The Second Agricultural Revolution is a term that describes the development of agriculture in Great Britain between the middle of the 17th and the end of the 19th centuries.
It saw an unprecedented increase in productivity and crop yields, ending cycles of food shortages.
This period of industrialization and technological advancement introduced innovative tools such as crop rotation, mechanical reapers, seed drills, chemical fertilizers, and animal labor.
These new technologies revolutionized old-fashioned farming practices, increasing production and efficiency worldwide.
Also known as the British Agricultural Revolution, it revolutionized the agriculture industry, resulting in remarkable increases in crop yield and a subsequent rise in living standards for many rural areas.
It boosted farm efficiency and altered how food was produced and distributed across the country.
This revolution is commonly studied in AP Human Geography classes.
Definition of the Second Agricultural Revolution
The Second Agricultural Revolution marked a period of intense innovation in Great Britain’s agricultural industry spanning from the 17th to 19th centuries.
According to Engelman (2021), “the second industrial revolution (2IR) fostered new paradigms in global food production” (Adebo et al., 2023, p. 394).
This era was marked by a remarkable enhancement in production and crop output due to the application of innovative technologies, such as mechanized harvesting machines, chemical fertilizers, rotating crops among fields, and animal labor.
The revolution was a series of innovations and improvements beginning in England during the 1600s that drastically raised agricultural productivity while improving food distribution across the country (Floud, 2010).
In simple terms, this period of time is credited with revolutionizing the agriculture industry and instilling unprecedented rises in living standards for many rural areas. It also had a global impact, ultimately transforming food production and distribution.
Second Agricultural Revolution Dates and Time Period
Many scientists argue that the Second Agricultural Revolution marks the development of agriculture in Great Britain between the middle of the 17th and the end of the 19th centuries.
Some authors believe that it occurred between 1500 and 1850. During this time, Europe saw a surge in agricultural production by developing new tools and technologies (Overton, 1996).
So, the 16th century marked a monumental shift from subsistence to commercial farming, while the 19th century saw the dawn of new crop rotations and advancements in livestock (International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center, 1987).
Although the exact dates of the Second Agricultural Revolution are difficult to pinpoint, it is estimated to have occurred from 1650-1900 and simultaneously with the Industrial Revolution.
Main Characteristics of the Second Agricultural Revolution
This period of time brought forth a handful of transformative developments, from the mechanization of farming to improved transportation networks, large-scale irrigation systems, and changing consumer habits.
Here are some of its main characteristics:
1. Mechanization of Agricultural Production
The Second Agricultural Revolution saw the introduction of mechanized reapers, seed drills, and chemical fertilizers, resulting in higher yields and lower labor costs.
Such a practice allowed for an efficient and uniform distribution of crops across Europe (Overton, 1996).
2. Improved Transportation Networks
The introduction of new transportation networks drastically increased the availability of food in distant places. It enabled farmers to sell and distribute their products to a much broader market than before.
3. Development of Large-Scale Irrigation Systems
The Revolution saw the development of large-scale irrigation systems, which enabled farmers to water their crops and prevent damage due to dryness systematically (Overton, 1996).
As a result, more land was used, leading to a more efficient use of resources.
4. Changing Consumer Habits
The Revolution also brought about changes in consumer habits. People began to eat more diverse foods with increased availability, leading to improved nutrition and living standards.
Major Innovations and Inventions of the Second Agricultural Revolution
The Second Agricultural Revolution brought forth many innovations that revolutionized the industry. Some of them include Norfolk four-course rotation, seed drill, mouldboard plow, threshing machine, and much more.
Here are some of the major innovations and inventions that arose during this period:
1. Norfolk Four-Course Rotation
The Norfolk four-course rotation was developed in 1764 and practiced alternating crop cycles, mainly wheat, turnips, barley, and clover.
The Norfolk four-course crop rotation system revolutionized farming productivity, requiring planting a different crop type each season. This method allows farmers to maximize their output while using minimal resources.
The Norfolk four-course crop rotation prevented a barren “fallow year” and increased the yield with additional nutrients from animal manure (Overtone, 1996).
This groundbreaking system was an innovative way to promote sustainability while ensuring continuous harvests in agricultural production.
2. Seed Drill
Humans have been sowing seeds in the soil for millennia by individually placing them or carelessly scattering them across the ground. The seed drill was invented in 1701 and is attributed to Jethro Tull (Kerridge, 2013).
The seed drill revolutionized farming productivity by allowing farmers to plant in neat, uniform rows. This was much more efficient than traditional methods as it prevented crop wastage and enabled better distribution of soil nutrients across the field.
3. Mouldboard Plow
The invention of the the mouldboard plow in 1730 had a great impact on farming practices as it allowed farmers to till the soil more efficiently.
The implementation of moldboard plows was a revolutionary move in farming, as it demanded fewer animals to power them and eliminated the need for cross-plowing.
It enabled farmers to reduce labor costs while turning over the soil without clogging the machine (Kerridge, 2013).
4. Threshing Machine
The threshing machine was invented in 1784 by Andrew Meikle, revolutionizing the harvesting process. The machine separated the grain from the stems and chaff, allowing farmers to thresh their crops more efficiently than with manual labor.
This machine was an essential part of the Second Agricultural Revolution, as it enabled farmers to harvest far more crops in a shorter period of time. It increased their productivity and reduced wastage from spoiled crops (Overton, 1996).
5. Cyrus McCormick’s Reaper
Cyrus McCormick and his reaper, invented in 1831, transformed the process of harvesting grain by reducing labor costs. This device was capable of cutting and binding grain crops in one pass, eliminating the need for hand-scything.
McCormick’s reaper was credited for the rapid growth of grain production in the United States and Europe, allowing farmers to produce a surplus of crops at a fraction of traditional costs.
6. Barbed Wire Fence
The invention of barbed wire fences in 1875 revolutionized ranching by enabling ranchers to contain their livestock with a much simpler and cost-effective solution.
This new invention allowed ranchers to quickly and easily construct fences without needing labor-intensive wooden or stone walls. The barbed wire fence also enabled ranchers to create more efficient and secure grazing fields for their livestock.
7. Selective Breeding
Selective breeding, which is the process of selectively mating two organisms to produce offspring with desired traits, was used by farmers and ranchers in the mid-1800s.
This innovative method revolutionized animal husbandry and crop production by allowing farmers to produce offspring with the desired traits for higher yields and better quality (Kerridge, 2013).
Selective breeding was an essential part of the development of modern food production practices.
8. Introduction of New Crops
The introduction of new crop varieties in the late 19th century changed the face of agricultural production. New varieties, such as hybrid corn and disease-resistant wheat, were developed and introduced to increase crop yields (Kerridge, 2013).
It was an important innovation as it allowed farmers to produce more food with fewer resources, a key factor in the growth of food production.
Consequences of the Second Agricultural Revolution
The Second Agricultural Revolution’s main consequences include increased food production, rural-urban migration, social changes, and economic growth.
First, the new farming technologies enabled farmers to produce a surplus of food and made it more affordable, resulting in increased incomes and improved nutrition for many people.
With this advantage, Britain could provide sustenance for its ever-expanding population while becoming a leader in the food production industry.
Second, rural-urban migration also grew as the new technologies enabled farmers to produce more food with fewer people, leading many workers to seek employment in urban areas.
It significantly impacted the way of life as people moved away from their rural homes in search of better opportunities.
Finally, this period also significantly impacted social and economic structures. The Second Agricultural Revolution allowed the development of large-scale capitalist farming and large-scale corporate agriculture.
The Second Agricultural Revolution wrought radical changes in Britain’s social structure, as ancient rural communities underwent immense transformations and new modes of property ownership arose.
Simply, it revolutionized the way of life as people embraced new economic models focused on profit and efficiency.
Comparison: First vs Second vs Third Agricultural Revolutions
|Feature||First Agricultural Revolution||Second Agricultural Revolution||Third Agricultural Revolution|
|Time Period||8000 BCE – 5000 BCE||17th – 19th century||1960s – present|
|Other Names||Neolithic Revolution||British Agricultural Revolution||AgTech Revolution|
|Location||The Fertile Crescent||Europe and the Americas||Global|
|Main Developments||Development of agriculture, domestication of plants and animals||Enclosure movement, introduction of new crops and farm equipment||Precision agriculture, genetic engineering, use of technology|
|Impact||Allowed for settled communities and rise of civilization||Increased food production and improved agricultural efficiency||Increased food production, improved sustainability and efficiency|
Thanks to the Second Agricultural Revolution, farming underwent an evolution. The introduction of cutting-edge technologies empowered producers to get more from less – higher yields with fewer resources and labor costs.
The consequences of the Second Agricultural Revolution continue to be felt today, as the effects of increased food production and rural-urban migration still shape our world.
The Second Agricultural Revolution truly revolutionized the way of life and opened up a world of possibilities for future generations. It, therefore, remains one of the most important revolutions ever occurring in agriculture’s history.
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Floud, R. (2010). The Cambridge economic history of modern Britain. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center. (1987). The future development of maize and wheat in the third world. Centro Internacional De Mejoramiento De Maiz Y Trigo.
Kerridge, E. (2013). The agricultural revolution. London: Routledge.
Overton, M. (1996). Agricultural revolution in England. New York: CUP.