What Is Monocropping: Disadvantages Of Monoculture In Gardening

What Is Monocropping: Disadvantages Of Monoculture In Gardening

By: Susan Patterson, Master Gardener

You’ve likely heard the term monoculture at one time or other. For those who haven’t, you may wonder “What is monocropping?” Planting monoculture crops may seem an easy method of gardening but, in fact, the adverse effects of monocropping can lead to a number of issues down the road. Let’s learn more about these effects and the monoculture problems that may result.

What is Monocropping?

Many farmers plant only one crop in the same place year after year. This is what is known as monoculture crops. Supporters claim it is a more profitable way to farm than switching crops around each year.

When a farmer grows only one type of crop he can specialize in that crop and purchase only the tools and machinery needed to deal with that crop. However, those against monocropping claim that it is very hard on the environment and actually less profitable than organic means of farming.

Disadvantages of Monoculture Farming

Planting the same crop in the same place each year zaps nutrients from the earth and leaves soil weak and unable to support healthy plant growth. Because soil structure and quality is so poor, farmers are forced to use chemical fertilizers to encourage plant growth and fruit production.

These fertilizers, in turn, disrupt the natural makeup of the soil and contribute further to nutrient depletion. Monocropping also creates the spread of pests and diseases, which must be treated with yet more chemicals. The effects of monocropping on the environment are severe when pesticides and fertilizers make their way into ground water or become airborne, creating pollution.

Organic Farming, the Alternative Approach

Monoculture problems can be avoided altogether if organic farming methods are employed. When diverse plant species are planted, crops are better able to withstand attacks from both insects and pests, thus eliminating the need for pesticides.

Organic farmers focus on developing healthy, rich soil that provides all the nutrients that plants need to thrive and produce an abundant harvest. Organic farms also take advantage of animals such as cattle, pigs and chickens to help keep the soil rich.

This article was last updated on

Read more about Environmental Problems

Monoculture Crops - Learn About The Effects Of Monocropping - garden

Pros and Cons of Monocropping
In a world of compromised soil content, factory farming, and toxic methane levels, its an important conversation to discuss monocropping. Monocropping is the use of a single crop that is planted year after year with no deviation or change to the rotation. Corn, soybeans, wheat, and winter wheat are the most common monocrops. These practices are have become more popular in modern times and it is important to discuss the pros and cons of this farming practice. More than often monocropping is known to have more cons, but its important to understand how it came to rise as one of the most popular farming practices in the second half of the century. It is not only a culture of growing cros but has influenced animal farming.

In a world of growing populations there is a need to find processes to grow more food more efficiently. Farming communities were under pressure to meet the growing demand and populations. The pros of monocropping are what made it the “new way” to farm for a modern world.

1. Efficiency is one of the main benefits of monoculture. When there is only one crop on the table all energy and resources can be focused in that direction. All the technology, resources, labor, and focus can be utilized in producing one consistent item. Tasks and production become simplified and yield maximizes. This is a concept prized in capitalism when profit and production are most important. This efficiency is matched with the local climate and soil conditions. Whichever crop suits the land best is planted. Plants that coincide with wind conditions, droughts, and rainfall will be planted where those climates naturally occur. It is a practice based in practicality where output is the top priority.

2. Technology had a chance to develop because of monoculture. Mechanization was increased as a way to minimize human labor. Strenuous activity was taken over by machines and genetic technology became a major player in the industrialized agriculture world. Creating uniform conditions on each field allowed farmers to invest in technology. Also uniform conditions provided results where the best farming practices of that particular plant could thrive. New technology gave symmetry and consistency to the crops that grew.

3.Specialization of production created a new farming culture where farmers became specialized in their growing field. Farming is a business. That business like all others will profit the more it gives to its specialization. Farmers could depend on routine responsibilities, investments, and long term planning. Optimizing operations was easier knowing there was one specialty to take care of.

1. Pesticide resistance has always been at the forefront of farming and agriculture, but no more than with monoculture. Pesticides and herbicides are commonly used especially when all of one plant is planted year after year. Pests and insects are attracted to a consistent food source that is plentiful and concentrated. The pesticides kill a lot of the insects but certain ones live on. These organisms that live develop a resistance to the pesticides and proliferate with that resistance. In the long term this means the pesticides used need to keep changing with the high resistance bugs. The chemicals used continue to get more toxic, and the effect usually weekends as more and more bugs learn to resist. Pesticides have proven to become toxic to the soil and natural systems of mother nature.

2. Degradation of soil has been one of the gravest effects from monoculture. Many different crops help to re-nourish the soil content. Where one crop depletes certain nutrients other crops will put nutrients back in. A rotation of crops helps keep soil alive and thriving.

Specializing in one crop overtime, depletes the soils of their natural macro and micro Diversity thrives in nature, and is often the reason it always finds a way to survive and thrive. When planting one crop, we take the same nutrients out of the soil consistently and then rip the plant out at its most fruitful state. There isn’t anything to replenish the land in the natural cycle of life and death.

When soil losses nutrients it is more likely to become a dormant place to grow anything which then leads to erosion problems. When soil is damaged, all the living organisms in that soil die-off as well. These organisms are essential to the cycle of organic breakdown.

3. Pollution and climate change are by far the most critical effects of monoculture. Along with the new technology, and a loss of polyculture has sped up the degradation of our natural environment and excelled the speed of climate change. Run-off from fertilizers and pesticides have poisoned clean water sources and killed off species of insects and animals. This pollution to our water supplies eventually makes its way into ground water and wells, where it effects our bodies and health.

The cons of monocropping vastly outweigh the positives and the list of dangers grows longer and longer. The more years that go by, we see the long lasting effects this type of farming has on our natural survival.

Monoculture vs. Polyculture Part I: “Straight up” beats “cocktails” for cover crop productivity

Planting cover crop mixtures is very popular right now. The practice has a feel-good aspect about it and, buoyed by the ecological theory, it fits with the current “mimic nature” strategy of agroecologists. In a previous blog post I demonstrated how difficult it is to do research on cover crop mixtures. Although difficult, there are intrepid researchers investigating this practice so I decided to see what they were finding. The results call into question the value of cover crop mixtures, as in many situations a monoculture cover crop would both produce more biomass and provide other desired services as well.

Do ecological theories of natural biodiversity apply to cover crop polycultures? Photos left to right: A. Losi & A. McGuire.

My last post is related to this there, I showed the hypothesis that diverse polycultures exhibit transgressive overyielding, is not supported by research results (i.e., polyculture yields do not exceed yields of their best yielding component when it is grown in monoculture). But does this apply to cover crops? Might polyculture cover crops give some benefit over monocultures? For if an agricultural practice exists that is well-suited to mimicking nature, it is a cover crop, which is not harvested like a food crop, and thus is easier to manage as a mixture. Cover crops are planted specifically to provide what are now called ecosystem services benefits like suppressing weeds, recycling nutrients, and supplying nitrogen.

First, a little about why using cover crop polycultures could be beneficial, some of which is covered in this eXtension webinar by a team at Penn State. The theory is that a mixture (polyculture) of species will interact in a complimentary way so as to produce more biomass and other ecosystem services, than one species planted by itself (monoculture). The theoretical relationship is shown in this graph (Tilman et al. 2014) where productivity increases with species diversity (the small triangles are individual trials and the large dots connected by the line are the average biomass yields for each level of diversity). If this would work with cover crops, then cover crop polycultures could do a lot of good.

So what are the researchers finding? How do polycultures stack up against monocultures when it comes to cover crop yields? Here is a summary of the studies that I reviewed:

# of species in mixtures

Results for Monoculture productivity 1

2 (in multiple combinations) and 3

= or 1 Results for each comparison/year monoculture biomass production greater than (>), equal to (=) or less than ( average of the monoculture yields, but as concluded in the Cardinale et al. (2011) meta-analysis, transgressive overyielding, where the polyculture yield bests the best monoculture, is not a realistic expectation. One further note, although this is not a large number of studies, the results match the results from a much larger body of evidence reviewed by Cardinale et al. which was highlighted in a previous post.

Ecological theory also says that mixtures will have more stable productivity over time than monocultures. However, Wortman found no differences in stability between the two cropping strategies and Smith et al. found stability higher (less variable yields) in buckwheat and cereal rye monocultures. The Wortman group created an index that combined yield and stability and found that in both years, the top ranking plots for this index were always monocultures. While this is interesting, it is far from conclusive in terms of stability as both studies only had two years of data. With more years of data, the mixtures, because they have more species included, might better adapt to varying weather than any one monoculture. This hedging your bet strategy of using mixtures might be a benefit in regions with highly variable weather, especially precipitation, like the Great Plains, but would probably not be worthwhile under irrigation. The short time that cover crops are actually in the field also may work against ecological benefits of mixtures as they were mainly hypothesized for mixtures of perennials, and some research shows that they strengthen over time, which here means several years.

So, if you are growing a cover crop, and want to get high biomass production, it pays to plant the best crop as a monoculture. Since most cover crops are also crops, (probably because those species have been improved over time, i.e., less weedy characteristics, high yield, etc.) you probably know which crops will do well in your fields. In addition, because one benefit of using a cover crop is to add diversity to the crop rotation, you should choose one that is not normally in your rotation. Here, your choice may be limited and you may choose to plant a less-productive crop, still in a monoculture, for your crop rotation. For a highly diverse polyculture, you get all your diversity at once, but what do you plant following a 22-species polyculture, most or all of which are also crops? Your available diversity in time has been used up.

The research results for biomass production favor cover crop monocultures, however, there are other considerations. You can grow cover crops for weed suppression, nutrient recycling, and if legumes are grown, for nitrogen supply. I will address these other “ecosystem services” in my next post.

Thanks to Tara Zimmerman for insightful comments on drafts of this post.

Cardinale, B. J., Matulich, K. L., Hooper, D. U., Byrnes, J. E., Duffy, E., Gamfeldt, L., … Gonzalez, A. (2011). The functional role of producer diversity in ecosystems. American Journal of Botany, 98(3), 572–592. http://doi.org/10.3732/ajb.1000364

Hayden, Z. D., Ngouajio, M., & Brainard, D. C. (2014). Rye–Vetch Mixture Proportion Tradeoffs: Cover Crop Productivity, Nitrogen Accumulation, and Weed Suppression. Agronomy Journal, 106(3), 904. http://doi.org/10.2134/agronj2013.0467

Miyazawa, K., Takeda, M., Murakami, T., & Murayama, T. (2014). Dual and Triple Intercropping: Potential Benefits for Annual Green Manure Production. Plant Production Science, 17(2), 194–201. http://doi.org/10.1626/pps.17.194

Tilman, D., Isbell, F., & Cowles, J. M. (2014). Biodiversity and Ecosystem Functioning. Annual Review of Ecology, Evolution, and Systematics, 45(1), 471.

Smith, R. G., Atwood, L. W., & Warren, N. D. (2014). Increased Productivity of a Cover Crop Mixture Is Not Associated with Enhanced Agroecosystem Services. PLoS ONE, 9(5), e97351. http://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0097351

Wortman, S. E., Francis, C. A., & Lindquist, J. L. (2012). Cover Crop Mixtures for the Western Corn Belt: Opportunities for Increased Productivity and Stability. Agronomy Journal, 104(3), 699. http://doi.org/10.2134/agronj2011.0422

Disadvantages of Monoculture

Use of harmful chemical products

With nutrients removed from the soil, farmers will want to introduce artificial products that can lead to loss of functionality and nutrients such as the introduction of large quantities of herbs, fertilizers, pesticides, and pesticides.

These synthetic chemicals are used to prevent damage to your crops from pests, bacteria, and weeds.

Unfortunately, chemicals track crops for human consumption, which means they end up in the food chain, and biological documentation can have serious health consequences.

2. Destroys nutrients in the soil

Of course, the soil contains nutrients and other functions. Monocultures exclude all these functions due to the cultivation process or cultivation of only one type of crop or animal species.

As a result, there are no different types of soil and microorganism pests due to a lack of diversity in crops, which enhances the soil biodiversity from insects and microbes.

This also means that there are no species in plants that naturally provide soil nutrients that can improve soil nutrients.

In addition, it kills microorganisms and bacteria in the soil, damaging its fertility.

3. Soil Degradation and Soil Erosion.

monoculture | www.eagrovision.com

The excessive use of chemical fertilizers in monoculture also damages the health of the soil.

When crops are harvested, there is no natural soil protection from erosion caused by wind and rain. In addition, the soil surface layer does not regenerate, which is the main cause of erosion.

All of these elements together make the soil more vulnerable, making it unsuitable for use in agriculture.

It can also lead some people to deforestation to obtain new agricultural land, thereby resuming the cycle of loss.

4. Groundwater Pollution

Even if the plants are harvested, the chemical remains in the soil. Since they are inorganic, soil microorganisms cannot convert them into organic materials.

It infiltrates the soil and pollutes the groundwater resources and adapts to the ecosystems that can travel long distances from the use site.

In the long run, chemicals can kill, harm or destroy the diversity and vitality of the ecosystem.

5. Plenty of Water is Needed for Irrigation

Since the monoculture causes soil erosion at the same time, the topsoil loses elements that can help retain moisture. Therefore, contemporary social farming practices require large amounts of water to irrigate crops.

Water is quickly pumped from rivers, lakes, and groundwater, causing the water resources to run out. It also means that water resources will be affected by inorganic chemicals that farmers pump into crops and soil.

6. Negative Effects On Natural Ecosystem

Excessive use of these inorganic chemicals forces the organism to develop resistance to pesticides and synthetic herbs.

Since more and more inorganic compounds are released into the soil, they destroy the natural ecosystem.

7. Large Scale Resource Consumption

Sorting, carrying, packing, and selling crops requires a certain amount of fossil energy.

Energy, chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and other industrial methods used to produce these foods play an important role in environmental pollution and climate change. This also poses a threat to the environment for future generations.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Monoculture

An agricultural practice which involves the cultivation of a single crop over a wide area for many successive years. It is practiced widely by farmers the world over. This Gardenerdy article weighs the advantages and disadvantages associated with monoculture farming.

An agricultural practice which involves the cultivation of a single crop over a wide area for many successive years. It is practiced widely by farmers the world over. This Gardenerdy article weighs the advantages and disadvantages associated with monoculture farming.

An example of how monoculture can lead to disaster is the 1980s Grapevine calamity. California grape growers had to replant almost two million acres of vines, when their grape roots were severely affected by grape phylloxera (Daktulosphaira vitifoliae)―a new type of pests.

Monoculture farming is an agricultural method that involves planting one species of crop on the same piece of land repeatedly. Due to its implementation, farmers can yield large harvests with minimum utilization of resources. The ritual of growing the same crop for many successive years is known as crop monoculture. For example, in monoculture farming, rice will be grown only with rice, particular type of potato will be cultivated only with that type. In monoculture, same crop is grown in the same land year after year. The main purpose behind monoculture farming is to maximize the output and minimize labor required.

Would you like to write for us? Well, we're looking for good writers who want to spread the word. Get in touch with us and we'll talk.

The term monoculture or this technique is not just restricted to agriculture, it can be applied in other fields too. For example, raising one particular type of livestock on a farm, also in the field of computer science, wherein a group of computers are running the same software. It is extensively used in the field of farming, but other than that, it is adopted in forestry too. Same species of trees are planted in a particular area.

Examples of monoculture crops include corn, wheat, rice, clover, cotton. It also includes tea, coffee, different types of fruits, and rubber trees. Experts are of the view that monoculture farming is more of a curse than boon, particularly after the Irish Potato Famine of 1845. Along with its added benefits over traditional farming, it comes with its own set of dangers and risks. Let us take a closer look at each of them.

Advantages of Monoculture

  • This approach to farming is fairly simple in nature, focusing all its needs and preference on one single crop species. Farmers just need to prepare the soil, and irrigate the land based on one crop. With monoculture, the field is in a better position to provide maximum output for a particular crop.
  • Harvesting becomes fairly easy as the desired parts of the plant can be easily assembled without damaging other plants, which would be very difficult in polyculture. Chemical treatments is feasible, pests and diseases can be treated without having to worry about their side effects on other plants.
  • It helps to keep down farming costs down, Farmers yield more output in less resources. Makes management pretty easy, machines and various methods can be utilized more efficiently and systematically.
  • The knowledge of single plant species is sufficient for a good crop, farmers need not worry about other species, their cultivation methods, disease prevention, etc. Since the emphasis is on one plant, acquiring adequate knowledge or expertise is also easy.
  • It is convenient for home gardeners who want to have a bigger harvest of a particular plant suppose they want to save up on corn or barley to reduce their expenses. Growing a single large crop requires less investment.
  • By grouping different plants together, farmers or gardeners have to cater to the fertilizer requirement of different plants. But with monoculture, they can easily use and apply one common fertilizer for all the plants.
  • Planting same species of crop is much easier and faster process. Farmers can prepare garden beds and seed plants altogether. They just need to prepare garden beds for only one type of crop.
  • Controlling pests and disease becomes relatively easy. Growers just need to use one pesticide for all the plants, because the diseases affecting them would be common.
  • There is less competition for sunlight, nutrients, and space from other species. It helps to control other undesirable growth. It helps to maximize profits by planting crops which yields high gross margin.
  • High gross margin crops are market-driven, and it’s easy to market such crops. Farmers particularly plants crop which can be consumed all year round, and also those which will thrive under all weather conditions.

Disadvantages of Monoculture

  • Monoculture does not support other flora and fauna. According to its definition, other plants should not be planted. We all need different environment to survive likewise, animals continuously living in one environment will lack the feel of a natural habitat.
  • If a particular disease or pest can affect one single plant, then it can possible affect all the other plants as they also will be vulnerable to their attack. An infected plant, in this scenario, will be surrounded by infected plants, which will lead to the destruction of the entire crop.
  • Plants require multiple resources to thrive however, if a crop is planted in the same field for extended periods, it limits its chance of taking advantage of other nutrients in the soil.
  • One of the problems of monoculture farming is limited food options. For the sake of saving their resources, farmers plant one single crop, leaving consumers with few options to survive on, which can lead to malnutrition, especially in developing countries.
  • Due to the cultivation of same crops over and over again, monoculture reduces the nitrogen composition in the soil. Once the land is used for one single crop, soil fertility diminishes at a faster rate.
  • Because of diminishing soil fertility, farmers rely heavily on chemicals and technology to promote plant growth and production. Monoculture leads to environmental damage when the chemicals and pesticides make their way into ground water.
  • Due to major crop failure, farmers can suffer high losses, which in turn would contribute to total market loss. Farmers depend on one type of production, so their income is also not stable.
  • Monoculture results in less diversity of other species, this applies to both plants and animals. This, in turn is not good for the bio-diversity of that entire region.
  • Monoculture is not advocated because repetitive use of fertilizers can lead to soil erosion, which makes it difficult for plants to grow.
  • Planting crops over a large area can be time-consuming for a farmer. Not to mention the efforts and investment required to set up a complex irrigation system.

There won’t be any outcome if we simply sit and crib about the problems associated with monoculture farming. Solutions like polyculture, crop rotations, biotech crops might solve some issues, but again, there are some pros and cons related to them also. Researchers state that the trouble connected to monoculture farming is far more complex and grave to solve.

What are the advantages of monoculture farming?

At this point you may not know what to think about monocultures. Is this farming technique good for our future food production system or is it just another more ‘convenient-at-the-moment’ way of producing food for masses?

Let’s have a look at the benefits of single plant cropping and single animal species rearing, and you will understand why this method is appealing to many farmers.

#1 Allows specialized production

Any economist will tell you that specialization is a good thing as it creates economies of scale that maximize profits and minimize costs. The same principle applies to agriculture, especially on a large-scale, industrial level.

Do not forget that running a farm equals to running a business, which entails lot of responsibilities, knowledge, long-term planning and investment. It requires a set of interdisciplinary skills combined with taking risks without being able to predict the outcome.

By cultivating the same species, farmers can optimize their operations given that growing requirements, planting, maintenance (including pest control) and harvesting will be the same across the farmed land. This allows for planning ahead, taking time off and being prepared for each growing season when it’s needed.

Specialization also enables farmers to develop in-depth knowledge and direct experience about their specific crops or livestock. This is a great advantage in preventing significant losses before they happen, as farmers may recognize warning signs of a disease right at the beginning or know how to mitigate damage caused by unexpected weather.

Smaller variety of produce reflects increase in production at a lower cost because the equipment and farm management remain the same over the time. Additionally, buying seeds and supplements in bulk usually means getting some percentage off the initial price which further pushes the costs down.

#2 Promotes technological advances in agriculture

Yes, it was monoculture that first allowed the deployment of the mechanization in agriculture and changed the lifestyle of people in many developed countries for good.

At the beginning of the 20th century, the mechanization replaced the strenuous human labor in agriculture and started the shift towards industrialization–increasing productivity, allowing more people to take on different occupations rather than just farm for subsistence, bringing prices of food down, giving rise to urbanization.

So, how did this transition start?

By planting the same crop on one field, farmers created as uniform conditions as possible during any growth stage. Imagine: the same distance between rows and individual plants, the same size of plants in the same vegetative stage across the field.

These were the perfect conditions for bringing in machinery to take over the tasks like planting and harvesting that would otherwise require continuous manual work of many people [1] .

Since the time when the very first tractors plowed the fields, the technology used in agriculture has advanced even more. Nowadays, you can see the most specialized equipment that perfectly matches the needs of farmers focused on intensive production of certain crops. Take, for example, the spindle-type cotton harvester. A specialized machine that harvests successfully more than 90 percent of cotton lint from a field and is capable of wrapping harvested cotton into bales at the spot [7] .

As you can imagine this greatly reduces other labor that would be involved if farmers didn’t own such a technology.

When it comes to advances in agriculture, we shouldn’t forget even animal farms, where the technology progressed in a way that dairy cows are milked by robotic milking machines that also feed them their individual feed portion based on the computer reading from each cow’s chip. Or manure cleaning robots that promptly remove manure from large stables.

#3 Increases efficiency

The primary reason why farmers decide for monoculture agriculture is their desire to maximize output and minimize labor that is involved.

It is as simple as it sounds, and it greatly improves efficiency of tasks and processes that take place during the production.

Monoculture can play to the advantages of the local climate and soil conditions. Crops that are best suited for the land are planted so that soil and climate specifications, such as winds, droughts or a short growing season, don’t impact the yield as much.

For example, continuous monocultures of wheat are cultivated on fields across Texas and Oklahoma. Farmers stick to this commodity crop out of practical reasons. These areas get too little annual rainfall to support other commodity crops without irrigation [2] .

#4 Maximizes yields of some produce

According to Andrew McGuire from the Washington State University, annual cereal crops simply have higher productivity and are easier to manage when planted as monocultures rather than combined with some other crops on one plot.

However, there is one very important condition that affects this higher yield. These crops need to be managed under the crop rotation scheme of alternating at least two different monocultures on one field. The reason is simple and practical. Crop rotation allows soil recovery and interrupts pest cycles [3] .

Examples of rotation schemes can look like this:

    • wheat rotated with canola, followed by two years of being fallow
    • wheat, canola, barley and fallow period [4]
    • two years of corn and one year of soybean [5]

Rotation schemes can differ greatly, and it depends on each farmer to select the most convenient one for the local conditions.

This happens because soil nutrients get depleted to the point when the production of the selected crop from that piece of land is not sufficient and plants are of poor health.

Additionally, costs are increasing because more fertilizer has to be applied and the application of pesticides increases as well. For this reason, majority of farms follow some basic rotation schemes.

This means that if farmers rotate monocultures on the same land in a sensible way that respects the soil ecology, they can achieve high yields from certain monocrops in the long-term.

#5 Is simpler to manage

What is also appealing to farmers is the apparent simplicity and uniformity of monoculture.

It is much easier and straightforward to cultivate one kind of a crop or breed one type of an animal in terms of the knowledge and experience needed to do it successfully.

This gives farmers more space to improve their system based on the experience, as they have time to observe what system works the best for the local climate and soil type.

Since farmers focus their management only on certain crops or livestock, they can afford to buy specialized machinery that will help them generate the revenue and will make their work easier.

#6 Offers higher earnings

60 percent of cotton production is done in the form of continuous monoculture in the United States. Years after years, acres of land are covered only in cotton.

Why? Because cotton is paid more than any other crop and rotating it with different low-profit crops would turn down important source of income [6] .

In areas where cotton prospers, it is the most preferred monocrop by most farmers. Besides paying well, its advantage is a deep root system that allows highly efficient use of nutrients from soils [6] .

This means that nutritional needs of cotton are lower than of other crops. If farmers rotated cotton with other commodity crops like corn, they would have to add more fertilizer to supply sufficient nutrient levels for corn plants. That is why maintaining continuous cotton monoculture is more profitable for them in the end.

Other reason why farmers generate more income from monocultures is the saving on the equipment.

For example, wheat requires different planters than corn or soybean. Therefore, it makes perfect sense why many farmers specialize either in wheat with other cereal crops, or they follow the rotation scheme of corn and soybean monocultures that use the same equipment. It’s simply the most economical option.

Since the success of farming is determined by the local climate and soil conditions, farmers also pick crops that have the highest potential to prosper in their region, are well paid and most likely will have the highest yields. Variety of suitable crops that fall within these requirements might be limited, which is another reason why farmers prefer the simplicity of monocultures.


While economically a very efficient system, allowing for specialization in equipment and crop production, monocropping is also controversial, as it damages the soil ecology (including depletion or reduction in diversity of soil nutrients) and provide an unbuffered niche for parasitic species, increasing crop vulnerability to opportunistic insects, plants, and microorganisms. The result is a more fragile ecosystem with an increased dependency on pesticides and artificial fertilizers. [1] The concentrated presence of a single cultivar, genetically adapted with a single resistance strategy, presents a situation in which an entire crop can be wiped out very quickly by a single opportunistic species. An example of this would be the Great Famine of Ireland in 1845–1849.

Monocropping as an agricultural strategy tends to emphasize the use of expensive specialized farm equipment—an important component in realizing its efficiency goals. This can lead to an increased dependency and reliance on expensive machinery that cannot be produced locally and may need to be financed. This can make a significant change in the economics of farming in regions that are accustomed to self-sufficiency in agricultural production. In addition, political complications may ensue when these dependencies extend across national boundaries.

The controversies surrounding monocropping are complex, but traditionally the core issues concern the balance between its advantages in increasing short-term food production—especially in hunger-prone regions—and its disadvantages with respect to long-term land stewardship and the fostering of local economic independence and ecological sustainability. Advocates of monocropping believe polyculture production would be costly and unable to feed everyone, while critics of monocropping dispute these claims and attribute them to corporate special interest groups, citing the damage that monocropping causes to societies and the environment. Many farmers practice neither monocropping nor polyculture, but divide their farms into large plots and rotate crops between the plots to get some of the benefits purported of both systems.

A difficulty with monocropping is that the solution to one problem—whether economic, environmental or political—may result in a cascade of other problems. For example, a well-known concern is pesticides and fertilizers seeping into surrounding soil and groundwater from extensive monocropped acreage in the U.S. and abroad. This issue, especially with respect to the pesticide DDT, played an important role in focusing public attention on ecology and pollution issues during the 1960s when Rachel Carson published her landmark book Silent Spring.

Soil depletion is also a negative effect of mono-cropping. Crop rotation plays an important role in replenishing soil nutrients, especially atmospheric nitrogen converted to usable forms by nitrogen-fixing bacteria that form a relationship with legumes such as soybeans. Some legumes can also be used as cover crops or planted in fallow fields. In addition, rotating crops performs an important role in preventing pathogen and pest build-up. There are however a few diseases which are less severe in a monocropping system, like take-all in wheat, as the population of an organism which feeds on the disease causing pathogen grows over repeated years of the presence of the pathogen.

Under certain circumstances monocropping can lead to deforestation [2] or the displacement of indigenous peoples. [2] For example, since 1970 the Amazon Rainforest has lost nearly one fifth of its forest cover. [3] A main cause of this deforestation is local farmers clearing land for more crops. In Colombia, the need for more farming land is causing the displacement of large populations of peasants. [ citation needed ]

Watch the video: Food and farming: regenerative solutions to tackle climate change