Learn more about Horticulture

Learn more about Horticulture

Horticulture is the branch of agriculture that deals with the art, science, technology, and business of vegetable garden plant growing (fruits, nuts, vegetables, herbs, seeds, and flowers).

Horticulture is distinguished from agriculture by scale of production, specialization, and commercialization. Agriculture features in industrialized societies supplying food to large urban populations. It is, in some regards, the reverse of horticulture. It involves the farming of large fields, usually under a monocrop (all wheat, potatoes, beans, etc.), whereas the gardens of horticulturists usually feature intercropping, the mixing up of several different crops, as opposed to their segregation in separate rows or plots, for which there are sound ecological reasons (e.g., pest and disease control, maximizing nutrient and water availability, increasing photosynthetic efficiency, exploiting micro-environmental variations to best effect, and so on). Agriculture features highly mechanized production techniques, whereas horticultural societies rely more on human labor and animal drought power. Farmers in agricultural systems meet few of their own subsistence requirements, specializing in the large-scale production of a few foodstuffs for sale on the market. They engage in agribusiness, intensive production making wide use of inputs to boost yields, frequently obtained from off-farm and industrially manufactured (inorganic fertilizers, biocides, etc.). The term horticulture has a quite different meaning in urban-industrial societies, which can confuse the unwary. It refers to the intensive production, often under artificial glasshouse conditions, of high-value crops, such as early vegetables, salads, and flowers by commercial growers.

Other food production regimes from which horticultural societies are distinguished include gatherer-hunters and pastoralists, which support lower population densities (Forde 1934), industrialized urban ones having higher densities. These categories were bequeathed to us by Victorian scholars who thought of them comprising an evolutionary hierarchy, putting horticultural societies somewhere in the middle of the range between the gatherer-hunter and industrial poles. This scheme continues to inform thinking to the current day (as evidenced by entries in this encyclopedia), and underpins notions of development conceived as facilitating the passage of communities to the urban-industrial pole. Anthropologists continue to use it, although unhappy with the continued evolutionary implications, arguing that we should not judge urban-industrial life, notably liberal market democracy, as the superior socioeconomic order to which all human beings should aspire. It is an approximate classification scheme. At some ill-defined point, populations are thought to manage their natural resources sufficiently closely to move beyond gatherer-hunting to farming, this is accompanied by a more sedentary lifestyle. They qualify as horticultural societies when they emphasize crop cultivation over animal herding, although mixed arable and livestock farming is common. The label horticultural society covers a wide range of different subsistence regimes and sociocultural orders. The term is more commonly used in North America than Europe, where instead of lumping these societies together, it is more usual to distinguish the different agronomic regimes that comprise horticultural orders.

Horticulture and viticulture have always been major activities within agriculture in Hungary. Climatic and soil conditions are favourable in our country. Variety is a very important factor in this culture because its genetic- and bio-potential can be used the most economically. Plant breeding began with the cross-breeding of plough land plants in 1863. However, this activity was banned in England (1819), in Germany (1849), in France (1850) and later in all of Europe (Fabricius, 1921). Vine breeding in France had begun even earlier and it was credited to L. Bouschet (Hegedűs et al., 1966; Tomcsányi, 1969). The breeding of new rootstock, table and wine grape varieties began in the last third of the nineteenth century. The insect phylloxera(Dactulosphairae vitifoliae Fitch.), which was brought into Europe from America, and fungal diseases (Uncinula necator (Schw.) Burr., Plasmopara viticola (Berk. et Curt.) Berl. et de Toni) urged Hungarian breeders to breed resistant varieties.

Researchers and breeders have likewise been motivated to breed new varieties and use them in viticulture either because of disasters (epidemics, global warming, etc.) in viticulture or by changed consumer demands. For example, when the large socialist state farms were established in the 1960s, vine training systems changed from low training with covering to high cordon without covering. At that time, cold-sensitive varieties were replaced by cold-resistant ones, particularly in low-lying areas. Every third year there are winter frosts with temperatures of −21 °C or below in 30% of our vineyards. New vine varieties were produced by crossing whereas the old varieties were improved by clonal selection. Both methods were applied to breeding rootstock, table and wine grape varieties.

Nowadays, because of environmental pollution, the consumption of ‘organic’ products has become more preferable, for which resistant varieties (Pilzwiderstansfähige Rebsorten; PIWI) are indispensable. Consumers demand table grape varieties with bigger clusters and berries, finer aromas and of deeper and nicer colour than the previously crossed ones.

Postharvest horticulture can be defined at various scales and in various ways. At its widest scale it begins when the product is separated from the plant or growing medium and ends with consumption by the final consumer. More narrowly, it might be defined as extending from harvest up until the product is in the form in which it will be retailed. By any definition, postharvest horticulture involves transformation of product from its state at harvest into its ready-to-consume state. This may be a simple transformation, e.g. for a fresh whole lettuce that will be retailed in that form within a few days, or a complex transformation, e.g. for a potato processed into frozen French fries sold many months later in another country. The chain along which the product flows may be very short and involve none or few other firms, e.g. product sold at the farm gate, or it may be long and involve many other firms, e.g. potatoes in the frozen French fries example given above. Regardless of their scale or complexity, postharvest activities have two features in common: they add value and they involve members of the supply chain.

The ways in which postharvest activities can involve other chain members have been addressed earlier in this chapter. At sophisticated levels of involvement, these activities are elements of a business model known as VCM. At minimal levels of involvement, they may simply represent the various stages at which product changes hands from one firm to another along a supply chain, for example from a grower to a packer, a packer to a wholesaler, or a wholesaler to a retailer. This chapter concentrates on the higher levels of involvement that are associated with VCM, because they have been shown to improve the competitiveness of businesses at all stages of the horticultural supply chain.


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