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Agricultural Technology

Discussion in 'Archipelago Archive' started by JCFarnham, Oct 27, 2011.

  1. JCFarnham

    JCFarnham Auror

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    As an extension of my current focus for my nation, I think we may need to decide on some sort of upper limit in terms of agricultural tech.

    The current tech level would deny any kind of self powered machinery, that much is obvious. But aside from that how much could one get away with? With agriculture as the mainstay of the Oberythan economy, I'm placing them as the kind of self-declared leaders in the field. I guess this would also include water and other kinds of mills by extension.. but by this point I'm not sure how far passed our predecided tech level I'm pushing it.

    Admittedly I haven't decided anything concrete in relation to my nation, so I can't say I have plans as such. Honestly a kind of discussion on Agriculture would help haha.
     
  2. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    I don't know how much it's appropriate for me to jump in here, but prior to mass production, I don't think a consistent level of technology has really happened except with nations at war. A lot of modern agriculture, even simple things like spacing crops in a line, actually came from the Native Americans. And the Chinese were able to keep the techniques surrounding silk a secret for a while, while even the Mediteranian nation in what is now Lebanon was able to keep a secret surrounding the production of purple dyes - part of the reason we associate purple with royalty is how expensive it was to buy the dyes from them. So I don't know how much consistency there would need to be between islands.
     
  3. JCFarnham

    JCFarnham Auror

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    It's more than appropriate. This is after a collaborative project.

    Different areas of the world have different levels of technology relative to their natural resources, ability to trade, and many, many other factors, for sure. The point of this thread is to try and discuss an upper level for the Archipelago, like how we have already decided on a low magic level and pre-steam technolgy level. Agriculture, while you could also say its governed by the tech level, is a different enough kettle of piranhas for it's own thread I'd say.

    You're right, there wouldn't be any consistancy between island necessarily [of course, if you take into account sea travel and mirgration this becomes less of a problem] but I think it would be useful to set a limit.

    Also it might be nice to workshop some archipelago specific agri-tech, something fantasy-esque.. Emperor island already has its own unique mounts, perhaps technology would be shaped by their needs as well as the knowledge of the People.
     
  4. Amanita

    Amanita Maester

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    Water (and wind) mills have been plentiful during the Middle Ages (and in some places date back even earlier.) They've also been used for some other kinds of hard labor such as cutting stones or preparing cloths for making paper. The Middle Ages weren't as "technology-less" as many fantasies seem to imply as I've been learning last summer.
    If your setting isn't stone age or any other ancient culture this shouldn't be a problem.
     
  5. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    In terms of farming, I think some of the biggest advances have been attributed to changes in the crops themselves, as well as irrigation and fertilizing. The potato, for instance, is a pretty crazy crop in that it grows in relatively rough soil and can be a substitute for grains, but it was only available in the new world. Then there's seemingly little things, like the invention of barbed wire that was a huge breakthrough for cattle rearing. And it should be noted that agriculture was historically a poor-man's pursuit, so research and development was often scarce.

    Having read through only some of the island descriptions so far, I think the big question is probably in fertilization. I've seen surprisingly a lot of barren islands, which seems to me a little surprising. Thinking about the lost moon, I would expect the topsoil to be a little crazy and sporadic with the tidal changes that would have occurred. Areas that were once flooded during certain tides would have become available as fertile farmland, and other stretches of farmland would have flooded.

    But those are just thoughts that occur to me thinking about agriculture rather than suggestions. I figure if I type them out they might help the discussion.
     
  6. Donny Bruso

    Donny Bruso Sage

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    @JCFarnham It's a general rule that the more a society uses something, the more effort will be put into producing it faster and cheaper. Basic law of supply and demand. Clearly every island needs food, I don't think that's really a cause for debate, but if it's the mainstay of your economy, you're probably exporting it, whether to the opposite side of Emperor island, or overseas to other islands. Therefore it's a major source of revenue to your government through tariffs, which means that the government would support anything that would create more revenue.

    Ok, assuming that makes sense to all of us, then we can assume a fair amount of R&D into agricultural technology, i.e. water wheels, windmills, fancy plow designs that plow deeper, faster, what have you. Also, if you're buying into the alchemy part of the world creation, then there are theoretically things that alchemists could do to enrich your soil, repel insects, alter characteristics of the fruit/vegetable/grain, etc. In the Gentleman Bastard sequence, Lynch uses this, even having his alchemists performing things like crossing different types of plants, so it's not without precedent. If you come up with a well thought through, believable reason for it, then you can get away with just about anything.
     
  7. Ravana

    Ravana Istar

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    Water mills date back far earlier than the Middle Ages, so those are no problem. Extensive and elaborate irrigation systems date back to the earliest recorded history; terracing probably not much less. Fertilizer ditto–though what kinds could be left open here: your people may be better with them, or use a wider variety. At least some grafting techniques have existed almost as long. Cross-breeding (hybridization) may predate all of these–certainly at the accidental level, so all it would require is an astute observer to realize plants in close proximity tended to produce new varieties; it was, at any rate, practiced before the Industrial Revolution.

    The big developments/stages prior to the modern age, which we might want to have open for consideration (assuming the above are automatic) were: (1) the two-field crop system; (2) the change to the three-field crop system; (3) yet another change to the four-field crop system (a late development, but it doesn't rely on anything that wasn't available all along); (4) iron plowshares (dependent on the supply of metal); (5) the harrow; (6) draft animals replacing human power. I'm sure there are plenty more, once you start going into detail; those appear to be the most fundamental, if the frequency with which I've encountered them is any indication.
     
  8. Telcontar

    Telcontar Staff Moderator

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    As Ravana pointed out, you'd be suprised how old some of the technology used in farming is. Animal-drawn plows are downright ancient, and if you're the leaders in the field of technology you definitely use animal power. You might also think about including interesting things like terrace farming and irrigation techniques - even if it uses some rather clever engineering, that's okay. In early societies technology and knowledge traveled very slowly, so even if you have some brilliant techniques it wouldn't necessarily mean the rest of us had heard of or use them.
     
  9. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    I think if you want to do some inventive and creative in agriculture, your best bet is to invent your own crop and figure out how harvesting it might differ from harvesting other crops. There's a pretty big difference between farming wheat, corn and cotton, for instance, as well as a massive difference in how those crops are used.

    I don't think most readers will understand the difference in most agricultural techniques, and as was mentioned, the things people will recognize have been around since antiquity.

    Another technique for doing something "different" in agriculture might not be in new technology, but in leveraging that technology to a massive scale. Aqueducts, for instance, can run for miles, may require a large undertaking by society, and may have huge impacts on a farming community.

    Also, you can't understand farming technology without talking about the Archimedes Screw. Look it up.
     
    Last edited: Oct 28, 2011
  10. Ravana

    Ravana Istar

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    What the readers understand and what we want to know for ourselves are two different things–to which I'd add a third, one I always keep in mind: what I want my readers to learn. I've learned amazing amounts of information from fiction, mainly SF, yes, but also fantasy and even comic books. (I've also learned to check what I've learned… as I've found some things that were amazingly wrong. My favorite comic blunder was when someone carbon dated a piece of spaceship hull as coming from a million years in the future.… :p ) It's this last, though, that keeps me digging up details, and using them wherever I find them appropriate; I like to think there are at least a few others like me out there who enjoy being educated at the same time we're being entertained.

    We can invent unique "fantasy" crops, sure, and that may well be part of the success JC's people enjoy. Even simpler would be for them to have perfectly normal crops that only grow where he is, due to climate, soil, etc.: crops like olives and cotton can make or break a society. What would make them more interesting to me would be them having ways to do the same thing everybody else does, only better: that makes them more unique–gives them more personality, says more about them–than simply having something no one else does. (Of course, there's no reason these can't all be combined.)

    I would guess that, at a minimum, the Oberythans should probably use a crop rotation system one step up on what everybody else does, an innovation fairly easy to explain by conditions in other societies: the two-field crop system tended to alternate between food crop and livestock forage ("fallow"); the three-field usually eliminated livestock altogether in favor of three food (and/or textile) crops; the four-field one reintroduced a fallow field, bringing back livestock grazing, at least if the overall farm was large enough to justify this. So either the Oberythans are in the three-field stage and have de-emphasized livestock production in favor of maximum crop production (which would fit in well with the nomadic pasturalists to their west, as livestock is their primary trade item), and everybody else is still using a two-field system (or no rotation at all); or else they've moved on to a four-field system, which may or may not involve much livestock production, or may simply involve leaving a quarter of their lands unfarmed at any given time (which everybody else perceives as wasteful).

    Note that if there is an absence of livestock (beyond a farmer's lone plow-pig, or whatever he hooks up to the thing), then there will also be less of the most familiar type of fertilizer… so they may be making use of inventive alternatives. In fact, getting inventive with alternatives may be a big part of why they're so productive.

    Terrace farming is definitely a pre-industrial achievement: the Incas did some mind-boggling work there, and they're hardly the only ones. One look at Machu Picchu can make you wonder whether our "progress" is taking us forward or backward… though several looks from different angles are better: it's hard to understand how they even got up there, much less farmed there. On the other hand, terracing is used where there's a limited availability of good ground, which probably doesn't correspond well with massive production. Then again, the Oberyths' competitive advantage might in part rest in making use of every square meter of space they can.

    I'd considered adding the Archimedean Screw to my list–it probably belongs there–but basically left it as part of "irrigation technology," since it's one of many ways water can be raised in elevation, and not necessarily even the most efficient (it's more difficult to hook up to draft animals than a wheel-and-bucket system, for instance… or at least the gearing required is less intuitive).

    Other things I left unmentioned are preservation and storage techniques: I was thinking only along production lines when I was writing the first post. Maybe the Oberythans are masters at pickling, drying and smoking (ideally, not all at the same time… :eek: ).
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Oct 11, 2017

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