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The Agriculture Portal

Ploughing rice paddies with water buffalo, in Indonesia.
Harvesting wheat with a combine harvester accompanied by a tractor and trailer

Agriculture is the practice of cultivating plants and livestock. Agriculture was the key development in the rise of sedentary human civilization, whereby farming of domesticated species created food surpluses that enabled people to live in cities. The history of agriculture began thousands of years ago. After gathering wild grains beginning at least 105,000 years ago, nascent farmers began to plant them around 11,500 years ago. Pigs, sheep, and cattle were domesticated over 10,000 years ago. Plants were independently cultivated in at least 11 regions of the world. Industrial agriculture based on large-scale monoculture in the twentieth century came to dominate agricultural output, though about 2 billion people still depended on subsistence agriculture.

Modern agronomy, plant breeding, agrochemicals such as pesticides and fertilizers, and technological developments have sharply increased crop yields, while causing widespread ecological and environmental damage. Selective breeding and modern practices in animal husbandry have similarly increased the output of meat, but have raised concerns about animal welfare and environmental damage. Environmental issues include contributions to global warming, depletion of aquifers, deforestation, antibiotic resistance, and growth hormones in industrial meat production. Agriculture is both a cause of and sensitive to environmental degradation, such as biodiversity loss, desertification, soil degradation and global warming, all of which can cause decreases in crop yield. Genetically modified organisms are widely used, although some are banned in certain countries.

The major agricultural products can be broadly grouped into foods, fibers, fuels and raw materials (such as rubber). Food classes include cereals (grains), vegetables, fruits, oils, meat, milk, fungi and eggs. Over one-third of the world's workers are employed in agriculture, second only to the service sector, although in recent decades, the global trend of a decreasing number of agricultural workers continues, especially in developing countries where smallholding is being overtaken by industrial agriculture and mechanization. (Full article...)

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Soviet Union stamp, the seven-year plan, grain; 1959, 20 kop., used, CPA No. 2345.
Soviet Union stamp, the seven-year plan, grain; 1959, 20 kop., used, CPA No. 2345.
Agriculture in the Soviet Union was organized into a system of state and collective farms, known as sovkhozes and kolkhozes, respectively. Following a grain crisis in 1928, Joseph Stalin established the USSR's system of state and collective farms when he moved to replace the NEP with collective farming, which grouped peasants into collective farms (kolkhozes) and state farms (sovkhozes). Organized on a large scale and relatively highly mechanized, the Soviet Union was one of the world's leading producers of cereals, although bad harvests (as in 1972 and 1975) necessitated imports and slowed the economy. The 1976-1980 five-year plan shifted resources to agriculture, and 1978 saw a record harvest. Cotton, sugar beets, potatoes, and flax were also major crops.

However, despite immense land resources, extensive machinery and chemical industries, and a large rural work force, Soviet agriculture was relatively unproductive, hampered in many areas by the climate (only 10 percent of the Soviet Union's land was arable), and poor worker productivity. Conditions were best in the temperate black earth belt stretching from Ukraine through southern Russia into the west, spanning the extreme southern portions of Siberia.

Stalin's campaign of forced collectivization was a major factor explaining the sector's poor performance. Collectivization relied on a system of internal passports to keep farmers tied to the land. This has been referred to as a form of "neo-serfdom", in which the Communist bureaucracy replaced the former landowners. The first response of most farmers to this loss of freedom was to slaughter and consume their farm animals. In the new state and collective farms, outside directives failed to take local growing conditions into account. Also, interference in the day-to-day affairs of peasant life often bred resentment and worker alienation across the countryside. The human toll was very large with millions, perhaps as many as 3 million, dying from famine in the wake of collectivisation. In the collective and state farms, low labor productivity was a consequence for the entire Soviet period.

The claims of inefficiency have, however, been criticized by Economist Joseph E. Medley of the University of Southern Maine, US. Statistics based on value rather than volume of production may give one view of reality, as public-sector food was heavily subsidized and sold at much lower prices than private-sector produce. In addition, the 2–3% of arable land allotted as private plots does not include the large area allocated to the peasants as pasturage for their private livestock; combined with land used to produce grain for fodder, the pasturage and the private plots total almost 20% of all Soviet farmland. Private farming may also be relatively inefficient, taking roughly 40% of all agricultural labor to produce only 26% of all output by value. Another problem is these criticisms tend to discuss only a small number of consumer products and do not take into account the fact that the kolkhozy and sovkhozy produced mainly grain, cotton, flax, forage, seed, and other non-consumer goods with a relatively low value per unit area. This economist admits to some inefficiency in Soviet agriculture, but claims that the failure reported by most Western experts would only be a myth. (Full article...)

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... with plant tissue culture it's possible to grow a complete plant out of a single plant cell?
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