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A Land of Milk and Butter

How Elites Created the Modern Danish Dairy Industry

How and why does Denmark have one of the richest, most equal, and happiest societies in the world today? Historians have often pointed to developments from the late nineteenth century, when small peasant farmers worked together through agricultural cooperatives, whose exports of butter and bacon rapidly gained a strong foothold on the British market.

This book presents a radical retelling of this story, placing (largely German-speaking) landed elites—rather than the Danish peasantry—at center stage. After acquiring estates in Denmark, these elites imported and adapted new practices from outside the kingdom, thus embarking on an ambitious program of agricultural reform and sparking a chain of events that eventually led to the emergence of Denmark’s famous peasant cooperatives in 1882. A Land of Milk and Butter presents a new interpretation of the origin of these cooperatives with striking implications for developing countries today.


“The success of butter exports in the second half of the nineteenth century propelled Denmark from relative poverty on a development path which transformed it into one of the wealthiest European countries. This book puts forward a novel interpretation of this success story that offers relevant insights for would-be imitators of the ‘Danish model.’”

Giovanni Federico, Università di Pisa

“In this highly original book, Lampe and Sharp convincingly argue that the contribution of cooperatives has been exaggerated, and that they mark the end point of a long period of modernization of Danish agriculture, rather than its beginning. Instead they show that the real novelty was how a landed elite from the mid-eighteenth century became successful as entrepreneurs, changing the nature of traditional farming by creating a modern dairy system and selling butter on international markets. Explaining how rural elites became catalysts for rather than obstacles to wider economic and political change, this book will interest development economists and economic historians alike.”

James Simpson, Universidad Carlos III de Madrid

"[A Land ofMilk and Butter is a truly interdisciplinary work, in the best sense. It combines archival sources, a comparative perspective, economic theory, and simple econometric estimation in making its case. Its narrative is in-formed by applied economics, but with the technicalities consigned to appendixes. By judiciously downplaying the cooperative revolution as a deus ex machina, while also giving its dynamism and institutional innovations due credit, Lampe and Sharp also open the agriculture histories elsewhere in Europe to revision. Theirs is a book that deserves a wide readership, not confined to those interested in agricultural and cooperative history."

Journal of Interdisciplinary History

Table of Contents

Glossary of Weights and Measures

1          Introduction
2          The Economic and Political Context for Danish Agricultural Development, ca. 1660–1850
3          The Agricultural Reforms, 1750s–1800s
4          The Spread of the Holstein System
5          From Bullshit to Butter: Accounting and Production Decisions
6          Science, Innovation, and the Dissemination of Knowledge
7          How the Danes Discovered Britain
8          Industrial and Trade Policy
9          The Spread of Modern Dairying beyond the Estates: The Rise of the Cooperatives
10        Agriculture, Industry, and Modern Economic Growth in Denmark
11        Lessons from the Danish Agricultural Revolution for Developing Countries


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