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Farming facts for kids

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Ontario farm
A typical North American grain farm with farmstead in Ontario, Canada

Farming is growing crops or keeping animals by people for food and raw materials. Farming is a part of agriculture.

History

Vavilov-centers updated
Centres of origin, as numbered by Nikolai Vavilov in the 1930s. Area 3 (gray) is no longer recognised as a centre of origin, and Papua New Guinea (area P, orange) was identified more recently.

Origins

0025 - 0220 Brick Relief with Rice-husking Scene Eastern Han Dynasty National Museum of China anagoria
Han dynasty tomb brick showing workers rice husking

The development of agriculture enabled the human population to grow many times larger than could be sustained by hunting and gathering. Agriculture began independently in different parts of the globe, and included a diverse range of taxa, in at least 11 separate centres of origin. Wild grains were collected and eaten from at least 105,000 years ago. From around 11,500 years ago, the eight Neolithic founder crops, emmer and einkorn wheat, hulled barley, peas, lentils, bitter vetch, chick peas and flax were cultivated in the Levant. Rice was domesticated in China between 11,500 and 6,200 BC with the earliest known cultivation from 5,700 BC, followed by mung, soy and azuki beans. Sheep were domesticated in Mesopotamia between 13,000 and 11,000 years ago. Cattle were domesticated from the wild aurochs in the areas of modern Turkey and Pakistan some 10,500 years ago. Pig production emerged in Eurasia, including Europe, East Asia and Southwest Asia, where wild boar were first domesticated about 10,500 years ago. In the Andes of South America, the potato was domesticated between 10,000 and 7,000 years ago, along with beans, coca, llamas, alpacas, and guinea pigs. Sugarcane and some root vegetables were domesticated in New Guinea around 9,000 years ago. Sorghum was domesticated in the Sahel region of Africa by 7,000 years ago. Cotton was domesticated in Peru by 5,600 years ago, and was independently domesticated in Eurasia. In Mesoamerica, wild teosinte was bred into maize by 6,000 years ago. Scholars have offered multiple hypotheses to explain the historical origins of agriculture. Studies of the transition from hunter-gatherer to agricultural societies indicate an initial period of intensification and increasing sedentism; examples are the Natufian culture in the Levant, and the Early Chinese Neolithic in China. Then, wild stands that had previously been harvested started to be planted, and gradually came to be domesticated.

Civilizations

Tomb of Nakht (2)
Agricultural scenes of threshing, a grain store, harvesting with sickles, digging, tree-cutting and ploughing from ancient Egypt. Tomb of Nakht, 15th century BC

In Eurasia, the Sumerians started to live in villages from about 8,000 BC, relying on the Tigris and Euphrates rivers and a canal system for irrigation. Ploughs appear in pictographs around 3,000 BC; seed-ploughs around 2,300 BC. Farmers grew wheat, barley, vegetables such as lentils and onions, and fruits including dates, grapes, and figs. Ancient Egyptian agriculture relied on the Nile River and its seasonal flooding. Farming started in the predynastic period at the end of the Paleolithic, after 10,000 BC. Staple food crops were grains such as wheat and barley, alongside industrial crops such as flax and papyrus. In India, wheat, barley and jujube were domesticated by 9,000 BC, soon followed by sheep and goats. Cattle, sheep and goats were domesticated in Mehrgarh culture by 8,000–6,000 BC. Cotton was cultivated by the 5th–4th millennium BC. Archeological evidence indicates an animal-drawn plough from 2,500 BC in the Indus Valley Civilisation. In China, from the 5th century BC there was a nationwide granary system and widespread silk farming. Water-powered grain mills were in use by the 1st century BC, followed by irrigation. By the late 2nd century, heavy ploughs had been developed with iron ploughshares and mouldboards. These spread westwards across Eurasia. Asian rice was domesticated 8,200–13,500 years ago – depending on the molecular clock estimate that is used – on the Pearl River in southern China with a single genetic origin from the wild rice Oryza rufipogon. In Greece and Rome, the major cereals were wheat, emmer, and barley, alongside vegetables including peas, beans, and olives. Sheep and goats were kept mainly for dairy products.

In the Americas, crops domesticated in Mesoamerica (apart from teosinte) include squash, beans, and cacao. Cocoa was being domesticated by the Mayo Chinchipe of the upper Amazon around 3,000 BC. The turkey was probably domesticated in Mexico or the American Southwest. The Aztecs developed irrigation systems, formed terraced hillsides, fertilized their soil, and developed chinampas or artificial islands. The Mayas used extensive canal and raised field systems to farm swampland from 400 BC. Coca was domesticated in the Andes, as were the peanut, tomato, tobacco, and pineapple. Cotton was domesticated in Peru by 3,600 BC. Animals including llamas, alpacas, and guinea pigs were domesticated there. In North America, the indigenous people of the East domesticated crops such as sunflower, tobacco, squash and Chenopodium. Wild foods including wild rice and maple sugar were harvested. The domesticated strawberry is a hybrid of a Chilean and a North American species, developed by breeding in Europe and North America. The indigenous people of the Southwest and the Pacific Northwest practiced forest gardening and fire-stick farming. The natives controlled fire on a regional scale to create a low-intensity fire ecology that sustained a low-density agriculture in loose rotation; a sort of "wild" permaculture. A system of companion planting called the Three Sisters was developed in North America. The three crops were winter squash, maize, and climbing beans.

Indigenous Australians, long supposed to have been nomadic hunter-gatherers, practised systematic burning, possibly to enhance natural productivity in fire-stick farming. The Gunditjmara and other groups developed eel farming and fish trapping systems from some 5,000 years ago. There is evidence of 'intensification' across the whole continent over that period. In two regions of Australia, the central west coast and eastern central, early farmers cultivated yams, native millet, and bush onions, possibly in permanent settlements.

Revolution

Islamic Spain agricultural scene
The Arab Agricultural Revolution, starting in Al-Andalus (Islamic Spain), transformed agriculture with improved techniques and the diffusion of crop plants.

In the Middle Ages, both in the Islamic world and in Europe, agriculture transformed with improved techniques and the diffusion of crop plants, including the introduction of sugar, rice, cotton and fruit trees (such as the orange) to Europe by way of Al-Andalus. After 1492 the Columbian exchange brought New World crops such as maize, potatoes, tomatoes, sweet potatoes and manioc to Europe, and Old World crops such as wheat, barley, rice and turnips, and livestock (including horses, cattle, sheep and goats) to the Americas.

Irrigation, crop rotation, and fertilizers advanced from the 17th century with the British Agricultural Revolution, allowing global population to rise significantly. Since 1900 agriculture in developed nations, and to a lesser extent in the developing world, has seen large rises in productivity as mechanization replaces human labor, and assisted by synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, and selective breeding. The Haber-Bosch method allowed the synthesis of ammonium nitrate fertilizer on an industrial scale, greatly increasing crop yields and sustaining a further increase in global population. Modern agriculture has raised or encountered ecological, political, and economic issues including water pollution, biofuels, genetically modified organisms, tariffs and farm subsidies, leading to alternative approaches such as the organic movement.

Kinds of farming

Poultry Farming in Nepal2
Poultry farming
Cow milking machine in action DSC04132
A milking machine in action

Agriculture is not only growing food for people and animals, but also growing other things like flowers and nursery plants, manure or dung, animal hides (skins or furs), leather, animals, fungi, fibers (cotton, wool, hemp, and flax), biofuels , and drugs (biopharmaceuticals).

Many people still live by subsistence agriculture, on a small farm. They can only grow enough food to feed the farmer, his family, and his animals. Extra food or animals are sold for money or other things the farmer cannot grow. The yield is the amount of food grown on a given amount of land, and it is often low. This is because subsistence farmers are generally less educated, and they have less money to buy equipment. Drought and other problems sometimes cause famines. Where yields are low, forests are sometimes cut to provide new land to grow more food. This is good in the short term, but can be bad for the country and the surrounding environment over many years.

In rich countries, farms are often much larger. The amount produced on farms has got bigger in the last one hundred years because farmers are able to grow better varieties of plants, use more fertilizer, use more water, and more easily control weeds and pests. Many farms also use machines, which cut down on the number of people needed to farm the land. There are fewer farmers in rich countries, but the farmers are able to grow more.

This kind of intensive agriculture comes with its own set of problems. Farmers use a lot of chemical fertilizers, pesticides (chemicals that kill bugs), and herbicides (chemicals that kill weeds). These chemicals can pollute the soil or the water. They can also create bugs and weeds that are more resistant to the chemicals, causing outbreaks of these pests. The soil can be damaged by erosion (blowing or washing away), salt buildup, or loss of structure. Irrigation (adding water from rivers) can pollute water and lower the water table. These problems have all got solutions, and modern young farmers usually have a good technical education.

Agriculture techniques

Farming near Klingerstown, Pennsylvania
Farming near Klingerstown, Pennsylvania

Farmers select plants with better yield, taste, and nutritional value. They also choose plants that can survive plant disease and drought, and are easier to harvest. Centuries of artificial selection and breeding have had enormous effects on the characteristics of crop plants. The crops produce better yield with other techniques (use of fertilizers, chemical pest control, irrigation).

Some companies have been searching for new plants in poor countries, and genetically modify these plants to improve them. They then try to patent the seeds and sell them back to the poor countries.

New plants were created with genetic engineering. One example of genetic engineering is modifying a plant to resist a herbicide.

Food

Round farm 2007
Farmland in the United States. The round fields are due to the use of center pivot irrigation

It is important for there to be enough food for everyone. The food must also be safe and good. People say it is not always safe, because it contains some chemicals. Other people say intensive agriculture is damaging the environment. For this reason, there are several types of agriculture.

  • Traditional agriculture is mostly done in poor countries.
  • Intensive agriculture is mostly done in countries with more money. It uses pesticides, machinery, chemical fertilizers.
  • Organic farming is using only natural products such as compost and green manure.
  • Integrated farming is using local resources, and trying to use the waste from one process as a resource in another process.

Agricultural policy focuses on the goals and methods of agricultural production. At the policy level, common goals of agriculture include:

  • Food safety: to be sure that the food supply is safe.
  • Food security: to be sure there is enough food for everyone.
  • Food quality: to be sure the food is of good quality.

Problems in agriculture

Maize damaged by maize weevil, Sitophilus zeamais 01
Maize damaged by Maize weevil larvae

There are some serious problems that people face trying to grow food today. These include:

Crops

Marion Cty, Iowa Farmer w mule drawn wagon, 1920s
A farmer harvesting crops with mule-drawn wagon, 1920s, Iowa, USA

The major crops produced in the world in 2002, are maize (corn), wheat, rice, and cotton.

  • Maize 624 millions of metric tons
  • Wheat 570 millions of metric tons
  • Rice 381.1 millions of metric tons
  • Cotton 96.5 millions of metric tons

See also: List of vegetables, List of herbs, List of fruit

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