In the centuries before the medieval period large stretches of woodland were cleared in south-west Scotland for building materials and fuel. These open areas were then used for agricultural use in the Middle Ages.

Medieval farmsteads comprised of small communities who farmed strips of land co-operatively. This was known as the run rig system of farming, with the area nearest the dwellings or 'ferm toun' (the infield) being the most heavily cultivated and the outlying area (or outfield) being allowed to lie fallow for extended periods, depending on the supply of manure. This was not a problem in the infield as the cattle and sheep were put out to pasture there after crops were harvested. The fields were enclosed by fences or dykes. The staple crop was oats (oatmeal was the mainstay of the diet in the region), along with barley, kail, peas and beans. The barley was brewed to produce ale. Each family had to produce enough for his family to live on plus enough to pay rent to the church and his feudal landlord. 

By 1500 the spread of these steadings coupled with inflation meant many local landlords faced financial ruin and the only real areas of woodland left were new plantations or along waterways. The shortage of wood became so dire that for the first time it had to be imported. By the 17th century many people were emigrating to Ireland, America and the West Indies and many more were driven into begging as an existence. The most common explanation for this is the social and political unrest of the time, but the strain on the land caused by a massive population explosion and subsequent famine, in Ayrshire at least, must account for much of it. 

By the 18th Century, this ancient system of agriculture which had supported the people of south-west Scotland for so long proved unable to adequately sustain the people who lived there. Some improvements had already been made. Liming had been common in the area for over one hundred years to compensate for the over-farming of the fields. This was not enough, however; the growing of oats year after year had left the soil stripped of vital nutrients. 

It wasn't until around 1750 that a proper system of manuring and crop rotation was introduced. After two or three years of growing oats the infields (or crofts as they were more commonly called by this time) of each farm would be fed with all of the dung from the farm and then sown with barley. The next year the area would be allowed to lie fallow before being ploughed the following year to begin the cycle once more. The outfields were allowed to remain overgrown and unused. The families of each 'ferm toun' still shared the work with land being granted by lease usually for a period of nineteen years. As leases came to an end, old farms were cleared and new ones created. The landlords who granted these leases would often take half of the entire crop and the tenant would keep the other. This was known as half labour and often made it an incredibly hard living for the tenant farmers. New crops too were introduced around this time; each farmer would sow flax for spinning and potatoes and turnips were grown on a small scale as garden crops. It was this sort of life that the poet  Robert Burns would have been born into in 1759. 

By about 1790 more land was improved for tillage, the division between the old infield and outfield was abandoned and a new rotation was introduced: one third of the land was used to grow oats for one year, then potatoes or turnips, then oats again and finally hay. After this it would be allowed to lie unused for up to six years while one of the other two-thirds were used. These new farms were now divided up into fields and separated by hedgerows or dry stone dykes. Large swathes of land were also used to grow timber. The 4th Earl of Loudoun alone is reputed to have had over a million trees planted on his land. The landscape of south-west Scotland now resembled that which we would recognise today. 

By the beginning of the 19th century, south-west Scotland was exporting potatoes (which Ayrshire is still famous for today) and grain throughout Great Britain. The agricultural success of the region was now a model others strived to copy. 

During the 20th century several changes occurred - far less oats were grown, being replaced by barley or the land used to graze cattle. The harvesting of hay was also superseded in many areas by silage production and the first artificial fertilizers were used. The largest change, though, was the reduction of workers employed in horticulture. The break-up of the great estates and the advancement of mechanisation have meant an area where the vast majority of the population were once farmers has now had to look towards other industries to employ its communities.

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