The Industrial Revolution and Land Transformation

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Chapter 4

The Industrial Revolution and Land Transformation

David Grigg



Since 1800 the developed countries of the world have all gone through the process of industrialization, and this has had dramatic consequences for agriculture.
First industrialization was everywhere accompanied by rapid population growth, which in itself increased the demand for food. But in addition, industrialization led to an increasing proportion of the population living in towns, and thus dependent upon the agricultural population for their food. This encouraged the commercialization of agriculture and the decline of subsistence farming.

Second, industrialization led to slow increases in the incomes of nearly all classes. As long as the bulk of the population had wages little above the subsistence level, then most of the diet had to come from cheap foodstuffs (mainly cereals and potatoes). Indeed, as late as 1880, 70% of the French calorific intake came from bread and potatoes (Toutain, 1971). But as incomes rose so the demand for more expensive foodstuffs, and in particular livestock products, increased. From the end of the nineteenth century livestock products became an increasing proportion of the diet in North America and Western Europe, and as a result farming turned increasingly to the production of livestock products which now make up between 55% and 85% of the value of total farm output in developed countries. This has not led to any decline in the importance of cereals in the agriculture of these countries. Livestock are fed increasingly upon grain; in the developed countries 70% of all grain is used as livestock feed (Aymard, 1975; Teuteberg,1975).

Third, the first industrial revolution saw a shift in the raw materials of industry from the organic to the inorganic; even so agricultural products were increasingly needed by manufacturing industry. The development of machinery in the textile industries in Western Europe combined with income increases and population growth led to an almost insatiable demand for cotton and wool, satisfied only by the westward expansion of cotton-growing in the United States, and later more widely in the subtropics, whilst Australia and New Zealand became sheep farms for Bradford. Vegetable oils became of major importance, not only for cooking, but before the exploitation of petroleum, as lubricants, as the basis for paints and for many other industrial purposes. With the development of the electrical engineering industry, and later motor vehicles, rubber moved from a minor curiosity to a -major raw material, and in the early twentieth century rubber expanded prodigiously in south-east Asia (Grigg, 1974).
A further 'consequence of industrialization was that farming ceased to provide all its own inputs. In traditional agriculture farmers got their seed from their own harvest, their manure from their livestock, feed for animals from grass or roots grown on their own farm. Implements were bought locally, generally made by craftsmen, and power came from human and animal muscle. But from the 1830s and 1840s farmers increasingly bought more and more of their inputs from off the farm, much of these from manufacturing industry. In the mid-nineteenth century the theory of Liebig in Germany and the practice of J. B. Lawes in England led to the beginnings of the modern chemical fertilizer industry. At much the same time the availability of cheap iron and the need for more powerful equipment led to the rise of the modern agricultural implements industry which from the 1840s provided iron ploughs, drills, reapers, steam threshing engines, in the 1870s reaper-binders and elevators, in the 1890s the first milking machines, combine harvesters and tractors; much of the initiative now came from the United States, although advances in dairying began in Western Europe (Ojala, 1952; Whetham, 1970; Danhof, 1972).
The dependence of the farmer upon purchased inputs accelerated after the end of the Second World War as pesticides were widely adopted to control disease and herbicides replaced the hoe and harrow; fertilizer consumption has risen dramatically in the developed countries and an extraordinary variety of implements is available to sow and harvest crops. Whereas in the 1930s horses and human muscle provided most of the power on farms in Europe and North America, electricity and the tractor provide nearly all now.
Industrialization has transformed the role of agriculture in the economies of the western world. In the early eighteenth century farmers and farm workers made up three-quarters or more of the labour force in nearly every country. But during the industrialization of the nineteenth century the numbers employed in new manufacturing industries, in transport, and in mining increased far more rapidly than the numbers in agriculture; in the present century this trend has continued as the number in administration and other services has risen. Consequently the proportion of the workforce employed in agriculture has greatly declined. In Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States it is now no more than 2% (Dovring, 1959; Grigg, 1975). In pre-industrial Europe agriculture provided most of the wealth: now agriculture produces a small proportion of the gross domestic product in most developed countries. In the European Economic Community farming employs only 8% of the workforce and produces but 4% of the gross domestic product.
Although the proportion of the population engaged in agriculture has been declining in Western Europe and North America since the early nineteenth century, the absolute numbers continued to increase for much of the century, for natural increase in the rural areas exceeded emigration to the urban areas. But in the late nineteenth century the labour force began to decline slowly at first, at a dramatic rate after 1945 (Figure 4.7). This has led to pronounced changes in agriculture. Capital, in the form of machinery, has been substituted for labour. Farms have become bigger in order to exploit fully the capabilities of tractors and combine harvesters. Labour productivity has increased rapidly-indeed for the last three decades more rapidly than in manufacturing industry. Whereas on the eve of the industrial revolution it took four men employed in agriculture to feed one man in non-agricultural activities, one man in American agriculture now feeds fifty or sixty in other jobs (Cochrane, 1979; Rasmussen, 1982; FAO, 1972).

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