agricultural crop classifications: are they necessary?

In agriculture, plants are grouped into various crop classifications. Agricultural crops are plants that are grown or intentionally managed by man for some purpose. 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 chores? The answer should be in the negative. Not directly anyway. We continue to survive because of the oxygen, the energy harvested from sun which is converted into usable form, and the other nutrients  that plants provide, whether or not they are named or classified into certain groups.

So why are some plants called agronomic cropshorticultural cropscash crops or catch crops and yet others are called pulses, oilseed crops, biofuels, fruits, vegetables, etc.? Why should these plant be properly identified and distinguished in agriculture? 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. And by knowing, anyone can easily find  that one particular plant which he may need for any use.

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? For the farmer who desires to find technical assistance in growing a particular crop, for example a fruit crop, he may go to the agency, or department, or organization with expertise in said crop or at least in horticulture particularly pomology.

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 having similar uses.

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.

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 plant 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. Nevertheless, familiarity with certain groupings are fairly well established in the study and practice of agriculture.

Crop Classifications in Agriculture

In relation to agriculture, plants (the organisms under Kingdom  Plantae) are divided into two types: crops and weeds. Crops are those which man intentionally grows because they have uses or benefits to him such as food, shelter, clothing, tools, medicines, as source of any product that can be marketed, etc. Otherwise, if any such plant naturally grows in the wild, or in his farm or backyard, he puts it under his care or management. For example, he may discover a  seedling of large-leaved amaranth or kulitis (Amaranthus spinosusnaturally growing  in the backyard and thereafter takes care of it to be a source of leafy vegetable.

Weeds, however, are not useful to him and may just become nuisance. These plants may compete with that amaranth for soil nutrients and water, or prevent sunlight exposure, or worst, climb and suffocate the latter. He therefore decides to protect this vegetable from weeds by curtailing their growth or removing them, an activity which is called weeding.

The plants classified as agricultural crops are further grouped into two main divisions based on criteria that includes the extensiveness of production, usage, and product descriptions: agronomic crops and horticultural crops (click here to read more detailed comparison).

Further, both crop classifications are subdivided into various groups based on another criteria which mainly include their specific uses and the plant organs which are harvested. Agronomic crops include the cereals which are mainly consumed as staple food, legume seed crops or pulses, oil seed crops, fiber crops, etc. On the other hand, the horticultural crops include the vegetables, the fruits, and the flowering and other ornamental crops.

The classification does not end there. These crops have been grouped further into specific types based on various criteria. For example, vegetable crops can be grouped by taxonomic family, for example solanaceous vegetables. The vegetable crops can also be grouped according to the parts that are primarily utilized such as the root, stem, leafy, fruit, flower, and seed vegetables. Further, each classification based on botanical organ may be subdivided some more into more specific groups. Groups may be formed such as aerial vs. underground stems,  raw salad vs. cooked, or  rich in carbohydrate vs. rich in protein, etc.

These crop classifications hardly end.

(Ben G. Bareja 2010, edited Apr. 19, 2019)

Agronomy <<< >>> Horticulture

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