While increased yields are critical to affordable food, particularly as our planet’s population is increasing, monoculture farming has some distinct disadvantages which put our planet’s long-term food production potential at risk.
High use of fertilisers
Due to its very nature, monoculture farming, means cultivating one crop, usually in an intensive manner and on a very large scale.
For instance, corn, wheat, soybeans, cotton and rice are commonly grown this way in the United States (US). But growing the same crops year in year out depletes valuable soil nutrients that plants rely on, so this deficiency is compensated for by using increasing amounts of fertilisers.
Susceptibility to pests
Furthermore, monocultures are more susceptible to certain weeds and insect pests which means that pesticides are used to protect against that. Weeds and insect pests can spread faster in a monoculture because of the lack of biological diversity – when one plant is susceptible to a pest, it means that all other plants of the same species are likely to suffer from it.
This has clear implications for the farmers who rely on one crop for their income – if something goes bad, the entire yield can be affected as happened for instance in California in the 1980’s when almost two million acres of vines had to be replanted after it was discovered that their roots were severely affected by a new type of pest.
The effects of both pesticides and fertilisers on health and our environment are well known with a lot of these chemicals finding their way into groundwater sources and in the air where they create further pollution.
Loss of biodiversity
In addition to the environmental and health risks of monoculture, monoculture favours the cultivation of specific crops and breeds. This not only means more limited options for the consumer, but it also means that our farming practices are impacting our planet’s biodiversity.
In the US, the Livestock Conservancy estimates that nearly 200 endangered livestock breeds may become extinct due to our overreliance on very few and highly specialised breeds.