Diminishing Returns in Agriculture

By F. Lester Patton | Go to book overview

CHAPTER IV
DIMINISHING PHYSICAL RETURNS IN THE APPLICATION OF FERTILIZERS, SEED AND CULTIVATION TO THE SOIL

So prominent has been the part played in economic theory by the law of diminishing returns, that it comes somewhat as a surprise to discover that its physical workings in agriculture had been accidentally determined in some fertilizer experiments performed by Arthur Young fifty years before economists were aware of the existence of the law. "In the year 1771," Arthur Young tells us, "I marked out a rood of land into divisions and sowed them with oats. The variety of manures made use of in this experiment are marked as follows:1

DivisionProportion per AcreProduce per Acre
No. 140 cubical yards of farmyard compost, etc.40 bushels2½ pecks
No. 220 ditto511
No. 310 ditto450
No. 410 ditto461
No. 510 loads of bones, each 40 bushels631
No. 620 ditto570
No. 7200 bushels of lime38
No. 840 yards of chalk311
No. 9No manure30
No. 1080 yards of chalk25
No. 11120 yards of chalk272

N. B.--The season was remarkably dry, which circumstance certainly had a considerable effect on the different crops.

____________________
1
From A Comparative View of Manures by Arthur Young, printed by Dr. A. Hunter in his Georgical Essays ( London, 1803). It seems probable that it was the publication of this essay in 1803 which made it possible for four economists to think almost simultaneously a few years later of the law of diminishing returns in agriculture, cf. supra, p. 9.

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