Farming Systems in the Lake Vänern Region- A Study of Early Modern Farming in Western Sweden

By Ulf Jansson 1998

Swedish title: Odlingssystem i Vänerområdet. En studie av tidigmodernt jordbruk i Västverige. Meddelanden från kulturgeografiska institutionen vid Stockholms universitet 103. Stockholm

This dissertation deals primarily with the organisation of farming, and the combination and rotation of crops during the period 1550–1750 in a region in western Sweden. The overall aim of the study is to shed light on how and why the fields and meadows were organised the way they were.

Chapter One: Introduction - The Pre-Industrial Farming

The first chapter begins with an overview of various perspectives used in studies of pre-industrial farming. It is argued that the farming system is best understood if we adopt a perspective there the agent, the land-user, is given a central role. He or she is considered to decide how to conduct the production at the farm. This decision was controlled (restricted) by several factors, which could be divided into two groups, the natural and the societal factors. These factors limit the farmers’ optional strategies. In the literature different writers attribute varying degree of importance to these limitations. Some consider the natural factors to be of paramount significance whereas others maintain that e.g. social or cultural factors take precedence over the natural conditions. In order to understand the decision reached by the farmer we must address both factors. It is argued here that little is known of economical aspects in Sweden during this period as far as farming systems are concerned.

A number of spatial models and theories are also described and discussed: the simple diffusion, von Thünen’s model, and the centre-periphery model presented by Wallerstein and Braudel. In a study it is important to choose the scale of the area under investigation. Different phenomena are visible at various scale-levels. It is crucial to work with different aggregations, i.e. with both local and regional levels.

Finally the question of regional specialisation and the division of labour is examined. These concepts are important in both Wallerstein’s and von Thünen’s work. The alleged natural economy of the Middle Ages is probably not valid, since a circulation of goods can be monitored from at least at this period. Both at the local and the regional level the production varied. In Sweden there was a division of labour at least during the 16th century

Chapter Two: The Field and Fallow System as an Object

In the beginning of this chapter the concepts pertaining to the organisation of fields and the use of fallow are discussed. In Swedish, as in other languages, the definitions of field systems are barely precise. Two approaches can be found, the first one emphasising the amount of the arable land which is lying fallow, the second focusing on the number of fields. Sometimes, but not always, there is a correlation between the number of fields and the proportion lying fallow. As it is important to distinguish between the two, in this study the field system (gärdessystem) refers to the organisation of the arable fields whereas the fallow system (trädessystem) deals with the amount of arable land lying fallow.

In what follows, an overview of the fallow and field systems in early modern Sweden is presented. The most common fallow system was that with half lying fallow and no fallow at all, followed by the three-field system with one third in fallow. There were other types of system, but they have not been studied in detail nor were they widespread. On the whole, it is possible to present a fairly accurate picture of the distribution of various Swedish field systems. It is however notable that some regions are poorly investigated. One such region is western Sweden, where the studies have been concentrated to the central part of Västergötland.

The first question is whether the field and fallow systems actually altered during the early modern period. Some argue that there were few changes before the 17th century, others that the one-field system was superseded by a two-field system and later on a three-field system. This evolution was considered conformable to law and has been integrated in a theoretical model proposed by David Hannerberg. It is however supported by few empirical results.

Some reasons for using fallow have been discussed In the literature. According to Myrdal four major reasons can be isolated: 1) returning the nutrients to the soil, 2) tilling for weed control, 3) grazing for the cattle on the fallow and 4) the fact that it is hard to use winter-sown crops without fallow. The use of the fallow for grazing has in various regions of Sweden frequently been discussed by geographers and historians.

Many scholars have considered the amount of fallow and paid relatively little attention to the combination and rotation of crops. It is important to incorporate the different cereals in the analysis.

Productivity is a crucial concept. Furthermore, it is essential to distinguish between land and livestock productivity on the one hand and labour productivity on the other. We must ask, which of them was the more decisive in the pre-industrial agriculture. In one geographical and social setting the limitation might be land and in another the available labour-force.

The major factors which govern the individual agent’s choice were identified and combined in a figure. This figure symbolises the knowledge which is fundamental to our understanding of the farming system. The factors can be grouped in three types: local, natural and institutional. The major institutional factors are the land-ownership, the type of agricultural enterprise and the historical ‘legacy’, i.e. the sum of local knowledge and investment made on the farm. The natural factors consist of the physical landscape and the climate. The local factors, which the farmer himself could control, were the needs for pasture, manure and the choice of crops.

Chapter Three: The Geography of the Investigated Area

The third chapter begins with a general description of the natural landscape and the administrative division of the area under investigation into parishes, hundreds and counties. Some of the principal traits of the settlement history and other changes in the region are also described.

The local iron industry expanded during the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries. At an early stage, during the 16th century, iron production was confined to a restricted area in eastern Värmland.. During the following centuries both blast-furnaces and hammers were located further and further away from the Medieval iron-production region. Most of the early modern expansion of metal working in Sweden did in fact occur in the northern part of the investigated area.

In contrast to eastern and southern Sweden, the Medieval towns were relatively few. Furthermore they were located mainly inland and not by water. During the 16th and the 17th centuries the Crown was eager to found new towns in order to regulate the existing trade in the region. These new towns on Lake Vänern expanded and soon dominated the local trade.

Chapter Four: Method and Questions

The first three chapters deal with the theoretical framework, the concept of field and fallow systems and the geography of western Sweden. Some of the conclusions are that the physical layout of the fields cannot be studied separately from the production, i.e. the sort of cereals and the general type of farming system, whether it is directed towards cattle-raising or arable crops. Moreover, we must comprehend the historical and geographical context of the farming systems. Two factors worked to enable the farmers of western Sweden a to perceive the benefits of altering the farming system. The first was the expansion of the iron industry, which created a growing market for foodstuffs, and the second the freedom of the farmers in western Sweden to operate on the market. Unlike the situation elswhere in the Kingdom, the taxes were not collected in kind. In order to be able to pay the taxes the farmers had to convert their products into money. The study therefore postulates that the early modern market was decisive for the agriculture and ultimately the agent’s choice of farming system.

The investigation is directed towards a thorough crutiny of large-scale cadastral maps dating from the period before the enclosures in the 1750’s. It emphasises the actual layout of the fields and the fallow system, at both village and farm level. This information must be contrasted with the overall production. Firstly the stock-breeding, which can be monitored by various fiscal records, such as tax ledgers and toll-registers that show how many animals were transported to and from different towns. Secondly, the cereal-production which can be reconstructed through tithe-registers.

Chapter Five: Field and Fallow Systems

The information on the actual organisation of the farming was obtained by scrutiny of about 5500 maps from the period 1630–1750. The maps were made during two different periods, the first one from the 1640’s and the second ranging from the late 17th century to 1750. The information is unevenly distributed through the area, the early surveys in particular being grouped in a restricted number of hundreds, since the surveyor often worked in one hundred at a time. The later maps are more evenly scattered. They were made by different surveyors and for various purposes. The cadastral maps provide detailed information on the number of fields, the amount in fallow, the area of the arable and the number of hay-loads which each village or farm could produce.

A regional presentation of the field and fallow system was made. We can summarise some of the results for the mid 17th century even though we lack information from some regions. In the south the system with no fallow at all predominated. In eastern Västergötland the system with one third in fallow was the most common. In western Västergötland and the northern part of the province the information does not suffice for a clear picture, but two-field and three-field systems seem predominant.

In Värmland only the western part was surveyed and the maps are difficult to interpret. It is however clear that most farms allowed some of their arable land to lie in fallow. In the west, we find farms with one fifth, one sixth, and one seventh in fallow. In southern Värmland, i.e. Näs hundred, one fifth or one quarter in fallow predominated. I Jösse hundred one fifth to half was left in fallow. In the north, in Fryksdal hundred, the fields could number as many as eleven. In the northern part of Fryksdal however most of the farms had only one field.

For the period 1680 to 1750, it is possible to investigate the field and fallow systems thoroughly. In the south we find the one-field system, with no fallow. The two-field systems were found in three regions, in western Västergötland, in the plains of Dalsland and in a limited area in northern Västergötland. The systems differed however in western Västergötland, where there was no forest or waste; instead the entire village was divided by one fence into two parts which were alternately used as arable land and meadow on the one hand and pasture on the other. In Dalsland and in northern Västergötland however the meadows were normally enclosed from the arable. Furthermore, at least in northern Västergötland, forest and other types of pasture existed outside the infield.

In eastern Värmland – a region that lacks information from the previous period – and in northern and eastern Västergötland the most common fallow system allowed one third to lie in fallow. Some farms practised other rotations with e.g. one fourth in fallow. In the northern part of eastern Värmland, it was common to set aside some parts of the arable, for use as meadows. In central Värmland the amount of fallow varied between one fourth, one fifth and one sixth. The further west we go the smaller the proportion of fallow becomes.

In Dalsland the information is less precise than in other regions. Apart from the area with two-field systems it was common to find three-field systems and further to the west, as in Värmland, small fractions of the arable were left to lie fallow.

There are regional differences between the field versus fallow systems, but there was also a structural difference. Small farms, crofts and newly settled farms with a relatively small acreage often allowewd nothing to lie fallow. On the other side of the scale, manors and estates also differed from the surrounding freehold farmers. These large farms often deviated in the organisation of fences and fields and sometimes in their the rotation. The estates usually allowed some of the arable land to lie fallow. In the region where one-field systems prevailed, the larger farms often used a four-field system with one fourth in fallow. There is no easy explanation for these exceptions from the regional field and fallow systems but the answer is probably to be found in connection with the organisation of the labour. In the former case, with the crofts and small farms, the family did not have full control of their labour. They were often called upon to work on the landowner’s farm. In the latter, with the estates, the situation is reversed, the landowner could organise and have access to a workforce, which could be adjusted to his or her needs. In both cases the conditions differed from those with which an agent on a family farm would have to deal.

An analysis of the relation between the number of fields and the amount in fallow revealed that there was a correlation between one-, two-, three- and four-field systems and the amount of fallow, i.e. farms with a two-field systems often lay half in fallow and a farm with a three-field system lay one third in fallow and so on. The farms and hamlets which allowed one fifth or one sixth of their land to lie fallow, did not display the same simple correlation with five- or six-field systems.

Changes of the farming systems’ spatial organisation can be observed in several places. A number of processes have been highlighted, the transition of one-field to four-field systems, one-field to three-field systems and two-field to three-field systems. It is also possible to perceive features on the maps which indicate that the land-use has been altered.

Attention was also directed towards the existence of smaller fields, which occur in various places. In some cases they functioned as pieces of a patchwork which, together with the larger fields, made an even rotation possible. These smaller fields often disappeared and the larger fields were organised in such a way that the same proportion of arable land was sown each year. In the three-field area these smaller fields indicated that there had been a recent change in the field-system. In other parts of the region, these smaller fields seem to have had a different function. In the area with a one-field system, these probably enabled the cultivation of different crops.

Chapter Six: The Mode of Production

An analysis of the relation between arable land and hay-loads revealed regional differences. In central Västergötland and in parts of Värmland the arable predominated. In southern and northern Västergötland on the other hand the hay production was greater.

It appears that the balance between arable land and meadows changed from the 1640’s to the early 18th century in southern Västergötland. The importance of the meadows seemed to increase, indicating a swing from horn to corn. A comparison with information from the 16th century suggested that the amount of hay decreased in the plains close to Lidköping.

Chapter Seven: Livestock

Stock-breeding was of major interest here, and many of the Medieval taxes were collected in the form of butter and livestock. A tax-ledger from 1503 in Värmland gives us a good picture of the situation. The information from this source implies that the trade in cattle was greater in eastern Värmland – close to the Medieval iron-producing areas. This picture is partly confirmed by studies of the stock-breeding in the later 16th century, which indicate that livestock also from the neighbouring northern part of Västergötland was sold at the market. Later, during the 17th century, cattle from parts of southern Västergötland and northern and western Värmland were also sold. Thus there was a shift from the region in the north-east to the south and to the west.

Chapter Eight: Cereal Production

This section deals with the relative importance of different crops. Firstly a number of sources predating the early modern period are presented and discussed. It is however not possible to arrive at a general overview of the Medieval grain production of the area. All the crops which can be traced during the 16th century were however grown during the late 15th century. The major part of this chapter is concerned with tithe-registers. A number of cross sections were presented in order to study the relative importance of the various crops during the years: 1545, 1571, 1641, 1681 and 1725. The registers do not cover the whole region and the quality of some of them can be questioned, especially during the latter part of the 17th century onwards. There are however two major trends. The first is that the rye increased in the eastern part of the region, the second that oats became more important in its western and southern parts. The expansion of oats can be related to the rising cattle production in these parts of the region, since oats can be used both as fodder and as food. Moreover oats were also periodically sown in the meadows in order to improve their quality.

The change to winter-rye in the eastern part of the region can be correlated with a increasing cereal production. There were certain bottlenecks in the production on a family-farm. The farmer could not cultivate more arable landthan the workforce could harvest and till. By increasing the proportion of winter crops the family based agriculture could spread the work through the year, thus avoiding bottlenecks when the production increased.

Chapter Nine: The Regional Mosaic

The last, concluding, chapter discusses the agents’ different strategies. It is argued that the regional division of labour can largely be explained by the geographical expansion of the iron industry during the period of investigation. The iron production, already during the late Medieval period, affected the agrarian society in the area. In eastern Värmland farmers paid iron in levies. Later, during the 16th and 17th centuries, the area of influence grew, which had consequences for the entire region. It is obvious that the transports and production of charcoal for the hammers and blast-furnaces, played an important role in the agrarian economy in the immediate vicinity. Farms located close to routes often transversed by herds of cattle could also derive an income from leasing their land for pasture to passing transports. Farmers in various regions of western Sweden chose different strategies. The three-field system with one third in fallow and half of the arable land sown with winter-rye was spreading in the north-east. In this region, farmers were increasing their cereal production. They were relatively near the iron-producing areas. The two-field systems in the region were of two types. One lacked a separate pasture, which required the cattle to graze on the field in fallow. This in turn made it impossible to sow winter-crops, since the field was not free from cattle at that time. This system existed on the plains close to Lidköping where the most important product was the livestock. In the other areas with two-field systems, the pasture and the meadows were separated from the arable land; hence winter-sown crops could be grown. Farmers who concentrated on cattle breeding increased the proportion of oats, and often used systems with one field or more than four fields. This flexible land-use, which can be observed in western Sweden, gives us a radically new picture of the early modern farming. It has previously often been characterised as Medieval in origin and associated with no transitions before the enclosures in the mid 18th century. The results also highlight the differences between western and eastern Sweden. In eastern Sweden the field systems seem to be more fixed during the early modern period. This is probably due to different societal institutions and natural prerequisites, which should be studied in greater detail. Several questions are left unanswered as far as the farming systems are concerned, and even more remain unasked.


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