The word agriculture is the English adaptation of Latin agricultura, from ager, “a field”, and cultura, “cultivation” in the strict sense of “tillage of the soil”. Thus, a literal reading of the word yields “tillage of a field / or fields”.
Agriculture is the cultivation of animals, plants, fungi and other life forms for food, fiber and other products used to sustain life. Agriculture was the key implement in the rise of sedentary human civilization, whereby farming of domesticated species created food surpluses that nurtured the development of civilization. The study of agriculture is known as Agricultural Science.
The history of agriculture dates back thousands of years, and its development has been driven and defined by greatly different climates, cultures, and technologies. However, all farming generally relies on techniques to expand and maintain the lands suitable for raising domesticated species. For plants, this usually requires some form of irrigation, although there are methods of dryland farming. Pastoral herding on rangeland is still the most common means of raising livestock. In the developed world, industrial agriculture based on large-scale monoculture has become the dominant system of modern farming, although there is a growing support for sustainable agriculture.
Modern agronomy, plant breeding, pesticides and fertilizers, and technological improvements have sharply increased yields from cultivation, but at the same time have caused widespread ecological damage and negative human effects. Selective breeding and modern practices in animal husbandry such as intensive pig farming have similarly increased the output of meat but have raised concerns about animal cruelty and health effects of the antibiotics, growth hormones and other chemicals commonly used in industrial meat production.
In 2007, one-third of the world’s workers were employed in the agriculture industry. Today the services sector has overtaken agriculture as the economic sector employing the most people worldwide. Despite the size of its workforce, agricultural productions account for less than five percent of the gross world products.