Extensive farming or extensive agriculture (as opposed to intensive farming) is an agricultural production system that uses small inputs of labor, fertilizers, and capital, relative to the land area being farmed.
Extensive farming most commonly refers to sheep and cattle farming in areas with low agricultural productivity, but can also refer to large-scale growing of wheat, barley, cooking oils and other grain crops in areas like the Murray-Darling Basin. Here, owing to the extreme age and poverty of the soils, yields per hectare are very low, but the flat terrain and very large farm sizes mean yields per unit of labour are high. Nomadic herding is an extreme example of extensive farming, where herders move their animals to use feed from occasional rainfalls.
Extensive farming is found in the mid-latitude sections of most continents, as well as in desert regions where water for cropping is not available. The nature of extensive farming means it requires less rainfall than intensive farming. The farm is usually large in comparison with the numbers working and money spent on it. In most parts of Western Australia, pastures are so poor that only one sheep to the square mile can be supported
Just as the demand has led to the basic division of cropping and pastoral activities, these areas can also be subdivided depending on the region's rainfall, vegetation type and agricultural activity within the area and the many other parentheses related to this data.
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Extensive farming has a number of advantages over intensive farming:
- Less labour per unit areas is required to farm large areas, especially since expensive alterations to land (like terracing) are completely absent.
- Mechanisation can be used more effectively over large, flat areas.
- Greater efficiency of labour means generally lower product prices.
- Animal welfare is generally improved because animals are not kept in stifling conditions.
- Lower requirements of inputs such as fertilizers.
- If animals are grazed on pastures native to the locality, there is less likely to be problems with exotic species.
- Local environment and soil are not damaged by overuse of chemicals.
- The use of machinery and scientific methods of farming produce a large quantity of crops.
- Yields tend to be much lower than with intensive farming in the short term.
- Large land requirements limit the habitat of wild species (in some cases, even very low stocking rates can be dangerous), as is the case with intensive farming