Explaining contract choice: vertical coordination, sharecropping, and wine in Europe, 1850–1950



Recent literature on sharecropping has emphasized its importance in reducing problems associated with moral hazard in cultivation (in Tuscany), or providing a crucial ‘rung’ on the farm ladder (in the US south). Yet despite these and other important features, sharecropping was surprisingly absent in most regions. Using case studies associated with French wine production, this article argues that a number of factors have often been overlooked in the literature, the first of which is the need for landowners to be able to offer farms that were sufficiently large both to employ the sharecropper's family on a full-time basis, and to allow them to produce a variety of products to minimize risk. Second, measurement problems exist with the division of the harvest, especially when quality was an important factor in determining price. Finally, the nature of vertical cooperation and integration associated with the production and marketing arrangements of individual crops suggests that landowners were not indifferent to receiving payment in cash or kind, and this affected contract choice. This article incorporates these ideas to explain not just the presence and absence of sharecropping in different geographical localities, but also the wide variety of different forms of the contract that existed in France.