Physical and social environment as factors of crop distribution and production
Climatic factors includes temperature, growing season, altitude, rainfall and wind.
Most plants cannot grow if the temperature falls below 6°C or the soil is frozen for five consecutive months. As a consequence many areas are unsuitable for crop cultivation.
Altitude affects temperature so it also affects farming. In the Alps for example you will find dairy farming in valley bottoms and coniferous forestry further up.When temperatures are consistently high with sufficient precipitation high yield crops such as rise can be grown. These have the added advantage of producing up to three crops a year.
Water is obviously a key factor in plant growth. The greater the average temperature the greater the amount of water required for plant growth. Seasonal variation is important as different crops require water at different times. Coffee for example must have a period of drought before and during harvest whilst maize would benefit from heavy rain in the same period. A farmer is therefore looking for rainfall reliability so that he can select the most appropriate crop for the area. Rice is the principal crop in the tropics because it requires substantial quantities of water, is a very high yield crop and has good nutritional value. With the addition of consistently high temperatures it can also produce two or three crops a year.
Soil type will influence crop cultivation because different crops prefer different soils. Clay soils with their high water retention are well suited to rice whilst sandy soils with good drainage are good for root vegetables. Soil type can be influenced through the input of lime, clay or fertilizer but this can only make limited differences.
Topography affects agriculture as it relates to soil erosion, difficulty of tillage and poor transportation facilities. Mechanization of agriculture depends entirely on the topography of land. On rough, hilly lands, the use of agricultural machinery is impossible. In areas where the pressure on soil is great, even the slopes of mountains are terraced into small farms to provide agricultural land. In China, farm terraces may be seen clinging to hillsides to a height of several thousand feet. It is known that in extreme cases agriculture may succeed in conquering slopes of as much as 45 degrees.
Land tenure includes all forms of tenancy and also ownership in any form. Land tenancy and land tenure affect the agricultural operations and cropping patterns in many ways. The farmers and cultivators plan the agricultural activities and farm (fields) management keeping in mind their rights and possession duration on the land.
In different communities of the world, the cultivators have different land tenancy rights. In the tribal societies of the shifting cultivators land belongs to the community and individuals are allowed only to grow crops along with other members of the community for a specific period. But among the sedentary farmers land belongs to individual farmers. In such societies it is believed that one who owns land he owns wealth.
The ownership and the length of time available for planning, development and management of arable land influence the decision making process of the cultivator. Depending on the nature of tenancy rights he decides the extent to which investment on land could be made. For example, if the cultivator is the sole owner of the land, he may install a tube well in his farm and may go for fencing and masonry irrigation channels.
But a tenant farmer or a sharecropper will not go for the long term investment in the field as after a short period of occupancy he will have to vacate the land and the real owner may cultivate that piece of land either himself or may lease out to other cultivator. In fact, a farmer who has the right of ownership, he has the freedom to choose a system of production and investment which improves the quality of land and gives him increasing capacity to borrow money.
The cropping patterns and farm management are also dependent on the duration of time for which the land is to remain under cultivation. For example, among the shifting cultivators (Jhumias of northeast India), the allotment of land to the cultivator is normally done for one or two years, depending on the fertility of the land.
The hilly terrain, the limited rights of the occupant and poor economic condition of the tillers hinder the development and efficient management of land. Since the land belongs to the community and not to the individuals, this type of land tenancy prevents the energetic, efficient and skilled individuals of the community to invest in the farm.
Under such a system individuals are also unlikely to put much efforts or invest more money on the improvement of cultivated land as the field is allotted by the community for a short period. Under this type of land tenancy there is no incentive to individuals to improve the agricultural efficiency and productivity of the land.
The availability of labour is also a major constraint in the agricultural land use and cropping patterns of a region. Labour represents all human services other than decision making and capital. The availability of labour, its quantity and quality at the periods of peak labour demand have great influence on decision making process of the farmer. The different crops and agrarian systems vary in their total labour requirements. The labour inputs vary considerably round the year for most of the agricultural enterprises with the result that many farmers employ a mixed system of production in order to keep their labour fully employed.
Even then, in many parts of India, seasonal unemployment remains on most of the holdings, while during the peak periods of crop sowing (rice, wheat, sugarcane, vegetables and potatoes) and harvesting, there occurs acute shortage of labour which influences the sowing and harvesting operations and thereby affect the decision of a farmer whether to grow or not a crop.
The religion of the cultivators has also influenced the agricultural activities in the different parts of the world. Each of the major religions has certain taboos and the use of certain agricultural commodities is prohibited in each of them. The Khasis and Lushais of Meghalaya and Mizoram are not interested in dairying as milk and milk products are taboo in their society. Piggery is prohibited among the Muslims, Hindus hate slaughtering, while Sikhs never go for the cultivation of tobacco.
The productive and adequately irrigated loamy tracts of western Haryana (including Bhiwani, Hissar, Mohindergarh, and Sirsa districts) are ideally suited for the cultivation of sunflower. It is a short duration highly remunerative cash crop which matures in only 60 days. For the last two decades, the farmers in these districts were obtaining two sunflower crops in a year in between the kharif and rabi crops. Unfortunately, the population of Neelgai (an antelope) has multiplied in this region significantly.
This antelope which is being considered as sacred cow relishes the plant of sunflower and prefers to stay in or around its fields. The Neelgai menace has forced the cultivators of Haryana to give up sunflower cultivation. It is one of the unique examples in which the wild animals have influenced the cropping pattern significantly and the progressive farmers of Haryana are being deprived of a highly remunerative cash crop.
Keeping into mind the religious sentiments of the Hindu farmers and the importance of sunflower as a cash crop (oilseed), the government should evolve a suitable strategy to check the fast growth of Neelgai population, failure to which the process of agricultural development in the region may be adversely affected.