Definition (Encyclopedia of Global Resources)
Monoculture agriculture is a plant production system in which a single plant species—typically one producing grain (such as corn, wheat, or rice), forage (such as alfalfa or clover), or fiber (such as cotton)—is grown in the same field on a repetitive basis to the exclusion of all other species. In its most extreme version, a single variety of a plant species is grown; in this case all plants are virtually identical clones of one another. monoculture can be contrasted with other agricultural production practices such as multiple cropping (in which sequential monoculture crops are grown in the same year) or intercropping (in which two or more different crops are grown at the same time and place). Monoculture can also apply to perennial produce systems such as fruiting trees, citrus crops, and tea, coffee, and rubber plantations.
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Advantages of Monocultures (Encyclopedia of Global Resources)
Monocultures are unnatural ecological occurrences. They are maintained not through the natural resistance to pests (such as insects, viruses, bacteria, and funguses), which is a by-product of evolution and hence biodiversity, but rather through the use of artificially applied resources: labor, energy, irrigation, fertilizers, and chemicals to control pests. Left to itself, a monoculture crop will quickly revert to a mixed-plant community. However, monoculture agriculture has several inherent advantages that caused its widespread adoption from the moment agriculture began. Monocultures allow agriculturalists to focus their energy on producing a single crop best adapted to a particular environment or to a particular market. For example, a premium is paid for white corn or the Burbank russet potato, used in making snack foods. Monoculture is an appropriate agricultural strategy to optimize crop yield per unit of land when either temperature (in temperate regions) or water (in arid and semiarid regions) limits the growing season. Monoculture agriculture also lends itself to mechanization, which is an important consideration when labor is expensive relative to energy costs.
Consequently, monoculture agriculture in the United States and indeed throughout the world has developed in concert with the resources required to support it—markets, credit, chemicals, seed, and machinery—and with the social conditions that have...
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Disadvantages of Monocultures (Encyclopedia of Global Resources)
The disadvantages of monoculture agriculture are numerous and have become more apparent with their dominance of world food crops. There are apparent limits to the increase in crop yields brought about by new hybrid seed, fertilization, and pesticides, and yield increases in monoculture agriculture began diminishing beginning in the 1980’s. There is an economy of scale at which farm size becomes too small to permit effective mechanization or for which insufficient markets exist for reliance on a single crop. The focus on production of a single crop may lead to unbalanced diets and nutritional deficiencies in agricultural communities where no external supplies of produce are available.
More important, monoculture crops are biologically unstable. Because monoscultures are not allowed to mutate (evolve) in a biodiverse manner, their genes cannot compete with quickly evolving predators, such as viruses, fungi, bacteria, and insects. As a result, considerable effort, in the form of heavy use of pesticides, must be made to keep other plants and pests out. Since every plant is the same, or nearly the same, these systems are also inherently susceptible to adverse natural events (storms, drought, and wind damage) as well as the expected biological invasions by insects and plant pathogens.
The classic example of overreliance on monoculture is the Great Irish Famine of the nineteenth century. The potato, imported...
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