A Primary Industry
Farming is in the primary sector of industry. Like all industries, farming has inputs, processes and outputs.
- Inputs will be physical (land, sun, rain), human (labour) and capital (money for livestock and feed, seeds, equipment, wages).
- Processes are the activities on the farm that turn inputs into outputs. For example, feeding and caring for the animals or planting and tending to the crops.
- Outputs are products farmers sell at market or use to feed and clothe their families. Barley, hops, wheat, hay and straw are products from crops and meat, wool, leather and cheese are products from animals
Farms can be categorised according to what is being grown or reared, the size of the operation and the agricultural techniques being used.
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.
Subsistence or commercial?
- Subsistence farming is when crops and animals are produced by a farmer to feed 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. Inputs will be low with either poor quality land or few workers.
- 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.
Physical and Human Factors
Like other primary industries, farming is highly dependent on physical inputs such as:
- Weather and climate
- Slope or relief of the land
- Soil fertility
- Water and drainage
These inputs are naturally occurring, so farmers must work with the physical factors of their farm's location. They can intervene in these inputs - for example by growing crops in a polytunnel (plastic tunnel greenhouse) to protect them from frosts and improve plant growth. However, such human interventions require extra inputs in the form of money or work.
Like physical factors, these vary according to the type of farm and the country where the farm is located. Factors include:
- Government policy - eg EU subsidies and loans and US tax reductions.
- Labour - some farms require more labour than others, eg a market garden will employ more labourers than a hill sheep farm.
- Finance - money is needed for wages, seed, buildings, animal feed, fertilisers, pesticides and machinery.
UK Farming Distribution
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.
Arable farming in East Anglia (UK)
- Warm climate with low rainfall, which mainly falls during the summer
- Warm summers help to ripen grain
- Cereals such as wheat and barley, potatoes and sugar beet
- Flat land which allows the use of machinery
- Well-drained fertile soils
- Good transport links with large markets nearby
Soil erosion, due to hedgerow removal, means that the soil needs careful management.
- Competition from cheap imports of cereals means that profits are declining - farmers need to diversify in order to survive.
Intensive Commercial Farming (Denmark)
- Fertiliser, seeds and animals for breeding.
- Cereals, sugar beet, dairy products and bacon.
- Danish bacon is imported to the UK and is often cheaper than UK bacon, pricing UK farmers out of the market.
- Large fields with no hedgerows.
- Climate conducive to cereal growing.
- Farming is gradually becoming less labour intensive with increased mechanisation.
- Farmers are vulnerable to price fluctuations as there is a surplus of milk produced in the EU.
- These 'milk lakes' lower the price a farmer receives for every litre of milk produced.
Rice Growing (South East Asia)
- Many workers.
- Flat land (or sometimes steep terraced hillsides).
- Hot and wet monsoon climate.
- Limited amounts of fertiliser and pesticide.
- Rice (and possibly other crops such as maize).
- Some farmers keep animals such as chickens to supplement their diet.
- Very little, if any, will be left over to sell and most will feed the farmer and his family.
- Rice growing is labour intensive and heavily dependent on high rainfall and hot temperatures.
- The growing population means there is a high demand for food which puts pressure on the farmer to produce two or even three crops a year.
- Crops can be affected by disease, which can reduce yields.
- Children are often denied basic education because they are required to work on the farms. This has a long-term impact on the development of the country.
- Without enough rain the rice crop fails and there is a lack of food. This can lead to starvation in remote communities.
The Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) was set up in 1962 to secure food supplies at a fair price and to improve the standard of living of farmers in Europe.
The demand for more and cheaper food meant that farmers received subsidies for the food that they produced. This led to overproduction and the creation of large surpluses known as grain and butter mountains and wine lakes.
With the expansion of its borders in 2004, the EU could no longer afford to keep paying subsidies. The CAP changed in 2005 to give farmers a single subsidy rather than several different payments. This is known as the Single Payment System (or SPS). To qualify for the payment farmers have to manage their land carefully and ensure minimum standards of animal welfare.
Farmers also have quotas, which means there is a limit to how much of certain products they can produce. Land also has to be set aside, ie not used for crops or animals, ito qualify for payment. Set aside land encourages local biodiversity and can be put to other uses such as campsites.
Since the changes to the CAP, overproduction in the EU is no longer the problem it once was.
Consequences of EU Food Mountains
In times of famine, food mountains can be used as aid. In the past, the EU has given its surpluses of food to Africa. In the long term, this reduces the incomes of African farmers and increases unemployment. Countries can also become reliant on aid - therefore it is unsustainable and does not encourage self reliance
This is a problem in parts of the UK that are very flat, such as East Anglia. When the soil is left bare after ploughing, the wind can pick up speed due to the flat land and blow away the unprotected soil.
In addition, hedgerows have been removed from farmland to allow machinery to be used more easily and farm the land more intensively. Hedgerows help to hold the soil together and act as valuable windbreaks.
Consequences of soil erosion in MEDCs
- If the topsoil (the most productive layer of the soil) is removed, then crop yields can decline.
- Loss of biodiversity (a diverse range of wildlife) in rivers – fish species find it difficult to breed because they lay their eggs in the gravel at the bottom of rivers and deposition of sediment smothers the gravel. Eggs that are smothered in sediment do not receive sufficient oxygen to survive.
- Roads and footpaths can become slippery, causing a hazard to walkers, motorists and cyclists.
- Drains can become blocked with eroded soil causing localised flooding.
- Sediment can find its way into water storage reservoirs, reducing storage capacity for water supplies and increasing flood risks.
- Phosphates (chemicals from fertilisers) in the soil can cause excessive algal growth in rivers, lakes and reservoirs. If the sediment finds its way to an estuary or is dredged and dumped out at sea it can also cause algal growth in marine water. Algal growth causes damage to ecosystems and can be toxic.
- Water quality can be reduced - it may require treatment before it becomes fit for human consumption.
- The navigability of water courses can be reduced because of deposition of sediment.
Soil erosion is also a problem in LEDC's.
The soil is exposed and vulnerable to erosion as a result of the removal of vegetation and overgrazing.
- Trees, which provide protection from the wind and rain, are removed to be used as fuel.
- Nomadic tribes have become more sedentary, which puts pressure on the land where they settle.
- When soil is blown away the land becomes useless for grazing and crops and causes desertification. This is a problem in the Sahel region of Africa.
Salinisation occurs when the water in soils evaporates in high temperatures, drawing salts from the soil to the surface. These salts are toxic to many plants and make the land unusable. This has consequences such as low yields, poor profits and even starvation. Irrigation of land - when water is brought to land that is naturally dry - can cause salinisation on desert margins.
This is an example of inappropriate use of technology.
Sustainable Development (Solutions)
This means technology that is simple, cheap and suitable for use by local people. Typically the technology is also sustainable and often involves local people in the manufacture, therefore creating jobs and providing valuable skills for future development. Examples of appropriate technology include using boreholes for water, using wind power to pump the water and using renewable energy such as solar power. An example of innappropriate technology would include using fossil fuels, which pollute the atmosphere and are a non renewable energy source.
The construction of stone lines
This solution to soil erosion involves the local community building low stone walls along the contours in the land. This has been done in parts of Burkina Faso. The stones trap both soil and water, which increases yields and prevents soil erosion. It is cheap and sustainable and gives the local community a sense of ownership of the project.
In the 1960s plans were made to increase crop yields in LEDCs by introducing new hybrid strains of plants with higher yields. These plans became known as 'The Green Revolution'.
Ultimately, it was not a success as the crops concerned needed lots of expensive fertilisers and pesticides and farmers' profits fell. However, by crossbreeding traditional and new varieties of crops, there has been some success in improving the yields of rice and millet.
Environmental stewardship in agriculture is where farmers take responsibility for environmental quality. This involves recognising that their actions can affect the environment in both positive and negative ways.
An example of environmental stewardship would be organic farming. Organic farming methods do not involve the use of chemicals such as fertilizers and pesticides, thereby avoiding any possible negative effects on habitats and food chains. In addition, organic products widen the consumer choice of products available.
Case study: organic farming in China
Green Yard is one of China's first organic dairies. The cows graze on grass free from pesticides, organic hay from Inner Mongolia and sweetcorn grown on the farm itself.
As a regular dairy farmer, Wang Zhanli faced strong competition from larger dairies. He changed to organic farming in 2004 as he found he was able to charge higher prices for his better quality, organic products. In doing so he persuaded 50 of his neighbours to invest in his business.
China still has a small organic market and most of Green Yard's products are sold overseas. More publicity and marketing are needed to raise awareness in China. However, marketing is costly and many Chinese people cannot afford to buy the more expensive organic products.