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Monoculture is the cultivation of a single crop at a time in a given field. It is common in modern farming, especially industrial scale farming. It is in contrast to alternative approaches such as polyculture which emphasise growing multiple crops.
Advantages of monoculture
The following section of Wikipedia (dated 30 Oct 2007) was marked as having its neutrality disputed. It argues for the advantages of monocultures:
- In agriculture, "monoculture" describes the practice of planting crops with the same patterns of growth resulting from genetic similarity. Examples include Wheat fields or Apple orchards or Grape vineyards. These cultivars have uniform growing requirements and habit resulting in greater yields on less land because planting, maintenance (including pest control) and harvesting can be standardized. This standardization results in less waste and loss from inefficient harvesting and planting. It also is beneficial because a crop can be tailor planted for a location that has special problems - like soil salt or drought or a short growing season.
- Monoculture produces great yields by utilizing plants' abilities to maximize growth under less pressure from other species and more uniform plant structure. Uniform cultivars are able to better use available light and space, but also have a greater drain on soil nutrients. In the last 40 years modern practices such as monoculture planting and the use of synthesized fertilizers have greatly reduced the amount of land needed to produce much higher yielding crops. The success of monoculture cropping has produced a world wide surplus of food stuffs that has depressed crop prices that farms receive.
Disadvantages of monocultures
Replacing a natural ecosystem with a few specifically chosen plant varieties reduces the genetic diversity found in wildlife and makes the organisms susceptible to widespread disease. The Great Irish Famine (1845–1849) is a well-known example of the dangers of monoculture.
If the same crop is grown every year, there are also a increase is pests, which needs to be adressed with increasingly greater amount of (organic or inorganic) pesticides and other pest management techniques. This issue can however be resolved (partly) by using crop rotation.
- Alternatives to intensive rice monocrops in lowlands? on the Australian Development Gateway discussion forum (Q&A with John Dore, water and natural resource management specialist).