Production Systems

Agricultural production systems are simply the ways in which a farmer makes use of available resources to meet their food, fuel, and fiber demands.

Around the world, production systems are characterized by multiple combinations of physical conditions (e.g., climate, altitude, soils) and socio-economic conditions (e.g., capital, cultural practices, education, age, land size and tenure). Agricultural production systems can be classified according to the following general categories:

  1. Subsistence farming. Smallholder farmers produce food (crops or livestock) for themselves and their families. Inputs, such as fertilizer and improved seeds, are often lacking, resulting in low productivity.
  2. Pastoral or livestock farming. Pastoral farming only produces livestock and does not include crops. Livestock is primarily raised to produce labor and commodities such as meat, milk, eggs, wool, and fur. Livestock excrement may be used to fertilize grazing fields or cropland used for livestock feed production.
  3. Nomadic farming. Similar to pastoral farming, herdsmen relocate their livestock in search of suitable grazing land and water. Livestock typically consists of cattle, sheep, goats, camels, horses and donkeys.
  4. Shifting cultivation. Farmers clear a plot of forested land by felling or burning vegetation. Wood products may be used for timber or other purposes. The newly cleared land is then used to grow crops. Once the land loses its fertility, the farmer leaves the land fallow to regenerate soil health. The farmer then moves to clear new land and repeats the process. They may or may not come back to cultivate the former land.
  5. Arable farming. Farmers only grow crops at small or commercial scales. Crops are often, but not limited to, annuals, such as vegetables, grains, legumes, etc. Arable farming also includes paddy rice.
  6. Plantation or tree crop farming. Often found in tropical climates, plantation farming is characterized by monocropping at commercial scales (> 40 hectares (ha)). For instance, if a farmer decides to grow wheat, the entire plantation will consist of wheat. This strategy is typically used to enhance specialization and reduce the cost of production, although requires greater use of inputs and mechanization. Plantations may also consist of tree crops (e.g., African oil palm, apple tree, coconut palm).
  7. Mixed farming. Farmers grow crops and raise livestock at the same time on the same piece of land. Different crops with different maturity periods are grown at the same time, with continuous cropping throughout the growing season. Mixed farming is typically practiced at small to medium scales. Agroforestry systems encompass aspects of mixed farming.

The sidebar sections go into the detail of agricultural sources and sinks of GHG emissions and recommended mitigation strategies.