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Crop Rotation A major problem on farms was soil exhaustion. Planting the same crop, such as wheat, many seasons in a row depleted the soil of nutrients and resulted in smaller harvests. To confront this challenge, a system of crop rotation, or planting crops in different fields at different times, developed during the Middle Ages. In the traditional two-field system, half the land lay fallow, or empty and unused, in each growing season, so the soil could recover nutrients.
In northern Europe, the three-field system became widespread. In the fall, the villagers planted grains such as wheat or barley in one field. In the spring, they planted crops such as oats, beans, or peas in a second field. They left the third field fallow. During the next planting season, the village rotated the crops to different fields. Two-thirds of the land was always in use, and one-third was recovering. This system resulted in bigger harvests than the two-field system.
However, the three-field system was not practical in all parts of Europe. The Mediterranean region did not get enough spring and summer rainfall for a second spring planting, so the less-productive two-field system continued.
Commercialization of Agriculture
The growth of colonization and overseas trade in the 16th century helped cause the rise of commercial capitalism in Europe. Rather than getting wealth from inherited land, merchants made their money from trade, the profits of private investment, and the selling of goods to a market of consumers.
The Price Revolution Beginning in the early 16th century, vast quantities of gold and silver entered Western Europe from the Spanish colonies in the Americas. That influx of precious metals and the resulting greater circulation of money, along with population growth, led to rising prices of food and other basic necessities in Europe. The widespread rise in prices over an extended time period, known as inflation, also contributed to the growth of commerce in the 16th century. This inflationary period, the price revolution, lasted from the late 15th century to the mid-17th century and was pivotal in the commercialization of agriculture.
While rising prices made life difficult for ordinary people, merchants and bankers benefited tremendously from the higher returns on their investments and loans. As they gained more capital, they looked for new ways to invest— and found them in the agricultural countryside.
As peasants migrated to towns, an increasing number of Europeans no longer grew their own food. They needed to buy it. Starting in the 1600s, middle- class investors and large landowners began a series of changes intended to shift the rural economy toward commercial agriculture. That means producing food and livestock products, such as wool, for profit rather than subsistence. These changes had a profound impact on the peasant way of life.

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