Agriculture was the mainstay of the economy. Its profile and development were shaped by stock-breeding, which remained dominant throughout this period. In 1767, the fields devoted to grain production {2-532.} covered barely 1740 sq. km., or less than 3 percent of Transylvania. Even if allowance is made for cornfields, which this figure does not comprise, the total area of ploughland is strikingly small. (By 1865, some 12,300 sq. km., or 20.5 percent of Transylvania's territory, was under the plough.) The government was fully aware of the important role played by stock-breeding in the economy. According to an official report, dating from 1721, 'people can only meet their tax commitments through the sale of livestock'. Udvarhelyszék considered it appropriate to remind its delegates to the 1748 diet that most taxpayers lived off the proceeds of stock-breeding.

Stock-breeding was generally conducted in a traditional pattern. The Romanian stock-breeders — mainly shepherds — continued to practice transhumance: the drove their flocks, in summer, to pastures in the Transylvanian highlands, and in winter to the lowlands of the Black Sea region. In the aggregate, their flocks may have numbered around 100,000 sheep in 1700; by 1750, some 250,000 sheep were being driven back and forth between the two countries. Between 1750 and 1770, the number rose to 351,000, and by 1782 it reached 500,000.

Traditional methods prevailed in the breeding of other species as well. Only in the case of horses was any attempt made to introduce new breeds. A preference for the showy, Spanish breed of horses was part of the baroque era's lifestyle; although a few had been imported earlier, it was only around 1740 that they began to appear in any number on the stud farms of some major landowners. The fashion was set by the 'wicked' István Wesselényi, chairman of the diet, and did not go beyond a narrow social stratum. This was the only instance of more modern stock-breeding. Otherwise, a low standard prevailed in the stabling and feeding of livestock. When winter set in earlier than expected, farmers flooded the market with their cattle, ready to sell at half the usual price. Swine were fed mainly on mast, and Transylvania was heavily dependent on the import of pigs from Wallachia and Moldavia.

{2-533.} Veterinary care was essentially confined to largely futile attempts to control epizootic diseases, which struck Transylvania even more frequently than epidemics. The cattle plague appeared in 1711, 1717, 1726–27, 1729, 1732, and 1737–38. According to Péter Apor, that last recrudescence was the worst in Transylvanian memory; Saxon sources indicate that in the summer of 1737, some 12,000 livestock perished in the Barcaság alone. In 1744, the cattle plague spilled over from Moldavia; it recurred in 1747 and 1748. In summer 1755, the disease raged through the Székelyföld and the Barcaság; within one month, it felled 523 cattle at Hermány. Háromszék was struck by an epizootic in 1759, and the cattle plague made an annual appearance in Transylvania between 1764 and 1767. The epizootic of 1764 was accurately identified by György Cserei the elder as foot-and-mouth disease. Sources also report an outbreak of sheep plague in 1714.

Farming also followed traditional patterns, and there were only a few faint signs of change. Communal farming had an unusually long life in Transylvania, though the pattern was uneven. The practice remained strong in the Székelyföld as late as 1795. Only in the Marosszék were common lands divided up, permanently as well as temporarily; elsewhere, they continued to be allocated yearly on the basis of the arrowshot (nyilas föld). To be sure, the common ownership of land did not mean equality of access; the nobles who kept villeins, the Székely lófő nobles, peasant-guardsmen (darabont), and villeins all got different shares. Around 1750, virtually all villages in the Saxon districts encompassed some common land; in this instance, the inequality of distribution involved the mixed, Saxon–Romanian villages, for the Romanians were either excluded or were allocated the poorest and most distant plots.

The erosion of common ownership began, in an uneven pattern, in the Hungarian counties. In 1721, most of the 'arrowshot' land in Alsó-Fehér County stood mortgaged to landowners; only some larger villages retained common lands, whose area ranged {2-534.} from 85 to 285 hectares. By 1700, only one village in Fehér County had commonly-owned land. On the other hand, the common ownership of land remained widespread as late as 1725 in Kolozs County, 1733 in Küküllő County, and 1796 in Hunyad County. Around some Hungarian county towns, fields devoted to extensive cultivation continued to be allocated by arrowshot as late as the end of the century.

In 1700, the two-crop system was still dominant in agriculture. Three-crop rotation was practised in only one Hungarian region, Felső-Fehér County, which was wedged among the Saxon districts; in the Székelyföld, it was practised only in Háromszék and by Saxon farmers. Throughout the period under consideration, this method of cultivation remained more the exception than the rule. When, in 1771, the government took steps to encourage three-crop rotation, it incurred protests from villages that depended on stock-breeding: three-crop rotation would ruin them, for it would leave only a third of their land available for pasture. It is probably around this time that there emerged a transitional method, bridging the shift from two- to three-crop rotation: most of the land was cultivated alternately by two- and three-crop rotation, while a smaller part was devoted exclusively to corn. This practice survived as late as 1820 in certain districts of Transylvania.

The immigration after 1711 of Romanian stockbreeders enhanced the importance of corn, the principal feedstock. Thanks to high yields, the needs of stockbreeders could be satisfied by comparatively small fields, and Romanian shepherds enjoyed exemption from the tithe on this crop. Around 1721–22, the chancellery proposed to reverse this trend by restricting corn-growing to garden plots, doubling the charge for the milling of corn, and compelling peasants who owned a plough to plant crops in the fall. Of these provisions, only the first was imposed by the Gubernium, which warned that corn-growing must not become so prevalent that 'the idle peasantry would become wholly dependent' on this crop.[3]3. Quoted in Zs. Jakó, 'Újkori román települések Erdélyben és a Par-tiumban', MR I, 1943, p. 530.

{2-535.} Manorial farms developed only slowly. Their size remained modest, and some even grew smaller. In the case of allodial farms, productivity was often hampered by the fragmentation of the property. For instance, in 1750, Sándor Sombori's farm, at Bós, in Kolozs County, was made up of twenty-eight plots; nine of these covered a total of 3.4 hectares, and the remaining nineteen, 6.3 hectares. Since the landowners' manorial farms owned scarcely any implements (in 1737, the manor at Gyalu had all of two carts), they had to rely on the villeins' own ploughs.

In these circumstances, the manpower for manorial farms came almost entirely from villeins and cotters, who were bound to provide services on the basis of socage or in lieu of interest on loans. The practice of socage varied greatly from place to place. On the Apafi estates, around 1702, there was virtually no limit on the amount of compulsory labour; villeins were generally expected to serve according to needs, although in some places it was specified that they owed four days of work per week in the summer, and two days in the winter. Even if the villein paid a levy in lieu of services, he was obliged devote three weeks each summer to urgent manorial tasks. Cotters, most of whom had their own plots of land, had to provide one to three days' labour per week or, in rare cases, fourteen days per year. Over the succeeding decades, there was little change in the general pattern of these obligations, which were scarcely affected by the much-delayed application of the Serf Act of 1714 or by subsequent regulations; feudal services continued to be defined in accordance with local needs and circumstances, with earlier contracts and customary privileges. The obligations ranged from one week's labour to unlimited service. The villeins on Treasury mines and the highland shepherds had different types of service obligation. Traditionally, they had been required to craft wooden vessels and do other woodwork, but they were increasingly expected to sow and reap for two weeks each summer and to cart lumber; their summer labours were gradually extended, and they also had to cut millstones, fish, and hunt for the estate.

{2-536.} The manorial farm's other source of manpower was the labour performed by villeins in payment of interest on loans. The villeins would become indebted for a variety of reasons: to survive the consequences of a poor crop, to pay taxes in years when the crop was rich but unsaleable, or to make up for the loss of livestock. Around the middle of the century, one forint of interest was commonly redeemed by one day's labour.

The allodia were of modest size; around 1728–38, in the Székelyföld, the aggregate area of villeins' plots was twice a large as that of the major farms, and the ratio tended to widen. Landowners derived much of their income from the traditional deliveries in kind, by way of the tithe as well as the datias, which were contributions to the master's kitchen and might include hens, eggs, a lamb at Easter, butter, tallow, oats, or wine. The landowners also profited from their privileges to run pubs and mills. Traditionally, the landowner would keep pubs open in busier locations on his estate from Christmas to Michaelmas; between September 29 and Christmas, the villeins themselves could draw wine; apart from the three major feast-days, when the landowner commonly required that each village buy a large barrel of his wine, the villagers were free to run their inn. Where the landowner did not supply the wine, he would impose a levy on the 'dry inn'.

With regard to the farming practices of the various categories of peasants, we know most about those of villeins. Their farmsteads varied greatly in size, depending on the region and the type of cultivation, and evolved in various ways. On the larger estates, the average villein's allotment included 1.5–5 hectares of ploughland and 0.5–1.7 hectares of hayfields — small enough to induce many to emigrate to Hungary. The more ambitious villein would hardly be satisfied with two or three hectares of ploughland when, in the Hungarian counties of Bihar or Békés, he could easily obtain 14–17 hectares of unworked and moderately fertile land. As a further inducement, the new settlers in Hungary were exempted for several {2-537.} years from socage, and the eventual service obligations were far less onerous than in Transylvania.

According to the historian David Prodan, there was, in Transylvania, very little agricultural production for the market over the period 1711–1770; surplus produce on the estates was generally stored and sold or lent to the villeins in times of need. His conclusion seems to be well-founded, for there could hardly be much production of grain for the market in an era of recurrent famines. A summer marked by drought or excessive rainfall, an unusually early or long winter were sufficient to cause a famine reminiscent of the sufferings inflicted on Transylvania during the Fifteen Years' War. The country was struck by famine in 1716, 1718–19, 1726–28, and 1730. Thereafter, agricultural production became more stable; apart from a recurrence in 1740, the succeeding decades would be free of famine. Still, the villeins on the estates were not the only buyers of grain; it was reported that when the imperial regiments were provisionally withdrawn from Transylvania in 1734, an abundance of produce appeared on the open market.

However, there was only modest demand for agricultural products on the domestic market. Villeins had to purchase wine from the landowners as part of their socage obligations. Given the small size of the urban population, the towns did not represent a significant market, particularly since most urban craftsmen also engaged in agriculture, primarily wine production. And when Transylvania produced a surplus of grain, exports were not a realistic option; the nearest markets, in western and upper Hungary, were hundreds of kilometres distant, and much closer to the grain producers of the Great Plain. Thus the market did not serve to stimulate agricultural production in Transylvania. It had a more positive effect on stock-breeding, for livestock could be driven to market and there was domestic demand for such animal products as hides, wool, and tallow.