There are many online queries on what is agriculture although its history started more than 10,000 years ago. I used to think that this is quite amazing because the word agriculture is of common usage. On second thought, I now realize that this seemingly high interest in clarifying the term is justified in view of its large coverage, its varied application as a science, practice, enterprise, and for other purposes including legal matters, and with new technologies and specialized fields continuously added into its fold.
Going back to what is agriculture may be boring; however, clarifying the term is especially important in learning or reviewing the basic concepts of crop production.
In relation to crop farming and livestock farming, the term “agriculture” may be defined as: the art and science of growing plants and other crops and the raising of animals for food, other human needs, or economic gain .
This definition describes agriculture as both an art and a science (needs skill and founded on scientifically verified facts) and thus includes specialized disciplines; the words “growing” and “raising” are descriptive of enterprise, activity or practice. It has two main divisions: plant or crop production and animal or livestock production; and it’s ultimate purpose is for food production, other human needs, or for economic gain.
However, it is admitted that no definition can be exacting for everybody and for all purposes. Nevertheless, I find this elucidation on what is agriculture specially convenient where its coverage is limited to crop production (agronomy and horticulture) and livestock production even knowing that some definitions include fisheries, forestry, and other activities. Further, the science of agriculture is dynamic.
For more details and perspectives, here are 12 definitions of agriculture from various sources. This list is not exclusive.
1. Agriculture is the growing of both plants and animals for human needs (Abellanosa, A.L. and H.M. Pava. 1987. Introduction to Crop Science. Central Mindanao University, Musuan, Bukidnon: Publications Office. p. 238).
2. Agriculture is the science or practice of large-scale soil cultivation (The New Webster’s Dictionary of the English Language (international ed.). 2004. Lexicon Publications, Inc. p. 17).
3. Agriculture is the deliberate effort to modify a portion of Earth's surface through the cultivation of crops and the raising of livestock for sustenance or economic gain. (Rubenstein, J.M. 2003. The Cultural Landscape: An Introduction to Human Geography. 7th ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc. p. 496).
More on What is Agriculture: Definitions from Online Dictionaries and Encyclopedia
4. Agriculture is the production of food and goods through farming (Wikipedia. 2010. Agriculture. Retrieved September 1, 2010 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agriculture).
5. Agriculture is 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. Synonyms: farming, husbandry. (http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/agriculture, September 1, 2010).
6. Agriculture is the science or practice of farming, including cultivation of the soil for the growing of crops and the rearing of animals to provide food, wool, and other products. Origin: late Middle English: from Latin agricultura, from ager, agr- 'field' + cultura 'growing, cultivation'. (http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/agriculture, September 2, 2010).
(The next 6 definitions give more insights on what is agriculture. These are presumably for legal purposes or applied in legal disputes)
7. Agriculture includes farming in all branches and, among other things, includes the cultivation and tillage of soil, dairying, the production, cultivation, growing and harvesting of any agricultural and horticultural commodities, the raising of livestock or poultry, and any practices performed by a farmer on a farm as an incident to or in conjunction with such farming operations, but does not include the manufacturing or processing of sugar, coconuts, abaca, tobacco, pineapple or other farm products. (Art. 97 (d), Chapter I, Title II, Labor Code of the Philippines).
8. Agriculture, Agricultural Enterprise or Agricultural Activity means the cultivation of the soil, planting of crops, growing of fruit trees, including the harvesting of such farm products, and other farm activities and practices performed by a farmer in conjunction with such farming operations done by persons whether natural or juridical. (Sec. 3b, Chapter I, Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law of 1988 (R.A. No. 6657 as amended by R. A. 7881), Philippines. Retrieved September 2, 2010 from http://www.chanrobles.com/legal4agrarianlaw.htm).
9. Agriculture is “the art of cultivating the earth in order to obtain from it the divers things it can produce; and particularly what is useful to man, as grain, fruit's, cotton, flax, and other things.” (Domat, Dr. Pub. liv. tit. 14, s. 1, n. 1. Retrieved September 2, 2010 from http://legal-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/Agriculture.
10. “Farming” or “agriculture” shall include farming in all of its branches and the cultivation and tillage of the soil, dairying, the production, cultivation, growing and harvesting of any agricultural, aquacultural, floricultural or horticultural commodities, the growing and harvesting of forest products upon forest land, the raising of livestock including horses, the keeping of horses as a commercial enterprise, the keeping and raising of poultry, swine, cattle and other domesticated animals used for food purposes, bees, fur-bearing animals, and any forestry or lumbering operations, performed by a farmer, who is hereby defined as one engaged in agriculture or farming as herein defined, or on a farm as an incident to or in conjunction with such farming operations, including preparations for market, delivery to storage or to market or to carriers for transportation to market. (Sec. 1a, Chapter 128, M.G.L. Retrieved September 2, 2010 from http://www.mass.gov/legis/laws/mgl/128-1a.htm).
More on What is Agriculture: Definition from Court Decisions
11. Agricuture is the science of cultivating the soil, harvesting crops, and raising livestock and also as the science or art of the production of plants and animals useful to man and in varying degrees the preparation of such products for man's use and their disposal. Miller v. Dixon, 176 Neb. 659, 127 N.W.2d 203, 206 (Black, HC. 1990. Black's Law Dictionary: Definitions of the Terms and Phrases of American and English Jurisprudence, Ancient and Modern. 6th ed. St. Paul, Minn.: West Publishing Co. p. 68).
12. Agriculture includes farming in all its branches and among other things includes the cultivation and tillage of the soil, dairying, the production, cultivation, growing, and harvesting of any agricultural or horticultural commodities, the raising of livestock or poultry, and any practices performed by a farmer on a farm as an incident to or in conjunction with some farming operations, but does not include the manufacturing or processing of sugar, coconuts, abaca, tobacco, pineapples or other farm products. (Rileco, Inc. v. Mindanao Congress of Labor-Ramie United Workers’ Assn., 26 SCRA 224 . It also includes production activities involving the use of saltbeds. (Lapina v. CAR, 21 SCRA 194 ). (Agpalo, R.E. 1997. Agpalo’s Legal Words and Phrases. Mla., Phils.: Rex Book Store. pp. 33-34).
So What is Agriculture?
The first 6 are scientific and practical definitions while numbered 7 to 12 are legal definitions of agriculture. These last 6 give more details on what is agriculture by enumerating the activities covered by the enterprise or practice. That contending parties have found the necessity to elevate to the Court controversies in relation to what is agriculture only underscores the uncertainty some feel for the term. The following conclusions can be made from these definitions and from those of specialized fields under agriculture:
1. Agriculture is an enterprise, activity or practice. It is synonymous to farming.
2. The practice of agriculture is based on systematized body of knowledge (science) and requires skill (art).
3. Agriculture often involves the cultivation of the soil to grow plants and the raising of animals for human needs. The words “crops” and “livestock” are also used. However, both words are special or technical terms. “Crops" should clearly mean plants (with exceptions, as in mushroom) which are useful to man (read Agricultural Crops Classifications) while “livestock” applies to both domesticated animals and poultry. However, cultivation which essentially involves disturbing the soil does not apply to crop production systems using soil-less media, as in hydroponics.
4. Agriculture is practiced for the purpose of producing food and other human needs such as clothing, shelter, medicines, weapons, tools, ornaments, and indefinitely many more. It is likewise practiced as a business for economic gain. The ultimate purpose is essentially important in clarifying what is agriculture.