Agriculture, or farming, is a primary industry. Farmers cultivate crops and rear animals to produce food and other products. Agriculture is affected by many of the same factors and concerns as other types of industry.
There are a range of agricultural operations from large commercial farms to small subsistence farms. All of these farms work to supply the constant demand for agricultural produce.
Sheep graze on a farm in Devon
Farms can be categorised according to whatis being grown or reared, the size of the operation and the agricultural techniquesbeing used.
Farming can be:
- sedentary or nomadic
- subsistence or commercial
- arable, pastoral or mixed
- extensive or intensive
Sedentary or nomadic?
- Sedentary farming is when a farm is based in the same location all the time.
- Nomadic farming is when a farmer moves from one place to another. This is common in some LEDCs.
Subsistence or commercial?
- Subsistence farming is when crops and animals are produced by a farmer tofeed their family, rather than to take to market.
- Commercial farming is when crops and animals are produced to sell at market for a profit.
Arable, pastoral or mixed?
- Arable farms grow crops. Crops are plants that are harvested from the ground to be eaten or sold.
- Pastoral farms rear animals – either for animal by-products such as milk, eggs or wool, or for meat.
- Mixed farms grow crops and rear animals.
Extensive or intensive?
- Extensive farming is where a relatively small amount of produce is generated from a large area of farmland.
- Intensive farming is where a large amount of produce is generated from a relatively small area of land. Inputs will be high to achieve a high yield per hectare. Inputs could be either fertilisers, machines or labour.
Distribution of farming
Physical factors will determine which type of farming takes place in a particulararea. Climate and relief are the dominant factors in determining which crops will grow and which animals are suited to the landscape.
Human factors, such as proximity to markets, are important with some types of farming, such as market gardening.
Map showing distribution of farming in UK
Arable farming is common in the south east where the summers are warm and the land is low, flat and fertile. The south east also has good transport links and farms are close to markets in towns and cities such as London.
Human factors such as finance and proximity to markets are important to market gardening. It is common in East Anglia where fruit, vegetables and flowers are grown.
Hill sheep farming
Hill sheep farming takes place in the north and west of Britain in highland areas such as Snowdonia and the Lake District. There are cool summers and high rainfall. The climate and steep land make these areas unsuitable for growing crops.
Dairy farming is common in the south west and the west of England where the climate is warm and wet. There are also good transport links and good access routes to markets in these areas. The land may be flat or hilly, but not too steep.
Mixed farming is found in areas where the climate and relief suit both crops and animals. It needs to be warm, but not too wet, and the soils need to be fertile and flat. Mixed farms need good transport links and accessibility to markets.
Case study: Cambridgeshire
Cambridgeshire is one of the most agriculturally productive areas in Europe. The area is used for arable farming because of:
- Physical factors
- Low lying land
- Well-drained soil
- Warm summers (18°C in July)
- Human factors
- Good access to markets
- Large areas of farmland so larger machines can be used
- Investment by companies – farms are owned by large companies able to use economies of scale
Farming in the UK today is no longer as profitable for everybody as it has been. Reasons for this are:
- Supermarkets buy in bulk and are driving down the price of the food
- Imported food is often cheaper
- Mechanisation and changes to grants have meant smaller farms and hill farms go out of business
Farms can diversify to try and keep making money. This means that the farm will start to create other areas of income, such as creating a tourist attraction, offering bed and breakfast or selling produce via a farm shop. Some farms may also close and start a different business on the land.
Organic farming does not use chemical fertilisers or feed additives for livestock. It relies upon more natural forms of farming such as biological pest control and crop rotation. Using ladybirds which eat aphids is one example where a natural process replaces a chemical pesticide.
Organic farming is less efficient and so produce does cost more. The demand for organic produce is increasing in the UK. However people may go back to non-organic produce if their income falls.
Positive aspects of organic farming
- The environment benefits because natural habitats are less threatened.
- The soil can be in better condition because of the manure used.
- It can provide healthier food for people.
- Biodiversity increases with fewer chemicals which harm bees and other insects.
- The industry is worth over £1 billion a year.
Negative aspects of organic farming
- More produce is damaged by pests.
- Weed control is time consuming as weeds are often removed mechanically.
- Some organic pesticides, such as copper can remain in the soil and be harmful.
- Organic dairy farms produce more methane per animal than non organic. This is because of the diet of the cattle.
- Some organic farming methods use more water than non-organic methods.
- The crop yield is lower on organic farms (about 20% less compared to non-organic farming).
- Most of the organic food bought is actually imported.