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Agriculture is the science and practice of producing crops and livestock from the natural resources of the earth. The primary aim of agriculture is to cause the land to produce more abundantly and at the same time to protect it from deterioration and misuse. The diverse branches of modern agriculture include agronomy, horticulture, economic entomology, animal husbandry, dairying, agricultural engineering, soil chemistry, and agricultural economics.
Early people depended for their survival on hunting, fishing, and food gathering. To this day, some groups still pursue this simple way of life, and others have continued as roving herders (see nomad). However, as various groups of people undertook deliberate cultivation of wild plants and domestication of wild animals, agriculture came into being. Cultivation of crops--notably grains such as wheat, rice, corn, rye, barley, and millet--encouraged settlement of stable farm communities, some of which grew to be towns and city-states in various parts of the world. Early agricultural implements--the digging stick, the hoe, the scythe, and the plow--developed slowly over the centuries, each innovation (e.g., the introduction of iron) causing profound changes in human life. From early times, too, people created ingenious systems of irrigation to control water supply, especially in semiarid areas and regions of periodic rainfall, e.g., the Middle East, the American Southwest and Mexico, the Nile Valley, and S Asia.
Farming was intimately associated with landholding
(see tenure) and therefore with political organization. Growth of large
estates involved the use of slaves (see slavery) and bound or semifree
labor. In the Western Middle Ages the manorial system was the typical organization
of more or less isolated units and determined the nature of the agricultural
village. In Asia large holdings by the nobles, partly arising from feudalism
(especially in China and Japan), produced a similar pattern.
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A hoe is usually a flat blade, variously shaped, set in a long wooden handle and used primarily for weeding and for loosening the soil. It was the first distinctly agricultural implement. The earliest hoes were forked sticks. Heavy flaked-stone implements mounted with bitumen were used in Mesopotamia in the 5th millennium B.C. They occur together with flint-bladed sickles and grinding stones--all of which are indications of farming settlements. Hoe blades were made of animal antlers and scapulae, or shoulder blades, and of shells. Variations on the hoe, such as the pick, the adz, and the plow, appeared as the blade progressed from stone to copper, bronze, iron, and steel. Modern garden hoes are of two types, the drag hoe and the thrust hoe. Truck farms use light scraping hoes, chopping hoes, and multibladed hoes, and in large-scale agriculture a cultivating implement called a rotary hoe is used for weeding. The hoe symbolizes the garden horticulture that sustained high civilizations, such as those of pre-Columbian America.
See M. Partridge, Farm Tools Through the Ages (1973).
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A plow or plough is an agricultural implement used to cut furrows in and turn up the soil, preparing it for planting. The plow is generally considered the most important tillage tool. Its beginnings in the Bronze Age were associated with the domestication of draft animals and the increasing demand for food resulting from the rise of cities. The plow is depicted on Egyptian monuments, mentioned in the Old Testament, and described by Hesiod and Vergil. The early plow consisted simply of a wooden wedge, tipped with iron and fastened to a single handle, and a beam, which was pulled by men or oxen. Such implements were capable of breaking but not of inverting the soil. The plow evolved gradually until c.1600, when British landlords attempted greater improvements. The first half of the 18th cent. saw the introduction into England of the moldboard, a curved board that turns over the slice of earth cut by the share. Important improvements in design and materials were made in the early part of the 19th cent. They included streamlined moldboards, replaceable shares, and steel plows with self-scouring moldboards. Standardized by 1870, the modern moldboard plow has been improved by various attachments, e.g., the colter, a sharp blade or disk that cuts the ground in advance of the share. In 19th-century America horses largely replaced oxen for drawing plows. Tractors now supply this power in most developed parts of the world. With more powerful tractors, larger plows have come into use. Among the various types of plows in use today are the reversible two-way plow for contour plowing; listers and middlebusters, which prepare shallow beds; the disk plow, whose revolving concave disks are useful in working hard or dry soil; the rotary plow, with an assembly of knives on the shaft that mix the surface growth with the soil; and the chisel plow, with points mounted on long shanks to loosen hard, dry soils and shatter subsurface hardpan. The plow often symbolizes agriculture, as in the great seals of New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and other states.
See publications of the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture; C. Culpin, Farm Machinery (12th ed. 1992).
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one of a group of people without fixed habitation, especially pastoralists. (Some authorities prefer the terms non-sedentary or migratory rather than nomadic to describe mobile hunter-gatherers.) Wandering herders living in tents still occupy sections of Asia, and the hunting groups of the Far North, including the Eskimo, still predominate in much of the arctic and subarctic regions; parts of Africa and Australia are also peopled with nomadic groups. Although nomadism has been a way of life for many groups, it is on the decline. Besides the herders and the hunters and fishers, there are nomadic groups that move about in search of seasonal wild plants as food (such as the camass bulb formerly sought by the Native Americans of the Pacific Northwest and the wild rice gathered in the Great Lakes region). Peoples who move seasonally but have permanent homes for part of the year are said to be seminomadic; there have been seminomadic peoples of various types throughout history. The term semisedentary is applied to traditional populations who practice slash-and-burn agriculture in tropical forest clearings and are forced to move their villages periodically due to the soil exhaustion. Nomadic groups are generally organized in tribal units, and usually the adult males are closely knit into war bands in order to establish territorial rights over the area within which a group migrates. The incursions of nomads into settled civilizations marked the early history of ancient Egypt and Babylonia and reached their height with the great Mongol invasions of W Asia and Europe in the 13th, 14th, and early 15th cent., notably under Jenghiz Khan and Timur. Formerly efforts were made to generalize about nomads and find a common denominator among such diverse cultures as those of the North American Plains tribes, the Bedouin of Arabia, and the roving Gypsies, but these have largely been abandoned in favor of studying each culture as a unit. Even the idea that nomadism represents a transition from the Neolithic hunter to the sedentary farmer is not accepted as valid. There are instances of peoples who have abandoned farming and have become nomads, e.g., those Native Americans of the Great Plains who forsook their farms to hunt bison, after the horse had been introduced.
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