Agricultural Revolution

The Agricultural Revolution was a unprecedented expand in agricultural production in Britain due to increase in labour and land productivity between the mid-17th and late 19th centuries.

Painting featuring farmers and industries in the same picture

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The increase in the food supply contributed to the rapid growth of population in England and Wales, though domestic production gave way increasingly to food imports in the nineteenth century as the population more than tripled. The rise in productivity accelerated the decline of the agricultural share of the labour force, adding to the urban workforce on which industrialization depended: the Agricultural Revolution has therefore been cited as a cause of the Industrial Revolution.

Before The Revolution

Before the Industrial Revolution, agriculture workers laboured six days a week, from sun up to sundown, just to keep their crops growing. Certain seasons were more demanding than others, specifically the ploughing and harvest seasons. Because of the intensity and necessity of agricultural labuor, it was the largest employment source in Europe. Men, women and children worked side by side to feed the country. Often if the father was a farm owner and worker, his entire family labuored alongside him. Working in agriculture was not just a job but often a lifestyle for families.

Contribution to industrial revolution

Because of the difficulty of agricultural work, it became necessary to innovate the agricultural industry, thus beginning the Agricultural Revolution which arguably started in the mid-18th century. The Agricultural Revolution helped bring about the Industrial Revolution through innovations and inventions that altered how the farming process worked. These new processes in turn created a decline in both the intensity of the work and the number of agricultural labourers needed. Because of the decline in the need for agricultural workers, many worked industrial jobs, further fueling the Industrial Revolution. At the beginning of the Agricultural Revolution, farmers chose to migrate to the city to work industrial jobs; however, as the decline in the need for agricultural workers grew, many were forced to look for work in the industries.

Garrett’s patent horse hoe

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The importance of crop rotation

One of the most important innovations of the British Agricultural Revolution was the development of the Norfolk four-course rotation, which greatly increased crop and livestock yields by improving soil fertility and reducing fallow. Crop rotation is the practice of growing a series of dissimilar types of crops in the same area in sequential seasons to help restore plant nutrients and mitigate the build-up of pathogens and pests that often occurs when one plant species is continuously cropped. Rotation can also improve soil structure and fertility by alternating deep-rooted and shallow-rooted plants. Turnip roots, for example, can recover nutrients from deep under the soil. The Norfolk System, as it is now known, rotates crops so that different crops are planted with the result that different kinds and quantities of nutrients are taken from the soil as the plants grow. An important feature of the Norfolk four-field system was that it used labour at times when demand was not at peak levels.

Crop rotation

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Other innovations

In the mid-18th century, two British agriculturalists, Robert Bakewell and Thomas Coke introduced selective breeding as a scientific practice and used inbreeding to stabilize certain qualities in order to reduce genetic diversity. Bakewell was also the first to breed cattle to be used primarily for beef. Certain practices that contributed to more productive use of land intensified, such as converting some pasture land into arable land and recovering fenland and pastures. Other developments came from Flanders and the Netherlands, the region that became a pioneer in canal building, soil restoration and maintenance, soil drainage, and land reclamation technology. Finally, water-meadows were utilized in the late 16th to the 20th centuries and allowed earlier pasturing of livestock after they were wintered on hay.

McCormick’s Reaping Machine, 1860.

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