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February 3rd 1695

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Agriculture in the 17th Century

At the end of the 17th Century the state of agriculture in Perthshire, and throughout Scotland, was still primitive. For drainage the usual method was to plough the land in fairly long narrow strips about 200 yards by 15 yards wide, though these widths varied from farm to farm. The land was ploughed towards the centre so that the ‘rig’ became a raised strip having on either side a ‘baulk’ or hollow which acted as a drainage channel.

Many farms at this time were operated by a number of tenants and in order to give each tenant an equal share they were allocated one or more ‘rigs’ which were considered to have an equal share of good and bad land. This was a system known as ‘run-rig’. It was not a system that encouraged innovations or improvements in farming. Often the rigs were changed from year to year but in any case ploughing needed to be done on a communal basis and individual initiatives were not possible. However, in spite of the handicaps imposed by run-rig, improvements in Agriculture were taking place.

In 1695, an Act was passed allowing proprietors whose land lay in run-rig to apply to Sheriffs, J.Ps or Lords of Regality to make a division or consolidation of their land. Even if only one of the proprietors desired to proceed with the Act it could be forced through regardless of the wishes of the others. This meant that proprietors no longer had strips of land intermingled with those of other landlords and was the essential preliminary before enclosure could take place.

By the end of the century there was already evidence of enclosure beginning on certain estates. At Abercairney, near Crieff, for instance the Laycock Park was enclosed and divided into four sections, three of which were kept under grass and one under crops.

The value of manuring and especially liming was becoming widely known. As most Scottish soils were acidic the application of lime often produced remarkable results. The first steps were also taken to improve the local breeds of cattle and sheep by importing stock from England. The Earl of Breadalbane in 1660 had around twenty English cattle at Finlarig, beside Killin, which were used to cross with the local cattle.

Lastly, some of the more farseeing proprietors were already experimenting with rotations. The old practice of using successive grain crops until the reduced yield necessitated a year of fallow was in many cases modified by growing legumes, particularly when liming had taken place. Though the main crops were oats and bere some areas were already producing wheat which was exported to England or the Baltic states.

Again, because of the difficulty of transport most of the wheat was grown within easy reach of Scottish ports, but even so, in 1688 exports from Scottish ports had reached about 100,000 tons of which 225 went from Perth harbour. The growing of potatoes did not become important until the 18th Century.

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