Crops are plants, or products made from plants, that are grown and harvested for subsistence or for profit. Crops are typically divided into six categories: food crops, feed crops, fiber crops, oil crops, ornamental crops, and industrial crops. Ever since hunter-gatherer societies shifted to become agricultural societies during the Neolithic period about 10,000 years ago, crops have become the primary method of feeding humans in every corner of the world. To this day, they drive not only food distribution and consumption, but also fuel, manufacturing, and virtually every other industry.
Food crops are subsistence crops that are meant for human consumption. They include fruits, vegetables, grains, and tubers, like potatoes. Grains, which include crops like wheat, rice, and corn, are the most popular crops in the world, with wheat as the most widely grown crop overall.
Feed crops are grown and harvested to feed livestock like cows, horses, pigs, and sheep. Also known as animal feed or fodder, these crops can be grown and harvested like food crops. They can also be grown in large fields (pastures) or meadows where animals can graze (or forage) for the food. Feed crops include cereal grains (like oats), alfalfa, and various kinds of grasses and hay. Feed crops are typically engineered to meet the livestock’s specific nutritional needs. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) division of the United Nations, 33 percent of the world’s croplands are used for growing feed crops.
Fiber crops are grown specifically so that they can be processed into textiles, rope, or paper products. Instead of being directly consumed, fiber crops like cotton, flax, or hemp are harvested and then dried or chemically transformed to create other products. For example, fiber-rich crops like bamboo can be turned into a pulp, which can then be used to make paper.
Oil crops are grown either for primary (human consumption) or secondary (industrial) uses. Edible oil crops include corn, sunflower, and olives. Soybeans are the world’s most popular oil crop. In addition to food and cooking uses, oil crops may also be used to create paints, soaps, machine lubricants, cosmetics, or fuel.
Ornamental crops are plants and trees used for landscaping or for gardening. Often grown in nurseries, ornamental crops are harvested for either direct sale to consumers, or for commercial purposes. Examples of ornamental crops include shade trees, flowering trees, shrubs, flowers, and grasses.
Industrial crops are crops that are not consumed, but rather harvested and used in manufacturing processes, machines, or fuel production. Rubber is an example of an industrial crop. Rubber is created from latex, which is a substance that is found within the Hevea tree, and then processed and treated so that the rubber can be transformed into other products for a variety of industrial uses.