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Arable farming means growing crops. This would include wheat or vegetables. Growing fruit means having orchards devoted to fruit. They cannot be switched easily with growing field crops. Therefore, they are not classed as arable land in the statistics.
Agriculture is not only growing food for people and animals, but also growing other things like flowers and nursery plants, manure or dung, animal hides (skins or furs), leather, animals, fungi, fibers (cotton, wool, hemp, and flax), biofuel , and drugs (biopharmaceuticals, marijuana, opium).
Many people still live by subsistence agriculture, on a small farm. They can only grow enough food to feed the farmer, his family, and his animals. The yield is the amount of food grown on a given amount of land, and it is often low. This is because subsistence farmers are generally less educated, and they have less money to buy equipment. Drought and other problems sometimes cause famines. Where yields are low, deforestation can provide new land to grow more food. This provides more nutrition for the farmer’s family, but can be bad for the country and the surrounding environment over many years.
In some countries, farms are often fewer and larger. During the 20th century they have become more productive because farmers are able to grow better varieties of plants, use more fertilizer, use more water, and more easily control weeds and pests. Many farms also use machines, so fewer people can farm more land. There are fewer farmers in rich countries, but the farmers are able to grow more.
This kind of intensive agriculture comes with its own set of problems. Farmers use a lot of chemical fertilizers, pesticides (chemicals that kill bugs), and herbicides (chemicals that kill weeds). These chemicals can pollute the soil or the water. They can also create bugs and weeds that are more resistant to the chemicals, causing outbreaks of these pests. The soil can be damaged by erosion (blowing or washing away), salt buildup, or loss of structure. Irrigation (adding water from rivers) can pollute water and lower the water table. These problems have all got solutions, and modern young farmers usually have a good technical education.
Farmers select plants with better yield, taste, and nutritional value. They also choose plants that can survive plant disease and drought, and are easier to harvest. Centuries of artificial selection and breeding have changed crop plants. The crops produce better yield. Fertilizers, chemical pest control, and irrigation all help.
Some plants are improved with genetic engineering. One example is modifying the plant to resist herbicides.