Intensive vs Extensive Agriculture: An Overview

by | Nov 6, 2022 | Environment, Environmental News

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Agriculture is the science and art of growing crops, cultivating the soil, and raising livestock. It also includes the production of animal and plant products to distribute in markets and for people to use.

Agriculture is essential to global society as it provides most of the world with its fabrics and food. Materials such as cotton, leather, and wool are agricultural products. It also provides wood for construction purposes and paper products. Agricultural products and the methods used will differ from one part of the world to another.

There are several types of agriculture like shifting, subsistence, intensive, etc. In this article, we’ll be focusing on intensive vs extensive agriculture.

Intensive Agriculture

Intensive farming is eating up the Australian continent – but there's another way


Intensive agriculture is defined as a technique of agriculture that utilizes large amounts of labor and money to increase the yield of the land. In an industrialized society, intensive agriculture involves using chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and other chemicals to increase the yield, using and acquisition of machinery to grow crops, and aiding in picking and chemical application.

Intensive agriculture reduces the need for a large area of land to grow crops and raise livestock. Few countries, such as Canada and the United States, use intensive agriculture to overproduce agricultural products often as companies want to increase their market share. Further, profits are diminished, so landowners and farmers continue to overproduce to stay economically viable.

Pasture intensification is one of the characteristics of intensive farming. The increase in production and value occurs due to labor, money, pesticides, and pastures. Scholars believe that agricultural and pasture intensification were both important steps in creating the modern society that we live in today. This is because new techniques and equipment in farming and increasing yields allow for large populations to grow.

An example of intensive agriculture is livestock. Most livestock in the United States live most of their lives on industrial factory farms. These factory farms use various intensive methods to overproduce dairy, meat, or eggs for less money. One such intensive technique in animal agriculture is confining the farm animals to small spaces and delivering their food to them. This technique forces the animals to grow bigger more quickly and reduces the need for more area.

Another example is the use of selectively bred animals that grow faster than naturally occurring breeds, allowing the slaughter of many animals in a short time to keep up with human demand. This method often leads to harsh repercussions for the farm animals, such as difficulty in standing, walking, and breathing.

Extensive Agriculture

Extensive farming is the farming method or situation where large land areas are available for use. However, the inputs, labor, money, and more are the limiting factors in the productivity equation. In extensive agriculture, the overall cost of production is much more, and the produce is less.

415 Extensive Agriculture Stock Photos, Pictures & Royalty-Free Images - iStock


The productivity of the land entirely depends on the fertility of the soil, the location, the climate, etc. Due to this, landowners and farmers will have to work with large areas of their land to earn more income and yields. The total crop yield is high but is less spread over a wider area. That is because extensive farming mostly leads to lower yields per hectare compared to intensive farming- even though the total yields of intensive and extensive farming might be the same. Farmers practicing extensive farming will, thus, have to charge a higher premium per crop.

Examples of extensive agriculture are traditional cultivation practices based on seasonal products. The production is generally based on seasonal produce and integrates lower-input methods. The product is sold to a smaller target market, making extensive agriculture’s GDP much smaller than intensive agriculture. It is also less profitable for farmers.

There are several perks of extensive agriculture. Extensive agriculture is environmentally friendly. Considering the environmental issue the world is facing, extensive agriculture is better. It is also low input, and the natural ecosystem of a region remains safe without the need for protection or conservation.

Intensive vs Extensive Agriculture

  • Intensive agriculture mainly focuses on using labor and resources in small land areas to increase income and yield. In comparison, extensive agriculture focuses on the usage of large areas of land and less labor and resources.
  • Intensive agriculture uses less land to grow crops and raise livestock to produce products closer to the markets. Extensive agriculture cannot produce products closer to the market as it requires large areas of land.
  • Extensive agriculture requires large land areas as it does not use chemicals, much labor, or machinery. However, today both intensive and extensive agriculture uses large areas of land due to a shift in farming methods favoring large areas.
  • Intensive agriculture needs greater inputs than extensive agriculture as it uses more labor, seeds, agrochemicals, and breeds of animals. Extensive farming depends on the soil and the natural behavior of animals.
  • Today’s intensive agricultural methods produce large amounts of food for low prices, resulting in the overproduction of products and driving the market price down. Extensive agricultural methods are mostly used where the population is low and land is cheap.
  • Intensive agriculture yield per hectare is higher than that of extensive agriculture.
  • Even though extensive agriculture is more environmentally friendly, both methods have environmental impacts. Extensive agriculture can lead to deforestation due to the need for large amounts of land. Intensive farming impacts the soil, native species, and surroundings by using chemicals.



  • Dr. Emily Greenfield

    Dr. Emily Greenfield is a highly accomplished environmentalist with over 30 years of experience in writing, reviewing, and publishing content on various environmental topics. Hailing from the United States, she has dedicated her career to raising awareness about environmental issues and promoting sustainable practices.

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