Portal:Agriculture

The Agriculture Portal

Ploughing rice paddies with water buffalo, in Indonesia.

Agriculture or farming is the practice 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. Sheep, goats, pigs 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.

The major agricultural products can be broadly grouped into foods, fibers, fuels, and raw materials (such as rubber). Food classes include cereals (grains), vegetables, fruits, cooking oils, meat, milk, eggs, and fungi. Over one-third of the world's workers are employed in agriculture, second only to the service sector, although in recent decades, the global trend of a decreasing number of agricultural workers continues, especially in developing countries, where smallholding is being overtaken by industrial agriculture and mechanization that brings an enormous crop yield increase.

Modern agronomy, plant breeding, agrochemicals such as pesticides and fertilizers, and technological developments have sharply increased crop yields, but cause 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 other agricultural pollution. Agriculture is both a cause of and sensitive to environmental degradation, such as biodiversity loss, desertification, soil degradation, and global warming, all of which can cause decreases in crop yield. Genetically modified organisms are widely used, although some are banned in certain countries. (Full article...)

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A commercial chicken house raising broiler pullets for meat.
A commercial chicken house raising broiler pullets for meat.
Factory farming is a term referring to the process of raising livestock in confinement at high stocking density, where a farm operates as a factory — a practice typical in industrial farming by agribusinesses. The main product of this industry is meat, milk and eggs for human consumption. However, there have been issues regarding whether factory farming is sustainable and ethical.

Confinement at high stocking density is one part of a systematic effort to produce the highest output at the lowest cost by relying on economies of scale, modern machinery, biotechnology, and global trade. Confinement at high stocking density requires antibiotics and pesticides to mitigate the spread of disease and pestilence exacerbated by these crowded living conditions. In addition, antibiotics are used to stimulate livestock growth by killing intestinal bacteria. There are differences in the way factory farming techniques are practiced around the world. There is a continuing debate over the benefits and risks of factory farming. The issues include the efficiency of food production; animal welfare; whether it is essential for feeding the growing global human population; the environmental impact and the health risks.

The large concentration of animals, animal waste, and the potential for dead animals in a small space poses ethical issues. It is recognized that some techniques used to sustain intensive agriculture can be cruel to animals. As awareness of the problems of intensive techniques has grown, there have been some efforts by governments and industry to remove inappropriate techniques. (Full article...)

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A cow milking machine in action. This photo was taken on March 7, 2003
at the Salon de l'agriculture (Salon of agriculture) in Paris, France.

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