Agricultural Crop Classifications: Are They Necessary?

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In agriculture, plants are grouped into various crop classifications. Agricultural crops are plants that are grown or intentionally managed by man for certain purposes. They are classified using various terms worldwide.

But, do we need these classifications to survive, to live a decent and joyful life, or to perform our daily chore? The answer should be in the negative. Not directly anyway. We continue to survive because of the oxygen and the energy (from sun) that plants provide, whether or not they are named or classified into certain groups.

So why should some plants be called agronomic crops, horticultural crops, cash crops or catch crops and yet others are called pulses, oilseed crops, biofuels, fruits, vegetables, etc.? Why should these terms be properly defined in relation to crop farming?

In the present scenario, the easiest and shortest answer is “for convenience”. To facilitate understanding. To ensure that others will exactly understand what one is referring to.

Just try to imagine. What will happen if you would write a letter to a friend in a foreign country requesting for statistics on foliage ornamentals? Or, for business purposes, what foliage ornamentals are hot there, if no such crop classification exists?

These terms did not just happen spontaneously. They must have evolved with the history of the ancient man and his utilization of plants for various uses such as food, medicine, weapons and tools. It is logical to conclude that the ancient man made himself familiar with plants for food, for medicine, etc.

Thus came the present grouping and crop classifications in agriculture. Such grouping facilitates communication and promotes the conservation, improvement and development of certain plants. Multilateral cooperation on concerns about groups of plants having common uses becomes possible.

In agriculture, plants are now called crops if they are useful and weeds if they are not useful or if they grow where they are not wanted. Those plants which are grown for specific purposes are divided into large groups: agronomic and horticultural crops.

Further subdivisions are made into specialized groups such as food crops, non-food crops, cash crops, cereals, pulses, root and tuber crops, fruit crops, vegetable crops, ornamental crops and many more.

Because most plants are named (thanks to Carl Linnaeus) and their uses identified, specialized development efforts have been intensified in favor of certain groups of plants. Examples of organizations which are engaged in specialized crops are the Philippine Rootcrop Research and Training Center (PhilRootcrops) and the Fiber Industry Development Council (FIDA).

But then, why is it that some authors differ in the classification of crops as either agronomic or horticultural? Why is it that in the Philippines peanut is only known as a legume seed crop or pulse but in other countries it is classified as an oilseed crop?. There are many more examples of differences in the application of crop classifications. To a student of crop science or crop agriculture, the confusion is more vivid.

The reason is that no standards for classifying agricultural crops have been set internationally. It is in fact doubtful if all countries have their own standards.

Suggested further reading: Plant Names and Classifications of Farm Crops

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