Buzzwords abound in agriculture, in the grocery store, and in any conversation about health or where to get your food. Even the simplest terms can be misunderstood. They are also easily forgotten if you are not using them or surrounded by them every day.
So, I thought I would give you a glossary of farm terms including the top 100 (plus) terms that you need to know in order to understand farming and make better decisions when navigating issues related to your your food, your environment, your economy, and your health. I will likely link to this list to other articles and podcast episodes, and even add to it as needed. This glossary of farm terms is intended as a reference tool to refer to when reading, talking, digesting social media, listening to podcasts, etc. I hope it helps you!
Agroforestry: An agricultural practice that involves integrating trees with crops or livestock to create a sustainable and productive system.
Agritourism: The practice of attracting visitors to a farm for educational, recreational, or entertainment purposes
Alpaca: A domesticated South American mammal, valued for its soft and luxurious fiber.
Annuals: Plants that complete their life cycle within one growing season, from seed germination to flowering and seed production.
Apiary: A place where beehives are kept for the production of honey and other bee products.
Aquaculture: The farming of aquatic organisms, such as fish, shrimp, or mollusks, in controlled environments for commercial purposes.
Aquaponics: A farming method that combines aquaculture (raising fish) and hydroponics (cultivating plants in water) in a symbiotic environment.
Baler: A machine used in agriculture to compress and bundle crops, such as hay or straw, into manageable and transportable units.
Biodegradable: Capable of being decomposed by natural processes, typically referring to materials that can break down into harmless substances in the environment.
Biodynamic farming: An organic farming approach that emphasizes the holistic management of the farm ecosystem and incorporates spiritual and cosmic influences.
Biodiversity: The variety of living organisms in a particular ecosystem, including plants, animals, and microorganisms.
Biotechnology: The use of living organisms, such as microorganisms or genetically engineered crops, in technology, medicine, and other fields.
Canopy: The uppermost layer of vegetation in a forest or crop stand, consisting of the branches and leaves of trees and plants.
Carbon footprint: The total amount of greenhouse gases, especially carbon dioxide, emitted directly or indirectly as a result of human activities.
Catch crops: Quick-growing crops planted between main crops to utilize residual nutrients, control weeds, and prevent soil erosion.
Compost: Decayed organic matter used as a natural fertilizer and soil amendment.
Conservation tillage: A set of practices that minimize soil disturbance during tillage, such as no-till or reduced tillage, to improve soil health and reduce erosion.
Cover crop: A crop grown primarily to protect and enrich the soil rather than for harvest, often planted between cash crops. Listen to this Talk Farm to Me episode featuring Rick Clark from Indiana and his use of cover crops.
Crop diversity: The presence of a wide variety of different crop species or varieties within a farming system, enhancing resilience and reducing the risk of crop failure.
Crop insurance: A financial protection mechanism for farmers that compensates for crop losses due to factors like weather, pests, or disease.
Crop rotation: The practice of growing different crops in a specific sequence on the same piece of land to prevent soil nutrient depletion and reduce pest and disease pressure.
Crop yield: The amount of agricultural produce harvested per unit of land area, often measured in weight or volume.
CSA (Community Supported Agriculture): A system in which consumers purchase shares or subscriptions from a local farm and receive regular deliveries of fresh produce throughout the growing season.
Cultivar: A cultivated variety of a plant species that has been developed or selected for specific characteristics, such as improved yield, disease resistance, or flavor.
Dairy farming: The production of milk and dairy products from cows, goats, sheep, or other milk-producing animals.
Deciduous: Referring to trees or plants that shed their leaves annually in the fall in response to changing seasons.
Drip irrigation: A method of watering crops by delivering water directly to the roots through a network of tubes and emitters, minimizing water waste.
Dry farming: A method of crop cultivation in arid or semi-arid regions that relies on natural rainfall and moisture conservation techniques rather than irrigation.
Ecological footprint: The measure of human demand on nature's resources and ecosystems, representing the area of land and water required to support a particular lifestyle or activity.
Farm-to-table: A movement promoting the direct supply of locally produced food from the farm to consumers, minimizing the involvement of intermediaries.
Farmer's market: A physical marketplace where local farmers sell fresh produce, meats, dairy products, and other agricultural goods directly to consumers.
Fertilizer: Substances added to soil or plants to provide essential nutrients that are necessary for plant growth and productivity.
Food desert: An area with limited access to affordable and nutritious food, often due to a lack of grocery stores or fresh food retailers.
Food hub: An organization or facility that coordinates the aggregation, distribution, and marketing of locally produced food from multiple farmers or food producers.
Food miles: The distance food travels from the farm to the consumer, often used as an indicator of environmental impact and sustainability.
Food security: The state of having reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food.
Food sovereignty: The right of individuals, communities, and countries to have control over their own food systems, including the ability to determine agricultural policies and practices.
Free-range: A farming system that allows animals, such as chickens or pigs, to roam and forage freely outdoors.
Genetic diversity: The variation in genes and genetic traits within a population, species, or ecosystem.
Glyphosate: A widely used herbicide in agriculture, although its potential link to cancer is the subject of ongoing studies and lawsuits.
GMO (Genetically Modified Organism): Organisms whose genetic material has been altered in a way that does not occur naturally through mating or natural recombination. For more information on GMOs, download this GMO Fact Sheet.
Grafting: A horticultural technique in which a part of one plant (the scion) is attached to another (the rootstock) to create a new plant with combined desirable characteristics.
Green manure: Crops, usually legumes or certain grasses, planted specifically to improve soil fertility by adding organic matter when they are incorporated into the soil.
Greenhouse: A structure with transparent walls and roof used to cultivate plants, providing controlled environmental conditions.
Harvest: The process of gathering crops or produce from the field when they are mature and ready for consumption or further processing.
Harvesting equipment: Machinery used to gather and collect mature crops for further processing or storage.
Heifer: A young female cow that has not yet given birth to calves.
Heirloom seeds: Traditional open-pollinated seed varieties that have been passed down through generations and preserved for their unique characteristics.
Heirloom vegetables: Open-pollinated vegetable varieties that have been passed down through generations, often known for their unique flavors and appearances.
Herbicide: A chemical substance used to control or eliminate unwanted plants (weeds) that compete with cultivated crops.
Holistic management: An approach to farm management that considers the entire ecosystem, taking into account ecological, economic, and social factors for decision-making.
Hoop house: A type of greenhouse structure made of curved metal or plastic hoops covered with a translucent material, used to extend the growing season and protect crops from adverse weather.
Horticulture: The science and practice of growing and cultivating plants, including fruits, vegetables, flowers, and ornamental plants.
Hydroponics: A method of growing plants in a soil-less medium, using nutrient-rich water as the primary source of nutrients.
Incubator farm: A program or facility that provides aspiring farmers with access to land, infrastructure, and resources to start and develop their agricultural businesses.
Integrated farming: A farming system that integrates different components, such as crops, livestock, and aquaculture, in a synergistic manner to optimize resource use and productivity.
Integrated pest management (IPM): An approach to pest control that combines various strategies such as biological control, cultural practices, and targeted pesticide use to minimize environmental impact.
Irrigation: The artificial application of water to land or crops to assist with plant growth, especially in areas with insufficient rainfall.
Landrace: A local or regional variety of a crop that has evolved over time through adaptation to specific environmental conditions.
Livestock: Farm animals, such as cattle, sheep, pigs, or poultry, raised for meat, milk, eggs, or other products.
Locavore: A person who prefers to eat locally produced food, often for environmental and economic reasons.
Micronutrients: Essential nutrients required by plants in small quantities, including minerals such as iron, zinc, copper, and manganese.
Moisture meter: A tool used to measure the moisture content of soil or other materials, helping farmers and gardeners determine when to water.
Mulch: A protective layer of organic or inorganic material, such as straw or wood chips, placed on the soil surface to conserve moisture, suppress weeds, and regulate soil temperature.
Natural farming: A farming philosophy that emphasizes working in harmony with nature and avoiding the use of synthetic chemicals or interventions.
Natural pest control: The use of natural predators, parasites, or other organisms to manage pest populations and reduce the need for chemical pesticides.
Nitrogen fixation: The biological process by which certain bacteria convert atmospheric nitrogen into a usable form for plants, enriching the soil with this essential nutrient.
No-till farming: A conservation tillage practice that involves planting crops without disturbing the soil through plowing or cultivation
Orcharding: The cultivation of fruit trees or orchard crops, including practices such as pruning, thinning, and pest management specific to tree fruit production.
Organic certification: The process by which a farm or food production operation is verified to meet specific organic standards and is authorized to use the organic label.
Organic farming: A holistic farming approach that avoids the use of synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, and genetically modified organisms (GMOs), focusing on soil health and ecological sustainability.
Pasture rotation: The practice of moving livestock to different grazing areas in a planned sequence to allow for rest and recovery of pastures and prevent overgrazing.
Permaculture: A design system that aims to create sustainable and self-sufficient ecosystems by imitating natural patterns and processes.
Pest resistance: The ability of certain crops or plants to resist or tolerate damage from pests, reducing the need for chemical pesticides.
Pesticide: A substance used to control or eliminate pests, including insects, weeds, and diseases, that can harm crops or livestock.
Photoperiod: The duration of light and dark periods in a 24-hour cycle, which affects plant growth, flowering, and other physiological processes.
Planting density: The number of plants or trees per unit area in a crop field or orchard, which affects crop yield, competition, and resource use efficiency.
Pollination: The transfer of pollen from the male reproductive organs to the female reproductive organs of flowering plants, essential for fruit and seed production.
Polyculture: The cultivation of multiple crop species or varieties together in the same area, promoting biodiversity and reducing the risk of crop failure.
Polytunnel: A type of greenhouse structure covered with a single layer of polyethylene or similar material, used for season extension and crop protection.
Precision agriculture: The use of technology and data-driven methods to optimize farming practices, including planting, irrigation, and pest control.
Precision farming: The use of advanced technologies, such as GPS and remote sensing, to optimize farm management practices, including seeding, fertilizing, and irrigation, for increased efficiency and productivity.
Regenerative agriculture: An approach to farming that focuses on restoring and enhancing ecosystem health, biodiversity, and soil fertility, often through practices like cover cropping, rotational grazing, and composting.
Regenerative grazing: A grazing management practice that mimics natural herd movements and allows for rest and recovery of pastures, improving soil health and biodiversity.
Riparian zone: The transitional area between land and a river or stream, characterized by unique vegetation and ecological functions.
Rotational grazing: A livestock management practice that involves regularly moving animals between different pastures or paddocks to optimize forage utilization and improve soil health.
Rural development: Initiatives and strategies aimed at improving economic, social, and environmental conditions in rural areas, including support for agriculture and rural communities.
Seed saving: The practice of collecting and storing seeds from open-pollinated or heirloom plants for future planting, preserving genetic diversity and self-sufficiency.
Seedling: A young plant that has recently emerged from a seed and is ready for transplanting or further growth.
Silage: Fermented and preserved fodder, such as corn or grass, used as animal feed.
Small-scale farming: Agricultural production carried out on a small land area and with limited resources, often focused on local markets and sustainable practices.
Soil amendment: Any material added to soil to improve its physical, chemical, or biological properties, such as compost, manure, or lime.
Soil conservation: Practices and techniques aimed at preventing soil erosion, maintaining soil fertility, and protecting soil resources for long-term productivity.
Soil erosion: The wearing away or removal of the topsoil layer by wind, water, or human activities, leading to reduced soil fertility and environmental degradation.
Soil fertility: The capacity of soil to provide essential nutrients, moisture, and a favorable environment for plant growth.
Soil organic matter: The decaying plant and animal material in the soil, including decomposed organic residues, which plays a vital role in soil fertility and structure.
Subsistence farming: A type of farming in which the primary goal is to produce enough food to meet the needs of the farmer and their family, with little surplus for sale or trade.
Swale: A shallow, sloping ditch or depression created on the land to capture and retain water, reducing erosion and promoting water infiltration.
Tilapia: A freshwater fish species commonly raised in aquaculture systems for human consumption.
Tillage: The preparation of soil for planting by mechanical manipulation, such as plowing or cultivating.
Urban farming: The practice of growing and producing food within urban areas, often utilizing small spaces, rooftops, or vertical growing systems.
Vermicompost: Compost produced through the activity of earthworms, which enhances soil fertility and provides valuable nutrients for plants.
Vermiculture: The process of using earthworms to decompose organic waste into nutrient-rich vermicompost.
Water conservation: Practices and strategies aimed at reducing water usage and preserving water resources, such as efficient irrigation techniques and rainwater harvesting.
Waterlogging: The condition in which soil becomes saturated with water, leading to reduced oxygen availability for plant roots and potential crop damage.
Weed control: The management and suppression of unwanted plants (weeds) that compete with cultivated crops for resources such as water, nutrients, and sunlight.
Weed suppression: Techniques or practices used to control or minimize weed growth in agricultural fields or gardens, such as mulching, crop rotation, or mechanical weed removal.
Windbreak: A barrier, such as rows of trees or shrubs, strategically planted to protect crops, livestock, or buildings from strong winds.
Wind energy: The conversion of wind power into electricity using wind turbines, which can be used to generate renewable energy on farms.
Winter cover crop: A cover crop species or mixtures planted during the winter season to protect and improve the soil during fallow periods.
Worm farm: A system or facility designed for the controlled breeding and management of earthworms, often for the production of vermicompost or bait worms.
Xenobiotics: Chemical substances that are foreign to an organism's normal biochemistry or metabolism, often referring to synthetic or human-made chemicals.
Xeriscaping: Landscaping or gardening in a way that reduces or eliminates the need for supplemental water, often using drought-tolerant plants and water-conserving techniques.
Yields per hectare: The amount of agricultural produce obtained from a specific area of land, typically measured in weight or volume per hectare (unit of land area).
Zero tillage: A conservation tillage practice that eliminates or minimizes soil disturbance during planting, preserving soil structure and reducing erosion.
Dana DiPrima is the founder of the For Farmers Movement. For Farmers supports American farmers by sharing their stories, replacing myths with facts, and providing them with mini-grants and other helpful resources. Dana is the host of the Talk Farm to Me podcast featuring farmers and farm issue experts from across the country. She authors a weekly letter in addition to this blog. You can subscribe here. And you can join the For Farmers Movement to support your farmers here. You can also follow her on Instagram and Threads.
This list was compiled from a long-running list I have kept in my phone and notebooks amplified in part with support from AI (Chat GPT). When using AI for these purposes, it is important to check and double-check the final list and to tweak it as needed, including adding back terms that it deletes, duplicates, and reordering lists alphabetically when the AI makes (repeat) errors.