What Is Agriculture?
Agriculture is the practice of cultivating natural resources to sustain human life and provide economic gain. It combines the creativity, imagination, and skill involved in planting crops and raising animals with modern production methods and new technologies.
For more information about agriculture visit Pritish Kumar Halder’s page.
Agriculture is also a business that provides the global economy with commodities: basic goods used in commerce, such as grain, livestock, dairy, fiber, and raw materials for fuel. For example, fiber is a top crop in U.S. agricultural production, according to The Balance Small Business, and a necessary commodity for the clothing sector.
A key to why agriculture is important to business and society is its output — from producing raw materials to contributing to the global supply chain and economic development.
Raw materials are a core building block of the global economy. Without access to raw materials, manufacturers can’t make products. Nonagricultural raw materials include steel, minerals, and coal. However, many raw materials derive from agriculture — from lumber for construction materials to herbs for adding flavor to food. Corn, for example, is used to producing foods and serves as a foundation for ethanol, a type of fuel. Another example is resins: plant products used in various industrial applications, such as adhesives, coatings, and paints used in construction.
Strong Supply Chain
Importing and exporting goods such as agricultural products requires shipping methods such as ocean freight, rail, and trucking. Delays in shipping agricultural products from a Los Angeles port can create problems in China, and vice versa, impacting the global supply chain.
For example, sales of soybean crops from Iowa skyrocketed in 2021 due to various factors including delays in South American crop shipments, according to the Iowa Soybean Association. In this example, Iowa benefited from a competitive standpoint. However, delays in shipping crops could also be detrimental to regions expecting a shipment, limiting the availability of products on store shelves and affecting livelihoods.
Agriculture impacts global trade because it’s tied to other sectors of the economy, supporting job creation and encouraging economic development. Countries with strong agricultural sectors experience employment growth in other sectors, according to USAID. Countries with agricultural productivity growth and robust agriculture infrastructure also have higher per capita incomes, since producers in these countries innovate through technology and farm management practices to boost agricultural productivity and profitability.
The following resources provide information about the importance of agriculture as a source of raw materials and its impact on transportation and contribution to economic development:
American Farm Bureau Federation, Fast Facts About Agriculture & Food: Provides various statistics demonstrating why agriculture is important. The Western Producer, “Suddenly Agriculture Is Important”: Highlights agriculture’s role as a stable commodity provider even amid disruption.
Fruits and Vegetables
Fruits and vegetables are essential sources of fiber, proteins, and carbohydrates in human diets. Vitamins, such as A, C, and E, and minerals, such as magnesium, zinc, and phosphorus, are naturally occurring in many fruits and vegetables. In addition to health benefits, fruits and vegetables add flavors to the human palette.
Some fruits and vegetables are grown to provide feed for animals, from poultry to livestock. The American Industry Feed Association reports that about 900 animal feed ingredients are approved by law in the U.S. These include ingredients that come from agricultural production, including hay, straw, oils, sprouted grains, and legumes.
The number of vehicles in the world is more than 1.4 billion, according to Hedges & Company market research. Every single one runs on rubber tires. According to GEP, the top rubber-producing countries are Thailand, Indonesia, and Malaysia — collectively representing approximately 70% of global natural rubber production — and about 90% of suppliers are small-scale farmers.
From cotton to clothes, the journey starts with agricultural production. Cotton is grown, harvested, and then processed, spun, and woven into the fabric before it becomes a piece of clothing. Cotton production encompasses an expansive global supply chain, and according to Forum for the Future, it’s a leading commodity, making up approximately 31% of all textile fibers globally.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reports favorable economics of biofuels, produced from biomass sources including agricultural products such as corn, soybeans, sugarcane, and algae. The benefits include reduced greenhouse gas and pollutant emissions and the potential for increased incomes for farmers. However, biodiesel production requires the use of land and water resources that can affect food costs.
Bio-based chemistry involves using raw materials derived from biomass to develop industrial products. Different industrial products derived from bio-based chemicals include bioplastics, plant oils, lubricants, inks, dyes, detergents, and fertilizers. Bio-based chemicals and products offer an alternative to conventional products derived from petroleum products. Bio-based chemistry is considered a type of green chemistry because it promotes the reduction of environmental impacts in industrial production.
For thousands of years, humans have turned to plants to help treat what ails them. For example, ginger, a plant root typically consumed in tea, can help aid digestion. Substances derived from plants and herbs can also help in healthcare. For example, extracted chemicals from the foxglove plant are used for digoxin, a drug used for heart failure. Another example is polylactic acid (PLA), a chemical produced when glucose is fermented into lactic acid in green plants. PLA has applications in tissue engineering, cardiovascular implants, orthopedic interventions, cancer therapy, and fabrication of surgical implants, according to a study published in Engineered Regeneration.
Farming is Good for Your Health
While being around farm animals all day is an animal lover’s idea of heaven, it’s also really beneficial for human health. There is ample evidence surrounding the mental and physical health benefits of having a pet, but increasingly, the unique way farm animals positively impact human health is being realized too.
Studies have shown that farming animals can:
Reduce asthma and allergies
When humans are exposed to animal dander, dirt, and germs frequently from a young age, they are much less at risk of developing these conditions
Boost your immune system
In a similar vein to the above, studies have shown children growing up on farms have more powerful immune systems, more robust gut microbiomes, and experience fewer chronic childhood diseases. This is typically attributed to more movement, higher levels of vitamin D through frequent sun exposure, and the regular inhalation of barnyard dust which, contrary to what you may believe, is microbe-rich and helps boost immunity
Keep your heart healthy
Being around animals regularly helps keep stress levels down, it also lowers blood pressure and cholesterol. The exercise associated with farm work also keeps you active, which helps with weight loss and the risk of obesity.
Mental and emotional benefits
Horses are a commonly used therapy animal and equine riding programs have had significant success in reducing anxiety and stress in teenagers. Individuals with behavioral, emotional, memory and mental health issues can also have visits/work at Care Farms prescribed as part of their treatment. This is because the benefits of visiting a farm, caring for and interacting with farm animals have proven to provide structure, purpose, a form of relaxation, and better coping skills, among other benefits
Challenging and Stimulating Work
Farming can be an incredibly enjoyable and rewarding way to make a living, but that’s not saying it’s easy to work by any means. Due to its evolving nature and mostly unpredictable working conditions, one of the great benefits of farming is that it keeps you on your toes.
You will never find a Farmer who says their job is boring. There are new obstacles and changes in the farming world on an almost daily basis, so it’s a great line of work for anyone who thrives on a challenge. From pest control to environmental shifts, evolving customer demands, and rapid technological development, you will develop sound problem-solving skills as a Farmer.
Source of Income in Rural Areas
Not only do Farmers keep everyone fed and watered, but they also play a vital role in the economy and provide essential employment for people in rural communities.
Farming and the agricultural industry as a whole are one of the main sources of employment in a lot of places. There are numerous jobs in this area, from the Farmers yielding the land to the Technicians working on the harvesting equipment, and the Scientists thinking up farming methods of the future.
In many poor areas and developing countries, farming has been shown to save people from poverty and vastly reduce rates of unemployment. Studies have also shown investment in this area helps the economy in terms of employment more than in other areas, further proving the economic benefits of farming.
Develops Younger Generations
Another excellent reason to get into or at least regularly experience farming is the educational benefits of visiting a farm for younger generations. Farmers above all are renowned for an excellent work ethic, determination, and grit, something which can be tough to instill in youngsters. Especially in an age where technology is making life much easier for us all.
Farming Online Courses
Children who grow up on a farm are known to have a stronger grasp of the value of hard work. They see the direct correlation between putting in effort and the rewards that come from it. Simply put, if the work isn’t done, Farmers won’t make a profit. As such, having children be exposed to this environment teaches them the importance of being accountable for their responsibilities.
Children working on a farm will also:
- Have a greater appreciation for animals and our land
- Develop teamworking skills
- Understand the concept of saving money and spending wisely
- Learn to take pride in their work
Help the Environment Thrive
While there are many personal benefits of farming that you can expect, there are also several benefits of farming to the environment. As a Farmer, if you recognize and prioritize the biodiversity on your land, you will help maintain the essential balance of life for that environment to thrive.
Healthy biodiversity is vital for the long-term survival of humans and other species. It also directly benefits the health of the soil, reduces erosion, provides healthier pollinators and it enables more effective water conservation, all of which are important for successful farming.
Five ways agriculture affects daily life.
Agricultural products provide essential resources for daily activities, such as: getting ready for work in the morning, thanks to coffee and clothes; washing hands with soap; fueling vehicles to travel; preparing and eating food, and minding health through medicines and treatments. Sources: Commodity.com, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, ThoughtCo, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Importance in Everyday Life
For thousands of years, agriculture has played an important role in everyday life. Before agriculture, hunting and gathering enabled humans to survive. It wasn’t until the transition to the planned sowing and harvesting of crops that humans began to thrive. Humans developed tools and practices to improve agricultural output with more efficient means of sustaining themselves. From there, innovations that created industries led to the modern era.
Today, the importance of agriculture in everyday life can’t be minimized. Without the agriculture sector, activities such as getting dressed for work and cleaning the home wouldn’t be possible. Here are examples of the agricultural products we use in our everyday lives:
Shelter. Wood and plant-based materials, such as bamboo, can be used for indoor décor and construction materials.
Morning routine. Mint is often an ingredient in toothpaste, adding flavor while brushing your teeth, and the caffeine in coffee that keeps you awake is derived from the coffee bean.
Dressing up. In addition to cotton, clothing can be manufactured from hemp, ramie, and flax. Bio-based materials can be used to produce grooming products such as skin creams and shampoos.
Cleaning. Two types of chemicals used in detergents, cleaning products, and bath or hand soap — surfactants and solvents — can be produced from biomass.
Driving to work. Plants make it possible to get to and from work. Think of rubber (sourced from rubber trees) and biodiesel fuel, which often includes ethanol (sourced from corn).
Entertainment. Paper from trees enables you to write, and some musical instruments, such as reed instruments, require materials made from plants.
Education. From pencils (still often made of wood) to paper textbooks, students rely on agricultural products every day.
How Does Agriculture Affect the Economy?
Agriculture can have a significant effect on the economy. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Economic Research Service reports that the agricultural and food sectors provided 10% of all U.S. employment in 2020 — nearly 20 million full- and part-time jobs. Additionally, the USDA reported that cash receipts from crops totaled nearly $198 billion in 2020. Animal and animal product receipts weren’t far behind in 2020, totaling $165 billion.
The interdependence of the food and agriculture sector with other sectors, including water and wastewater systems, transportation systems, energy, and chemical, makes it a critical engine for economic activity, according to the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA).
Agriculture also impacts economic development by contributing to the overall U.S. gross domestic product (GDP), directly and indirectly. It does so through farm production, forestry, fishing activities, textile mills and products, apparel and food and beverage sales, and service and manufacturing.
The latest USDA data on farming and farming income report the U.S. had a little over 2 million farms, encompassing 897 million acres, in 2020. Farm production includes producing fruits, vegetables, plants, and varieties of crops to meet demand for agricultural products throughout the country and abroad.
Forestry and fishing activities.
Agricultural activities include forestry and harvesting fish on water farms or in their natural habitat. Agroforestry is focused on “establishing, managing, using, and conserving forests, trees, and associated resources sustainably to meet desired goals, needs, and values,” according to the USDA. A form of fishing activity known as aquaculture involves the production of fish and other sea animals under controlled conditions to provide food.
Textile mills and products
The S. cotton industry produces $21 billion in products and services annually, according to the USDA. The industry has created various employment roles, such as growers, ginners, and buyers working on farms and in textile mills, cotton gins, offices, and warehouses.
food and beverage sales.
Since agriculture is a business, selling products made from agricultural production is essential. A key aspect of the sales component in agriculture is to help growers build capacity and understand the market dynamics to meet the needs of customers, many of whom care deeply about Food services, and eating and drinking places accounted for 10.5 million jobs in 2020, the largest share among all categories within the agriculture and food sectors, according to the USDA.
Agricultural products contribute to the manufacturing of a huge variety of goods, including food and beverage products, textiles, cleaning, and personal products, construction materials, fuels, and more. According to the USDA, food and beverage manufacturing companies employ about 1.7 million people in the U.S.
Five areas where agriculture affects the American economy.
Here’s how agriculture directly and indirectly contributes to the U.S. gross domestic product: farm production, forestry and fishing activities, textile mills and products, apparel and food and beverage sales, and service and manufacturing. Sources: American Farm Bureau Federation, the Bureau of Economic Analysis, and the USDA.
Here are ways agriculture and related industries impact economic development:
Agribusiness consists of the companies that perform the commercial activities involved in getting agricultural goods to market. It includes all types of businesses in the food sector, from small family farms to global agricultural conglomerates. In the U.S., farms contributed about $136 billion to GDP (about 0.6% of total GDP) in 2019, according to the USDA.
However, farms are just one component of agribusiness. Agribusiness also includes businesses involved in manufacturing agricultural equipment (such as tractors) and chemical-based products (like fertilizers) and companies involved in the production and refinement of biofuels. USDA data reports that in total, farms and related industries contributed more than $1.1 trillion to GDP, a little over 5% of the GDP, in 2019.
The economics of agribusiness also entails building production systems and supply chains that help maintain a country’s economic and social stability. Through the development of organizational and technological knowledge, agribusiness plays a vital role in protecting the environment and biodiversity near farms and using natural resources sustainably.
Food security is central to the agricultural industry: Sustainable agriculture is a key to fulfilling the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including SDG 2: Zero Hunger. In addition to food security, the agricultural sector raises the incomes among the poorest communities four times more effectively than other sectors, according to the World Bank.
Throughout the world, agriculture plays an important role in job creation. For example, agriculture accounts for 25% of exports in developing countries in Latin America, about 5% of their regional GDP, according to a report about the importance of agribusiness from BBVA, a corporate and investment bank. This activity is a source of economic activity and jobs in these countries. In the U.S., agriculture and related industries provide 19.7 million full- and part-time jobs, about 10.3% of all employment.
Resources on the Economic Impact of Agriculture
The following resources highlight agriculture’s impact on the economy, from how disruption affects the business and the benefits of the sector to people’s livelihoods:
Economic Research Service, Farming and Farm Income: Provides an overview of trends in farming and economic development statistics.
American Journal of Agricultural Economics, “The Importance of Agriculture in the Economy: Impacts from COVID-19”: Highlights why agriculture is important based on the impact of COVID-19’s disruptions to the sector.
Canadian Journal of Agricultural Economics, “Agriculture, Transportation, and the COVID-19 Crisis”: Discusses how transportation services that COVID-19 has disrupted can impact agricultural supply chains. For more information regarding sustainable agriculture please visit Pritish Kumar Halder
Importance of Agricultural Biodiversity
Advanced farming equipment and the increased use of fertilizers and pesticides have resulted in higher crop yields. At the same time, they’ve impacted the environment, contributing to soil and water pollution and climate change. NASA projects a 24% decline in corn crop yields by 2030, thanks to climate change. However, ensuring healthy biodiversity can help mitigate the impact. Here are some factors to consider:
Sustainable agriculture. Through sustainable agricultural practices, farmers and ranchers help ensure the profitability of their land while improving soil fertility, helping promote sound environmental practices, and minimizing environmental impacts through climate action.
Climate change regulation. The agricultural sector produced about 10% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions in 2019, according to the EPA. Regulation and policy changes can help promote sustainable practices in the sector and provide guidance on agricultural adaptation to address the challenges that climate change poses.
Agriculture technology and innovation. From temperature- and moisture-sensing devices to GPS technologies for land surveys to robots, agriculture technology can result in higher crop yields, less chemical runoff, and lower impact on natural resources.
Agricultural Biodiversity Resources
Find information about agricultural biodiversity and its impacts in the following resources:
- Our World in Data, “Environmental Impacts of Food Production”: Discusses how sustainable agriculture offers a path to addressing food and nutrition issues.
- IBM, “The Benefits of Sustainable Agriculture and How We Get There”: Addresses how artificial intelligence (AI) and analytics technologies help farmers maximize food production and minimize their environmental impact.
- Environmental Protection Agency, The Sources, and Solutions: Agriculture: Explains how agriculture can contribute to reducing nutrient pollution.
- Food Print, Biodiversity, and Agriculture: Provides answers to what it will take to preserve the health of the planet to safeguard our food supply.
- Brookings, “What Is the Future of Work in Agri-Food?”: Discusses the future of agricultural automation and its impact on work.
Finding the Balance
While farming can benefit the environment, this is only if environmental protection is kept at the forefront of farming processes, which sadly hasn’t always been the case.
As farming is an ancient practice that continues to play a vital role in human existence, a balance needs to be found between farming production gains and the impacts on the ecosystem. Like anything, farming has evolved and improved over time as technology and data advance, but many of the environmental issues posed by farming have come as a result of a lack of education in the farming industry.
As is often the case, farming is a role typically assumed by the family members of Farmers, with children of Farmers learning the ropes until they are old enough to take over the running of the farms themselves.
Undoubtedly, these are skilled and knowledgeable individuals who soak up years of lessons and experience from their elders. However, with no educational barrier to entry for most farm jobs, there is a lack of scientific understanding on the ground on farms, which is coming to a detriment to the environment.
Why Is Agriculture Important for the Future?
Agriculture offers an opportunity to improve the lives of millions of food-insecure people and help countries develop economies that create jobs and raise incomes. Today’s agriculture also impacts future generations. To ensure the long-term success of the global agricultural sector, building a more sustainable economic system aligned with the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals is a crucial imperative to help create a more equitable society.