Jethro Tull’s seed drill

Jethro Tull (1674-1741) was born into a wealthy farming family in Berkshire. He began a career in law but must have always had farming in mind because even while recuperating from illness in France and Italy he was noticing different agricultural practices and thinking of ways to improve them. In 1701 he invented the first mechanical farming tool, the seed drill, which paved the way for a revolution in agriculture.

Previously, seed had been scattered by hand from a shoulder bag. This was easy for the farm labourers, who simply had to walk up and down the fields, and they were not keen on Tull’s initial plan to have them place seeds only into furrows. When he presented them with a wheeled contraption which dug the furrow, placed the seed and covered it up, there were still some objections but it proved its worth in increased crop yield.

By 1714 Tull had developed his horse-drawn 3-row seed drill. He also invented a hoeing plough to aerate the soil and combat weeds. The benefits of his methods were plain to see, though the take-up came slowly from his fellow gentlemen farmers. However, his determination and persistence have served us exceedingly well.

(Image from ‘The New Horse-Hoeing Husbandry’ (1731) by Jethro Tull / Public domain)


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