Intensive farming

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Intensive farming or intensive agriculture is characterized by a low fallow ratio and generally the high use of inputs such as capital, labour, or heavy use of pesticides and fertilizers relative to land area.[1][2]

This is in contrast to many sorts of traditional agriculture in which the inputs per unit land are lower. With intensification, energy use typically goes up, either provided by humans, or supplemented with animals, or replaced with machines.

Intensive animal husbandry involves either large numbers of animals raised on limited land, usually confined animal feeding operations (CAFO) often referred to as factory farms,[1][3][4] or managed intensive rotational grazing (MIRG). Both increase the yields of food and fiber per acre as compared to traditional animal husbandry, but in a CAFO the animal feed is brought to the animals which are seldom moved, and in MIRG the animals are bunched up and constantly moved to fresh forage.

There are many modern-day forms of intensive crop based agriculture, but they are all characterised by innovations designed to get the most yields per acre possible. This is usually done by a combination of multiple crops per year, very few if any fallow years, and improved cultivars. It can sometimes also involve the use of high inputs of fertilizers, plant growth regulators or pesticides, and mechanization.

Most large modern intensive farms include innovation in agricultural machinery and farming methods, genetic technology, techniques for achieving economies of scale in production, the creation of new markets for consumption, the application of patent protection to genetic information, and global trade. These farms are widespread in developed nations and increasingly prevalent worldwide. Most of the meat, dairy, eggs, fruits, and vegetables available in supermarkets are produced by these industrial farms.

Most smaller modern intensive farms include higher inputs of labor and use sustainable intensive methods. They also generally lack the economies of scale found in the larger farms. The type of innovations commonly found on these farms is referred to as appropriate technology. These farms are less widespread in both developed countries and worldwide, but are growing at a faster rate. Most the meat, dairy, eggs, fruits, and vegetables available in local farmers markets and CSAs are produced by these smallholder farms.

Historical development and future prospects[edit]

Early 20th century image of a tractor ploughing an alfalfa field.

Industrial agriculture arose hand in hand with the Industrial Revolution in general and continued earlier developments. By the early 19th century, agricultural techniques, implements, seed stocks and cultivars had so improved that yield per land unit was many times that seen in the Middle Ages.[5] The development of agriculture into its modern form has been possible through a continuing process of mechanization, with huge advances made starting in the early 19th century. Horse drawn machinery, such as the McCormick reaper, revolutionized harvesting, while inventions such as the cotton gin made possible the processing of large amounts of crops. During this same period, farmers began to use steam-powered threshers and tractors, although they were found to be expensive, dangerous and a fire hazard.[citation needed] In 1892, the first gasoline-powered tractor was successfully developed, and in 1923, the International Harvester Farmall tractor became the first all-purpose tractor, and marked a major point in the replacement of draft animals (particularly horses) with machines. Since that time, self-propelled mechanical harvesters (combines), planters, transplanters and other equipment have been developed, further revolutionizing agriculture.[6] These inventions allowed farming tasks to be done with a speed and on a scale previously impossible, leading modern farms to output much greater volumes of high-quality produce per land unit and farmers to manage increasingly large areas of land.[7]

The identification of nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus (referred to by the acronym NPK) as critical factors in plant growth led to the manufacture of synthetic fertilizers, making possible more intensive types of agriculture. In 1909 the Haber-Bosch method to synthesize ammonium nitrate was first demonstrated; it represented a major breakthrough and allowed crop yields to overcome previous constraints. Up until then almost all advances in intensive agriculture were universally seen as beneficial. But around this time there was a split due to concerns NPK fertilisers might be beneficial in the short term, but had serious longer term side effects such as soil compaction, soil erosion, and declines in overall soil fertility, along with health concerns about toxic chemicals entering the food supply.[8] The identification of carbon as a forth critical factor in plant growth and soil health, particularly in the form of humus, lead to alternative forms of intensive agriculture, that still out yield traditional agriculture, but are seen as more sustainable. These early sustainable intensive farmers were often referred to as humus farmers.

In the years after World War II, the use of synthetic fertilizer increased rapidly, in sync with the increasing world population.[9] Meanwhile the alternative sustainable forms of intensive farming advanced much slower. Most the resources in developed nations went to improving industrial intensive farming, and very little went to improving these alternative intensive methods, which by then been had come to be referred to as organic farms. Thus, particularly in the developed nations, industrial intensive farming grew to become the dominate form of agriculture.

In the past century agriculture has been characterized by increased productivity, the substitution of on-the-farm labor with, synthetic fertilizers, pesticides and their production and related pollution.[citation needed] The discovery of vitamins and their role in animal nutrition, in the first two decades of the 20th century, led to vitamin supplements, which in the 1920s allowed certain livestock to be raised indoors, reducing their exposure to adverse natural elements.[citation needed] The discovery of antibiotics and vaccines facilitated raising livestock in CAFOs by reducing diseases caused by crowding.[citation needed] Chemicals developed for use in World War II gave rise to synthetic pesticides. Developments in shipping networks and refrigeration as well as processing technology have made long-distance distribution of agricultural produce feasible.[citation needed]

The cereals rice, corn, and wheat provide 60% of human food supply.[10] Between 1700 and 1980, "the total area of cultivated land worldwide increased 466%" and yields increased dramatically, particularly because of selectively bred high-yielding varieties, fertilizers, pesticides, irrigation, and machinery.[10] Agricultural production across the world doubled four times between 1820 and 1975 (it doubled between 1820 and 1920; between 1920 and 1950; between 1950 and 1965; and again between 1965 and 1975) to feed a global population of one billion human beings in 1800 and 6.5 billion in 2002.[11]:29 During the same period, the number of people involved in farming dropped in industrial countries as the process became more automated. In the 1930s, 24 percent of the American population worked in agriculture compared to 1.5 percent in 2002; in 1940, each farm worker supplied 11 consumers, whereas in 2002, each worker supplied 90 consumers.[11]:29 The number of farms has also decreased, and their ownership is more concentrated. In the U.S., four companies produce 81 percent of cows, 73 percent of sheep, 57 percent of pigs, and produce 50 percent of chickens, cited as an example of "vertical integration" by the president of the U.S. National Farmers' Union.[12] In 1967, there were one million pig farms in America; as of 2002, there were 114,000[11]:29 with 80 million pigs (out of 95 million) produced each year on factory farms, according to the U.S. National Pork Producers Council.[11]:29 According to the Worldwatch Institute, 74 percent of the world's poultry, 43 percent of beef, and 68 percent of eggs are produced this way.[13]:26

However, concerns have been raised over the sustainability of intensive agriculture, which has become associated with decreased soil quality in the US, Australia, India and Asia. There has been increased concern over external environmental effects of fertilizers and pesticides on the environment, particularly as population increases and food demand expands. Additionally, the monocultures typically used in intensive agriculture increase the number of pests, which are controlled through pesticides. Integrated pest management (IPM), which "has been promoted for decades and has had some notable successes" has not significantly affected the use of pesticides because policies encourage the use of pesticides and IPM is knowledge-intensive.[10] These concerns have resulted in the organic movement.[14] This has caused a resurgence in the development of sustainable intensive farming and new funding for the development of appropriate technology in agriculture, ending many years of limited funding or interest.

Famines continued to sweep the globe through the 20th century. Through the effects of climactic events, government policy, war and crop failure, millions of people died in each of at least ten famines between the 1920s and the 1990s.[15]

In the 21st century, plants have been used to grow biofuels, pharmaceuticals (including biopharmaceuticals),[16] and bioplastics.[17]

British agricultural revolution[edit]

The British agricultural revolution describes a period of agricultural development in Britain between the 16th century and the mid-19th century, which saw a massive increase in agricultural productivity and net output. This in turn supported unprecedented population growth, freeing up a significant percentage of the workforce, and thereby helped drive the Industrial Revolution. How this came about is not entirely clear. In recent decades, historians cited four key changes in agricultural practices, enclosure, mechanization, four-field crop rotation, and selective breeding, and gave credit to a relatively few individuals.[18]

Techniques and technologies[edit]

Intensive livestock farming[edit]

A commercial chicken house raising broiler pullets for meat.

In general Intensive production systems is to provide the modern production elements to get the higher production rates at the lowest possible cost and with the least possible effort.

Intensive livestock farming, also called "factory farming" is a term referring to the process of raising livestock in confinement at high stocking density, where a farm operates as a factory — a practice typical in industrial farming by agribusinesses.[19][20][21][22][23] "Concentrated animal feeding operations" or "intensive livestock operations", can hold large numbers (some up to hundreds of thousands) of animals, often indoors. These animals are typically cows, hogs, turkeys, or chickens. The distinctive characteristics of such farms is the concentration of livestock in a given space. The aim of the operation is to produce as much meat, eggs, or milk at the lowest possible cost and with the greatest level of food safety.[24] The term is often used in a pejorative sense, criticising large scale farming processes which confine animals.[25] However, CAFOs have dramatically increased the production of food from animal husbandry worldwide, both in terms of total food produced and efficiency.

Food and water is supplied in place, and artificial methods are often employed to maintain animal health and improve production, such as therapeutic use of antimicrobial agents, vitamin supplements and growth hormones. Growth hormones are not used in chicken meat production nor are they used in the European Union for any animal. In meat production, methods are also sometimes employed to control undesirable behaviours often related to stresses of being confined in restricted areas with other animals. More docile breeds are sought (with natural dominant behaviours bred out for example), physical restraints to stop interaction, such as individual cages for chickens, or animals physically modified, such as the de-beaking of chickens to reduce the harm of fighting. Weight gain is encouraged by the provision of plentiful supplies of food to animals breed for weight gain.

The designation "confined animal feeding operation" in the U.S. resulted from that country's 1972 Federal Clean Water Act, which was enacted to protect and restore lakes and rivers to a "fishable, swimmable" quality. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) identified certain animal feeding operations, along with many other types of industry, as point source polluters of groundwater. These operations were designated as CAFOs and subject to special anti-pollution regulation.[26]

In 17 states in the U.S., isolated cases of groundwater contamination has been linked to CAFOs.[27] For example, the ten million hogs in North Carolina generate 19 million tons of waste per year.[28] The U.S. federal government acknowledges the waste disposal issue and requires that animal waste be stored in lagoons. These lagoons can be as large as 7.5 acres (30,000 m2). Lagoons not protected with an impermeable liner can leak waste into groundwater under some conditions, as can runoff from manure spread back onto fields as fertilizer in the case of an unforeseen heavy rainfall. A lagoon that burst in 1995 released 25 million gallons of nitrous sludge in North Carolina's New River. The spill allegedly killed eight to ten million fish.[29]

The large concentration of animals, animal waste, and dead animals in a small space poses ethical issues to some consumers. Animal rights and animal welfare activists have charged that intensive animal rearing is cruel to animals. As they become more common, so do concerns about air pollution and ground water contamination, and the effects on human health of the pollution and the use of antibiotics and growth hormones.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), farms on which animals are intensively reared can cause adverse health reactions in farm workers. Workers may develop acute and chronic lung disease, musculoskeletal injuries, and may catch infections that transmit from animals to human beings. These type of transmissions, however, and extremely rare, as zoonotic diseases are uncommon.

Managed intensive rotational grazing[edit]

Managed Intensive Rotational Grazing (MIRG), also known as cell grazing, mob grazing and holistic managed planned grazing, is a variety of systems of forage use in which ruminant and non-ruminant herds and/or flocks are regularly and systematically moved to fresh rested areas with the intent to maximize the quality and quantity of forage growth. MIRG can be used with cattle, sheep, goats, pigs,[30] chickens, turkeys, ducks and other animals. The herds graze one portion of pasture, or a paddock, while allowing the others to recover. The length of time a paddock is grazed will depend on the size of the herd and the size of the paddock. Resting grazed lands allows the vegetation to renew energy reserves, rebuild shoot systems, and deepen root systems, with the result being long-term maximum biomass production.[31][32] MIRG is especially effective because grazers do better on the more tender younger plant stems. MIRG also leave parasites behind to die off minimizing or eliminating the need for de-wormers. Pasture systems alone can allow grazers to meet their energy requirements, and with the increased productivity of MIRG systems, the grazers obtain the majority of their nutritional needs, in some cases all, without the supplemental feed sources that are required in continuous grazing systems or CAFOs.[33]

Intensive crop farming[edit]

The projects within the Green Revolution spread technologies that had already existed, but had not been widely used outside of industrialized nations. These technologies included pesticides, irrigation projects, and synthetic nitrogen fertilizer.

The novel technological development of the Green Revolution was the production of what some referred to as “miracle seeds.”[34] Scientists created strains of maize, wheat, and rice that are generally referred to as HYVs or “high-yielding varieties.” HYVs have an increased nitrogen-absorbing potential compared to other varieties. Since cereals that absorbed extra nitrogen would typically lodge, or fall over before harvest, semi-dwarfing genes were bred into their genomes. Norin 10 wheat, a variety developed by Orville Vogel from Japanese dwarf wheat varieties, was instrumental in developing Green Revolution wheat cultivars. IR8, the first widely implemented HYV rice to be developed by the International Rice Research Institute, was created through a cross between an Indonesian variety named “Peta” and a Chinese variety named “Dee Geo Woo Gen.”[35]

With the availability of molecular genetics in Arabidopsis and rice the mutant genes responsible (reduced height(rht), gibberellin insensitive (gai1) and slender rice (slr1)) have been cloned and identified as cellular signalling components of gibberellic acid, a phytohormone involved in regulating stem growth via its effect on cell division. Stem growth in the mutant background is significantly reduced leading to the dwarf phenotype. Photosynthetic investment in the stem is reduced dramatically as the shorter plants are inherently more stable mechanically. Assimilates become redirected to grain production, amplifying in particular the effect of chemical fertilisers on commercial yield.

HYVs significantly outperform traditional varieties in the presence of adequate irrigation, pesticides, and fertilizers. In the absence of these inputs, traditional varieties may outperform HYVs. One criticism of HYVs is that they were developed as F1 hybrids, meaning they need to be purchased by a farmer every season rather than saved from previous seasons, thus increasing a farmer’s cost of production.

Crop rotation[edit]

Main article: Crop rotation
Satellite image of circular crop fields in Haskell County, Kansas in late June 2001. Healthy, growing crops of corn and sorghum are green (Sorghum may be slightly paler). Wheat is brilliant gold. Fields of brown have been recently harvested and plowed under or have lain in fallow for the year.

Crop rotation or crop sequencing is the practice of growing a series of dissimilar types of crops in the same space in sequential seasons for various benefits such as to avoid the buildup of pathogens and pests that often occurs when one species is continuously cropped. Crop rotation also seeks to balance the fertility demands of various crops to avoid excessive depletion of soil nutrients. A traditional component of crop rotation is the replenishment of nitrogen through the use of Legumes and green manure in sequence with cereals and other crops. Crop rotation can also improve soil structure and fertility by alternating deep-rooted and shallow-rooted plants. One rotation technique rapidly gaining popularity is rotating multi-species cover crops between seasonal crops. This gives the best combination of intensive farming while still maintaining the advantages of continuous cover and polyculture.


Main article: Irrigation
Overhead irrigation, center pivot design

Crop irrigation accounts for 70% of the world's fresh water use.[36]

Flood irrigation, the oldest and most common type, is often very uneven in distribution, as parts of a field may receive excess water in order to deliver sufficient quantities to other parts. Overhead irrigation, using center-pivot or lateral-moving sprinklers, gives a much more equal and controlled distribution pattern. Drip irrigation is the most expensive and least-used type, but offers the best results in delivering water to plant roots with minimal losses. An evaporation pan can be used to determine how much water is required to irrigate the land.

Water catchment management measures include recharge pits, which capture rainwater and runoff and use it to recharge ground water supplies. This helps in the formation of ground water wells, etc. and eventually reduces soil erosion caused due to running water. Dammed rivers creating Reservoirs are often built to store water for irrigation and other uses over large areas. Smaller areas sometimes use irrigation ponds or even ground water.

Weed control[edit]

Main article: Weed control

In agriculture, large scale and systematic weeding is usually required, often performed by machines such as cultivators or liquid herbicide sprayers. Selective herbicides kill specific targets while leaving the desired crop relatively unharmed. Some of these act by interfering with the growth of the weed and are often based on plant hormones. Weed control through herbicide is made more difficult when the weeds become resistant to the herbicide. Solutions include:

  • Using cover crops (especially those with allelopathic properties) that out-compete weeds or inhibit their regeneration.
  • Using a different herbicide
  • Using a different crop (e.g. genetically altered to be herbicide resistant; which ironically can create herbicide resistant weeds through horizontal gene transfer)
  • Using a different variety (e.g. locally adapted variety that resists, tolerates, or even out-competes weeds)
  • Ploughing
  • Ground cover such as mulch or plastic
  • Manual removal
  • Mowing
  • Grazing


Terrace rice fields in Yunnan Province, China
Main article: Terrace (agriculture)

In agriculture, a terrace is a leveled section of a hilly cultivated area, designed as a method of soil conservation to slow or prevent the rapid surface runoff of irrigation water. Often such land is formed into multiple terraces, giving a stepped appearance. The human landscapes of rice cultivation in terraces that follow the natural contours of the escarpments like contour ploughing is a classic feature of the island of Bali and the Banaue Rice Terraces in Benguet, Philippines. In Peru, the Inca made use of otherwise unusable slopes by drystone walling to create terraces.

Rice paddies[edit]

Main article: Paddy field

A paddy field is a flooded parcel of arable land used for growing rice and other semiaquatic crops. Paddy fields are a typical feature of rice-growing countries of east and southeast Asia including Malaysia, China, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Thailand, Korea, Japan, Vietnam, Taiwan, Indonesia, India, and the Philippines. They are also found in other rice-growing regions such as Piedmont (Italy), the Camargue (France) and the Artibonite Valley (Haiti). They can occur naturally along rivers or marshes, or can be constructed, even on hillsides, often with much labour and materials. They require large quantities of water for irrigation, which can be quite complex for a highly developed system of paddy fields. Flooding provides water essential to the growth of the crop. It also gives an environment favourable to the strain of rice being grown, and is hostile to many species of weeds. As the only draft animal species which isn't wetlands, the water buffalo is in widespread use in Asian rice paddies. World methane production due to rice paddies has been estimated in the range of 50 to 100 million tonnes per annum.[37]

Paddy-based rice-farming has been practiced Korea since ancient times. A pit-house at the Daecheon-ni site yielded carbonized rice grains and radiocarbon dates indicating that rice cultivation may have begun as early as the Middle Jeulmun Pottery Period (c. 3500-2000 BC) in the Korean Peninsula (Crawford and Lee 2003). The earliest rice cultivation in the Korean Peninsula may have used dry-fields instead of paddies.

The earliest Mumun features were usually located in low-lying narrow gulleys that were naturally swampy and fed by the local stream system. Some Mumun paddies in flat areas were made of a series of squares and rectangles separated by bunds approximately 10 cm in height, while terraced paddies consisted of long irregularly shapes that followed natural contours of the land at various levels (Bale 2001; Kwak 2001).

Mumun Period rice farmers used all of the elements that are present in today's paddies such terracing, bunds, canals, and small reservoirs. Some paddy-farming techniques of the Middle Mumun (c. 850-550 BC) can be interpreted from the well-preserved wooden tools excavated from archaeological rice paddies at the Majeon-ni Site. However, iron tools for paddy-farming were not introduced until sometime after 200 BC. The spatial scale of individual paddies, and thus entire paddy-fields, increased with the regular use of iron tools in the Three Kingdoms of Korea Period (c. AD 300/400-668).

A recent development in the intensive production of rice is System of Rice Intensification (SRI). Developed in 1983 by the French Jesuit Father Henri de Laulanié in Madagascar,[38] by 2013 the number of smallholder farmers using SRI had grown to between 4 and 5 million.[39]

Intensive aquaculture[edit]

Main article: Aquaculture

Aquaculture is the cultivation of the natural produce of water (fish, shellfish, algae, seaweed and other aquatic organisms). Intensive Aquaculture can often involve tanks or other highly controlled systems which are designed to boost production for the available volume or area of water resource.[40][41]

Sustainable intensive farming[edit]

Due to many forms of intensive farming being unsustainable long term, several new intensive farming practises have been and are continuing to be developed to either slow the deterioration of agricultural land, or in some cases regenerate soil health and ecosystem services, while still maintaining high yields. Most of these developments are either directly related to organic farming, or the integration of organic methods with conventional intensive agriculture.

"Organic systems and the practices that make them effective are being picked up more and more by conventional agriculture and will become the foundation for future farming systems. They won't be called organic, because they'll still use some chemicals and still use some fertilizers, but they'll function much more like today's organic systems than today's conventional systems."

Dr. Charles Benbrook Executive director US House Agriculture Subcommittee Director Agricultural Board - National Academy Sciences (FMR)

The System of Crop Intensification (SCI) was born out of research primarily at Cornell University and smallholder farms in India on SRI. It uses the SRI concepts and methods for rice and applies them to crops like wheat, sugarcane, finger millet, and others. It can be 100% organic, or integrated with minimal conventional inputs.[42][43]

Holistic management is a systems thinking approach that was originally developed for reversing desertification.[44] Holistic planned grazing is similar to rotational grazing but differs in that it more explicitly recognizes and provides a framework for adapting to four basic ecosystem processes: the water cycle,[45] the mineral cycle including the carbon cycle,[46][47][48][49][50] energy flow, and community dynamics (the relationship between organisms in an ecosystem)[51] as equal in importance to livestock production and social welfare. By intensively managing the behavior and movement of livestock, holistic planned grazing simultaneously increases stocking rates and restores the grazing land at the same time.[45]

Pasture cropping is a form of no till that plants grain crops directly into living pasture without killing the pasture with herbicides first. The perennial grasses form a living mulch understory to the grain crop, eliminating the need to plant cover crops after grain harvest. The pasture is grazed both before and after the grain production using holistic planned grazing. This intensive system generates as good or better grain yields and increased livestock forage while rapidly building new topsoil, all simultaneously.[52][53]

Tom Trantham's Twelve Aprils grazing program for dairy production, developed in partnership with USDA-SARE, is similar to pasture cropping, but the crops planted into the perennial pasture are high quality forage crops for the dairy herd instead of grain crops. This system has shown to improve both the yields of milk production and be more sustainable than confinement dairy production.[54]

Integrated Multi-Trophic Aquaculture (IMTA) is an example of a holistic approach. IMTA is a practice in which the by-products (wastes) from one species are recycled to become inputs (fertilizers, food) for another. Fed aquaculture (e.g. fish, shrimp) is combined with inorganic extractive (e.g. seaweed) and organic extractive (e.g. shellfish) aquaculture to create balanced systems for environmental sustainability (biomitigation), economic stability (product diversification and risk reduction) and social acceptability (better management practices).[55]

Biointensive agriculture focuses on maximizing efficiency: yield per unit area, yield per energy input, yield per water input, etc. Agroforestry combines agriculture and orchard/forestry technologies to create more integrated, diverse, productive, profitable, healthy and sustainable land-use systems. Intercropping can also increase total yields per unit of area or reduce inputs to achieve the same, and thus represents (potentially sustainable) agricultural intensification. Unfortunately, yields of any specific crop often diminish and the change can present new challenges to farmers relying on modern farming equipment which is best suited to monoculture. Vertical farming, a type of intensive crop production that would grow food on a large scale in urban centers, has been proposed as a way to reduce the negative environmental impact of traditional rural agriculture.

An integrated farming system is a progressive biologically integrated sustainable agriculture system such as Integrated Multi-Trophic Aquaculture or Zero waste agriculture whose implementation requires exacting knowledge of the interactions of numerous species and whose benefits include sustainability and increased profitability.

Elements of this integration can include:

  • Intentionally introducing flowering plants into agricultural ecosystems to increase pollen-and nectar-resources required by natural enemies of insect pests[56]
  • Using crop rotation and cover crops to suppress nematodes in potatoes[57]

Challenges and issues[edit]

The challenges and issues of industrial agriculture for global and local society, for the industrial agriculture sector, for the individual industrial agriculture farm, and for animal rights include the costs and benefits of both current practices and proposed changes to those practices.[58][59] This is a continuation of thousands of years of the invention and use of technologies in feeding ever growing populations.

[W]hen hunter-gatherers with growing populations depleted the stocks of game and wild foods across the Near East, they were forced to introduce agriculture. But agriculture brought much longer hours of work and a less rich diet than hunter-gatherers enjoyed. Further population growth among shifting slash-and-burn farmers led to shorter fallow periods, falling yields and soil erosion. Plowing and fertilizers were introduced to deal with these problems - but once again involved longer hours of work and degradation of soil resources(Boserup, The Conditions of Agricultural Growth, Allen and Unwin, 1965, expanded and updated in Population and Technology, Blackwell, 1980.).

While the point of industrial agriculture is lower cost products to create greater productivity thus a higher standard of living as measured by available goods and services, industrial methods have side effects both good and bad. Further, industrial agriculture is not some single indivisible thing, but instead is composed of numerous separate elements, each of which can be modified, and in fact is modified in response to market conditions, government regulation, and scientific advances. So the question then becomes for each specific element that goes into an industrial agriculture method or technique or process: What bad side effects are bad enough that the financial gain and good side effects are outweighed? Different interest groups not only reach different conclusions on this, but also recommend differing solutions, which then become factors in changing both market conditions and government regulations.[58][59]


Population growth[edit]

Population (est.) 10,000 BCE – 2000 CE.

Very roughly:

Estimated world population at various dates, in thousands
Year World Africa Asia Europe Central & South America North America* Oceania Notes
8000 BCE 8 000 [60]
1000 BCE 50 000 [60]
500 BCE 100 000 [60]
1 CE 200,000 plus [61]
1000 310 000
1750 791 000 106 000 502 000 163 000 16 000 2 000 2 000
1800 978 000 107 000 635 000 203 000 24 000 7 000 2 000
1850 1 262 000 111 000 809 000 276 000 38 000 26 000 2 000
1900 1 650 000 133 000 947 000 408 000 74 000 82 000 6 000
1950 2 518 629 221 214 1 398 488 547 403 167 097 171 616 12 812
1955 2 755 823 246 746 1 541 947 575 184 190 797 186 884 14 265
1960 2 981 659 277 398 1 674 336 601 401 209 303 204 152 15 888
1965 3 334 874 313 744 1 899 424 634 026 250 452 219 570 17 657
1970 3 692 492 357 283 2 143 118 655 855 284 856 231 937 19 443
1975 4 068 109 408 160 2 397 512 675 542 321 906 243 425 21 564
1980 4 434 682 469 618 2 632 335 692 431 361 401 256 068 22 828
1985 4 830 979 541 814 2 887 552 706 009 401 469 269 456 24 678
1990 5 263 593 622 443 3 167 807 721 582 441 525 283 549 26 687
1995 5 674 380 707 462 3 430 052 727 405 481 099 299 438 28 924
2000 6 070 581 795 671 3 679 737 727 986 520 229 315 915 31 043
2005 6 453 628 887 964 3 917 508 724 722 558 281 332 156 32 998**

An example of industrial agriculture providing cheap and plentiful food is the U.S.'s "most successful program of agricultural development of any country in the world". Between 1930 and 2000 U.S. agricultural productivity (output divided by all inputs) rose by an average of about 2 percent annually causing food prices paid by consumers to decrease. "The percentage of U.S. disposable income spent on food prepared at home decreased, from 22 percent as late as 1950 to 7 percent by the end of the century."[62]



Economic liabilities for industrial agriculture include the dependence on finite non-renewable fossil fuel energy resources, as an input in farm mechanization (equipment, machinery), for food processing and transportation, and as an input in agricultural chemicals. A future increase in energy prices as projected by the International Energy Agency is therefore expected to result in increase in food prices; and there is therefore a need to 'de-couple' non-renewable energy usage from agricultural production.[63] Other liabilities include peak phosphate as finite phosphate reserves are currently a key input into chemical fertilizer for industrial agriculture.


Main article: Environmental science

Industrial agriculture uses huge amounts of water, energy,[64] and industrial chemicals; increasing pollution in the arable land, usable water and atmosphere. Herbicides, insecticides, fertilizers, and animal waste products are accumulating in ground and surface waters. "Many of the negative effects of industrial agriculture are remote from fields and farms. Nitrogen compounds from the Midwest, for example, travel down the Mississippi to degrade coastal fisheries in the Gulf of Mexico. But other adverse effects are showing up within agricultural production systems -- for example, the rapidly developing resistance among pests is rendering our arsenal of herbicides and insecticides increasingly ineffective.".[65] Chemicals used in industrial agriculture, as well as the practice of monoculture, have also been implicated in Colony Collapse Disorder which has led to a collapse in bee populations. Agricultural production is highly dependent on bee pollination to pollinate many varieties of plants, fruits and vegetables.


Main article: Rural sociology

A study done for the US. Office of Technology Assessment conducted by the UC Davis Macrosocial Accounting Project concluded that industrial agriculture is associated with substantial deterioration of human living conditions in nearby rural communities.[66]

Future increase in food commodity prices, driven by the energy price rises under peak oil and dependency of industrial agriculture on fossil fuels is expected to lead to increase in food prices which has particular impacts on poor people.[63] An example of this can be seen in the 2007-2008 world food price crisis. Food price increases have a disproportionate impact on the poor as they spend a large proportion of their income on food.[67]

See also[edit]

External links[edit]


  1. ^ a b Encyclopaedia Britannica's definition of Intensive Agriculture
  2. ^ BBC School fact sheet on intensive farming
  3. ^ Factory farming. Webster's Dictionary definition of Factory farming
  4. ^ Encyclopaedia Britannica's definition of Factory farm
  5. ^ Noel Kingsbury (2009). Hybrid: The History and Science of Plant Breeding. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 
  6. ^ Janick, Jules. "Agricultural Scientific Revolution: Mechanical". Purdue University. Retrieved 2013-05-24. 
  7. ^ Reid, John F. (Fall 2011). "The Impact of Mechanization on Agriculture". The Bridge on Agriculture and Information Technology 41 (3). 
  8. ^ Stinner, D.H (2007). "The Science of Organic Farming". In William Lockeretz. Organic Farming: An International History. Oxfordshire, UK & Cambridge, Massachusetts: CAB International (CABI). ISBN 978-0-85199-833-6. Retrieved 30 April 2013  ebook ISBN 978-1-84593-289-3
  9. ^ "A Historical Perspective". International Fertilizer Industry Association. Retrieved 2013-05-07. 
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