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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.


Primary industry


Primary industries are those that make use of the Earth’s natural resources – farming, fishing, forestry and mining.

Farming systems

Like any other industry, farming is a system of inputs, processes and outputs.


Sheep farmer

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Inputs will be physical (land, sun, rain), human (labour) and capital (money for livestock and feed, seeds, equipment, wages).

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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.

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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.

Image From In an sheep farm, for example, the inputs will include the sun and water required by the grass, the purchase of breeding stock and the farmer’s labour. The processes will include herding and caring for the sheep and lambs. Finally, the outputs will include wool and meat.


If a farm is to make a profit, the revenue from selling outputs must be greater than the cost of the inputs.




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Sheep graze on a farm in Devon

Farms can be categorised according to what is being grown or reared, the size of the operation and the agricultural techniques being used.


Farming can be:


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sedentary or nomadic

subsistence or commercial

arable, pastoral or mixed

extensive or intensive
Sedentary or nomadic?


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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?


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Subsistence farming is when crops and animals are produced by a farmer to feed their family, rather than to take to market.

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Commercial farming is when crops and animals are produced to sell at market for a profit.
Arable, pastoral or mixed?


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Arable farms grow crops. Crops are plants that are harvested from the ground to be eaten or sold.

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Pastoral farms rear animals – either for animal by-products such as milk, eggs or wool, or for meat.

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Mixed farms grow crops and rear animals.
Extensive or intensive?


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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.

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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.


Factors affecting farming


Physical factors

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A hill farm

Like other primary industries, farming is highly dependent on physical inputs such as:


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Weather and climate

Slope or
the land

Soil fertility

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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.


Human factors

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A market garden

Like physical factors, these vary according to the type of farm and the country where the farm is located. Factors include:


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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.

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Finance – money is needed for wages, seed, buildings, animal feed, fertilisers, pesticides and machinery.


Distribution of farming in the UK


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Map showing distribution of farming in UK

Physical factors will determine which type of farming takes place in a particular area. Climate and relief are the dominant factors in determining which crops will grow and which animals are suited to the landscape.


Arable farming


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.





Market gardening


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


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


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.


Farming is an industrial process which requires inputs (such as labour, machinery, climate and soil)
in order to produce outputs (crops and animal products).


The factors affecting farms can vary because different types of farm need different inputs and produce different outputs. Here we analyse three methods of farming.


Extensive commercial farming in the UK

Arable farming in East Anglia

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An arable farm




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Warm climate with low rainfall, which mainly falls during the summer

Warm summers help to ripen grain





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Cereals such as wheat and barley, potatoes and sugar beet









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Flat land which allows the use of machinery

Well-drained fertile soils

Good transport links with large markets nearby





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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 farming


Intensive commercial farming in Denmark

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Danish pig farm




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Fertiliser, seeds and animals for breeding.





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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.






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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.

Image From These ‘milk lakes’ lower the price a farmer receives for every litre of milk produced.

Intensive subsistence farming  


Rice growing in South East Asia  


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Rice being grown in SE Asia




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Many workers.

Flat land (or sometimes steep terraced hillsides).

Hot and wet monsoon climate.

Limited amounts of fertiliser and pesticide.





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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.





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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.






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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.

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Without enough rain the rice crop fails and there is a lack of food. This can lead to starvation in remote communities.

Soil erosion and salinisation


Soil erosion


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.




Image From EcoleBooks.comIn 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




The effects of drought in Africa

Image From If the topsoil (the most productive layer of the soil) is removed, then crop yields can decline.

Image From 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

Image From 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.

Image From 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.

Image From Water quality can be reduced – it may require treatment before it becomes fit for human consumption.

Image From The navigability of water courses can be reduced because of deposition of sediment.
Soil erosion is also a problem in

The soil is exposed and vulnerable to erosion as a result of the removal of vegetation and overgrazing.

Image From 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

Image From 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.








Solutions for sustainable development


Appropriate technology


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.


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EcoleBooks | ZIMSEC O LEVEL GEOGRAPHY FORM 4 - Agriculture


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