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Introduction

Harvesting wheat with a combine harvester accompanied by a tractor and trailer

Agriculture is the science and art of cultivating plants and livestock. Agriculture was the key development in the rise of sedentary human civilization, whereby farming of domesticated species created food surpluses that enabled people to live in cities. The history of agriculture began thousands of years ago. After gathering wild grains beginning at least 105,000 years ago, nascent farmers began to plant them around 11,500 years ago. Pigs, sheep and cattle were domesticated over 10,000 years ago. Plants were independently cultivated in at least 11 regions of the world. Industrial agriculture based on large-scale monoculture in the twentieth century came to dominate agricultural output, though about 2 billion people still depended on subsistence agriculture into the twenty-first.

Modern agronomy, plant breeding, agrochemicals such as pesticides and fertilizers, and technological developments have sharply increased yields, while causing widespread ecological and environmental damage. Selective breeding and modern practices in animal husbandry have similarly increased the output of meat, but have raised concerns about animal welfare and environmental damage. Environmental issues include contributions to global warming, depletion of aquifers, deforestation, antibiotic resistance, and growth hormones in industrial meat production. Genetically modified organisms are widely used, although some are banned in certain countries.

Selected general articles

Did you know...

  • ... that termites developed agriculture some 31 million years ago?
  • ... that songs and books for children often depict happy farm animals in attractive countryside, glossing over the realities of impersonal, mechanized activities involved in modern intensive farming?
  • ... that the bluegrass billbug feeds on maize and other grain crops as well as on Kentucky bluegrass?
  • ... that historically, curryfish was not commercially harvested because it disintegrated too easily when handled?
  • ... that although Indian cassava mosaic virus does indeed infect cassava crops in India, the actual origin of the virus is unknown?
  • ... that Henry Semon lost his seat in the Oregon legislature when he accepted a position on the state's agriculture board, but was reappointed to the legislature after resigning from the board?

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