What is agriculture?

  • Agriculture is the production of food and goods through farming and forestry.
  • The development of agricultural techniques is credited for creating food surpluses that enabled the development of more densely populated societies with distinct classes
  • Agriculture uses many techniques, to expand the lands suitable for plant raising.
  • For example:
  • Digging water-channels and other forms of irrigation
  • The cultivation of crops on arable land
  • In the developed world the two different types of agriculture exist: sustainable agriculture (e.g. organic agriculture) and intensive farming (e.g. industrial agriculture).

  • A crop is the annual or season’s yield of any plant that is grown in significant quantities to be harvested as food, fuel, or for any other economic purpose.
  • Cultivation is the process of growing plants (specifically crops) on arable land
  • Irrigation is the artificial application of water to the soil
  • These plants have the ability to trap Nitrogen from the atmosphere thanks to bacteria that grow in their root systems.  Well-known legumes include alfalfa, clover, peas, beans, soy, and peanuts
  • Monoculture is the agricultural practice of producing or growing one single crop over a wide area
  • Perennial crops are plants that lives for more than two years and do not have the be replanted during that time

Agriculture Terminology

Arable Land

Arable land is land that is suitable for growing crops.  Approximately 30 million km of the earth is arable land

Crop

A crop is the annual or season’s yield of any plant that is grown in significant quantities to be harvested as food, fuel, or for any other economic purpose.

Cultivation

Cultivation is the process of growing plants (specifically crops) on arable land

Irrigation

Irrigation is the artificial application of water to the soil

Legumes

These plants have the ability to trap Nitrogen from the atmosphere thanks to bacteria that grow in their root systems.  Well-known legumes include alfalfa, clover, peas, beans, soy, and peanuts

Monoculture

Monoculture is the agricultural practice of producing or growing one single crop over a wide area

Perennial Crops

Perennial crops are plants that lives for more than two years and do not have the be replanted during that time

Salinization

Soil salinity is the measure of salt in soil.  Salinization is the process by which soil becomes more salty

Tillage

Tillage is the agricultural preparation of the soil by ploughing, ripping, or turning it.  There are 3 types of tillage: intense, reduced or conservation

Intense tillage leaves less than 15% of a soil surface on the field

Reduced tillage leaves between 15%-30% of a soil surface on the field

Conservation tillage leaves over 30% of a soil surface in the field

Sustainable Agriculture Techniques

  • Sustainable agriculture is based on three main goals: environmental stewardship, farm profitability, and prosperous farming communities.
  • Sustainable agriculture refers to the ability of a farm to produce fertile soil for crops and produce without causing severe or irreversible damage to ecosystem health.
  • Sustainable agriculture attempts to reduce practices that cause long-term damage to soil such as excessive tillage (leading to erosion) and irrigation without adequate drainage (leading to salinization).

Example of Sustainable Agriculture Practices

  • One of the principle nutrients that is used up in soil is nitrogen.
  • Instead of adding synthetic fertilizer to replaced lost nitrogen some sustainable options would include
  • recycling crop waste and livestock or treated human manure
  • growing legume crops such as peanuts or alfalfa
  • genetically engineering (non-legume) crops to fix nitrogen

Other Examples

  • Another method of returning nutrients to soil is long-term crop rotation.
  • This method involves rotating the fields that crops are grown on, giving the fields time to naturally regain nutrients.
  • This method is the basis for polyculture.
  • Polyculture is agriculture using multiple crops in the same space, in imitation of the diversity of natural ecosystems, and avoiding large stands of single crops, or monoculture.
  • It includes crop rotation, multi-cropping, companion planting and beneficial weeds.

Polyculture

  • Multiple cropping is the practice of growing two or more crops in the same space during a single growing season.
  • It can take the form of double-cropping, in which a second crop is planted after the first has been harvested, or relay cropping, in which the second crop is started amidst the first crop before it has been harvested
  • Companion planting is the planting of different crops in close physical proximity on the theory that they assist each other in nutrient uptake, pest control, pollination, and other factors necessary to increasing crop productivity.
  • A beneficial weed is any of various plants not generally considered domesticated, but which nonetheless has some companion plant effect, or else is edible or somehow beneficial.
  • Beneficial weeds include a great many wildflowers, as well as many weeds that are commonly removed or poisoned.

Intensive or Industrial Agriculture

  • Intensive farming or intensive agriculture is agricultural characterized by the high inputs of capital (money), labour (work force), or heavy usage of technologies such as pesticides and chemical fertilizers
  • Modern day forms of intensive agriculture involve the use of mechanical ploughing, chemical fertilizers, herbicides, fungicides, insecticides, plant growth regulators and/or pesticides
  • It is associated with the increasing use of agricultural mechanization, which have enabled a substantial increase in production, yet have also dramatically increased environmental pollution by increasing erosion, poisoning water with agricultural chemicals, and destroying forests to make room for farmland

Advantages/Disadvantages

Advantage

  • The main benefit of industrial agriculture is that it significantly increases crop yields per acre, per person, and per dollar.

Disadvantages

  • Intensive farming alters the environment in many ways.
  • It limits or destroys the natural habitat of most wild creatures, and leads to soil erosion.
  • The use of fertilizers can alter the biology of rivers and lakes.
  • Pesticides generally kill useful insects as well as those that destroy crops.
  • This practice is generally not sustainable and often results or land that is so poisonous and eroded that nothing else will grow there.
  • This practice requires large amounts of energy input to produce, transport, and apply chemical fertilizers/pesticides
  • The use of chemicals on fields creates run-off, excess runs off into rivers and lakes causes pollution.
  • The use of pesticides have numerous negative health effects in workers who apply them, people that live nearby the area of application or downstream/downwind from it, and consumers who eat the pesticides which remain on their food.
  • Industrial Agriculture is the most prominent form of agriculture that we depend on

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