One of the most important discoveries in human history was that planted seeds would grow. This happened early in the New Stone Age, eight to ten thousand years ago. Earlier men hunted, fished, and gathered wild grains, berries, and roots. The first people to save seeds and then plant them lived in Southwestern Asia. Domestication of animals soon followed. This provided meat, milk, eggs, and hides. For the first time men had a regular food supply and did not have to keep moving in search of game. About 5000 B.C., permanent farming villages appeared, and later, cites. Early civilizations grew where Agriculture was practiced. None developed elsewhere. Earliest crops in the middle east were cereals: wheat, rye, barley, and oats. These were really wild grasses, cultivated and improved. In South Asia, another very nourishing cereal, rice, was developed, and its use spread widely. American Indians domesticated maize (Indian corn), and this, with beans and squash, formed the basis for much of their farming. Early farmers used few tools. New Stone Age farmers in Palestine harvested their grain with stone-tooth sickles. Everywhere the digging stick, ancestor of the plow, was an important implement, as it is today among primitive peoples. Another important tool of early agriculture was a hoe. The hoe is a flat blade set at right angles to a handle. Early hoe blades were made of various materials: stone, large clam shells, bone, and wood. As metals were discovered, Iron blades became general through most of the world.
About 3000 B.C., the plow was invented in the Near East, or in Egypt. Its use usually depended upon domestic animals to full it, often oxen or buffalo. The plow is still an essential tool throughout the world. In Western countries it was greatly improved after the eighteenth century. Most farmers of Asia use a light wooden plow that pushes through the soil without lifting and turning it over. Methods of farming in the world today vary immensely. How agriculture is practice depends upon many factors but especially the climate, the soil, the lay of the land, the crops produced, and the kind of tools available. ”Fire agriculture,” or ”slash and burn,” is done in the forested crops of Asia, Africa and America. The farmer chooses a place in the forest or jungle for his crop. At the start of the dry season, he slashes down the under-growth and allows it to dry in the sun. Then he burns off his brush, leaving the big trees. His planting is done at the time rains are expected. Little attempt is a made to cultivate the field or to keep weeds out. He expects his seeds to outgrow the weeds. All the attention the needs now is to keep wilds animals away. Land treated in this way is not good. for continuous farming. Every year or two the farmer may have o choose a different plot, allowing his former garden to grow up in jungle again before he returns to it. People who practice primitive type of farming generally have a poor level of living. Many of the early civilizations developed on the basis of irrigation, and this is still an important technique. In some regions, this was done by finding ways of pulling water up from the ground; elsewhere the natural flooding of rivers was utilized, streams were diverted from their beds, and seasonal rains were dammed up in artificial lakes and canals to provide water throughout the year. In Ceylon, before the time of Christ, great artificial lakes were built to store the seasonal rains. Water was then carried b the perfectly engineered channels through mile after mile of rice fields and also to great cities. When the irrigation system eventually broke down, the cities and most of the farmland were swallowed up in the jungle.
Terrace agriculture is practiced widely in mountainous areas. Much of the efficient rice farming of Asia is done in this manner. By terracing, a hillside can be made into a series of garden of level garden plots. This system permits the farmer to hold water for his crops and prevents the soil from being washed down into the valley. The most striking aspect of American agriculture is its great use of machinery and its scientific breeding of plants. The large farms of the plains were well adapted to the use of machines in cultivation and harvesting. New and more productive seeds were developed, and knowledge of soil chemistry helped the farmer protect the fertility of his land and choose the crops best suited to it. Cotton is now planted with a tractor and cultivated by a mechanical chopper; pests are killed by dusting it from airplanes, and it is picked by a machine. Similar changes have occurred in the farming of many crops. A given area produces much more today than formerly. Fewer and fewer people are needed to produce more and more food fiber for the the world’s population.