Identify Farm Crops

Farm crops often bear little resemblance to the produce you buy in the store. Many people, when encountering fields of crops, wonder what is being grown. While farmers may grow hundreds of different kinds of crops including grains, vegetables, beans, tubers, fruit, nuts, hay, cotton and even flowers, there are ways to identify some of the most common crops.


  1. Look for wheat in winter and spring. Exceptions are in North America, where wheat can commonly be distinguished from other crops in late summer to fall. Wheat generally grows in cool weather and is harvested when the weather gets warm, though this is often not the case in the USA and Canada, where seeds are sown in cooler periods like that in spring, and harvested in the fall when the weather gets cool. In cooler climates like in North America, farmers or producers grow spring wheat, which is planted in the spring and harvested in late summer or fall. In warmer climates like that near the Mediterranean, farmers plant winter wheat in the fall and harvest it in the spring.
    • Wheat looks much like grass when it's young or in the vegetative stage, except the leaves tend to be a bit wider than your average lawn grass. When wheat is near harvest time, it grows a brush-like seed head and turns a golden-brown at harvest time.
      • Do not confuse wheat with barley. Barley has a similar seed head as wheat does, except the awns or "beard" of the head is much longer than wheat, and the head itself is not as coarse.
  2. Barley is grown in similar areas as wheat, but is more prevalent in more northern areas. Canada and Russia are known for growing barley, though barley has its origins in the same area as wheat: in the Fertile Crescent which is off the Mediterranean and Red Seas. In warmer countries, it is sown in the fall and harvested in the spring. In northern climates where no plants grow during the winter, it is sown in the spring and sown in the fall.
    • Barley can be identified by the long beard or awns, finer seed head and lighter gold colour at harvest time.
  3. Find corn, or maize, in regions that enjoy hot summers.
    • Corn grows as tall as 15 feet (3 meters) and have thick stems, long thin leaves and a head that looks like a yellow tassel. Close to harvest time, the tassel turns brown and you can see ears of corn with protruding brown or maroon silk growing among the leaves.
    • Corn kernels aren't visible because they are covered by the husk, which is made up of several modified leaves.
    • Corn is planted in rows several times during a single growing season, so you may see plants in different stages of growth.
  4. Watch for oats in late spring or early fall. Oats grow very quickly and must be harvested quickly before the kernels start to fall off the plants. The seed-heads of oat plants are what are called racemes, which are seeds that hang off of thin "stems" that are bent over from the weight of the oat kernels.
    • Oats are more of a brownish than gold colour at harvest time, though some plants can be still a little green at that time as well.
  5. Rice is a crop grown in water paddies, where seeds are sown, then the field flooded for a long period of time until the seed head starts to show. The field is drained, dried and allows the plant to reach full maturity before being harvested. The seed heads are similar to oats, with more and smaller seeds per seed head than oats. Rice grows quite quickly, and, like oats, must be harvested quickly to prevent the seeds from falling off upon being harvested.
  6. Seek out rows of spinach during spring or fall, when cooler temperatures prevail. Spinach are short, bushy plants with dark green leaves. Some varieties may have ruffled leaves.
    • Spinach plants eventually bolt, which means they grow tall stems with heads that spread seeds. Plants that have bolted have bitter leaves and are no longer considered useful.
  7. Identify crops of potatoes in late spring in cooler climates and early fall in warmer climates. Potato plants grow 2 to 3 feet (60 to 100 cm) high. Although they are planted in rows, their growth often obscures the space in between.
    • Potatoes have small white flowers if the weather has been cool and damp. If you see what seems to be dead plants, the potatoes, which grow underground, are ready to harvest.
  8. Watch for broccoli in the spring. Broccoli plants are short with large, ruffled leaves. Broccoli plants first grow a central head containing a cluster of small, unopened flower buds. Farmers typically cut the central head off, which encourages side heads to grow.
  9. Find fields of alfalfa sprouts in early spring. Young alfalfa plants are very small with clusters of oval/heart-shaped leaves, often in clusters of three at a time. The plant itself is made up of more than one stem, not on one stem like most plants listed here, and can put down a deep taproot, especially since it is not tilled and resown like all other crops mentioned in this article, except when harvesting sprouts for salads. When alfalfa is nearing maturity, it can achieve a height of 3 to 4 feet and puts out yellow or purplish flowers, depending on the cultivar. These flowers are very similar, but much smaller, to flowers of a pea or bean plant, and grow in a cluster of 6 or more. Alfalfa is commonly harvested as a forage crop for livestock, particularly as hay.
    • Alfalfa is actually related to peas and beans, because all three are considered as legume crops.
  10. Seek out cotton crops in hot climates. Cotton is a twiggy shrub about 5 feet (1.5 m) tall. It blooms with a white flower that turns pink and then falls off in about 3 days. The cotton grows within the seed pod (boll) until it bursts open.


  • The word “corn” is derived from the Latin word for grain, and it's the term used in many parts of the world for whatever grain crop is common in the area.

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