As we near the first day of spring and shake of the remnants of a cold, wet winter, we wanted to take a look back at a brief history of agriculture in BC and around the world. Technology in agriculture has come so far that we sometimes forget its humble beginnings. We went from hand plows, to horse-drawn plows to large clunky machines belching out black smoke in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Fast forward to the present, we are seeing tractors built specifically to reduce emissions and provide more power, but striving to have the same environmental impact as the horse-drawn machines. Click here to learn more about tractors and emission controls.
The Farming Revolution
In about 10,000 – 9000 BC (11,000 – 12,000 years ago) a massive cultural shift happened that would change the course of history. Whereas humans previously subsisted by hunting animals and gathering wild plants, we realized that we could grow our own food by preparing the land and watering the plants. Wheat, barley, peas and lentils could be grown in quantity, supporting a larger number of humans that didn’t have to move around to find food. By 7000 BC, we domesticated sheep, pigs and goats. Cattle was first domesticated in 6000 BC and suddenly we had large groups of people living in close quarters, early towns and cities were born.
Farming in the Middle Ages
Farming techniques improved dramatically in the Middle Ages, the biggest improvement was the introduction of the heavy plow. Using oxen to pull a plow was invented in 4000 BC, but around 900 AD the heavy plow was born. This enabled Europeans to plow the heavy, clay soil much more efficiently.
Another big development was the three-field system. Land was divided into three huge fields, two were sown with crops and one was left fallow to allow the soil to recover nutrients.
18th Century Farming
During the 18th century, farming was gradually transformed by the seed drill. Invented by Jethro Tull, this machine sowed seed in straight lines, allowing for more efficient growth and weed control between the rows. It was also during this time, farmers began selective breeding their livestock, evolving animals that produced more meat, wool and milk.
19th Century British Columbia
Agriculture in BC was first developed to support the fur trade. Fort Fraser is the first site in British Columbia to be cultivated by non-First Nations people. For centuries before that, First Nations hunted, gathered and farmed food across BC.
Commercial demand for agriculture products was increased by gold rushes after 1858 in BC. However, the Canadian Railroad destroyed the early wheat industry. As BC could not compete with wheat from the Prairies, either in quality or price.
The British Columbia Fruit-Growers Association was founded in 1889, and is the first formal organization of producers in the province.
20th & 21st Century British Columbia
Farming in BC (and across the world) became mechanized in this century. Early in the century, tractors were gradually replacing horses. Milking machines became common after 1940 and combine harvesters began appearing in the 1950’s. It was around this time that farmers first started using artificial insemination to enhance the selective breeding process that had been common for more than 100 years.
For the past 60 years, British Columbia’s Agriculture industry has become world-renown for its quality. Whether it be berries in the Fraser Valley, apples and wine in the Okanagan, or livestock raised all across this province, BC continues to lead the way with innovation and technology in farming. A brief history of agriculture in BC and around the world has shown how important farming is not only to this region, but all of the regions we export to as well.
An interesting fact based on the current world population growth. By 2050, farmers will have to produce as much food annually as our entire species has grown since farming began in 10,000 BC. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), that is a 70% increase over the current production levels.
One of the ways we innovate is the introduction of new farming equipment designed to make the process more efficient for the farmer. If you are interested in the future of farming equipment, we encourage you to speak with the agriculture equipment experts at Handlers Equipment.