What might be deemed the first agricultural revolution was when prehistoric man discovered how to cultivate his own food. This marked the move from a nomadic hunter-gatherer society to one of permanent settlements, villages, towns and eventually, cities.
Another development that many historians consider to have been pivotal in the development of agriculture was the taming of animals. This enabled farmers to harness animals to help in the strenuous task of tilling the land. Another milestone, and equally revolutionary, was the invention of the plow. This piece of equipment enabled the farmer to prepare the soil far more easily than by using conventional hand tools.
What is called the agricultural revolution began in Europe around 1750. At that time, Europe began undergoing a process of change that was to alter the face of society completely. The industrial revolution brought with it new ways of performing old tasks that resulted in higher output. New machinery and new production methods were invented that slowly made the cottage industry format of society obsolete.
Perhaps the most well know example is that of the textile business. Previous to the introduction of complex machinery, the production of fabrics had been a local, small scale, often family-based business. The invention of machinery that could produce hundreds of meters of cloth in a fraction of the time needed by the traditional weaver dramatically changed the textile industry. Many other industries were similarly altered.
The industrial revolution also brought about a concentration of people in the cities. Previously, most of the population had lived in the countryside. But the new, labor-intensive industries demanded an increasingly larger force. People moved by the thousands from the countryside to the towns, drawn by the promise of employment and a steady wage. They were also attracted to the more secure and predictable work of the factory as opposed to the uncertainty of agricultural life.
At the same time, the birth rate increased significantly, especially in the towns. This had a great impact on agriculture and helped cause the modern agricultural revolution. There were many more people who needed to be fed.
Populations in rural areas dropped as more and more people left for the cities. This meant that there were fewer people to work the land and agricultural production fell. For the populations of the growing urban center, this was potentially a disaster.
The solution was a two-pronged one based on new technologies, science and ingenuity. First, technology was used to develop new forms of transportation. On land, the railway system was developed. For the sea, larger, swifter and steadier ships were built. Trade increased significantly. One means of addressing the shortage of food was to import it from other countries. This in turn led to the establishment of commercial and national empires.
Second, with fewer people available to farm the land, new farming methods and machinery were developed. These advancements enabled less people to do the work that had formerly been done by many. Examples of this are the threshing machines, harvesting machines, bigger and better plows and the steam engine. The latter invention resulted in the ability to replace the traditional horse and oxen with a machine that never tired and could work in all conditions.
There can be no doubt that the industrial revolution was a defining moment in the development of society. But the agricultural revolution that came in its wake was just as significant.