There are different types of cropping, including crop rotation, sequential cropping, intercropping, mixed cropping, and monocropping. All of them, except monocropping, go by the principles of either growing several crops on one field or growing one crop after another. Such diversity ensures the so-called permaculture farming practices. Permaculture provides biodiversity by offering a vibrant number of crops for harvesting with different plants performing different functions so that the ecosystem is strong. This helps to avoid many issues, including the ones concerning soil quality and pests infestation. Monoculture is the opposite of that, implying the cultivation of one crop on one field for several years.
Definition of Monoculture
Monoculture implies the application of high doses of fertilizers and pesticides, which may eventually lead to decrease in yield due to the accumulation of pathogenic microorganisms in the soil, destruction of its structure, deterioration of mineral nutrition, etc. So why do farmers still choose monocropping? The catch is in the need to provide for the needs of only one crop with its individual characteristics. Besides, cultivation of a single crop requires a single harvesting method, which also boosts the farmer’s profit. However, there are significant disadvantageous effects of monoculture farming that can be defined. Let’s go through the biggest of them.
Elimination of Biological Controls
As monoculture implies an artificially induced lack of diversity, it eliminates many important functions that nature provides to the plants and soil. For instance, practising monoculture makes it almost impossible to prevent a single population of insects from getting too large, and, consequently, getting out of control. Besides, lack of diversity means there are no other crop varieties that can provide other types of nutrients to the soil. This leads to a significant decrease in the number of microorganisms and bacteria species in the soil, reducing biological variety.
Increased Use of Synthetic Material
Since the natural checks and balances are artificially eliminated in monoculture, farmers have to resort to the use of large quantities of synthetic agrichemicals (herbicides, insecticides, bactericides and fertilizers) to protect the crop. These chemicals not only leave traces on plants that are intended for human consumption but also remain in the soil even after harvesting, causing its damage and eventually polluting the groundwater.
Apart from the negative effect of intensive farming (synthetic chemicals overapplication on the soil), monoculture causes soil degradation in other ways. Since there are no cover crops, there is no natural soil protection from wind and rain, which results in soil erosion, making it unusable for agricultural purposes.
Monoculture requires huge amounts of water for crop irrigation compared to polyculture, as there are no ground cover plants to sustain proper moisture retention in the soil. In other words, farmers are forced to use more water, taking it from natural sources (lakes, rivers), negatively impacting the environment. Besides, increased use of both water and chemicals leads to higher contamination, further negatively affecting the ecosystem.
Fossil Fuels Use
Monoculture farms usually operate on a massive scale, involving a heavier use of machinery compared to more traditional farming. Since machines rely on fossil fuels, monoculture farming seriously contributes to air pollution and climate change.
Since one of the biggest issues with monoculture is the overuse of fertilizers, pesticides, and water, resource management is key to preventing ecosystem disruption. Luckily, today there are countless online field management tools to ensure effective remote farm control. For instance, Crop Monitoring agro platform by EOS allows users to create VRA maps to reduce the risk of agrochemical overuse. In addition, the tool relies on satellite imagery analytics, using a soil moisture measuring index (NDMI) to visualize water management on the screen.
Fixing the Issues with Monoculture
One of the ways to fix the issues with monoculture is switching to polyculture farming, which is, of course, just what it sounds like. Ensuring ecological diversity is one of the key farming solutions to climate change. There is also a golden middle between monoculture and polyculture, known as strip intercropping. However, it is important to keep in mind that the choice of cropping type is always based on the type of crop that is to be planted.
It can be infeasible to apply diverse crop rotation over time to perennial crops. Most of them will not produce good yields until years later. Interplanting species could be a better option to reduce the negative effect of monoculture. However, it might not help within pests management, as the hosts would still be present in a relatively high density. Besides, farmers who want to try inter-planting should be aware that adding diversity is only useful if there are resistance traits within the species.
Overall, the most common solutions for eliminating the negative effect of monoculture include polyculture, diverse crop rotation, and the use of biotech crops. And although these may solve some issues associated with monoculture, they may cause others problems. That is why the debate concerning the problems with monocrops farming is still open today and there are yet practical and economical ways to be developed to fix those issues.