The kind of plowing rig pictured here

From Horse Plowing
From Horse Plowing

represents the pinnacle of Viking agricultural technology.  Such a setup, with horses (and horse collars) pulling a metal mould board plow, was just be introduced into parts of Denmark at the very end of what we traditionally think of as the Viking age.  Before that (and until much later in Norway and Sweden), the primary motive power for plowing was oxen, and the use of the ard (rather than the mould board plow) was much more common.  In many poorer regions, farmers were cultivating plots of 5 acres or so with only hoes, and no ards or plows at all. 

We watched the gentlemen above plow a relatively small (3-4 acre) field last weekend as part of a demonstration, and one of the big takeaways is how much work that really is.  And the Vikings would have been working with plows made mostly of wood, except for the mould boards, and more primitive horse tack. 

Ards don’t plow nearly as deeply as plows, and don’t turn over the soil, which means that early Viking age farms would have had fields plowed both less deeply and less well, meaning lower yields. 

At the other end of the season, harvesting technology was similarly primitive.  The scythe was essentially unknown in Viking age Scandinavia.  The big innovation at the end of the period was the introduction of the “bow sickle”, where the blade initially curves away from the handle, like the one on the old Soviet flag.  It was much more efficient to wield than the earlier sickle, where the blade curved directly forward from the handle (think of the kind that ninjas fight with). 

Taken all together, this leaves us with a picture of Viking agriculture that meant a lot of work / yield ration, particularly when compared with later medieval farming, which was much more technologically advanced.  Fields were probably mostly small (again in comparison with later medieval farms) and produced considerably less grain.

For more details, see “Agricultural Technology in Medieval Demark” by Bjørn Poulsen, in Medieval Farming and Technology: The Impact of Agricultural Change in Northwest Europe (Technology and Change in History , No 1)