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Large-scale technology shapes modern agriculture in the industrialized countries, here wheat harvesting in the Netherlands

As agriculture (abbreviated LWS) or agriculture , an industry that is primary production referred. The aim of primary production is the targeted production of plant or animal products on an area cultivated for this purpose. In science as well as in professional practice, the term agriculture is used as a synonym today; historically, however, it was called the economy .

Agriculture represents one of the oldest economic sectors of mankind. Today the agricultural area amounts to 48,827,330 km², which is 9.6% of the earth's surface . Thus, one third of the approximately land area of the earth used for agriculture.

Agricultural scenes from ancient Egypt , Tomb of Nakht, 15th century BC Chr.

Agriculture is an economic branch of a larger overall system with upstream and downstream sectors .

A person engaged in agriculture, is known as a farmer or farmer. In addition to practical training, numerous universities and technical colleges have their own agricultural departments. The subject of agricultural science taught and researched there prepares both for managing farms and for activities in related economic areas and is an engineering subject .

Sectors of Agriculture

Agriculture is part of agriculture , but by no means can be equated with it. A basic distinction is made between the following sectors:

Which of these forms predominates locally depends on the location: on light locations (poor soil), livestock farming is more competitive, while on better soils, crop production is more economical. There are also mixed forms such as silvopastoral and silvoarable systems.

Agriculture serves the production of food both directly and indirectly. In the latter case, raw materials are produced for further processing in the food industry or nutrition industry (e.g. further processing of grain into flour for bread making ). At the same time, agricultural raw materials (including fiber plants such as cotton and linen ) are refined in the clothing industry.

Animal production is primarily used to produce food (e.g. milk, eggs, meat), and secondly to produce raw materials for the manufacture of clothing. Before using synthetic fibers , people made their clothing mainly from animal products such as leather , fur and wool, as well as linen made from flax fibers . The essential basis for animal production is grazing

The utilization of biomass generated by agriculture as bioenergy from renewable raw materials ( e.g. manure and maize ) through fermentation and power generation is a modern way of using agricultural products as part of the energy transition .


Direct and indirect production

Direct production

Products that are grown and sold or used or can be used immediately after ( harvest ). In contrast to indirect production, they are not mixed with other products and are usually brought onto the agricultural market after only a small amount of processing (without adding a second product) .


Fruit like apples or pears, vegetables like potatoes, but also milk and grain for flour.

Indirect production

Products that are not sold or used immediately after harvest. They are mixed with other products or further processed and processed into a marketable end product .


Cocoa beans , coffee beans , milk as cheese, corn as animal feed .

Extensive and intensive agriculture

Extensive agriculture in northern Benin
Baler in use at the haymaking

Extensive agriculture is characterized by a relatively large use of land. Almost all traditional forms of agriculture are extensive systems. They have nourished mankind for millennia and are still securing the livelihood of over 40% of the world's population at the beginning of the 21st century .

Typical forms of extensive agriculture are remote grazing , shifting cultivation and collecting culture . Extensive agriculture and nomadism (also seasonal) are historically closely linked (→ see e.g. mobile animal husbandry ).

Intensive farming is the opposite of extensive farming. Accordingly, a distinction is made between extensive and intensive animal husbandry , for example . The term industrial agriculture is also used in this context . The delimitation varies globally and regionally. Typical examples that mark the transition to intensive use are irrigation , drainage , clearing , terrace cultivation , and targeted fertilization : They already represent clear interventions in the natural conditions. Nevertheless, even extensive forms of use can represent serious interventions in the ecosystem in the long term typical landscape forms of extensive land use in Central Europe , such as the heathland or the alpine pastures , anthropogenic cultural landscapes .

Extensive and intensive agriculture are also used - less precisely - to distinguish between organic and conventional agriculture . In this context, fallow land and less “intensively” used land are essential characteristics of ecological and environmentally friendly agriculture.

Operating systems

The classification of agricultural holdings is further differentiated with the classification according to operating systems . Depending on which branch of production mainly contributes to the operating income, z. B. differentiated:

  • Forage farms: more than half of the farm income comes from dairy farming, beef fattening, sheep or horse farming;
  • Horticultural companies ;
  • Mixed farms: none of the branches of production contributes more than 50% to farm income;
  • Combination farms: the shares of agriculture, horticulture or forestry are below 75%, with one of these production directions reaching over 50%
  • Market fruit farms : the operational focus is on the cultivation of market crops such as wheat, barley, sugar beet, potatoes, oil crops, tobacco or field vegetables;
  • Special crops : the focus is on wine, hops or fruit growing and the like, as well as pharmaceutical farming;
  • Livestock farms: focus on livestock or animal products;
    • Processing companies mainly operate pig fattening and poultry farming.

Main and part-time jobs

Another distinction between farms is based on the share that the farm income has in the income of a family: the main gainful farm is a family farm where the farm is run full-time and more than 80 percent of the income is generated from agricultural work. When Zuerwerbsbetrieb there are more than 50 percent and part-time holding less than 50 percent of the income from agricultural activity.

Organizational forms

There are different forms of the grouping of farmers in cooperatives . The traditional associations of the 19th century are known in Germany under the name Raiffeisen . In the course of the 20th century, new types of cooperation have developed, in which consumers work with one or more farmers . For example, the English term “Community Supported Agriculture” (CSA) has become established, which is partly influenced by anthroposophy (see also Solidarity Agriculture ). A strategy was developed under the term “vacation on the farm” to present the farmer's profession in a more positive light. Other examples are the winegrowers' cooperatives .

As Vertical Farming (English, German literally "vertical farming") is called a conceptual way of farming in skyscrapers urban areas. Vertical farming is a sub-form of the more general concept of urban farming .


In terms of professions, a distinction must be made between research and practice. Biologists , zoologists , botanists , palaeontologists , environmental engineers and environmental scientists (Switzerland) contribute to basic research . The professions of agriculture in Austria in the professional field of the AMS horticulture, agriculture and forestry and in the occupational group / utility Agriculture and Forestry / animals / plants combined or the labor field , the green thumb in vocational guidance system of the BIC.

In Switzerland, with a new education regulations (BiVo), which was set on 1 January 2009. a career field agriculture and agricultural specialty occupations are created, currently (August 2008) the relevant professions are the professions Nature and food distributed.

The general agricultural job title is farmer , colloquially farmer - as a state-recognized profession, it then bears various special, country-specific names, such as farmer EFZ , farmer (Switzerland), higher education: agricultural technician (Austria), master farmer , graduate . Agro technician / in HF (Switzerland), agricultural skilled worker (Austria, teaching), or organic farmer (Austria, with admission) and / -frau the biodynamic agriculture (Switzerland).

Other professions in the field of agriculture:

Professions in the area:


The systematic cultivation of plants probably began 9,000 to 12,000 years ago, i.e. after the end of the Würm glacial period . It is likely that development began almost simultaneously in America , China, and the Middle East . The change in climate due to the end of the Ice Age, population growth and the beginning of sedentarism are seen as factors that favor each other.

In the 8th century, crop rotation ( three- field farming ) was introduced in Europe for arable farming . The oxen used until then were replaced by horses , which meant that heavy iron plows could be used.

With the European discovery of America in 1492 , a lively, worldwide exchange of agricultural products developed, which brought about radical changes for almost all peoples ( Columbian Exchange ).

Country comparisons

Importance of Agriculture in the World

In 2008, 3% of the world's gross domestic product came from agriculture. In poor countries, the share of agriculture in the gross domestic product is an average of 26%, significantly higher than in rich countries an average of 1%. There are big regional differences. In 2006, the proportion of people employed in agriculture in Tanzania was 75%. For the 1970s, the per capita agricultural area was calculated to be 1.3 hectares for the US and 0.18 hectares for the People's Republic of China . There are other differences, for example in the proportion of arable land . In purely mathematical terms, an arable area of ​​around 2000m² (0.2 hectares) is available for every inhabitant of the world .


Election poster from 1946

As a result of productivity growth and increasing industrialization and the development of the service sector, the proportion of those employed in agriculture fell from 38% to a good 2% over the past 100 years. Around 1900 a farmer was producing food for 4 other people; 1950 for 10 people, 2004 for 143.

Agriculture, forestry and fishing achieved a production value of 45 billion euros (producer prices) in 2005 , which corresponds to an arithmetical share of 1.0% of gross value added with a share of 2.2% of the workforce. The end consumer prices are higher. Germany is a net importer of agricultural and food goods. In 2008, imports exceeded German agricultural exports by 9 billion euros.

In 2007 there were 374,500 farms in the Federal Republic of Germany with 1.25 million people employed full-time or part-time, which corresponded to 530,000 full-time jobs. A total of 16.9 million hectares of land were used for agriculture (around 47.4 percent of the total area of ​​Germany). Plant production accounted for around 11.8 million hectares and permanent grassland for around 5 million hectares. In 2009, cereals (6.5 million hectares), maize (2.1 million hectares), rapeseed (1.5 million hectares) and sugar beets (0.4 million hectares) were mainly grown in Germany. In comparison, orchards, tree nurseries and Christmas tree cultures do not play a major role in terms of land consumption .

Agriculture is playing an increasingly important role in energy generation, above all through the cultivation of energy crops and the use of biogas and photovoltaics and as a lessor of land for wind energy . Agricultural businesses in Germany invested around 18.2 billion euros in renewable energy systems between 2009 and 2012, according to data from the German Farmers' Association. Farmers are now regarded as "indispensable drivers of the energy transition".


The main characteristics of agriculture in Austria in an EU comparison are the high proportion of grassland, the small structure and the large number of organic farms .

Around 44% of the entire federal area is used for agriculture, but only 5% of those in work are active in gardening, agriculture and forestry - which in Austria is a common economic sector. Most of the agricultural work is carried out by the farming families themselves. The proportion of small businesses is falling, while the proportion of larger businesses is increasing, and the proportion of employees is decreasing as the proportion of non-family workers increases.

Number of establishments in Austria
year family owned alien to the family
1999 199,000 29,500
2006 149,000 31,300

However, the service-related peripheral areas are rated positively, and incomes in organic agriculture are around 30% higher than in conventionally managed areas.


Swiss farm in Entlebuch

The natural structure of Switzerland with 70% mountain and hill areas (Alps, Pre-Alps and Jura) restricts the size of the farms, use, mechanization and industrialization of Swiss agriculture. The agricultural area is 23.9%, the alpine area 13% of the total area of ​​Switzerland (1997). 55% of the businesses are located in the mountain / hill region and 45% in the valley region. The average farm size increased from 4.7 to 17.4 hectares between 1905 and 2008. The small-scale structures, the sometimes unfavorable terrain, the high wage level and the strict regulations (animal husbandry, landscape protection) have a negative effect on international competitiveness. The management of the mountain areas also serves to protect the cultural landscape, which is important for tourism, and to contain natural disasters (landslides, avalanches, floods, erosion). These additional services are paid to the farmers by the federal government with direct payments . Around 30% of the farms are farmed part-time.

Swiss agriculture is changing rapidly. Between 1990 and 2008 farms decreased from 93,000 to 60,900 and those employed in agriculture decreased from 254,000 to 168,500. At the same time, incomes fell by around 30% during this period, while consumers only had to pay 14% higher prices. 40% of farm managers lack future prospects. 11% of the total cultivated area is cultivated as ecological compensation area. 30% fewer pesticides and 68% less mineral fertilizers are used than 15 years ago. 6,000 farms are certified (Bio-Bud label) organic farms (2008). On average, every Swiss person buys organic products for almost CHF 160 per year, which is a world record according to Bio Suisse . (See also Agroscope )

The Agricultural Policy (AP) 2011 aims to further reduce agricultural production. The effects of the WTO negotiations and a free trade agreement with the USA on agriculture cannot yet be foreseen.

United States

Satellite image of irrigated fields in Kansas, USA

In the early days, farmers (called farmers there) embodied the virtues of hard work, initiative and independence. In the 20th century agriculture developed into an important industrial factor, in particular due to its importance as a supplier of raw materials for the processing companies. In 1940 there were 6 million farms, by 2000 only around 2 million. In the same time, the average farm size tripled. The main producers today are 150,000 agricultural entrepreneurs, there are also an estimated 2 million part-time businesses. For the 1970s, agricultural land per capita was calculated at 1.3 hectares. According to the World Bank , the agricultural area in 2015 was 44.4% of the country's area. the arable land at 16.7% and per capita at 0.471 hectares.


In order to supply the population with food at stable prices, further secondary goals of agricultural policy have emerged over time:

Development since 1950

Agriculture in Europe has been in a constant process of change towards larger farms since the 1950s. Rising costs for operating materials combined with increasing price pressure for products forced many farmers to decide " grow or give way ".

The reasons for this development are:

  • the average increase in agricultural productivity of 2% per year
  • the considerably increased labor productivity due to technical progress in agricultural engineering
  • the only slight increase in the population and thus the demand for food
  • the strong concentration of the supply side of agricultural production aids
  • the strong concentration on the customer side of agriculture with high price pressure (in Europe, for example, around 3 million agricultural businesses face around 100 purchasing centers)
  • Elimination of guaranteed prices for agricultural products (e.g. European sugar market regime )
  • administrative regulations and tightening of environmental requirements in production or "EU subsidies" for agriculture

Economic and social problems

For centuries, agriculture in Europe worked with firmly established structures that passed on knowledge from generation to generation in a rural way of working and living with the aim of self-sufficiency with food. With the beginning of industrialization at the end of the 19th century, a change began that has not yet been completed. At the beginning of the 20th century 80% of the population was employed in agriculture, today this is less than 5%. The importance of this population group for the political parties was lost to the same extent, although a minimum level of food self-sufficiency was always sought in order to remain politically independent in this area. This has been achieved since the 1960s with market regulations that initially provided for minimum prices for agricultural products and later direct payments to farmers. Even in the 21st century, politics intervenes sustainably in agriculture through the structure of the support measures. Since 1994, in some types of agriculture in Europe, the income transfer from the community budget has exceeded their own added value; In addition, processing companies with dairy farming operate in free competition well below cost recovery.

Since the mid-1950s there has been a trend towards technical modernization and enlargement of farms, with concentration being faster in some countries (Great Britain, USA) and slower in others (Germany, France, Switzerland). In the course of this development, the production method changed to specialize in a few branches of production.

After the previous price guarantees for agricultural products were largely abolished, the companies are under pressure from the world markets with rising prices for agricultural inputs and uncertain producer prices. In many cases, the only option left for farmers to do is to give up or expand the business with the next generation.

The global agricultural crisis was exacerbated by rising energy prices. There is sometimes a surplus of food on world markets, but the prices for this are closely linked to energy prices; Grain is now also marketed as fuel. Corn and sugar cane are also popular as energy crops. Even developing countries that are dependent on food aid are considering entering the energy market with appropriate plantings.

Ecological problems

In addition to the energy and transport sectors, agriculture is a major source of greenhouse gases and thus contributes to climate change . At the same time, agriculture is significantly affected by climate changes and, as a result, changes in precipitation. According to the Scientific Advisory Board of the BMEL, the agricultural sector emitted 104 million tons of greenhouse gases in 2014 (around 11% of total emissions in Germany). In addition, there are a further 112–160 million tonnes caused by the processing of food, import, transport, packaging and the preparation of food for internal and external consumption. In 2019, the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research showed in a study that the consumption of local food can contribute to climate protection .

The greenhouse gas saving potential of the agricultural sector amounts to 23-44 million tons per year through suitable measures such as more intensive peatland protection , increased nitrogen efficiency and bioenergy promotion. Through further measures in the downstream area of ​​the food industry and in the consumption of food, further emissions of 14–35 million tons per year can be saved. The following measures are relevant here: reducing the consumption of animal products (based on the recommendations of the German Nutrition Society ), reducing food waste, avoiding flight goods and reducing the consumption of bottled water.

Limited fertile soils and the threatening decline in water availability are further ecological problems. Soils change over the years and are a major challenge, especially for small farms. Intensively used soils degrade faster if the nutrients that have been removed are not added again. In Asia, 39% of the soils are already affected. A well-known countermeasure is crop rotation . A connection between all of these problems with which farmers have to struggle is also seen with the 800 million starving people in the world.

See also

German Agricultural Museum in Hohenheim


  • Wilhelm Abel: History of German Agriculture from the Early Middle Ages to the 19th Century. Ulmer, Stuttgart 1962.
  • Agriculture (PDF; 2.1 MB). In: From Politics and Contemporary History . 5-6 / 2010.
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  • Thomas Miedaner: From hoe to genetic engineering. Cultural history of plant production in Central Europe, DLG-Verlag Frankfurt 2005, ISBN 3-7690-0645-3 .
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  • P. Weingarten, J. Bauhus, U. Arens-Azevedo, A. Balmann and others: Climate protection in agriculture and forestry as well as the downstream areas of nutrition and wood use. (= Reports on Agriculture. Special Issue No. 222). 2016.
  • Andreas Kalberer, Delphine Kawecki-Wenger, Thomas Bucheli: Plastic in agriculture: the state of knowledge and recommendations for action for agricultural research, practice, industry and authorities . In: Agroscope Science . No. 89 , 2019 ( [PDF; 1.8 MB ]).

Web links

Commons : Agriculture  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: Agriculture  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Wikisource: Agriculture  - Sources and Full Texts





Individual evidence

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