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The Development of Modern Agriculture


Soil Systems (click to review)

combination of sediments and decayed organic matter (humus) and empty pore space.

Development of Agriculture

agriculture: a science, an art, and a business directed at the cultivation of crops and the raising of livestock for sustenance and for profit.

agrarian: referring to the culture of agricultural communities and the type of tenure system that determines access to land and the kind of cultivation practices employed there.

hunting and gathering: activities whereby people feed themselves through killing wild animals and fish and gathering fruits, roots, nuts, and other edible plants to sustain themselves. Sahara

pastoralism: subsistence activity that involves the breeding and herding of animals to satisfy the human needs of food, shelter, and clothing.

movement of herds according to seasonal rhythms: warmer, lowland areas in the winter; cooler, highland areas in the summer.

Plant domestication in seed hearths - the example of American corn and potatoes diffused during the Colombian exchange.

referring to the culture of agricultural communities and the type of tenure system that determines access to land and the kind of cultivation practices employed there.

globalized agriculture:
a system of food production increasingly dependent on an
economy and set of regulatory practices that are global in scope and organization.

The Food Supply System is vast and complicated. It all depends on soil as the foundation of land-based ecosystems.

World cereal production is dominated by a few states such as the United States and France. Some core areas must import much of their food - e.g. Hong Kong and Japan.

"A critical sustaining structure for plants, animals, and human life." (Elemental Geosystems)

Review of soil system above, and brief excerpt from the video "Fragile Ecosystems" about soils as living systems.

Rainforest soils are among the worst in the world for farming because the intense rainfall and tropical heat chemically weather and leach (rinse) out nutrients. Only the top two inches of rainforest soil has valuable nutrients, and its 90% living creatures such as bacteria, fungi, worms, beetles, etc. If you remove the protective forest cover, this top layer quickly erodes exposing the laterite below. Laterites are mined for making bricks.
Because of the fragility of the soil, the only sustainable way of farming in a rainforest is through traditional shifting cultivation.

shifting cultivation:
a system in which farmers aim to maintain soil fertility by rotating the fields within which cultivation occurs.

land that is cleared through slash and burn and is ready for cultivation.

practice of mixing different seeds and seedlings in the same swidden.
crop rotation:
method of maintaining soil fertility where the fields under cultivation remain the same, but the crop being planted is changed.

subsistence agriculture:
farming for direct consumption by the producers, not for sale.
intensive subsistence agriculture:
practice that involves the effective and efficient use -- usually through a considerable expenditure of human labor and application of fertilizer -- of a small parcel of land in order to maximize crop yield.

double cropping:
practice in the milder climates where intensive subsistence fields are planted and harvested more than once a year.

example of a Chinese agroecosystem

commercial agriculture:
farming primarily for sale, not direct consumption.

green revolution:
the invention and diffusion of new machines and institutions, from the core to the periphery, to increase global agricultural productivity.

Green Revolution Beneficiaries

term applied to the replacement of human farm labor with machines.

chemical farming:
application of inorganic fertilizers to the soil and herbicides, fungicides, and pesticides to crops in order to enhance yields.

farm crisis:
the financial failure and eventual foreclosure of thousands of family farms across the U.S. Midwest.

a set of economic and political relationships that organizes agro-food production from the development of seeds to the retailing and consumption of the agricultural product.

agricultural industrialization:
a process whereby the farm has moved from being the centerpiece of agricultural production to become one part of an integrated string of
vertically organized industrial processes including production, storage, processing, distribution, marketing, and retailing.

food manufacturing:
adding value to agricultural products through a range of
treatments -- processing, canning, refining, packing, packaging, etc. -- that occur off the farm and before they reach the market.

Comparison of subsistence and commercial agriculture as they relate to:

Agricultural patterns:
traditional vs. conventional

biotechnology: technique that uses living organisms (or parts of organisms) to make or modify products, to improve plants and animals, or to develop microorganisms for specific uses.

(The following is from Rachel's "Biotech In Trouble"--Part 1, Part 2)

Medical biotechnology is a different industry and a different story because it is intentionally contained whereas agricultural biotech products are intentionally released into the natural environment.

The government has maintained that Monsanto's "New Leaf" potato -- which has been genetically engineered to incorporate a pesticide into every cell in the potato, to kill potato beetles -- is substantially equivalent to normal potatoes . . .

. . . even though the New Leaf potato is, itself, required to be registered as a pesticide with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). (See REHW #622.)

Virtually all the [fast food] chains, Procter and Gamble, Frito-Lay & Burger King are phasing out Monsanto's pesticidal potato.Hardees is presently using but is considering whether to abandon it.

According to the NEW YORK TIMES, U.S. farmers have sustained a serious financial blow because they adopted genetically engineered crops so rapidly.

In Europe, genetically engineered food has to be labeled and few are buying it.

In 1996, the U.S. sold $3 billion worth of corn and soybeans to Europe. Last year, those exports had shrunk to $1 billion -- a $2 billion loss.

National Academy of Sciences (NAS) in its latest (April 2000) report on biotech foods said safety problems might include these:

GE crops: they have the potential to produce unexpected allergens and toxicants in food . . .

and the potential to create far-reaching environmental effects, including harm to beneficial insects, the creation of super-weeds, and possibly adverse effects on soil organisms.

Previously unknown protein combinations now being produced in plants might have unforeseen effects when new genes are introduced into the plants

The mechanism for creating unexpected proteins or unexpected toxins or allergens would be pleiotropy, the NAS explained [pg. 134].

Pleiotropy is the creation of multiple effects within an organism by adding a single new gene. "Such pleiotropic effects are sometimes difficult to predict," the NAS said. [pg. 134]

The NAS said that FDA, USDA and EPA all need to pay attention to such "unintended compositional changes" of genetically modified foods.

New toxins may be introduced into foods. The NAS said, "there is reason to expect that organisms in US agroecosystems and humans could be exposed to new toxins when they associate with or eat these plants." [pg. 129]  

Existing toxins in foods may reach new levels, or may be moved into edible portions of plants. (pg. 72.)

Nutritional content of a plant may be diminished. [pg. 140]  

Agricultural and environmental problems that might occur from genetically modified (GM) plants:

When a plant is genetically engineered so that the plant itself becomes pesticidal.

Pesticidal crops may affect creatures besides the specific pest they were intended to kill. The NAS says, "Nontarget effects are often unknown or difficult to predict." [pg. 136]

New chemicals in GM plants might kill predators and parasites of insect pests, thus leading to the loss of nature's own biological controls on certain pests. [pg. 74]

Fallen leaves from GM plants might change the biological composition of the soil, leading to changes in nutrient uptake into plants or even toxicity to creatures living in the soil. [pg. 75]

Plants themselves might become toxic to animals. [pg. 75]

Genes from genetically-engineered plants will escape and enter into wild species. This is called gene flow . . . Wild plants are going to receive genes from genetically modified organisms. The biotech firms are re-engineering nature without understanding the means or the ends.

Once new genetic materials are released into the environment, they cannot be retrieved. Unlike chemical contamination, biotech contamination is irreversible.

Next time: Precision Agriculture - The application of the combined technologies of Global positioning systems and Geographic Information Systems is allowing farmers to map the intimate details of their field.

Yield Mapping