Cash Crop: Definition & History

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  • 0:02 What Is a Cash Crop?
  • 0:35 A Short History
  • 1:11 Biggest Cash Crops
  • 2:16 Subsistence Farming
  • 2:57 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Flint Johnson

Flint has tutored mathematics through precalculus, science, and English and has taught college history. He has a Ph.D. from the University of Glasgow

Learn about the cash crop - what it is, why and where it is grown, and who buys it. Also, learn why farmers grow cash crops now more than ever. After the lesson, take a quiz to test your knowledge.

What Is a Cash Crop?

A cash crop is exactly what its name suggests; it's a crop of plants that is only grown to make money. A farmer might grow grains, legumes, and vegetables to feed his family and his livestock, but anything beyond that would be a cash crop. Cash crops might be additional grains, legumes, or vegetables, but they could also be plants used for drugs or making clothing (a few do both). My mom used to keep a garden, and we would eat from it all winter. If she would have planted a field, though, we could have fed other people or sold the food as cash crops.

A Short History

When our ancestors first learned about agriculture, they grew wheat, rice, or potatoes - depending on what part of the world they were in. It wasn't long before farmers realized they could grow a lot more food than they actually needed. Surplus was bartered for pottery or some other craft, maybe even initiating the first economies. Extra crops (cash crops) also meant that craftsmen didn't need to be farmers or worry about getting their own food. Cash crops enabled the first governments, too, because they allowed many people to live in a small area together without everyone needing to worry about getting food.

Biggest Cash Crops

The soil and climate is different throughout the world, meaning that a crop that can be grown in Hawaii might not survive in Alaska or even Australia. However, different cash crops can generally be grown worldwide (maybe with the exception of some extremely cold places, like the Arctic). Some crops thrive better in temperate, subtropical, or tropical climates.

Generally speaking, plants that make drugs are the biggest cash crops. Plants like opium, marijuana, and coca can be used to make some of the best drugs in modern medicine - and the most used illegal drugs. In both cases, they are extremely expensive.

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