AskDefine | Define farming

Dictionary Definition

farming adj : relating to rural matters; "an agrarian (or agricultural) society"; "farming communities" [syn: agrarian, agricultural, farming(a)]


1 the practice of cultivating the land or raising stock [syn: agriculture, husbandry]
2 working the land as an occupation or way of life; "farming is a strenuous life"; "there's no work on the land any more" [syn: land]

User Contributed Dictionary



From farm + -ing



  1. The business of cultivating land, raising stocks etc.

Derived terms


  1. Pertaining to the agricultural business.
  2. Raising livestock or fish.


  1. present participle of farm


Extensive Definition

Agriculture refers to the production of goods through the growing of plants, animals and other life forms. The study of agriculture is known as agricultural science.
Agriculture encompasses many subjects, including aquaculture, agronomy, animal husbandry, and horticulture. Each of these subjects can be further partitioned: for example, agronomy includes both sustainable agriculture and intensive farming, and animal husbandry includes ranching, herding, and intensive pig farming. Agricultural products include food (vegetables, fruits, and cereals), fibers (cotton, wool, hemp, silk and flax), fuels (methane from biomass, ethanol, biodiesel), cut flowers, ornamental and nursery plants, tropical fish and birds for the pet trade, both legal and illegal drugs (biopharmaceuticals, tobacco, marijuana, opium, cocaine), and other useful materials such as resins. Recently, crops have been designed to produce plastic as well as pharmaceuticals.
The history of agriculture is a central element of human history, as agricultural progress has been a crucial factor in worldwide socio-economic change. Wealth-building and militaristic specializations rarely seen in hunter-gatherer cultures are commonplace in agricultural and agro-industrial societies—when farmers became capable of producing food beyond the needs of their own families, others in the tribe/village/City-state/nation/empire were freed to devote themselves to projects other than food acquisition. Jared Diamond, among others, has argued that the development of civilization required agriculture.
As of 2006, an estimated 45 percent of the world's workers are employed in agriculture (from 42% in 1996). However, the relative significance of farming has dropped steadily since the beginning of industrialization, and in 2006 – for the first time in history – the services sector overtook agriculture as the economic sector employing the most people worldwide. Despite the fact that agriculture employs over one-third of the world's population, agricultural production accounts for less than five percent of the gross world product (an aggregate of all gross domestic products).


Many governments have subsidized agriculture to ensure an adequate food supply. These agricultural subsidies are often linked to the production of certain commodities such as wheat, corn, rice, soybeans, and milk. These subsidies, especially when done by developed countries have been noted as protectionist, inefficient, and environmentally damaging. In the past century agriculture has been characterized by enhanced productivity, the use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, selective breeding, mechanization, water contamination, and farm subsidies. Proponents of organic farming such as Sir Albert Howard argued in the early 1900s that the overuse of pesticides and synthetic fertilizers damages the long-term fertility of the soil. While this feeling lay dormant for decades, as environmental awareness has increased recently there has been a movement towards sustainable agriculture by some farmers, consumers, and policymakers. In recent years there has been a backlash against perceived external environmental effects of mainstream agriculture, particularly regarding water pollution, resulting in the organic movement. One of the major forces behind this movement has been the European Union, which first certified organic food in 1991 and began reform of its Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) in 2005 to phase out commodity-linked farm subsidies, also known as decoupling. The growth of organic farming has renewed research in alternative technologies such as integrated pest management and selective breeding. Recent mainstream technological developments include genetically modified food.
As of late 2007, several factors have pushed up the price of grain used to feed poultry and dairy cows and other cattle, causing higher prices of wheat (up 58%), soybean (up 32%), and maize (up 11%) over the year. Food riots have recently taken place in many countries across the world. An epidemic of stem rust on wheat caused by race UG99 is currently spreading across Africa and into Asia and is causing major concern. Approximately 40% of the world's agricultural land is seriously degraded. In Africa, if current trends of soil degradation continue, the continent might be able to feed just 25% of its population by 2025, according to UNU's Ghana-based Institute for Natural Resources in Africa.


Agricultural practices lie on a spectrum dependent upon the intensity and technology of the methods. At the one end lies the subsistence farmer who farms a small area with limited inputs and produces only enough food to meet the needs of his or her family. At the other end lies intensive agriculture which includes traditional labor intensive farming (e.g. South-East Asia rice paddies), and modern agriculture which includes industrial agriculture, organic farming and sustainable farming. Industrial agriculture involves large fields and/or numbers of animals, high resource inputs (pesticides, fertilizers, etc.), and a high level of mechanization. These operations achieve economies of scale and require large amounts of capital in the form of land and machinery.
The twentieth century saw changes in agricultural practice, particularly in agricultural chemistry and in mechanization. Agricultural chemistry includes the application of chemical fertilizer, chemical insecticides (see pest control), and chemical fungicides, analysis of soil makeup and nutritional needs of farm animals.
Mechanization has increased farm efficiency and productivity in most regions of the world, due especially to the tractor and various "gins" (short for "engine") such as the cotton gin, semi-automatic balers and threshers and, above all, the combine (see agricultural machinery). According to the National Academy of Engineering in the United States, agricultural mechanization is one of the 20 greatest engineering achievements of the 20th century. Early in the century, it took one American farmer to produce food for 2.5 people. By 1999, due to advances in agricultural technology, a single farmer could feed over 130 people.
Other recent changes in agriculture include hydroponics, plant breeding, hybridization, gene manipulation, better management of soil nutrients, and improved weed control. Genetic engineering has yielded crops which have capabilities beyond those of naturally occurring plants, such as higher yields and disease resistance. Modified seeds germinate faster, and thus can be grown on an accelerated schedule. Genetic engineering of plants has proven controversial, particularly in the case of herbicide-resistant plants.
It has been suggested that genetic engineers may some day develop transgenic plants which would allow for irrigation, drainage, conservation, sanitary engineering, and maintaining or increasing yields while requiring fewer fossil fuel derived inputs than conventional crops. Such developments would be particularly important in areas which are normally arid and rely upon constant irrigation, and on large scale farms. These possibilities are questioned by ecologists and economists concerned with unsustainable GMO practices such as terminator seeds, and a January 2008 report shows that GMO practices have failed to address sustainability issues. While there has been some research on sustainability using GMO crops, at least one hyped and promonant multi-year attempt by Monsanto has been unsuccessful, though during the same period traditional breeding techniques yielded a more sustainable variety of the same crop. Additionally, a survey by the bio-tech industry of subsistence farmers in Africa to discover what GMO research would most benefit sustainable agriculture only identified non-transgenic issues as areas needing to be addressed.
The processing, packing and marketing of agricultural products are closely related activities also influenced by science. Methods of quick-freezing and dehydration have increased the markets for many farm products (see food preservation and meat packing industry).
Animals, including horses, mules, oxen, camels, llamas, alpacas, and dogs, are often used to help cultivate fields, harvest crops, wrangle other animals, and transport farm products to buyers. Animal husbandry not only refers to the breeding and raising of animals for meat or to harvest animal products (like milk, eggs, or wool) on a continual basis, but also to the breeding and care of species for work and companionship.
Airplanes, helicopters, trucks, tractors, and combines are used in Western (and, increasingly, Eastern) agriculture for seeding, spraying operations for insect and disease control, harvesting, aerial topdressing and transporting perishable products. Radio and television disseminate vital weather reports and other information such as market reports that concern farmers. Computers have become an essential tool for farm management.
In recent years, some aspects of intensive industrial agriculture have been the subject of increasing debate. The widening sphere of influence held by large seed and chemical companies, meat packers and food processors has been a source of concern both within the farming community and for the general public. Another issue is the type of feed given to some animals that can cause bovine spongiform encephalopathy in cattle. There has also been concern over the effect of intensive agriculture on the environment.
The patent protection given to companies that develop new types of seed using genetic engineering has allowed seed to be licensed to farmers in much the same way that computer software is licensed to users. This has changed the balance of power in favor of the seed companies, allowing them to dictate terms and conditions previously unheard of. The Indian activist and scientist Vandana Shiva argues that these companies are guilty of biopiracy.
Soil conservation and nutrient management have been important concerns since the 1950s, with the most advanced farmers taking a stewardship role with the land they use. However, increasing contamination of waterways and wetlands by nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus are concerns that can only be addressed by "enlightenment" of farmers and/or far stricter law enforcement in many countries.
Increasing consumer awareness of agricultural issues has led to the rise of community-supported agriculture, local food movement, "Slow Food", and commercial organic farming.


The word agriculture is the English adaptation of Latin agricultūra, from ager, "a field", and cultūra, "cultivation" in the strict sense of "tillage of the soil". Thus, a literal reading of the word yields "tillage of a field / of fields".


Agriculture was developed at least 10,000 years ago, and it has undergone significant developments since the time of the earliest cultivation. Evidence points to the Fertile Crescent of the Middle East as the site of the earliest planned sowing and harvesting of plants that had previously been gathered in the wild. Independent development of agriculture occurred in northern and southern China, Africa's Sahel, New Guinea and several regions of the Americas. Agricultural practices such as irrigation, crop rotation, fertilizers, and pesticides were developed long ago but have made great strides in the past century. The Haber-Bosch method for synthesizing ammonium nitrate represented a major breakthrough and allowed crop yields to overcome previous constraints. In the past century agriculture has been characterized by enhanced productivity, the substitution of labor for synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, selective breeding, mechanization, water pollution, and farm subsidies. In recent years there has been a backlash against the external environmental effects of conventional agriculture, resulting in the organic movement.

Ancient origins

see Neolithic Revolution
Developed independently by geographically distant populations, systematic agriculture first appeared in Southwest Asia in the Fertile Crescent, particularly in modern-day Iraq and Syria/Israel. Around 9500 BCE, proto-farmers began to select and cultivate food plants with desired characteristics. Though there is evidence of earlier sporadic use of wild cereals, it was not until after 9500 BCE that the eight so-called founder crops of agriculture appear: first emmer and einkorn wheat, then hulled barley, peas, lentils, bitter vetch, chick peas and flax.
By 7000 BCE, small-scale agriculture reached Egypt. From at least 7000 BCE the Indian subcontinent saw farming of wheat and barley, as attested by archaeological excavation at Mehrgarh in Balochistan. By 6000 BCE, mid-scale farming was entrenched on the banks of the Nile. About this time, agriculture was developed independently in the Far East, with rice, rather than wheat, as the primary crop. Chinese and Indonesian farmers went on to domesticate mung, soy, azuki and taro. To complement these new sources of carbohydrates, highly organized net fishing of rivers, lakes and ocean shores in these areas brought in great volumes of essential protein. Collectively, these new methods of farming and fishing inaugurated a human population boom dwarfing all previous expansions, and is one that continues today.
By 5000 BCE, the Sumerians had developed core agricultural techniques including large scale intensive cultivation of land, mono-cropping, organized irrigation, and use of a specialized labour force, particularly along the waterway now known as the Shatt al-Arab, from its Persian Gulf delta to the confluence of the Tigris and Euphrates. Domestication of wild aurochs and mouflon into cattle and sheep, respectively, ushered in the large-scale use of animals for food/fiber and as beasts of burden. The shepherd joined the farmer as an essential provider for sedentary and semi-nomadic societies.
Maize, manioc, and arrowroot were first domesticated in the Americas as far back as 5200 BCE. The potato, tomato, pepper, squash, several varieties of bean, Canna, tobacco and several other plants were also developed in the New World, as was extensive terracing of steep hillsides in much of Andean South America.
In later years, the Greeks and Romans built on techniques pioneered by the Sumerians but made few fundamentally new advances. Southern Greeks struggled with very poor soils, yet managed to become a dominant society for years. The Romans were noted for an emphasis on the cultivation of crops for trade.

Middle Ages

During the Middle Ages, Muslim farmers in North Africa and the Near East developed and disseminated agricultural technologies including irrigation systems based on hydraulic and hydrostatic principles, the use of machines such as norias, and the use of water raising machines, dams, and reservoirs. They also wrote location-specific farming manuals, and were instrumental in the wider adoption of crops including sugar cane, rice, citrus fruit, apricots, cotton, artichokes, aubergines, and saffron. Muslims also brought lemons, oranges, cotton, almonds, figs and sub-tropical crops such as bananas to Spain.
The invention of a three field system of crop rotation during the Middle Ages, and the importation of the Chinese-invented moldboard plow, vastly improved agricultural efficiency.

Modern era


The farming practices of livestock vary dramatically world-wide and between different types of animals. Livestock are generally kept in an enclosure, are fed by human-provided food and are intentionally bred, but some livestock are not enclosed, or are fed by access to natural foods, or are allowed to breed freely, or all three. Approximately 68% of all agricultural land is used in the production of livestock as permanent pastures.

Environmental impact

According to the United Nations, the livestock sector (primarily cows, chickens, and pigs) emerges as one of the top two or three most significant contributors to our most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global. Livestock production occupies 70% of all land used for agriculture, or 30% of the land surface of the planet.It is one of the largest sources of greenhouse gases—responsible for 18% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions as measured in CO2 equivalents. By comparison, all transportation emits 13.5% of the CO2. It produces 65% of human-related nitrous oxide (which has 296 times the global warming potential of CO2) and 37% of all human-induced methane (which is 23 times as warming as CO2). It also generates 64% of the ammonia, which contributes to acid rain and acidification of ecosystems.


Genetic erosion in crops and livestock biodiversity is propelled by several major factors such as variety replacement, land clearing, overexploitation of species, population pressure, environmental degradation, overgrazing, policy and changing agricultural systems.
The main factor, however, is the replacement of local varieties of domestic plants and animals by high yielding or exotic varieties or species. A large number of varieties can also often be dramatically reduced when commercial varieties (including GMOs) are introduced into traditional farming systems. Many researchers believe that the main problem related to agro-ecosystem management is the general tendency towards genetic and ecological uniformity imposed by the development of modern agriculture.
In agriculture and animal husbandry, the green revolution popularized the use of conventional hybridization to increase yield many folds by creating "high-yielding varieties". Often the handful of breeds of plants and animals hybridized originated in developed countries and were further hybridized with local varieties in the rest of the developing world to create high yield strains resistant to local climate and diseases. Hybridization of local breeds to improve performance may lead to the loss of the local breed over time and consequently the loss of the genetic material that adapted that breed specifically to the local conditions. When viewed across the world as a whole, the consequent loss in genetic diversity and biodiversity could be placing the food supply in jeopardy, as a highly specialized breed may not contain sufficient genetic material to adapt to new diseases or environments even with an intensive breeding program.
A Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) is an organism whose genetic material has been altered using the genetic engineering techniques generally known as recombinant DNA technology. Genetic Engineering today has become another serious and alarming cause of genetic pollution because artificially created and genetically engineered plants and animals in laboratories, which could never have evolved in nature even with conventional hybridization, can live and breed on their own and what is even more alarming interbreed with naturally evolved wild varieties. Genetically Modified (GM) crops today have become a common source for genetic pollution, not only of wild varieties but also of other domesticated varieties derived from relatively natural hybridization.


Agricultural policy focuses on the goals and methods of agricultural production. At the policy level, common goals of agriculture include:
  • Food safety: Ensuring that the food supply is free of contamination.
  • Food security: Ensuring that the food supply meets the population's needs.
  • Food quality: Ensuring that the food supply is of a consistent and known quality.
  • Poverty Reduction
  • Conservation
  • Environmental impact
  • Economic stability

Agriculture and petroleum

Since the 1940s, agriculture has dramatically increased its productivity, due largely to the use of petrochemical derived pesticides, fertilizers, and increased mechanization. This has allowed world population to grow more than double over the last 50 years. Every energy unit delivered in food grown using modern techniques requires over ten energy units to produce and deliver. The vast majority of this energy input comes from fossil fuel sources. Because of modern agriculture's current heavy reliance on petrochemicals and mechanization, there are warnings that the ever decreasing supply of oil (the dramatic nature of which is known as peak oil) will inflict major damage on the modern industrial agriculture system, and could cause large food shortages. Oil shortages are one of several factors making organic agriculture and other sustainable farming methods necessary. This conversion is now occurring, but the reconditioning of soil to restore nutrients lost during the use of monoculture agriculture techniques made possible by petroleum-based technology will take time. Some farmers using modern organic-farming methods have reported yields as high as those available from conventional farming (but without the use of fossil-fuel-intensive artificial fertilizers or pesticides). Farmers have also begun raising crops such as corn for non-food use in an effort to help mitigate peak oil. This has contributed to a 60% rise in wheat prices recently, and has been indicated as a possible precursor to "serious social unrest in developing countries."

Agriculture safety and health

United States
Agriculture ranks among the most hazardous industries. Farmers are at high risk for fatal and nonfatal injuries, work-related lung diseases, noise-induced hearing loss, skin diseases, and certain cancers associated with chemical use and prolonged sun exposure. Farming is one of the few industries in which the families (who often share the work and live on the premises) are also at risk for injuries, illness, and death.
  • In an average year, 516 workers die doing farm work in the U.S. (1992-2005). Of these deaths, 101 are caused by tractor overturns.
  • Every day, about 243 agricultural workers suffer lost-work-time injuries, and about 5% of these result in permanent impairment.
Young Workers
Agriculture is the most dangerous industry for young workers, accounting for 42% of all work-related fatalities of young workers in the U.S. between 1992 and 2000. Unlike other industries, half the young victims in agriculture were under age 15.
For young agricultural workers aged 15–17, the risk of fatal injury is four times the risk for young workers in other workplaces Agricultural work exposes young workers to safety hazards such as machinery, confined spaces, work at elevations, and work around livestock.
  • An estimated 1.26 million children and adolescents under 20 years of age resided on farms in 2004, with about 699,000 of these youth performing work on the farms. In addition to the youth who live on farms, an additional 337,000 children and adolescents were hired to work on U.S. farms in 2004.
  • On average, 103 children are killed annually on farms (1990-1996). Approximately 40 percent of these deaths were work-related.
  • In 2004, an estimated 27,600 children and adolescents were injured on farms; 8,100 of these injuries were due to farm work.



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  • Collinson, M. (editor): A History of Farming Systems Research. CABI Publishing, 2000. ISBN 0-85199-405-9
  • Crosby, Alfred W.: The Columbian Exchange : Biological and Cultural Consequences of 1492. Praeger Publishers, 2003 (30th Anniversary Edition). ISBN 0-275-98073-1
  • Davis, Donald R., and Hugh D. Riordan (2004) Changes in USDA Food Composition Data for 43 Garden Crops, 1950 to 1999. Journal of the American College of Nutrition, Vol. 23, No. 6, 669-682.
  • Friedland, William H. and Amy Barton (1975) Destalking the Wily Tomato: A Case Study of Social Consequences in California Agricultural Research. Univ. California at Sta. Cruz, Research Monograph 15.
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  • Watson, A.M (1974), ‘The Arab agricultural revolution and its diffusion’, in The Journal of Economic History, 34,
  • Watson, A.M (1983), ‘ Agricultural Innovation in the Early Islamic World’, Cambridge University Press
  • Wells, Spencer: The Journey of Man : A Genetic Odyssey. Princeton University Press, 2003. ISBN 0-691-11532-X
  • Wickens, G.M.(1976), ‘What the West borrowed from the Middle East’, in Introduction to Islamic Civilization, edited by R.M. Savory, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge

External links

farming in Afrikaans: Landbou
farming in Amharic: የርሻ ተግባር
farming in Arabic: زراعة
farming in Aragonese: Agricultura
farming in Aromanian: Ayriculturã
farming in Asturian: Agricultura
farming in Bambara: Sɛnɛkɛ
farming in Min Nan: Choh-sit
farming in Belarusian: Сельская гаспадарка
farming in Belarusian (Tarashkevitsa): Сельская гаспадарка
farming in Bosnian: Poljoprivreda
farming in Breton: Gounezerezh
farming in Bulgarian: Земеделие
farming in Catalan: Agricultura
farming in Chuvash: Ял хуçалăхĕ
farming in Cebuano: Agrikultura
farming in Czech: Zemědělství
farming in Welsh: Amaeth
farming in Danish: Landbrug
farming in German: Landwirtschaft
farming in Estonian: Põllumajandus
farming in Spanish: Agricultura
farming in Esperanto: Agrikulturo
farming in Basque: Nekazaritza
farming in Persian: کشاورزی
farming in French: Agriculture
farming in Western Frisian: Lânbou
farming in Friulian: Agriculture
farming in Irish: Talmhaíocht
farming in Scottish Gaelic: Àiteachas
farming in Galician: Agricultura
farming in Classical Chinese: 農
farming in Hakka Chinese: Nùng-ngia̍p
farming in Korean: 농업
farming in Hindi: कृषि
farming in Croatian: Poljoprivreda
farming in Ido: Agrokultivo
farming in Indonesian: Pertanian
farming in Interlingua (International Auxiliary Language Association): Agricultura
farming in Inuktitut: ᐱᕈᕐᓰᓂᖅ ᓂᐅᕐᕈᑎᒃᓴᓕᐊᕆᓪᓗᒋᑦ/pirursiiniq niurrutiksaliarillugit
farming in Icelandic: Landbúnaður
farming in Italian: Agricoltura
farming in Hebrew: חקלאות
farming in Georgian: სოფლის მეურნეობა
farming in Haitian: Agrikilti
farming in Ladino: Agrikultura
farming in Latin: Agricultura
farming in Lithuanian: Žemės ūkis
farming in Limburgan: Landboew
farming in Lojban: cagyske
farming in Hungarian: Mezőgazdaság
farming in Macedonian: Земјоделство
farming in Mazanderani: کشاورزی
farming in Mongolian: Хөдөө аж ахуй
farming in Dutch: Landbouw
farming in Dutch Low Saxon: Laandbouw
farming in Japanese: 農業
farming in Norwegian: Landbruk
farming in Norwegian Nynorsk: Landbruk
farming in Narom: Agritchultuthe
farming in Novial: Agrikulture
farming in Occitan (post 1500): Agricultura
farming in Pushto: کرهنه
farming in Low German: Bueree
farming in Polish: Rolnictwo
farming in Portuguese: Agricultura
farming in Romanian: Agricultură
farming in Quechua: Allpa llamk'ay
farming in Russian: Сельское хозяйство
farming in Albanian: Agrikultura
farming in Sicilian: Agricultura
farming in Simple English: Farming
farming in Silesian: Rolńictwo
farming in Slovenian: Kmetijstvo
farming in Somali: Beeraha
farming in Serbian: Пољопривреда
farming in Serbo-Croatian: Poljoprivreda
farming in Sundanese: Agrikultur
farming in Finnish: Maatalous
farming in Swedish: Jordbruk
farming in Tagalog: Agrikultura
farming in Tamil: வேளாண்மை
farming in Telugu: వ్యవసాయం
farming in Thai: เกษตรกรรม
farming in Vietnamese: Nông nghiệp
farming in Cherokee: ᏗᎦᎶᎪᏗ
farming in Turkish: Tarım
farming in Ukrainian: Сільське господарство
farming in Venetian: Agricoltura
farming in Võro: Põllumajandus
farming in Walloon: Agricoûteure
farming in Waray (Philippines): Agrikultura
farming in Yiddish: לאנדווירטשאפט
farming in Samogitian: Žemies ūkės
farming in Chinese: 农业

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

agrarian, agrarianism, agricultural, agricultural geology, agriculture, agrology, agronomic, agronomics, agronomy, arable, contour farming, cultivation, culture, dirt farming, dry farming, dryland farming, farm, farm economy, fruit farming, geoponic, geoponics, grain farming, husbandry, hydroponics, intensive farming, mixed farming, rural, rural economy, sharecropping, strip farming, subsistence farming, tank farming, thremmatology, tillage, tilth, truck farming
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