Farmers, in selecting and growing plants and raising animals, protect them against a range of threats from other plants and predators as well as organisms such as fungi, bacteria and parasites.
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All of these potential hazards can deprive plants and animals of essential nutrients and affect the wholesomeness of food before it ever reaches the consumer. Farming, therefore, is a highly complex enterprise that requires various elements, including adequate soil and water, efficient machinery to plough and plant the crops, as well as to harvest and transport them. It needs fertilisers to supplement natural soil nutrients, antibiotics to prevent animal diseases and pesticides to protect crops against animals, insects, weeds and various micro-organisms. And lastly it requires capital to finance all of these operations, and favourable weather conditions.
Farming practices vary widely according to soil and climatic conditions, the potential marketability of specific farm products and the economic objectives of the farmer.
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For these reasons, farming practices vary between regions and even between individual farms within the same region:. Regardless which combination of these basic objectives a farmer pursues, his key activities year in and year out will include:.
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Some farmers have elected to practice "organic" or "biological" farming, which they say produces more "natural" food. Since certain toxins, chemicals and micro-organisms occur naturally in many farm products, organic farming does not necessarily mean food is healthier. Until quite recently, the primary objective of food production in Europe was to produce sufficient quantities of food at affordable prices. As the productivity of farming improved exponentially, the consumer increasingly took quantity and affordability for granted and began to focus more attention on the quality and safety of food and the way in which it was produced.
The quality of farm products begins with the genetic potential of the plants grown or the animals raised. This, however, is just the beginning, since farmers must provide an environment in which plants and animals can develop their full genetic potential. This involves matching animals and plants to the natural environment, providing plants with nutrients, and animals with the food necessary to ensure optimal growth. The genetic potential of an apple, for instance, is responsible for its size, its colour, taste and smell and the nutritional value the consumer has come to expect.
To achieve this potential, the farmer cares for the apple tree constantly. He supplements natural soil nutrients when needed and protects the tree and the fruit against insects and disease.
Meat and the Environment
As a result of this care and attention on the part of the farmer, the consumer is supplied with fruits that are insect- or fungi-free, and whose appearance and taste meet the consumer's expectation. It is easy for the consumer to determine the taste, smell, appearance and consistency of food, but wholesomeness and safety are often difficult or impossible to judge.
Spoilage, which can be a sign of unsafe food, may be noted, but even here appearances can be deceiving, for what is a spoiled food for some may be a delicacy for others. In general, two types of food safety can be distinguished: the absence of chemicals at levels which may be harmful to health either acute or long-term , and the absence of micro-organisms and their toxins in amounts which may cause illness. Chemicals may be naturally occurring toxins in the farm product itself or come from external sources as a result of farming practices or chemicals in the soil.
Micro-organisms include bacteria Salmonella, Campylobacter and Listeria , parasites bandworms and Cryptosporidia and viruses Hepatitis A.
An important priority for farmers is to ensure that their products - whether vegetable or animal in origin - are produced in a safe manner. To comply with this, they are assisted by a wide variety of scientists and farm advisory services. They receive advice on the correct use of fertilisers, pesticides, antibiotics and other products in crop and animal husbandry. Sensitive products such as pesticides or products used in animal health are subject to strict regulations.
They undergo rigid testing procedures before they are accepted for registration by European or national authorities for a specific use. This testing must prove that the product:.
The procedure for establishing if a new product merits registration is complex and expensive. It requires many toxicity and efficacy studies before initial field tests can be carried out.follow
It also includes tests on the behaviour of the product and its decomposition products in the plant and in the environment. A product should benefit the plant or animal it is intended to help with no negative effect on other species, and should not leave any harmful residues in the soil or water. Evaluation of a product does not stop with registration. As science progresses, new knowledge is being constantly acquired which can change the way certain products are viewed.
A good case in point is DDT. After many years of use, it was determined that DDT had negative side effects and for this reason its use was banned. Certain micro-organisms can contaminate crops, cause harm to animals and may even be detrimental to man himself. Before tuberculosis was eradicated in animals, milk was boiled or pasteurised to protect humans against the possibility of contracting the disease. During slaughter, animals were inspected in an effort to prevent the TB bacterium from reaching the consumer.
Unfortunately, animals may carry micro-organisms which can cause disease in humans without any evidence of their existence showing during the animal's life cycle or even after its slaughter. Salmonella, Listeria, some strains of E. Animals may acquire these micro-organisms from their feed or water, from the environment through insects, birds or rodents , from each other and even from humans.
Similarly, disease-causing micro-organisms from humans can infect insects, birds and other animals who, in turn, can transmit them to farm animals. A new threat to human health emerged in the eighties when cattle started showing symptoms of BSE Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy , the so-called "mad cow disease". The nature of the causative agent was unknown at that time. Neither could it be determined whether the disease was transmittable to man or not. Regardless of this, all kinds of preventive measures were taken to avoid the spread of the disease, and to exclude certain animal tissues from human consumption.
Start of Agriculture Over centuries, the growth of agriculture contributed to the rise of civilizations. Before agriculture became widespread, people spent most of their lives searching for food—hunting wild animals and gathering wild plants. About 11, years ago, people gradually learned how to grow cereal and root crops, and settled down to a life based on farming. Scholars are not sure why this shift to farming took place, but it may have occurred because of climate change.
When people began growing crops, they also began herding and breeding wild animals. Adapting wild plants and animals for people to use is called domestication. The first domesticated plant was probably rice or corn. Chinese farmers were cultivating rice as early as BCE. The first domesticated animals were dogs, which were used for hunting. Sheep and goats were probably domesticated next. People also domesticated cattle and pigs. Most of these animals had once been hunted for hides and meat.
Now many of them are also sources of milk, cheese, and butter. Eventually, people used domesticated animals such as oxen for plowing, pulling, and transportation. Agriculture enabled people to produce surplus food. They could use this extra food when crops failed or trade it for other goods. Food surpluses allowed people to work at other tasks unrelated to farming.
Agriculture kept formerly nomadic people near their fields and led to the development of permanent villages. These became linked through trade. New economies were so successful in some areas that cities grew and civilizations developed.
The earliest civilizations based on intensive agriculture arose near the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers in Mesopotamia now Iraq and Iran and along the Nile River in Egypt. Improved Technology.
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For thousands of years, agricultural development was very slow. One of the earliest agricultural tools was fire. Native Americans used fire to control the growth of berry-producing plants, which they knew grew quickly after a wildfire. Farmers cultivated small plots of land by hand, using axes to clear away trees and digging sticks to break up and till the soil. Over time, improved farming tools of bone, stone, bronze, and iron were developed. New methods of storage evolved. People began stockpiling foods in jars and clay-lined pits for use in times of scarcity.
They also began making clay pots and other vessels for carrying and cooking food. Around BCE, farmers in Mesopotamia developed simple irrigation systems. By channeling water from streams onto their fields, farmers were able to settle in areas once thought to be unsuited to agriculture.
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