The Definition of Primary Industries

The forest industry is a primary industry that harvests a natural resource.
The forest industry is a primary industry that harvests a natural resource. (Image: timber logs image by Horticulture from

Primary industries harvest and extract natural resources such as timber, minerals and oil. Also known as the primary sector of the economy, some primary businesses and industries also manufacture basic products from those resources. Primary industries deal with commodities. They are the first link in the supply chain and the foundation of manufacturing economies.

Growers and Harvesters

Agriculture, forestry and fishing are primary industries. Agriculture works with basic resources of land and water to produce crops used for food and other products. The forestry and fishing industries harvest natural resources of timber and fish, respectively. Many individual businesses in those industries then produce basic products such as the planks of wood used in construction and the fish fillets sold in grocery markets.


Mining industries that extract minerals, metals and rocks such as ore from the earth are also primary industries. The commodities from those industries are the raw materials and components used to manufacture other products.

Primary Energy Industries

Industries that drill for oil and natural gas and those that mine for coal and uranium are also part of the primary sector of the economy. Because the resources these industries target are nonrenewable, and their supply is finite, they demonstrate how the primary sector of the economy must evolve and adapt in order to meet the needs of manufacturers and consumers.

The Three-Sector Model

Primary industries are part of a three-sector economic model created by British economist Colin Clark. According to Clark, the resources harvested and extracted by the primary sector supply the secondary sector or the manufacturing industries that produce finished products. The tertiary sector or the service industries, such as the banks that finance factories, the transportation companies that move the goods or even the advertising companies that tell consumers about products, are the third level of Clark’s model. After Clark’s death in 1986, economists added a fourth or quaternary sector of the economy that involves the production and sale of information in fields such as scientific research and information technology.

Primary Sector Producers

From the mid-19th century to the mid-20th century, primary industries were a significant part of the economies of the most affluent countries. However, over the past 50 years, those economies have shifted away from primary industries and manufacturing and moved toward service and information as their bases. Meanwhile, many developing countries with large, untapped reserves of natural resources have made primary industries the focus of their economies.

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