Farming is the cultivation of animals, plants, fungi and other life forms for food, fiber, and other products used to sustain life.[1]

Agriculture is the field within food production encompassing the cultivation of these animals, plants, fungi and other life forms for food, fiber, and other products used to sustain life. Farming is different from gardening in that it relies on the cultivation of wide open spaces. Gardening on the other hand is done in a agricultural field arranged around a family house. Permaculture for example is type of gardening.

History[edit | edit source]

Agriculture was the key implement in the rise of sedentary human civilization, whereby farming of domesticated species created food surpluses that nurtured the development of civilization.

The history of agricultureW dates back thousands of years, and its development has been driven and defined by greatly different climates, cultures, and technologies. However, all farming generally relies on techniques to expand and maintain the lands suitable for raising domesticated species. For plants, this usually requires some form of irrigation, although there are methods of dryland farmingW; pastoralW herding on rangelandW is still the most common means of raising livestock.

The British Agricultural Revolution and the Green Revolution have massively increased food production and helped prevent the widespread famine that was predicted after WW2. They also increased the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, which in turn allowed the use of less efficient industrial agricultural systems based on monocultures.

In the developed world, these agricultural systems based on large-scale monocultures have since then become the dominant system of modern farming, although there is increased adoption of systems that use several crops (polyculture) as well as increased implementation of additional techniques (ie agroforestry, integrated pest management, zero-tillage, community-supported agriculture, urban agriculture,...) More radical agricultural systems have also started to emerge, ie organic agricultural systems. This, in an attempt to reduce the requirement of large amounts of energy, chemicals, synthetic fertilizers, and water and to eliminate deep ploughing which causes the soil to loose much of its nutrients, and carbon and is also a main cause of soil dehydration, erosion and eutrophication of neighbouring waterways.

Besides the cultivation of crops, the breeding of animals are also part of agriculture and have been used to increase food production. However, this branch of agriculture is very inefficient and has come at a great expense in terms of GHG emissions. The Food and Agriculture Organization stated in 2006 that the rearing of livestock produced more greenhouse gas emissions than the transportation sector during that year. Also, they stated that "The livestock sector emerges as one of the top two or three most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global. The findings of this report suggest that it should be a major policy focus when dealing with problems of land degradation, climate change and air pollution, water shortage and water pollution, and loss of biodiversity. Livestock's contribution to environmental problems is on a massive scale and its potential contribution to their solution is equally large. The impact is so significant that it needs to be addressed with urgency" (Steinfeld, 2006). As one might expect, choosing a vegetarian diet is often recommended as one of the main ways you can reduce your ecological footprint and impact (Brower, 1999).

Increasing the food production from agriculture[edit | edit source]

According to a 2009 report by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the world will have to produce 70% more food by 2050 to feed a projected extra 2.3 billion people.[2] The question remains however on how this will be achieved. This as urban development is shrinking the agricultural land base and fossil fuel reserves are dwindling, increasing the demand of crops cultivated for biofuel production. In addition to this other issues as well are hindering in achieving the new goals. For example, sea-level rise[3] will contaminate a very large percentage of the agricultural fields with sea salt and make them no longer suitable for continued food production.[4]

Addressing the future demand for food is a major challenge.

Agricultural development over the last 30-50 years has focussed on two main methods to increase world food production:

  • Increasing the land area available to food production. Generally speaking this is difficult to do, given that processes of sea level rise, desertification, topsoil erosion and so on are reducing productive land. In many parts of the world there are other pressures - such as mineral extraction and urbanisation that reduce available farmland
  • Increasing the total yield produced per unit of area, often by breeding, better nutrition and high inputs. Unfortunately, future problems such as a shortage of phosphorus might act against improvements in yield.

In developed countries, the debate is often framed around wastage, food miles and consumption:

  • The fact that food is produced far from the point of consumption, increasing the energy requirements (requiring more crops for biofuel production) and also being a factor in the ecological impact of the food. The problem also makes truly fresh produce a rare luxury. Local food is a response to these concerns.
  • The fact that a lot of produced food is discarded, despite being perfectly formed.[5] For example, melons that are too small is are thrown away, as they can not be sold on the auction. A lot of food that has tiny imperfections is also thrown away, for example carrots, cucumbers,... that are not perfectly straight, or nectarines that have minor dents. Although if the food is composted and reused on the agricultural field, the ecological impact is very minor, it does reduce the efficiency and hence puts a strain on agriculture.

Solutions on how this could nonetheless be achieved could be by reducing the population number and the meat consumption. Recent reports suggest that reduced meat consumption will have a major impact on the use of inorganic fertilisers in agriculture in the future. Organic food production systems usually produce significantly lower yields than high input conventional systems, so although they may reduce dependence on agrochemicals, it may not help with food shortages.

A final improvement which could be done is to only/mostly make products that have an increased shelf life. See Food processing

Alternative agricultural processes[edit | edit source]

  • Hydroponics refers to the practice of agriculture without soil (mostly water).
  • Aquaponics is the addition of fish to water.
  • Aeroponics is the use of misted water for agriculture.

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. International Labour Office (1999). Safety and health in agriculture. International Labour Organization. pp. 77–. ISBN 978-92-2-111517-5. Retrieved 13 September 2010.
  2. Global food production will have to increase 70% for additional 2.3 billion people by 2050. September 24, 2009.
  3. Sea level rise: 2m rise expected by 2100 A.D., 6,5m by 2200 A.D.
  4. Earth under water documentary
  5. [ Veg-i-Trade reporting that 46% of consumable fruit and vegetables is wasted

External links[edit | edit source]

FA info icon.svg Angle down icon.svg Page data
Keywords agriculture, food production, food, food and agriculture
Authors RichardF, KVDP, Chris Watkins, Joe Turner
License CC-BY-SA-3.0
Ported from (original)
Language English (en)
Translations Welsh, French
Related 2 subpages, 91 pages link here
Aliases Agricultural, Food and agriculture book, Farming, Food and agriculture
Impact 2,812 page views
Created November 8, 2006 by Chris Watkins
Modified June 22, 2024 by Kathy Nativi
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