A plantation is a large-scale farm that specializes in cash crops. The
crops grown include cotton, coffee, tea, cocoa, sugar cane, sisal, oil
seeds, oil palms, rubber trees, and fruits. Protectionist policies and
natural comparative advantage have sometimes contributed to
determining where plantations were located.
A plantation house is the main house of a plantation, often a
substantial farmhouse, which often serves as a symbol for the
plantation as a whole.
Plantation houses in the Southern United States
and in other areas were often quite grand and expensive architectural
Among the earliest examples of plantations were the latifundia of the
Roman Empire, which produced large quantities of wine and olive oil
Plantation agriculture grew rapidly with the increase in
international trade and the development of a worldwide economy that
followed the expansion of European colonial empires. Like every
economic activity, it has changed over time. Earlier forms of
plantation agriculture were associated with large disparities of
wealth and income, foreign ownership and political influence, and
exploitative social systems such as indentured labor and slavery.
1.1 Growth cycle
1.2 Natural forest loss
1.3 Criticisms of Plantations
2 Farm and home
2.1 Ecological impact
2.4 Oil palm
2.6 Arable crops
4 Antebellum American South
5 See also
7 External links
A plantation of Douglas-fir in Washington, U.S.
Industrial plantations are established to produce a high volume of
wood in a short period of time. Plantations are grown by state
forestry authorities (for example, the
Forestry Commission in Britain)
and/or the paper and wood industries and other private landowners
(such as Weyerhaeuser,
Sierra Pacific Industries in the
United States, Asia Pulp & Paper in Indonesia). Christmas trees
are often grown on plantations as well. In southern and southeastern
Asia, teak plantations have recently replaced the natural forest.
Industrial plantations are actively managed for the commercial
production of forest products. Industrial plantations are usually
large-scale. Individual blocks are usually even-aged and often consist
of just one or two species. These species can be exotic or indigenous.
The plants used for the plantation are often genetically altered for
desired traits such as growth and resistance to pests and diseases in
general and specific traits, for example in the case of timber
species, volumic wood production and stem straightness.
resources are the basis for genetic alteration. Selected individuals
grown in seed orchards are a good source for seeds to develop adequate
Wood production on a tree plantation is generally higher than that of
natural forests. While forests managed for wood production commonly
yield between 1 and 3 cubic meters per hectare per year, plantations
of fast-growing species commonly yield between 20 and 30 cubic meters
or more per hectare annually; a
Grand Fir plantation at Craigvinean in
Scotland has a growth rate of 34 cubic meters per hectare per year
(Aldhous & Low 1974), and Monterey
Pine plantations in southern
Australia can yield up to 40 cubic meters per hectare per year
(Everard & Fourt 1974). In 2000, while plantations accounted for
5% of global forest, it is estimated that they supplied about 35% of
the world's roundwood.
In the first year, the ground is prepared usually by the combination
of burning, herbicide spraying, and/or cultivation and then saplings
are planted by human crew or by machine. The saplings are usually
obtained in bulk from industrial nurseries, which may specialize in
selective breeding in order to produce fast growing disease- and
In the first few years until the canopy closes, the saplings are
looked after, and may be dusted or sprayed with fertilizers or
pesticides until established.
After the canopy closes, with the tree crowns touching each other, the
plantation is becoming dense and crowded, and tree growth is slowing
due to competition. This stage is termed 'pole stage'. When
competition becomes too intense (for pine trees, when the live crown
is less than a third of the tree's total height), it is time to thin
out the section. There are several methods for thinning, but where
topography permits, the most popular is 'row-thinning', where every
third or fourth or fifth row of trees is removed, usually with a
harvester. Many trees are removed, leaving regular clear lanes through
the section so that the remaining trees have room to expand again. The
removed trees are delimbed, forwarded to the forest road, loaded onto
trucks, and sent to a mill. A typical pole stage plantation tree is
7–30 cm in diameter at breast height (dbh). Such trees are
sometimes not suitable for timber, but are used as pulp for paper and
particleboard, and as chips for oriented strand board.
As the trees grow and become dense and crowded again, the thinning
process is repeated. Depending on growth rate and species, trees at
this age may be large enough for timber milling; if not, they are
again used as pulp and chips.
Around year 10-60 the plantation is now mature and (in economic terms)
is falling off the back side of its growth curve. That is to say, it
is passing the point of maximum wood growth per hectare per year, and
so is ready for the final harvest. All remaining trees are felled,
delimbed, and taken to be processed.
The ground is cleared, and the cycle is repeated.
Some plantation trees, such as pines and eucalyptus, can be at high
risk of fire damage because their leaf oils and resins are flammable
to the point of a tree being explosive under some conditions[citation
needed]. Conversely, an afflicted plantation can in some cases be
cleared of pest species cheaply through the use of a prescribed burn,
which kills all lesser plants but does not significantly harm the
Natural forest loss
Many forestry experts claim that the establishment of plantations will
reduce or eliminate the need to exploit natural forest for wood
production. In principle this is true because due to the high
productivity of plantations less land is needed. Many point to the
example of New Zealand, where 19% of the forest area provides 99% of
the supply of industrial round wood. It has been estimated that the
world's demand for fiber could be met by just 5% of the world forest
(Sedjo & Botkin 1997). However, in practice, plantations are
replacing natural forest, for example in Indonesia. According to the
FAO, about 7% of the natural closed forest being lost in the tropics
is land being converted to plantations. The remaining 93% of the loss
is land being converted to agriculture and other uses. Worldwide, an
estimated 15% of plantations in tropical countries are established on
closed canopy natural forest.
In the Kyoto Protocol, there are proposals encouraging the use of
plantations to reduce carbon dioxide levels (though this idea is being
challenged by some groups on the grounds that the sequestered CO2 is
eventually released after harvest).
A tea plantation in Ciwidey,
Bandung in Indonesia
Criticisms of Plantations
In contrast to a naturally regenerated forest, plantations are
typically grown as even-aged monocultures, primarily for timber
Plantations are usually near- or total monocultures. That is, the same
species of tree is planted across a given area, whereas a natural
forest would contain a far more diverse range of tree species.
Plantations may include tree species that would not naturally occur in
the area. They may include unconventional types such as hybrids, and
genetically modified trees may be used sometime in the future.
Since the primary interest in plantations is to produce wood or pulp,
the types of trees found in plantations are those that are best-suited
to industrial applications. For example, pine, spruce and eucalyptus
are widely planted far beyond their natural range because of their
fast growth rate, tolerance of rich or degraded agricultural land and
potential to produce large volumes of raw material for industrial use.
Plantations are always young forests in ecological terms. Typically,
trees grown in plantations are harvested after 10 to 60 years, rarely
up to 120 years. This means that the forests produced by plantations
do not contain the type of growth, soil or wildlife typical of
old-growth natural forest ecosystems. Most conspicuous is the absence
of decaying dead wood, a crucial component of natural forest
In the 1970s,
Brazil began to establish high-yield, intensively
managed, short rotation plantations. These types of plantations are
sometimes called fast-wood plantations or fiber farms and often
managed on a short-rotation basis, as little as 5 to 15 years. They
are becoming more widespread in South America, Asia and other areas.
The environmental and social impacts of this type of plantation has
caused them to become controversial. In Indonesia, for example, large
multi-national pulp companies have harvested large areas of natural
forest without regard for regeneration. From 1980 to 2000, about 50%
of the 1.4 million hectares of pulpwood plantations in
been established on what was formerly natural forest land.
The replacement of natural forest with tree plantations has also
caused social problems. In some countries, again, notably Indonesia,
conversions of natural forest are made with little regard for rights
of the local people. Plantations established purely for the production
of fiber provide a much narrower range of services than the original
natural forest for the local people.
India has sought to limit this
damage by limiting the amount of land owned by one entity and, as a
result, smaller plantations are owned by local farmers who then sell
the wood to larger companies. Some large environmental organizations
are critical of these high-yield plantations and are running an
anti-plantation campaign, notably the
Rainforest Action Network
Rainforest Action Network and
Farm and home
Farm or home plantations are typically established for the production
of timber and fire wood for home use and sometimes for sale.
Management may be less intensive than with Industrial plantations. In
time, this type of plantation can become difficult to distinguish from
naturally regenerated forest.
Teak and bamboo plantations in
India have given good results and an
alternative crop solution to farmers of central India, where
conventional farming was popular. But due to rising input costs of
farming many farmers have done teak and bamboo plantations which
require very little water (only during first two years).
bamboo have legal protection from theft. Bamboo, once planted, gives
output for 50 years till flowering occurs.
Teak requires 20 years to
grow to full maturity and fetch returns.
These may be established for watershed or soil protection. They are
established for erosion control, landslide stabilization and
windbreaks. Such plantations are established to foster native species
and promote forest regeneration on degraded lands as a tool of
Probably the single most important factor a plantation has on the
local environment is the site where the plantation is established. If
natural forest is cleared for a planted forest then a reduction in
biodiversity and loss of habitat will likely result. In some cases,
their establishment may involve draining wetlands to replace mixed
hardwoods that formerly predominated with pine species. If a
plantation is established on abandoned agricultural land, or highly
degraded land, it can result in an increase in both habitat and
biodiversity. A planted forest can be profitably established on lands
that will not support agriculture or suffer from lack of natural
The tree species used in a plantation is also an important factor.
Where non-native varieties or species are grown, few of the native
fauna are adapted to exploit these and further biodiversity loss
occurs. However, even non-native tree species may serve as corridors
for wildlife and act as a buffer for native forest, reducing edge
Once a plantation is established, how it is managed becomes the
important environmental factor. The single most important factor of
management is the rotation period. Plantations harvested on longer
rotation periods (30 years or more) can provide similar benefits to a
naturally regenerated forest managed for wood production, on a similar
rotation. This is especially true if native species are used. In the
case of exotic species, the habitat can be improved significantly if
the impact is mitigated by measures such as leaving blocks of native
species in the plantation, or retaining corridors of natural forest.
In Brazil, similar measures are required by government regulation
Sugar cane workers in Puerto Rico, 1941
Sugar plantations in the Caribbean
Sugar plantations were highly valued in the Caribbean by the British
and French colonists in the 17th and 18th centuries and the use of
sugar in Europe rose during this period.
Sugarcane is still an
important crop in Cuba.
Sugar plantations also arose in countries such
as Barbados and
Cuba because of the natural endowments that they had.
These natural endowments included soil that was conducive to growing
sugar and a high marginal product of labor realized through the
increasing number of slaves.
Sugarcane plantation in rural Cuba
Plantings of para rubber, the tree Hevea brasiliensis, are usually
Oil palm agriculture is rapidly expanding across wet tropical regions,
and is usually developed at plantation scale.
Fruit orchards are sometimes considered to be plantations.
These include tobacco, sugarcane, pineapple, and cotton, especially in
Before the rise of cotton in the American South, indigo and rice were
also sometimes called plantation crops.
Harvesting tea in Bogor, West Java
When Newfoundland was colonized by
England in 1610, the original
colonists were called "Planters" and their fishing rooms were known as
"fishing plantations". These terms were used well into the 20th
The following three plantations are maintained by the Government of
Newfoundland and Labrador as provincial heritage sites:
Plantation was a 17th-century fishing plantation
established at Cuper's Cove (present-day Cupids) under a royal charter
issued by King James I.
Plantation is an 18th-century fishing plantation at
Plantation a 17th-century fishing plantation maintained by Sir
David Kirke and his heirs at Ferryland. The plantation was destroyed
by French invaders in 1696.
Other fishing plantations:
Bristol's Hope Plantation, a 17th-century fishing plantation
established at Harbour Grace, created by the Bristol Society of
Benger Plantation, an 18th-century fishing plantation maintained by
James Benger and his heirs at Ferryland. It was built on the site of
Piggeon's Plantation, an 18th-century fishing plantation maintained by
Ellias Piggeon at Ferryland.
Plantation economy and Slavery
1913 photo: African-Americans picking cotton on a plantation in the
Italian immigrants working on Brazilian coffee plantation, early 20th
African slave labour was used extensively to work on early plantations
(such as tobacco, rice, cotton, and sugar plantations) in the American
colonies and the United States, throughout the Caribbean, the
Americas, and in European-occupied areas of Africa. Several notable
historians and economists such as Eric Williams, Walter Rodney, and
Karl Marx contend that the global capitalist economy was largely
founded upon the creation and produce of thousands of slave labor
camps based in colonial plantations, exploiting tens of millions of
In modern times, the low wages typically paid to plantation workers
are the basis of plantation profitability in some areas.
In more recent times, overt slavery has been replaced by para-slavery
or slavery-in-kind, including the sharecropping system. At its most
extreme, workers are in "debt bondage": they must work to pay off a
debt at such punitive interest rates that it may never be paid off.
Others work unreasonably long hours and are paid subsistence wages
that (in practice) may only be spent in the company store.
In Brazil, a sugarcane plantation was termed an engenho ("engine"),
and the 17th-century English usage for organized colonial production
was "factory." Such colonial social and economic structures are
Sugar workers on plantations in
Cuba and elsewhere in the Caribbean
lived in company towns known as bateyes.
Antebellum American South
Plantations in the American South
Plantations in the American South and Plantation
complexes in the Southeastern United States
In the American South, antebellum plantations were centered on a
"plantation house," the residence of the owner, where important
business was conducted.
Slavery and plantations had different
characteristics in different regions of the South. As the Upper South
Chesapeake Bay colonies developed first, historians of the
antebellum South defined planters as those who held 20 or more slaves.
Major planters held many more, especially in the
Deep South as it
developed. The majority of slaveholders held 10 or fewer slaves,
often just a few to labor domestically. By the late 18th century, most
planters in the
Upper South had switched from exclusive tobacco
cultivation to mixed-crop production, both because tobacco had
exhausted the soil and because of changing markets. The shift away
from tobacco meant they had slaves in excess of the number needed for
labor, and they began to sell them in the internal slave trade.
There was a variety of domestic architecture on plantations. The
largest and wealthiest planter families, for instance, those with
estates fronting on the James River in Virginia, constructed mansions
in brick and Georgian style, e.g. Shirley Plantation. Common or
smaller planters in the late 18th and 19th century had more modest
wood frame buildings, such as Southall
Plantation in Charles City
Plantation house, Schriever, Louisiana, June 1940
In the Lowcountry of South Carolina, by contrast, even before the
American Revolution, planters holding large rice plantations typically
owned hundreds of slaves. In Charleston and Savannah, the elite also
held numerous slaves to work as household servants. The 19th-century
development of the
Deep South for cotton cultivation depended on large
plantations with much more acreage than was typical of the Upper
South; and for labor, planters held hundreds of slaves.
Until December 1865 slavery was legal in parts of the United States.
Most slaves were employed in agriculture, and planter was a term
commonly used to describe a farmer with many slaves.
The term planter has no universally-accepted definition, but academic
historians have defined it to identify the elite class, "a landowning
farmer of substantial means." In the "Black Belt" counties of
Alabama and Mississippi, the terms "planter" and "farmer" were often
synonymous. Robert Fogel and Stanley Engerman define large planters
as owning over 50 slaves, and medium planters as owning between 16 and
In his study of Black Belt counties in Alabama, Jonathan Wiener
defines planters by ownership of real property, rather than of slaves.
A planter, for Wiener, owned at least $10,000 worth of real estate in
1850 and $32,000 worth in 1860, equivalent to about the top 8 percent
of landowners. In his study of southwest Georgia, Lee Formwalt also
defines planters in size of land holdings rather than slaves.
Formwalt's planters are in the top 4.5 percent of land owners,
translating into real estate worth $6,000 or more in 1850, $24,000 or
more in 1860, and $11,000 or more in 1870. In his study of Harrison
County, Texas, Randolph B. Campbell classifies large planters as
owners of 20 slaves, and small planters as owners of between ten and
19 slaves. In Chicot and Phillips counties, Arkansas, Carl H.
Moneyhon defines large planters as owners of twenty or more slaves,
and six hundred or more acres.
Agriculture and Agronomy portal
List of plantations
Plantations in the American South
Slavery in the United States
Forest loss". United Nations System-wide Earthwatch. United Nations
Environment Programme. Archived from the original on January 6, 2010.
Retrieved October 27, 2011.
^ Overbeek W. (2012). "An overview of industrial tree plantation
conflicts in the global South. Conflicts, trends, and resistance
struggles" (PDF). EJOLT. 3: 84.
^ a b Peter Kolchin, American
Slavery 1619–1877, New York: Hill and
Wang, 1993, xiii
^ Oakes, Ruling Race, 52.
^ Fogel, Robert William; Engerman, Stanley L. (1974). Time on the
Cross: The Economics of American Negro Slavery. Boston: Little, Brown.
^ Wiener, Jonathan M. (Autumn 1976). "Planter Persistence and Social
Change: Alabama, 1850–1870". Journal of Interdisciplinary History. 7
(2): 235–60. JSTOR 202735.
^ Formwalt, Lee W. (October 1981). "Antebellum Planter Persistence:
Southwest Georgia—A Case Study".
Plantation Society in the Americas.
1 (3): 410–29. ISSN 0192-5059. OCLC 571605035.
^ Campbell, Randolph B (May 1982). "Population Persistence and Social
Change in Nineteenth-Century Texas: Harrison County, 1850–1880".
Journal of Southern History. 48 (2): 185–204.
^ Moneyhon, Carl H. (1992). "The Impact of the Civil War in Arkansas:
Plantation Counties". Arkansas Historical
Quarterly. 51 (2): 105–18. JSTOR 40025847.
Aldhous, J. R. & Low, A. J. (1974). The potential of Western
Hemlock, Western Red Cedar,
Grand Fir and Noble Fir in Britain.
Forestry Commission Bulletin 49.
Everard, J. E. & Fourt, D. F. (1974). Monterey
Pine and Bishop
Pine as plantation trees in southern Britain. Quarterly Journal of
Forestry 68: 111-125.
Lewes, Diana, A Year in Jamaica: Memoirs of a girl in Arcadia in 1889
(Eland, 2013) ISBN 978-190601183-3
Savill, P. Evans, J. Auclair, D. Falk, J. (1997). Plantation
Silviculture in Europe. Oxford University Press. Oxford.
Sedjo, R. A. & Botkin, D. (1997). Using forest plantations to
spare natural forests. Environment 39 (10): 15-20, 30.hu
Thompson, Edgar Tristram. The
Plantation edited by Sidney Mintz and
George Baca (University of
South Carolina Press; 2011) 176 pages; 1933
Virts, Nancy, "Change in the
Plantation System: American South,
1910–1945," Explorations in Economic History, 43 (Jan. 2006),
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Plantation agriculture in the Southeastern United States
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