Primary Sector history

Agriculture has no single, simple origin. A wide variety of plants and animals have been independently domesticated at different times and in numerous places. The first agriculture appears to have developed at the closing of the last Pleistocene glacial period, or Ice Age (about 11,700 years ago).

  • 9000 BC

    Ancient Digging Stick

    By 9000-7000 BC
    In Southwestern Asia, wheat and barley were cultivated, and sheep and goats were domesticated. Dogs had been domesticated in Europe by about 10,000 BC.

  • 3000 BC

    Oxen Pulled Plow

    7000-3000 BC
    Agriculture developed in parts of the Americas. Domesticated crops included beans, corn (maize), cassavas, squashes, potatoes, and peppers.

  • 4th Century

    Noria / Water Whell

    The open-field system of planting was common in western Europe. Village land was divided into two or three large fields, and crops were rotated in each field yearly, with one field left unplanted.

  • 18th Century

    Tractor

    In the United States, Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin, a machine that separated fiber from seed much more quickly than people could do it by hand.

  • 19th Century

    Combine Harvester

    Early 1890s
    The first gasoline-powered tractors were built. They gradually replaced steam-powered tractors and draft animals in many parts of the world.
    1890s
    The combine harvester, which combined the cutting and threshing of grain crops, came into widespread use in California. It gradually spread to other western states. The combine reduced the amount of labor needed to harvest one hectare of wheat from 37 to 6.25 man-hours.

  • 20th Century

    Agrochemicals & Monocultures

    1939
    DDT was introduced, marking the beginning of agriculture's heavy use of chemical pesticides in developing countries. The U.S. banned DDT in 1972 because it was harming the environment.
    1945-About 1970
    Machines and increased productivity in industrialized countries sharply reduced the number of people working in agriculture. Through scientific advances and improved management techniques, farmers produced more food than ever before.

  • 2000

    GMO

    1970s-Present
    Researchers in California first spliced a gene from one organism into another, and the age of genetic engineering began. Genetic engineering offers the possibility of making plants and animals hardier, more resistant to disease, and more productive.

  • 2010

    Precision Agriculture

    Early 1980s-Present
    In developed countries, farmers began using computers to keep farm accounts; to monitor crop prices and weather conditions; to help decide when to irrigate and plant; and to automate the application of fertilizers and pesticides.

  • Now

    Sustainable Agriculture

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