The rural revolution

How technology has changed farming

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There has been a striking increase in agricultural productivity during the 20th century.

In 1900 one agricultural worker fed around 25 people in Great Britain. By 2010, one agricultural worker fed 200 people. This increase in productivity is largely due to advances in three broad areas of agricultural technology.

Firstly, tractors, combine harvesters and mechanical threshers were all introduced into mainstream agriculture during the 20th century. These inventions enable a smaller workforce to collect more produce from a larger area of land.

Secondly, large capacity silos and other storage facilities with the technology needed to maintain constant temperature and humidity have allowed for the storage of far greater quantities of agricultural produce. The ability to control the pace of ripening once harvested, using chemicals as well as temperature, means a far greater quantity of produce can be harvested in one go, without the risk of it spoiling.

Finally, fertilisers, herbicides and pesticides have helped to increase crop yields and speed up the growth of crops and to control diseases and pests. Spraying machinery has enabled huge areas to be treated in a short period of time and by a small workforce. Jobs that would have taken large teams of workers several weeks, like removing weeds from a field, can now be completed in hours by a handful of people.

Growing more with less
The chart shows the area of land cultivated for staple crops (barley, wheat and oats) and the number of agricultural workers in Great Britain

The chart shows the area of land cultivated for staple crops (barley, wheat and oats) and the number of agricultural workers in Great Britain

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