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Plantation vs. a Farm | What Is the Difference?

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A plantation is an estate where large amounts of crops would typically be grown. There would generally be one large house where the owner of the plantation lives. On the other hand, farms are usually smaller and don’t constitute an entire estate. 

Here are some of the primary differences between a plantation and a farm: 

PlantationFarm
Large estateSmaller piece of land
Only commercial crops are grown hereCrops can be for commercial or private use
Generally, more profit is made from a plantation because more crops are producedLess profit is usually made from a farm because fewer crops are produced

The rest of this article will discuss the differences between farms and plantations in greater detail. I’ll also discuss the types of crops that come from each place and whether plantations still exist. 

What Makes a Farm a Farm?

Farm structures behind a field of crops

A farm is a farm if it produces and sells $1,000 or more worth of farmed goods within the year. Farms may contain livestock, such as cows and pigs. They could also include crops like fruits and vegetables, and all products can be sold or used privately.

Although a farm generally must make at least $1,000 in a year to be considered a farm, it’s not always the case. If a farm usually makes over $1,000 but fails to make that much in another year, it would still be considered a farm. 

There are many large farms in the US, and they are generally used for commercial use. However, some farms (within the country and in many other countries) are primarily for personal use. That includes families that own private farms and plant their crops for personal consumption. 

Here are some of the main things that make a farm a farm: 

  • The presence of livestock or crops (or both) 
  • The sale of goods 
  • The private use of produced goods 
  • Annual profit of at least $1000 within the year 

How Many Acres Is Considered a Farm?

The amount of acres a farm has doesn’t matter, although the average small US farm is approximately 231 acres (93.5 ha), and the average large US farm is 1420 acres (575 ha). The main thing that matters is how much money is made. Another critical factor is the products produced and sold.

Although 231 acres (93.5 ha) is the average size of a small farm in the US, farms can have less acreage than this and still be considered real farms. In addition, smaller farms are much more common today than larger farms, with 88% of American farms being 231 acres (93.5 ha) or smaller.

Youth-Standing-in-Front-of-a-Farming-Tractor

What Is the Difference Between a Farm and a Ranch?

A farm is a land where goods are grown for private use or sale, mainly crops or dairy products. A ranch is a piece of land where livestock such as cattle and sheep are born, raised, and bred. Farmers generally work on farms, whereas ranchers work on ranches. 

Herding is one of the main activities on a ranch, and it involves gathering livestock together in a small area. Sometimes, some animals are hesitant to be herded, so other animals are used to guide these animals. A common herding animal is a dog, such as a border collie or Australian cattle dog. 

Generally, ranchers will make all breeding decisions (i.e., when an animal is ready to breed or be moved somewhere else). 

On a farm, some of the main activities include: 

  • Planting crops 
  • Harvesting crops 
  • Maintaining the land 
  • Milking cows
Wrangler herding cattle
Herding is typically a daily activity on a ranch

A Plantation Explained

A plantation is a large piece of land (usually an estate) where cash crops are produced. While farms are smaller and often family-run, plantations are much larger establishments that require many employees

The first plantations were introduced in the 15th century in the southern United States. Instead of producing a diverse range of crops, they generally had huge fields dedicated to growing one high-profit crop such as tobacco, cotton, or sugar. 

As plantations continued to grow throughout the 15th and 16th centuries, more laborers were required to meet the demand. Due to how difficult it was to find workers, plantation owners eventually resorted to enslaved people as employees. 

The owner of the plantation required enslaved people to do some of the following: 

  • Plant and harvest crops 
  • Make repairs around the plantation house 
  • Kill animals 
  • Take care of animals 
  • Household duties (i.e., work as servants in the main house) 

Do Plantations Still Exist?

Plantations still exist for tourists to visit. Although they exist in a museum capacity, none of them still produce cash crops in abundance. It’s believed that most slavery plantations shut down when the US introduced the 13th Amendment, but it took a while for them to shut down afterward. 

An example of a plantation open to visitors is the Whitney Plantation in Wallace, Louisiana. Visitors to this plantation can learn the history of plantation life and slavery in the American South. 

Types of Plantations

There were different types of plantations throughout the slavery era in the United States. The most common types were tobacco and cotton plantations because they were the most profitable at the time. There were also coffee, tea, and rice plantations between the 1600s and 1800s. 

Tobacco Plantations

Tobacco plantations were some of the most popular because tobacco was popular in the United States. Still, it was also popular in other parts of the world (mainly Europe). 

So, once produced, the tobacco would be sent abroad to other countries. This exportation would make the plantation owners hefty profits, which led to further growth and further requirements for enslaved laborers. 

Cotton Plantations

Cotton also became extremely important in the United States, so these types of plantations were also prevalent and profitable. Enslaved people and other plantation workers were required to plant, maintain, and harvest cotton to be sold commercially throughout the year. 

Rice Plantations

Rice plantations were another popular type because many American plantation owners didn’t know how to plant or grow rice correctly. Because of this, they would bring in enslaved Africans to help them, and the demand for these enslaved people continued to grow.

Oak Alley Plantation in Vacherie Louisiana

Plantation Crops Examples

Some of the most common plantation crops included: 

  • Rice 
  • Cotton 
  • Tobacco 
  • Tea 
  • Bananas 
  • Coffee 
  • Sugar cane 

Unlike farms, most plantations would only produce one specific crop each. For example, one plantation might solely focus on growing cotton, whereas another might only grow rice. 

What Is the Difference Between a Plantation and an Estate?

A plantation is a piece of land where crops are grown, such as rice, cotton, and coffee. An estate is a property and land that someone owns, but it doesn’t necessarily have to contain any crops or livestock. A wealthy family usually owns an estate.

Conclusion

A plantation is a large piece of land that generally needs many employees to carry out day-to-day activities. On the other hand, a farm is smaller, and the primary workers are the farmers themselves. 

Crops and other goods produced on a farm can be sold commercially or kept for personal use. However, on plantations, most crops and goods grown are for commercial sale.

For more, don’t miss How Many Acres Can One Person Farm by Hand? | Key Factors.

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