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Basic Information

Literally meaning "care of the fields", agriculture is the term used to describe all organised food production on land whether arable (solely concerned with growing plants) or involving some degree of animal husbandry (although animal herding is sometimes excluded). The term is also extended to any form of primary production that resembles food production (for example growing cotton or tobacco or raising sheep for wool). Food production from water comes under the separate heading of aquaculture and if your crop happens to be trees then you are engaged in arboriculture (or possibly forestry1) instead.

Unless a culture is extremely well supplied by foraging, agriculture of some kind is more or less essential for the development of any kind of society - without it there is not enough surplus food for anyone to specialise in anything and very little gets done except foraging. Arguably this makes it not just a Primary Industry but the primary industry. As a result agricultural technology - including crops - are a keystone of most cultures and on occasion a small upgrade in technology can have a massive effect on productivity and the introduction of a new crop even more so.

Popular historical forms of agriculture include:

  • "Slash and burn" where temporary fields are cut out of primary forest, worked until their fertility falls off and then abandoned.
  • Crop rotation where several different crops are grown in turn over a period of years (possibly including years where the field is left without a crop ("fallow") and used as pasture) to prevent exhaustion of the soil.
  • Companion planting where crops that benefit from being grown together are planted in the same field.
  • Paddy farming which is a specialised form of wet field agriculture used to grow rice.
  • Ranching - herding livestock at range around a central base

There are also a variety of pre-agricultural practices which occurred historically and appear to bridge the gap between foraging and true agriculture, including planting seeds a locations alongside a migration route so that whatever grows is available for harvest next time your group comes by.


1. full source reference

Game and Story Use

  • Until the advent of mechanisation, most of any given population would be involved in agriculture, if only for part of the year (usually the main harvest of the culture's staple crop). Of those, the majority will be full time.
  • What is raised and how can be an important influence on the character of an area - a cotton plantation is a very different place from a wheat farm, let alone a cattle ranch even assuming the same approximate geography, and traditional mixed farming a long way from any of them.
  • When world building, it's best to have a clear idea what sort of agriculture supports any given region and what the consequences of that are.
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