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Agriculture Then and Now

Agriculture Then and Now
  • The Story of My Life and Work (by )
  • The History of Charlemagne (by )
  • Soils and Crops of the Farm (by )
  • Population : a study in Malthusianism (by )
  • An Essay on the Principle of Population;... (by )
  • M. Porci Catonis de Agri Cvltvra Liber. ... (by )
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Science records the development of agriculture back more than 10,000 years with Neolithic evidence of crops of wheat, barley, peas, lentils, chick peas, flax, and rice. Following the sowing and harvesting of grains and legumes, early Old World farmers domesticated pigs, then sheep, and then cattle. New World farmers focused on sorghum and potatoes, followed by coca, llamas, alpacas, and guinea pigs. Maize and cotton were latecomers to the agricultural repertoire.

Practices such as irrigation, crop rotation, and adding fertilizer to soil took firm hold in the mid-1600s and continued to advance through the late 1800s, although the Book of Leviticus contains instructions to observe a “Sabbath of the Land.” In his books M. Porci Catonis de Agri Cvltvra Libr. M. Terenti Varronis Rervm and de Re Rustica of  M. Porcius Cato, ancient Roman writer Cato the Elder recommended that farmers reserve the dung of livestock for use in enriching soil. Under Charlemagne’s rule in the 8th century, European farmers transitioned from a two-field crop rotation to a three-field rotation.

Learning not to deplete the soil, combined with the practice of enriching it, led to increased agricultural output. In the 18th century, the Right Honourable Viscount Charles Townshend promoted a four-field crop rotation cycle that included crops set aside for animal forage as well as human consumption. The development allowed for year-round livestock reproduction. That, plus increased imports of food, contributed to an exponential increase in populations that had access to this new abundance. The visible effects of population growth and concerns regarding the ability of agriculture to sustain it led to Reverend Thomas Robert Malthus’ essay on population theory, later referred to as Malthusianism.
In the late 1800s, American George Washington Carver brought southern farmers up to date with crop rotation methods. His book Help for the Hard Times, published in 1910, lays out an agricultural schedule directly addressed to southern farmers at the request of Booker T. Washington, principal of The Tuskegee Institute in Alabama.  The 1860s and early 1900s also witnessed substantial agricultural improvements under the direction of Peter Stolypin, Russian Minister of the Interior under the Romanovs. His influential work led to the “Great Land Decree of 1806,” which ultimately failed due to resistance from the Russian peasantry and political unrest that led to the Soviet Revolution.

The most influential and pivotal development of the so-called Agricultural Revolution was crop rotation. The World Library lists 49,760 ebook titles in English, French, German, Latin, and Castilian, related to this topic alone. Over 21,000 such titles were published in the 1800s, including Soils and Crops of the Farm by George Epsey Morrow in 1817. Crop rotation continues to play a major role in modern agriculture. The World Library contains no fewer than 378 documents on crop rotation alone that were published after Year 2000.

By Karen M. Smith

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