10 Advantages and Disadvantages of Monoculture Farming
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Over the last century, agricultural production has shifted towards single high-yielding crop breeds that thrive under certain conditions. Farms that produce just one or two of the most cost-efficient crops exclusively have reaped the rewards of lower operational expenses, investment in more specialized technology, and saving time and resources with simpler management throughout every growing season. There are advantages but also disadvantages of monoculture farming.
This farming method has quickly contributed to the development of stunning, even fields and harvests in rural areas around the world. Although monoculture farming has some advantages, the cons usually outweigh them. However, to understand why, you must first know what monoculture farming is.
What Is Monoculture Farming?
Monoculture farming is when only one crop species is grown at a time.
You may think that monoculture refers to the continuous growth of a single crop over and over again. While this method of monoculture farming is called “monocropping,” farmers can rotate one additional crop during the next growing season and still technically operate a monoculture farm.
Livestock farming can also be a form of monoculture, in which farms concentrate on a single farm animal for dairy, chicken, pigs, etc. However, this usually involves factory farming that leads to animal cruelty and abuse.
The Pros and Cons of Monoculture Farming
Monoculture farming negatively impacts biodiversity, soil fertility, and the increased use of fossil fuels and pesticides. While the agricultural industry is beginning to move away from monoculture practices, some may argue there are advantages to its continuance. Here are 10 advantages and disadvantages of monoculture farming.
1. Yields Higher Amounts of Certain Crops
Because monoculture farming maximizes local conditions and weather for quality crop production, it can enhance the growth of specific crop breeds. Farmers choose the crop species—usually corn, rice, soybeans, and wheat—that will thrive wherever they’re planted, yielding better harvests throughout the season.
In traditional farming, crop variety warrants increased scheduling, maintenance, and harvesting time to cultivate different varieties of crops. With monoculture, farmers choose plants that can withstand droughts, rainfall, or colder temperatures for year-round production.
As monoculture’s popularity dwindles, intercropping—growing two or more varieties of crops spatially—is gaining speed. Studies have shown that intercropping produces 22% more yields than monoculture farming and may improve soil fertility.
2. Improves Efficiency
In alignment with increased yields, monoculture farming increases efficiency. Farmers may opt for monoculture methods to maximize output with less labor.
The local climate and soil health usually determine how well crops grow in monoculture agriculture. Farmers will plant crops best suited for the local conditions and ultimately can lessen their everyday tasks.
For example, Texas’s primary year-round crops are guar and wheat, which can withstand little rainfall and produce high yields. Farmers will plant these commodities because they grow despite dryer weather.
3. Easier to Manage
Monoculture farming is far more straightforward than conventional farming. Farmers can focus on one crop breed and apply their expertise to ensure they have a prosperous harvest. It also requires less knowledge about other crops and fewer resources.
Monoculture farming allows farmers to observe their crop production, recognize necessary improvements, and implement changes. On farms with frequent crop rotations, farmers may have difficulty pinpointing production issues, such as climate or soil.
Additionally, farmers who specialize in growing one crop breed can invest in advanced machinery to help them boost their productivity and profits.
4. Investments in Advanced Agricultural Technology
Agriculture is a labor-intensive industry that can be increasingly strenuous on the human body.
When farmers plant their crops on a monoculture farm, they do so uniformly by harvesting crops at the same distance between rows and plants across any given field.
Under these conditions, agricultural equipment can better meet the needs of farmers. For example, the combine harvester merges the process of harvesting and separating cereal crops, soybeans, and corn, which was once done separately by the farmers themselves. Once the harvest is gathered, cut at the base, and fed to the machine, it shakes the crop to release the grains.
Other advanced technologies that aim to enhance agricultural performance include robotic milking machines for dairy cows and manure scrapers that robotically clean manure from barns and stables.
5. Helps Generate Higher Earnings
Farmers who grow only one crop best suited for their climate and soil conditions can see higher earnings when they sell their products on the market.
For example, the United States leads the world in cotton production after China and India and is responsible for 35% of cotton exports worldwide. From August 2019 to July 2020, the U.S. produced 20 million bales of cotton valued at $7 billion.
Most U.S. cotton production occurs in the southern states, where the crops thrive in warmer climates. Texas leads with the highest cotton production, growing approximately 7.63 million bales of cotton in 2021.
6. Decreases Soil Quality
Soil fertility is essential for any crop-producing farm. Although monoculture farming can produce high quantities of crops, one of the disadvantages of monoculture farming is that the lack of plant diversity degrades the soil.
Monocropping is when the same crop breed—such as corn and soybean—is grown on the same patch of land every year. Monoculture practices begin to diminish the nutrients in the soil over time and lead to erosion and poor crop reproduction.
When farms construct a more complex crop cycle—for example, three crop breeds or more—they can produce 10% higher yields than are grown in monoculture and 25% more crops during higher drought seasons.
7. Increases Pests and Pesticides
Less genetic crop diversity can also lead to increased pests and pesticide use. Pests tend to spread more rapidly on monoculture farms since they have their favorite food source for extended periods or year-round. As a result, they also tend to reproduce faster and more efficiently.
Cereal crops, such as wheat and grains, tend to produce increasing pests, weeds, and fungi, requiring greater pesticide use to mitigate infestations. This typically leads to higher production costs and having to replace more crops.
Over time, pests can generate immunity to pesticides, as well. Worldwide, 600 pest species have developed pesticide resistance, allowing them to evolve and reproduce despite chemical exposure genetically. As more pests develop pesticide resistance, farmers have difficulty controlling pests and maintaining their crops, creating disadvantages for monoculture farming.
8. Exterminates Bee Colonies and Other Pollinators
Honey bee colonies are declining rapidly, posing grave concerns about pollination shortages. In the U.S., honey bee pollination adds about $15 billion to the agricultural sector by increasing higher-quality harvests and crop yields.
Research shows that pesticides have detrimental effects on honey bee populations and contribute to their declining health. In one study that sampled 35 pesticides on honey bee colonies, low-dose chemical exposure to honey bees led to metabolism issues, motor function, altered behaviors, cognition impairment, and reproductive and developmental problems.
9. Harms the Environment
Whereas smaller farms may harvest crops to feed local communities, large monoculture pastures produce crops and livestock for commercial reasons. Frequently, monoculture farmers use practices that are exploitive and not environmentally friendly, adding to the disadvantages of monoculture practices.
Large quantities of products are then transported worldwide by vehicles or sea vessels, which rely on fossil fuels. The agricultural sector accounted for 10% of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. in 2019.
Monoculture farms impact biodiversity, as well. The U.S. agricultural sector uses 500,000 tons of pesticides, 12 million tons of nitrogen, and 4 million tons of fertilizers every year. Unfortunately, pesticides, manure, and other farm pollutants don’t stay in one location.
Farm runoff sends these contaminants into streams, rivers, lakes, and other bodies of water, affecting flora and fauna. According to the EPA, 46% of rivers and streams are polluted with excess nutrients, while 21% of lakes experience higher levels of toxic algal growth.
10. Uses More Water for Irrigation
Because of soil degradation on monoculture farms, an increase in erosion results in insufficient water uptake. To compensate for this, farmers have to irrigate more often with enormous quantities of water.
For example, sugar cane crops need approximately 1,500 to 3,000 liters of water to produce one kilogram of rice. Cotton crops require the highest irrigation water at 7,000 to 29,000 liters for one kilogram.
Increasing water requirements places pressure on local water sources, such as lakes and rivers. The biological consequences of water depletion could be dire for ecosystems and the species that depend on them.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Monoculture Farming
Monoculture farming is an essential source of revenue and food supply for the global population. However, poor farming practices and a lack of crop diversity paint a terrible picture for biodiversity. Without crop rotations and environmentally-conscious methods in place, the disadvantages of monoculture agriculture outweigh the benefits.
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About the author
Steve is the Managing Editor of Environment.co and regularly contributes articles related to wildlife, biodiversity, and recycling. His passions include wildlife photography and bird watching.