Growing crops under irrigated water has been a method of agriculture for over 5,000 years. Irrigation involves the artificial application of water to grow plants in otherwise unsuitable conditions, suppress weed growth, protect plants against temperature fluctuations, and improve soil properties. Irrigation water can come from below the surface (aquifers, wells or springs) or from surface water (rivers, lakes or reservoirs). The water is applied to the crop in a variety of ways, depending on the crop attributes and requirements. Sprinkler systems, drip systems, and flooding are just a few methods of watering plants.
Crop production that relies on direct rainfall is termed dry-land farming, and involves the production of grain, fodder and pasture. Grazing is often an important part of crop production, as stubble is eaten to feed livestock and prepare the field for following plantings. Fertile soils, adequate rainfall and stable ecosystems are key elements for the long term productivity of these areas.
Aquaculture is the farming of aquatic species, including fish, mollusks, crustaceans and aquatic plants. Depending on the species, aquaculture is farmed in either freshwater, brackish water or marine water. Systems of production include ponds, fiberglass or concrete tanks, pens, and floating cages. Sustainable aquaculture offers an opportunity to provide nutrient rich food to consumers, whilst meeting environmental, social, and economic goals.
Orchards are plantings of fruit and nut trees grown for food production, and often also for environmental and aesthetic reasons. Orchards are well recognized for offering habitats to wildlife. The trees have mutually dependent relationships with pollinating insects and decomposing agents in the soil. Branches and leaves provide sanctuaries for small mammals and birds. Traditional orchards are grown in a low-intensity manner with little use of chemical inputs. The health of an orchard ecosystem is revealed in their complex biodiversity and nutritious, tasty produce.
Livestock farming has been practiced since the first animals were domesticated around 8,000 BC. Sheep, goats, and pigs were first domesticated in the Middle East. Cattle, which were faster and able to defend themselves, were not tamed until about 6,500 B.C. Livestock farming provided early humans with protein-rich meat, milk, and skins for clothing and shelter. Horns and bones were often crafted into working utensils and building materials. Livestock also provided farming power, transportation and currency. Animal wastes were incorporated back into the soil, providing a rich source of fertiliser to grow crops. Livestock continue to be the backbone of agriculture, providing goods and services daily to people around the globe.
Agroforestry is the integration of trees and shrubs for the combined benefit of animal and crop production and environmental sustainability. Agroforestry has been closely linked to the preservation and enhancement of land productivity. The environmental functions of agroforestry in the landscape include; ecosystem mimicry, improved hydrology, shelter of crops, animals and soils, biodiversity enhancement, and aesthetics. The productive function of trees include; timber, firewood, pulp, fodder, and a food source of fruits and nuts.
Traditionally, farmers raised many animal breeds and plant varieties for a nutritious and varied diet. Animal and plant species were taken to new lands, where they adapted to new environments, and evolved with unique features to suit.
Nevertheless, with the industrialization and specialization of farming, many breeds were replaced with a few, recognized to be high yielding, quick growing or displaying some other beneficial characteristic. Over time many species have been lost, due to cross breeding or lack of perceived economic benefit.
However, heritage and heirloom species are particularly well-adapted to local environments. They also show a higher tolerance to pests and diseases, and can display unique flavors and beneficial properties. The preservation of heritage animal breeds and heirloom plant species is vitally important in order to preserve their invaluable genetic diversity. When heritage and heirloom species become extinct, their unique genes are lost forever.