A plantation is a large artificially established forest, farm or estate, where crops are grown for sale, often in distant markets rather than for local on-site consumption. The term plantation is informal and not precisely defined.
Crops grown on plantations include fast-growing trees (often conifers), cotton, coffee, tobacco, sugar cane, sisal, some oil seeds (notably oil palms) and rubber trees. Farms that produce alfalfa, Lespedeza, clover, and other forage crops are usually not called plantations. The term "plantation" has usually not included large orchards (except for banana plantations), but does include the planting of trees for lumber. A plantation is always a monoculture over a large area and does not include extensive naturally occurring stands of plants that have economic value. Because of its large size, a plantation takes advantage of economies of scale. Protectionist policies and natural comparative advantage have contributed to determining where plantations have been located.
Among the earliest examples of plantations were the latifundia of the Roman Empire, which produced large quantities of wine and olive oil for export. 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. The history of the environmental, social and economic issues relating to plantation agriculture are covered in articles that focus on those subjects.