Factors Responsible for the Agricultural Revolution in the Nineteenth Century in the United States.
The agricultural revolution was characterized by a drastic improvement in farming techniques within a short period of time. Also known as the British Agricultural Revolution, the second agricultural revolution started around 300 years ago in the 18th century. Major changes of this agricultural revolution were systematic crop rotation and selectively breeding livestock. In the United States, revolution in agriculture started stemming in the civil war involved a drastic shift from subsistence farming to commercial agriculture and a shift from hand labor towards machine farming. Despite the tremendous gains that had occurred in the agricultural industry, agriculture remained the basic occupation for the United States. The number of farms in the United States tripled between 1860 and 1910 increasing from 2 million to 6 million. Additionally, the area that was being farmed more than doubled to 351 million from 160 million hectares.
In the United States, the production of basic commodities such as corn, cotton, and wheat between 1860 and 1890 outstripped all the past figures. Notably, the population in the United States more than doubled and the cities recorded the highest growth. During this time, the American farmer was able to grow cotton and grain, clip enough wool, and raise enough pork and beef to supply American workers and their farmers and develop ever-increasing surpluses.
Various factors accounted for the extraordinary achievements of the agrarian revolution. One of the factors responsible was the expansion into the West. Another factor causing the agrarian revolution was the application of machines to farming. Farmers in the 1800s only used a handle sickle that could, at best, cut 20% per hectare of wheat in a full day. However, suing a cradle, 30 years later he could cut 80% of a hectare daily. It seemed miraculous when Cyrus McCormick, in 1840 cut two and a half hectares from two hectares per day using a reaper machine(Fiszbein, 12). McCormick had developed the curious machine for the last ten years. He foresaw the demand of the machine and as a result he decided to move west to the young town of Chicago where he put a factory. By 1860, he had sold 250, 000 thousand reapers. More farm machines were developed rapidly including the threshing machine, the automatic wire binder, and the reaper-threshers. Mechanical cutters, planters, shellers, and huskers appeared, as did potato planters, cream separators, manure spreaders, poultry incubators, hay driers, and a hundred inventions.
Additionally, something that was less important than machinery in the agrarian revolution in the United States was science. The Morrill Land Grant College Act of 1862, assigned public land to every state for the establishment of industrial and agricultural colleges. These were meant to function as both educational institutions and centers for research in scientific farming. Consequently, Congress appropriated funds necessary for the development of agricultural experiment stations across the country as well as gave funds directly to the Department of Agriculture to facilitate research purposes (Lacy and Lawrence 21). By the start of the twentieth century, scientists across the United States worked on a variety of agricultural projects. Ironically, the same federal policy that made it possible for farmers to have increased yields generated vast supplies with the time that pushed market prices down disheartened farmers.
Fiszbein, Martin. “Agricultural Diversity, Structural Change, and Long-Run Development: Evidence from the United States.” American Economic Journal: Macroeconomics 14.2 (2022): 1-43.
Lacy, William B., and Lawrence Busch. “The changing division of labor between the university and industry: the case of agricultural biotechnology.” Biotechnology and the new agricultural revolution. CRC Press, 2019. 21-50.