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Open field system

Open field system is a unique innovation in the history of cultivation introduced in the Europe around the end of fifteenth century. The system used three separate fields at the same time but for three different purposes. The main crop would be cultivated only on one field at a time and the second would be used for a different crop while the third field was left fallow with a purpose. Then once the season get over the fields would be interchanged in rotating manner with their functions. The originally fallow field would be used for the main crop this time while main crop field will be left fallow.

While the third field gets used for a different or special crops. The development of this three field system later called the open-field system happened as the changes happened in the plowing methods and technique. The need for improving efficiency and productivity, the heavy plow was introduced in place of the normal hand held plows. It was well suited for all kinds of soils and would make much deeper furrow than that was traditionally possible. “The heavy plow moved on wheels, and had a coulter that cut the soil vertically, a flat plowshare that cut it horizontally and a mould-board that cut the sods aside to create a deep furrow”.

(Mokyr p. 32). The heavy plow made it possible to convert huge areas of hitherto uncultivated or under utilized land that were available in plenty across the continent. It increased the plowing efficiency and arable area coverage by many times compared to conventional techniques. But, the widespread use of heavy plows threw up a unique problem that needed an immediate solution and the entire farming community grappled with different solutions that did not work satisfactorily. The plow required wheels and a team of oxen or horses to pull it.

Providing sufficient and timely feed for this large number of animals was a problem that set the innovators of the field thinking. It took almost a century to test out a successful solution to this predicament. The solution, that worked combined three elements and was accepted throughout Europe in the middle ages. The method required dividing the entire cultivation area into three fields with a crop rotation system. One of the fields was left to the animals to graze. This solved the feeding issue while at the same time the animals fertilized the soil with their droppings.

The other two fields would be used for summer and winter crops. Once the harvesting was done, one of the harvested fields that was suitable for grazing would be become the feeding ground area for animals. And the other two fields would be used for two different crops. This arrangement was found very efficient and solved the animals’ welfare issues while at the same time providing better yield because of the alternate fertilizing with animal droppings and harvesting of different crops on each individual fields.

Lastly, “the village usually had a common field, not part of the rotating system, on which animals grazed” (Mokyr, p. 33). This kind of system of farming using three rotating fields came to be known as “open field system” because the farmers’ individual fields and the common areas could not be separated with fences . This is the reason why Joel Mokyr stated that “the open-field system was not a technical invention as much as a brilliant organizational solution to a technical problem that combined private and public property rights in an ingenious fashion”.

The three field system also encouraged the farmers to experiment with cultivation of multiple crops besides wheat and rye. The second field was often used for grow oats which also was an excellent feed for horses, barley which was largely used for industrial consumption and legumes. ( Mokyr, p. 34). The success of two seasons of multiple crops and then a break of one season for fertilization kept the soil healthy and well groomed which translated into higher levels of harvesting. References Mokyr J. , 1992, pp. 32-34, The Lever of Riches, Oxford University Press US

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