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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.

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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.Coffee, tea, tobacco, and sugar (beet and cane) are also major cash crops throughout the world. Just think about when you’re having breakfast; chances are, you’re usually ingesting at least one of the most popular cash crops!Other crops are also grown but aren’t quite as profitable. Rubber, cotton, any plant that can be used for its oils (olive/soybean/rapeseed/mustard), and fruits are all grown wherever the climate is right.

Subsistence Farming

Nowadays, most farmers worldwide grow crops on a large scale, growing as much as they can so they have extra. That extra – be it grains, fruits, or tobacco – is a cash crop. The farmer will use the money he makes from it to pay for maintenance around the farm and to buy whatever else he needs.However, subsistence farming (the opposite of cash crop farming), which is farming to feed your family, is still highly practiced throughout sub-Saharan Africa, as well as in parts of Central and South America and in Southeast Asia. While the people may primarily practice subsistence farming, any extra crops that they happen to sell would be considered cash crops.

Lesson Summary

Cash crops are the surplus from a farm. They could be just regular food (like legumes or vegetables), or plants that are used for textiles, drugs, or sweets (think cotton, tobacco, and sugar).

While farmers normally grow enough food to feed themselves, their cash crops give them the money they need for funding the rest of their lives.

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