Agriculture in MEDCs

These notes discuss the factors affecting Agriculture in MEDC'c (Most Economically Developed Countries).

Agriculture in MEDCs

Agriculture in MEDCs is predominantly commercial as want to maximise profits. Farms are large, mechanised and technologically advanced to allow economies of scale. There is also a very high diversity in MEDCs.

There has been a lot of modernisation in farming towards rationalisation and increase in productivity (Organised Industrial Agriculture.) Therefore there are now:


  • Larger farms – specialisation leads to monoculture.
  • Fewer workers
  • Greater mechanisation – USA & Canada breadbasket of the world.
  • Greater use of fertilisers, pesticides etc.
  • Greater specialisation.
  • Increased productivity due to: –
    • Increase output from land already being farmed on.
    • Extend farming to marginal land with new seeds, technology & irrigation.
    • Use new land e.g. land reclaimed from the sea in the Netherlands.


Reasons for the intensification of farming

Most changes to farming in the 20th century have led to increased intensification & output. Intensification leads to pressures on the land and a specialisation in products. Farms have steadily increased in size to allow economies of scale. Technology has helped this with the drainage of land, mechanisation, irrigation etc. Also, new varieties of seeds (HYVs) have been developed that are suited to British conditions. Winter wheat is used to give higher yields and Friesian cows give higher milk yields. Chemical fertilisers & pesticides are now also extensively used. Farming has become more of a business leading to the development of the agribusiness:



Organisations and companies e.g. Birdseye have bought up farms to supply them, especially in productive lowlands e.g. E Anglia. These companies control all stages of production. In California, 2 companies produce 2/3 of all fruit & vegetables. Machinery has taken over from people & so jobs have been lost. This is now having an increasing effect in LEDCs


Consequences of the Intensification of farming.

  • EU subsidies promote environmental damage:


Cultivation extended to previously unsuitable areas such as Chalk downlands previously used for sheep farming.

Young cereal crops planted in rows with bare soil in between to stop competition causes soil erosion – rills & gullies form. Made worse by machinery compacting the soil.


Prairie-ization – Hedges ripped out to create large fields more efficient. This increases soil erosion as wind blows the topsoil off. The biodiversity of the area is also reduced as hedges provide a “wildlife reservoir.” And are ecologically valuable. Similarly there is a loss of woodland and pond habitat, as land is needed.


Eutrophication Use of fertiliser (e.g. NPK) leads to nitrates leaking into rivers causing algae bloom, Blue Baby Syndrome & cancer. The washing off of the fertilisers also loses the farmer money. The use of biocides also damages the environment e.g. DDT. The indiscriminate spraying of pesticides causes environmental damage. Pests may build up a resistance to pesticides (super-pests) so it is better to use biological pest control.


GM crop – These are fast growing plants & crops or they may be resistant to pests, cold & drought. There is widespread public belief that GM crops are wanted solely to increase profits without considering the environment. There are many trials being carried out to see the effect of GM crops on wildlife, although they are already widely used in America.


The use of GM crops will release something we can’t control.

Wastes water with the use of irrigation.

  • EU subsidies waste huge amounts of money. European food prices become the most expensive in the world. Therefore the policies of governments had to be changed to protect the environment & cut costs.


Management in the Future

Government policy and public debate is no longer focused upon growing more food.

2 key areas:

  1. The effect of agriculture on the physical environment.
  2. Relationship between farmers and the economy.


The amount farmers receive from the CAP will now be dependent upon good countryside management with less intensive forms of production. There is a move towards more sustainable agriculture:


Sustainable agriculture

Conserves nutrients, soil & water but can’t compete with commercial intensive farming. It is organic and diversified so causes less damage to the environment & so is more socially & morally appealing to customers. They sell their goods at farm markets so no longer rely on corporate monopolies.



These are ecosystems of agricultural areas. They are simpler and less diverse although the spread of disease is easier. It is better if farming is connected to nature & fewer trophic levels occur in the food chain as less energy is wasted. Therefore it is much more efficient to have subsistence farming rather than livestock ranching.


Agri-environmental schemes: –

Aim to encourage environmentally-friendly farming and public enjoyment of the countryside. There will therefore be payments to farmers who protect wildlife & the landscape.


  • Environmentally Sensitive Areas (ESAs)
  • Countryside Stewardship – combine farming, management & enjoyment of the countryside.
  • Organic Aid – help people convert to organic farming.
  • Arable Area Payments Scheme – E.g. Set-aside leave land fallow.


As well as better management the EU encourages entrepreneurial attitudes of farmers to diversify into other areas. They want chemicals managed effectively to control pesticide use globally with careful labelling & testing. It is also better to have strips of pesticide-free land. Poor management can cause problems e.g. BSE crisis due to use of antibiotics and proteins in animal feed.

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