University of Chicago
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
The Definition of Agriculture
Agriculture is the production of food and goods through farming and forestry . Agriculture was the key development that led to the rise of human civilization, with the husbandry of domesticated animals and plants creating food surpluses that enabled the development of more densely populated and stratified societies. The study of agriculture is known as agricultural science. Agriculture encompasses a wide variety of specialties and techniques, including ways to expand the lands suitable for plant raising, by digging water-channels and other forms of irrigation.
Cultivation of crops on arable land and the pastoral herding of livestock on range land remain at the foundation of agriculture. In the past century there has been increasing concern to identify and quantify various forms of agriculture. In the developed world the range usually extends between sustainable agriculture (e. g. permaculture or organic agriculture) and intensive farming (e. g. industrial agriculture).
Modern agronomy, plant breeding, pesticides and fertilizers, and technological improvements have sharply increased yields from cultivation, and at the same time have caused widespread ecological damage and negative human health effects. Selective breeding and modern practices in animal husbandry such as intensive pig farming (and similar practices applied to the chicken)have similarly increased the output of meat, but have raised concerns about animal cruelty and the health effects of the antibiotics, growth hormones, and other chemicals commonly used in industrial meat production.
The major agricultural products can be broadly grouped into foods, fibers, fuels, and raw materials. In the 2000s, plants have been used to grow biofuels, biopharmaceuticals, bioplastics, and pharmaceuticals. Specific foods include cereals, vegetables, fruits, and meat. Fibers include cotton, wool, hemp, silk and flax. Raw materials include lumber and bamboo. Other useful materials are produced by plants, such as resins. Biofuels include methane from biomass, ethanol, and biodiesel.
Cut flowers, nursery plants, tropical fish and birds for the pet trade are some of the ornamental products. In 2007, about one third of the world’s workers were employed in agriculture. The services sector has overtaken agriculture as the economic sector employing the most people worldwide. Despite the size of its workforce, agricultural production accounts for less than five percent of the gross world product (an aggregate of all gross domestic products).