Agricultural revolution: what was it and what changes it brought about in our way of life?
Let's take a look at the agricultural revolution of the 18th century and what it meant for humanity.
Throughout history there have been many agricultural revolutions, i.e., changes in the way the land has been worked that have led to greater crop productivity and, consequently, more food.
However, the term "agricultural revolution" is often the term "agricultural revolution" is usually used to refer to the one that took place between the 18th and 19th centuries in Great Britain and various parts of Europe.. This is not surprising, since it was this revolution that led us to live in today's society.
Below we will see the historical context in which the agricultural revolution took place, what made it happen and how it is related to the industrial revolution.
What was the agricultural revolution that began in Great Britain?
Usually, when we talk about the agricultural revolution we usually refer to the transformations that took place in Great Britain in the 18th and 19th centuries and that would later be transferred to the rest of Western Europe.
These transformations involved changes in the structure of farmland ownership and its exploitation, as well as an increase in productivity.These transformations involved changes in the structure of farmland ownership and exploitation, as well as an increase in food productivity, a larger population and improvements in the standard of living of many people.
Throughout history there have been other agricultural revolutions whose effects have been very important for mankind, the oldest being the one that began some 10,000 years ago in Mesopotamia and Egypt. However, the contemporary agricultural revolution is the one that has the most direct impact on us, since it was that process that that contributed to the subsequent industrial revolution.The historical context, making us live as we do in modern western countries.
One of the most important causes behind the agricultural revolution was a change in British legislation regarding the management of farmland. Until that time, land had been farmed in the traditional way, with two systems of farming: the "open-field" and the "common fields".. The open-field consisted of several plots with different exploitations not separated or closed by any means, while the commnofield were low productivity property systems where the fallow technique was used.
Fallowing has been a widely used farming system throughout history. It consists of cultivating a piece of land, harvesting its fruits and, after that, leaving the land one or two years without cultivating anything until it recovers the nutrients that will make it fertile again. The main problem with this system was that for a long period of time a piece of land had no production whatsoever and, therefore, it was not profitable for a long time.
In the common field, being worked at the same time by several peasants, they had to agree on how to exploit it. This meant that the free initiative that each one could have could only be applied to the plots of open fields, which were not protected at all. Because of this, a movement began to gain strength during the 18th century in favor of fencing or enclosing the fields, making "enclosures" or "enclosures".This was the reason why the parliament of the United States began to adopt the idea of "enclosures" or enclosures of land and to encourage production by means of individualized cultivation.
It is for this reason that the British Parliament passed new laws to this end, called the "Enclosures Acts". Although the initiative to enclose fields dates back to 1450, it was not until recent times that all crops had to be enclosed and changes in British land ownership were introduced. From that time on, farmers were to enclose their plots and farm them as they wished, with whatever crops they wanted as long as they owned them.
But while this benefited some, it also harmed others. Because the plots of the same landowner were often widely dispersed with those of others, the enclosure of all the plots meant problems for many landowners as they saw that they had no access without asking permission from their neighbors.. Added to this problem was the economic cost of having to fence their land, something they could not always afford. This is why many small landowners were forced to sell their land to their neighbors.
On the other hand, we have the privatization of communal lands. Before the Enclosure Acts, these lands belonged to all the peasants who agreed to exploit them. However, with the new law, they were privatized and became the property of wealthy landowners. This was a particularly serious problem for the day laborers, such as the cottagers, whose only property was the cattle that grazed in the open and communal fields. When they were closed, the day laborers could not feed their animals and were forced to sell them or be hired by landowners.
Consequences of these changes
The phenomenon of enclosures harmed small landowners, but it was a great benefit at a social level and was what caused the agricultural revolution. The wealthier landowners found themselves in a particularly advantageous situation, since they now had a large amount of land that they could exploit as they pleased and experiment as much as they wanted with it. As a result, many landowners many landowners were motivated to apply innovative methods and see what results they produced, something unthinkable before with the common fields..
The new innovations yielded very good results, resulting in higher productivity, more food, lower prices for land products and increased internal and external trade. Among them is the mechanical seed drill, invented in 1730 by Jethro Tull. This new machine made possible the seeding in line and the use of digging machines, being especially useful to work in large areas.
Another of the great innovations of the time was the Norfolk system, devised by Lord Townshed in 1730.system, devised by Lord Townshed. This British nobleman had been a diplomat working as ambassador in the Netherlands, where he picked up some ideas that he would end up applying in British fields. Among them was the four-year crop rotation system, which would eventually replace the inefficient fallow system.
This innovative system alternated the cultivation of cereals, legumes and fodder plants, a combination of plants that left enough nutrients for the next harvest. The four-year system was produced every year, instead of having a break of one or two years, as was the case with the fallow system. Other improvements introduced by Lord Townshed included new ideas for land drainage, improved irrigation systems, creation of artificial meadows to feed livestock in winter, and other new farming techniques. and other new agricultural techniques.
As all these new techniques gave very good results, the rest of the British landowners could not resist to introduce them in their fields and, also, they devised their own. Thus, ploughs and mowers were improved, more powerful chemical fertilizers were manufactured, cattle breeding was improved and better crops were grown in general. As a consequence of this, production increased significantly (90%) and, in addition, the prices of fruits and vegetables became cheaper.. This led to an improvement in the diet of both humans and animals, since there was less food shortage.
Relationship to the industrial revolution
As there was more food, people lived better and mortality dropped, which led to a significant population increase. However, changes in the way land and property was managed meant that fewer people were able to work the land. Better saving techniques made it possible to do more for less, causing many peasants to become unemployed and the growing population of the villages to be forced to migrate to the cities and work in the factories.
On the other hand, the landowners themselves were earning a lot of money, which they invested not only in their fields but also in founding and improving their own factories.. This was a very interesting dynamic, since those who had been lucky enough to own land and apply agricultural improvements ended up owning factories where those who had not been so lucky and had had to sell their land because they could not maintain it worked.
Whether in towns that had grown due to demographic growth or in previously founded cities, economic activity progressively moved from the countryside to the city and from an agricultural society to an industrial one. Ehe countryside continued to produce food, as it was needed to support the population, but the activity of factories and workshops in the city skyrocketed.. The peasants were becoming industrial workers and gave way to the next phase of history in the nineteenth century: the industrial revolution.
- G. E. Mingay (ed.) (1977), The Agricultural Revolution: Changes in Agriculture 1650-1880, p. 3.
- Peter Jones (2016), Agricultural Enlightenment: Knowledge, Technology, and Nature, 1750-1840, p. 7.
- Landes, David S. (1969). The Unbound Prometheus: Technological Change and Industrial Development in Western Europe from 1750 to the Present. Cambridge University Press. p. 18.
(Updated at Mar 28 / 2023)