, MI 48109
United States

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

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