Agriculture is everywhere


Agriculture. Here in South Dakota, we see the word everywhere. South Dakota State University is a land-grant school with its main focus in agriculture, so it makes sense that the word is common. But what is agriculture exactly?

For most of us cows, corn and maybe plows come to mind. The actual definition of agriculture is: the science, art or occupation concerned with cultivating land; raising crops and feeding, breeding and raising livestock. Farming.

 That’s a pretty broad definition. Cultivating, raising, feeding, breeding and farming? Those words could describe a small garden or running a pet shop. Technically, those two examples are a part of agriculture just not in the way most commonly thought of.

I grew up on a farm near Hitchcock, South Dakota. My family raises beef cattle and crops. I’ve been exposed to many different kinds of agriculture, but there is much I’m still learning about. 

There are orchards in Florida growing apples. Chickens are raised in the southwest United States. Artichokes come from California. Texas has successful fish farms. More flowers come from South America than the U.S. and China produces the most pork in the world.

There are so many types of agriculture that there is no one correct definition. Agriculture could have thousands of definitions to describe each part, and it still wouldn’t be enough. Any type of animal raised or crop grown could fall into the agriculture category. There are other major types of agriculture, too.

Agriculture uses much more technology nowadays. GPS, biotechnology and precision agriculture all contribute to being more environmentally friendly, safer and profitable. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, these advances are allowing us to produce as much food as we do.

Advancements in caring for animals have changed the face of the livestock industry. Temple Grandin, a professor at Colorado State University, has studied animal behavior for years, and her contributions to livestock handling equipment have benefited both animals and people.

And I haven’t even covered the food portion of agriculture yet.

I’ll leave the food part of agriculture alone for now, but imagine going back to my farm with me. We are moving cattle. I hop onto the four-wheeler (or ATV, as some of you might know it) and we drive out to the pasture to round up the cattle. Slowly, but surely, we move them out of the pasture onto the gravel road. The cows and calves walk along and we make sure to keep them out of the neighbor’s cornfield. Eventually, we get them to where they are supposed to go—another pasture.

A couple of months later we’ll wean (separate the calves and the cows from each other). At about 15 months of age, the calves will be old enough to market. The cows will have another calf by that time. We’ll keep track of their data, keep them healthy and try to improve our techniques. That’s one of my definitions of agriculture, but maybe it’s not yours.

The answer to “what is agriculture?” is far more complex than one simple definition. My hope is that we all search for our own definition, one that is accurate and true. Ask questions and find people involved with agriculture. After all, it is one of the most interesting and diverse industries in the world.

Nicole Hamilton is an agriculture communications major at SDSU and can be reached at [email protected].