What’s That? A Normal Person’s Guide to Some of the Stuff We Say

We’re going to try our best not to flood this site with a lot of jargon and buzzwords. But for those times we do, we’re going to keep a running glossary of some terms to try to explain a bit about what they mean. These won’t exactly be dictionary definitions and some people may have differing definitions, but it should give you an idea of what we mean when we say certain things. Have some other terms you want explained? Give us a shout and we’ll add it.
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Agricultural innovation
New methods, ideas, or products that help improve farming practices. Sometimes these are really low-tech and sometimes more high-tech, but they’re always geared towards smarter, better farming.
Biodiversity
All the living things that reside in a particular place — from adorable lady bugs to not-so-adorable fungi.
Biologicals
Products that are derived from living bacteria like you’d find in nature. They can be used as crop protection or even soil nutrients. They’re something like pro-biotics in your grocery store yogurt section, but for plants.
Biotech breeding
Creating new plant varieties with desirable traits by modifying genes directly, rather than interbreeding plants, as in classical breeding. Biotech breeding allows plant breeders to make more precise changes, more efficiently. » check out this article
Classical breeding
Interbreeding plants to create new varieties or lines of plants with desirable traits. Classical breeding started with farmers gradually changing crops over time by picking the best plants in a crop and planting more like them. Over the past 120 years, breeders have developed ways to cross plants that wouldn’t ordinarily cross in nature, which had a big impact on how farmers grow food. » check out this article
Climate change
The change in the Earth’s weather and temperature over a long period of time, as well as the effects it might have on the population and environment.
Conventional agriculture
The standard way of growing crops today, with help from tools like synthetic pesticides, fertilizers, and seeds that have had their genes altered for one reason or another. You’ll often see conventional agriculture contrasted with organic agriculture (see more below).
Crop protection
We consider crop protection any farming method, tool, or product designed to prevent crop loss from things like weeds, diseases, or insects. » check out this article
Digital farming
Combines the same technologies you use every day to make life easier with a farmer’s know-how to lead to better, smarter farming. Farmers can use digital tools like sensors in the fields, drones in the sky, or tablets in the tractor to zero in on a challenge and solve it with technology, increasing productivity and efficiency. You know how switching from faxes to emails made work so much better for everyone? That’s how farmers feel about digital farming. It’s also referred to as Digital Agriculture. » check out this article
Food security
Our big (and we do mean big) goal — when someone doesn’t have to worry about where their next meal will come from. Food security will be achieved when everyone has access to safe, nutritious food that meets their dietary needs for a healthy, active lifestyle.
Food loss
When we lose food at some point during the journey from seed to fork. According the FAO, “one-third of food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted globally, which amounts to about 1.3 billion tons per year.” That includes everything from crops eaten by bugs to moldy fridge leftovers that get thrown out.
Fungicides
A type of pesticide used to protect crops from parasitic fungi and other fungi-like organisms. Fungicides may kill fungi spores or fight infection by inhibiting fungi growth.
Gene editing
A new way to make changes to a plant’s genes by taking out traits we don’t want or adding traits we do want — kind of like using cut and paste on your computer. » check out this article
Genetically modified organism (GMO)
In our world, a GMO is a plant that has had its DNA changed so that it has a beneficial trait that it might not otherwise have in nature.
Herbicide
A product (usually a chemical) used to get rid of unwanted plants like weeds that can make it harder to grow the plants we do want. Early herbicides were naturally occurring substances like sulfur. These days, we’ve developed new herbicides that work much better.
Hydroponics
The art of growing plants without soil. That’s right — growing plants in water containing mineral nutrients instead of soil.
Insecticide
A product used to kill vermin (like weevils, earwigs and beetles) that harm crops. These can be developed from a chemical, biological (see above), or commonly found in nature.
Modern Agriculture
Kind of a catch-all term to encompass the range of innovations and modern tactics farmers use today. That includes high-tech equipment, new fertilizers, genetic engineering, and crop protection products.
No-till farming
A way of planting or growing crops without disturbing the soil by plowing it. This can be good for long-term soil health (and, ultimately, crops) because the soil is able to hold onto more water and nutrients. That makes the soil more fertile and resilient.
Organic Agriculture
Generally refers to growing crops without technologies like genetically modified seeds or man-made pesticides and fertilizers, but also can mean adopting certain farming practices too. It doesn’t mean that crops are grown without the use of pesticides, but different governments have specific rules for what can qualify as organically produced. Check out your own country’s Agriculture Department or Ministry for more information or an overview we found from the United Nations.
Pesticide
Any substance farmers use to control pests that threaten crops. Insecticides, herbicides and fungicides are all types of pesticides. Pesticides can come from nature or can be created by scientists.
Plant breeding
The process of developing a new plant to give it a positive trait like disease resistance, better taste, or improved production. There are many techniques to do this, including classical breeding and genetic engineering. » check out this article
Pollinator
Pollinators are all the nice creatures that move pollen from one plant to another, helping plants produce fruits, nuts or seeds. Most pollinators are insects (shout out to worker bees!), but some birds and bats help out too.
Precision agriculture
Using advanced technology and data to make more accurate farming decisions leading to more efficient operations. For example, with precision farming a grower can decide to just treat one area of a field from a pest instead of the whole field.
Smallholder farms
Small farms that average less than two hectares, mostly run by families, which provide much of the food in the developing world. There are 500 million smallholder farmers, but on average, they reach only 20 percent of the productivity of their counterparts in the developed world.
Smart farming
Farming that uses technology, data analysis, and other advanced tools to get the job done better, faster, and more efficiently.
Sustainable agriculture
Agriculture that, in the long-term, produces enough food for the population, protects the environment, and allows farmers to make a living.
Tillage
Getting land ready for planting crops by plowing it with a machine, with an animal, or by hand. Tilling helps farmers control weeds, break up hard-packed soil, and mix organic matter into the soil. On the other hand, it can also cause erosion and water loss, making soil less healthy and productive in the long run.
Vertical farming / Indoor
Growing crops inside buildings, often in vertically stacked layers or on inclined surfaces. With this type of farm, growers aren’t limited by the space on a physical piece of land or even traditional growing seasons and they can often grow food in places they normally can’t, like in cities.
Yield
The amount of a crop that is, or can be, harvested. Higher yields mean plants are producing more food on the same amount of land.