Geography of Agriculture

Farmer kneeling in field harvesting organic squash
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Around ten to twelve thousand years ago, humans began to domesticate plants and animals for food. Before this first agricultural revolution, people relied on hunting and gathering to obtain food supplies. While there are still groups of hunters and gatherers in the world, most societies have switched to agriculture. The beginnings of agriculture did not just occur in one place but appeared almost simultaneously around the world, possibly through trial and error with different plants and animals or by long-term experimentation. Between the first agricultural revolution thousands of years ago and the 17th century, agriculture remained pretty much the same.

The Second Agricultural Revolution

In the seventeenth century, a second agricultural revolution took place which increased the efficiency of production as well as distribution, which allowed more people to move to the cities as the industrial revolution got underway. The eighteenth century's European colonies became sources of raw agricultural and mineral products for the industrializing nations.

Now, many of the countries which were once colonies of Europe, especially those in Central America, are still heavily involved in the same types of agricultural production as they were hundreds of years ago. Farming in the twentieth century has become highly technological in more developed nations with geographical technologies like GIS, GPS, and remote sensing while less developed nations continue with practices which are similar to those developed after the first agricultural revolution, thousands of years ago.

Types of Agriculture

About 45% of the world's population makes their living through agriculture. The proportion of the population involved in agriculture ranges from about 2% in the United States to about 80% in some parts of Asia and Africa. There are two types of agriculture, subsistence, and commercial.

There are millions of subsistence farmers in the world, those who produce only enough crops to feed their families.

Many subsistence farmers use the slash and burn or swidden agricultural method. Swidden is a technique used by about 150 to 200 million people ​and is especially prevalent in Africa, Latin America, and Southeast Asia. A portion of land is cleared and burned to provide at least one and up to three years of good crops for that portion of land. Once the land can no longer be utilized, a new patch of ground is slashed and burnt for another round of crops. Swidden is not a neat or well-organized method of agricultural production by it is effective for farmers who don't know much about irrigation, soil, and fertilization.

The second type of agriculture is commercial agriculture, where the primary purpose is to sell one's product at market. This takes place throughout the world and includes major fruit plantations in Central America as well as huge agribusiness wheat farms in the Midwestern United States.

Geographers commonly identify two major "belts" of crops in the U.S. The wheat belt is identified as crossing the Dakotas, Nebraska, Kansas, and Oklahoma. Corn, which is primarily grown to feed livestock, reaches from southern Minnesota, across Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio.

J.H. Von Thunen developed a model in 1826 (which wasn't translated into English until 1966) for the agricultural use of land. It has been utilized by geographers since that time. His theory stated that the more perishable and heavier products would be grown closer to urban areas. By looking at the crops grown within metropolitan areas in the U.S., we can see that his theory still holds true. It is very common for perishable vegetables and fruits to be grown within metropolitan areas while less-perishable grain is predominantly produced in non-metropolitan counties.

Agriculture uses about a third of the land on the planet and occupies the lives of about two and a half billion people. It's important to understand where our food comes from.

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Your Citation
Rosenberg, Matt. "Geography of Agriculture." ThoughtCo, Aug. 27, 2020, Rosenberg, Matt. (2020, August 27). Geography of Agriculture. Retrieved from Rosenberg, Matt. "Geography of Agriculture." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 31, 2023).