Technology has shaped agriculture in a number of ways making modern farming practices almost unrecognizable to a farmer from a hundred years ago and utterly foreign to one from a thousand years ago. But technology has also been shaped by agricultural advances. Many argue that agricultural advances are actually what kickstarted the Industrial Revolution, which had a monumental impact on modern life as we know it.
This interplay between technology and farming, highlighted in the Industrial Revolution and agricultural inventions, illustrates how much cross-sector collaboration shapes our world. Sharing ideas between industries like hardtech, agriculture, manufacturing and SaaS continues to lead to advancements for all fields, and an AgTech conference that provides cross-sector collaboration between industries like hard tech, agriculture, manufacturing, and SaaS fosters the next great revolutionary advances. Rally is the largest global cross-sector innovation conference, and will be a great venue for exploring the impact of technology on agriculture for innovative ideas.
In this article, we’ll explore the historical context around the industrial and agricultural revolutions of the 1700s and how we can learn from these events as we continue to improve farming practices in Agriculture 4.0.
What Caused the Agricultural Revolution?
There are several periods of time known as the agricultural revolutions, from the Neolithic period around 12,000 years ago when humans first began cultivating crops, to the introduction of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning that is happening in farming today. We’re going to focus on the period also known as the British Agricultural Revolution (or the Second Agricultural Revolution), which was a time of unprecedented growth in agricultural output. The exact time period is debated but includes the late 1600s to the late 1700s when food growing increased faster than the population did.
This revolution was caused by a complicated set of interactions between people, the economy, and advances in technology happening across Europe and the world at the time. There is no one cause or exact starting point, but let’s look at an agricultural invention’s timeline to better understand what advances were occurring.
- 1604-1750 | Enclosure Acts are put into place in England that allow landowners to enclose their land for private agricultural cultivation, removing Commons which had been commonly used land for the public to graze their animals.
- Late 1600s | Crop rotation that utilized nitrogen-fixing cover crops and eliminated fallow years (called the Norfolk four-course system) became widespread.
- 1701 | Jethro Tull invents the seed drill, a way to mechanize seed planting using a plow.
- 1715 | Potatoes were widely planted in Britain and across Europe, having been introduced from the New World. They replaced much of the previously planted wheat with much higher caloric value food, so the similarly-sized field could feed more people and animals.
- Late 1700s | National markets for crops became established, allowing food to be grown and sold over larger distances, no longer primarily supporting the farmer and their family.
How Did the Agricultural Revolution Impact the Industrial Revolution?
Sweeping changes happened in society with the effects of the agricultural revolution. Farmers could now grow vastly more food with far fewer people working in the fields. More food led to a population boom, but there was less work to be had on farms. This led to a widespread move of people into urban areas and more labor available for industrial purposes.
Let’s look at the Industrial Revolution timeline, to get a sense of how the agricultural revolution fit into its progression. Just like with the agricultural revolution, there is not a definitive start and end point to many of these advances, just an overall increase and speeding up of industrial advances.
- 1770 | A yarn spinning machine called the spinning jenny was invented by James Hargreaves.
- 1775 | Steam engines were used by Richard Arkwright to power textile making machinery. Arkwright would later be known as the creator of the modern factory system.
- 1793 | The cotton gin was invented by Eli Whitney in the USA, which sparks the concept of mass producing interchangeable machinery parts.
- 1807 | Belgium develops machine shops and becomes the first country in Europe to experience economic transformation due to industrialization.
- 1811 | Social opposition begins by people who are being displaced by industrialization, called Luddites.
What Were the Effects of the Industrial Revolution on Agriculture or Farming?
The links between the agricultural and industrial revolutions at this time are so numerous that it becomes difficult to tease them apart. Industrialization and technological advances were made possible by improvements in agriculture, which then continued to enhance farming practices. Leaps being made by the industrial revolution on farming continue to shape agriculture to this day.
The mechanization of planting, growing, watering, and fertilizing crops has evolved from the seed drill, to the tractor, to the AI-controlled greenhouse and robotic weeding machines.
Rally: The Next Frontier of Technology and Agriculture
It’s clear from this look at history that technology and agriculture have been and still are linked in huge and important ways. Leaning into these connections by attending a cross-sector innovation conference allows today’s agricultural leaders to connect and share with other tech industries.
Rally is the largest multi-industry innovation conference, and offers six different studios to this years attendees:
- Ag and Food