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Agriculture Productivity

What does “productivity” mean to you? A “productive” day might involve completing school assignments, household chores, exercise, or a shift at work. However, in agriculture, productivity refers to something slightly different. It's the ratio of agricultural inputs to outputs. If that doesn't mean anything to you, think back to GCSE Physics and the energy efficiency of appliances. Efficient appliances maximise their…

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Agriculture Productivity

Agriculture Productivity

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What does “productivity” mean to you? A “productive” day might involve completing school assignments, household chores, exercise, or a shift at work.

However, in agriculture, productivity refers to something slightly different. It's the ratio of agricultural inputs to outputs. If that doesn't mean anything to you, think back to GCSE Physics and the energy efficiency of appliances. Efficient appliances maximise their energy output.

Get ready to sow the seeds of knowledge with this article!


Agricultural Productivity: Meaning

Let's begin with a definition.

Agricultural productivity is the ratio of agricultural inputs to outputs.

The greater the agricultural output (for a given input), the higher the agricultural productivity of a farm. In simple terms, we can think of agricultural productivity using this equation: output ÷ input = productivity.

Importance of Agricultural Productivity

It’s important to maximise agricultural productivity. Why?

Food Security

What is food security?

Food security is defined as reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable and nutritious food.

Maintaining high agricultural productivity is a key part of food security. Unless agricultural output is high, food prices will rise. Poorer people will struggle to afford an adequate, nutritious diet. Meanwhile, subsistence farmers may struggle to grow enough food for themselves and their families.

Subsistence farming is small-scale farming, where most produce is consumed by the farmers and their families.

Approximately 2 billion people rely on subsistence farming.

Income

A farm's profit is equivalent to its revenue, minus its costs. Increasing agricultural productivity enhances revenue without increasing costs. Thus, farms will make more profit.

Environmental Benefits

Modern agriculture is detrimental to the environment. It's associated with pollution, deforestation, and greenhouse gas emissions. Increasing productivity reduces the land and energy requirements of agriculture. In turn, this results in less environmental degradation, less deforestation, and fewer greenhouse gas emissions.

Measuring Agricultural Productivity

It can be difficult to measure agricultural productivity due to all the different inputs and outputs. However, we can use agricultural energetics to gauge an idea of a farm's productivity.

Agricultural energetics is the study of energy flows and stores in an agricultural system.

In a way, agriculture itself is an energy conversion process. Solar energy is converted into food (chemical) energy by photosynthesis.

But this conversion process requires energy to operate farm machinery such as tractors and to regulate the temperature of buildings like greenhouses and cattle sheds.

Agriculture Productivity tractor VaiaFigure 1: Tractors are heavy. They can weigh up to 6000 kg – thus, requiring large amounts of energy to operate. Source: unsplash.com

When considering agricultural energetics, we also need to consider embodied energy the energy necessary for the life cycle of a product, including extraction of raw materials and construction. For example, we need to consider the indirect energy use of producing agrochemicals, irrigation, and the construction of buildings, vehicles, and equipment.

Productivity and Efficiency

Productivity and efficiency are similar descriptors, but they mean slightly different things.

To increase productivity, an individual tries to complete more work using the same amount of resources.

Energy productivity = energy output ÷ energy input.

Farmers aim to enhance their energy productivity by increasing output.

To increase efficiency, an individual tries to complete the same amount of work using fewer resources.

Energy efficiency = (useful energy output ÷ total energy input) x 100%.

Farmers aim to enhance their energy efficiency by decreasing input.

Energy Subsidies

What is energy subsidy in agriculture?

Energy subsidy is the energy of input per calorie of food produced.

The energy subsidy is greater for modern agricultural practices than traditional practices.

Modern farming relies primarily on fossil fuels to:

  • Produce agrochemicals

  • Operate farm vehicles and machinery

  • Pump water for irrigation

  • Transport produce

  • Process and package food for retail

Next time you're in a supermarket, look at where the food was grown. You might see tomatoes from Spain, chocolate from Ghana, and bananas from Ecuador. Transporting the produce from the countries of origin all the way to a UK supermarket significantly bumps up its energy subsidy. Buying local produce reduces agricultural energy usage, and supports small farmers in your area!

Intensive and Extensive Systems

Intensive farming refers to an agricultural system where there are high levels of labour and capital in comparison to the land area.

Extensive farming refers to an agricultural system where large farms are cultivated with lower inputs of labour and capital.

The differences between the two systems are summarised in this table.

Properties
Intensive Systems
Extensive Systems
Land HoldingSmall and expensiveLarge and cheap
LocationDensely populated areasSparsely populated areas
Proximity to MarketNear marketFurther from market
Output per HectareHighLow
Labour and CapitalHighLow

Intensive systems have a high energy input, but they are much more efficient regarding output per land area. However, they use large amounts of agrochemicals (which lead to pollution) and often keep livestock inside instead of allowing them to graze freely.

Excess agrochemicals can run off into water bodies. The high nutrient input triggers rapid algal growth, leading to toxic algal blooms that deplete the water of oxygen, killing marine organisms. This process is known as eutrophication.

Agriculture Productivity eutrophication VaiaFigure 2: Water bodies suffering from eutrophication are easily identified by their greenish or cyan colour. Source: unsplash.com

Extensive systems are less efficient regarding output per area. However, their energy input is considerably lower. System productivity varies, depending on natural fertility, climate, and terrain. Extensive systems are less damaging to the environment, and animal welfare is better.

As well as improving animal welfare, grazing can improve soil fertility. Livestock manure is rich in nutrients, thus reducing the requirement for artificial fertilisers - reducing energy requirements, costs, and pollution.

Examples of Agricultural Productivity Measurements

Let's put what we've just learned into context.

Worked Example: Energy Productivity

Let's say that the energy input of a farm was 45000 MJ/hectare (megajoules per hectare), and the energy output was 130000 MJ/hectare. Calculate the productivity.

Productivity = energy output ÷ energy input.

Energy Productivity = 130000 ÷ 45000

Energy Productivity = 2.89

Worked Example: Energy Efficiency

Imagine that the energy input of a farm was 20000 MJ/hectare, and the energy output was 16500 MJ/hectare. Calculate the energy efficiency.

Efficiency = (useful energy output ÷ total energy input) x 100.

Energy Efficiency = (16500 ÷ 20000) x 100.

Energy Efficiency = 82.5%

Worked Example: Energy Subsidies of Different Foods

Not all foods are equal. Some require more energy to produce. Different foods also have different caloric densities (i.e. number of kilocalories per gram). Producing foods with a high calorie density and minimal energy input is a way of maximising agricultural productivity.

To work out the energy usage per calorie, we need to convert our energy input and output to the same unit.

FoodEnergy Input (kWh)
Conversion
Energy Input (J)
Energy Output (kcal)
Conversion
Energy Output (J)
Milk
1.65
1 kWh = 3600000 J
5940000
467
1 kcal = 4184 J
1953928
Beef
69.3
24948000017707405680
Chicken9.683484800015306401520
Apples3.67132120004301799120

To calculate efficiency: (energy output ÷ energy input) x 100.

FoodOutput ÷ EnergyEnergy Efficiency
Milk1953928 ÷ 5940000 = 0.3290.329 × 100 = 32.9%
Beef7405680 ÷ 249480000 = 0.0300.030 × 100 = 3.0%
Chicken6401520 ÷ 34848000 = 0.1840.184 × 100 = 18.4%
Apples1799120 ÷ 13212000 = 0.1360.136 × 100 = 13.6%

Which food has the highest energy efficiency?

Improving Agricultural Productivity

Farmers can boost their agricultural productivity through genetic manipulation and effective land use. You can find more information in the specialised articles, but for now, let's look at a summary.

Genetic Manipulation

Farmers can modify the genes of crops or livestock using technology. Methods include:

  • Selective Breeding: breeding individuals with desirable characteristics for many generations

  • Vegetative Propagation: 'cloning' a plant with desirable characteristics

  • Genetic Engineering: introducing a gene from another organism that codes for a desired trait or characteristic

Effective Land Use

Farmers can maximise their land use by increasing their stocking density or crop density.

Stocking density is the number of livestock per unit of grazing area. Recommended stocking density usually depends on the size of the animal.

For example, the maximum stocking density for hens is one hen per 2.5m2. In contrast, one horse may need up to 8000m2, depending on its size and activity level.

Agriculture Productivity grazing sheep VaiaFigure 3: Increasing stocking density reduces land use. Source: unsplash.com

Crop density is the number of individual plants per unit of ground area. Increasing crop density can enhance agricultural productivity.

Monocultures

Monoculture plantations are large areas of land that contain just one variety of a single crop. There's almost no variation. Growing crops in monocultures is simple, efficient, and provides a high crop yield. However, their limited genetic diversity makes them highly susceptible to pests and diseases. To counteract this, farmers rely heavily on agrochemicals, which pollute the environment and affect natural pollinators.


I hope that this article has clarified agricultural productivity for you. Remember that agricultural productivity is the ratio of agricultural inputs to outputs. Maximising agricultural productivity increases food security, boosts farm income, and brings environmental benefits.

Agriculture Productivity - Key takeaways

  • Agricultural productivity is the ratio of agricultural inputs to outputs.
  • Productivity = outputs ÷ inputs.
  • Maximising agricultural productivity increases food security, boosts farm income, and brings environmental benefits.
  • Agricultural productivity can be measured via productivity, efficiency, and energy subsidies.
  • Intensive systems use high levels of labour and capital compared to the land area. Extensive systems cultivate large farms with lower inputs of labour and capital.
  • Farmers can enhance agricultural productivity by genetic manipulation, increasing their stocking or crop density, and planting monocultures.

1. Agricultural Document Library, Domestic Fowls (England): Code of Recommendations for the Welfare of Livestock (PB0076), 2011

2. Farmers Weekly, Is farm machinery getting too heavy?, 2014

3. International Fund for Agricultural Development, Smallholders can feed the world, 2011

4. J. Poore, Reducing food’s environmental impacts through producers and consumers, Science, 2018

5. J. W. Singer, Using the recommended stocking density to predict equine pasture management, Journal of Equine Veterinary Science, 2002

6. Nutracheck, Calorie Counter, 2022

7. Praveen Ghanta, List of Foods by Environmental Impact and Energy Efficiency, The Oil Drum, 2010

Frequently Asked Questions about Agriculture Productivity

Agricultural production contributes to food security, ensuring that the world's population has enough to eat.

Agricultural productivity is calculated by using this equation: output ÷ input = productivity.

Agricultural productivity is the ratio of agricultural inputs to outputs.

Agricultural production is the use of cultivated plants or animals to produce food. However, agricultural productivity refers to the ratio of agricultural inputs to outputs.

Farmers can improve agricultural productivity by genetic manipulation, increasing stocking or crop density, or growing crops in monocultures.

Final Agriculture Productivity Quiz

Agriculture Productivity Quiz - Teste dein Wissen

Question

Define monoculture.

Show answer

Answer

Monoculture is the cultivation of a single crop in a given area.

Show question

Question

What are the criteria for a plantation to be considered a monoculture?

Show answer

Answer

The plantation must be large, it must focus on one crop, and it must cater to a distant market.

Show question

Question

Define subsistence farming.

Show answer

Answer

Subsistence farming is the practice of only growing crops for oneself and their family.

Show question

Question

How much of the UK's food is imported?

Show answer

Answer

80%

Show question

Question

Define crop rotation.

Show answer

Answer

Crop rotation is the practice of growing different crops on the same field in a several-year cycle.

Show question

Question

Which country grows the most corn?

Show answer

Answer

The United States

Show question

Question

What is the role of government subsidies in funding monocultures?

Show answer

Answer

Government subsidises takes the form of insurance, guaranteeing a minimum selling price despite any decline in market value. 

Show question

Question

What are two advantages of growing crops in monocultures?

Show answer

Answer

Consistent costs

Show question

Question

Why do monocultures rely on chemicals like pesticides and insecticides?

Show answer

Answer

Monocultures have a low genetic diversity, making them susceptible to pests and diseases.

Show question

Question

Monocultures lead to soil erosion.

Show answer

Answer

True

Show question

Question

What are some health problems associated with the use of pesticides and insecticides?

Show answer

Answer

Children of farmworkers are prone to cognitive impairment, infertility, and increased cancer risks.

Show question

Question

Define polyculture.

Show answer

Answer

Polyculture is the simultaneous cultivation of multiple crops in a given area.

Show question

Question

Which plants are grown together using the Three Sisters method?

Show answer

Answer

Sweetcorn, beans, and squash are grown together using the Three Sisters method.

Show question

Question

Monoculture plantations do not used specialised equipment.

Show answer

Answer

False

Show question

Question

What is wheat used for?

Show answer

Answer

Livestock feed

Show question

Question

Define genetic manipulation.

Show answer

Answer

Genetic manipulation is the modification of an organism's genes using technology.

Show question

Question

What does GMO stand for?

Show answer

Answer

GMO stands for genetically modified organism.

Show question

Question

How does selective breeding work?

Show answer

Answer

Farmers breed individuals with desirable traits for many generations, until the trait becomes established in the population.

Show question

Question

Selective breeding is limited by existing genetic variation.

Show answer

Answer

True

Show question

Question

What is the disadvantage of limited genetic diversity?

Show answer

Answer

If a population has limited genetic diversity, they are equally vulnerable to the same diseases.

Show question

Question

What is vegetative propagation?

Show answer

Answer

Vegetative propagation is the process of taking part of a parent plant and causing it to regenerate into a new plant. 

Show question

Question

Plants produced by vegetative propagation are not genetically identical.

Show answer

Answer

False

Show question

Question

What are two limitations of vegetative propagation?

Show answer

Answer

The plants have a lower lifespan

Show question

Question

Define genetic engineering.

Show answer

Answer

Genetic engineering is modifying an organism's genome by introducing a gene from another organism.

Show question

Question

What are vectors made from?

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Answer

Vectors are made from bacterial plasmids or viruses.

Show question

Question

What health concerns could be caused by genetic engineering?

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Answer

Genetic engineering could result in allergic reactions and toxins.

Show question

Question

Why is inbreeding bad?

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Answer

Inbreeding increases the risk of inheriting harmful homozygous alleles, that may cause disease or suffering.

Show question

Question

How many companies control 75% of global seed sales?

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Answer

10

Show question

Question

Define eugenics.

Show answer

Answer

Eugenics is the practice of altering a population's genetic composition through selective breeding and forced sterilisation.

Show question

Question

What is preimplantation genetic testing used for?

Show answer

Answer

Preimplantation genetic testing is used to test IVF embryos for genetic disorders before implantation into the uterus.

Show question

Question

Define agricultural productivity.

Show answer

Answer

Agricultural productivity is the ratio of agricultural inputs to outputs.

Show question

Question

How do you calculate agricultural productivity?

Show answer

Answer

output ÷ input = productivity

Show question

Question

Define food security.

Show answer

Answer

Food security is defined as reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable and nutritious food.

Show question

Question

Define subsistence farming.

Show answer

Answer

Subsistence farming is small-scale farming, where most produce is consumed by the farmers and their families.

Show question

Question

What is agricultural energetics?

Show answer

Answer

Agricultural energetics is the study of energy flows and stores in an agricultural system.

Show question

Question

How do you calculate energy efficiency?

Show answer

Answer

efficiency = (useful energy output ÷ total energy input) x 100%

Show question

Question

What is energy subsidy in agriculture?

Show answer

Answer

Energy subsidy is the energy of input per calorie of food produced.

Show question

Question

This type of agricultural system has high levels of labour and capital in comparison to the land area. 

Show answer

Answer

Intensive system

Show question

Question

This type of agricultural system cultivates large farms with lower inputs of labour and capital.

Show answer

Answer

Extensive system

Show question

Question

Why are agrochemicals problematic?

Show answer

Answer

Agrochemicals cause pollution.

Show question

Question

Which type of system is more efficient per unit of land area?

Show answer

Answer

Intensive system

Show question

Question

What are the three methods of genetic manipulation?

Show answer

Answer

The three methods of genetic manipulation are selective breeding, vegetative propagation, and genetic modification.

Show question

Question

What is stocking density?

Show answer

Answer

Stocking density is the number of livestock per unit of grazing area.

Show question

Question

What are monoculture plantations?

Show answer

Answer

Monoculture plantations are large areas of land that contain just one variety of a single crop.

Show question

Question

How many people rely on subsistence farming?

Show answer

Answer

Approximately 2 billion people rely on subsistence farming.

Show question

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