1902 Encyclopedia > Agriculture > British Agriculture: Leading Improvements since 1815

(Part 8)


Progress since 1815: Leading Improvements

We can here do little more than enumerate some of the more prominent improvements in practical agriculture which have taken place during the period under review. Before the close of the past century, and during the first quarter of the present one, a good deal had been done in the way of draining the land, wither by open ditches, or by Elkington;s system of deep covered drains. This system has now been superseded, by one altogether superior to it both in principle and practice. In 1835, James Smith of Deanston (honour to his memeory !) promulgated his now well-known system of thorough draining and deep ploughing. It has been carried out already to such an extent as to alter the very appearance and character of whole districts of our country, and has prepared the way for all other improvements. The words "Portable Manures" indicate at one another prominent feature in the agriculture of the times. Early in the present century, ground bones began to be used as manure turnips in the eastern counties of England, whence the practice spread, at first slowly, and then very rapidly, over the whole country. It was about 1815 that bones began to be generally used in Scotland. In 1841 the still more potent guano was introduced into Great Britain; and about the same time, bones under the new from of superphosphate of lime. By means of these invaluable fertilizers, a stimulus has been given to agriculture which can scarcely be over-rated.

The labour of agriculture has been greatly lightened, and its cost curtailed, by means of improved implements and machines. The steam-engine has taken the place of a jaded horses as a thrashing power. This was first done in East Lothian by Mr. Aitchison of Drumore, who about 1803 had his thrashing-machinery, at his distillery and farm of Clement’s Well, attached to a steam-engine, which was erected for him a few years previously by Bolton and Watt, for the works of the distillery. About 1818-20 several steam-engines on the condensing principle were erected in East Lothian, solely for the propelling of thrashing-machinery. One of these, put up by Mr. Reid of Drem, at a cost of £600, is still doing its work there, and, strange to say, after the lapse of fifty-five years, looks as well and is as efficient as when first erected. It would betedious to particularize other instances in this department, as it will be treated of fully in its proper place. It is especially in this department that the influence of the ever memorable Exhibition of the Industry of all Nations in 1851 has told upon agriculture. Reaping by machinery may virtually be regarded as one of the fruits of that great gathering.

The railways, by which the country is now intersected in all directions, have proved of great service to farmers, by conveying their bulky produce to distant markets cheaply and quickly, and by making lime and other manures available to the occupiers of many inland and remote districts. In nothing has this benefit been more apparent than in the case of fatted live stock, which is now invariably transported by this means, with manifest economy to all concerned.

During the whole of this period there has been going on great improvements in all our breeds of domesticated animals. This has been manifested not so much in the production of individual specimens of high merit --- in which respect the Leicesters of Bakewell, or the short-horns of Colling, have perhaps not yet been excelled --- as in the diffusion of these and other good breeds over the country, and in the improved quality of our live stock as a whole. The fattening of animals is now conducted on more scientific principles. Increased attention has also been successfully bestowed on the improvement of our field crops. Improved varieties, obtained by cross-impregnation, either naturally or artificially brought about, have been carefully propagated, and generally adopted. Increased attention is now bestowed on the cultivation of the natural grasses. The most important additions to our list of field crops during this period have been Italian rye-grass, winter beans, white Belgian carrot, sugar beet, and alsike clover.

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