Monocropping is the agricultural practice of growing a single crop year after year on the same land, in the absence of rotation through other crops or growing multiple crops on the same land (polyculture). Maize, soybeans, and wheat are three common crops often grown using monocropping techniques.
Monocropping allows for farmers to have consistent crops throughout their entire farm. They can plant only the most profitable crop, use the same seed, pest control, machinery, and growing method on their entire farm, which may increase overall farm profitability.
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. 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 or the displacement of indigenous peoples. For example, since 1970 the Amazon Rainforest has lost nearly one fifth of its forest cover. 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.
In order to help reduce dependence on fossil fuels the U.S. government subsidizes the production of corn and soybeans to be used in ethanol production. However, monocropping itself is highly chemical- and energy-intensive. The hidden energy costs associated with producing each unit of bio-fuel are significantly larger than the amount of energy available from the fuel itself.[dubious ]
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