Soils, scale, or elites? Biological innovation in Uruguayan cattle farming, 1880-1913 Articles uri icon

publication date

  • May 2023

start page

  • 498

end page

  • 524


  • 2


  • 76

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 0013-0117

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 1468-0289


  • This article examines the economics of innovation in livestock rearing during the first globalisation in Uruguay, the country with the most cattle per person in the world, both then and now. Using a new historical dataset of Uruguayan agriculture, the first one at a sub-provincial level, I exploit regional differences in the adoption of cattle crossbreeding - the genetic improvement of local herds through hybridisation with foreign breeds. Contrary to traditional historiographical claims, I find that this innovation was not primarily explained by the location of enlightened elites (European or local) or by the scale of productive units (i.e. latifundia); rather, rural producers invested in crossbreeding wherever their local landscapes and previous productive choices encouraged it. While it affected biological processes that spanned several agricultural calendars, and thereby developed more slowly than innovations in crop farming, technical change in Uruguayan ranching was also environmentally sensitive, largely scale-neutral, congruent with previous agricultural patterns, and hinged on a widespread response from producers.


  • Economics
  • History
  • Politics
  • Renewable Energies
  • Sociology


  • agriculture; biological innovation; cattle; elites; first globalisation; latifundia; soils; uruguay