Three-field system

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The three-field system is a regime of crop rotation in which a field is planted with one set of crops one year, a different set in the second year, and left fallow only once every three years. A set of crops is rotated from one field to another. The technique was first used in China in the Eastern Zhou period, [1] and was adopted in Europe in the medieval period.

Three-field system with ridge and furrow fields (furlongs) Three Field System.svg
Three-field system with ridge and furrow fields (furlongs)

The three-field system let farmers plant more crops and therefore increase production. Under this system, the arable land of an estate or village was divided into three large fields: one was planted in the autumn with winter wheat or rye; the second field was planted with other crops such as peas, lentils, or beans; and the third was left fallow (unplanted). Cereal crops deplete the ground of nitrogen, but legumes can fix nitrogen and so fertilize the soil. The fallow fields were soon overgrown with weeds and used for grazing farm animals. Their excrement fertilized that field's soil to regain its nutrients. Crop assignments were rotated every year, so each field segment would be planted for two out of every three years.

Previously a two-field system had been in place, with half the land being left fallow. With more crops available to sell and agriculture dominating the economy at the time, the three-field system created a significant surplus and increased economic prosperity. [2]

The three-field system needed more plowing of land and its introduction coincided with the adoption of the moldboard plow. These parallel developments complemented each other and increased agricultural productivity. The legume crop needed summer rain to succeed, and so the three-field system was less successful around the Mediterranean. Oats for horse food could also be planted in the spring, which, combined with the adoption of horse collars and horseshoes, led to replacement of oxen by horses for many farming tasks, with an associated increase in agricultural productivity and the nutrition available to the population. [3]

In his 1769 work Lehre vom Gyps als vorzueglich guten Dung zu allen Erd-Gewaechsen auf Aeckern und Wiesen, Hopfen- und Weinbergen, [4] Johann Friedrich Mayer was one of the first Germans to advocate for new ways of expanding beyond the medieval three-field system.

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Crop rotation Agricultural practice of changing crops

Crop rotation is the practice of growing a series of different types of crops in the same area across a sequence of growing seasons. It reduces reliance on one set of nutrients, pest and weed pressure, and the probability of developing resistant pests and weeds.

Intensive farming Type of agriculture using high inputs to try to get high outputs

Intensive agriculture, also known as intensive farming, conventional, or industrial agriculture, is a type of agriculture, both of crop plants and of animals, with higher levels of input and output per unit of agricultural land area. It is characterized by a low fallow ratio, higher use of inputs such as capital and labour, and higher crop yields per unit land area.

British Agricultural Revolution Mid-17th to 19th century revolution centred around agriculture

The British Agricultural Revolution, or Second Agricultural Revolution, was an unprecedented increase in agricultural production in Britain arising from increases in labour and land productivity between the mid-17th and late 19th centuries. Agricultural output grew faster than the population over the hundred-year period ending in 1770, and thereafter productivity remained among the highest in the world. This increase in the food supply contributed to the rapid growth of population in England and Wales, from 5.5 million in 1700 to over 9 million by 1801, though domestic production gave way increasingly to food imports in the nineteenth century as the population more than tripled to over 35 million. Using 1700 as a base year (=100), agricultural output per agricultural worker in Britain steadily increased from about 50 in 1500, to around 65 in 1550, to 90 in 1600, to over 100 by 1650, to over 150 by 1750, rapidly increasing to over 250 by 1850. The rise in productivity accelerated the decline of the agricultural share of the labour force, adding to the urban workforce on which industrialization depended: the Agricultural Revolution has therefore been cited as a cause of the Industrial Revolution.

Open-field system Prevalent ownership and land use structure in medieval agriculture

The open-field system was the prevalent agricultural system in much of Europe during the Middle Ages and lasted into the 20th century in Russia, Iran, and Turkey. Each manor or village had two or three large fields, usually several hundred acres each, which were divided into many narrow strips of land. The strips or selions were cultivated by peasants, often called tenants or serfs. The holdings of a manor also included woodland and pasture areas for common usage and fields belonging to the lord of the manor and the religious authorities, usually Roman Catholics in medieval Western Europe. The farmers customarily lived in separate houses in a nucleated village with a much larger manor house and church nearby. The open-field system necessitated co-operation among the residents of the manor.

Shifting cultivation Method of agriculture

Shifting cultivation is an agricultural system in which plots of land are cultivated temporarily, then abandoned while post-disturbance fallow vegetation is allowed to freely grow while the cultivator moves on to another plot. The period of cultivation is usually terminated when the soil shows signs of exhaustion or, more commonly, when the field is overrun by weeds. The period of time during which the field is cultivated is usually shorter than the period over which the land is allowed to regenerate by lying fallow.

Slash-and-burn Farming method in which trees are cut and burnt to clear land

Slash-and-burn agriculture is a farming method that involves the cutting and burning of plants in a forest or woodland to create a field called a swidden. The method begins by cutting down the trees and woody plants in an area. The downed vegetation, or "slash", is then left to dry, usually right before the rainiest part of the year. Then, the biomass is burned, resulting in a nutrient-rich layer of ash which makes the soil fertile, as well as temporarily eliminating weed and pest species. After about three to five years, the plot's productivity decreases due to depletion of nutrients along with weed and pest invasion, causing the farmers to abandon the field and move over to a new area. The time it takes for a swidden to recover depends on the location and can be as little as five years to more than twenty years, after which the plot can be slashed and burned again, repeating the cycle. In Bangladesh and India, the practice is known as jhum or jhoom.

Legume Plant in the family Fabaceae

A legume is a plant in the family Fabaceae, or the fruit or seed of such a plant. When used as a dry grain, the seed is also called a pulse. Legumes are grown agriculturally, primarily for human consumption, for livestock forage and silage, and as soil-enhancing green manure. Well-known legumes include beans, soybeans, peas, chickpeas, peanuts, lentils, lupins, mesquite, carob, tamarind, alfalfa, and clover. Legumes produce a botanically unique type of fruit – a simple dry fruit that develops from a simple carpel and usually dehisces on two sides.

In agriculture, a green manure is a crop specifically produced to be incorporated into the soil while still green. Typically, the green manure's biomass is incorporated with a plow or disk, as is often done with (brown) manure. The primary goal is to add organic matter to the soil for its benefits. Green manuring is often used with legume crops to add nitrogen to the soil for following crops, especially in organic farming, but is also used in conventional farming.

Cover crop Crop planted to manage erosion and soil quality

In agriculture, cover crops are plants that are planted to cover the soil rather than for the purpose of being harvested. Cover crops manage soil erosion, soil fertility, soil quality, water, weeds, pests, diseases, biodiversity and wildlife in an agroecosystem—an ecological system managed and shaped by humans. Cover crops may be an off-season crop planted after harvesting the cash crop. They may grow over winter.

Polyculture Growing multiple crops together in agriculture

In agriculture, polyculture is the practice of growing more than one crop species in the same space, at the same time. In doing this, polyculture attempts to mimic the diversity of natural ecosystems. Polyculture is the opposite of monoculture, in which only one plant or animal species are cultivated together. Polyculture can improve control of some pests, weeds, and diseases while reducing the need for pesticides. Intercrops of legumes with non-legumes can increase yields on low-nitrogen soils due to biological nitrogen fixation. However, polycultures can also reduce crop yields due to competition between the mixed species for light, water, or nutrients. It also complicates management as species have different growth rates, days to maturity, and harvest requirements. Monocultures are more amenable to mechanization. For these reasons, many farmers in large-scale agriculture continue to rely on monocultures and use crop rotation to add diversity to the system.

No-till farming Agricultural method which does not disturb soil through tillage.

No-till farming is an agricultural technique for growing crops or pasture without disturbing the soil through tillage. No-till farming decreases the amount of soil erosion tillage causes in certain soils, especially in sandy and dry soils on sloping terrain. Other possible benefits include an increase in the amount of water that infiltrates into the soil, soil retention of organic matter, and nutrient cycling. These methods may increase the amount and variety of life in and on the soil. While conventional no-tillage systems use herbicides to control weeds, organic systems use a combination of strategies, such as planting cover crops as mulch to suppress weeds.

Seed drill An agricultural tool

A seed drill is a device used in agriculture that sows seeds for crops by positioning them in the soil and burying them to a specific depth while being dragged by a tractor. This ensures that seeds will be distributed evenly.

Agroforestry Land use management system

Agroforestry is a land use management system in which trees or shrubs are grown around or among crops or pastureland. Trees produce a wide range of useful and marketable products from fruits/nuts, medicines, wood products, etc. This intentional combination of agriculture and forestry has multiple benefits, such as greatly enhanced yields from staple food crops, enhanced farmer livelihoods from income generation, increased biodiversity, improved soil structure and health, reduced erosion, and carbon sequestration. Agroforestry practices are highly beneficial in the tropics, especially in subsistence smallholdings in sub-Saharan Africa and have been found to be beneficial in Europe and the United States.

In agriculture, monocropping is the practice of growing a single crop year after year on the same land. Maize, soybeans, and wheat are three common crops often monocropped. Monocropping is also referred to as continuous cropping, as in "continuous corn." Monocropping allows for farmers to have consistent crops throughout their entire farm. They can plant only the most profitable crop, use the same seed, pest control, machinery, and growing method on their entire farm, which may increase overall farm profitability.

History of agriculture

Agriculture began independently in different parts of the globe, and included a diverse range of taxa. At least eleven separate regions of the Old and New World were involved as independent centers of origin. The development of agriculture about 12,000 years ago changed the way humans lived. They switched from nomadic hunter-gatherer lifestyles to permanent settlements and farming.

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The Old Rotation is a soil fertility experiment on the Auburn University campus in Auburn, Alabama. The Old Rotation experiment, which started in 1896, is the third-oldest ongoing field crop experiment in the United States and the oldest continuous cotton experiment in the world. It was the first experiment to show that a cotton/legume crop rotation would allow soil to support a cotton crop indefinitely. The Old Rotation is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Agriculture in England

Agriculture in England is today intensive, highly mechanised, and efficient by European standards, producing about 60% of food needs with only 2% of the labour force. It contributes around 2% of GDP. Around two thirds of production is devoted to livestock, one third to arable crops. Agriculture is heavily subsidised by the European Union's Common Agricultural Policy and it is not known how large a sector it would be if the market was unregulated. The GDP from the farming sector is argued by some to be a small return on the subsidies given but is argued by others that subsidy boosts food security and therefore is justified in the same way defence spending is.

Farming systems in India

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Convertible husbandry, also known as alternate husbandry or up-and-down husbandry, is a method of farming whereby strips of arable farmland were temporarily converted into grass pasture, known as leys. These remained under grass for up to 10 years before being ploughed under again, while some eventually became permanent pasturage. It was a process used during the 16th century through the 19th century by "which a higher proportion of land was used to support increasing numbers of livestock in many parts of England." Its adoption was an important component of the British Agricultural Revolution.

Agriculture in the Middle Ages Farming practices, crops, technology, and socioeconomics

Agriculture in the Middle Ages describes the farming practices, crops, technology, and agricultural society and economy of Europe from the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476 to approximately 1500. The Middle Ages are sometimes called the Medieval Age or Period. The Middle Ages are also divided into the Early, High, and Late Middle Ages. The early modern period followed the Middle Ages.


  1. Needham 1984, p. 150.
  2. Noble, Thomas (2002). "Chapter 33". The foundations of Western civilization . Chantilly, VA: Teaching Co. ISBN   978-1565856370.
  3. Wigelsworth, Jeffrey R. (2006). Science and technology in medieval European life. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 10.
  4. Roeber, A. G. (1998). Palatines, Liberty, and Property: German Lutherans in Colonial German America. p. 58.