A farm is an area of land, including various structures, devoted primarily to the practice of producing and managing food (produce, grains, or livestock), fibers and, increasingly, fuel. It is the basic production facility in food production. Farms may be owned and operated by a single individual, family, community, corporation or a company. A farm can be a holding of any size from a fraction of a hectare to several thousand hectares.
A business producing tree fruits or nuts is called an orchard; a vineyard produces raisins, wine or table grapes. The stable is used for operations principally involved in the training of horses. Stud and commercial farms breed and produce other animals and livestock. A farm that is primarily used for the production of milk and dairy is a dairy farm. A market garden or truck farm is a farm that grows vegetables, but little or no grain. Additional specialty farms include fish farms, which raise fish in captivity as a food source, and tree farms, which grow trees for sale for transplant, lumber, or decorative use. A plantation is usually a large farm or estate, on which cotton, tobacco, coffee or sugar cane, are cultivated, usually by resident laborers.
The development of farming and farms was an important component in establishing towns. Once people have moved from hunting and/or gathering and from simple horticulture to active farming, social arrangements of roads, distribution, collection, and marketing can evolve. With the exception of plantations and colonial farms, farm sizes tend to be small in newly-settled lands and to extend as transportation and markets become sophisticated. Farming rights have been the central tenet of a number of revolutions, wars of liberation, and post-colonial economics.
Traditionally, the goal of farming was to create a profit, and to produce an amount of cultivated material (i.e. corn, wheat, etc) so that the resulting harvest has more worth than the cost of planting such a harvest. The costs could include the acquisition of seeds as well as the time and energy required to tend to such a venture. The resulting product is often used to sustain those who farm as both a food to eat and a commodity to sell.
Dairy farming is a class of agriculture, where female cattle, goats, or other mammals are raised for their milk, which may be either processed on-site or transported to a dairy for processing and eventual retail sale.
In most Western countries, a centralized dairy facility processes milk and dairy products, such as cream, butter, and cheese. In the United States, these dairies are usually local companies, while in the southern hemisphere facilities may be run by very large nationwide or trans-national corporations (such as Fonterra).
Dairy farms generally sell the male calves borne by their mothers for veal meat, as dairy breeds are not normally satisfactory for commercial beef production. Many dairy farms also grow their own feed, typically including corn, alfalfa, and hay. This is fed directly to the cows, or stored as silage for use during the winter season. Additional dietary supplements are added to the feed to improve milk production.
Farm control and ownership has traditionally been a key indicator of status and power, especially in agrarian societies. The distribution of farm ownership has historically been closely linked to form of government. Medieval feudalism was essentially a system that centralized control of farmland, control of farm labor and political power, while the early American democracy, in which land ownership was a prerequisite for voting rights, was built on relatively easy paths to individual farm ownership. However, the gradual modernization and mechanization of farming, which greatly increases both the efficiency and capital requirements of farming, has led to increasingly large farms owned by individuals or corporations. This has usually been accompanied by the decoupling of political power from farm ownership.
In the UK, farm as an agricultural unit, always denotes the area of pasture and other fields together with its farmhouse and farmyard, barns, cowsheds, stables, etc. In England there is a vague point when a large farm ceases to be referred to as a farm and becomes an estate; although this term can refer to a collection of farms in the same ownership.
The land and buildings of a farm are called the "farmstead." Enterprises where livestock are raised on rangeland are called ranches. Where livestock are raised in confinement on feed produced elsewhere, the term feedlot is usually used
In 1910 there were 6,406,000 farms and 10,174,000 family workers; In 2000 there were only 2,172,000 farms and 2,062,300 family workers.
In the United States, eighty-one percent of all farmworkers are migrant workers, and seventy-one percent are foreign-born. Eighty percent of farmworkers are men, with the average age being 31. Additionally, farmworkers earn less than $75,000 per year, making an average hourly rate of less than $27.00. On average, farmworker families earn $10,000 per year, which is significantly below the 2005 U.S. poverty level of $19,874 for a family of four.
In 2007, corn acres are expected to increase by 15% because of the high demand for ethanol, both in and outside of the U.S. Producers are expecting to plant 90.5 million acres (366,000 km²) of corn, making it the largest corn crop since 1944.
Where most of the income is from some other employment, and the farm is really an expanded residence, the term hobby farm is common. This will allow sufficient size for recreational use but be very unlikely to produce sufficient income to be self-sustaining. Hobby farms are commonly around but may be much larger depending upon land prices (which vary regionally).
Often very small farms used for intensive primary production are referred to by the specialization they are being used for, such as a dairy rather than a dairy farm, a piggery, a market garden, etc. This also applies to feedlots, which are specifically developed to a single purpose and are often not able to be used for more general purpose (mixed) farming practices.
In remote areas farms can become quite large. As with estates in England, there is no defined size or method of operation at which a large farm becomes a station.
Regardless of size, the term station is only used for farms where the main activity is grazing. Some cotton farms in north-western New South Wales or south-western Queensland have been formed by combining previous sheep stations once sufficient water has become available to allow cotton to be grown.
Farms require buildings to facilitate the action of farming the material at hand. Such buildings can include a farm house (for the farmers), a grain silo (for storing grain), and a barn (for the storing of certain animals.)