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Intensive farming

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Intensive farming

Intensive farming or intensive agriculture also known as industrial agriculture is characterized by a low fallow ratio and higher use of inputs such as capital and labour per unit land area.[1][2] This is in contrast to traditional agriculture in which the inputs per unit land are lower.

Intensive animal husbandry involves either large numbers of animals raised on limited land, usually confined animal feeding operations (CAFO) often referred to as factory farms,[1][3][4] or managed intensive rotational grazing (MIRG). Both increase the yields of food and fiber per acre as compared to traditional animal husbandry. In a CAFO feed is brought to the animals, which are seldom moved, while in MIRG the animals are repeatedly moved to fresh forage.

Intensive crop agriculture is characterised by innovations designed to increase yield. Techniques include planting multiple crops per year, reducing the frequency of fallow years and improving cultivars. It also involves increased use of fertilizers, plant growth regulators, pesticides and mechanization, controlled by increased and more detailed analysis of growing conditions, including weather, soil, water, weeds and pests.

This system is supported by ongoing innovation in agricultural machinery and farming methods, genetic technology, techniques for achieving economies of scale, logistics and data collection and analysis technology. Intensive farms are widespread in developed nations and increasingly prevalent worldwide. Most of the meat, dairy, eggs, fruits and vegetables available in supermarkets are produced by such farms.

Smaller intensive farms usually include higher inputs of labor and more often use sustainable intensive methods. The farming practices commonly found on such farms are referred to as appropriate technology. These farms are less widespread in both developed countries and worldwide, but are growing more rapidly. Most of the food available in specialty markets such as farmers markets is produced by these smallholder farms.


  • History 1
  • Techniques and technologies 2
    • Livestock 2.1
      • Confined animal feeding operations 2.1.1
      • Managed intensive rotational grazing 2.1.2
    • Crops 2.2
      • Seeds 2.2.1
      • Crop rotation 2.2.2
      • Irrigation 2.2.3
      • Weed control 2.2.4
      • Terracing 2.2.5
      • Rice paddies 2.2.6
    • Aquaculture 2.3
    • Sustainable intensive farming 2.4
  • Challenges 3
    • Benefits 3.1
      • Population growth 3.1.1
    • Liabilities 3.2
      • Environment 3.2.1
      • Social 3.2.2
  • See also 4
  • References 5
  • External links 6


Early 20th century image of a tractor ploughing an alfalfa field.

Agricultural development in Britain between the 16th century and the mid-19th century saw a massive increase in agricultural productivity and net output. This in turn supported unprecedented population growth, freeing up a significant percentage of the workforce, and thereby helped enable the Industrial Revolution. Historians cited enclosure, mechanization, four-field crop rotation, and selective breeding as the most important innovations.[5]

Industrial agriculture arose along with the Industrial Revolution. By the early 19th century, agricultural techniques, implements, seed stocks and cultivars had so improved that yield per land unit was many times that seen in the Middle Ages.[6]

The industrialization phase involved a continuing process of mechanization. Horse drawn machinery such as the McCormick reaper revolutionized harvesting, while inventions such as the cotton gin reduced the cost of processing. During this same period, farmers began to use steam-powered threshers and tractors, although they were expensive and dangerous. In 1892, the first gasoline-powered tractor was successfully developed, and in 1923, the International Harvester Farmall tractor became the first all-purpose tractor, marking an inflection point in the replacement of draft animals with machines. Mechanical harvesters (combines), planters, transplanters and other equipment were then developed, further revolutionizing agriculture.[7] These inventions increased yields and allowed individual farmers to manage increasingly large farms.[8]

The identification of nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus (NPK) as critical factors in plant growth led to the manufacture of synthetic fertilizers, further increasing crop yields. In 1909 the Haber-Bosch method to synthesize ammonium nitrate was first demonstrated. NPK fertilizers stimulated the first concerns about industrial agriculture, due to concerns that they came with serious side effects such as soil compaction, soil erosion and declines in overall soil fertility, along with health concerns about toxic chemicals entering the food supply.[9]

The identification of carbon as a critical factor in plant growth and soil health, particularly in the form of humus, led to so-called sustainable agriculture, alternative forms of intensive agriculture that also surpass traditional agriculture, without side effects or health issues. Farmers adopting this approach were initially referred to as humus farmers, later as organic farmers.

The discovery of vitamins and their role in nutrition, in the first two decades of the 20th century, led to vitamin supplements, which in the 1920s allowed some livestock to be raised indoors, reducing their exposure to adverse natural elements. Chemicals developed for use in World War II gave rise to synthetic pesticides.

Following organic farming. Thus, particularly in the developed nations, industrial intensive farming grew to become the dominate form of agriculture.

The discovery of antibiotics and vaccines facilitated raising livestock in CAFOs by reducing diseases caused by crowding. Developments in logistics and refrigeration as well as processing technology made long-distance distribution feasible.

Between 1700 and 1980, "the total area of cultivated land worldwide increased 466%" and yields increased dramatically, particularly because of selectively bred high-yielding varieties, fertilizers, pesticides, irrigation and machinery.[11] Global agricultural production doubled between 1820 1920; between 1920 and 1950; between 1950 and 1965; and again between 1965 and 1975 to feed a global population that grew from one billion in 1800 to 6.5 billion in 2002.[12]:29 The number of people involved in farming in industrial countries dropped, from 24 percent of the American population to 1.5 percent in 2002. In 1940, each farmworker supplied 11 consumers, whereas in 2002, each worker supplied 90 consumers.[12]:29 The number of farms also decreased and their ownership became more concentrated. In 2000 in the U.S., four companies produce 81 percent of cows, 73 percent of sheep, 57 percent of pigs, and produce 50 percent of chickens, cited as an example of "vertical integration" by the president of the U.S. National Farmers' Union.[13] Between 1967 and 2002 the one million pig farms in America consolidated into 114,000[12]:29 with 80 million pigs (out of 95 million) produced each year on factory farms, according to the U.S. National Pork Producers Council.[12]:29 According to the Worldwatch Institute, 74 percent of the world's poultry, 43 percent of beef, and 68 percent of eggs are produced this way.[14]:26

Concerns over the

  • Fall 2012 Farm Values Report

External links

  • Juri Nascimbene1 ,Lorenzo Marini, and Maurizio G. Paoletti1. Environmental Management; May2012, Vol. 49 Issue 5, p1054-1060, 7p.
  1. ^ a b Encyclopaedia Britannica's definition of Intensive Agriculture
  2. ^ BBC School fact sheet on intensive farming
  3. ^ Factory farming. Webster's Dictionary definition of Factory farming
  4. ^ Encyclopaedia Britannica's definition of Factory farm
  5. ^ * Overton, Mark. Agricultural Revolution in England 1500 - 1850 (September 19, 2002), BBC.
    • Valenze, Deborah. The First Industrial Woman (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995), p. 183.
    • Kagan, Donald. The Western Heritage (London: Prentice Hall, 2004), p. 535-9.
  6. ^
  7. ^
  8. ^
  9. ^ ebook ISBN 978-1-84593-289-3
  10. ^
  11. ^ a b
  12. ^ a b c d Matthew Scully Dominion: The Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy Macmillan, 2002
  13. ^ Testimony by Leland Swenson, president of the U.S. National Farmers' Union, before the House Judiciary Committee, September 12, 2000.
  14. ^ State of the World 2006 Worldwatch Institute
  15. ^
  16. ^
  17. ^ Sources discussing "intensive farming", "intensive agriculture" or "factory farming":
    • Fraser, David. Animal welfare and the intensification of animal production: An alternative interpretation, United Nations, 2005.
    • Turner, Jacky. "History of factory farming", United Nations: "Fifty years ago in Europe, intensification of animal production was seen as the road to national food security and a better diet ... The intensive systems – called 'factory farms' – were characterised by confinement of the animals at high stocking density, often in barren and unnatural conditions."
    • Simpson, John. Why the organic revolution had to happen, The Observer, April 21, 2001: "Nor is a return to 'primitive' farming practices the only alternative to factory farming and highly intensive agriculture."
    • Baker, Stanley. "Factory farms — the only answer to our growing appetite?, The Guardian, December 29, 1964: "Factory farming, whether we like it or not, has come to stay ... In a year which has been as uneventful on the husbandry side as it has been significant in economic and political developments touching the future of food procurement, the more far-seeing would name the growth of intensive farming as the major development." (Note: Stanley Baker was the Guardian's agriculture correspondent.)
    • "Head to head: Intensive farming", BBC News, March 6, 2001: "Here, Green MEP Caroline Lucas takes issue with the intensive farming methods of recent decades ... In the wake of the spread of BSE from the UK to the continent of Europe, the German Government has appointed an Agriculture Minister from the Green Party. She intends to end factory farming in her country. This must be the way forward and we should end industrial agriculture in this country as well."
  18. ^ Sources discussing "industrial farming" , "industrial agriculture" and "factory farming":
    • "Annex 2. Permitted substances for the production of organic foods", Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations: "'Factory' farming refers to industrial management systems that are heavily reliant on veterinary and feed inputs not permitted in organic agriculture.
    • "Head to head: Intensive farming", BBC News, March 6, 2001: "Here, Green MEP Caroline Lucas takes issue with the intensive farming methods of recent decades ... In the wake of the spread of BSE from the UK to the continent of Europe, the German Government has appointed an Agriculture Minister from the Green Party. She intends to end factory farming in her country. This must be the way forward and we should end industrial agriculture in this country as well."
  19. ^ Kaufmann, Mark. "Largest Pork Processor to Phase Out Crates", The Washington Post, January 26, 2007.
  20. ^ "EU tackles BSE crisis", BBC News, November 29, 2000.
  21. ^ "Is factory farming really cheaper?" in New Scientist, Institution of Electrical Engineers, New Science Publications, University of Michigan, 1971, p. 12.
  22. ^ Danielle Nierenberg (2005) Happier Meals: Rethinking the Global Meat Industry. Worldwatch Paper 121: 5
  23. ^
  24. ^ Sweeten, John et al. "Fact Sheet #1: A Brief History and Background of the EPA CAFO Rule". MidWest Plan Service, Iowa State University, July 2003.
  25. ^
  26. ^
  27. ^ Orlando, Laura. McFarms Go Wild, Dollars and Sense, July/August 1998, cited in Scully, Matthew. Dominion, St. Martin's Griffin, p. 257.
  28. ^ Beetz, A.E. 2004. Rotational grazing: Livestock systems guide. National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service (ATTRA).
  29. ^
  30. ^ Undersander, D., Albert, B., Cosgrove, D., Johnson, D., Peterson, P. 2002. Pastures for profit: A guide to rotational grazing. UW-Extension.
  31. ^ Brown, 1970.
  32. ^ Rice Varieties: IRRI Knowledge Bank. Accessed Aug. 2006. [1]
  33. ^ Pimentel, Berger, et al., "Water resources: agricultural and environmental issues", BioScience 54.10 (Oct 2004), p909
  34. ^ Methane gas generation from rice paddies
  35. ^
  36. ^ Bale 2001; Kwak 2001
  37. ^ Intensive Rice Farming in Madagascar by H. De Laulanié, in Tropicultura, 2011, 29, 3, 183-187
  38. ^
  39. ^ American Heritage Definition of Aquaculture
  40. ^ McGraw Hill Sci-Tech Encyclopedia
  41. ^
  42. ^
  43. ^
  44. ^ a b
  45. ^
  46. ^
  47. ^
  48. ^
  49. ^
  50. ^
  51. ^
  52. ^
  53. ^
  54. ^ Chopin T, Buschmann AH, Halling C, Troell M, Kautsky N, Neori A, Kraemer GP, Zertuche-Gonzalez JA, Yarish C and Neefus C. 2001. Integrating seaweeds into marine aquaculture systems: a key toward sustainability. Journal of Phycology 37: 975-986.
  55. ^
  56. ^ Oregon State University - Integrated Farming Systems - Insectary Plantings - Enhancing Biological Control with Beneficial Insectary Plants
  57. ^ Oregon State University - Integrated Farming Systems - Nematode Supression by Cover Crops
  58. ^ a b Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics article Agricultural Economies of Australia and New Zealand
  59. ^ a b The Regional Institute article Evolution of the Farm Office
  60. ^ a b c an average of figures from different sources as listed at the US Census Bureau's Historical Estimates of World Population
  61. ^ The range of figures from different sources as listed at the US Census Bureau's Historical Estimates of World Population put the population at 1 AD between 170 million to 400 million.
  62. ^ U.S. Agriculture in the Twentieth Century by Bruce Gardner, University of Maryland Archived September 28, 2013 at the Wayback Machine
  63. ^ Moseley, W.G. 2011. "Make farming energy efficient." Atlanta Journal-Constitution. June 3. pg. 15A.
  64. ^
  65. ^ Union of Concerned Scientists article The Costs and Benefits of Industrial Agriculture last updated March 2001
  66. ^
  67. ^ Macrosocial Accounting Project, Dept. of Applied Behavioral Sciences, Univ. of California, Davis, CA


See also

A study done for the US. Office of Technology Assessment conducted by the UC Davis Macrosocial Accounting Project concluded that industrial agriculture is associated with substantial deterioration of human living conditions in nearby rural communities.[67]


Industrial agriculture uses huge amounts of water, energy,[63] and industrial chemicals; increasing pollution in the arable land, usable water and atmosphere. Herbicides, insecticides and fertilizers are accumulating in ground and surface waters. "Many of the negative effects of industrial agriculture are remote from fields and farms. Nitrogen compounds from the Midwest, for example, travel down the Mississippi to degrade coastal fisheries in the Gulf of Mexico.[64] But other adverse effects are showing up within agricultural production systems -- for example, the rapidly developing resistance among pests is rendering our arsenal of herbicides and insecticides increasingly ineffective.".[65] Agrochemicals and monoculture have been implicated in Colony Collapse Disorder, in which the individual members of bee colonies disappear.[66] Agricultural production is highly dependent on bees to pollinate many varieties of fruits and vegetables.



An example of industrial agriculture providing cheap and plentiful food is the U.S.'s "most successful program of agricultural development of any country in the world". Between 1930 and 2000 U.S. agricultural productivity (output divided by all inputs) rose by an average of about 2 percent annually causing food prices to decrease. "The percentage of U.S. disposable income spent on food prepared at home decreased, from 22 percent as late as 1950 to 7 percent by the end of the century."[62]

Estimated world population at various dates, in thousands
Year World Africa Asia Europe Central & South America North America* Oceania Notes
8000 BCE 8 000 [60]
1000 BCE 50 000 [60]
500 BCE 100 000 [60]
1 CE 200,000 plus [61]
1000 310 000
1750 791 000 106 000 502 000 163 000 16 000 2 000 2 000
1800 978 000 107 000 635 000 203 000 24 000 7 000 2 000
1850 1 262 000 111 000 809 000 276 000 38 000 26 000 2 000
1900 1 650 000 133 000 947 000 408 000 74 000 82 000 6 000
1950 2 518 629 221 214 1 398 488 547 403 167 097 171 616 12 812
1955 2 755 823 246 746 1 541 947 575 184 190 797 186 884 14 265
1960 2 981 659 277 398 1 674 336 601 401 209 303 204 152 15 888
1965 3 334 874 313 744 1 899 424 634 026 250 452 219 570 17 657
1970 3 692 492 357 283 2 143 118 655 855 284 856 231 937 19 443
1975 4 068 109 408 160 2 397 512 675 542 321 906 243 425 21 564
1980 4 434 682 469 618 2 632 335 692 431 361 401 256 068 22 828
1985 4 830 979 541 814 2 887 552 706 009 401 469 269 456 24 678
1990 5 263 593 622 443 3 167 807 721 582 441 525 283 549 26 687
1995 5 674 380 707 462 3 430 052 727 405 481 099 299 438 28 924
2000 6 070 581 795 671 3 679 737 727 986 520 229 315 915 31 043
2005 6 453 628 887 964 3 917 508 724 722 558 281 332 156 32 998**

Very roughly:

Population (est.) 10,000 BCE – 2000 CE.

Population growth


While the point of industrial agriculture is to profitably supply the world at the lowest cost, industrial methods have significant side effects. Further, industrial agriculture is not an indivisible whole, but instead is composed of multiple elements, each of which can be modified in response to market conditions, government regulation and further innovation and has its own side-effects. Various interest groups reach different conclusions on the subject.[58][59]

[W]hen hunter-gatherers with growing populations depleted the stocks of game and wild foods across the Near East, they were forced to introduce agriculture. But agriculture brought much longer hours of work and a less rich diet than hunter-gatherers enjoyed. Further population growth among shifting slash-and-burn farmers led to shorter fallow periods, falling yields and soil erosion. Plowing and fertilizers were introduced to deal with these problems - but once again involved longer hours of work and degradation of soil resources(Boserup, The Conditions of Agricultural Growth, Allen and Unwin, 1965, expanded and updated in Population and Technology, Blackwell, 1980.).

The challenges and issues of industrial agriculture for society, for the industrial agriculture sector, for the individual farm, and for animal rights include the costs and benefits of both current practices and proposed changes to those practices.[58][59] This is a continuation of thousands of years of invention in feeding ever growing populations.


  • Intentionally introducing flowering plants into agricultural ecosystems to increase pollen-and nectar-resources required by natural enemies of insect pests[56]
  • Using crop rotation and cover crops to suppress nematodes in potatoes[57]

An integrated farming system is a progressive biologically integrated sustainable agriculture system such as IMTA or Zero waste agriculture whose implementation requires exacting knowledge of the interactions of multiple species and whose benefits include sustainability and increased profitability. Elements of this integration can include:

Vertical farming is intensive crop production on a large scale in urban centers in multi-story, artificially-lit structures that uses far less inputs and produces fewer environmental impacts.

Intercropping can increase yields or reduce inputs and thus represents (potentially sustainable) agricultural intensification. However, while total yield per acre is often increased dramatically, yields of any single crop often diminish. There are also challenges to farmers relying on farming equipment optimized for monoculture, often resulting in increased labor inputs.

Biointensive agriculture focuses on maximizing efficiency[55] such as per unit area, energy input and water input. Agroforestry combines agriculture and orchard/forestry technologies to create more integrated, diverse, productive, profitable, healthy and sustainable land-use systems.

shellfish) aquaculture to create balanced systems for environmental sustainability (biomitigation), economic stability (product diversification and risk reduction) and social acceptability (better management practices).[54]

The Twelve Aprils grazing program for dairy production, developed in partnership with USDA-SARE, is similar to pasture cropping, but the crops planted into the perennial pasture are forage crops for dairy herds. This system improves milk production and is more sustainable than confinement dairy production.[53]

Pasture cropping plants grain crops directly into grassland without first applying herbicides. The perennial grasses form a living mulch understory to the grain crop, eliminating the need to plant cover crops after harvest. The pasture is intensively grazed both before and after grain production using holistic planned grazing. This intensive system yields equivalent farmer profits (partly from increased livestock forage) while building new topsoil and sequestering up to 33 tons of CO2/ha/year.[51][52]

ecosystem)[50] as equal in importance to livestock production and social welfare. By intensively managing the behavior and movement of livestock, holistic planned grazing simultaneously increases stocking rates and restores grazing land.[44]


"Organic systems and the practices that make them effective are being picked up more and more by conventional agriculture and will become the foundation for future farming systems. They won't be called organic, because they'll still use some chemicals and still use some fertilizers, but they'll function much more like today's organic systems than today's conventional systems." Dr. Charles Benbrook Executive director US House Agriculture Subcommittee Director Agricultural Board - National Academy Sciences (FMR)

Sustainable intensive farming practises have been developed to slow the deterioration of agricultural land and even regenerate soil health and ecosystem services, while still offering high yields. Most of these developments fall in the category of organic farming, or the integration of organic and conventional agriculture.

Sustainable intensive farming

[40][39] Aquaculture is the cultivation of the natural products of


A recent development in the intensive production of rice is System of Rice Intensification (SRI). Developed in 1983 by the French Jesuit Father Henri de Laulanié in Madagascar,[37] by 2013 the number of smallholder farmers using SRI had grown to between 4 and 5 million.[38]

Like today's, Mumun period rice farmers used terracing, bunds, canals and small reservoirs. Some paddy-farming techniques of the Middle Mumun (c. 850-550 BC) can be interpreted from the well-preserved wooden tools excavated from archaeological rice paddies at the Majeon-ni Site. However, iron tools for paddy-farming were not introduced until sometime after 200 BC. The spatial scale of individual paddies, and thus entire paddy-fields, increased with the regular use of iron tools in the Three Kingdoms of Korea Period (c. AD 300/400-668).

The earliest Mumun features were usually located in naturally swampy, low-lying narrow gulleys and fed by local streams. Some Mumun paddies in flat areas were made of a series of squares and rectangles separated by bunds approximately 10 cm in height, while terraced paddies consisted of long irregularly shapes that followed natural contours of the land at various levels.[36]

Paddy-based rice-farming has been practiced Korea since ancient times. A pit-house at the Daecheon-ni archaeological site yielded carbonized rice grains and radiocarbon dates indicating that rice cultivation may have begun as early as the Middle Jeulmun Pottery Period (c. 3500-2000 BC) in the Korean Peninsula.[35] The earliest rice cultivation there may have used dry-fields instead of paddies.

A paddy field is a flooded parcel of arable land used for growing rice and other semiaquatic crops. Paddy fields are a typical feature of rice-growing countries of east and southeast Asia including Malaysia, China, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Thailand, Korea, Japan, Vietnam, Taiwan, Indonesia, India, and the Philippines. They are also found in other rice-growing regions such as Piedmont (Italy), the Camargue (France) and the Artibonite Valley (Haiti). They can occur naturally along rivers or marshes, or can be constructed, even on hillsides. They require large water quantities for irrigation, much of it from flooding. It gives an environment favourable to the strain of rice being grown, and is hostile to many species of weeds. As the only draft animal species which is comfortable in wetlands, the water buffalo is in widespread use in Asian rice paddies.[34]

Rice paddies

In agriculture, a terrace is a leveled section of a hilly cultivated area, designed as a method of soil conservation to slow or prevent the rapid surface runoff of irrigation water. Often such land is formed into multiple terraces, giving a stepped appearance. The human landscapes of rice cultivation in terraces that follow the natural contours of the escarpments like contour ploughing is a classic feature of the island of Bali and the Banaue Rice Terraces in Banaue, Ifugao, Philippines. In Peru, the Inca made use of otherwise unusable slopes by drystone walling to create terraces.

Terrace rice fields in Yunnan Province, China


  • Cover crops (especially those with allelopathic properties) that out-compete weeds or inhibit their regeneration.
  • Multiple herbicides, in combination or in rotation
  • Strains genetically engineered for herbicide tolerance
  • Locally adapted strains that tolerate or out-compete weeds
  • Tilling
  • Ground cover such as mulch or plastic
  • Manual removal
  • Mowing
  • Grazing
  • Burning

In agriculture, systematic weed management is usually required, often performed by machines such as cultivators or liquid herbicide sprayers. Herbicides kill specific targets while leaving the crop relatively unharmed. Some of these act by interfering with the growth of the weed and are often based on plant hormones. Weed control through herbicide is made more difficult when the weeds become resistant to the herbicide. Solutions include:

Weed control

Water catchment management measures include recharge pits, which capture rainwater and runoff and use it to recharge groundwater supplies. This helps in the replenishment of groundwater wells and eventually reduces soil erosion. Dammed rivers creating Reservoirs store water for irrigation and other uses over large areas. Smaller areas sometimes use irrigation ponds or groundwater.

Flood irrigation, the oldest and most common type, is typically unevenly distributed, as parts of a field may receive excess water in order to deliver sufficient quantities to other parts. Overhead irrigation, using center-pivot or lateral-moving sprinklers, gives a much more equal and controlled distribution pattern. Drip irrigation is the most expensive and least-used type, but delivers water to plant roots with minimal losses.

Crop irrigation accounts for 70% of the world's fresh water use.[33]

Overhead irrigation, center pivot design


Crop rotation or crop sequencing is the practice of growing a series of dissimilar types of crops in the same space in sequential seasons for benefits such as avoiding pathogen and pest buildup that occurs when one species is continuously cropped. Crop rotation also seeks to balance the nutrient demands of various crops to avoid soil nutrient depletion. A traditional component of crop rotation is the replenishment of nitrogen through the use of legumes and green manure in sequence with cereals and other crops. Crop rotation can also improve soil structure and fertility by alternating deep-rooted and shallow-rooted plants. One technique is to plant multi-species cover crops between commercial crops. This combines the advantages of intensive farming with continuous cover and polyculture.

Satellite image of circular crop fields in Wheat is brilliant gold. Fields of brown have been recently harvested and plowed under or have lain in fallow for the year.

Crop rotation

HYVs significantly outperform traditional varieties in the presence of adequate irrigation, pesticides and fertilizers. In the absence of these inputs, traditional varieties may outperform HYVs. They were developed as F1 hybrids, meaning seeds need to be purchased every season to obtain maximum benefit, thus increasing costs.

With the availability of molecular genetics in Arabidopsis and rice the mutant genes responsible (reduced height (rht), gibberellin insensitive (gai1) and slender rice (slr1)) have been cloned and identified as cellular signalling components of gibberellic acid, a phytohormone involved in regulating stem growth via its effect on cell division. Photosynthetic investment in the stem is reduced dramatically as the shorter plants are inherently more mechanically stable. Nutrients become redirected to grain production, amplifying in particular the yield effect of chemical fertilisers.

In the 1970s scientists created strains of maize, wheat, and rice that are generally referred to as high-yielding varieties (HYV). HYVs have an increased nitrogen-absorbing potential compared to other varieties. Since cereals that absorbed extra nitrogen would typically lodge (fall over) before harvest, semi-dwarfing genes were bred into their genomes. Norin 10 wheat, a variety developed by Orville Vogel from Japanese dwarf wheat varieties, was instrumental in developing wheat cultivars. IR8, the first widely implemented HYV rice to be developed by the International Rice Research Institute, was created through a cross between an Indonesian variety named “Peta” and a Chinese variety named “Dee Geo Woo Gen.”[32]


The Green Revolution transformed farming in many developing countries. It spread technologies that had already existed, but had not been widely used outside of industrialized nations. These technologies included "miracle seeds", pesticides, irrigation and synthetic nitrogen fertilizer.[31]


Managed Intensive Rotational Grazing (MIRG), also known as cell grazing, mob grazing and holistic managed planned grazing, is a variety of forage use in which herds/flocks are regularly and systematically moved to fresh, rested grazing areas to maximize the quality and quantity of forage growth. MIRG can be used with cattle, sheep, goats, pigs, chickens, turkeys, ducks and other animals. The herds graze one portion of pasture, or a paddock, while allowing the others to recover. Resting grazed lands allows the vegetation to renew energy reserves, rebuild shoot systems, and deepen root systems, resulting in long-term maximum biomass production.[28][29] MIRG is especially effective because grazers thrive on the more tender younger plant stems. MIRG also leave parasites behind to die off minimizing or eliminating the need for de-wormers. Pasture systems alone can allow grazers to meet their energy requirements, and with the increased productivity of MIRG systems, the animals obtain the majority of their nutritional needs, in some cases all, without the supplemental feed sources that are required in continuous grazing systems or CAFOs.[30]

Managed intensive rotational grazing

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), farms on which animals are intensively reared can cause adverse health reactions in farm workers. Workers may develop acute and/or chronic lung disease, musculoskeletal injuries and may catch ( zoonotic) infections from the animals.

Other concerns include persistent noxious odor, the effects on human health and the role of antibiotics use in the rise of resistant infectious bacteria.

The large concentration of animals, animal waste and dead animals in a small space poses ethical issues to some consumers. Animal rights and animal welfare activists have charged that intensive animal rearing is cruel to animals.

In 17 states in the U.S., isolated cases of groundwater contamination were linked to CAFOs.[25] For example, the ten million hogs in North Carolina generate 19 million tons of waste per year.[26] The U.S. federal government acknowledges the waste disposal issue and requires that animal waste be stored in lagoons. These lagoons can be as large as 7.5 acres (30,000 m2). Lagoons not protected with an impermeable liner can leak into groundwater under some conditions, as can runoff from manure used as fertilizer. A lagoon that burst in 1995 released 25 million gallons of nitrous sludge in North Carolina's New River. The spill allegedly killed eight to ten million fish.[27]

The CAFO designation resulted from the 1972 US Federal Clean Water Act, which was enacted to protect and restore lakes and rivers to a "fishable, swimmable" quality. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) identified certain animal feeding operations, along with many other types of industry, as "point source" groundwater polluters. These operations were subjected to regulation.[24]

Food and water is delivered to the animals, and therapeutic use of antimicrobial agents, vitamin supplements and growth hormones are often employed. Growth hormones are not used on chickens nor on any animal in the European Union. Undesirable behaviours often related to the stress of confinement led to a search for docile breeds (e.g., with natural dominance behaviours bred out), physical restraints to stop interaction, such as individual cages for chickens, or physically modification such as the de-beaking of chickens to reduce the harm of fighting.

Intensive livestock farming, also called "factory farming" is a term referring to the process of raising [23] However, CAFOs have dramatically increased the production of food from animal husbandry worldwide, both in terms of total food produced and efficiency.

Confined animal feeding operations

A commercial chicken house raising broiler pullets for meat.


Techniques and technologies

Famines continued throughout the 20th century. Through the effects of climactic events, government policy, war and crop failure, millions of people died in each of at least ten famines between the 1920s and the 1990s.[16]

and caused a resurgence in sustainable intensive farming and funding for the development of appropriate technology. [15]

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