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What are the Different Types of Agricultural Systems?

Ladybugs are sometimes used as natural pest control on farms.
Ladybugs are often used for natural pest control.
Agricultural systems apply to farms of all sizes.
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  • Originally Written By: H. Bliss
  • Revised By: C. Mitchell
  • Edited By: W. Everett
  • Last Modified Date: 29 May 2015
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There are many different systems and strategies for operating agricultural enterprises, but in general they can be grouped into the three broad categories of natural, artificial, and social. In practice many if not most agricultural endeavors overlap into two or even all three, depending on the nature of their business and day-to-day activities. Additionally, farms and agricultural businesses are sometimes also classified based on their core methodologies. This is typically discussed in terms of implicit or explicit farming, which is usually dependent on how precise farmers and growers are when it comes to measuring and portioning; similarly, farms can be deemed either static or dynamic based on how growers are primarily seen to be relating to the land. These aren’t necessarily systems, at least not in the strict sense of the term, but they are nevertheless influential when it comes to understanding how agribusinesses are organized and more broadly understood.

Understanding Systems Generally

In the agricultural industry, there are many strategies for operating farms of all sizes. The various strategies for managing a farm can generally be categorized into agricultural systems. These agricultural management strategies typically describe whether farmers use pesticides or are organic, whether they are self-contained or interact with the surrounding environment, and whether farmers use strict measurements and plans or follow their intuition to make decisions on their farms.

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Natural Systems

Natural agricultural systems are often some of the easiest to understand, but some of the rarest to see in actual practice. In essence, a natural system is one that exists on its own, and doesn’t depend on human intervention or modification to thrive. One simplified example of a natural system is a rainforest quandrant where plants grow, blossom, and bear fruit; where animals eat that fruit, fertilize the soil, and allow for the continuation of the processes.

Humans have long been interested in tapping these natural ecosystems both for gain and for scholarly or research reasons. Farmers who duplicate methods from nature often claim to be using “natural systems,” and to an extent they’re usually right; pest control systems that use ladybugs to control aphids or that leverage the acidity of certain soils to maximize growth are certainly more natural than pesticide or fertilizer alternatives. At the same time, though, if the farmers introduced these elements themselves, the setting is necessarily artificial, at least from a purist perspective.

Artificial Systems

The broadest category is usually artificial systems. By definition these sorts of systems don’t exist in nature, at least not all on their own. Human intervention is what makes them what they are. Sometimes the intervention is very great, as is often the case with genetically modified crops and animals fed highly processed feeds, but subtler shifts towards efficiency and profitability can make even the most nature-driven enterprise technically artificial. The term isn’t usually meant as a judgment or statement of worth, but rather reflects the core nature of the system at issue.

Social Systems

In the agricultural world, a social system is one that is based at least in part on the interdependency of two or more players. A very basic example could be two neighboring farmers who swap essential elements, like animal feed in exchange for crop seeds. More often, though, the arrangement has do to with land and property rights, and concerns the physical setting of the farm or business.

Explicit Versus Implicit Farming

Agricultural systems can also be described as explicit or implicit, usually in regards to how they’re approached from an operational perspective. When a farm uses an explicit system, the farmer weighs or measures exact amounts of nutrients like fertilizer, water, or pesticides. This type of agricultural system is most common in high-production, for-profit farming. Implicit systems are often done more by instinct or practical teaching that’s been handed down but not ever formally memorialized.

Though explicit farming involves careful measurement of agricultural elements and close adherence to planned methods, most farmers also use an element of implicit farming when they observe their crops and adjust for unexpected changes. In implicit systems, farmers use less strict measurement. Farmers who use systems based on implicit agricultural theory often use some explicit elements, like farming books and almanacs, to better meet their agricultural goals.

Static and Dynamic Practices

Another way to classify agribusiness is based on how it is structured from an environmental standpoint. The most common terms in this realm include dynamic and static systems and open or closed systems. Generally, a dynamic system is one that is constantly changing to account for changes in the environment, whereas a static system tends to stay the same. A system that is open will contain or interact with parts of the local environment, while a closed system does not interact with the local environment at all. For example, a greenhouse lettuce farm is a relatively closed environment compared to an outdoor lettuce farm.

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