The Second Agricultural Revolution: Advancing Farming Techniques and Productivity

The Second Agricultural Revolution, also known as the British Agricultural Revolution, was a significant period of agricultural innovation and transformation that occurred in the late 17th century through the 19th century in Europe, particularly in Britain. This revolution brought about major changes in agricultural practices, leading to increased productivity, greater efficiency, and advancements in food production.

Key Developments:

  1. Enclosure Movement: One of the fundamental changes during the Second Agricultural Revolution was the enclosure movement. Previously, farmlands were often shared and open, but the enclosure movement led to the consolidation of land into private farms. This allowed for more efficient land management, improved cultivation, and greater control over resources.
  2. Crop Rotation: Farmers adopted more sophisticated crop rotation systems, such as the Norfolk four-course rotation. This involved dividing the land into four fields and rotating crops such as wheat, turnips, barley, and clover. Crop rotation helped maintain soil fertility, prevent depletion of nutrients, and increased overall yields.
  3. Selective Breeding and Improved Livestock: The Second Agricultural Revolution saw the rise of selective breeding in livestock. Farmers selectively bred animals with desirable traits, such as higher milk yield or better meat quality, leading to improved breeds of cattle, sheep, and other livestock.
  4. Advancements in Agricultural Machinery: The development of more efficient and specialized agricultural machinery revolutionized farming. Innovations like the seed drill, invented by Jethro Tull, allowed for more precise planting of seeds, leading to increased crop yields. The threshing machine, reaper, and other mechanical devices also contributed to enhanced productivity.
  5. Use of Fertilizers and Manures: The understanding of soil chemistry and nutrient requirements improved during this period. Farmers began using artificial fertilizers, such as guano and chemical compounds, to enhance soil fertility and crop growth. Manure from livestock was also used extensively as organic fertilizer.
  6. Increased Encouragement of Agricultural Science: Agricultural societies, universities, and research institutes were established to promote scientific approaches to farming. This led to the dissemination of agricultural knowledge, experimentation, and the adoption of best practices.


The Second Agricultural Revolution had a profound impact on European societies and economies:

  • Increased Food Production: The adoption of new farming techniques and technologies led to significant increases in food production. This supported a growing population and helped feed the expanding urban centers during the Industrial Revolution.
  • Higher Agricultural Surpluses: The surplus agricultural production enabled economic growth and the development of industries beyond agriculture.
  • Population Growth: With more abundant and diverse food supplies, the population of Europe experienced significant growth during this period.
  • Urbanization: As agricultural productivity increased, fewer farmers were needed to produce food, leading to rural-urban migration and the rise of industrial cities.
  • Industrial Revolution: The increased availability of food and raw materials from agriculture provided a foundation for the Industrial Revolution. The surplus labor force from agriculture fueled industrialization.

The Second Agricultural Revolution marked a turning point in European agriculture, transforming traditional farming practices and paving the way for greater productivity and innovation. The adoption of new techniques and technologies not only increased food production but also contributed to social, economic, and industrial changes that shaped the course of history. This period remains a crucial milestone in the development of modern agriculture and its influence on the growth of human civilization.

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