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Second Agricultural Revolution

Second Agricultural Revolution

Sometimes in history, humans undergo a change so profound it changes our whole story. One of these changes is the Second Agricultural Revolution. After millennia of little change to agriculture, the way we grew our food radically changed. New technologies and a burst in productivity led to the availability of more food than ever, which caused a fundamental shift in human society. Let's discuss the Second Agricultural Revolution, some of the key inventions that enabled it, and what impact it had on humans and the environment.

Second Agricultural Revolution Date

The exact dates of the Second Agricultural Revolution are not clearly defined but occurred simultaneously with the Industrial Revolution. Numerous inventions enabled the Second Agricultural Revolution to take place, and some of these were invented earlier. To put a rough estimate on the time period, it was between 1650 and 1900. The Third Agricultural Revolution, also known as the Green Revolution, occurred in the 1960s.

Second Agricultural Revolution Definition

As the name implies, the Second Agricultural Revolution occurred after the First Agricultural Revolution, also known as the Neolithic Revolution. By the mid-17th century, humans had already been farming for thousands of years, but the overall productivity of that farming hadn't increased by much. The seeds of change began in England, where new farming methods and land reforms led to unparalleled growth.

Second Agricultural Revolution: A series of inventions and reforms starting in England in the 1600s that caused a massive increase in agricultural productivity.

New techniques and inventions from the Second Agricultural Revolution spread worldwide, and lots of them are still in use today.

Second Agricultural Revolution Inventions

Farm-related inventions cropped up now and again in the years preceding the Second Agricultural Revolution, but overall, agriculture changed very little from its inception. Several essential inventions in Great Britain fundamentally changed agriculture. Let's review some Second Agricultural Revolution inventions next.

Norfolk Four-Course Crop Rotation

When the same crop is grown on land over and over, eventually, the soil loses nutrients, and crop yields decline. A solution to this is crop rotation, where different crops are grown on the same land and/or other crops are planted over time. Various forms of crop rotation have been used throughout the history of agriculture, but a method called Norfolk four-course crop rotation drastically increased farming productivity. Using this method, each season one of four different crops is planted. Traditionally, this included wheat, barley, turnips, and clovers. Wheat and barley were grown for human consumption, while turnips helped to feed animals during wintertime.

Clovers are planted for livestock to graze and consume. Their manure helps fertilize the soil, replenishing nutrients that would otherwise be stripped away. The Norfolk four-course crop rotation helped prevent a fallow year, meaning a year with nothing can be planted. Additionally, the increased nutrients from animal manure led to far greater yields. All of this combined to bring about much more efficient farming and prevented severe food shortages.

Plowing Implements and Improvements

When many people think of a farm, the image of a tractor pulling a plow comes to mind. Plows mechanically break up the soil to allow the planting of seeds. Traditionally, plows were pulled by animals like horses and oxen. New advances in plow design made them work more efficiently. Less livestock needed to pull them, more effective break up of earth, and quicker operation ultimately meant better crop production and less work required on the farms.

Seed Drill

For thousands of years, humans planted seeds by manually placing them one by one into the soil or by simply throwing them, randomly scattered onto the earth. Something called a seed drill provides a more effective and reliable way of planting seeds, ensuring more consistent harvests. Being pulled by animals or a tractor, seed drills push seeds into the soil at reliable and predictable depths, with uniform spacing between them.

Second Agricultural Revolution Planted Crops StudySmarterFig. 1 - The seed drill enabled more uniform planting, and its derivatives are used in modern agriculture.

In 1701, the English agronomist Jethro Tull invented a refined version of the seed drill. Tull demonstrated that planting in even rows made farms more productive and easier to care for, and his methods are still used today.

Mouldboard Plows

Heavy, dense soils in England and northern Europe necessitated the use of numerous animals to help pull plows. The very old styles of plows used there worked better in places with looser soil. Beginning in the 17th century, an iron moldboard started being used in northern Europe, which essentially is better able to disrupt the soil and turn it over, the key part of plowing. Moldboard plows required far less livestock to power them and also got rid of the need to cross-plow, all of which freed up more farm resources.

Land Enclosures

New ways of thinking and philosophies came out of the Renaissance and Enlightenment periods that changed the way all of European society operated. Importantly for the Second Agricultural Revolution, new ideas of how farmland was owned took root. Before the Second Agricultural Revolution, European farming was almost universally feudal. Poor farmers worked land owned by aristocrats and shared the bounty of the harvest. Because no one farmer owned the land themselves and had to share their harvest, they were less motivated to be productive and adopt new techniques.

Second Agricultural Revolution Enclosure Cumbria StudySmarterFig. 2 - A gate to an enclosure in Cumbria, England

The shared ownership of land slowly changed in England, with rulers granting enclosures to farmers. Enclosures are pieces of land that are privately owned, with the farmer having complete control and ownership over any harvests. While private land ownership isn't seen as something strange today, at the time, it upended centuries of agricultural practice and tradition. With the success or failure of a farm resting squarely on the farmer's shoulders, they were more motivated to try new techniques like crop rotation or invest in plowing instruments.

Second Agricultural Revolution and Population

With the Second Agricultural Revolution boosting food supplies, population growth gained pace. The technological innovations discussed meant not only that more food was grown, but that fewer people were needed to work the fields. This shift was fundamental for the industrial revolution because it enabled former agricultural workers to take up jobs in factories.

Second Agricultural Revolution England population StudySmarterFig. 3 - The population of England increased during and after the Second Agricultural Revolution.

Next, let's specifically look at how the population shifted between rural and urban areas during the Second Agricultural Revolution.

Urbanization

A significant trend following the Second Agricultural Revolution was urbanization. Urbanization is the process of population shifting from rural to urban areas. The reduced need for labor on farms caused workers to slowly migrate to urban areas for work instead. Urbanization was a crucial part of the industrial revolution. Factories concentrated in cities, so it was natural for people out of work in rural areas to seek residence in urban areas. Urbanization has continued around the world and is taking place today. After thousands and thousands of years of being a largely agrarian society, it's only relatively recently that a majority of humans live in cities.

Environmental Impact of the Second Agricultural Revolution

While the impacts of the Second Agricultural Revolution were mainly in allowing for massive population growth, the environment was not completely unchanged either.

Farmland Conversion and Habitat Loss

The revolution brought about increased use of drainage canals and the conversion of more land for agriculture. The addition of steam engines allowed for massive canals to be built, diverting the water from wetlands and draining them. Wetlands were previously thought to be nothing more than dangerous to human health and a blight on the environment, but are now understood as crucial habitats for many plants and animals, in addition to helping to boost the water quality of a region. Deforestation to make way for farmland also occurred in many countries as the number of plains and grasslands traditionally used for farming dwindled. With more need for water to irrigate crops, water supplies also faced increased strain.

Pollution and Urbanization

Even before the Second Agricultural Revolution, cities were never the portrait of sanitation and health. The black plague caused massive death and devastation and pests like rats were rampant in urban areas. But, with populations growing and cities booming, the problem of pollution and unsustainable use of resources became worse. The rapid growth of urban areas resulted in extremely poor air quality from factories and the burning of coal to heat homes.

Also, water quality declined as municipal waste and industrial runoff caused freshwater sources to be frequently poisoned, like the River Thames in London. While the rapid urbanization from the Industrial Revolution caused lots of pollution, several innovations like steam pumps helped power modern sewage systems, able to bring waste out of the city to be processed.

Second Agricultural Revolution - Key takeaways

  • The Second Agricultural Revolution occurred between the mid-17th century and 1900.
  • Numerous innovations like land enclosures, newer plows, and crop rotation variations enabled a huge spike in how much food could be grown.
  • The impact was a sharp growth in human population and urbanization as fewer people had to work in agriculture.
  • The Second Agricultural Revolution coincided with and enabled the Industrial Revolution.
  • Humans continue to contend with negative environmental consequences stemming from the Second Agricultural Revolution like loss of habitat and how to manage pollution from more people living in urban areas.

References

  1. Fig. 2: Gate to an Enclosure Eskdale, Cumbria (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Gate_to_an_Enclosure,_Eskdale,_Cumbria_-_geograph.org.uk_-_3198899.jpg) by Peter Trimming (https://www.geograph.org.uk/profile/34298) is licensed by CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/deed.en)
  2. Fig. 3: England population graph (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:PopulationEngland.svg) by Martinvl (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Martinvl) is licensed by CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/deed.en)

Frequently Asked Questions about Second Agricultural Revolution

The Second Agricultural Revolution was a period of innovation in Agriculture starting in England. This differs from the First Agricultural Revolution when farming was first pioneered.

While there are no concrete dates, it mainly took place between the 1650s and 1900.

The main place where the Second Agricultural Revolution took place was England. The innovations spread to other parts of Europe as well and now have an impact on agriculture worldwide.

The main causes of the Second Agricultural Revolution were several innovations in the way farming was done and farming technology. These include enclosures, which changed land ownership from being commonly held to privately held. Another is the seed drill, improved by agronomist Jethro Tull which allowed more effective seed planting.

The Second Agricultural Revolution enabled population growth, as opposed to being affected by it. An abundance of food allowed for a larger population.

Final Second Agricultural Revolution Quiz

Question

When did the Second Agricultural Revolution Occur?

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Answer

Between the 1650s and 1900.

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Question

Which of the following defines crop rotation?

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Answer

Planting the same crops year after year.

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Question

How does crop rotation improve agricultural productivity?

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Answer

Crop rotation improves soil nutrition and prevents the need for a fallow season or year.

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Question

What type of crop rotation was pioneered during the Second Agricultural Revolution in England?

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Answer

Norfolk four-course crop rotation.

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Question

Which farming implements were fundamental in the Second Agricultural Revolution?

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Answer

Seed drill.

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Question

Fill in the blanks: The creation of enclosures meant land that was previously _____ held was now _____ owned.

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Answer

commonly;privately.

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Question

How were enclosures important for the Second Agricultural Revolution?

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Answer

Enclosures meant farmers were more motivated to be productive and freed them to adopt new innovations in crop rotation and technology.

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Question

Which of the following describes the impact the Second Agricultural Revolution had on population growth in England?

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Answer

Increased growth.

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In what ways did the Second Agricultural Revolution impact the environment?

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Answer

The adaptation of the environment to suit the needs of farms, like draining wetlands and converting more land to farms damaged habitats. Also, increased urban populations led to problems of pollution.

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Question

How did the Second Agricultural Revolution lead to more people living in cities?

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Answer

Innovations in agriculture led to greater productivity, meaning that fewer workers were needed to tend to farms. This means people sought work in urban areas instead, also drawn to industrial job opportunities.

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Question

How does the Second Agricultural Revolution differ from the Neolithic Agricultural Revolution?

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Answer

The Neolithic Agricultural Revolution invented the first domestication of plants and agriculture as we know it. The Second Agricultural Revolution improved upon it with new technology and growing methods allowing for even greater food production.

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Question

How does a seed drill improve the planting of seeds?

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Answer

It allows seeds to be planted at consistent intervals and consistent depths.

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Question

True or false: Tractors powered by internal combustion engines were a key part of the Second Agricultural Revolution.

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Answer

False.

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Question

The process of an area becoming more urban is called _______.

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Answer

Cityfication.

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Question

The use of a moldboard plough required ______ livestock to pull compared to before.

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Answer

More.

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