Agriculture, as an optional in the UPSC mains exam, may not be as highly popular as subjects like public administration, geography or political science, but it is considered a safe and scoring optional by many candidates. It is a technical subject, however, and requires prior knowledge or background before you can venture into it as an optional. In fact, many students who take up agriculture for their graduation do so with the IAS exam as their destination. We discuss all this and more about the agriculture optional in this article.
How many take Agriculture optional?
As per the latest available data, 86 candidates had opted for agriculture optional in the 2015 mains exam out of which 11 people cleared the exam. The following table gives the number of candidates who had appeared with this optional and also the success rates of the optional for 10 years from 2005 to 2015.
Agriculture optional success rate
|Year||No. of candidates appeared||No. of candidates cleared||Success rate|
Agriculture optional toppers
|Yatish V. Deshmukh||2017||159|
Agriculture optional pros and cons
There are both benefits and drawbacks if you take up agriculture as your optional in the IAS mains exam. The key is to assess your own strengths and weaknesses, understand the demands of the UPSC exam, go through the particular optional subject’s syllabus and past question papers and then come to a decision. To help you in this decision-making, if you have not already decided on an optional, we have come up with the pros and cons of agriculture optional. Go through them and then match your own capabilities before fixing on one subject.
Agriculture optional pros
- Agriculture has a relatively shorter syllabus and it can be completed within 4 – 5 months if studied with the right approach and dedication.
- Apart from students of agriculture, even students of botany can take up this optional if they have an interest in it. Paper II of agriculture has a lot of sync with botany.
- Many topics in agriculture has an overlap with the general studies papers, especially in economy and geography. Agriculture and farmer distress being a ‘hot topic’ for newspapers, it can also help you in the essay paper.
- Topics in GS III which have a direct overlap with agriculture optional are – Major crops cropping patterns in various parts of the country, different types of irrigation and irrigation systems storage, transport and marketing of agricultural produce and issues and related constraints; e-technology in the aid of farmers. Issues related to direct and indirect farm subsidies and minimum support prices; Public Distribution System objectives, functioning, limitations, revamping; issues of buffer stocks and food security.
- The questions asked in this optional are mostly direct and predictable. To understand the pattern and the areas from where most questions are asked, you must go through the previous year UPSC question papers.
- The results of this optional has shown good consistency over the years and it is generally a scoring subject.
- If you incorporate some current affairs material pertinent to the subject (and which are easily available from the daily newspaper), you can take your score to great heights.
Agriculture optional cons
- You can take this subject only if you have an interest in reading it (this is true even if agriculture is your graduation or post-graduation subject).
- Candidates who hadn’t had biology in their graduation studies are not advised to take agriculture optional.
- Overlap of the syllabus with GS is less when compared to subjects like geography, history, pub ad, political science, etc.
Agriculture optional syllabus
Let us take a look at the syllabus for agriculture for the UPSC mains exam.
There are two optional papers in the UPSC exam pattern. Both the papers are for a total of 250 marks making the total optional marks to 500.
Download the Agriculture syllabus PDF.
How to prepare for agriculture optional?
In this section, we give you a detailed strategy for agriculture optional for UPSC. Before starting out with the topic-wise strategy for the agriculture papers, let us divide the syllabus neatly into sections. This exercise would make it easy to complete the syllabus and would also make the task look easier and more achievable.
Agriculture Paper I Syllabus Simplified
|Soil science and nutrient management||
|Soil and water conservation||
Agriculture Paper II Syllabus Simplified
|Seed production and technology||
|Horticulture and landscape gardening||
|Plant protection techniques||
|Food production and nutrition management||
Agriculture Paper I Strategy
- Ecology – this is becoming an important section as many questions are being asked from this section for the past 2 – 3 years. Questions are also being asked in the compulsory section. Topics from where questions are repeatedly asked are: environmental pollution, agro-ecosystem and its impact on crop productivity.
- Discuss the global initiatives and international conventions on climate change. What does NICRA stand for? What are the initiatives taken by Indian govt. in this regard? (20 marks, 2016)
Q. How are the agro climatic zones determined? (10 marks, 2015)
- Agronomy – from this topic, questions are repeatedly asked from: Cropping patterns in different agro-climatic zones of the country; Impact of high yielding and short-duration varieties on shifts in cropping patterns; and organic and precision farming. For this section, ‘Principles of Agronomy’ by Reddy and Reddy is quite useful.
Q. Integrated Pest Management (IPM) vs Integrated Nutrient Management (INM) (10 marks, 2016, 2015)
- Weed science – every year, questions are asked from here. Characteristics of weed, and biological control of weeds are very important topics.
Q. Explain critical period for crop weed competition with suitable examples. (10 marks, 2016)
Q. List the factors affecting efficacy of herbicides. (10 marks, 2016)
Q. Discuss the factors affecting efficacy of herbicides. (20 marks, 2015)
- Forestry – this section is also assuming more importance in recent years.
- Soil science and nutrient management – for this section, you can refer to ‘Introductory Soil Science’ by DK Das. Repeated questions are from: nitrogen-use efficiency in submerged rice soils; organic constituents of soil; saline and alkaline soils (problematic soil).
Q. Discuss nitrogen transformation and its management in submerged soil for rice production. (20 marks, 2015)
Q. What benefits are derived from organic matter in soil? (10 marks, 2015)
- Soil and water conservation – this is an easy section. Most of the questions are asked from soil erosion. This section also has an overlap with the GS III paper.
Q. Describe how irrigation is scheduled in critical stage of crop growth. (10 marks, 2016)
Q. Write a note on rainwater harvesting and recharge of ground water. (10 marks, 2015)
- Agriculture economics & agriculture economics – these sections are very important parts in paper I. Here, most of the questions asked are linked to current affairs. This is a very scoring section. The syllabus is quite small for these topics and can be covered in just two days. But, make sure you update yourselves with current data and maps and prepare your notes accordingly. This will fetch you good marks in these questions.
Q. Importance principles in farm management. (20 marks, 2016)
Q. Discuss the farm management problems in Indian context. (10 marks, 2015)
Q. Discuss briefly the challenges in agricultural marketing system. State the advantages of supply chain management. (10 marks, 2013)
Agriculture Paper II Strategy
- Cell biology – also called genetics, this section can be easily prepared from your degree notes (if you are an agriculture graduate) or from Tamil Nadu Agriculture notes. Questions asked are pretty straight-forward and every year, at least 50 marks worth of questions are asked. Answers in this section need to be augmented with examples.
Q. What are the components of DNA and RNA? Give the characteristic difference of the DNA and RNA. (12.5 marks, 2015)
Q. DNA is the genetic material. How does DNA contribute to the development of various traits? (12.5 marks, 2014)
- Plant breeding – for this section, you can refer to ‘Plant Breeding Principles and Methods’ by BD Singh or ‘Essentials of Plant Breeding’ by Phundan Singh. In case of different breeding methods, you need to give relevant examples.
Q. Explain the law of homologous series. How is it helpful in genetic resources, conservation and utilisation? (12.5 marks, 2015)
Q. What do you mean by genetically modified crop plants? Write its advantages and disadvantages. (12.5 marks, 2015)
- Plant physiology – questions are asked from this section almost every year. They are generally very easy and static questions which can be tackled easily if you have covered the syllabus thoroughly. However, the questions require really lengthy answers and for this, writing practice is needed. You can refer to ‘Fundamentals of Plant Physiology’ by VK Jain or ‘Plant Physiology’ by Sinha and Pandey. In this section, your answers need to be embellished with technical keywords. You should also draw good diagrams to get more marks.
Q. What are the essential nutrients required by plants for growth and development. Explain the boron deficiency symptom in Cauliflower and Litchi. (12.5 marks, 2015)
Q. Define vernalization. How vernalization is activated in plants? Briefly discuss its importance in agriculture. (12.5 marks, 2014)
- Seed production and technology – this is a very easy section. You need to get relevant current data for this section.
Q. What are objectives of seed testing? Write the testing procedure adopted in paddy and wheat crops. (10 marks, 2015)
- Horticulture and landscape gardening – focus on post-harvest technologies and how to prevent post-harvest losses. Fruit crops and flower crops are generally asked in the exam.
Q. Define cole crops & explain the basis on which they are grouped. (12.5 marks, 2015)
Q. Define jelly. Explain the principle of jelly formation. Briefly describe the preparation of jelly and enumerate problems in jelly making. 912.5 marks, 2014)
- Plant protection techniques – focus on broad areas of diseases and not individual diseases and pests. Important topics here are: theoretical part of pathology, IDM (integrated disease management), pest management, biocontrol of diseases and pests and quarantines.
Q. Write the distribution of mango malformation in India. What are the causes of different malformations? Suggest to combat the malformations. (12.5 marks, 2015)
- Food production and nutrition management – this is related to the syllabus of GS III. Questions are repeatedly asked from nutrition deficiencies, and protein malnutrition. You have to give correct examples and facts to support your answers. This is a scoring section in the syllabus.
Q. What do you mean by Targeted Public Distribution System (TPDS)? Who are specially focussed group covered under this programme? (10 marks, 2015)
Q. Explain in brief Targeted Public Distribution System (TPDS). What measures have been taken to increase transparency in the functioning of TPDS? (12.5 marks, 2014)
Making your own notes is important if you want to streamline your preparation. If you cannot make notes for all the topics (which is advisable since all the material is not available in one place), you can still make notes for at least five major topics in this optional. They are:
- Soil science
Agriculture optional books
- Principles of Agronomy by Reddy & Reddy
- Introductory Soil Science by DK Das
- Plant Breeding Principles and Methods by BD Singh
- Essentials of Plant Breeding by Phundan Singh
- Fundamentals of Plant Physiology by VK Jain
- Plant Physiology by Sinha & Pandey
- Fundamentals of Genetics by BD Singh
- Economics of Farm Production and Management by VT Raju & DVS Rao
- Introduction to Agriculture by AK Vyas
- Plant pathology by PD Sharma
- Introduction to Horticulture – N Kumar
|Books for Agriculture Optional||Agriculture or Botany optional for UPSC?|
|Strategy for Botany Optional for UPSC||Few Thumb Rules to Choose the Right Optional Subject for IAS Exam Mains|