Barcelona Field Studies Centre

GCSE Farming Glossary

Absentee Landlords: land owners who live away from their estate, often in an urban area. They take rent from their tenant farmers but may make little contribution in return. (See Tenant Farmer).

Agribusiness: large-scale capital-intensive, commercial farming.

Agricultural: to do with farming. The work of growing crops or rearing animals.

Aid: the giving of resources by one country or organisation, to another country.

Amalgamated Farms: small farms joined together to form one large agricultural unit. (See Economies of Scale).

Appropriate Technology: technology suited to the area where it is used. It usually refers to simple, low-cost machinery. (See Intermediate Technology).

Arable Farm: one which specialises in producing crops e.g. wheat farming in East Anglia.

Aspect: the direction in which a slope faces, which often affects the amount of solar energy received. South-facing slopes in Europe receive more solar radiation than north-facing slopes and are better suited to crop production.

Attitudes to Change: farmers usually operate on the basis of their view of the world, which may be very different from the farming expert's view. Farmers' attitudes are affected by their individual culture or background (e.g. 'backward' rural areas tend to have cautious farmers who are unwilling to change; urban fringe areas tend to have farmers who are used to change and are willing to try new ideas), their own individual background (e.g. risk takers or cautious), and by the amount of information that is available to them.

Buying in Bulk: negotiating low prices from the supplier by offering to buy very large quantities of a particular product.

CAP: See Common Agricultural Policy.

Capital: money.

Capital-Intensive: an activity which requires a lot of money.

Cash Crop: where a crop is sold in the market for cash; the term is often applied to crops grown in LEDCs which are exported to the MEDCs.

Cereals: crops where the seeds are the main product e.g. wheat, corn.

Commercial Farming: farming for a profit, where food is produced by advanced technological means for sale in the market. Often very few workers are employed. (See Subsistence Farming). Market Gardening in the Barcelona area is an example of commercial farming.

Common Agricultural Policy (CAP): the policy used by the EU to control farming. (See Guaranteed Prices, Subsidies, Quotas, Diversification, Intervention, Milk Lakes, Grain Mountains, Set-aside, Over-production).

Compensation: money paid to someone who has experienced loss or injury. See land reform.

Contour Ploughing: the practice of ploughing along the contours or a slope in order to minimise the down-slope run-off of water and thereby prevent soil erosion.

Co-operatives: groups of farmers who join together to share expensive items of machinery, to buy in bulk and to sell their produce. The co-operative seeks the best possible price for the product and stops farmers competing among themselves to sell the most produce, which often causes prices to fall.

Crops: cereals, vegetables and fruit grown by people.

Crop Rotation: a method of farming which avoids growing the same crop in a field continuously. A regular change of crops maintains soil fertility and reduces the risk of pests and diseases. See Fallow.

Cultivation: the growing of crops.

Dairy Farm: one which specialises in dairy cows, producing milk, butter, cheeses, yoghurt etc.

Delta: an area of flat, very fertile land at the mouth of a river which extends out into the sea. Deltas are formed from mud and silt brought down by rivers.

Desertification: the reduction in the fertility of the land as a result of human or natural processes. Causes include overgrazing, over-cropping, gradual destruction of trees for fuel, the use of cattle dung as a fuel, deforestation and climate change.

Diversification: switching from farming specialising in a particular product e.g. crop or animal to one depending on a range activities for an income e.g. bed and breakfast, paint-balling, farm zoo, pick-your-own fruit etc. The EU provides grants for farms to diversify to try to reduce the food surpluses resulting from over production.

Drainage: removing water from wet land by digging ditches; the water table is lowered, the ground becomes drier and better suited to crops. (See Wet Lands).

Economic Inputs: see Human Factors/Inputs.

Economies of Scale: the cost savings gained by production on a large scale.

Environmental Inputs: see Physical Factors/Inputs.

Environmentally Sensitive Areas (ESAs): set up as a result of concern over the influence agriculture can have on the landscape, wildlife and historic features. Grants are available within ESAs to conserve the environment, reduce fertiliser use, restore heather moorland and wetlands, rebuild drystone walls and replant hedgerows.

Eutrophication: the process by which fertiliser causes, on reaching rivers and lakes, rapid algae growth and, subsequently, the depletion of oxygen available for fish.

Extensive Farm: one with low capital inputs; it usually covers a large area and has a low output per hectare.

Factory Farming: keeping animals in intensive artificial conditions indoors.

Fallow: a field left for a year with just grass in order for it to naturally regain its nutrients after several years of crops. This is usually part of a Crop Rotation cycle.

Famine: a shortage of food causing malnutrition and hunger.

Feedback: the link between farm output and inputs, i.e. reinvestment of some of the profits to buy new seed, fertiliser.

Fertiliser: nutrients applied to the soil, either artificial (inorganic) or natural (organic).

Fodder: crops grown for animal feed, usually stored and fed to the animals during the winter months.

Free Range: allowing animals to move about a sizeable area.

Grain Mountains: huge surpluses of cereal crops in the EU, stored at very high cost.

Green Revolution: the attempt to improve the productivity crops in LEDCs which began in the 1960s with the breeding of new high-yielding varieties of wheat and rice.

Guaranteed Prices: a type of farm subsidy: the farmer is guaranteed a minimum price for everything produced.

Herbicide: poisonous chemicals applied to crops to kill weeds.

Hybrid: a new higher-yielding plant variety obtained from deliberate cross-pollination of two other selected varieties.

HYVs: High Yielding Varieties: new types of seed which have been scientifically developed to produce more food per plant.

Human Inputs/Factors:

Political Economic Social
Land tenure/ownership e.g. tenant Farm size & field size/shape Culture and tradition
Organisation e.g. Co-operative Demand (size and type of market) Education & Training
Government Policies e.g. CAP Capital: machinery, seeds, money Personality of farmer
War, (causing famine, disease) Technology: HYVs, fertilisers, irrigation  
  Infrastructure: roads, communications, storage.  

Inputs: the investments necessary on a farm to produce food. They include land, labour, machinery, seeds, fertiliser, pesticides and fodder.

Inorganic: of non-biological origin e.g. chemical fertiliser.

Intensive Farming: one with high capital and/or labour inputs, a small area of land, and high outputs.

Intermediate Technology: technology best suited to a developing country which is neither too simple nor too advanced; it can be easily repaired and does not rely on spare parts and technical know-how from MEDCs should it break down. (See Appropriate Technology).

Intervention: where the CAP intervenes to keep food prices artificially high, even though there are food surpluses in the EU.

lR8 Rice: a high yielding variety of rice developed from hybrids during the Green Revolution.

Irrigation: the artificial watering of the land.

Labour-Intensive: where many workers are required; this is typical of LEDC subsistence or peasant farming where there is an absence of advanced machinery.

Land Degradation: the deterioration of the suitability of land for farming due to soil erosion, desertification and salinisation.

Land Reform: where land is taken away from absentee landlords by the government to sell or rent to farmers who were tenant share-croppers; this encourages an increase in crop yields as the farmers now have the incentive to work harder and make improvements in their land. Land reform also can lead to larger, more profitable farm sizes where the inheritance system of land always being divided between the sons of a family is changed. Any land reform brings intense disagreements and can only work peacefully if governments pay compensation to the former land owners. Land reform often accompanies a package of government-assisted farming improvements, such as irrigation schemes, new storage facilities, new roads, etc.

Land Tenure: how the land is owned e.g. tenant, share-cropper, absentee landlord.

Marginal Land: land of poor quality because of lack of nutrients, soil erosion, distance from market or other human and physical factors.

Market Forces: the system where prices for products are the result of supply and demand; if demand is high and supply cannot be increased to meet it, prices go up; if demand is low and there is too much supply, prices fall. (See Intervention).

Market Gardens: farms which produce vegetables, fruit and flowers; usually found near a large market.

Milk Lakes: milk surpluses in the EU caused by over-production.

Mixed Farm: one which produces crops and animals.

Monoculture: a farming system in which a single crop is grown continuously in the same field. This can exhaust the soil nutrients, lead to a breakdown in soil structure and the loss of soil through wind or rainwater erosion.

Monsoon: the rainy season in south-east Asia.

Nomadic Pastoralist (Herding): livestock farmers who move around for a least part of the year, usually in search of water and grazing for their animals.

Natural Hazards: forces of nature which cause loss of life or damage to crops, animals and property, e.g. storms and floods.

Organic Farming: this avoids the use of inorganic chemical fertilisers, pesticides and herbicides.

Outputs: the result of the farmer's work, e.g. crops, livestock, animal waste.

Over-Cropping: see over-cultivation.

Over-Cultivation: the excessive use of farmland to the point where productivity falls due to soil exhaustion or land degradation.

Overgrazing: the destruction of the protective vegetation cover by having too many animals grazing upon it.

Over-Production: where too much food is produced as a result of EU policies to ensure that Europe is self- sufficient in food; this results in very expensive storage. (See CAP, Grain Mountains, Milk Lakes, Surplus, Set-aside, Diversification, Quotas, Guaranteed Prices, Subsidies, Intervention).

Paddy Field: a flooded field where rice is grown.

Pastoral Farm: one which specialises in the production of animals/animal products e.g. sheep farming in the Welsh hills..

Peasant Farming: small-scale farming in LEDCs in which subsistence still plays a part.

Pesticide: poisonous chemicals applied to crops to kill pests.

Pests: these affect crops and animals reducing yields, e.g. locusts.

Physical Factors/Inputs: these are natural factors affecting the type of farming activity:

Climate Soil Pests Relief Aspect
Precipitation Temperature
  • type
  • frequency
  • intensity
  • amount
  • length of growing season (minimum 6ºC for grass to grow)
  • fertility
  • pH
  • depth
  • stone content
  • vermin
  • locusts
  • disease
  • slope or gradient
  • altitude - fall of 1ºC every 100 metres in height
  • shady N-facing or sunny S-facing slope

Plantation: a large farm in the tropics where one main cash crop is grown, often run by a transnational corporation.

Price Support Policies: in the EU a target price is set for farm produce and also an intervention price. If the price of farm produce falls to the intervention price the EU buys the product. This guarantees a minimum price for the farmer but can lead to the EU building up food mountains.

Processes: the activities that take place in a farm e.g. harvesting.

Productivity: how much food is produced per worker or per hectare of land.

Quotas: are used in the EU to control production, for example, to avoid butter mountains and milk lakes. Dairy farmers have to buy a quota, which allows them to produce a maximum amount of milk.

Ranching: rearing of beef cattle on a large scale.

Reclaimed Land: an area of drained land which was once under the sea.

Salinisation: the accumulation in the soil of salts which are poisonous for plants. This is often caused by irrigation and can make the land useless for farming.

Sedentary Farming: farmers remain in the same place throughout the year, e.g. dairy farming in Devon and Cornwall. (See Nomadic Farming).

Set-aside: the land on which a farmer is required by the CAP to stop production of a surplus crop, such as wheat. The farmer receives compensation for taking 15% of the land out of agricultural use.

Share-cropper: a farmer who pays the rent on his/her farm as a percentage of each year's harvest. (See tenant farmer and absentee landlord).

Shifting Cultivation: farming in the Tropical Rain Forest where the land is cleared and the vegetation burnt, crops are grown for a few years until yields decline due to decreasing fertility of the soil. The farmers then move on to a new clearing. This is a sustainable form of farming in the Tropical Rain Forest when practised by low-density Indian tribes who do not return to former clearings for 25-30 years.

Slash and Burn: a more destructive form of shifting cultivation where population pressure caused by immigration to the Rain Forests leads to people clearing large areas of trees in order to farm and returning to former clearings long before the soil fertility has recovered.

Soil Conservation: methods of protecting the soil from erosion e.g. hedges, terraces, contour ploughing, strip cropping.

Soil Erosion: The loss of soil from a field's surface by the action of wind or water, often accelerated by human actions. Certain types of soil are more at risk from erosion than others, as are soils on slopes. Erosion can be reduced by soil conservation measures, which may involve a change in cultivation practices.

Soil Exhaustion: where the soil has lost its fertility.

Solar Energy: the main source of energy on Earth, taken into the food chain by photosynthesis in plants or used by people as a source of electricity and heating.

Strip Cropping: where new crops are grown in narrow strips; the ploughed soil where seeds are to be planted is protected from erosion by adjacent strips where growing crops are at much later stages of growth.

Subsidies: this is money paid to farmers for producing certain crops, e.g. oil seed rape. They encourage the farmers to grow more of the subsidised crop making the EU more self-sufficient in many foodstuffs. But the drive to increase yields has led to:

  • The increased use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides.

  • The removal of hedgerows and woodlands

  • Greater soil erosion

  • Over-production, particularly of wheat, and huge grain mountains.

Subsistence Farming: farming which uses simple technology, low capital investment, and in which the production of food for the individual farmer's family is the priority. There is often no food left to sell. Most farmers manage now to sell some of their output at some times during the year. (See Commercial farming and Peasant farming).

Surplus: too much of a product being produced.

Sustainable Farming: farming which avoids soil erosion and pollution: it does not destroy the land for future generations.

Temperate Crops: plants best suited to the climate of the cooler temperate latitudes e.g. Britain.

Tenant Farmer: farmers who do not own the land they cultivate. Their rent is usually a fixed percentage of the harvest each year.

Terraces: fields on steep hillsides are terraced to provide flat growing areas for crops.

Trampling: a process caused by overgrazing, where the soil becomes compacted (compressed) by animal hooves, making it impermeable and useless for farming.

Transnational Corporation: a very large company, with factories in many different countries, often making and selling a range of products.

Tropics: the areas of the world which are close to the equator, between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn.

Wet Lands: land only suitable for grazing of animals, but very valuable for wildlife, especially birds. These are under pressure from farmers who want to drain the land to make it suitable for more profitable arable farming.

Wine Lake: surplus wine in the EU as a result of over-production.

Yield: how many crops a particular field, farm, or area of land produces. It also applies to milk (yields) from dairy cows.