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Agriculture & forestry


The scientific development and later industrialization of agriculture was centred in Europe and primarily in England and France.


The stirrings of a new phase in the history of agriculture were gathering momentum in the 18th century. Rapidly increasing populations were demanding increasing diversity and improved productivity. Scotland was an early leader and its ideas followed on the continent but the link with science was weak, the most influential early work being by Jethro Tull (1674-1741) drawing on early Roman applied knowledge, his contribution including improved hoeing techniques and the invention of a seed drill. But there was need for an overhaul as he was, for example, opposed to manuring, knowledge of chemistry was lacking.[12] Seed exchange and plant acclimatization were part of this enterprise along with the founding, especially in the second half of the century, of important new agricultural institutions like the Societe d’Agriculture de Paris (est. 1761) as a hub for provincial associations, along with journals like the Journal of Agriculture; Commerce and Finance (1763-1783) and the Annals of Agriculture (1784-1815). In both Britain and France government became involved in agricultural improvement, the Board of Agriculture being formed in 1793. Between 1774 and 1789 French savants ascribed greater English prosperity to its superior agriculture.[13]


Among the first stirrings of modern conservation occurred during the Enlightenment with the realization of the significance of the European forests for the welfare and standing of Euorpean powers. Britain had relied on its native forests for many years as a source of fuel and building material, not least of all for its ships, especially the straight trunks needed for the masts. And as the Industrial Revolution gathered momentum forest was cleared for agriculture. If Britain was to maintain its naval supremacy then it needed a reliable source of timber. Record-keeping was poor and before the 19th century. In France Jean-Baptiste Colbert had prepared what became an ordinance in 1669 which defined the royal jurisdiction of waters and forests and was a pioneering work in forest conservation, the country being divided up into administered districts with a legal framework for resolving land disputes. Several eminent citizens including Buffon, who was especially concerned about the oak, explored on their own estates ways of conserving existing woodland and renewing those that had been depleted experimenting. Another outstanding figure was Duhamel du Monceau (an agronomist trained in botany by Bernard de Jussieu) whose two volume encyclopaedic 1755 work Traitédes arbres at arbustes qui se cultivent en France en plein terre is taken as the establishment of forestry science.[14] It was mostly after the American Revolution that ornamental tree planting became directed towards the provision of timber for building and the navy. A garden and nursery was set up in New Jersey for the export of plants to France but with mixed fortunes. Botanist in charge was Andre Michaux whose son, François André , disappointed with the neglect of the project continued the project and managed to supply plants to Trianon, Malmaison and Cels. A Flanders botanist Gabriel-Antoine-Joseph Hécart in 1794-5 wrote an influential book outlining a plea to conserving forest exhorting more action in conservation in the face of rapidly diminishing supplies, urging the government to be more proactive, warning of the dispossession of the small by the large and the importance of connection with the soil, envisioning a “republic of yeomen”.[15] He specifically recommended government forest conservation; a halt on clearing; funding for experimentation with exotic trees; reward for successful acclimatization of useful trees. As a consequence of these concerns reforestation was indeed achieved in the 19th century in what historian Williams records as heartening achievement given “enlightened political leadership supported by sound scientific evidence”.[16]

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