Tull was an agricultural pioneer and the inventor of the seed drill, a major development in the agricultural revolution.
Jethro Tull was born in 1674 into a family of Berkshire gentry. He studied at Oxford University and Gray's Inn in preparation for a legal and political career, but ill health postponed these plans and, after his marriage in 1699, he began farming with his father.
At the time, seeds were distributed into furrows ('drilling') by hand. Tull had noticed that traditional heavy sowing densities were not very efficient, so he instructed his staff to drill at very precise, low densities. By 1701, his frustration with their lack of cooperation prompted him to invent a machine to do the work for him. He designed his drill with a rotating cylinder. Grooves were cut into the cylinder to allow seed to pass from the hopper above to a funnel below. They were then directed into a channel dug by a plough at the front of the machine, then immediately covered by a harrow attached to the rear. This limited the wastage of seeding and made the crop easier to weed.
Initially the machine was only a limited success. In 1709, he moved to Prosperous Farm in Hungerford, and two years later decided to travel around Europe to improve his health and study agricultural techniques there. Upon his return in 1714, he perfected both his system and machinery. He pulverised the earth between the rows, believing that this released nutrients would act as a substitute for manure. While apparently successful - he grew wheat in the same field for 13 successive years without manuring - it is more likely that he merely prevented weeds from overcrowding and competing with the seed.
Tull's other innovations included a plough with blades set in such a way that grass and roots were pulled up and left on the surface to dry.
Eventually, as agricultural improvement became fashionable, more interest began to be taken in Tull's ideas. In 1731, he published his book, 'The New Horse Hoeing Husbandry', detailing his system and its machinery. It caused great controversy at the time, and arguments continued for another century before his eventual vindication. While several other mechanical seed drills had also been invented, Tull's complete system was a major influence on the agricultural revolution and its impact can still be seen in today's methods and machinery.
Tull died on 21 February 1741.