The farming faces in modern times with great challenges in terms of ecology, sustainability and quantity of production, in front of a human population that does not stop growing year after year. And from these considerations come the opposing concepts of intensive agriculture and extensive agriculture.
- intensive agriculture. It is one whose goal is to increase its production levels to the maximum, through the use of technology, fertilizers and chemicals, and normally a limited area of territory, since it starts from the maximum use of space as possible. Its extreme form is soilless agriculture. For example: massive monocultures, greenhouse agriculture.
- Extensive agriculture. It has a much lower total amount of production, despite occurring on larger surfaces and with more labor, but through more environmentally friendly processes that can often, in cases where chemical products are not used, be cataloged from ecological. For example: rainfed agriculture, rice fields in Asia.
Normally, this type of agriculture depends on environmental conditions and climatic cycles, and in developing countries it can be associated with depressed and low-income productive sectors.
Differences between intensive and extensive agriculture
The main difference It has to do with production, which is much higher in the intensive than in the extensive, although the impacts on the environment and the nature of the products obtained are also so.
The intensive agriculture operates more at the rate of demand for food goods, taking advantage of small tracts of land (sometimes it does not even need soil) and making use of pesticides, chemical fertilizers, bioengineered seeds and, normally, undertaking successive crops of the same plant variety (monocultures) that often lead to soil depletion.
The extensive agriculture It resorts to the cycles of the territory where it operates, which is often combined with livestock-type activities (livestock, grazing), but is always subject to the climate and soil conditions, which can be unfavorable and impair its processes. However, the products obtained in this way are usually considered healthier, since they include a lower (or no) load of chemicals and pesticides, as well as more sustainable, since the plant species alternate and thus do not deplete the soil.
Finally, intensive agriculture requires greater investments in energy (electricity), resources (water) and technology, while extensive agriculture depends on natural hydrological cycles.
Examples of intensive agriculture
- Massive monocultures. Like wheat, corn, and barley crops in the North American plains, or soybeans in Argentina, these are highly profitable monocultures for both domestic consumption and export, and despite being highly mechanized, they produce environmental damage and damage. they impoverish the species by always preferring bioengineered seeds and using pesticides (fertilizers, pesticides, etc.).
- Greenhouse agriculture. Greenhouses are closed places with controlled climatic conditions, generally transparent to allow the entry of sunlight but prevent the dispersion of heat. They are widely used for the intensive cultivation of certain plant species, taking advantage of the simulated climate to enhance their productivity.
- Hydroponic agriculture. In it mineral solutions are used to cultivate plants, instead of soil itself. Sometimes an inert matter is used to support the plants, other times water directly, into which the substances necessary for plant growth are poured.
- Irrigated agriculture. Using automated irrigation systems, humidity levels are maintained that are conducive to the cultivation of a few plant variants, thus allowing these foods to be constantly supplied without the need to coordinate the rainy and drought seasons.
- Commercial flower crops. The flower industry also has its intensive variant, through vast rose gardens, sunflower plantations or other highly coveted flowers, both for aesthetic arrangements and for perfumery work. This includes aromatic crops, such as lavender, which require constant soil preparation to hasten flowering and pests to prevent them from ruining it.
Examples of extensive agriculture
- The farm. Grouping livestock activities (cattle, swine, poultry) with agriculture, this development model takes advantage of the natural fertilizer of the animals and the plant residues of the harvest as food, to point to a kind of artificial ecosystem where various processes feed into each other .
- Rainfed agriculture. Given its scarce margin of rainfall or convenient hydrography, this type of crops usually prefers winter fruits, which coincide with the time of highest humidity (wheat, barley, rye), since only this natural water source is used.
- Rice fields in Asia. The largest producers of this grain in the world are Asian countries, especially China and India, and they carry it out in long wetlands that require a lot of labor and relatively little mechanized intervention. Despite this, Chinese rice production reached almost 200 million tons in 2010.
- Subsistence farming. An example perhaps a bit extreme, since the plantation, conuco or family garden provides just enough for a family to subsist and exchange or sell the surplus with their neighbors. It is perhaps the agricultural point furthest from the needs of the world food market and therefore requires almost no technological intervention or inputs.
- Ecological crops. These are variants of extensive agriculture whose mission is to dispense with all kinds of pollutants and machinery, betting on products that are as natural as possible, which instead of volume offer the market food quality.