Abstract

Iroquois maize farmers in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries produced three to five times more grain per acre than wheat farmers in Europe. The higher productivity of Iroquois agriculture can be attributed to two factors. First, the absence of plows in the western hemisphere allowed Iroquois farmers to maintain high levels of soil organic matter, critical for grain yields. Second, maize has a higher yield potential than wheat because of its C4 photosynthetic pathway and lower protein content. However, tillage alone accounted for a significant portion of the yield advantage of the Iroquois farmers. When the Iroquois were removed from their territories at the end of the eighteenth century, US farmers occupied and plowed these lands. Within fifty years, maize yields in five counties of western New York dropped to less than thirty bushels per acre. They rebounded when US farmers adopted practices that countered the harmful effects of plowing.

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NOTES

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