Plowing Up New Soil with World Agriculture
Since agriculture began to be developed nearly 10,000 years ago, people throughout the world have discovered the food value of wild plants and animals, and domesticated and bred them (Early Civilization). Today, people go to the market or grocery store to pick up cereal, rice, bread, meat, fruit, vegetables, and olives. People hardly ever think of where the food generally comes from. Most of the food that is found in the grocery store wouldn’t be possible without world agriculture.
Farming used to be primarily a family enterprise and to a large extent still is in most countries. In the more developed areas, however, more efficient large-scale operations are overtaking the smaller family farms. These large farms usually specialize in one crop or one type of crop and often are run by giant parent cooperation’s. Such farms are part if the current trend toward more controlled and cost-effective agriculture. The goal in agriculture has almost always been increased production and decreased labor (Early Civilization). In the early 1900s the American farm, for example, was run by the muscles of people of draft animals. Today machines of great size and complexity accomplish in hours what took many of those people and animals days to complete (Timelines of the Ancient World). There are still family farmers similar to those of the earlier era in the most industrialized nations, but they are becoming fewer every year. There are also small-scale systems in many emerging nations of the world. But the trend almost everywhere is toward larger farms that are mechanized and utilize the latest scientific agricultural methods to provide products more effectively.
In the mid-1990s, 48 percent of the world’s labor force was employed in agriculture. The distribution ranged from 61 percent of the economically active population in Asia to less than 23 percent in the United States and Canada. In Africa the figure was 60 percent; in South America 20 percent; and in Europe, 9 percent. The farm size varies ubiquitously from region to region. In the 1990s the average for Canadian farms was about 654 acres per farm; for farms in the United States, 469 acres. By comparison, the average size of a single land holding in the Philippines was 6.5 acres. The size also depends on the purpose of the farm (Compton 95). Commercial farming, or production for cash, is usually on large equities. Single-crop plantations normally produce tea, rubber, and cocoa. Wheat farms are most competent when they comprise 1000s of acres and they can be managed by teams of people and machines. Livestock farms and Australian Sheep Stations must be immense enough to provide grazing for thousands of animals. The agricultural plots of Chinese communes and the cooperative farms held by Peruvian communities and other necessarily large agricultural units, as well as were the farms that were operated and owned by state employees in the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR).
Much of the foreign exchange earned by a single country may be derived from a discrete agricultural commodity; for example, Denmark specializes in dairy products, Sri Lanka relies on tea, Australia in wool, and New Zealand and Argentina in meat products. In the United States, wheat, corn, and soybeans have become major foreign exchange commodities in recent decades. Each individual country has an importance as an exporter of agricultural products relying on many factors. Among them is the possibility that the country is too small developed industrially to produce manufactured goods in sufficient quality on technical sophistication. Some agricultural exporters include Ghana, with cocoa, and Myanmar (Burma), with rice. However, a well-developed country may produce surpluses that are not needed by its own population; for example the United States, Canada, and some Western European countries (Compton 95).
Because each nation depends on agriculture not only for food but for national income and raw materials for industry as well, trade in agriculture is a continuing international concern. It is governed by international agreements such as the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), and by trading regions such as the European Community. The Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) of the United Nations directs attention to agricultural policies and trade. According to the FAO, world agricultural production, provoked by improving technology reached a record high in the mid-1990s. Furthermore, the agricultural output in developing nations increased 54 percent during the period from 1976 to 1996. On a per capita basis food production rose by 38 percent in developing nations (Early Civilization).
Early farmers were, archaeologists agree, largely of Neolithic culture. The sites which were occupied by such people are located in Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Syria, Turkey, Thailand, Europe, Macedonia, Thrice, and Thessaly (Compton 95). Early centers of agriculture have also been identified in the Huang He (Yellow River) are of China; the Indus River Valley of India and Pakistan; and the Tehuacan Valley of Mexico with each step of agriculture becomes a new obstacle.
The transit from hunting and food gathering to dependence on food production was gradual, and in a few secluded parts of the world this transition had not yet been achieved. Crops and domestic meat supplies were upsurged by fish and wild animals and wild fowl. Each farmer would began by noting each of the wild plants that were edible or otherwise useful and they learned to save the seeds and replant them in clear land. Prolonged cultivation of the most prolific and stoutest plants yielded stable strains. Herds of sheep and goats were molded from captured young wild animals, and those with the most useful traits- for example small horns and high milk production- were bred. The wild aurochs was the ancestor of European cattle, and an Asian wild ox of the zebu, was the ancestor of the humped cattle of Asia. Cats, dogs, and chickens were tamed very early (Early Civilization).
Neolithic farmers lived in simple swellings-caves and small houses of sun baked mud brick or wood and reeds. These homes were grouped into small villages or existed as single farmsteads surrounded by fields, sheltering animals, and humans in joined buildings. In the Neolithic Period, the growth of cities such as Jericho was stimulated by the production of surplus crops (Compton 95). Pastoralism was later developed. Evidence indicates the mixed farming, combining cultivation of crops and stock raising, was the most common Neolithic pattern. Nomadic herders, however, roamed the lands of Europe and Asia, where the horse and camel were domesticated.
The earliest tools of the farmer were made of wood and stone. Some of which included the stone adz, an ax like tool with blades at right angles to the handle, used for woodworking; the sickle or reaping knife with sharpened stone blades, used to gather grain; the digging stick, used to plant seeds and as a spade or hoe; and a rudimentary plow, a restricted tree branch used to grate the surface of the soil and prepare it for planting (Compton 95). The plow was later adapted for pulling by oxen (Early Civilization). The improvements in tools and implements were particularly important. Tools of bronze and iron were longer lasting and more effectual, and cultivation was greatly improved by such aides as the ox-drawn plow fitted with an iron-tipped point. In Mesopotamia a funnel-like figure was attached to the plow to help in seeding, and other early forms of seed drills were used in China (What Life Was Like).
The prominence areas of southwestern Asia and the forests of Europe had enough rain to sustain agriculture, but Egypt depended on the yearly floods of the Nile River to replenish soil moisture and fertility. The inhabitants of the Fertile Crescent around the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in the Middle East also depended on annual floods to provide irrigation water. Drainage was necessary to prevent the erosion of land from the hillsides through which the rivers flowed. The farmers who lived in the area near the Huang He developed a system of irrigation and drainage to control the damage caused to their fields in the flood plain of the meandering river. With the close of the Neolithic period and the introduction of metals, the age of innovation in agriculture was mostly over (What Life Was Like) . The historical period was highlighted by agricultural improvements. A few high points must serve to draft the development of worldwide agriculture in this era, roughly defined as 2500 BC to 500 AD.
Rome started as a rural agricultural society of independent farmers. In 1000 BC, after the city of Rome was established, however, agriculture started a development that reached a peak in the Christian era. Large possessions that supplied grain to the cities of the empire were owned by absentee landowners and cultivated by slaves labor under the supervision of employed overseers. As slaves, usually were captives, decreased in number, tenants replaced them. The late Roman villa of the Christian era approached the medieval in organization.
By the 16th century, population was increased in Europe, and agricultural production was again expanding. The nature of agriculture there and in other regions was to change considerably in succeeding centuries. Several reasons can be identified for this trend. Europe was cut off from Asia and the Middle East by an extension of Turkish power. New economic theories were put into practice, directly affecting agriculture (Early Civilization). Continued wars between England and France, within each of these countries, and in Germany consumed capital and human resources.
A new period of global exploration and colonization was undertaken to circumvent Turkey’s control of the spice trade, to provide home for religious refugees, and to provide new resources for European nations convinced that only precious metals constituted wealth. Colonial agriculture was intended not only to feed the colonists but also to produce cash crops and to supply food for the home country. This meant cultivation of such crops as sugar, cotton, tobacco, and tea, and production of animal products such as wool and hides. From the 15th to the 19th century the slave trade provided laborers needed to fill the large work force required by colonial plantations. Many early slaves replaced native people who died from diseases carried by the colonists or were killed by hard agricultural labor to which they were unaccustomed. Slaves from Africa worked, for example, on sugar plantations in what would become the southern United States. Native Americans were practically enslaved in Mexico. Indentured slaves from Europe, especially from the prisons of Great Britain, provided both skills and unskilled labor to many colonies. Both slavery and servility were substantially wiped out in the 19th century (Timelines of the Ancient World).
When encountered by the Spanish conquistadors, the more advanced Native Americans in the New Worlds- the Aztec, Inca, and Maya- already had intensive agricultural economies, but no draft or riding animals and no wheeled vehicles. Squash, beans, peas and acorn had long since been domesticated. Land was owned by clans and other kinship groups or by ruling tribes that had formed sophisticated governments. The scientific revolution resulting from the Renaissance and the Age of Enlightenment in Europe encouraged experimentation in agriculture as well as in other fields. Trial-and-error efforts in plant breeding produced improved crops, and a few new strains of cattle and sheep were developed. Most common was the Guernsey cattle breed. Land enclosure was increasingly practiced in the 18th century, enabling individual landowners to determine the disposition of cultivated land and pasture that previously had been subject to common use.
Crop rotation was more readily practiced outside the village strip system inherited from the manorial period. In England, where scientific farming was most efficient, enclosure brought about a fundamental reorganization of land ownership. From 1660 large landowners had begun to aid to their properties, frequently at the expense of small independent farmers. By the mid-19th century the agricultural pattern was based on the relationship between the landowner, dependent on rents; the farmer, producer of crops; and the landed laborers, the hired hand of American farming folklore (What Life Was Like). Drainage brought more land into cultivation and farm machinery was introduced. It is not possible to fix a clear decade of events as the start of the agricultural revolution through technology. Among the important advances were the purposeful selective breeding of livestock and the spreading of limestone on farm soils. Mechanical improvements in the traditional wooden plow began in the mid- 1600s with the small iron points fastened onto the wood with strips of leather. In 1797, Charles Newbold, a blacksmith in Burlington, New Jersey, introduced the plow in the 1830s and manufactured it in steel. Other notable inventions included the seed drill of English farmers Jethro Tull, developed in the early 1700s and advanced for more than a century; the reaper of American Cyrud McCormick in 1831; and numerous new horse-drawn threshers, cultivators, grain and grass cutters, rakers, and corn shellers. By the late 1800s, steam power was oftentimes used to replace animal power in drawing plows and in operating threshing machinery (Timelines of the Ancient World).
The demand for food for urban workers and raw materials for industrial plants produced a realignment of world trade. Science and technology developed for industrial purposes were adapted for agricultural, eventually resulting in the agribusiness’s of the mid-20th century. In the 17th and 18th centuries the first systematic attempts were made to study and control pests. Before this time, hand picking and spraying were the usual methods of pest control. In the 19th century, poisons of various types were developed for use in sprays, and biological controls such as predatory insects were also used. Resistant plant varieties were cultivated; this was particularly successful with the European grapevine, in which the grape-bearing stems were grafted onto resistant American rootstocks to defeat the Phylloxera aphid (Compton 95).
Scientific methods are now exploited to pest control, limiting overuse if insecticides in fungicides and employing more varied and targeted application techniques. New understanding of significant biological control measures and emphasis on integrated pest management make possible more efficient control of certain kinds of insects. Chemicals for weed control are important for a number of crops, such as cotton and corn. The increasing use of chemicals for the control of insects, diseases, and weeds, however, has resulted in additional environmental problems and regulations that place strong demands on the skill of farmers.
In North America, agriculture had progressed significantly before European colonists arrived. There is evidence that corn was cultivated at least as early as 3000 years ago in the southwestern United States. Although few Native Americans relied on domesticated animals, some groups had advanced methods of cultivating food crops. The Wampanoag people of what is now Massachusetts fertilized their corn seeds by burying fish in the group near the seeds. The Iroquois of the eastern United States exploited the natural relationship between plants to make their crops more productive. They planted corn, beans, and squash together in small groups, so that the corn plants supported the beans, the nitrogen released by the roots of the bean plants fertilized the corn, and the sprawling squash vines reduced the number of weeds. Corn, beans , squash, potatoes, tomatoes, peanuts, chocolate, and many other plants were originally domesticates by Native Americans.
Until the 19th century, agriculture in the United States shared the history of European and colonial areas and was dependent on European sources for seed, stocks, livestock, and machinery. That dependency made American farmers somewhat more ingenious. They were aided by the establishments of societies that lobbied for governmental agencies of agriculture; the voluntary cooperation of farmers through associations; and the increasing use of diverse types of power machinery on the farm. Government policies traditionally encouraged the growth of land settlements. The Homestead Act of 1862 and the resettlement plans of the 1930s were the key agricultural legislative acts of the 19th and 20th centuries. In the 20th century steam, gasoline, diesel, and electrical power came into wide use. Chemical fertilizers were manufactured in greatly increased quantities, and soil analysis was widely employed to determine the components needed by a particular soil to maintain or restore its fertility. The loss of soil by erosion was broadly combated by the use of cover crops; contour plowing in which the furrows follow the contour of the land and are level; and strip cropping.
Selective breeding produced strains of both farm animals and crop plants. Hybrids, offspring of unrelated varieties or species, of desirable characteristics were developed; especially important for food production was the hybridization of corn in the 1930s. New uses for farm products, byproducts, and agricultural wastes were ascertained. Standards of quality, size, and packing were established for various fruits and vegetables to aid in wholesale marketing. Among the first to be standardized were apples, citrus fruits, berries, and tomatoes. Improvements in storage, processing and transportation also increased the widespread ability of the market farm products. The use of cold storage warehouses and refrigerated railroad cars were complemented by the introduction of refrigerated motor trucks, rapid delivery by airplane, and the quick-freeze process of preservation in which farm produce also reached practical application for many perishable foods.
Since the 1970s high technology farming, including new hybrids for wheat, rice, and other grains, better methods of soil conservation and irrigation, and the growing use of improved fertilizers has led to the production of more food per capita. Not only in the United States, but in which of the rest of the world. United States farmers, nevertheless, still have the advantage of superior private and government research facilities to produce and perfect new technologies. New services of technologies in the 1990s are further improving crop production. Precision farming, site-specific farming, utilizes global positioning systems (GPS) and geographical information systems (GIS) in the satellite collection and transmission of data to create yield maps during harvest. Farmers use the yield maps as they plant and fertilize their crops the following season. This increases crop production while reducing the use of both fertilizers and fuel. GPS also helps farmers observe with environmental regulations when applying fertilizers and pesticides. Biotechnology is also increasing agricultural productivity. In recent years farmers have begun producing a new, genetically engineered oil seed crop that grows from canola, to yield lauric oil, which comes from coconuts.
Since World War II modern farming methods have been spread by national and international organizations. Governments have continuing their traditional role in overseeing and influencing agriculture. Numerous countries and set up development programs and five year plans to improve agriculture, marketing and processing. Many nations have been exceptionally eager to improve their economies at least partly through their agriculture. Irrigation systems have been built by many countries, notably India, Pakistan, Israel, and Egypt. To improve their agriculture, some of these countries have borrowed money from the World Bank and wealthy countries such as the United States.
Farming has become a highly complex and competitive business. Today’s farmers must be a careful businessmen as well as a trained agriculturist. Today in society, there is now the need to understand and use economics, marketing, and several other business-related fields in addition to having a knowledge of agronomy, animal husbandry, breeding techniques, and other fields traditionally related to agriculture.
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Plowing Up New Soil with World Agriculture