Agricultural meteorology


Environmental Factors in Agriculture: Observation and Experiment in Agricultural Meteorology (ca 1900-1950)

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Keywords: Environment; Agriculture; Meteorology; Field Science; Observation; Experiment; Statistics

Abstract: Environmental factors, such as weather conditions, pest infestations, and availability of water resources, significantly affect success and failure in agriculture. Among these environmental factors the primary relevance of the weather is uncontested. For this reason, during the first half of the twentieth century, a new scientific discipline, agricultural meteorology, was established to investigate the impact of the weather on crop growth and livestock performance. A subject much neglected by historians, the developments of agricultural meteorology are instead highly relevant if we want to understand how weather conditions can affect food production and agricultural sustainability, issues which are increasingly raising concerns due to climate change. The project will investigate the institutional history and material culture of agricultural meteorology during the first half of the twentieth century by taking both a global and a local perspective. It will provide an overview of the contributions made by international organisations (World Meteorological Organization and International Institute of Agriculture) to the growth of the discipline, besides analysing the developments of agricultural meteorology in selected countries (the US, Great Britain, Germany, France, Italy). In addition, the project will pursue in depth a local case study: the history of agricultural meteorology in Great Britain, where the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries set up long-term observational and experimental schemes on weather and crops. By connecting a global and a local perspective, the project will achieve three main objectives: 1) to uncover the origins of modern agricultural meteorology; 2) to investigate the role of observation and experiment in agricultural meteorology; 3) to examine how agricultural meteorology has contributed to our understanding of the environment and its influence on human economic activities. The historical account of agricultural meteorology developed by the project will be of interest to several research areas: the history of agricultural science, rural history, the history of applied meteorology, the growing literature on scientific data, the history of the field sciences and, of course, environmental history and policy.

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