1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Agriculture

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For works with similar titles, see Agriculture.

AGRICULTURE (from Lat. ager, field, and colere, to cultivate), the science, art and industry of utilizing the soil so as to produce the means of human subsistence, embracing in its widest sense the rearing of live-stock as well as the raising of crops. The history of agriculture is the history of man in his most primitive, and most permanent aspect. Hence the nations of antiquity ascribed to it a divine origin; Brahma in Hindustan, Isis in Egypt, Demeter in Greece, and Ceres in Italy, were its founders. The simplest form of agriculture is that in which crops are raised from one patch of ground till it is exhausted, when it is allowed to go wild and abandoned for another. This "extensive" husbandry is found in combination with a nomadic or semi-nomadic and pastoral organization, such as that of the German tribes described by Caesar and Tacitus (see especially Germania, 26). The discovery of the uses of the bare fallow and of manure, by making it possible to raise crops from the same area for an indefinite period, marks a stage of progress. This "intensive" culture in a more or less developed form was practised by the great nations of antiquity, and little decided advance was made till after the middle ages. The introduction of new plants, which made it possible to dispense with the bare fallow, and still later the application to husbandry of scientific discoveries as to soils, plant constituents and manures, brought about a revolution in farming. But the progress of husbandry, evidenced by the production of larger and better crops with more certainty, is due to that rationalizing of agricultural practices which is the work of modern times. What before was done in the light of experience is nowadays done in the light of knowledge. Even the earliest forms of intensive cultivation demand the practice of the fundamental processes of husbandry—ploughing, manuring, sowing, weeding, reaping. It is the improvements in methods, implements and materials, brought about by the application of science, that distinguish the husbandry of the 20th century from that of medieval and ancient times.

Sections
  1. Ancient Husbandry
  2. History of English Agriculture