A cash crop is a crop grown only for generating a profit by selling. Cash crop definition is used to differentiate it from food or subsistence crops produced for the consumption by a farmer’s family or feeding livestock.
Cash crops are generally grown on big farms that focus on producing one or several cultures to be sold and get profit. Such plants as cotton, corn, or wheat are examples of cash crops. The difference between food crops and cash crops is that the latter are grown for a profit, and the former are produced for sustaining a farmer’s family or feeding domestic animals.
Food crops, or in other words, subsistence crops, are usually more diverse as their purpose is to respond to different needs of a family. People who live in rural areas are still able to have a small farm for personal needs where they grow different types of vegetables and fruit.
Although people have planted wheat or rice in large fields for thousands of years, these crops were still consumed by one village and on the same location where they were grown. The true history of marketed crops began in the colonial era when relatively small European countries used vast unattended lands and the cheap workforce of colonies for producing the products they needed.
The first cash crop in US history was tobacco harvested by John Rolfe in Virginia in the 17th century. Since then, cash cropping developed mostly in the South, where agricultural communities used their plantations to generate income.
Today cash crops are a significant part of the US economy. Soybeans and corn are the most popular cultures, followed by wheat and oats. The importance of cash crops lies in the fact that they can minimize the expenses on labor, storing, and processing when they are grown in large concentrated areas. Moreover, they are used to feed people far from farms in cities or in areas with less favorable agricultural conditions.