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According to Merriam-Webster, agriculture is defined as the science, art, or practice of cultivating the soil, producing crops, raising livestock, and, in varying degrees, the preparation and marketing of the resulting products.

In short, agriculture is the art and science of cultivating the soil, growing crops, and raising livestock. It is through agriculture that most of the world's food and fabrics are obtained. Cotton, leather, and wool are agricultural products, as are wood products.

Prior to the development of agriculture, people spent most of their time hunting and gathering wild animals and plants, usually following the seasons and the food. This prohibited the development of permanent homes or villages.

However, about twelve thousand years ago, people began learning how to grow root crops and grains, which led to lives based on farming. This didn't occur to everyone throughout the world at the same time, though. It is believed that the first domesticated plant was either rice or corn, and it is known that rice was cultivated in China as early as 7500 BC, and that corn was cultivated by the Pueblo people of the American southwest about 1200 BC.

The first domesticated animals were dogs, which were used for both hunting and security. Sheep and goats were probably the next to be domesticated, then cattle and pigs. Except for dogs, these animals were previously hunted for food, and their hides were used for clothing. As domesticated animals, cattle and goats became sources of milk, cheese, and butter. Later, domesticated animals were used for plowing and transportation.

It wasn't long before farming and animal husbandry led to surpluses that could be stored or traded for other goods, and this soon allowed people to work at tasks not related to farming. When individuals skilled at creating tools were able to trade products for food, technology expanded. In time, various currencies were developed, allowing toolmakers to sell products for money, which could be used to purchase food and other products. Over time, improved farming tools were made of bone, stone, bronze, and iron, in succession.

This occurred slowly, however, and unevenly throughout the world, with some cultures still in the Stone Age, while others had entered the Bronze or Iron Ages.

Craftsmen, retailers, and others not engaged in farming began to gather together in villages, leading to the development of towns and cities, which were often surrounded by agricultural land.

Systems of irrigation were developed in Mesopotamia around 5500 BCE, when farmers got the idea of channeling water from streams onto their fields, allowing crops to be grown on land that was otherwise unsuitable for growing crops. In Mesopotamia, Egypt, and China, people began organizing themselves and working together to build more efficient irrigation systems.

Around the same time, farmers in Egypt and South Asia developed improved varieties of plants, such as new varieties of wheat that was easier to hull, and which could more easily be made into bread.

As the Roman Empire expanded, the Romans adapted the more useful agricultural methods of the people they conquered, even writing manuals about various farming techniques. The Chinese did much the same, as they found that a variety of rice from Vietnam ripened more quickly, allowing farmers to harvest several crops during a single growing season.

Observant farmers eventually learned or developed methods of preserving the nutrients in the soil, bringing about richer crops. This led to methods of crop rotation.

Explorers during the 15th and 16th centuries introduced new varieties of plants and agricultural products to Europe, such as coffee, tea, and indigo from Asia, and beans, corn, peanuts, potatoes, tomatoes, and tobacco from the Americas, and crops from other parts of the world were likewise introduced to the Americas.

The 18th century brought about the development of agricultural machinery, including a horse-drawn seed drill that was invented by Jethro Tull, Eli Whitney's cotton gin, Cyrus McCormick's mechanical reaper, John and Hiram Pitts' horse-drawn thresher, and John Deer's steel plow. Eventually, gasoline and electric-powered machinery replaced those powered by animals or by steam.

Other innovations included the selective breeding of livestock to increase size, productivity, and other traits. Plants were also selectively bred for desired qualities.

As we know, agricultural science (horticulture) has greatly influenced the productivity and quality of agriculture through the years, and most would concede that not all of it has been positive. Questions about the use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and genetically-modified foods continue to be a concern to many.

Agriculture includes such forms of cultivation as hydroponics, hydroculture, and aquaculture, which involve farming in water.


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