Technology and Agriculture

Have you ever grown a tomato plant from a seed? Think about the time and effort it required – preparing the soil, sowing the seeds, and watering it every day. Now, imagine how much time and effort you'd need for a thousand tomato plants!

Get started Sign up for free
Technology and Agriculture Technology and Agriculture

Create learning materials about Technology and Agriculture with our free learning app!

  • Instand access to millions of learning materials
  • Flashcards, notes, mock-exams and more
  • Everything you need to ace your exams
Create a free account

Millions of flashcards designed to help you ace your studies

Sign up for free

Convert documents into flashcards for free with AI!

Table of contents

    That's what farming was like before technology and the Industrial Revolution. It was incredibly time-consuming, and most people didn't have an opportunity for education or any other job. Technology revolutionised agriculture – but it was not without its negative effects.

    Ready to learn? Harvest some knowledge from this article!

    Use of Technology in Agriculture

    Before the Industrial Revolution, agriculture was the largest source of employment in Europe. Families, including children, often worked six days a week to keep their crops growing. Many people were subsistence farmers.

    Subsistence farmers grow food to meet the needs of themselves and their families.

    But during the 1700s and 1800s, things began to change. Large open fields were separated using hedges or low stone walls. Smaller farms were leased to the public, and new technology forms of technology (such as the seed drill, the plough, and new breeding methods) became popular.

    • Seed Drill: traditionally, farmers planted seeds manually. This led to a lot of wastage – seeds were frequently blown away by wind, or eaten by birds. New horse-drawn seed drills would drill a hole into the ground to drop seeds into, then cover the hole. The seed drill enhanced crop yields by fivefold.

    • Triangle Plough: new ploughing technology used an iron blade instead of a wooden one, which was easier and lighter to handle. It only required two horses and one person to operate (compared to the traditional plough requiring four oxen, a ploughman, and an ox driver). New triangle ploughs were quicker, more efficient, and reduced costs for farmers.

    • Selective Breeding: farmers began mating the largest and strongest animals, to produce offspring with the best characteristics. Sheep were cross-bred to maximise wool and meat production.

    The new technology and breeding methods meant that farmers could sell crops to the urban population, and make profit. However, peasants and poorer villagers were forced to become paid employees, or seek work elsewhere.

    Technology in Agriculture: Examples

    Let's look at some examples of agricultural technology.

    Availability of EnergyEnergy (whether electrical, mechanical, or thermal) helps farmers to control building temperatures, and operate heavy machinery or drive farm vehicles.
    AgrochemicalsAgrochemicals are chemical products used in industrial agriculture. Examples include fertilisers, pesticides, and insecticides.
    Machinery and EquipmentMachinery and equipment is faster and more effective than manual labour, saving farmers time and money.
    IrrigationIrrigation is the process of applying controlled amounts of water to land to assist in crop production.
    Transport InfrastructureDevelopments in transport allow farmers to transport produce quickly and cheaply.

    Impact of Technology on Agriculture

    How have these examples of technology impacted agriculture?

    Availability of Energy

    Access to gas and electricity has revolutionised agriculture. Farmers use energy to heat and cool buildings, such as greenhouses and cattle sheds.

    Heating cattle sheds can increase efficiency. The cows don't expend as much energy keeping warm. In turn, this increases their rate of weight gain.

    Energy availability also allows farmers to operate machinery and farm vehicles. Farm machinery and vehicles are heavy and powerful, requiring large amounts of energy to operate.

    Combine harvesters can weigh up to 20 tonnes.

    Technology and Agriculture combine harvester StudySmarterFigure 1: Combine harvesters require large amounts of energy to operate. However, they are faster, more efficient, and experience fewer yield losses than manual harvesting methods. Source:

    Using energy to manipulate temperature and operate machinery increases agricultural efficiency.


    We're going to focus on two types of agrochemicals: fertilisers and pesticides.

    Fertilisers contain essential plant nutrients, such as nitrogen (N), phosphorous (P), and potassium (K). They maximise plant growth by incorporating these nutrients into the soil.

    Pesticides are used for killing pests, such as unwanted neighbouring plants, insects, fungi, and bacteria. They reduce damage and disease suffered by crops.

    Pesticides encompass insecticides, fungicides, and weedkillers.

    Machinery and Equipment

    Since the first petrol tractor was invented in 1889, farm machinery and equipment has reduced the requirement for manual labour. One machine can do the work of many labourers, making physically demanding and time-consuming tasks much easier. This decreases production cost and increases crop yields, thus enhancing farm income.

    Mechanisation of agriculture in the UK produced yields 80% higher than the European average.


    Primarily, irrigation allows farmers to grow more crops. Yield is high – the plants are not subject to water stress.

    Water stress is physiological stress suffered by a plant due to a lack of moisture.

    Furthermore, irrigation allows farmers to make use of previously unproductive areas of land, and produce food outside its regular growing seasons.

    Irrigation also acts as 'insurance' against seasonal rainfall variability, or droughts.

    Technology and Agriculture sprinkler irrigation StudySmarterFigure 2: A sprinkler irrigation system at work. Other types of irrigation system include surface, subsurface, centre-pivot, and drip. Source:

    Transport Infrastructure

    Effective transport infrastructure helps develop agriculture and reduce rural poverty. Affordable transport reduces food prices, increases farmers' income, and helps reduce the price of food in urban areas.

    After WWII, improvements in transportation enabled farmers to access distant markets, making it increasingly profitable to specialise in a particular crop.

    Importance of Technology in Agriculture

    Technology has revolutionised agriculture and boosted food security.

    Food security is defined as reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable and nutritious food.

    Food security is closely tied to development, and linked to many of the United Nation's Sustainable Development Goals. It affects health and physical development, and the opportunity for education and non-agricultural livelihoods. Unfortunately, 30% of the world's population is deemed as food-insecure, so there is still a long way to go.

    Experts have produced the Planetary Health Diet to enable global food security without compromising the environment. It's mostly plant-based, but allows some flexibility regarding meat, dairy, and fish. However, the majority of dietary protein should be sourced from pulses, legumes, and nuts.

    Environmental Issues in Technology and Agriculture

    Although new technology can benefit agriculture, it can have detrimental impacts on the wider environment.

    Availability of Energy

    Agriculture relies heavily on energy derived from fossil fuels. Burning fossil fuels to release energy produces carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas. Greenhouse gases trap solar radiation in the atmosphere, heating Earth's surface and contributing to climate change.

    Agriculture is responsible for 11% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

    Burning fossil fuels releases harmful atmospheric pollutants, such as:

    • Carbon monoxide

    • Oxides of nitrogen

    • Particulate matter

    • Sulfur dioxide

    • Mercury


    Although agrochemicals enhance agricultural productivity, they can severely impact the environment.

    Excessive use of fertilisers can run off into water bodies, causing eutrophication. The high nutrient input triggers rapid algal growth, leading to toxic algal blooms that deplete the water of oxygen, killing marine organisms.

    Pesticides can be toxic to non-target organisms, including beneficial insects and microorganisms. Overuse of pesticides can disrupt natural communities. Furthermore, pesticides can have direct impacts on humans. Long-term exposure is associated with:

    • Hormone disruption

    • Immune suppression

    • Reproductive abnormalities

    • Reduced intelligence

    • Cancer

    Technology and Agriculture pesticides StudySmarterFigure 3: Exposure to DDT (an organochloride insecticide) can cause hormonal and metabolic problems, and even disrupt brain development in unborn foetuses. Source:

    Machinery and Equipment

    Construction of farm machinery and equipment uses metals. They are finite resources, extracted from the Earth using damaging mining techniques.

    Plus, using heavy farm equipment leads to soil compaction. Topsoil becomes squashed into an impermeable layer, restricting the movement of air, water, and key nutrients.


    Although irrigation promotes plant growth, it has negative impacts elsewhere. Modern irrigation techniques affect groundwater levels, affecting river flow and water availability.

    Groundwater is subterranean water, stored in soil and rock crevices.

    Irrigated areas also experience a higher evaporation rate. This disturbs the atmosphere, even affecting rainfall downwind!

    Other effects of irrigation include:

    • Water logging

    • Soil salinisation

    • Ecological damage

    • Socioeconomic problems

    Transport Infrastructure

    Like agriculture itself, the majority of the transportation industry relies on fossil fuels, resulting in greenhouse gases and atmospheric pollutants. Extracting fossil fuels from the Earth (whether on land or offshore) causes pollution and disrupts natural communities.

    Furthermore, construction of transport infrastructure and vehicles themselves is associated with pollution, landscape disruption, and use of finite resources.

    I hope that this article has clarified technology and agriculture for you. Remember that technology (such as availability of energy, agrochemicals, machinery and equipment, irrigation, and transport infrastructure) has maximised agricultural productivity and efficiency, but can have detrimental impacts on the environment.

    Technology and Agriculture - Key takeaways

    • New technology of the Industrial Revolution ended the UK's reliance on subsistence farming.
    • Technology has revolutionised agriculture and boosted food security, enabling sustainable development.
    • Energy can be used to control building temperatures, and operate machinery and vehicles. It increases agricultural efficiency, but relies heavily on fossil fuels.
    • Agrochemicals maximise plant growth, whilst reducing damage and disease. However, they negatively impact ecosystems and human health.
    • Machinery and equipment reduces the requirement for manual labour, saving time and money. However, it's associated with pollution and soil compaction.
    • Irrigation allows farmers to grow more crops, and acts as 'insurance' against droughts. Nevertheless, it modifies water availability elsewhere.
    • Transport infrastructure reduces rural poverty and allows farmers to cater to distant markets. However, it's associated with pollution and ecological disruption.

    1. Andy Collings, Headers keep getting bigger, Farmers Weekly, 2011

    2. Anya Smart, Agriculture, Industrial Revolution Buddies, 2022

    3. Damian Carrington, New plant-focused diet would ‘transform’ planet’s future, say scientists, The Guardian, 2019

    4. Foundations of Western Culture, Effects of Agriculture on the Industrial Revolution, 2016

    5. Lumen Learning, Effects of the Agricultural Revolution, History of Western Civilization II, 2022

    6. Mike Williams, Machinery Milestones: The world’s first tractors, Farmers Weekly, 2020

    7. United Nations, Goal 2: Zero Hunger, Sustainable Development Goals, 2022

    8. United States Environmental Protection Agency, Sources of Greenhouse Gas Emissions, 2022

    Frequently Asked Questions about Technology and Agriculture

    What are technologies used in agriculture?

    Technologies used in agriculture include energy, agrochemicals, machinery and equipment, irrigation, and transport infrastructure.

    How does technology benefit agriculture?

    Technology has increased yields, reduced costs, and made agricultural work more efficient.

    How can technology and digital technology help in improving the agriculture?

    Technology (and digital technology) maximise agricultural efficiency and productivity. New digital technologies can help farmers increase precision and reduce the use of agrochemicals. 

    How can we use technology in agriculture?

    Using technology replaces difficult and time-consuming manual labour. This saves time and money, and reduces the reliance on subsistence farming.

    What are 3 examples of technology used in agricultural areas?

    Three examples of technology used in agriculture areas include agrochemicals, irrigation, and farm machinery.

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    What percentage of greenhouse gas emissions originate from agriculture?

    Irrigation cannot affect rainfall.

    How much of the world's population is food-insecure?


    Discover learning materials with the free StudySmarter app

    Sign up for free
    About StudySmarter

    StudySmarter is a globally recognized educational technology company, offering a holistic learning platform designed for students of all ages and educational levels. Our platform provides learning support for a wide range of subjects, including STEM, Social Sciences, and Languages and also helps students to successfully master various tests and exams worldwide, such as GCSE, A Level, SAT, ACT, Abitur, and more. We offer an extensive library of learning materials, including interactive flashcards, comprehensive textbook solutions, and detailed explanations. The cutting-edge technology and tools we provide help students create their own learning materials. StudySmarter’s content is not only expert-verified but also regularly updated to ensure accuracy and relevance.

    Learn more
    StudySmarter Editorial Team

    Team Environmental Science Teachers

    • 9 minutes reading time
    • Checked by StudySmarter Editorial Team
    Save Explanation Save Explanation

    Study anywhere. Anytime.Across all devices.

    Sign-up for free

    Sign up to highlight and take notes. It’s 100% free.

    Join over 22 million students in learning with our StudySmarter App

    The first learning app that truly has everything you need to ace your exams in one place

    • Flashcards & Quizzes
    • AI Study Assistant
    • Study Planner
    • Mock-Exams
    • Smart Note-Taking
    Join over 22 million students in learning with our StudySmarter App
    Sign up with Email

    Get unlimited access with a free StudySmarter account.

    • Instant access to millions of learning materials.
    • Flashcards, notes, mock-exams, AI tools and more.
    • Everything you need to ace your exams.
    Second Popup Banner