Agriculture in Norfolk

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Agriculture in Norfolk

The Oxford Dictionary defines agricultural as: “The science or practice of farming, including cultivation of the soil for the growing of crops and the rearing of animals to provide food, wool, and other products.” Within Sprowston the style of farming by local agriculturalists has changed over the centuries, although the type of farming has been influenced by the proximity of Sprowston to the City of Norwich. Even in the Middle Ages the city was dependent on the satellite hamlets and villages for much of their food which the inhabitants from the local villages took to the Norwich markets.

The large landowners naturally wished to make a profit from their estates and this had the effect of changing land usage over the centuries. It was pointless to grow crops for which there was no real market when wool was readily saleable. This saw much of the county becoming sheep walks with arable farming just to support local needs.

Norfolk unfortunately was not blessed with the best of soils, much of it being sandy and light. There was a saying. "It must be kept with a crop on lest it blows away into the next parish." Thus the local farming methods took this into account so there was an unwillingness to leave the areas fallow. It was the growing demand for wheat that was to propel Norfolk to prominence in its methods of producing this and other crops as well as increased animal husbandry. Norfolk was indeed fortunate in having the land owner's willing to experiment with totally new methods of land management. It was this experimentation and the publicity it received that made Charles (Turnip) Townshend and Thomas William Coke so well known in both farming and English history.

Transport and technology were both to play a significant role in changing the produce required, making agriculture an ever evolving industry. Population changes were only part of the supply and demand equation. World politics, especially wars, had significant effects as did domestic politics and national economics. As nowadays, there was always the weather to contend with and the resultant good or bad harvests.

Many consider the Agricultural Revolution ceased at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. In essence it carried on and new machinery and power sources would change the face of farming for ever. Improved transport resulted in opening wider markets and conversely opened up the local market to distant suppliers. Would the farmers of years ago ever dreamt that we would now be eating fresh produce brought from the other side of the world?