‘Cash Crop’ is the term given to the cultivation of crops for profit, and not for the subsistence of the grower’s family. Traditionally cash crops have only been a smaller, but necessary, part of a yield, in order to raise funds to invest in next year’s crop, and to meet the other life needs of the farmer.
In developed countries almost all crops are grown for profit, in contrast to developing countries where subsistence is still a necessity. Cash crops grown in developing countries do have an export value, however, and therefore attract attention and demand from more economically developed countries.
The most common cash crops in tropical and sub-tropical areas range from exotic fruit to crops needed for clothing, and include oranges, bananas, coffee, sugar cane, cocoa, jute and cotton.
In the build-up to the American Civil War in the mid-19th Century the economy of the Southern states relied on slave-grown cotton, which led to the region holding a significant influence over western European nations that required the cotton to fuel their own textile booms. The power of cotton was such that it became known as ‘King Cotton’. In cooler climates, popular cash crops include wheat, corn and soybean.
There are also black market cash crops, i.e. those that are grown for use in illegal narcotics, such as coca (for cocaine), poppies (for opium) and cannabis.
The need for profit often leads to ‘monocropping’, which is the practise of growing a single crop on a piece of land. Monocropping, while it can be a source of wages for the farmer and the workers, is often associated with soil degradation, and thus can actually lead to hardship for the crop grower.