Agricultural land is typically land devoted to agriculture, the systematic and controlled use of other forms of life—particularly the rearing of livestock and production of crops—to produce food for humans. It is thus generally synonymous with farmland or cropland.
The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization and others following its definitions, however, also use agricultural land or agricultural area as a term of art, where it means the collection of:
- "arable land": here, redefined to describe land producing crops requiring annual replanting or fallowland or pasture used for such crops within any five-year period
- "permanent cropland": land producing crops which do not require annual replanting
- permanent pastures: natural or artificial grasslands and shrublands able to be used for grazing livestock
This sense of "agricultural land" thus includes a great deal of land not actively or even presently devoted to agricultural use. The land actually under annually-replanted crops in any given year is instead said to constitute "sown land" or "cropped land". "Permanent cropland" includes forested plantations used to harvest coffee, rubber, or fruit but not tree farms or proper forests used for wood or timber. Land able to be used for farming (traditionally called arable land but here described as "arable land" and "permanent cropland" together) is called "cultivable land". Farmland, meanwhile, is used variously in reference to all agricultural land, to all cultivable land, or just to the newly restricted sense of "arable land". Depending upon its use of artificial irrigation, the FAO's "agricultural land" may be divided into irrigated and non-irrigated land.
In the context of zoning, agricultural land or agriculturally-zoned land refers to plots that are permitted to be used for agricultural activities, without regard to its present use or even suitability. In some areas, agricultural land is protected so that it can be farmed without any threat of development. The Agricultural Land Reserve in British Columbia, for instance, requires approval from its Agricultural Land Commission before its lands can be removed or subdivided.
Under the FAO's definitions above, agricultural land covers 33% of the world's land area, with the FAO's arable land representing less than ⅓ of that or about 9.3% of the world's land area.
- Arable land: 13,812,040 square kilometers or 5,332,860 square miles
- Permanent crops: 1,484,087 square kilometers or 573,009 square miles
- Permanent pastures: 33,556,943 square kilometers or 12,956,408 square miles
Source: Helgi Library, World Bank, FAOSTAT
The United States has more agricultural land than all the other countries in the world. 408 million acres (as of 2007), which is about 1/5 of the total land area is dedicated to crop production. A quarter of private land (613 million acres as of 2007) in the United States is grazing land for livestock. The agricultural land has not expanded, even though agricultural products are in continuous and increasing demand and the population continues to grow. In some areas, the crop production has, indeed, increased, due to genetic manipulation of the crops, innovative irrigation techniques and other farming methods.
But while in some places the agricultural land grows, in others, it decreases. The reason for this is that development is taking place on crop land, as much as 3,000 acres daily, which accounts for the 8% decrease (accumulated over a period of 20 years) in the land farms benefit from. For example, in the year 1990, the United States farms held 987 million acres, while ten years later there were just 943 million acres and 2012 saw another decrease to 914 million acres.
Production agriculture is becoming more and more challenging for farmers – especially the ones surrounding urban areas – who are under significant development pressure. This may be a reason for concern, since as much as two thirds of the agricultural production in the United States is a result of agricultural land found in metropolitan counties, while a third of the total number of farms are located in actual metropolitan areas. According to a 1992-1997 report conducted by the NRCS, this accounts for 18% of farmland in America.
In the last century, farms were encouraged and helped to grow and increase production through government price supports, as well as more frequent use of farming machines. This allowed farming to become more efficient and cost-effective. Most farms in the United States are small, but that doesn’t mean they make for the most farm land. In fact, they only represent a small fraction in the total agricultural land available in the country. The trend is going towards larger farm operations with bigger productivity and more farm land, even if they are significantly smaller in number.
A full 2/3 of the land in Australia is dedicated to farming production. Farm land, in turn, is used in proportion of about 90% for grazing on pastures in semi-arid and arid zones. Agriculture takes place in three general zones: the pastoral zone, where sheep and cattle are grazed and where the soil is not as fertile, due to the low frequency of rain, the wheat and sheep zone, where the grazing of beef cattle and sheep takes place, in order to obtain mutton, lamb and wool, as well cropping (winter crops) and Tasmania, together with a coastal zone that falls under the high rainfall zone, where beef and dairy are produced.
Pastoral activities are a major part of Australia’s agricultural endeavors and have a long history of being performed by Aboriginal people in grasslands that were opened up to create native pastures. Grazing is still the most important sector and the one with the most value in Australian farm production. In 2012, Australia had high values of production, as follows Cattle, Wheat, Dairy, Vegetables, Fruit, Nuts, Lamb meat, Wool.
Australian agricultural land is divided mainly between sheep and wheat, as the two have the highest value of production and have a long-standing tradition in the country’s agricultural practices.
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The cost of Russian farmland is as little as €1,500-2,000/ha (£1,260-1,680/ha). There are roughly 2.5 acres per hectares, so multiply by 2/5 to obtain the price per acre. Farmland can be available in France for roughly €10,000/ha, but this is a bargain. A more indicative price is €50,000-100,000/ha for nice quality soil. Farmland has been seen to be available on the Spanish market for as little as €10,000/ha, but this is non-irrigated almost desert land.
The average Russian farm measures 150ha. The most prevalent crops in Russia are wheat, barley, corn, rice, sugar beet, soya beans, sunflower, potatoes and vegetables. The Krasnodar region in Russia has 86,000ha of arable land. The Russians harvested roughly 85-90 million tonnes of wheat annually in the years around 2010. Russia exported most to Egypt, Turkey and Iran in 2012; China was a significant export market as well. The average yield from the Krasnodar region was between 4 and 5 tonnes per ha, while the Russian average was only 2t/ha. The Basic Element Group, which is a conglomerate owned by Oleg Deripaska, is one of Russia's leading agricultural producers, and owns or manages 109,000ha of Russian farmland, out of 90m actual and 115m total (0.12% actual).
In 2013, Ukraine was ranked third in corn production and sixth in wheat production. It was the main supplier of corn, wheat, and rape to Europe, although it is unclear whether the internal supply from countries like France were accounted in this calculation. Ukrainian farmers achieve 60% of the output per unit area of their North American competitors. UkrLandFarming PLC produces from 1.6m acres corn wheat barley sugar beet and sunflowers. The chief Ukrainian export terminal was until 2014, the Crimean port of Sebastopol.
- Oxford English Dictionary, 3rd ed. "agricultural, adj." Oxford University Press (Oxford), 2012.
- Oxford English Dictionary, 3rd ed. "agriculture, n." Oxford University Press (Oxford), 2012.
- See also, e.g., Provincial Agricultural Land Commission. "What is Agricultural Land?" The Province of British Columbia. Accessed 1 Aug 2014.
- FAO. FAOSTAT Glossary: "Agricultural area".
- OECD. Glossary of Statistical Terms: "Agricultural land".
- Provincial Agricultural Land Commission. Official website. Accessed 1 Aug 2014.
- FAOSTAT data on land use
- WDI –World Development Indicators online database, retrieved on July 18, 2008 (may require subscription for access; print edition from the World Bank).
- helgilibrary.com: "Agricultural Land Area" 2014-02-12
- Land Use Overview, EPA.Gov
- Australian Farming and Agriculture, Australia.gov.au
- Development of Australian Agricultural Land, CP2S, 12 May 2013
- Farmer's Weekly: "The future of farming in Russia" 9 Dec 2013
- "Ukraine crisis sends grain prices soaring" 21 Mar 2014