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Contemporary Agriculture: What is it?

Posted by Edward Romero on June 10th, 2010

Literature is littered with research about how students perceive agriculture to be limiting and with few career opportunities outside of production agriculture leading a successful life.  There is a critical need to better convey the vast array of opportunities in agriculture, food, and life sciences by identifying systems, industries, and careers in or associated with the agricultural industry in order to help the general population better understand the impact of agriculture in our society.  One part of the AgForLife website is to help people better understand the broad definition of agriculture and the many opportunities related to the industry.

Agriculture:  The need for a new definition.

As evidenced by the dwindling acres of farm land in production in the United States, fewer and fewer people are considering careers in contemporary agriculture due to the misconception of limited opportunities in agriculture.  Today, many people still perceive that agriculture refers only to production agriculture—the raising of livestock and crops or farming and rarely, if ever, know about the many different segments of industry that are linked to contemporary agriculture, such as natural resources and the environment or know the many service industries that help our agriculturists in financial planning, lending, insurance, commodity trading, or agricultural communications to name a few.  In addition, people have little knowledge about how equipment systems and chemical and pharmaceutical systems are part of the agricultural industry.  While people have a sense of how the animal and plant related system is part of agriculture, the population at large rarely understands the implications of how life sciences, sales and distribution services, research and development, and marketing and manufacturing play a role in agriculture.

Old Perception, New Reality

The perception of agriculture by the general public is largely still visualized as primarily farming and ranching or linked primarily to production agriculture.  Allowing the public, parents, teachers, and students to continue to have a misconceived notion or negative perception about the true meaning of contemporary agriculture is detrimental to our industry and is inaccurate at best.

Agriculture is defined by the Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary (2000) as “the science, art, or practice of cultivating the soil, producing crops, and raising livestock and in varying degrees the preparation and marketing of the resulting products: Farming.”  While the above definition of agriculture is true, contemporary agriculture is also inclusive of other practices and systems that more broadly define what the new agricultural industries represent.  Stated broadly, plants and animals, including soil cultivation, livestock and crop management, and the activities of processing and marketing, include a range of technologies associated with their production and by-products.  One term to convey the technologies that interconnect the inputs and outputs of the farming sector is agribusiness.  To this degree, agriculture can include the wide range of activities in manufacturing and distribution used in farming that is closely associated with industrial inputs.  In addition, farm production (crops, animals, animal products and by-products which are provided to the consumer) is all part of the agriculture cycle. 

The National Research Council’s definition of agriculture is broader than Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary in order to include a more accurate representation of contemporary agriculture due to technological and structural changes.  The National Research Council (1988) defines “agriculture” broadly as to:

…encompass the production of agricultural commodities, including food, fiber, wood products, horticultural crops, and other plant and animals products.  The terms also include the financing, processing, marketing, and distribution of agricultural products; farm production supply and service industries; health, nutrition, and food consumption; the use and conservation of land and water resources; development and maintenance of recreational resources; and related economic, sociological, political, environmental, and cultural characteristics of the food and fiber system.

Despite the differences in definitions, one thing is certain, there is a vast array of systems, industries, and careers that agriculture touches or impacts on a daily basis and many opportunities are available to us due to the large economic impact of agriculture. While traditional agricultural production is still very much at the core of agriculture, over the last several decades, agriculture has continued to expand it’s influence in our daily lives.

For more information, read about it on the AgForLife website. We welcome your comments and thoughts on this topic.

Until next week.

Adios!

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