Many of the foods and fabrics we use in our daily lives come from agriculture. The most common agricultural products are cotton, wool, and leather. The industry also provides wood for construction and paper products. It is possible that the products, and the farming methods, used in one part of the world may differ from another.
What is Agriculture?
Definition: Agriculture is the art and science of cultivating the soil, growing crops, and raising livestock. It includes the preparation of plant and animal products for people to use and their distribution to markets.
Agricultural practices include raising plants and livestock. As a result of agriculture, sedentary human civilization developed in cities because of surplus food created by farming domesticated species.
It has been thousands of years since agriculture began. Around 11,500 years ago, farmers began to plant wild grains they had been gathering for at least 105,000 years. Around 10,000 years ago, livestock such as cattle, sheep, and pigs were domesticated.
At least 11 regions around the world have independently cultivated plants. As industrial agriculture developed based on large-scale monoculture in the twentieth century, subsistence agriculture remained the predominant form of agriculture for about 2 billion people.
Modern agricultural practices, plant breeding, agrochemicals such as pesticides and fertilizers, and technical development have significantly increased crop yields, but have caused widespread ecological and environmental damage. In the same way, selective breeding and modern methods of animal husbandry have increased meat output, but they have raised concerns about animal welfare and environmental damage.
In addition to global warming, deforestation, antibiotic resistance, and growth hormones in industrial meat production, environmental issues include depletion of aquifers, and depletion of wetlands. Environmental degradation caused by agriculture, such as biodiversity loss, desertification, soil degradation, and global warming, can decrease crop yields. The use of genetically modified organisms is widespread in the world, although some are banned in certain countries.
We can broadly group agricultural products into four categories: foods, fibers, fuels, and raw materials (such as rubber). There are six food categories: cereals (grains), vegetables, fruits, oils, meat, milk, fungi, and eggs.
It is estimated that over one third of the world’s workforce works in agriculture, second only to the service sector. However, in recent decades, the number of agricultural workers decreased worldwide, especially in developing countries where small holdings have been supplanted by industrial agriculture.
The word agriculture is a late Middle English adaptation of Latin agricultūra, from ager ‘field’ and cultūra ‘cultivation’ or ‘growing’. Some species of ants, termites, and beetles have been cultivating crops as early as 60 million years ago, although agriculture usually refers to human activities.
The definition of agriculture is varied, but in its broadest sense it involves the use of natural resources to produce commodities that sustain life, such as food, fiber, forest products, horticultural crops and their associated services. By this definition, agriculture includes arable farming, horticulture, animal husbandry, and forestry, but horticulture and forestry are often excluded.
History Of Agriculture
Farming in history can be traced to the domestication of plants and animals, as well as the evolution of efficient methods of raising them. A growing diversity of taxa was associated with agriculture, which developed independently in different parts of the globe. It is possible for at least eleven independent centers of origin to exist in the Old World and the New World.
Approximately 105,000 years ago, people began gathering and eating wild grains. Although domestication followed later in history. Around 9500 BC, Ethiopian emmer wheat evolved into einkorn wheat, hulled barley, legumes, bitter vetch, chickpeas, and flax – which are the eight Neolithic founder crops.
The cultivation of rye may have begun earlier than thought, but this is highly controversial. The first rice cultivation in China dates back to 6200 BC, while mung, soy, and azuki beans were domesticated in 5700 BC. Domesticated pigs first appeared in Mesopotamia around 11,000 BC, followed by sheep between 11,000 and 9000 BC.
In modern Turkey and India, cattle were domesticated from wild aurochs around 8500 BC. Domestication of sorghum occurred in the Sahel region of Africa by 3000 BC. Despite being domesticated late, camels were domesticated relatively early, perhaps as late as 3000 BC.
Several plant species were first cultivated in South America as early as 9000 BCE, which led to the cultivation of only minor crops. Among the various domesticated crops in South America were potatoes, beans, tomatoes, peanuts, coca, llamas, alpacas, and guinea pigs, which were domesticated between 8000 BC and 5000 BC.
It is believed that cassava was domesticated in the Amazon Basin no later than 7000 BC. Moreover, it is believed that Mesoamericans domesticated and genetically modified wild teosinte (Zea mays) to produce domestic maize, which made its way to South America about 7000 BC.
During the Neolithic age, cotton was domesticated in Peru by 4200 BC; another cotton species was domesticated in Mesoamerica, which became by far the most important type of cotton during the modern era.
Around 7000 BC, New Guineans domesticated sugarcane and some root vegetables. A similar period in Papua New Guinea saw banana cultivation and hybridization. Agriculturists in Australia developed the first crops ranging from yams to bananas at an unspecified time period, with the oldest evidence dating to 6,600 BC in the form of the older Budj Bim eel traps.
Ancient Egypt, ancient Sumer, the Indian subcontinent’s Indus Valley Civilization, ancient China, and ancient Greece witnessed the intensification of agriculture from 3300 BC to 3100 BC. Both the Republic and the Empire expanded ancient Rome during the Iron Age and era of classical antiquity.
A bedrock of medieval agriculture was the manorial system, which grew out of the ancient Mediterranean and Western Europe. A variety of crop plants were spread throughout Europe and the Islamic world during the Middle Ages, including sugar, rice, cotton, and fruit trees such as the orange from Al-Andalus to Europe.
During the Columbian exchange in 1492, Christopher Columbus brought New World crops over to Europe, including maize, potatoes, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, and manioc, and Old World crops back to the Americas, that included wheat, barley, rice, and turnips.
Since the Neolithic Revolution started in the 19th century, irrigation, crop rotation, and fertilizers have been heavily developed. Human labor was replaced by mechanization in agriculture, supplemented by synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, and selective breeding in the developed world, as well as developing nations, since 1900.
Ammonium nitrate fertilizer was synthesized using the Haber-Bosch process on an industrial scale, significantly increasing crop yields. Overpopulation, water pollution, biofuels, genetically modified organisms, tariffs, and farm subsidies are some of the social, political, and environmental issues linked to modern agriculture. The development of organic farming became an alternative to synthetic pesticides around the turn of the twentieth century.
Origin of Agriculture
A growing number of people were able to live on hunting and gathering before agriculture was developed. It is believed that agricultural activity began independently in 11 different centers throughout the world, with different taxa in each area. The process of collecting and eating wild grains began nearly 105,000 years ago.
There were eight Neolithic founder crops cultivated in the Levant nearly 11,500 years ago, including emmer and einkorn wheat, hulled barley, peas, lentils, bitter vetch, chickpeas, and flax. Agricultural rice in China began around 11,500 B.C., with the earliest known cultivation dating back to 5,700 B.C., followed by mung, soy, and azuki beans.
Around 13,000-11,000 years ago, sheep were domesticated in Mesopotamia. The domestication of cattle began in modern Turkey and Pakistan approximately 10,500 years ago when aurochs were wild. About 10,500 years ago, domesticating wild boars brought about pig production in Eurasia, including Europe, East Asia, and Southwest Asia.
Potatoes were domesticated somewhere between 10,000 and 7,000 years ago in South America, along with beans, coca, llamas, alpacas, and guinea pigs. Around 9,000 years ago, New Guineans domesticated sugarcane and some root vegetables.
Africa’s Sahel region is where sorghum was domesticated 7,000 years ago. 5600 years ago, cotton was domesticated in Peru and then in Eurasia independent of Peru.
Around 6,000 years ago, wild teosinte was bred into maize in Mesoamerica. A number of hypotheses have been put forward to explain the history of agriculture. Researchers have found an initial period of increased sedentism and intensification during the transition from hunter-gatherer societies to agricultural societies, exemplified by the Natufian culture in the Levant and the Early Chinese Neolithic in China.
Then, previously harvested wild stands began to be planted and gradually domesticated.
Types of Agriculture
Pastoralism: Farming involves the management of domesticated animals. Livestock herds are moved from pasture to pasture and from fodder to water in nomadic pastoralism. Farmers practice this type of farming in arid and semi-arid regions of Sahara and Central Asia, as well as in parts of India.
Shifting Cultivation: The trees are cut and burned during shifting cultivation, allowing for the clearing of small patches of forest. A few years later, the cleared land becomes infertile, and it is abandoned as the area becomes too infertile for crops. It is then selected again and the process is repeated. Agroforestry is commonly practiced in areas where there is abundant rainfall and where the forests regenerate quickly. Southeast Asia and the Amazon Basin have used this practice for centuries.
Subsistence Farming: Farmers practicing subsistence farming only generate enough food to meet their own needs, leaving little for transport outside of their community. It is a practice that is intensively practiced in Monsoon Asia and South-East Asia. About 60% of earth’s arable land is cultivated by subsistence farmers, which works 2.5 billion people in 2018.
Intensive Farming: The practice of intensive farming involves using water, fertilizer, pesticides, and automation to maximize productivity and minimize fallow periods. Intensive farming is most prevalent in developed nations.
Crop cultivation systems
Agriculture has different cropping systems on different farms based on a number of factors such as resources and constraints, geography and climate of the farm, government policies, economic, social, and political pressures, and the farmer’s philosophy and culture.
Slash and burn (or shifting cultivation) is a method that burns forests in order to release nutrients that can be used to grow annual crops and persistant plants for several years. Afterwards, the farmer leaves the plot fallow to regrow forest, and moves to a new plot, returning after a considerable time.
If population density grows, a shorter fallow period is necessary, as well as fertilizer and pesticide input. During annual cultivation, there is no fallow period, so the intensity of cultivation increases with time. As a result, more fertilizer and pesticides are needed.
In addition to monoculture, further industrialization made it possible to plant large acres with one cultivar. Since there is little biodiversity in the area, nutrients are used uniformly and pests tend to accumulate, requiring a greater use of pesticides and fertilizers. The polyculture method of farming involves growing multiple crops concurrently in the same year. This method is known as multiple cropping, while intercropping involves growing several crops simultaneously.
It may be impossible to plant multiple crops in a year in subtropical or arid environments due to rainfall restrictions. Irrigation may be required. There are perennial crops being grown in all of these environments (coffee, chocolate) followed by agroforestry systems. Traditionally, highly productive annual agriculture has become the dominant agricultural system in temperate environments in which grassland or prairie ecosystems predominate.
There are many categories of food crops, including cereals, legumes, forage, fruits, and vegetables. A variety of natural fibers are available, including cotton, wool, hemp, silk, and flax. These fibres are grown in specific regions throughout the world.
Livestock production systems
The practice of raising and breeding animals for meat, milk, eggs, wool, as well as for work and transportation, is animal husbandry. Throughout history, working animals like horses, mules, oxen, water buffalo, camels, llamas, alpacas, donkeys, and dogs have cultivated fields, harvested crops, and transported farm products.
According to the feed source, livestock production systems can be classified as grassland-based, mixed, or landless. Approximately 1.3 billion people are employed by the livestock sector on Earth’s ice- and water-free surfaces. The livestock industry experienced a dramatic increase between the 1960s and 2000s, both in terms of number and weight of carcasses, especially among cattle, pigs, and chickens, the latter of which had production increase by almost ten fold.
A significant increase in milk production and egg production was also seen in non-meat animals, such as milk cows and chickens that produce eggs. In the coming years, the number of cattle, sheep, and goats is expected to increase significantly. As the sector of food production that grows at the fastest rate, aquaculture or fish farming, the production of fish intended for human consumption in confined environments, grew by 9 percent annually between 1975 and 2007.
Producing livestock breeds and crossbreeds that produced more production during the second half of the 20th century meant disregarding the need for genetic diversity. A lack of genetic diversity and resources has contributed to a loss of disease resistance and local adaptations among livestock breeds; as a result, more livestock breeds are susceptible to disease.
To feed ruminant animals, pastures, shrubland, and rangeland are used in grassland-based livestock production. Although there are other nutrients available, manure serves as the most important source of nutrients in the grassland.
Approximately 30–40 million pastoralists depend on this system in areas where farming is not feasible due to weather or soil conditions. For ruminant and monogastric livestock (mainly chickens and pigs) mixed production systems utilize pastureland, fodder crops, and grain feed crops. A mixed system usually recycles manure as fertilizer for crops.
System of landless farming depends on feed from outside the farm, which is more prevalent in member countries of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Agricultural producers are increasingly relying on synthetic fertilizers for crop production, which poses a challenge as well as a pollution concern.
Most of the global supply of poultry and pork is produced at these facilities by industrialized countries. Between 2003 and 2030, confined animal feeding operations, sometimes referred to as factory farming, are estimated to account for 75% of the growth in livestock production. The growth in Asia is largely the result of developing countries, with less growth in Africa. There is controversy surrounding practice in commercial livestock production, including the use of growth hormones.
Tillage: It is a technique for amending the soil with tools such as the harrow or plow for purposes of planting, adding nutrients, or controlling pests. The intensity of tillage can range from no-till to conventional. This may improve productivity by warming the soil, incorporating fertilizer, and controlling weeds, but at the same time makes soil more likely to erode, triggers the breakdown of organic matter to release CO2, and reduces the diversity and abundance of soil life.
In addition to weeds, insects, and diseases, pest control also addresses ants, rodents, and birds. A variety of chemicals (pesticides), biologicals (biocontrols), mechanicals (tillage), and cultural practices are used. Among the cultural practices are crop rotation, culling, cover crops, intercropping, composting, avoidance, and resistance. In the case of an integrated pest management program, all of these methods are used to reduce pest populations to levels that would not cause economic loss, and pesticides are used only when necessary.
In addition to source of nutrient input, nutrient management also involves the way nutrient manure produced by livestock is used. Chemical fertilizers, green manure, compost, and minerals are some fertilizers that can be used as nutrient inputs.
Cultural techniques such as crop rotation or fallow periods can also be used to manage crop nutrition. Basically, either livestock are pastured near crops or manure is applied to cropland or pastures when the crops are growing, such as in the case of managed intensive rotational grazing.
In most parts of the world, rainfall is inadequate or erratic, so water management is necessary. Irrigation is sometimes used to supplement rainfall. Farming in other parts of the world, such as the Great Plains in the U.S. and Canada, uses a fallow year to conserve soil moisture for the following crop growing season. Worldwide, 70% of freshwater is used for agriculture.
According to a report by the International Food Policy Research Institute, agricultural technologies will have the greatest impact on food production if adopted in combination with each other. The International Food Policy Research Institute calculated that by 2050, 11 technologies could have significant effects on agricultural productivity, food security, and trade, with the number of hungry people being reduced by as much as 40% and food prices decreasing by almost 50%.
Ecosystem service payments are a way to provide farmers with additional incentives to conserve various environmental aspects. To improve freshwater supplies, reforestation could be paid for upstream of a city.
Early in the 1700s, Great Britain and the Low Countries (Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands, which are located below sea level) experienced an important agricultural development. In Europe as well as the colonies, especially in the United States and Canada, new agricultural inventions increased food production.
It was Jethro Tull who is credited with inventing the horse-drawn seed drill that was one of the most important innovations of this period. Previously, farmers had to sow seeds by hand. Tol’s drill made rows of holes that the seeds could be sown through. In Europe, seed drilling became more widespread towards the end of the 18th century.
In the United States, many machines have been developed. Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin in 1794, which shortened the processing time for cotton fiber separation. A mechanical reaper designed by Cyrus McCormick helped modernize grain processing in the 1830s. In about the same time period, John and Hiram Pitts introduced a horse-powered thresher, which made the separation of grain from chaff and straw quicker.
In 1837, Deere introduced a steel plow that allowed him to work tough prairie soil with less horsepower. Several important farming methods were also introduced at the same time. In order to increase livestock productivity and size, farmers selectively breed animals (breeding those with desirable traits).
Mongolian nomads were selectively breeding horses in the Bronze Age according to evidence found in the Bronze Age. After the 18th century, Europe began to practice selective breeding extensively. Its quality meat and long, coarse wool made it a popular animal in England at that time.
Selective breeding could also be used to improve plants. The Heredity Studies of Gregor Mendel were first published in Austria in 1866. As a result of his studies in pea plants, Mendel discovered how traits were passed from generation to generation. As a result, genetics played a key role in crop improvement.
This period also saw the development of new crop rotation techniques. Throughout the rest of the 20th century, a number of these techniques were adopted throughout Europe. The English Norfolk four-field system, for example, was quite successful. There were several crops that were rotated yearly, including wheat, turnips, barley, clover, and ryegrass. Farmers were able to plant more without leaving any land unplanted because the soil had been enriched with nutrients.
However, these developments did not affect the majority of the world. The old ways of farming were still used in Asia, Australia, Africa, and South America.
Agriculture science encompasses a broad range of exact, natural, economic, and social science disciplines that are employed in the practice and understanding of agriculture. It addresses acoustics, plant breeding, genetics, plant pathology, crop modelling, soil science, entomology, production techniques and improvement, pest management, and adverse environmental effects such as soil degradation, waste management, and biological remediation.
It was not uncommon for an average American farmer to feed a family of five during the early 1900s. There are many farmers today who can feed that family and a hundred more people. What is the reason for this leap in productivity? A major reason for this was the development of new sources of power and scientific advancements.
In the late 1950s, electric and gasoline were being used jointly by farmers in developed countries. Agricultural machines powered by steam had been replaced by tractors. Almost every aspect of agricultural and livestock management was performed by machines.
Japanese and German farms were the first to use electricity as a power source in the early 1900s. It wasn’t uncommon for U.S. farms and other industrialized countries to be electrified by 1960. Farm buildings were lit by electricity, and machinery like milking machines, feeding machines, and water pumps functioned with electricity. Farm buildings and poultry houses today are completely powered by electricity.
Pests and diseases have traditionally been managed by many different methods by farmers. Crops are poisoned with plant-based herbicides, insects are hand-picked, strong varieties of crops are bred, and rotation of crops has been used to control insects.
The majority of farmers in industrialized countries rely on chemical pesticides to eradicate their pests. The term “pest” can refer to anything from insects to animals such as rabbits and mice to weeds and bacteria, viruses, and fungi that can cause disease. Prices for crops and crop losses have dramatically declined since chemicals were introduced in the 1960s.
In general, natural fertilizers have been used for thousands of years to replenish or increase the soil’s nutrients, such as manure, wood ash, powdered bones, fish parts, and bird and bat waste called guano.
The elements nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium were discovered by scientists in the early 1800s to be essential to plant growth. These elements were later added to fertilizer made in North America and Europe. Chemical fertilization with nitrates and phosphates has boosted crop yields considerably in recent years.
The use of pesticides and fertilizer, however, has brought with it a new set of issues. Due to the heavy use of chemicals, the environment has been disturbed, often destroying both helpful and harmful species of animals at the same time. In addition to chemicals, contaminated water is another health risk related to chemical use. To make fertilizers and pesticides safer, scientists are studying chemicals. Natural pest control methods are being used by some farmers.
Johann Friedrich Mayer was the first to experiment with the use of gypsum with sulfate hydration as a fertilizer in the 18th century. Several long-term field experiments were started at Rothamsted Research Station in England, by John Lawes and Henry Gilbert in 1843; some of them, such as the Park Grass Experiment, are still in progress.
Farmers’ interest in fertilizers led to the establishment of the first agricultural science program in America by the Hatch Act of 1887. It was the USDA that first began investigating biological control in agriculture in 1881; in 1905, it began its first major project searching for solitary wasps and other pest predators in Europe and Japan.
Genetic Modification in Agriculture
Through random experimentation, humans have created new species of animals and plants for centuries. There were many strains of high-yield wheat and rice developed between the 1950s and 1960s. Parts of Asia and Mexico were introduced to many of them. This led to a rapid increase in grain production in these areas. It was known as the “Green Revolution.”
The Green Revolution led to problems as well as successes. New strains of crops require chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and irrigation to produce high yields. Independent farmers are unable to afford the new technology in many developing countries, so big businesses have taken over agriculture in these countries. Plants and animals native to the area are also affected by the new, high-production crops.
It took scientists and farmers a long time to understand why the new strains emerged. Eventually, a new green revolution emerged: genetic modification of foods.
There are genes within every cell, which determine many of an organism’s characteristics. An organism’s genetic make-up and how it acquires these characteristics is the subject of genetics. By gaining a more sophisticated understanding of genetics, individuals are able to scientifically select characteristics to reproduce. The selective breeding process for both plants and animals has undergone a transformation due to the advancement of technology.
Several crops and livestock traits were enhanced during the 1970s, when scientists discovered they were able to rearrange genes and add new ones to promote disease resistance, productivity, and other desirable characteristics. GMOs, as well as foods containing genetically modified organisms, are increasingly common in the developed world. Microbes, plants, and animals can have their DNA altered by biotechnology. Those organisms that have genes or DNA derived from another species are known as transgenic organisms.
It is possible to add (splice) genes from Arctic plants into the DNA of strawberry plants to increase their resistance to cold and therefore extend their season. Transgenic strawberries would be the result.
The company sells genetically engineered seeds that are resistant to certain herbicides and pesticides. In addition to killing weeds and other plants that threaten the crop, herbicides can be used on these seeds without affecting the crop.
Animal husbandry (raising domestic animals with the aid of biotechnology) has advanced thanks to advances in biotechnology. Compared to the animals of yesterday, current farm animals are bigger and grow faster. One example would be cows, which graze. In order to digest grass and other crops, cows have evolved digestive systems. The digestive system of a cow becomes acidic when it eats grains such as corn. Developing bacteria like E.coli become easier because of that. As well as causing harm to the cow, bacterial infections can also infect people’s milk and meat when they consume the milk or meat of the cow.
Feed corn is spliced with antibiotics to prevent infections of this type. This practice dates back to the 1950s when antibiotics were used to stimulate cattle growth. As a result, livestock and humans have developed antibiotic-resistant bacteria over time. Frequently, anabolic steroids are also given to cattle so that they get bigger and faster.
Foods containing genetically modified organisms are surrounded by controversy. Farmers who grow GM crops increase their productivity while using less labor and fewer resources. Genetically modified foods are popular among consumers. GM vegetables and fruits last longer and bruise less easily. Meats are tastier, healthier, and more tender.
A significant number of critics claim GM foods lack nutritional value and decrease biodiversity. Many farmers around the world live in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and developing countries that are opposed to “factory farming”. It is not uncommon for them to cultivate land as their ancestors did hundreds or even thousands of years ago. There are no modern techniques and no chemicals used in their farming.
Subsistence farming is the way of life for these people. Commercial farmers grow crops to sell, while homesteaders grow food for themselves and their families.
Fight Against Hunger
As population grows and distribution methods change, so must food production. Food production and distribution are massive challenges.
There isn’t a food shortage crisis; the problem is an unequal distribution of food around the globe. Some countries have been given an advantage because of their population to farmable land ratio. A number of experts are concerned that government policies have undermined equal access to food in developed and developing countries. The local economy continues to suffer from food shortages due to droughts, floods, and other disasters.
Uneven distribution of food resources is also caused by overpopulation. Over the next century, most of the population growth will take place in developing countries, where hunger already poses a major threat.
Agricultural technology from surplus countries should be exported to countries with food shortages, not the other way around. A country with low income cannot afford to buy all the food it needs and does not want to depend on other nations for all their food needs. Developing countries also value biological diversity and don’t want their biodiversity threatened by GMOs.
Two solutions are believed to be available to solve the hunger problem. The first step is the ability of every country’s citizens to produce or purchase their own food. Second, all citizens should practice responsible spending and diet habits. Could overpopulation be addressed?
Food production can be made healthier with the help of agricultural science. New varieties of high-yielding crops are being developed that require less fertilizer and pesticide. It is expected that these crops will reduce the need to use chemicals and trade.
If the world’s land and water are not protected, we will not be able to feed the hungry. There have been severe losses of topsoil, water, and other resources because of agricultural practices in both developed and developing countries.
There are many countries that could benefit from better reforestation programs. In response to overpopulation, a growing number of farmers are cultivating soils that cannot sustain cultivation. Globally, irrigation has increased as a result of growing food demand. As a result of irrigation, water tables have dropped, rivers have dried up, and wells have run dry in some areas. Increased agricultural production often contaminates the groundwater and soil and disrupts the food chain.
Environmental damage is not inevitable with agriculture. World hunger may yet be solved through the protection of the land, the air, and the water, and by sharing knowledge and resources.
Source: Wikipedia, National Geographic