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Extensive agriculture: what is it, characteristics, advantages and disadvantages

Agriculture encompasses the knowledge and skills that allow us to work the land to cultivate it and obtain goods from it. In this AgroCorrn article we are going to talk about extensive agriculture, what it is, its characteristics, advantages and disadvantages .

Extensive agriculture is one that focuses on taking advantage of the natural resources that the area offers and can be defined as the opposite of intensive agriculture. While the latter focuses on maximizing soil production with all available means (labor, chemicals, technology), extensive agriculture opts for, as we have said above, take advantage of the resources available to the area.

You may also be interested in: What is forestry or logging

Characteristics of extensive agriculture

Since extensive agriculture achieves a much lower production per hectare than that achieved with intensive agriculture, it is developed on large and extensive lands , in order to obtain an acceptable total productivity.

This type of agriculture is typical, either of poor countries or areas that do not have the human or technological resources to carry out other types of operations, or in areas where the soil is poor or arid. It is also possible to find extensive agricultural holdings in areas that have large lands, either due to their low need for labor or as an ecological or environmental option , since extensive agriculture can be much more sustainable in the long term, thus assuming less impact on the environment. Extensive agriculture is used in some areas to combat eutrophication, which consists of the excessive accumulation of nutrients in the waters and ends up assuming the death of a large part of the ecosystem at the end of its process, which is a serious environmental problem. Here you can read more about What is eutrophication .

It is very common, due to the characteristics of extensive agriculture , that it is related to rainfed agriculture , thus creating farms that depend on local rainfall and organic fertilizers, instead of being founded on large numbers of workers or the need for lots of industrial machinery.

Most common crops of extensive agriculture

Some of the most common crops that can be found of this type are legumes, cereals, vegetables and fruit trees:

  • Cereals include wheat, millet, barley, rye, and oats.
  • The most common legumes are peanuts, lima beans, chickpeas, and peas.
  • The most typical vegetables of extensive rainfed agriculture are onions, and the most common horticultural fruits are tomatoes and melons.
  • On the other hand, the fruit trees that it is common to cultivate like this are the olive tree, the apricot tree and the almond tree.
  • In addition, the vine is also generally cultivated in extensive agricultural farms in the Mediterranean area, thus completing, together with the olive tree and wheat, the three most important crops in the area.

Advantages of extensive agriculture

The main advantage of extensive agriculture is its lower demand on technical and human resources, which allows a few people to operate large farms, thus being able to obtain sufficient profits despite their low relative productivity.

It is also a type of agriculture that can be ecological and with low environmental impact, although this is not always the case. Many modern countries with great resources carry out a more technical extensive agriculture that focuses on obtaining agricultural products with maximum environmental sustainability, fighting against effects such as eutrophication. In this other Green Ecology article you can see more about the cultivation techniques of organic farming .

Some crops, such as olive trees, produce a higher yield in extensive rainfed agriculture , since their fruits have a lower water content, a greater quantity of oil can be obtained from them.

Disadvantages of extensive agriculture

As is evident, the most important disadvantage of extensive agriculture is that, unlike intensive agriculture, its farms take longer to provide economic benefits .

In addition, extensive agriculture requires large areas of land to work, in order to compensate for its low productivity per hectare.

Another disadvantage of extensive agriculture is that it is much more affected by contingencies with the local climate. Unexpected droughts or frosts can cause enormous losses and, for this reason, it is more limited when developing in certain areas, with tropical climates and the temperate Mediterranean climate being the most common and suitable for its application.

Basic differences between extensive and intensive agriculture

Thus, as we have been able to see throughout the article and as a summary, the main differences between intensive and extensive agriculture are:

  • The need for land, the extensive being broader.
  • The amount of labor, needing more people in intensive agriculture.
  • Dependence on water and other products for cultivation that reach them in an artificial (intensive) or natural (extensive) way.
  • The intensive one produces more quantity of products and, therefore, higher profits.
  • Intensive agriculture is more damaging to the soil and the environment in general, and extensive agriculture is more respectful, being able to become completely organic farming.

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