Difference Between Subsistence and Commercial Farming

Subsistence and commercial farming are two relatively similar practices when it comes to agriculture. However, they differ in approaches, methods, purposes, levels and impacts on economy.

Subsistence farming is the traditional method, which focuses on self-sufficiency, where a farmer’s basic aim is to grow food for personal or family use. Commercial farming on the other hand, is the growing and distribution of crops for commercial purposes, where farmers target large markets for greater profits.

Subsistence farming may be done for a number of crops, but it is usually carried out on a smaller scale, without benefiting a farmer financially.

Related : How To Convert Land Into Retirement Income


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    Commercial farming is carried out on a very large scale, but a farmer usually specializes in a particular crop or livestock. Its large scale nature hence provides greater exposure to technology, with farmers using heavy and sophisticated machinery in order to protect the crops from environmental ruin. The harvested crop(s) may or may not be shipped to a processing facility before being sold to wholesalers or retailers. Therefore, commercial farming results in substantial profits by achieving economies of scale, specialization and the use of capital intensive techniques.

    Subsistence farming is heavily reliant on labour, where the members of a family usually work in order to feed themselves rather than others. Commercial farming will look for labour-saving ways to maximize crop yield and further take into consideration the use of natural and synthetic resources such as fertilizers, pesticides, hybrid seeds and irrigation etc.  For this reason, commercial farming is likely to  limit the amount of environmental pollution.

    Related : How To Raise Beef Cattle On A Limited Amount of Land

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    Subsistence farming

    It is the traditional way of practicing farming with the sole aim of achieving self-sufficiency. Subsistence farming first emerged during the Neolithic revolution when people settled in the areas near Nile and Indus River. While it is not for commercial use, farmers tend to trade goods for survival.

    Types of subsistence farming included shifting agriculture – moving from one place to the other in search of fertile soil, Nomadic herding – search of fodder for animal, and intensive subsistence farming  where farmers produced food for survival as well as for trading purposes.

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    Commercial farming

    It is a large-scale practice of farming with the sole aim of maximizing profits. This method developed due to the increased demand of agriculture products.  Types include intensive commercial farming, extensive commercial farming as well as Plantation agriculture.

    Related : How To Start An Ostrich Farming Business

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