The British Agrarian Revolution Essay

Question: Why the changes in the English agriculture were referred to as an ‘Agricultural Revolution’? The British Agricultural revolution describes a period of agricultural developments that took place in Britain between the 15th and the end of the 19th century. These changes saw an increase in food productivity and net output that broke the historical scarcity cycles. From way back, society has suffered from periods of agricultural retardations which limited the population which local territories could sustain over a long period.

Due to changes that took place in the English Agriculture the problem of food scarcity was alleviated. These changes were so major, took place over many years and had a great impact on the English society thus deserving the term “Agricultural Revolution”. ‘Their origins are complex; their progress involves a variety of activities which interact and which vary in pace’Before the agrarian revolution occurred there was food scarcity as locals produced less and could not import from others due to lack transport and poor transport systems.

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On the contrary, society could now trade what they have for what they did not have (barter trade) as what they produced could now feed the family and outsiders. This was due to the innovations and inventions which helped them become better farmers. The bringing about of the agrarian revolution changed the lives of the English society completely. Before, they lived a nomadic life in order to get food but now they could stay in one place as they were farmers who kept livestock and grew crops.

Their lives were static due to the fact that the crops needed care until harvest time and livestock needed stable shelter for security from predators. Staying in one place also helped them develop a more efficient way to develop their crops. ‘Hunting and gathering had given way to sedentary farming’. Since they no longer had to move around, their means of housing became more of a permanent structure unlike in the previous nomadic way of life. The houses built were studier and weather resistant as they would be staying longer so more effort was put in the construction.

As a result of more abundance of food and shelter, population increased at a faster rate than before but the increase did not pose any threat to food supply. The standard of living also improved as they were less vulnerable to disease and poverty thus a revolution. One of the changes implying a revolution was the shift from using human muscles to using animal power. The first animal to be widely applied were oxen employed to pull carts, harrows, ploughs and wagons. Horses were primarily used as park animals and for riding.

Horses replaced wagons as they could take well to hard surfaced roads and were faster. The horsescould be easily shod with iron horseshoes to protect their feet on the hard surfaces. As horses replaced oxen, cows now were primarily bred for beef or dairy production. Robert Bakewell was the first to breed cattle to be used primarily for beef. As he was famously known for selective breeding, Bakewell crossbred the long-horned heifers and a Westmoreland bull to create the Dishley long horn. Bakewell also bred the Black Cart horse which later became the Shire horse used in ploughing and pulling carts.

Arguably Bakewell’s most important breeding was with sheep. He was able to quickly select for large yet fine boned sheep with long,lustrous wool using native stock. The Lincoln Longwool was improved by Bakewell and imturn the Lincoln was used to develop the New Leicester. After visiting Robert Bakewell, the outstanding livestock breeder, at Dishley, Charles Colling began in 1782 a program of improving the quality of cattle in the Tees River Valley. His brother, Robert Colling, who occupied another farm in the district, later turned to cattle breeding.

Charles’s wife, the former Mary Colpitts is also credited with valuable work in cattle breeding. As time went on, weeding progressed from a hoe powered by a human power to hand pushed wheeled metal cultivators with steel or iron blades. Further advances in weeding came about with the development of the seed drill. Jethro Tull was famous for refining the seed drill in 1701 but it was first attributed to Camillo Torello in England in 1566. Due to the revolution the seed drill has become more advanced and sophisticated over the years.

The first was small and could be drawn by a single horse but the availability of steam and later gasoline tractors saw the development of larger and more efficient drills. The larger seed drills allowed farmers to seed even larger tracts in a single day. As evidence of an agrarian revolution, animal traction was replaced by machines. The first powered farm implements were coal or wood threshers which were large and expensive. Around 1858, the first steam powered traction engines and stationery engines were developed and adapted for agricultural use or large farms.

Later a tractor was developed to deliver a better job. Agricultural implements were towed behind or mounted on the tractor and the tractor could also provide a source of power if implement is mechanized. Due to these inventions farm produce was massive. Kenneth Blaxter and Noel Robertson say: Thus heavy ploughs were introduced from Europe and a two field system of every crop being followed by a fallow was replaced by the three- field system in which two grain crops were grown before the land was fallowed.

Estimates of the increase of farm output that occurred in these earlier revolutions can be made from yields of grain expressed as multiples of the amount sown. These suggest that yields probably increased from about 400 kg per hectare to about 700 kg per hectare. There was also the development of combined harvesters and use of fertilizers to improve soil fertility. The combined harvester carries out three tasks of reaping, threshing and winnowing in a single operation. The first combines were made in 1800s but it took till after 1920s for them to become common.

Manure spreaders were used to spread manure all over the field as a fertilizer. The first automated manure spreader was designed by Joseph Kemp in 1875. Manure was widely used as an organic fertilizer which added nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, sulfur and calcium into the soil. Justus Von Liebeg is said to be one of the founding fathers of organic chemistry and also a great teacher. He transformed scientific education, medical practice and agriculture in Great Britain. He moved chemistry into the sociopolitical marketplace, demonstrating its significance for society in food production, nutrition and public health.

William H. Brook, Knight David and Gregory K. Sally say: Through his controversial ideas on artificial fertilizers and recycling his theory of disease, he warned the world of the dangers of failing to recycle sewage to replace soil nutrient. Farming in England saw another innovation of crop rotations which in the past but since the time of Charlemagne there was a transition from a two- field to a three- field and later a four field. The four- field crop rotation was pioneered by the British Agriculturist Charles ‘Turnip’ Townshend in the 18th century.

The four-field crop rotation system helped restore soil fertility and some of the nutrients removed with the crops It opened up a fodder crop and grazing crop allowing livestock to be bred all year round. The turnips helped keep the weeds down and they were an excellent forage crop that ruminant animals could feed on their tops and roots through summer and winter. ‘Simple types of rotations of land between fallow and crop had been devised’. This was a key development in the British Agriculture deserving the term Agricultural Revolution.

Another important change proving an Agricultural Revolution was the emergence of writers and teachers such as Arthur Young, Samuel Hartlib, Walter Blith and others. Among the writers Arthur Young was the most prolific writer on rural affairs. Hillman says: He set land-lords thinking, enticed and drove them into experiments, and persuaded farmers everywhere to break from the dull routines of centuries. England owes to Arthur Young that impulse which within the last hundred years has transformed her wastes into rich pastures and fruitful fields and multipliedthe produce of her harvests by many folds.

Young was very influential and travelled in different counties and in France the French admitted that he opened their eyes to the low conditions of their husbandry, poverty and hardships. Due to his writing in agriculture England grew as farmers made experiments and discovered more about farming and this was a revolution. He founded the periodicals of anals of agriculture Changes did occur in traditional English societies but did not deserve the term ‘Agricultural Revolution’ as they were slow and could not be acknowledged by many.

Contrary to that the changes in English Agriculture termed ‘Agricultural Revolution’ were so intense and unique as they emphasized agriculture’s primary purpose of providing for society’s demand for commodities and services, farming’s ability to use resources at its disposal to improve society’s nutrition and development of society’s structures from rural to urban lands thus narrowing the gap between the capitalist and the Yeomen. Other changes occurred in the political, social and economic settings of the English society.