The Black Death Changed Agriculture.
Grain was the foundation of pre-plague agriculture. However, the reduction in the population caused by the Black Death meant there were fewer people to work the land. Crops rotted in the field, and there was no one to plant new ones. In the north of England in the fifteenth century, grain production was less than a third of the level it had been a century earlier. In the region around Cambrai in France, it had dropped 50% by 1370 and continued to fall by a further 25% by the mid-fifteenth century. With grain production no longer viable, it was necessary for agriculture in medieval Europe to make a shift.
One solution was to put the land out to pasture as animal husbandry required less manpower. In some cases, this increased consumption and trade in certain foodstuffs. The Low Countries, Scandinavia and Germany, made the shift increasing the quantities of butter and beef in the European market. In Portugal, there was a shift to fishing. However, the biggest boom came in sheep farming. This type of agriculture required very little labor and its by-product, wool, was much sought after by the burgeoning trade in wool and cloth. Soon, places like England, Central Italy and Castile were booming centers of wool production.
However, crops were still required and so to meet the challenges of the aftermath of the Black Death, agricultural technology adapted. Interestingly, this involved taking a retrograde step. Since the eleventh century, there had been a slow change in the type of draft animals used on the land, with oxen slowly being replaced by horses. After the Black Death, this changed was reverse. Oxen required less fodder than horses and so could work harder with less feed, which was in short supply. What was more, they could be put out to graze on fields that had gone wild. It was not until 1500 in England that the shift back to horses as draft animals began.
As fields lay fallow and returned to the wild, landowners found other uses for them, leading to the creation of many of the features of the typical park of the landed classes. Former fields became deer parks. They constructed rabbit warrens and fishponds. All supplied the manorial table as well as the fields they once occupied.
There was also another reason for landowners to shift to less labor-intensive farming: the rise in wages. Fewer workers meant a more competitive market and so to keep the services of their agricultural workers, landowners had to pay them more. Decreasing the number of hands needed was one way of keeping the pay bill down. However, the wage issue was just one sign that the social status quo began to shift after the Black Death.