Farmers make decisions about what to grow, what animals to keep, the level and type of inputs and the methods they will use. Their decisions are based upon a range of social, economic and environmental factors. The farmers’ attitudes and level of knowledge are also important.
Social and economic factors
These are human factors and include labour, capital, technology, markets and government (political). The importance of each factor varies from farm to farm. Note how each influences farms near to you.
- In LEDCs, such as India and Java, farmers use abundant cheap labour instead of machines. In Japan and the UK, where labour is expensive, they use machines.• People working on farms may be unskilled labourers or skilled and able to use machinery, e.g. tractors, harvesters and milking machines.
- Capital, the money the farmer has to invest in the farm, can be used to increase the amount of inputs into the farm, e.g. machinery, fences, seeds, fertiliser and renewing buildings.
- If a farmer can afford to invest capital, yields will rise and can create greater profits which can be used for more investment.
- Machines and irrigation are two types of technology that can increase yields.
- Greenhouses, with computer-controlled technology, provide ideal conditions for high quality crops. The computer controls the temperature, moisture level and amount of feed for the plants.
- Genetic engineering has allowed new plants to be bred that resist drought and disease and give higher yields.
- Farmers grow crops which are in demand and change to meet new demands, e.g. rubber plantation farmers in Malaysia have switched to oil palm as the demand for rubber has fallen.
- Markets vary throughout the year and farmers change their production to suit them.
- Governments influence the crops farmers grow through regulations, subsidies and quotas.
- Governments offer advice, training and finance to farmers and, in new farming areas, may build the infrastructure of roads and drainage, e.g. Amazonia.
- In some countries, e.g. Kenya and Malaysia, the government is trying to help nomadic farmers to settle in one place.
- Some governments plan and fund land reclamation and improvement schemes.
- These are physical factors and include climate, relief and soil.
- Temperature (minimum 6°C for crops to grow) and rainfall (at least 250mm to 500mm) influence the types of crops that can be grown, e.g. hot, wet tropical areas favour rice, while cooler, drier areas favour wheat.
- The length of the growing season also influences the crops grown, e.g. wheat needs 90 days. Some rice-growing areas have two or three crops per year.
- Lowlands, such as flood plains, are good for crops.
- Steep slopes hinder machinery and have thinner soils; lower, more gentle slopes are less prone to soil erosion.
- Tea and coffee crops prefer the well-drained soil on hill slopes.
- Temperature decreases by 6.5°C for every 1000 metres gained in height.
- South-facing slopes receive more sunlight.
- Fertility is important; poor soil means lower outputs or larger inputs of fertilisers.
- Floodplains are good for rice because of the alluvial soils.
- Good drainage reduces the dangers of waterlogging.
Competition from the global market
This video looks at Wheat farming in East Anglia is influenced by local conditions and global markets. Adverse weather conditions mean the harvest can be delayed and the crops may be ruined. Wheat prices fluctuate in response to supply and demand and prices are set according to global markets. Other parts of the world can produce wheat more cheaply than Britain and so farmers must remain competitive. Science, technology and plant breeding have increased output considerably and British wheat production has trebled.