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Extensive Farming

Extensive Farming

Agriculture, as a human practice, is something of a mishmash of natural forces and human labor capital. Farmers manipulate conditions as much as possible through their own blood, sweat, and tears, but then must look to nature to sort out the rest.

Just how much time, money, and labor is a farmer forced to invest? How much does a farmer leave to nature? This time-labor-land ratio ranges from "a decent amount" to "every waking moment." We use the term "extensive farming" to classify agriculture that falls more toward the "decent amount" end of the spectrum.

Extensive Farming Definition

Extensive farming is a measurement of how much of an area of land is being exploited, and how much personal input is required to manage that exploitation.

Extensive farming: small inputs of labor/money relative to the size of the farmland.

Extensive farming includes, for example, a three-acre farm with five cattle that are being raised for beef. The farmer needs to maintain the farm's infrastructure and make sure the cattle remain healthy, but the labor input is relatively low compared to many other farms out there: the cows can essentially take care of themselves.

Intensive vs Extensive Farming

As you might imagine, intensive farming is the opposite of extensive farming: large inputs of labor relative to the farmland. Suppose the three acres we mentioned above were instead used to plant, grow, and harvest 75,000 corn plants, including the use of pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers to ensure maximum yield. That's intensive farming.

Generally speaking, intensive farming has higher labor (and cost) inputs and higher yields than extensive agriculture. In other words, the more you put in, the more you get out. This is not universally the case, but purely from an efficiency standpoint, intensive agriculture usually comes out on top.

So why is extensive agriculture practiced? Here are a few reasons:

  • The physical environment/climate conditions simply do not support intensive agriculture.

  • Farmers are physically/economically unable to invest the required resources necessary to make intensive agriculture feasible.

  • There is economic/social demand for agricultural products produced through extensive agriculture; not all agriculture can be practiced intensively.

  • Cultural tradition favors extensive agricultural methods.

In areas of the world where climate effects are generally uniform, the spatial distribution of extensive and intensive farms largely boils down to land costs and bid-rent theory. Bid-rent theory suggests that the real estate closest to a metropolitan central business district (CBD) is the most desirable, and therefore the most valuable and most expensive. Businesses located in the CBD tend to be the most profitable because they can take advantage of the dense population. The further you move away from a city, the cheaper real estate tends to get, and the lack of population density (and associated cost of travel) drives profit margins down.

You can probably see where this is going. Farms closer to the city feel a greater pressure to be productive and profitable, so are the most likely to be intensive. Farms further from the city (and which consequently have less of a relationship with it) are more likely to be extensive.

Economies of scale, in tandem with government subsidies, can undercut the bid-rent theory, which is why huge swathes of the US Midwest practice intensive crop cultivation so far from major CBDs. The size of these farms outweighs any potential monetary loss that would be caused by transportation costs and a general shortage of local customers.

Characteristics of Extensive Farming

The single defining characteristic of extensive farming is that it has less labor input than intensive farming. But let's expand a little bit on some of what we mentioned above.

Livestock

Extensive farms are more likely to revolve around livestock rather than crops.

Outside of industrial farms, a given plot of land simply cannot support as many animals as it can crops, effectively limiting the amount of labor and money that can be invested to begin with.

Additionally, there are some environments where crop cultivation is simply an exercise in futility—which leads us to location.

Location

Farmers living in drier, more arid climates are more likely to practice extensive agriculture.

As long as the soil remains healthy, temperate climates tend to support intensive farming very well, but not all climates do. Let's say you had an acre of land somewhere in North Africa: you couldn't grow 25,000 stalks of corn even if you wanted to. The local climate simply would not allow it. But what you could do is maintain a small herd of hardy goats that could survive by grazing on desert scrub with relatively little exertion on your part.

Extensive Farming, Characteristics of Extensive Farming, Location, StudySmarterFig. 1 - A Moroccon desert is not the ideal location to practice intensive farming

There's also the bid-rent theory, which we mentioned earlier. Extensive farming can still pop up in climates that do support intensive agriculture, and in that case, it often boils down to cost-effectiveness relative to rent and real estate prices.

Profitability

Subsistence farms or farms that revolve around agritourism are more likely to be extensive farms.

Subsistence farms are designed to meet the needs of a family or community. A subsistence farm is not meant to generate an income. The land will only be used insofar as it meets people's needs. A single family of six does not need 30,000 potatoes, so that family will likely practice extensive agriculture by default.

Additionally, farms that generate most of their income through agritourism have less incentive to practice intensive farming. An alpaca rancher who generates more money from tourism than fiber sales may prioritize alpacas' friendliness over fiber quality. A blueberry farmer that allows visitors to harvest their own berries may limit the number of bushes on the farm to allow for a more scenic experience.

Mobility

Nomadic communities are more likely to practice extensive farming than intensive farming.

When you're often on the move, you cannot invest too much time or labor into just one plot of land. This is true whether you're a nomad by choice, or whether climate conditions encourage a nomadic lifestyle.

By contrast, intensive farming more or less requires you to settle in one place permanently.

Extensive Farming Methods

Let's take a look at three different extensive farming methods.

Shifting Cultivation

Shifting cultivation is an extensive crop cultivation technique. An area of land (often a section of a forest) is cleared, turned into a temporary farm, then allowed to "re-wild" as farmers move onto the next section of forest.

Shifting cultivation is usually practiced as subsistence agriculture. The farmers may be nomads, or they may have a sedentary lifestyle with just the farms themselves changing location.

Extensive farming, Extensive Farming Methods, Shifting Cultivation, StudySmarterFig. 2 - A plot in India has been cleared for shifting cultivation

Shifting cultivation is most commonly practiced in environments with poor soil, but which have the other conditions necessary to support crop cultivation, such as tropical rainforests. One of the most widespread methods of shifting cultivation is slash and burn agriculture: an area of the forest is slash and burned, with the charred remains left to infuse the soil with nutrients before farmers plant.

Ranching

Ranching is an agricultural practice in which grazing livestock are left inside a fenced pasture. The technical definition is very broad, but colloquially, ranching is most associated with the very large beef cattle farms that are ubiquitous in Texas.

Ranching can be highly profitable. Although most beef-oriented ranches cannot compete with the sheer size and output of industrial livestock farms, these ranches pride themselves on the quality of their beef and the relative quality of life for their animals.

Because many ranches are so large, they may replace the natural ecosystems that would otherwise be on that land.

Nomadic Herding

Nomadic herding, also called pastoral nomadism or nomadic pastoralism, is about as extensive as it gets. Nomads stay on the move to allow their herds to continuously graze. This means the labor or cost exerted on a plot of land is proportionally minimal. Nomadic herding is characterized by both transhumance (the practice of moving herds to different locations) and pastoralism (the practice of letting herds graze freely wherever they wish).

Nomadic herding is typically practiced in areas where no other agricultural methods are practical, such as North Africa and Mongolia.

Extensive Farming Examples

Below, we've included one example of extensive livestock agriculture and one example of extensive crop cultivation.

Maasai Pastoralism in East Africa

In East Africa, the Maasai practice extensive pastoralism. Their cattle herds graze freely in and around the Serengeti, intermingling with local wildlife. Maasai men, armed with spears, guard the herds.

Extensive Farming, Extensive Farming Examples, Maasai cattle, StudySmarterFig. 3 - Maasai cattle intermingle with giraffes

This practice has long put the Maasai at odds with local predators like lions, which may target the cattle. The Maasai almost always retaliate by killing the lions. The cultural practice is now so embedded that many young Maasai men will seek out and kill a male lion as a rite of passage, even if that lion has not attacked any Maasai cattle.

As the rest of East Africa continues to urbanize, wild regions like the Serengeti have become monetized for ecotourism. But that requires that the ecosystem remain intact. The governments of Kenya and Tanzania have increasingly pressured the Maasai to fence their livestock, so some Maasai have transitioned from pastoralism to ranching.

Svedjebruk in Northern Europe

Most of Northern Europe experiences rainfall throughout the year, leaching the soil and robbing it of nutrients. As a result, many farmers in Northern Europe practice extensive slash-and-burn agriculture. In Sweden, this practice is called svedjebruk.

Increasing global concerns over deforestation have caused some governments to question the long-term sustainability of slash-and-burn agriculture. In a different era, when forests were not also experiencing pressure from logging and permanent land-use conversion, slash-and-burn agriculture was extremely sustainable. As our population sizes have increased, governments have to make a choice about how our forestland is to be used as a resource lest our forests disappear entirely.

Extensive Farming Advantages and Disadvantages

Extensive farming comes with a number of advantages:

  • Significantly less pollution than intensive agriculture

  • Less land degradation than intensive agriculture

  • Better quality of life for livestock

  • Provides a sustainable food source or income in areas where other agricultural methods do not work

  • Prioritizes sustainability and cultural tradition over pure efficiency

However, increasingly, intensive farming is favored due to extensive farming's disadvantages:

  • Most extensive farming methods do not mesh well with modern urbanization and economic development

  • Extensive farming is not as efficient as intensive farming, a major concern as more and more land is developed

  • Extensive farming alone cannot produce enough food to support modern population sizes

  • Extensive pastoralism leaves herds vulnerable to predators and disease

As the human population continues to increase, extensive farming is likely to become less and less common throughout the world.

Extensive Farming - Key takeaways

  • Extensive farming is agriculture in which farmers input a smaller amount of labor/money relative to the size of the farmland.
  • Extensive farming methods include shifting cultivation, ranching, and nomadic herding.
  • Extensive farming is more environmentally sustainable than intensive farming, though some practices like pastoralism expose domesticated animals to predators and disease.
  • Extensive farming alone cannot support modern population sizes, nor are many extensive farming techniques compatible with modern economic systems. As our population increases, extensive farming will likely become less and less common.

References

  1. Fig. 1: Moroccan Desert 42 (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Moroccan_Desert_42.jpg) by Bouchaib1973, is licensed by CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/deed.en)
  2. Fig. 2: Shifting cultivation swidden slash burn IMG 0575 (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Shifting_cultivation_swidden_slash_burn_IMG_0575.jpg) by Rohit Naniwadekar (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Rohitjahnavi), is licensed by CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/deed.en)

Frequently Asked Questions about Extensive Farming

Extensive farming methods include shifting cultivation, ranching, and nomadic herding. 

Extensive farming can be practiced anywhere, but it is more common in areas where intensive farming is either economically or climatically unfeasible, such as North Africa or Mongolia. 

An example of extensive farming includes the pastoralism practiced by the Maasai in East Africa. 

Because the ratio of livestock (or crop) per land is much smaller in extensive agriculture than intensive agriculture, the environmental impact is much smaller. Think of the mass pollution caused by an industrial livestock farm vs the pollution caused by a few dozen cattle spread out over 20 miles. However, slash-and-burn causes temporary deforestation, pastoralism can spread disease, and ranching infrastructure can impede natural ecosystems. 

The main characteristic of extensive farming is that it has less labor input than intensive farming.

Final Extensive Farming Quiz

Question

True or False: "Farming" only refers to crop-based agriculture, so does not include ranching. 

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Answer

False! Farming and agriculture are synonymous. Ranching is therefore a type of farming. 

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Question

Which of the following does ranching best correspond to? 

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Answer

Animal husbandry.

Show question

Question

Which of the following agricultural developments or practices have helped enable ranching?

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Answer

Barbed wire.

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Question

Which of these animals are most associated with ranching? Select all that apply. 

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Answer

Cattle.

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Question

You visit a local pig farm. The pigs are contained in small enclosures where they are given large helpings of grain and produce to eat. Is it appropriate to call this farm a "ranch"?

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Answer

No, the pigs are not on an open pasture and they are not grazing. 

Show question

Question

You visit a local alpaca farm. The alpacas are on two acres of fenced pasture and are actively grazing. Is it appropriate to call this farm a "ranch"?

Show answer

Answer

Yes, the alpacas are grazing livestock being raised in a pasture.

Show question

Question

Ranch variations include all of the following except: 

Show answer

Answer

Naval Ranch. 

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Question

How does ranching relate to deforestation? 

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Answer

Ranchers may cut down trees to clear more land for grazing. 

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Question

Regenerative ranching seeks to:

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Answer

Restore soil and plant health.

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Question

Which of the following laid the groundwork for modern Texas ranching? 

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Answer

The Spanish.

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Question

A friend of yours is taking over a family farm. She intends to grow about 250,000 stalks of corn over 10 acres. Is this intensive farming or extensive farming? 

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Answer

Intensive farming. 

Show question

Question

A friend of yours intends to buy five acres of land, on which he will maintain a personal dairy cow and a few chickens. Is this intensive farming or extensive farming? 

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Answer

Extensive farming. 

Show question

Question

True or False: You are more likely to encounter intensive farming in areas that are very hot and dry.

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Answer

False! Those climate conditions typically cannot support widespread intensive farming. 

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Question

Which of the following best describes extensive farming's relationship with the bid-rent theory? 

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Answer

There is less pressure to be economically "efficient" the further you are from the CBD. 

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Question

Extensive farming generally has _____ inputs and ______ outputs than intensive agriculture.

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Answer

Fewer; fewer.

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Question

True or False: Because an industrial livestock factory/farm does not have to take up very much physical space, it can be considered a form of extensive agriculture. 

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Answer

False! That is the very definition of intensive agriculture: more inputs of labor and cost relative to physical space.

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Question

Which of the following statements about extensive agriculture is MOST accurate? 

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Answer

Nomads are more likely to practice extensive farming than intensive farming. 

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Question

A farming community slashes and burns a section of forest each year to use as a temporary farm. Which of the following terms is MOST appropriate for their farming method?

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Answer

Shifting cultivation, an extensive farming method.

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Question

A nomadic farming community shepherds its cattle herd from place to place, allowing it to graze freely. Which of the following terms is MOST appropriate for their farming method?

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Answer

Nomadic herding, an extensive farming method. 

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Question

Which of the following statements about ranching is true?

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Answer

Ranching is an extensive farming method that revolves around grazing livestock. 

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Question

The Maasai in East Africa practice: 

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Answer

Pastoralism.

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The Swedish word svedjebruk refers to: 

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Answer

Slash-and-burn in Northern Europe.

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Question

Which of the following best explain why extensive farming is likely to decrease in the coming years? 

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Answer

Most extensive agriculture cannot support modern population sizes.

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True or False: Extensive agriculture is less harmful to the environment than intensive agriculture. 

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Answer

True! 

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Question

True or False: Extensive agriculture is not practiced at all in Europe.

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Answer

False! The rainy climate of Northern Europe leaves many soils bereft of nutrients, which gave rise to slash-and-burn techniques.

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Question

TRUE or FALSE: Shifting cultivation is an intensive farming practice.

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Answer

False.

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Question

Which of the following is the correct order of the cycle of shifting cultivation?

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Answer

Site selection – burning – slashing – cultivation – abandonment – fallow.

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Question

Some of the main characteristics of shifting cultivation are: 

i. Burning to clear land.

ii. Manual labour.

iii. Dependence on artificial chemicals.

iv. Rotation of farming plots.

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Answer

i, ii, iv.

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Question

TRUE or FALSE

Shifting cultivation plots regenerate more quickly than other types of cleared forest plots.

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Answer

True.

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Question

Shift cultivation is NOT practised in which of the following regions?

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Answer

Northeast Asia.

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Question

The areas in which shifting cultivation is practised experience average monthly temperatures above _____ oC.

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Answer

23.

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Question

Which of the following statements is TRUE?

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Answer

Areas in which shifting cultivation is practised have low humidity.

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Question

The growing of more than one crop on the same plot of land concurrently is called _____. 

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Answer

Swidden.

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Question

What is shifting cultivation called in India?

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Answer

Jhum or jhoom cultivation. 

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Question

What is shifting cultivation called in Venezuela?

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Answer

Konuko/Conoco 

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