Planting rice in flooded fields, known as paddies The world relies on farming (also called agriculture) for its food. Farms range in size from large commercial businesses that provide food for sale at home and abroad (cash crops), to small plots that produce only enough food for the farmer's family (subsistence farming). As well as producing food (animals, plants and fungi), farms provide fibres (such as wool and cotton), raw materials (such as timber), biofuel (such as ethanol fuel from sugar cane), medicines, dyes and cut flowers.
Different kinds of farming
Farming types around the worldThere are several different kinds of farming. Arable farming is the cultivation of crops, which include cereals and vegetables, and plants for making industrial products such as oil and cotton cloth. Another type of cultivation is growing trees or vines, such as fruit orchards, vineyards, rubber, coffee or cocoa plantations.
Bagan men herd their goats in Burma, Southeast AsiaLivestock farming involves keeping animals such as pigs, cows and sheep for meat, milk or wool. The animals graze on permanent grassland or rough pasture, including heathland, scrub, mountain slopes or tundra grasses. Some livestock farmers are nomadic, which means they move around with their herds, looking for fresh grazing land.
Some farmers concentrate on one type of farming, while others have mixed farms where they both grow crops and keep livestock.
Olives are an important crop in southern Europe.
Intensive or free-range?
Intensive farming (also known as factory farming) methods are used to increase food production. For example, intensive egg production involves keeping hens in crowded cages where they spend their lives laying eggs. Consumers in many wealthy countries regard this type of farming as cruel and demand free-range eggs and meat. Free-range products come from animals kept in more natural surroundings. These include eggs from hens that have been allowed to roam around in the farmyard.
A free-range farmIntensive farming: spraying pesticides from a tractor
Farmers on commercial farms use chemicals to keep pests and weeds at bay. Many of these chemicals cause pollution of the soil and water, and may get into the crops or livestock themselves. Organic farmers do not use artificial pesticides or fertilizers, but enrich the soil with natural fertilizers such as seaweed and manure. Some people prefer organic products, believing them to taste better and be safer to eat. However, they usually cost more to produce, so not everyone can afford to buy organic products.
Shifting cultivation is a system where arable farmers move on when the soil becomes exhausted. The most common method is called slash and burn, which is practised in tropical rainforests of the Amazon and Southeast Asia. Land is cleared by burning patches of forest. After a few years of planting crops such as maize, manioc, millet and yams, the rainforest soil is no longer fertile, so the farmers clear a new area, leaving the previous land to return to its natural state. However, excessive slash and burn may result in permanent deforestation.
Consultant: Lloyd Jenkins