Glossary: Agriculture and Environment


Abiota: The nonliving component of an ecosystem, including the soil, water, and air.

Acclimation: Adaptation to changing or new conditions.

Acid precipitation: Rain, snow, fog, or dew containing sulfuric and nitric acids produced by fossil fuel combustion.

Acute: A brief but high level of exposure to a hazardous substance or an adverse health effect resulting from a brief exposure to a hazardous substance

Acid Soil: A soil with an acid reaction, a pH less than 7.0.

Acre: A parcel of land, containing 4,840 square yards or 43,560 square feet.

Adaptation: Biological modification that allows species to better exist in a specific environment.

Additives: Chemicals added to food, often considered to represent a threat to human health.

Aerosol: A suspension of particles in the atmosphere.

Afforestation: Establishment of forest in an area not previously forested.

Agriculture: The utilization of biological processes on a land/farm to produce food and other products useful and necessary to man. Both a “way of life” and a “means of life” for the people involved in this industry.

Agribusiness: Industrialized agriculture controlled by corporations.

Agricultural economy: An economic system based primarily on crop production.

Agroforestry: An agricultural system based on the cultivation of trees with other crops.

Agronomy: The science of crop production and soil management.

Air pollution: Contamination of the air with solids, liquids, or gases that may be hazardous to humans or other living organisms. The five primary pollutants are carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons, nitrogen compounds, particulate matter, and sulfur dioxide.

Alternative agriculture: Agriculture based on reduced use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, increased use of crop rotation, and reduced tillage of the soil.

Alternative crops: Nontraditional crops that can be grown in an area to diversify rotations and increase income.

Alternative energy: Energy produced from sources other than fossil fuels (solar, wind, hydroelectric, geothermal, and biomass).

Alfalfa: A valuable leguminous crop for forage or hay used in livestock.

Animal Unit: A unit of measurement of livestock, the equivalent of one mature cow weighing 1,000 lbs. The measure is used in making comparisons of feed consumption. Five mature ewes a also are considered an animal unit.

Annual: A plant that completes its life cycle from seed to plant, flower, and new seed in 1 year or less.

Artificial Insemination: The mechanical injection of male semen into the womb of the female with a special syringe-like apparatus. The process begins with the collection of semen from the male. This method is used extensively in dairy husbandry.

Aquaculture: The farming of fish for human consumption.

Aquifer: A rock, gravel, or sand formation in which water is collected. An aquifer is not an underground lake, but it very much resembles a soaked sponge.

Aquifer depletion: Depletion of water of an aquifer resulting from withdrawal that is greater than natural or artificial recharge.

Arable land: Land that can be cultivated.

Arid: A condition in which less than 10 inches of rain falls each year and the level of evaporation is greater than the level of precipitation.

Arithmetic growth: An increase in some phenomenon at a constant rate over a specified time period.

Artificial fertilizer: A chemical added to soil to enhance crop production.

Artificial recharge: Adding water to an aquifer.

Assimilative capacity: The ability of a water body such as a lake or stream to purify itself of pollutants.

Atmosphere: The air that surrounds the earth and is bound by the earth’s gravitational attraction.

Atmospheric inversion: A situation in which a layer of warm air traps pollutants.


Basic needs: The basic items and services needed by an individual to ensure a reasonable standard of living.

Bioaccumulation: The accumulation of pollutants in an organism; sometimes referred to as bioconcentration.

Biocentric ethic: The idea that nature, not humankind, is the measure of all things.

Biocide: An agent that kills many organisms in the environment.

Biodegradable: Capable of being broken down into basic elements as a result of bacterial or other microbial action.

Biodiversity: The degree of species richness and natural genetic variation.

Biogas: Methane gas produced by animal and human dung, crop residues, and other organic matter; can be used as a fuel or fertilizer.

Biogeochemical cycle: The cycling of chemicals or nutrients between abiotic and biotic sectors of the biosphere. Elements involved in biogeochemical cycles include carbon, nitrogen, sulfur, and phosphorus.

Biological amplification: The accumulation of higher levels of pollutants in organisms higher up in the food chain.

Biological control: The use of natural enemies or diseases to control pests.

Biological diversity: The degree of species richness and natural genetic variation.

Biological evolution: Changes in the gene pool of a species over time.

Biomass: All living matter in an area and stored energy in an organic form like wood.

Biomass energy: Energy derived from plant matter.

Biome: A large ecosystem that has distinct climate, geology, and organisms; e.g., desert, tundra, grassland, savanna, woodland, coniferous forest, temperate deciduous forest, and tropical rain forest.


Cancer: The breakdown of the normal process of cell growth in which cancerous cells invade and destroy other cells and tissues. A large proportion of cancers is thought to be linked to environmental factors, including diet, chemicals, and other substances.

Carbon cycle: The process by which carbon, the chemical foundation of living organisms, circulates throughout the natural world. This is only one of several different biogeochemical cycles.

Carbon dioxide: A gas that is an important part of the carbon cycle. Plants absorb CO2 during photosynthesis, and plants and animals produce it as an end product of respiration. It plays an important role in controlling the earth’s surface temperature.

Carbon sink: A part of the biosphere that absorbs more carbon dioxide than it releases; e.g., oceans and rain forests.

Carcinogen: An environmental agent, such as a pesticide, that causes cancer.

Carnivore: An animal or plant that feeds on and digests animals.

Cash Crop: Agricultural produce (any crop yield) sold off in market for cash rather than retained for household use.

Chemical: An element or compound naturally occurring or created by humans.

Child labor: A practice whereby children between the ages of 6 to 15 are forced to work for a living.

Chipko movement: A local movement that began in India in the early 1980s and is opposed to governmental and other deforestation programs.

Chlorofluorocarbons: Nontoxic chemicals used as coolants in refrigerators and air-conditioners, as propellants in aerosol cans, and as solvents. They are linked with ozone depletion and global warming.

Chronic: A health effect that takes a long time to manifest itself or that persists for some time.

Certified Seed: Seed grown from pure stock which meets the standards of certifying agency (usually a state government agency). Certification is based on germination, freedom from weeds and disease, and trueness to variety.

Complete Fertilizer: A fertilizer containing the three macro nutrients (Nitrogen, Phosphorous, and Potassium) in sufficient amounts to sustain plant growth.

Compost: Organic residues, or a mixture of organic residues and soil which have been piled, moistened, and allowed to undergo biological decomposition. Mineral fertilizers are sometimes added.

Confinement: Livestock kept in “dry-lot” for maximum year-round production. Facilities may be partial or complete solid floored and enclosed/covered.

Controlled Lighting: Artificial lighting of poultry housing. Increasing or decreasing the number of hours of light during the day will control sexual maturity, fertility, and molt.

Cooperative: An organization formed for the purpose of production and marketing of goods or products owned collectively by members who share in the benefits. Most common examples in agriculture are canneries and creameries.

Crop Rotation: More or less regular recurrent succession of different crops on the same land for the purpose of maintaining good yields.


Ecosystem: A group of organisms interacting among themselves and with environment for exchanging energy and matter is known as ecosystem.

Emission: Chemicals produced by the internal combustion engine and considered hazardous. These include carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons, and nitrogen oxides.

Environment: It is defined as the sum of total of all the living and non-living things around us influencing one another.