1. Where did agriculture originate?
2. Where are agricultural regions in less
3. Where are agricultural regions in more
4. Why does agriculture vary among regions?
5. Why do farmers face economic difficulties?
History of Agriculture
• Neolithic Revolution
– Domestication of Plants and Animals
– Diffusion of Agriculture
• Agricultural Industrialization
• The “Green Revolution”
– Hybrids, scientific application of fertilizer,
pesticide, and water
• Modern Agribusiness
• Genetic Engineering of Crops
Key Issue 1: Where did
• Agriculture- the deliberate modification of Earth’s
surface through cultivation of plants and rearing of
animals to obtain sustenance or economic gain.
• Before ag, humans existed through hunting and
gathering, meaning the collection of food on a daily
basis. About 250,000 people still engage in hunting
and gathering; these people live in isolated areas of
the Arctic, Africa, Australia, and S. America.
• The first form of agriculture
– vegetative planting- the reproduction of plants by direct
cloning from existing plants, i.e. cutting roots/stems.
– seed agriculture- the reproduction of plants through annual
planting of seeds that result from sexual fertilization.
Increased population densities
• Vegetative planting originated in three
primary hearths: S.E. Asia, West Africa, and
northwest South America.
• Seed ag also originated in several primary
hearths: west India, north China, Ethiopia,
south Mexico, and north Peru.
• Subsistence ag- the production of food
primarily for consumption by the farmer’s
• Commercial ag- the production of food
primarily for sale off the farm.
Origins of Agriculture
Which of these areas are considered cultural
• Five features distinguish commercial ag from
1. Purpose of farming: subsistence ag is to produce food for
own consumption. Commercial ag is produced for sale to
2. Percentage of farmers: in MDC’s less than 5% of workers
are farmers, compared to 55% in LDC’s. The farmers in
MDC’s are typically commercial, whereas the LDC farmers
3. Use of machinery: Commercial ag makes heavy use of
machinery where subsistence ag uses mainly hand tools and
4. Farm size: Commercial farms are much larger than
subsistence farms. The commercial farms have to be larger
in order to pay for their heavy machinery, and to make a
5. Relationship of farming to other business: Commercial
farms are commonly part of an
– agribusiness- the many facets of food production, not just
isolated family farming.
Subsistence Agriculture Regions
Key Issue 2: Where are agricultural
regions in less developed countries?
• The three primary types of ag in LDC’s are:
– Shifting cultivation- characterized by slash-and-
burn ag- the clearing of land by slashing
vegetation and burning debris, and using a select
field (swidden) for only a few years before
leaving it fallow for many years to recover the
• Shifting cultivation is practiced most commonly in the
tropics and other regions where soil quality is relatively
poor for supporting ag.
• grows inefficient as the number of people increases and
more fields must be left fallow longer.
– Shifting cultivation has been looked down upon in recent
years as the importance of the rain forests to the Earth’s
ecosystem becomes more apparent.
Vegetation “slashed” and then
burned. Soil remains fertile for
2-3 years. Then people move
where: tropical rainforests.
Amazon, Central and West
Africa, Southeast Asia
Crops: upland rice (S.E. Asia),
maize and manioc (S. America),
millet and sorghum (Africa)
Declining at hands of ranching and
• Pastoral nomadism- a form of subsistence ag based
on the herding of domesticated animals. Primarily
practiced in the large belt of arid and semiarid land
that includes north Africa, the Middle East, and
parts of Central Asia.
– About 15 million people are pastoral nomads; they sparsely
occupy 20% of Earth’s land surface.
– The animal that the nomad chooses to herd depends on the
climate, and on cultural preferences.
– transhumance- the seasonal migration of livestock betwixt
mountains and lowland pasture areas.
• The future of pastoral nomadism is grim, as govt.
increasingly confine the nomads to areas that cannot be
irrigated or that lack valuable raw materials.
The breeding and herding
of domesticated animals
where: arid and semi-arid areas of
N. Africa, Middle East, Central
animals: Camel, Goats, Sheep,
transhumance: seasonal migrations
from highlands to lowlands
Most nomads are being pressured
into sedentary life as land is used
Somali Nomad and Tent for agriculture or mining.
• Intensive subsistence ag- the form of ag
used in areas of high density such as East,
South, and Southeast Asia. It is
characterized by high efficiency farming
practices that yield a large number of crops
per small amount of land.
– The intensive ag in Asia is subdivided into “wet
rice dominant” and “wet rice not dominant”.
– Aside from the obvious difference in what is
grown, the two classifications are quite similar.
• They each use the land intensively, primarily using
human power with some animal and hand tool
• crop rotation may be practiced, as well as
– double cropping- obtaining two harvests from one field in
• Wet Rice Dominant
where: S.E. Asia, E. India,
very labor intensive
production of rice, including
The Fields of Bali transfer to sawah, or
most important source of
food in Asia
grown on flat, or
Double cropping is used
in warm winter areas
Thai Rice Farmers of S. China and
Key Issue 3: Where are agricultural
regions in more developed countries
• The methods of farming typically found in
MDC’s are: 7 Methods
1. Mixed crop and livestock farming is common in
the U.S. west of the Appalachians and in much
of Europe from France to Russia.
– integration of crops and livestock. Most of the crops
are fed to animals rather than humans.
– nearly all of the land is used for crop growing, but
more than 75% the profits come from the sale of
– Crop rotation is actively used in mixed farming
– two of the most frequent are corn and soybeans
Mixed Crop and Livestock Farming
Mixed Crop and Livestock Farming
Where: Ohio to Dakotas, centered on Iowa;
much of Europe from France to Russia
crops: corn (most common), soybeans
In U.S. 80% of grain production is fed to pigs and
Highly inefficient use of natural resources
Pounds of grain to make 1 lb. beef: 10
Gallons of water to make 1 1b wheat: 25
Gallons of water to make 1 1b. beef: 2500
2. Dairy farming is the most important type of
commercial ag practiced on farms near the
northeast U.S., southeast Canada, and
– Dairy farms must be nearer their market areas
than other products because their product spoils
– milkshed- the ring surrounding a city from which
milk can be supplied without spoiling.
• Improvements in transportation have increased the
range of dairy farms, but they are mainly still located
near large urban areas. Those dairy farms that are
farther from the cities tend to sell their product to
processors who make butter, cheese, etc, because
these products keep longer than milk.
Where: near urban areas
in N.E. United States,
- Over 90% of cow’s milk is
produced in developed
countries. Value is added as Dairy Farm, Wisconsin
cheese, yogurt, etc. Von Thunen’s theories are the beginning
of location economics and analysis (1826)
Locational Theory : butter and cheese
more common than milk with increasing
distance from cities and in West.
Milkshed : historically defined by
spoilage threat; refrigerated trucks
3. Grain farming is typically done in the Great
Plains states of the U.S.
• The U.S. is by far the world’s largest producer
• the winter wheat area (the crop is planted in the
autumn and develops a strong root system before
growth stops for the winter, and is harvested in the
early summer) like Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado;
• the spring wheat belt (the crop is planted in spring and
harvested in the late summer) in the Dakotas, Montana;
• third important area is in the Palouse region of
Washington state. Wheat is an important crop because
it is highly exportable and is a source of economic and
political strength for its largest producers, like the U.S.
Prairie Cereal Farming
Where: worldwide in semi-arid midlatitudes,
but U.S. and Russia predominant
winter wheat: Kansas, Colorado,
spring wheat: Dakotas, Montana, southern
Highly mechanized: combines, worth hundreds
of thousands of dollars, migrate northward in
U.S., following the harvest.
4. Livestock ranching is the commercial grazing of
livestock over an extensive area.
• In MDC’s it is practiced in lands where the vegetation is
too sparse and the soil too poor to support crops.
• The cattle were taken to market via cattle trails and
railways in the 19th century, but more recently by semi-
trucks and interstate highways.
• Cattle ranching is done in other parts of the world where
wide open lands are available, and are better suited to
supporting cows than crops.
• Regardless of the region, ranching has followed a similar
pattern across the globe. Initially it is the herding of cattle
over open ranges, then ranching transforms into fixed
farming by dividing the open land into ranches. Some
ranches are converted into farms as the countryside develops
and irrigation is more available. The remaining farms must
experiment with new breeding and feeding processes to
enhance the value of their cows.
Where: arid or semi-arid areas of western
U.S., Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, Spain and
History: initially open range, now sedentary
with transportation changes. Environmental effects:
1) overgrazing has
damaged much of the
world’s arid grasslands
(< 1% of U.S. remain!)
2) destruction of the
rainforest is motivated
by Brazilian desires for
5. Mediterranean ag exists mainly in the lands
that border the Mediterranean Sea in S.
Europe, N. Africa, and W. Asia. It has
spread to parts of California, Chile, South
Africa, and Australia as well.
– Most of the food grown in this style of farming
is for human consumption and is typically of
– Horticulture- the growing of fruits, vegetables,
and flowers forms the base of Med. ag.
Where: areas surrounding the
Mediterranean, California, Oregon,
Chile, South Africa, Australia
Climate has summer dry season.
Landscape is mountainous.
• Highly valuable crops: olives, grapes,
nuts, fruits and vegetables; winter
• California: high quality land is being
lost to suburbanization; initially offset
6. Commercial Gardening and Fruit
Farming is the main farming found in
the U.S. southeast.
– truck farming- growing many of the fruits
and vegetables demanded in more
– These farms are highly efficient and make
use of machinery and cheap labor in every
facet of the process.
and Fruit Farming
Where: U.S. Southeast, New England,
near cities around the world
• crops: high profit vegetables and
fruits demanded by wealthy urban
populations: apples, asparagus,
cherries, lettuce, tomatoes, etc.
• mechanization: such truck farming is
highly mechanized and labor costs
are further reduced by the use of
cheap immigrant (and illegal) labor.
• distribution: situated near urban markets.
Developed Countries Undercut Free
Markets in Agriculture
• Farmers in the developed
world are paid an average of
2/3 more than the free market
• These subsidies to the world’s
richest farmers directly damage
the agricultural economies of
the poorest nations.
• Despite this, the U.S. Congress
and President Bush actually
increased farm subsidies in
7. Plantation farming is found in the
tropics and subtropics.
– Plantation- a large farm that specializes in
one or two crops, typically cash crops.
– These types are farms are isolated in
sparsely settled locations and are thus
• After the outlawing of slavery in the U.S.,
many of the plantations were sold or
subdivided as the ample source of cheap labor
was no longer an option
• large scale mono-cropping of
profitable products not able to be
grown in Europe or U.S.
• where: tropical lowland Periphery
• crops: cotton, sugar cane, coffee,
rubber, cocoa, bananas, tea,
coconuts, palm oil.
What are potential problems with this
type of agriculture? Environmental?
Key Issue #4: Why does
agriculture vary among regions?
• Environmental Factors-
– Climate dictates what can be grown
• Middle East- pastoral nomads
• Africa- Shifting Cultivation
• China- Differences within the country
• U.S.- differences among growing and Cattle
– Religious and other environmental factors
• Pork in Muslim countries
• Wine in non Christian states
of the Map of
• Economic Issues
– Ester Boserup- population growth encourages
substance farmers to consider new farming
techniques to feed the people
– Said this could be achieved in two ways
• 1- Land is left Fallow for shorter periods
– Forest Fallow- Land is farmed for 2 years and left for 20
– Bush Fallow- field is cleard and used for 7 and left for 10
– Short Fallow- used for 2 and left for 2
– Annual Cropping- used for a couple of months and then
left for a couple; planting of roots and legumes
– Multi-cropping- fields are used several times a year and
never left fallow
2. Adopting new farm methods
– Plows, manure, terracing, labor, machinery
• Drug crops- Usually distributed by
– Coca leaf- predominantly found in south
America; Columbia, Peru and Bolivia
– Marijuana- Mexico
– Opium- Asia; Afghanistan, India,
The Green Revolution in
The term green revolution refers to the development and
adoption of high yielding cereal grains in the less developed
world during the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. Very large short
term gains in grain output have allowed food supplies to
grow faster than populations, until very recently.
• Green Revolution History
• Acreage and Yield Trends
• Technical Problems
• Ethical Issues
History of Green Revolution
1943 Rockefeller Foundation begins work on
short stature hybrid corn in Mexico
1960s Hybrid strains of rice, wheat, and corn
show great success in S.E. Asia, and Latin
1970 Head of Mexican corn program, Borlaug,
wins Nobel Peace Prize
1990s Growth in food supply continues, but
slows to below the rate of population
growth, as the results of unsustainable
farming practices take effect.
Acreage and Yield Trends
Acreage and Yield Trends
Acreage and Yield Trends
Gains were made by:
• Dwarf varieties: plants are bred to
allocate more of their photosynthetic
output to grain and less to vegetative
• Planting in closer rows, allowed by
herbicides, increases yields.
• Bred to be less sensitive to day length,
thus double-cropping is more plausible.
• Very sensitive to inputs of fertilizer and
Contemporary Food Production
Key Issue 5: Why do farmers
face economic difficulties?
• Issues for commercial farmers
– Access to markets
• The von Thünen model was introduced
by Johann Heinrich von Thünen in
1826 to help explain the importance of
proximity to market in the choice of
crops on commercial farms. A rough
schematic is reproduced below:
• The basic premise of von Thünen’s model is
that the more perishable and difficult to ship
something, the closer it will be to the
– Farming efficiency has increased at a remarkable pace in
• The U.S. government attacks the excess food
supply problem in three ways.
1. The farmers are asked not to grow crops that are in
excess supply already.
2. Second, farming is substantially subsidized in order to
keep farmers in business.
3. Lastly, the govt. buys tremendous amounts of excess from
the farmers and then sells it or donates it to other govts.
throughout the world. Ironically, farmers in MDC’s are
encouraged to grow less food, while farmers in LDC’s
struggle to produce more.
• Some farmers are turning to
sustainable ag- the ag practice that
preserves and enhances environmental
• Two methods are used: more sensitive
– ridge tillage- the system of planting crops
on ridge tops to lower production costs
and conserve soil quality
– better integration of crops and livestock.
• Issues for subsistence farmers
– Farmers must feed an increasing number of
people. Thus they leave fields fallow for shorter
periods of time, effectively turning the land into a
– Because many govt. are trying to develop along
the international trade model, they are
encouraging farmers to grow crops for export
rather than food for direct consumption.
• The export crop of choice for many LDC
farmers is drug crops.
Technology allows much greater
production (surplus) with less human
labor, but often has high social and
Metal plows, Reapers, Cotton Gin
Tractors (Internal Combustion Engine)
• Strategies for increasing food supply
– Expand the land area used for agriculture
– Increase the productivity of land now used
(i.e. green revolution)
– Identify new food sources
• Increase exports from other countries
Contemporary Food Consumption
Is there a spatial relationship to the original hearths?
Technical and Resource
• Heavy Use of Fresh Water
• High Dependence on Technology and
Machinery Provided/Sold by Core
• Heavy Use of Pesticides and Fertilizer (and
associated pollution and waste)
• Reduced Genetic Diversity / Increased
• Questionable Overall Sustainability
Technical and Resource
• Starvation of many prevented, but extra food may
lead to higher birth rates.
• Life expectancy in less developed countries
increased by 10 years in less than two decades (43 in
1950’s to 53 in 1970’s).
• Dependency on core countries increased; rich-poor
• Wealthy farmers and multinational companies do well,
small farmers become wage laborers or unemployed –
• More at risk? More people malnourished/starving
today than in 1950 (but lower as a percentage).
• U.S. spends $10,000,000,000 year on farm subsidies,
damaging farmers and markets in LDCs.
“Our incredible successes as a species are largely derived
from this choice, but the biggest threats to our existence
stem from the same decision.” Jared Diamond,
Emergence of new human diseases from animal
diseases (i.e. smallpox, measles)
• Dense urban populations allow spread/persistence of
Lower standard of living for many people.
• Archaeological evidence of serious mal-nourishment
among early farmers.
• Many modern impoverished and malnourished farmers.
• Famine virtually non-existent in hunter-gatherer
Increased susceptibility to plant blights and
increased dependence on complex economic
• Recombinant DNA
• Potential Benefits of Genetic
Engineering of Crops
– Increased Yields
– Increased Nutritional Value in Some
Staple Crops (e.g., Vitamin A added to
• Strong Political Resistance in Europe
and Among Environmentalists
• Concerns about Long Term Safety and
• World Population Expected to
Increase to 10-12 Billion Before
• Food Production Already Exerting
Extreme Environmental Pressures
– 25% of All Greenhouse Gas Release in
U.S. is from Agriculture. That’s more
than all transport.
– Much Soil is Already Badly Damaged
• Developed Countries Still
Undermining 3rd World Agriculture
with Subsidies and Taxes
• Why do people starve
• The army marches on its stomach
– Food preferences/ cultural practices
– Delivery systems
– Issue of credit
• North korea
• Ways to increase food production
– More land into production
• 30% of land is arable and we use 10%
– Green revolution technologies
– New food sources
• Seas, vegetation,
– Increasing trade
• Less restrictive trade among agriculture
• Rubenstein, James- Cultural Landscape;
An Introduction to Human Geography