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The Agricultural Revolution: Timeline, Causes, Inventions & Effects

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  • 0:05 Introduction and Timeline
  • 1:32 Contributing Factors…
  • 3:27 Important Inventors
  • 4:28 New Crops, Land…
  • 5:26 Lasting Effects of the…
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Patricia Chappine

Patricia has a master's degree in Holocaust and genocide studies and 27 graduate credits in American history. She will start coursework on her doctoral degree in history this fall. She has taught heritage of the western world I and II and U.S. history I and II at a community college in southern New Jersey for the past two years.

The Agricultural Revolution was a period of technological improvement and increased crop productivity that occurred during the 18th and early 19th centuries in Europe. In this lesson, learn the timeline, causes, effects and major inventions that spurred this shift in production.

Timeline of the Agricultural Revolution

Historians have often labeled the first Agricultural Revolution (which took place around 10,000 B.C.) as the period of transition from a hunting-and-gathering society to one based on stationary farming. During the 18th century, another Agricultural Revolution took place when European agriculture shifted from the techniques of the past.

New patterns of crop rotation and livestock utilization paved the way for better crop yields, a greater diversity of wheat and vegetables and the ability to support more livestock. These changes impacted society as the population became better nourished and healthier. The Enclosure Acts, passed in Great Britain, allowed wealthy lords to purchase public fields and push out small-scale farmers, causing a migration of men looking for wage labor in cities. These workers would provide the labor for new industries during the Industrial Revolution.

The Agricultural Revolution began in Great Britain around the turn of the 18th century. Several major events, which will be discussed in more detail later, include:

  • The perfection of the horse-drawn seed press, which would make farming less labor intensive and more productive.
  • The large-scale growth of new crops, such as potato and maize, by 1750.
  • The passing of the Enclosure Laws, limiting the common land available to small farmers in 1760.

Contributing Factors to the Agricultural Revolution

In many ways, British agriculture advanced more rapidly than any other European nation. The increased agricultural production of the 18th century can be traced to four interrelated factors:

  • The increased availability of farmland
  • A favorable climate
  • More livestock
  • Improved crop yield

Let's look at each of these areas in more detail. The available farmland increased due to changes in landholding patterns spurred on by new methods of cultivation. Previously, the open-field system was prominent. This system was problematic because it allowed part of the land to remain unplanted at all times in order to avoid depleting the soil. Since growing crops removes nutrients from the soil, a field must be replenished in order to continue to yield food.

One solution to this situation was to continue to move crops to different land. This was not feasible in Great Britain because the country lacked a large percentage of available land. Instead, farmers began to utilize barren soil by planting different crops, such as clover or turnips.

These plants have roots rich in nitrogen, a necessity for replenishing soil. The cultivation of turnips was important because they could be left in the ground through the winter. This ultimately led to an increase in livestock because these plants were also utilized for grazing. The boost in livestock fundamentally changed the diet of much of Europe.

Not only were Europeans consuming more meat, but the livestock was producing much needed fertilizer for crops. The addition of fertilizer allowed an improved production rate per acre. By the beginning of the 18th century, the colder climate of the 'little ice age' had ended. The resulting mild summer months created ideal conditions for crop cultivation.

Important Inventors

Several innovators created tools that greatly influenced the new agriculture. For instance, a significant step forward was pioneered by Jethro Tull, an English agriculturist.

Also in the beginning of the 18th century, Tull perfected a special horse-drawn seed drill that would allow a person to plant seeds in neat rows rather than by simply scattering them on top of the soil. While Tull did not invent the seed drill, he did improve on the design, making the machine drill at low densities. This change resulted in enhanced crop production because far less seed was lost to feeding birds. Tull also maintained that one should use a hoe to break up the soil and allow air and moisture in.

Charles Townshend used the four-field system on his own land. Testing the system on his own farm, he planted wheat in the first field, clover in the second, oats in the third and turnips in the fourth. He found that he could grow more crops and have a better yield per acre with this system.

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